“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 that indicate 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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On God having toenails

19 02 2021

Even if I have dismissed something in my own head, I like to return to it on occasion to see if I still dismiss it. Above is a video from lay Catholic theologian Christopher West about the foundational premise of John Paul II’s theology of the body. I went over ad nauseam about a dozen years ago why I find the theology of the body erroneous, and in spite of my effective change in religious faith, more or less I stand by my objections. In fact, I now adhere to a faith that has the premise, “we are not this body,” at its very foundation: it is effectively a key idea of the Bhagavad Gita.

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Chota Haridas and Judas Iscariot

16 02 2021
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Studying Krishna consciousness for me is all about contrasts. Writing about it is an exercise in explaining these contrasts in as few words as possible. With the story of Chota Haridas, there is an immediate comparison to Judas Iscariot in the New Testament, except that God Incarnate (in this case, Lord Chaitanya) doesn’t get betrayed nor is He handed over to His enemies to be killed, and so on. The real comparison lies in the question: What happens when one of your followers, someone very intimate to your mission, “falls down”? Is there redemption after that and, if so, what does it mean?

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Personal difficulties with Krishna consciousness

9 02 2021

They’re not the common or the “sexy” ones. I’ve sort of resolved in my own mind Srila Prabhupada’s more “based” sayings about gender, class, and race, the Moon landings, etc. That stuff is just details in my opinion. If you want to get mad about them, others can feed you reasons to get upset. My issues are more foundational:

  1. Meat eating: I don’t personally have a problem no longer eating meat. I don’t “miss” it very much, to be honest. It’s more the idea that I have known people who have demonstrated pure love of God who ate meat and had no issues with it. I have learned from people who are far better than I am who eat meat. That’s not to say that I doubt the principle: I think there is enough evidence in many religious traditions that indicates that renouncing meat eating is a foundation of asceticism and getting closer to God. But I have a hard time thinking it’s a “deal breaker”.
  2. Irenicism: Related to this, I have found many passages from Srila Prabhupada’s books talking about how divisions between bonafide religious systems are a symptom of Kali Yuga, that the love of God is the only real religion, that people don’t need to convert to Krishna consciousness, that all you have to do is “add Krishna,” etc. That’s fine, but it seems that the other 90% of the time a lot of Srila Prabhupada’s writings and ISKCON rhetoric retreat into sectarianism in a sort of “bait and switch”: sell ecumenism to get in the door, then impose a maximalist program of bhakti as essential to returning “back to Godhead”. Again, which one is it? Is the supposed religious tolerance just to get people in the door, but then once they’re in, you basically have to become a spiritual c.16th century Bengali Vaishnava or else? Why not just lead with that if that’s the case?
  3. Nama-aparadha: This is sort of along the same vein, and that’s the issue of “chanting the Holy Name can do anything, but it can’t do that.” I am not against effort or against spiritual growth per se. Nor am I a sahajiya who just wants things easy. At the same time, the whole point of sankirtan or the public chanting of the Holy Name is to benefit all living entities, even if they have no idea what is being said. They all benefit just from hearing offenselessly. But if I am mostly distracted during two hours of japa, because, you know, I actually have a life and a lot of responsibilities, I am just committing offenses? There’s a sort of “ignorance is bliss” logic going on there. Pardon my French, but if I half-ass it, I might as well never had done it at all. I know it’s more complicated than all of the shastric injunctions of just chanting one name of Krishna wiping out mountains of sins, etc. It’s just a difficult concept to wrap my head around. It is similar to idea of “invincible ignorance” or “presumption” in Catholicism, so I am used to the idea of striving for spiritual perfection being a long slog. It just seems to be a confusing premise of the entire Hare Krishna movement.

I only bring all of this up because I have basically read most of Srila Prabhupada’s books at this point, so these are my lingering questions. I would be happy if anyone could help me clarify these issues.





Person-to-Person

16 11 2020

A first reading of the Srimad Bhagavatam

You could say that the purpose of the 18,000 verse Bhagavata Purana or Srimad Bhagavatam is to tell you what it means to be a person. Or rather, it’s to introduce you to the first or Supreme Person, the one you have been looking for, the one you always knew existed, or at least wish you did. In Vaishnava thought, reality has three levels or manifestations: Brahman, Paramahtma, and Bhagavan. Perhaps I will oversimplify these and say that they are the answers to three separate questions: What, Why, and Who. Brahman is a question of “what”: that there is existence, but not particularly why it is. It’s the truth barren of any qualities or distinctions. Many people seek this, they seek stillness and a peaceful void. This is often the subject of cheap mysticism. Paramahtma is the truth as it works within us and all over: it’s the reason why philosophers ask questions and it’s the voice that provides them with answers, often wildly divergent from each other. Those who seek it still don’t really know the origin of the truth. In a manner of speaking, it is the logos (λόγος) of the Stoics and St. John’s Gospel. But the ground of both of these, the ultimate reality if you will, is not a question of “what”, or even “why”, but of “Who?”

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Yoga-maya and the Bible

27 09 2020
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I have wanted to write about the topic of Yoga-maya for some time. While I don’t feel adequate to the task, I’ve gotten to the point of needing to write my thoughts down now or not at all. The question at the center of this reflection is: What is the ultimate meaning of conscious action? And also: Does God need to stop “being God” to fully be God? And perhaps: Why does anything outside of God exist at all, and how?

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Deus sub ratione Deitatis

26 07 2020
I love the frolicking Krishna' - The Hindu

In summer, I sleep badly. I have come to expect this from the humid swampy nights. In the last decade or so, summer has been both a time of rest and exhaustion, of trying to keep up with the time clock and suffering through periods of languid repose. There are long days and short nights, fits of furious activity and weeks when less gets done than expected. In this subtropical heat, I have to catch up on a lot of neglected reading. Time for this slips through my fingers quite easily. It is in this heavy air, amidst the buzzing of insects and continuous discomfort due to the climate, that I have to contemplate the higher things. It’s not ideal.

In my express sightseeing tour through the Srimad Bhagavatam, it is precisely at this time that I have come to the most significant stop in the whole scripture, and that is the description of the rasa-lila: Krishna’s dancing with the cowherd maidens of Vraja in the luminous autumn nights. In Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the socially inappropriate dancing of Krishna with the wives and daughters of Vrindavan is the highest manifestation of the love of God, and of God’s nature itself. Though it may be inappropriate for a relative neophyte to comment on the mystery of the rasa-lila, I am a man in middle age so I don’t think it will be any more appropriate later in life. As I have said elsewhere, I am probably about as wise as I will get in this lifetime.

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