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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Sancta sanctis

5 03 2021

In my Catholic brain, the sin of presumption loomed and looms ominously. This sin against the Holy Spirit is the dangerous one wherein one continues to commit sin with the intention of seeking forgiveness later. This sin was not always as tolerated as it is now, and among practicing Catholics of the modern Church, it barely exists. The indirect enabler of this sin is the Sacrament of Penance or Confession and easy (if not to say, automatic) absolution. The idea now is that one can commit any sin but if one goes to Confession, forgiveness is all but assured. To doubt this is to doubt the efficacy of the Sacraments; in Catholic theology, their working ex opere operato (by virtue of the work as worked). You don’t have to do anything but make a “good” confession to a priest (that is, not holding anything back and being accurate in your telling) and having a modicum of sorrow for your sin, as well as a “resolve” to not sin again. What the nature of the “sorrow” is, and the “resolve” for that matter, remains a disputed question. The modern “pastoral” solution, even amongst the strictest conservative, is to lean heavily toward being liberal and permissive. Otherwise, one has to exclude people somewhat interested in the Christian way of life but with little resolve to tackle their vices.

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On the reform of the reform

25 02 2021

I was listening to a podcast about Catholic liturgy, namely the idea of the “reform of the reform”. The podcast interested me because it recapitulated a phase of my life as a young Catholic man in the late 20th century. I grew up with very liberal, very free-wheeling liturgy as a Catholic in California. When I began to take my faith more seriously, I saw the problems with the ritual (or lack of it) at my local parish. I was not alone in this at the time. The podcast mentioned a book by Msgr. Klaus Gamber called Reform of the Roman Liturgy which I read in college. This podcast speaker claims that this book is among the first to call out the lack of continuity in the reform of Roman Catholic ritual in the late 20th century and thus advocate a reform of that reform towards a more traditional direction. This book was praised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict took many measures to make the reformed liturgy more traditional, at least when he celebrated it. He also allowed again the celebration of the old unreformed liturgy.

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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.





On religious exclusivism

21 12 2020

I have been asked / goaded into responding to the latest two hour interview with David Bentley Hart. I really would rather not, but as this particular interview was hosted by a fellow Hare Krishna devotee, I feel that I must clear up certain misrepresentations of Krishna consciousness. I am submitting this to the unconvinced or third parties who may have gotten the wrong impression of Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Hart’s position in contemporary Christian discourse.

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A review of Work of Human Hands

23 11 2020
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An “ex-Catholic’s” look at Fr. Anthony Cekada’s book

When I learned of Fr. Anthony Cekada’s death earlier this year, my thoughts turned to another lifetime ago. I was in the Society of St. Pius X seminary in La Reja. It was summer and thus very hot (no air conditioning, of course). I was in the seminary library by myself supposedly answering the phone (no one ever called). I found a stack of journals to pass the time, among them one called “Sacerdotium”. It was in English and dated from the 1990’s. Unlike so many other traditionalist publications, this one contained decent writing. Namely, the author who stood out was one Anthony Cekada. The content of his articles consisted of the same sedevacantist arguments, yet he added quite a bit of humor to it. Some of it was hit or miss, but overall I enjoyed the effort.

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Person-to-Person

16 11 2020
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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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The morality of voting

29 10 2020

I have a hard time accepting that there is any spiritual, ethical, or moral dimension to voting in a mass democracy. To state otherwise seems to be invoking the proverbial butterfly that flaps its wings and causes a hurricane on the other side of the world.

If you’re going to impute moral credit or culpability for one vote in the midst of millions, you have to be precise about it. If I vote for the “wrong” candidate and am thus worthy of Hell because of it, what degree of fault do I have for the sins of my favored candidate? How many babies did my vote in particular abort? How many migrant children did my vote in particular put in cages? How many foreign people did my vote in particular kill in unjust wars? And so on. If we are going to use moral and juridical language, if we are going to assign fault, we have to quantify it. Or if I back into someone in a parking lot, am I somehow worthy of the death penalty because the trauma of the accident subtracts so many seconds from the person’s life?

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