Hare Krishna Catechism #1

14 09 2021

Someone asked me what is meant when we say “localized Paramatma” or that the Supreme Personality of Godhead sits in the heart of every spirit-soul. So here is my attempt to explain this:

In the Catholic liturgy, God the Father is addressed as fons et origo: the fountain and origin of Godhead. For us, this is Krishna in Goloka Vrindavan. In comparative religion, there is the idea of the deus otiosus: “otium” in Latin meaning “leisure.” It has the connotation of “laziness,” but far less derogatory. Krishna in Vrindavan is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as expressed in the notable verse (uttama-sloka) in the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:

ete cāṁśa-kalāḥ puṁsaḥ
kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam

(All of the above-mentioned incarnations are either plenary portions or portions of the plenary portions of the Lord, but Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is the original Personality of Godhead.)

Krishna in His original form however cares about nothing other than Srimati Radharani, the rest of the gopis, His cowherd friends, His family, His cows, and the inhabitants of Vrindavan, almost in that order. Krishna isn’t the “creator God,” He doesn’t get His “hands dirty” that way. In that sense, a fountain on a hilltop is a good way to look at it. Krishna is fountain and origin at the very top, and everything flows down from Him, descending to the rest of the spiritual world and into the material world. Here, a very strict boundary has to be indicated. In Vaikuntha, everything is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss (sac-cid-ananada vigraha). Even a stone in a street in the lowest part of Vaikuntha is conscious and enjoys its eternal role as a stone. Nothing in Vaikuntha is “material” in our sense. Even grass which the gopis step on in Goloka Vrindavan considers itself most fortunate to be under the feet of the gopis (cf. SB 11.12.11)

Properly speaking, in the Abrahmic conception, one isn’t even in “creation” proper yet. While Krishna is expanding Himself into all of these other Vaikuntha forms, one has to get to the “lower border” of Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Shiva and the Viraja River (Causal Ocean) before one gets into “creation” proper as we commonly refer to it.

Here we’re going to encounter the three Vishnus or expansions of Krishna when we talk about the material manifestation. The first Vishnu is Karanadakshayi Vishnu (the Vishnu who lies down in the Causal Ocean), also known as Maha Vishnu. While lying down, Maha Vishnu glances at the Maha-tattva, a “shadow of pure consciousness” or, in perhaps inaccurate Latin Scholastic terms, the realm of pure potency, where false ego (ahamkara) is formed. False ego is the building block of the material manifestation: the Lord’s external energy. The external potency is dumb matter (think rocks,) whereas His internal energy is everything you find in Vaikuntha (the spiritual world). We as incarnated spirits are “marginal energy”: because we have false ego, because we think we are “independent” of the Supreme Lord, refusing our eternal identity as servants of Krishna, we could “go either way.” We are eternal spirits bound by our identity with dead, temporary matter. Many of us think this is all there is.

Maha-Vishnu’s glance at the Maha-tattva begins the process by which He falls asleep and out of every one of His pores universes pour out like little bubbles. So another difference with Abrahmic religion is that there is not just one universe, but millions, perhaps way more than that. And yet the Supreme Lord enters into every one of those universes as well, lying in an ocean that occupies the bottom each universe, the Garbha Ocean, and there He becomes Garbhodaksayi Vishnu. It’s out this reclining Vishnu that Brahma emerges from a lotus in His navel. This is how the universe you see around you is made. So Maha-Vishnu is inter-universal, while Garbhodaksayi Vishnu is the catalyst for the creation and annihilation of each universe.

But that’s not the end. The Supreme Lord then enters into every single soul and atom of the universe. This is where we get “localized Paramatma”. The Lord is larger than the largest, and smaller than the smallest. Thus, the Supreme Lord is in the heart of every spirit soul, and even each atom. If this were not the case, they would simply not be. He lies in the Ocean of Milk within the material world, so His other name is Ksirodakasayi Vishnu. In the beginning of the Tenth Canto, the demigods go to Ksirodakasayi Vishnu to come down and incarnate Himself as Krishna.

“Paramatma” is translated as “Super-soul,” or perhaps another way to think of it is the Soul of the soul. Just as the soul enlivens the body, Paramatma does something similar in the soul. There is the analogy in the Upanishads of two birds sitting on a branch: one bird enjoys while the other watches. The Supreme Lord is thus a witness to our actions: He doesn’t interfere and indeed He even aids and abets us in all of our endeavors in fulfillment of our desires. As I like to think, even in the worst Vedic hell, the Supreme Lord still sits in your heart. Unlike in Abrahmic faiths, anything you do can’t separate you from God. Only your thinking that you are separate from God, totally independent and not His subordinate or servant, is what separates you from God. Nothing else.

Thus the yogi, especially in the Golden Age or Satya Yuga, goes into meditation for thousands of years focused on the localized Super-soul sitting in his heart. Indeed, this is the yuga-dharma of that age. People lived for thousands of years and just meditated on the Supreme Lord sitting in their hearts. The aim was ultimately to meditate so deeply on the localized Paramatma that one entered samadhi and left material existence entirely. There are many instances in shastra where people meditated in this manner, forcing the life force from the base of their spine up to the top of their head and just dissolving. In absolute terms, there is very little keeping us here. Yet here we are.

There is an old Orthodox prayer to the Holy Spirit that is said throughout the liturgy that characterizes Paramatma best for me:

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, comes and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain, and save our souls, O Gracious Lord.

I guess the one lesson for me in thinking of the Paramatma is that the Supreme Lord is everywhere, and He guides us in so many ways. Yet all we want to see is matter because that’s what we think we are. The chanting of the Mahamantra, according to one senior devotee, is like the scalpel we use to surgically cut ourselves out of our illusory bond to the material world, our own false ego. “O Energy of Krishna, Krishna, employ me in your service,” as Srila Prabhupada explained to be the meaning of the Mahamantra. We can’t meditate on localized Paramatma for a million years, but we can chant. As they say, it’s simple, but it’s not easy.





The Kingdom not of this world

28 08 2021

I listened to the Honest Man’s podcast’s recent episode, Vedic Pornography, with special guest Madhavananda Das, a senior Hare Krishna devotee who lives in Jagannath Puri, India. The topic of the podcast was specifically on the role that erotic art plays in the temple architecture of India. However, that is peripheral to what I want to talk about here. Specifically I would like to discuss Madhavananda Prabhu’s point concerning the Linga Purana. As a quick summary, the Puranas are Hindu scriptures that generally tell of divine and human histories, often from the point of view of a particular god. I have referred extensively on this blog to the Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam, which tells the story of Krishna and related avatars. While the Srimad Bhagavatam states that Krishna or Vishnu is the supreme Deity, other puranas state that their respective subjects are the supreme Deities. So the Devi Purana thus thinks that Durga or Devi is the Supreme Goddess out of who emerges all other manifestations of divinity. The Linga Purana is one of the puranas devoted to Lord Shiva, and not only does it state that Shiva is the Supreme Deity, but also that Vishnu doesn’t even exist. He is merely a dream of Shiva.

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Durtal – II

19 08 2021
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Zelus domus tuae comedit me

July 16th, 2021

It was hard to get anything done that morning. Fortunately, I had the day off. I was finishing some work in the very early morning (remember on weekdays I get up at 3 am), when I checked Twitter and noticed something was abuzz. A document had come out from the Vatican about the traditional Latin Mass, but it wasn’t translated yet and wild reports were circulating about what it meant. I tried to muddle through the Italian, which is harder than you’d think for someone with a working knowledge of Latin and Spanish fluency. However, it became clear what the document meant. Traditiones Custodes issued by Pope Francis was meant to walk back the generous and theologically significant 2007 motu proprio of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Summorum Pontificum. As I’ve written several times over the years, 2007 marked a point in the traditionalist movement when the old Mass became available to a larger number of Catholics in the United States, Europe, and a few other parts of the world. Priests no longer needed special permission from the Vatican to say the old Mass akin to getting a permit to handle nuclear waste or James Bond’s license to kill. A priest could just say the old Mass whenever it was requested of him by enough of his faithful, which opened up the traditional Mass to a lot of “normal” people (i.e. people not like me).

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Durtal – I

14 08 2021

Early morning driving

It’s three o’clock. Not early for me really. I arise from my bed, alone, do the necessary, and I am out the door in about fifteen minutes.

This time, not to work. But still, early morning driving is the same all days. My wondering if neighbors are alarmed by my being up and about at this hour (they are probably used to it). The random car that meets you at a stop light or sign (“What is that person doing up? Where are they going?”) Good luck if you have to get gas or if, before COVID-19, you wanted to run to the store for a very early errand (a couple of them used to be open at this hour). I once saw a family of four doing their grocery shopping at three in the morning. The youngest may have been two years old. You might see vagrants in front of a convenience store, trying to hitch a ride to somewhere, anywhere. A policeman might role up to the gas station for a cup of coffee, another person might be filling up their tank (again, what are they doing up at this hour?)

The thing that scares me most is the thought of hitting an animal. I have seen some weird ones at this hour: foxes, armadillos, tons of possums and raccoons. There was a doe and her faun who lived a mile from our house, you would see them dart into the woods during the spring days. At night, they would stand comfortably next to the road, until I rolled passed. I stopped in front of them and they fled in a panic. Down the road, I saw a deer leap over a four foot fence when my car came upon it in the middle of the road.

There is an audio book playing in the car. I dart past the eighteen wheelers and the random cars that also happen to be on this interstate. I envision in my mind’s eye what each exit looks like in the daylight, what animals must be up and about in those woods, what creatures are hunting and which fleeing for their lives. The loneliness and darkness hits you sometimes, like you’re one of the few people who survived some global calamity. “Everyone else is asleep. I am an island in this vast sea of silence.”

I get to the temple after about an hour. It is dark save for a light or two. I am weary but still quite awake. A devotee or two might see me and greet me quietly.

“Hare Krishna.”

“Hare Krishna prabhu!”

“I’m ok. Hari bol!”

Someone is in the corner chanting japa quietly. I look at the large head of Lord Jagannath, smiling, with a flower for a dimple below His nose. The bell rings on the door, open and close, open and close. Finally, after a few have gathered, the pujari blows on the conch. The curtain opens.

“Jai Sri Sri Radha Radha Kantha”.

I fall down flat sideways. Like a stick….

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On allegory

24 06 2021

On one of my first visits to a Hare Krishna temple, I asked a senior devotee, “Why does Krishna play the flute?” I think I may have even asked what the flute “means”. I think I was digging for an answer like, “It has five holes representing the five senses,” or some other esoteric answer. Instead, the answer I was given was, “Because He likes it.” Krishna plays the flute because He likes playing the flute, He calls His cows with the flute, He enchants the gopis with it, and so on.

That’s not all, but it’s most of it. I just finished Sanatana Goswami’s Sri Brihad Bhagavatamrita and among the last reflections on the glories of Goloka Vrindavan, Krishna’s celestial abode, there is a passage about the gopis envying the flute since it is constantly absorbing the nectar from Krishna’s lips. There is even a praise of the reeds that gave the flute birth and the River Yamuna that nourished the flute to its maturity. This is no mere anthropomorphizing of an inanimate object: the flute, like all paraphernalia associated with Krishna is “alive,” or rather the entire spiritual world is sac-cid-ananda vigraha: an eternal body full of consciousness and bliss. Krishna’s flute is not an inert object, but is aware and receives great pleasure from such an intimate association with Krishna. And Krishna relishes the gopis’ jealousy towards the flute, as well as their fitful attempts to take it away from Him out of spite. So we can say there are three energies or shaktis working between the spiritual and material worlds: the internal potency which I have mentioned above in the spiritual world, the marginal potency (living souls stuck between the material and spiritual world), and the external potency (inert matter). That’s a very simplified description of reality in the Hare Krishna mind.

Western religious thinking inherited from Neoplatonism the idea that things must start with the simple from which they evolve into the complex, only to return to the simple. God is simple, God is not a composite, and God does not have a body. The idea comes from living organisms as we experience them. Humans as we see them start out small and simple in their mothers’ wombs, grow into complex persons as they emerge from womb into fully formed human beings, and then disintegrate back into something simple again at death. This cycle is echoed in the Neoplatonic One out of which proceeds all complex composite entities: bacteria, trees, dogs, humans, angels, demigods, etc. But as these are complex, they break down again and revert to a primordial soup of simplicity. The goal is to stop the cycle and ascend to a realm of pure simplicity, pure light, where there is no change and no division. In reality, this is just inverted materialism. You can’t get to an actual idea of the spiritual from this.

The actual transcendent is not “beyond words,” it is something that contains all words and is their origin. Philosophical concepts in Vaishnavism are not for the spiritual, but for carnal people. They’re a crutch for people still attached to the material form of life. It’s not that Krishna’s name, form, quality, pastimes, entourage, and paraphernalia are indicative of something more transcendent: they are the transcendent, and everything else in an allegory for them. Where did mathematics come from, or the music of the spheres in the ancient Pythagorean doctrines? From the rasa lila, Krishna’s amorous dance with the gopis. Krsna-lila is the reality, everything else is the distorted dream-like image which is the product both of our material desires and Krishna’s illusory energy (maya). The material world is the symbol: baby Krishna drinking from the breast of mother Yasoda is the reality.

The Srimad Bhagavatam thus has a lot of “weird” passages, but there is nothing really to read into them. Above is represented the slaying of the demon Putana by the newborn Krishna. Putana came in disguise as a normal beautiful woman to offer Krishna her poisoned breast to kill the child. Instead, baby Krishna sucked the life out of her and she reverted to her monstrous form: a gigantic demon seven miles tall. Seven miles? Seems pretty far out. But again, that is the eternal lila that is going on now in numerous material universes. There is nothing else to “grab onto,” there is no deeper allegorical meaning to it. Krishna’s body, abode, and pastimes are eternal, and ours are not. Our experiences of this world can’t offer us any particular clarity on this, because we’re basically in a nightmare, and there’s no sense trying to apply nightmare logic to the daytime world.

The goal of Krishna consciousness is to return us to our eternal relationship with Krishna, our identity that we have when we’re awake, and not the one we have nightmare after nightmare, material life after life. In Kali Yuga, the primary means to develop that relationship again, the yuga dharma, is harinam sankirtan, the loud and public chanting of the Lord’s names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. This isn’t just the means to get “back to reality,” it is the only thing in this dream-state, this nightmare, that is real. Everything else is transitory and passing away, like a dream.





Doubt

5 06 2021

Steve Skojec of the Catholic traditionalist website, OnePeterFive, wrote a post on his personal blog entitled Against Crippled Religion about his struggles and difficulties with the current state of the Church. Skojec like most Catholic traditionalists has had a difficult time in the last eight years or so. That is because Pope Francis, who I have argued elsewhere is the embodiment of the actual zeitgeist of the Catholic Church, has done much to bring consternation to those of more conservative ecclesiastical opinions. For example, he has raised the possibility of bringing divorced Catholics back to the Holy Communion table without the requisite annulment paperwork, he has thawed Catholic attitudes toward LGBT people, and he has presented a much more “Low Church” veneer to the world. People like Skojec consider such a neo-aggiornamento an abandonment of spiritual duty by Church authority akin to parental neglect. What is a more personal catalyst for Skojec’s piece is the betrayal he has felt from the supposed “good guys” like the Fraternity of St. Peter priest who is refusing to give his children the sacraments due to their stricter observance of COVID-19 social distancing protocols. While I won’t take sides in that personal conflict, it is compelling in the context of Skojec’s other story of feeling betrayed as a youth by the Legionaries of Christ, another conservative religious order.

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Some dogs go to Heaven

22 05 2021

Nothing begins, and nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan,
For we are born in other’s pain,
And perish in our own.

-from “Daisy” by Francis Thompson

As my final installment summarizing my thoughts on the Chaitanya Charitamrita, I wanted to present the one anecdote from this scripture that summarizes the real spirit of Krishna consciousness. And, as could be expected, this anecdote involves a dog.

The story is told at the beginning of the Antya Lila. Śivānanda Sena found a dog who he began to feed. One day, when the dog wasn’t fed, he wandered off and was thought lost. Later, Śivānanda Sena and other devotees found that the dog had made his way to the feet of Lord Chaitanya, and that the Lord was feeding him. To their surprise, Lord Chaitanya was also teaching the dog to chant the Holy Names. The episode concludes:

When he saw the dog sitting in that way and chanting the name of Kṛṣṇa, Śivānanda, because of his natural humility, immediately offered his obeisances to the dog just to counteract his offenses to it. The next day, no one saw that dog, for it had obtained its spiritual body and departed for Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual kingdom. Such are the transcendental pastimes of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the son of mother Śacī. He even delivered a dog simply by inducing it to chant the mahā-mantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa. (Antya 1.31-33)

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Haridasa Thakur and the critique of Abrahamic religion

3 05 2021

Having been born into Roman Catholicism, and having practiced it quite fervently as an adult, the question always looms as to what the role of Christianity is in Krishna consciousness. More ecumenical types want to make it seem that “it’s all good”: bhakti is bhakti, God is one and devotion to Him is also one. Others, however, refuse to be that conciliatory considering the Christian turning of a blind eye towards meat eating and other vices. In fact, my summary of Srila Prabhupada’s attitude on this matter is that he thought that Christianity was very close to Vaishnavism, except for the meat eating and his claims that Christians didn’t know the name of God. He was quite animate about these objections at times.

Yet if we look closely, Christianity was dealt with in Hare Krishna scripture. Well, not directly, but through the assessment of Islam particular in the writings describing gaura-lila: the life of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. We have to remember that many of the major protagonists at this time had to deal directly with Muslims, up to learning their scriptures, perhaps even in Arabic itself. If we consider Islam as an outgrowth of Christianity, but perhaps with a slightly more impersonalist flavor, the early Gaudiya Vaishnavas were well-acquainted with it. One major figure was even an ex-Muslim, the namacharya Srila Haridasa Thakur.

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Enthusiasm

23 04 2021

Suddenly, a woman from Orissa, unable to see Lord Jagannātha because of the crowd, climbed the column of Garuḍa, placing her foot on Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s shoulder. When he saw this, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s personal servant, Govinda, hastily got her down from her position. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, however, chastised him for this. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said to Govinda, “O ādi-vasyā [uncivilized man], do not forbid this woman to climb the Garuḍa-stambha. Let her see Lord Jagannātha to her satisfaction.” When the woman came to her senses, however, she quickly climbed back down to the ground and, seeing Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, immediately begged at His lotus feet for forgiveness. Seeing the woman’s eagerness, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “Lord Jagannātha has not bestowed so much eagerness upon Me. “She has fully absorbed her body, mind and life in Lord Jagannātha. Therefore she was unaware that she was putting her foot on My shoulder. “Alas! How fortunate this woman is! I pray at her feet that she favor Me with her great eagerness to see Lord Jagannātha.” (CC Antya 14: 24-30)

As I have stated previously, I try to break down complex concepts into the simplest terms that I can understand. In that regard, I once stated to a devotee that the mood of the gopis is akin to the mood of screaming enthusiastic girls at pop or rock concerts back in the day. They think day and night about Krishna, their whole life is about getting a glimpse of Krishna, being in His presence, and finally being with Him by themselves in secret. Even during the rasa-lila, the height of all existence and the dance around which all else dances, each gopi felt like she was dancing with Krishna as if she was the only one there when in actuality He had multiplied Himself numerous times to be with each one. That’s like the young woman (and young man nowadays, perhaps) who thinks that the pop star is singing directly to her in a stadium full of other screaming fans.

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Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021
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If there is one difficult thing about reading Vedic scripture as a modern Western person (aside from all of the many-headed cosmic snakes and superhero powers), it’s how differently we have come to perceive protagonists in a story. In the Ramayana and Srimad Bhagavatam in particular, Lord Ramachandra and Krishna are pure unadulterated heroes, or at the very least, they have a cartoonish and irresistible charm. Their enemies are only their enemies for the sake of the story, but everyone else seems to love them. Lord Rama in particular is the Perfect Man who can do no wrong. He doesn’t even sigh a hint of displeasure at being banished to the forest or when He has to banish Sita, nor does He ever lament His hardship. His family, on the other hand, blame themselves for not collapsing dead on the spot from witnessing Lord Rama’s misfortune. Krishna, on the other hand, tries to misbehave as a child and as a youth, but people still love Him anyway. They even love Him because of His misbehavior. In both cases, we are faced with an inexplicable charm and attraction. Something I think we very modern people can’t really imagine at this point.

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