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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Pancha Tattva

30 04 2021

This post will be one in which I write down my understanding of something hoping that I am mostly right. The Pancha Tattva is what one could call the “Hare Krishna Trinity,” except it’s a pentarchy.

śrī-kṛṣṇa-caitanya prabhu-nityānanda,śrī-advaita gadādhara śrīvāsādi-gaura-bhakta-vṛnda

To break this mantra down into the five elements:

Sri Krishna Chaitanya: The Golden Avatar of Krishna, a combined incarnation of Krishna and Srimati Radharani, taking on Srimati Radharani’s golden complexion.

Lord Nityananda: The incarnation of Lord Balarama, an avadhuta, He just really wants you to chant the Holy Names of the Lord.

Advaita Acharya: The incarnation of Maha Vishnu and Lord Shiva embracing, or the expansion of Krishna directly responsible for the material manifestation. His prayers are key to calling Krishna’s mercy down into this Kali Yuga.

Gadhadara Pandit: Also an incarnation of Srimati Radharani (confusing, I know), basically here to see how the whole “combined incarnation” of Lord Chaitanya goes and make sure things don’t get out of hand. He represents more the internal mission of Lord Chaitanya in this age.

Srivasa Thakura: An incarnation of Narada Muni. The captain or leader of the devotees. He represents more the external mission of Lord Chaitanya.

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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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Let’s talk about sex…

20 04 2021
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While Pradyumna Miśra remained seated there, Rāmānanda Rāya took the two girls to a solitary place. With his own hand, Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya massaged their bodies with oil and bathed them with water. Indeed, Rāmānanda Rāya cleansed their entire bodies with his own hand. Although he dressed the two young girls and decorated their bodies with his own hand, he remained unchanged. Such is the mind of Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya. While touching the young girls, he was like a person touching wood or stone, for his body and mind were unaffected. Śrīla Rāmānanda Rāya used to act in that way because he thought of himself in his original position as a maidservant of the gopīs. Thus although externally he appeared to be a man, internally, in his original spiritual position, he considered himself a maidservant and considered the two girls gopīs. The greatness of the devotees of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu is exceedingly difficult to understand. Śrī Rāmānanda Rāya is unique among them all, for he showed how one can extend his ecstatic love to the extreme limit. (CC Antya 5: 16-21)

Now, I’ve seen a lot of things, read a lot of stories, and heard a lot of anecdotes, but the one above takes the cake for the weirdest one where carnal matters are concerned. The context is that Srila Ramananda Raya was teaching these girls how to perform a drama that he composed for the pleasure of Lord Jagannath. He didn’t just pick any girls, but the most beautiful ones he could find, talented devis dasis with the greatest amount of charm and natural beauty. The modern dirty mind, like mine honestly, would assume that maybe he simply didn’t like women in that way. But that’s not the implication here. Modern gender theorists would have a field day with the history of early Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Ramananda Raya didn’t just think himself a gopi, some state that he WAS a gopi in human male drag, specifically, the gopi Lalita, the chief assistant to Srimati Radharani in the celestial Vrindavan. And he wasn’t the only one: many of the Six Goswamis were really sakhis, or assistants to the gopis in the spiritual world who are themselves young girls. Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a seventeenth century Gaudiya Vaishnava saint, is said to have transformed back into a nine year old girl in order to escape government troops who were chasing him, only to transform again into an adult male once the danger had passed.

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On true and false renunciation

19 04 2021

After hearing the prayer of Dabira Khāsa and Sākara Mallika, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, “My dear Dabira Khāsa, you two brothers are My old servants. “My dear Sākara Mallika, from this day your names will be changed to Śrīla Rūpa and Śrīla Sanātana. Now please abandon your humility, for My heart is breaking to see you so humble. “You have written several letters showing your humility. I can understand your behavior from those letters. “By your letters, I could understand your heart. Therefore, in order to teach you, I sent you one verse, which reads as follows. “ ‘If a woman is attached to a man other than her husband, she will appear very busy in carrying out her household affairs, but within her heart she is always relishing feelings of association with her paramour.’ (CC Madhya 1: 207-211)

“You should not make yourself a showbottle devotee and become a false renunciant. For the time being, enjoy the material world in a befitting way and do not become attached to it.” Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu continued, “Within your heart you should keep yourself very faithful, but externally you may behave like an ordinary man. Thus Kṛṣṇa will soon be very pleased and deliver you from the clutches of māyā. (CC Madhya 16: 238-239)

The word markaṭa-vairāgya, indicating false renunciation, is very important in this verse. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, in commenting on this word, points out that monkeys make an external show of renunciation by not accepting clothing and by living naked in the forest. In this way they consider themselves renunciants, but actually they are very busy enjoying sense gratification with dozens of female monkeys. Such renunciation is called markaṭa vairāgya — the renunciation of a monkey. One cannot be really renounced until one actually becomes disgusted with material activity and sees it as a stumbling block to spiritual advancement. Renunciation should not be phalgu, temporary, but should exist throughout one’s life. Temporary renunciation, or monkey renunciation, is like the renunciation one feels at a cremation ground. When a man takes a dead body to the crematorium, he sometimes thinks, “This is the final end of the body. Why am I working so hard day and night?” Such sentiments naturally arise in the mind of any man who goes to a crematorial ghāṭa. However, as soon as he returns from the cremation grounds, he again engages in material activity for sense enjoyment. This is called śmaśāna-vairāgya, or markaṭa-vairāgya. (CC Madhya 16: 238 purport)

As a young man, I renounced the world twice. The first time was quite grave and seemed definitive, the second was a continuation of the first, a quick “do-over”. When I went off to renounce the world to do religious stuff, I really didn’t think I would come back. There was precedent: I had grown up poor and I had wanted to be a priest when I was a young man. I thought I was following my desire the whole time of my renunciation. It’s taken me years to figure out that this was not the case.

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Water pastimes

17 04 2021
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When Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu saw the exuberance of Sārvabhauma Bhaṭṭācārya and Rāmānanda Rāya, He smiled and spoke to Gopīnātha Ācārya. “Tell the Bhaṭṭācārya and Rāmānanda Rāya to stop their childish play because they are both learned scholars and very grave and great personalities.” Gopīnātha Ācārya replied, “I believe that one drop of the ocean of Your great mercy has swelled up upon them. “A drop from the ocean of Your mercy can drown great mountains like Sumeru and Mandara. Since these two gentlemen are little hills by comparison, it is no wonder that they are being drowned in the ocean of Your mercy. “

Logic is like a dry oil cake from which all the oil has been extracted. The Bhaṭṭācārya passed his life in eating such dry cakes, but now You have made him drink the nectar of transcendental pastimes. It is certainly Your great mercy upon him.” (CC Madya Ch. 14 83-87)

In this lifetime, I have been a bookworm, even if a reluctant one. Truth be told, none of my learning has been particularly disciplined or systematic. Maybe it’s because of boredom, or ADD, or some mental deficiency. I don’t care to memorize or master all of the jargon of any particular school of thought. That has probably doomed any serious study of, say, Kant or Aquinas. Honestly, when I delve into these systematic thinkers, I tend to break them down into the simplest terms I can fathom and run with it. In my defense, every time I get into conversations with specialists, all I encounter is needless complication of very simple premises. It’s akin to A.N. Whitehead stating that all philosophy is just footnotes to Plato. Typically systems of thought flow from a single pristine idea that its high priests try to chew over and over again. It is no wonder that I spent so many years as a Platonist.

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“I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”

8 04 2021
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The body of the Lord was just like a field of sugarcane into which the mad elephants of ecstasy entered. There was a fight amongst the elephants, and in the process the entire field of sugarcane was destroyed. Thus transcendental madness was awakened in the body of the Lord, and He experienced despondency in mind and body. In this ecstatic condition, He began to speak as follows.

“ ‘O My Lord! O dearest one! O only friend of the universe! O Kṛṣṇa, O restless one, O only ocean of mercy! O My Lord, O My enjoyer, O beloved to My eyes! Alas, when will You again be visible to Me?’ ” (CC Madya lila 2.64-65)

Here I get to talk about something familiar to me – something that I have written about copiously – the grotesque. While Srimad Bhagavatam has its extremely odd and even risque moments, the Chaitanya Charitamrita has an earthiness to it due to its closeness to us in time and mood. In some ways, the Chaitanya movement parallels the devotio moderna and other popular religious movements developing in Europe during the same period. Indeed, all Gaudiya theology unfolds in a very baroque manner, with flourishes and complexities that seem to reveal another unexpected face of Vedantic religion.

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