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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Look man, I’ve seen some shit

12 07 2021

I could come up with a bunch of complicated and well-developed reasons for why I’ve come back to belief after many periods of unbelief. I could ultimately say that it’s all due to grace, that at the end of the day one must have a personal relationship with God that is hard to describe, and so on. But really, I have to say that the reason I am a believer is that I’ve seen some shit.

I’ve seen things that shouldn’t have happened happen. I’ve had the proverbial near death experience. I think I’ve seen angels, or maybe people who seemed like they were angels. I have seen too many eerie coincidences, too many symbolic dates where crazy stuff transpired. I have long given up trying to square any of them with one particular tradition as written, because all of them fall short on a exoteric level. You see, God doesn’t come down and speak to you like you speak to other people. God speaks in signs, He taps out messages in code, and sometimes He’s just yelling at you and you have to be a real idiot to not hear it. I’ve had examples of all of this stuff in my life. I won’t get into specifics, because in purely human terms, I couldn’t prove that these things were what I think they were. There could be “perfectly rational” explanations, but there’s no way of going back and finding them.

I have never shared the modern tendency to interpret all the signs and wonders of the past as hoaxes or mass hallucinations. I think a lot of them are “true,” maybe most of them are, maybe all of them. I see weird stuff being described, and I am just like, “Sure, why not?” It doesn’t happen everyday. To some, it might only happen once in a lifetime. But it does happen. The world is very, very strange.

Agree with me or not, but my spiritual journey is an attempt to interpret this weird stuff in a way that makes sense to me. It may not make sense to you, but that’s okay. You may think it’s all demonic, to which I say your world must be rather small. I don’t know your weird stuff, I can’t really interpret that for you. I am not offended that you think I’m crazy. I wouldn’t believe myself if I described the things I am insinuating here. But I wouldn’t be able to explain them away either.

Maybe others can cut the “weird stuff” into a shape that fits into one religious explanation perfectly. I just can’t do it. I will say that Krishna in what is known as the Uddhava-Gita in the Eleventh Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, states the following:

Lord Kṛṣṇa replied: Because all material elements are present everywhere, it is reasonable that different learned brāhmaṇas have analyzed them in different ways. All such philosophers spoke under the shelter of My mystic potency, and thus they could say anything without contradicting the truth. When philosophers argue, “I don’t choose to analyze this particular case in the same way that you have,” it is simply My own insurmountable energies that are motivating their analytic disagreements. By interaction of My energies different opinions arise. But for those who have fixed their intelligence on Me and controlled their senses, differences of perception disappear, and consequently the very cause for argument is removed.

I guess I am settling for the religion which can make room for all the weirdness. If you think I’m totally off, I don’t know what to tell you. Look man, I’ve just seen some shit, and I am trying to process it the best I can.





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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Everybody loves Rama

21 04 2021
https://arturovasquez.files.wordpress.com/2021/04/a41e2-rama2.jpg

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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