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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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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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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God’s tears

6 04 2021

The entire beautiful body of the Lord was covered with dust and dirt. In this way it became transcendentally beautiful. At times, when cleansing the temple, the Lord shed tears, and in some places He even cleansed with those tears.

CC, Madya 12.86

For the time being, I have resigned myself to practicing two religions, if purely out of social obligation. It can’t be helped, and I don’t mind it terribly. To this end, I was really busy with Holy Week services, especially learning the chants and order of services. However, on Maundy Thursday, I took a break for a few minutes to visit a church literally down the street. It seems like the local Roman Catholic traditionalists have taken up residence nearby, so dropping in on them is literally like running to the corner store to get a gallon of milk.

This time I decided to catch the last part of Maundy Thursday services, mainly the stripping of the altar. I always found this a deeply moving ceremony: God in the form of the Blessed Sacrament is removed from His home and put somewhere else. All of flowers and decorations to to indicates His presence are then stripped, leaving the sanctuary barren. The high altar is thus left looking like an abandoned cave.

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Unlettered

25 03 2021
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 The brāhmaṇa replied, “I am illiterate and therefore do not know the meaning of the words. Sometimes I read the Bhagavad-gītā correctly and sometimes incorrectly, but in any case I am doing this in compliance with the orders of my spiritual master.”   

The brāhmaṇa continued, “Actually I only see Lord Kṛṣṇa sitting on a chariot as Arjuna’s charioteer. Taking the reins in His hands, He appears very beautiful and blackish.

“While seeing Lord Kṛṣṇa sitting in a chariot and instructing Arjuna, I am filled with ecstatic happiness.

“As long as I read the Bhagavad-gītā, I simply see the Lord’s beautiful features. It is for this reason that I am reading the Bhagavad-gītā, and my mind cannot be distracted from this.”

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu told the brāhmaṇa, “Indeed, you are an authority in the reading of the Bhagavad-gītā. Whatever you know constitutes the real purport of the Bhagavad-gītā.”

After saying this, Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu embraced the brāhmaṇa, and the brāhmaṇa, catching the lotus feet of the Lord, began to cry. (Madhya lila Chapter 9 Verses 98-103)

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Love hurts

24 03 2021

A personal rough guide to the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta

In the Hare Krishna movement, the Founder Acharya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has stated that, if the Bhagavad Gita is like a college education, and the Srimad Bhagavatam is like an advanced degree, the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta is post-graduate study of spiritual life. The Bhagavad Gita teaches basic ideas of the transmigration of the soul, the essence of karma and yoga, and the need to surrender to Krishna as the end of spiritual endeavor. The Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam goes in depth into who Krishna is and His manifestation as the unfolding of the Absolute Truth (vadanti tat tattva-vidas / tattvaṁ yaj jñānam advayam / brahmeti paramātmeti / bhagavān iti śabdyate SB 1.2.11). The final stop in the spiritual itinerary of the soul is to realize that the Absolute Truth is a Person, the First Person, Krishna in Vrindavan.

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