Published on January 11th, 2001 | by0
Where’s the Bhakti? — A Vedic Adventure
I will prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt that Vedic knowledge is beyond mere theory but rather, actual fact. The import of Vedic knowledge is applicable to every living being and not sectarian. That is, the Vedic knowledge is eternally existent and pure…
This paper is primarily for new devotees of Krsna or the so-called neophyte new to Krsna consciousness or anyone for that matter who may have doubts about the final conclusions of the Absolute Truth.
I will also prove unequivocally that the ancient Sanskrit texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam are absolute and supreme, without any doubt.
More importantly, I will attempt to dissect the various religious doctrines and beliefs mainly from India that have played havoc in the lives of aspiring Vaisnavas or that may have inhibited their sadhana within the realm of bhakti, devotional service to Lord Sri Krsna.
The American Collegiate Dictionary defines epistemology as “The division of philosophy that investigates the nature and origin of knowledge.” Again it states, “A theory of the nature of knowledge.”
I will prove, beyond any shadow of a doubt that Vedic knowledge is beyond mere theory but rather, actual fact. In other words, because Vedic knowledge is transcendental in that it emanates from the breathing of Maha-Vishnu and thus beyond the scope of material inebriety and mundane weal and woe, the import of Vedic knowledge is applicable to every living being and not sectarian. That is, the Vedic knowledge is eternally existent and pure. In addition, it should be quickly noted that all other world religious beliefs and practices while sharing certain truths do not bring the practitioner to the final goal which is none other than bhakti proper, the final beautitude for the living entity and the final conclusion of all Vedanta study.
Bhakti, devotional service to Lord Sri Krsna is its own reward. This is in keeping with the conclusions of Srila Narada Muni in his Narada-Bhakti-Sutras. Narada Muni is also one of the twelve Mahajanas, authorities on devotional service.
IN THE BEGINNING
First, I shall begin by briefly mentioning those various schools of religion that have been extant within the Indian subcontinent from very remote times. Indeed, these philosophies may very well have been instrumental in influencing many great philosophers and religions around the world over the past many thousands of years and millenniums. They have influenced the Muslims, the Judeo-Christian ethic and all other tributaries and sub-tributaries of religious thought and expression from the very tribal or aboriginal peoples to the ancients, as well as the Native American Indian tribes of the North American continent and even the so-called “Hindu” culture that flourished in the Indus Valley regions of Northern India when the Aryan or Indo-European tribes settled there in the second millennium according to present day historians.
We can also safely say that these ancient civilizations and their religious beliefs influenced many of the great thinkers and religions for the past 5,000 years. Philosophers such as Plato, Socrates and Pythagoras as well as the 16th and 17th Century metaphysicians and thinkers of the new German renaissance like Hegel and Immanuel Kant and in America, the 19th Century “transcendentalist” school headed by Henry David Thoreau of “Walden Pond” fame. One may also say that Lord Jesus Christ while traveling to India with his uncle Joseph of Aramathea also imbibed the ancient Vedic texts and brought their essence to the peoples in the Middle East according to time, place and circumstances. There is also speculation amongst certain religionists today that Jesus Christ may in fact have lived in India for three years. Be that as it may, there can be no doubt as to the Vedic influence around the world no matter what one labels it over the course of time.
While world religions tend to share a “common thread” as it were, the Vedic EVIDENCE itself will show conclusively that not only Indian schools of thought, but all religions be they western or eastern are impersonal or Mayavada in as much as they do not lead the individual to actual knowledge of God nor bhakti, which culminates in love and devotion in service to the Supreme Being, Krsna. I will also establish that bhakti itself is the only occupational duty (dharma) for mankind and how it should and will be adopted by the masses at large in the not-too-distant-future. The Vedic literature, primarily the Srimad-Bhagavatam targets Lord Krsna as none other than the Absolute Truth, God almighty Himself and the origin of all that be. A Supreme transcendental Being possessing personhood. This has been concluded by all the great seers of the truth since time immemorial. In other words, within the realm of “Parampara” or disciplic succession all the acaryas, teachers and their stalwart disciples came to this exact same realization.
SIGNIFICANCE OF INDIAN PHILOSOPHY IN THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
While western religious thought has concerned itself for the past 2,000 years with matters of material well-being and a sense of the divine, in whatever shape it held, and while the industrialization of America particularly toward the end of the 19th century held sway to technology and expansionism, India’s religious heritage took an almost “inward” journey in regard to cosmology, the nature and origin of truth and knowledge, human life and the existence of a soul (“jiva” or “atma”) that can exist eternally outside the material body after death. This soul also possesses it’s own form and senses and originally is from an eternal, spiritual atmosphere free from birth, death, old age and diseases.
This movement toward the eternal whether it was a belief in various gods or deities began many millions of years ago and is still current in India today under the guise of many forms and “isms”.
Just when, in the history of western religion this aspect of Vedic revelation which embodied the concepts of a soul, a belief in reincarnation and transmigration, karma and a “living God” that was obviously suppressed, cannot be properly dated. It may be said that after the death of Lord Jesus Christ and the coming tide of Christianity that finally took root in Rome after his death 300 years later and for reasons of social and more importantly, political concerns, this Vedic knowledge was excluded or at the very least, watered down.
With the arrival of the puritans from England in the 16th century and with the colonization of North America came a belief system rooted in a monarchy steeped in staunch Christian and Protestant ethics and morals. At the same time, Roman Catholicism was also growing into a powerful religious force worldwide with the Pope, considered infallible, seated at the Vatican.
While knowledge of various world religions of the day were not unbeknownst to the church hierarchy, they viewed the east’s deity worship as idol worship and of course this did not sit well with church elders whose worldview was one coming from a patriarchal society in which the king was above God, if indeed a God did exist. This may be another fact that led to separation of church and state. Any religious doctrine that veered from the norm was quickly discarded and suppressed as being uncivilized or savage. This “world is flat, not round” philosophy in regard to the belief in God as a tangible reality was another way of keeping the masses in ignorance and under state control. As long as they saw Jesus as God any individual who spoke out against the prescribed “status quo” of the day were burnt at the stake. And because of this ignorance and hypocrisy, which is still current today in a smorgasbord of “new-age” ideologies, human society has lost its soul in a sea of godlessness and gross commercialism. Modern life has been reduced to a commercial interruption every five minutes telling us to buy products or with sexual content that is so subliminal or overt one cannot even think of spiritual life nor does the thought of death, the real reality, ever enter one’s mind. It’s a kind of brainwashing and manipulation that leaves a human being desensitized and sedated.
As a result, under this guise of false economic development aided and abetted by corporate messiahs, only a handful of individuals truly become rich while the masses are still kept in ignorance or go hungry and homeless and exploited for the “good of the state”. While this dilemma is not new, Vaisnavism, whose voice comes to us from a distant shore and from an eternal place advocates not a theocracy nor the exploitation of the masses through religious tyranny nor even a communistic society promulgated by the former Soviet Union, but rather, a “God-centered” society by which the individual may realize his or her true spiritual potential that finally culminates in the “varnasrama-dharma” which will be briefly explained later on in this paper.
At the dawn of the industrial revolution, about 1900, man was reduced to little more than a machine. The worker was subjugated with enticements of material allurements and a false sense of security. Real truth was hidden. And what was that truth? That all living beings possess a soul that is eternal, full of beauty and bliss. Rather, people were told to go to church on Sunday. Pray and find forgiveness for your sins. They found shelter in “safe” religions and it gave solace to the masses but did nothing for the spiritual well being of the individual nor the planet. As long as a paycheck was handed out every Friday, God would provide even though there was no real idea of who or what God is. This psychological manipulation that says, “if it cannot be seen it does not exist” in regard to the soul and even God, reached it’s zenith especially in America right after the great depression of the 1930’s and continued with a vengeance after World War Two with the mushrooming of suburbia and middle-class American social mores. Anything that wasn’t “American” was viewed as subversive. This held sway to religious beliefs as well. America had entered a “new racism”. This paranoia in anything “un-American” regarding religious conviction was the epitome of hypocrisy and was viewed not so much as heresy but anarchy. Needless to say, this philosophy is still extant today under the banner of many “isms” be they new-age or mainstream. It’s slight-of-hand and the greatest illusion.
THE VEDIC REVELATION – REVOLUTION!
As history views it, the Vedic hymns and scriptures which include the Upanishads (Hindu philosophical treatises) as well as the Puranas (histories) date to the second millennium BC. But from the Krsna conscious or Vedic perspective and according to sastra (revealed scriptures) this is not a fact. In Bhagavad-gita (4.1) Lord Krsna says to Arjuna: “I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.” And in text 2 Krsna continues: “This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in the course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.”
In his purport to the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness and leading scholar in Vedic thought states: “At the present moment we have passed 5,000 years of the Kali-yuga, which lasts 432,000 years. Before this there was Dvapara-yuga (800,000 years) and before that there was Treta-yuga (1,200,000 years). Thus, some 2,005,000 years ago Manu spoke Bhagavad-gita to his disciple and son Maharaja Iksvaku, the king of this earth planet. The age of the current Manu is calculated to last some 305,300,000 years, of which 120,400,000 years have passed. Accepting that before the birth of Manu, the Gita was spoken by the Lord to His disciple, the sun-god Vivasvan, a rough estimate is that the Gita was spoken at least 120,400,000 years ago; and in human society it has been extant for 2 million years. It was respoken by the Lord again to Arjuna about 5,000 years ago. That is the rough estimate of the history of the Gita itself and according to the version of the speaker, Lord Sri Krsna.”
GETTING IT STRAIGHT FROM GOD
For those religionists and philosophers who see Krsna as some handsome prince or even as a great philosophical genius, the essence of the Bhagavad-gita will be lost to them. The Bhagavad-gita which is the heart and soul of the famous Indian epic, “Mahabharata” by Krsna Dvapayana Vyasadeva is not a quaint poetical device nor is the battle of Kuruksetra a metaphor, but rather actual fact. To further corroborate this, Srila Prabhupada states in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.41) “Men with a poor fund of knowledge only accept the history of the world from the time of Buddha, or since 600 BC, and prior to this period all histories mentioned in the scriptures are calculated by them to be only imaginary stories. That is not a fact. All stories mentioned in the Puranas and the Mahabharata etc, are actual histories, not only of this planet but also of millions of other planets within the universe. We should not, therefore, reject the stories and histories of the Puranas as imaginary. The great rsis like Vyasa had no business putting some imaginary stories in their literatures.”
In concluding his purport, Srila Prabhupada states emphatically, “In the Bhagavad-gita the Lord says that the purpose of all the Vedas is to know Him (Lord Krsna), and Srimad-Bhagavatam is Lord Sri Krsna Himself in the form of recorded knowledge. Therefore, it is the cream of ALL the Vedas, and it contains all historical facts of ALL times in RELATION with SRI KRSNA. IT IS FACTUALLY THE ESSENCE OF ALL HISTORIES.” (My emphasis added)
Now knowing that the Vedas pre-dates all other religious texts including the Bible, much to the chagrin of staunch Christian adherents, we can now set the stage in delineating the various religious doctrines that may cross the devotees path on the way to Krsna. Let it be said again, that Krsna is the only authority in this regard or His authorized representative, the spiritual master who has realized these truths. The final purpose of the Vedas are surrender, service (bhakti) and to remember Krsna at the moment of death. This is the living entities final quest. Entrance into the spiritual world (Vaikuntha) for an eternal relationship with God, Krsna.
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Apart from the worlds religious beliefs current today, modern man is faced with a new-age movement that promulgates “pisaca” or the black arts. While some ideologies may conflict with one another and mix truth with untruth, they are at heart, atheistic.
That is, like the Buddhist school, they do not recognize nor believe in a Supreme Being and if they do, it is a concocted one at best. This also extends into the “Park Avenue” metaphysics of Shirley MacLaine, the out-of-body zealots as well as the near death advocates and can also include the east-west hodge-podge conclusions of the late Joseph Campbell who was a media darling of the new-age savants that if one just follow his or her “bliss”, everything will be all right.
This “feel good” philosophy which in the end is a springboard to hedonism has at it’s core a denial of a supreme being and relegates all or any deity to the status of myth. This may satisfy those of the hatha-yoga and meditation schools as well as the rich and famous but in the end it is impersonal at best.
The essence of all Vedic conclusion advocates a loving exchange between lover and beloved that is at once tangible and concrete. This reciprocation of love that is spontaneous has no material counterpart. That is, it is not forced but a natural affair based on self-realization and Vedic evidence. Also included in this process would be deity worship, japa meditation which is based on “sabda” or spiritual sound and hearing or “sravanam”. With these ingredients faith known as “sraddha” develops and then the devotee begins to remember his or her constitutional position which is service to the Absolute, Krsna. While the Vedas and the science of Krsna is very vast, its essence is practicable in this modern age of high technology and high anxiety.
GODS, MYTHMAKING AND THEISM
For the neophyte, embarking on the path of bhakti may be fraught with many obstacles. Obstacles of the mind as well as obstacles from without in the form of conflicting Vedic views that may not be in keeping with the real conclusions of sastra. This of course may be due to one’s depth of self-realization as well as conflicting and diverse points of view even in the arena of Vaisnavism that may trick or trap the devotee as the devotee in the beginning may already be harboring doubts, namely, is Krsna God? Thus, it is hoped Krsna from within will be kind enough to give us discrimination. Again, these tests may be quite subtle.
Be that as it may, within the realm of Indian religious thought many schools sprout up like weeds to hinder the growth of the devotee. To this end, the Sat-Sandharbas of the late Srila Jiva Goswami, (15th century) a beacon that still shines brightly for the Vaisnava community at large and a contemporary of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu , a direct incarnation of Krsna Himself, attacked with a single-mindedness the impersonal or Mayavada schools which held that God was not only impersonal but that we are all God. Thus, it denied any form of bhakti and went against the Vaisnava school which held that devotional service is the final goal of all the Vedas. In denying the Vedic conclusion, God very existence was denied in one fell swoop.
The impersonalist school seemed more hell-bent on worshipping various demigods and this was more for material gain than spiritual emancipation. The impersonal school swayed by many conclusions of ancient philosophers used logic and intuitive knowledge garnered from differing religious sects as weapons in their fight against Vaisnavism. The main schools of thought in this regard were the Nyaya (problem of knowledge), Vaisesika (analysis of nature) and the Purva-Mimamsa. Each of these systems while impersonalist, attempted to disseminate Vedic knowledge in a manner that veered the practioner far from actual Vedic truth and the realm of bhakti. Eventually, myths were turned into symbols and then into metaphors. Thus, the western view today of Indian philosophy, gods and goddesses. deity worship are simply pagan myths and folklore. This was mainly due in part to a staunch Christian-Judeo ethic that justifies it’s own belief system by showing the preposterousness and inconceivability of the Vedic conclusions.
According to modern-day historians Indian philosophical development is said to have gone through three phases. The prelogical period (up to the beginning of the Christian era), the logical period (Christian era to the 11th century AD), and the ultralogical period (11th to 18th century). The prelogical period concerns itself with Aryan and non-Aryan elements. While the Aryans held strongly to the Upanisadic belief in the atma or soul, these beliefs came into conflict with the invasion of Sakas, Greeks and Mongols.
This created an atmosphere of challenges and rivalry amongst the varying schools of religious thought and knowledge. More importantly, the Vedic knowledge that was originally sustained by Aryan culture. This clash of religious thought settled a bit during the Mauryan period (321-185 BC) and it is speculated that this was the period that Srila Vyasadeva wrote the “Mahabharata” and Valmiki the “Ramayana”. Again, these dates may not be accurate according to the Vaisnava school that states the “Mahabharata” was compiled by Vyasadeva 5,000 years ago. In addition, according to the late 19th century Vedic scholar, Srila Bahktivinoda Thakura in his book “Sri-Krsna-Samhita” there may have been several Vyasadevas according to time and place putting to write various Vedic verses in different historical times. It is also at this time that Pantanjali composed the “yoga-sutras”. This also gave rise to the rejuvenation of the Vedic literatures and also the rejuvenation of demigod worship with the trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the maintainer and Siva the destroyer. It was also during this turbulent era that the Bhagavad-gita along with the ideal of karma (cause and effects or works) was given new meaning and became the creative synthesis of the age. This was the time of the Bhagavata or Vaisnava school, the original religion.
The logical period saw the birth of Buddhism and the Nyaya-sutras. Along with Buddhism came the cult of Jainism and then the Vaisnava or Vasudeva cult. But perhaps the greatest boon in this time period were the debates between Buddhists and the Brahmanas headed by the great Indian philosopher, Sankara, a Mayavada.
The ultralogical period saw Muslim rule in the 11th century. Buddhism had all but disappeared by then. “Hindus”, a slang taken from the ancient capital of Hindustan had absorbed Buddhist ideas and declared that Buddha Himself was an incarnation of Vishnu. They weren’t far from wrong.
So-called Hindu law was written at this time while Jainism still retained some of its purity although considered unorthodox from the Vaisnava perspective. But perhaps the greatest advance and rise of Vaisnavism came in the middle of the 16th century in Mitila in the north, which was a stronghold of Hinduism. It was at this time that Vaisnavism flourished and Yamunacarya taught the path of complete surrender to God. At this time also, Madhva, Nimbarka and Ramanuja developed theistic systems of Vedanta and criticized Sankara’s Advaita Vedanta. It was in the late 13th century and particularly the 15th century that religious life in India was marked with the rise of the mystic saints such as Ramananda, Kabir, Guru Nanak and of course, Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
It is this latter saint, regarded as a direct incarnation of Lord Sri krsna Himself in the role of a devotee who was instrumental in spreading the “bhakti cult” and promulgating sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names, Hare Krsna, Hare Rama. This movement is still alive today in the modern “hare Krishna movement” which began in 1966 and brought to western shores by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Thus, it is a continuation of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s sankirtana movement, which began in India 500 years ago. It is also known as the Brahma-Sampradaya.
KINGS AND MONARCHY
While the years 321-296 BC saw the science of “artha”, or material prosperity and political philosophy headed by Kautilya, many of the impersonal schools rose up also to oppose the school of thought that held the divine nature of the kings office and the monarchy as a whole. In keeping very closely to the Vedic school, Kautiliya’s main emphasis was on diplomacy as opposed to bringing the citizen to an enlightened awareness of God. For example, Kautilya wrote about the elective origin of the king and the power of the monarchy as a means to suppress anarchy. (Go back to the opening of this paper). His view of the king’s office was not so much spiritual liberation as it was material well being and paternalism. In the final analysis, Kautilya advocated a kingship built more on self-interest rather than the political ideal as a whole. That is, that the king’s main concern was built on seven main elements; the king, the minister, the territory, the fort, the treasury, the army and the ally. In throwing in a dash of Vedic knowledge, Kautilya said the king should be free of the six passions of sex, anger, greed, vanity, haughtiness and over joy.
This view of the role of king or head of state today has become bastardized. The office of head of state or President has become so polluted that the atmosphere worldwide is one of chaos and pandemonium. In addition, any king or President that cannot maintain the spiritual well being of its citizens first is a demonic civilization. In a view to clarify this point we will mention the life of Lord Rsabhadeva, a pure Krsna conscious king (rajarsi). Let it also be known that according to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, fifth canto, Lord Rsabhadeva is an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna Himself and therefore the perfect teacher.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam (5.4.14) it states: “Being an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Rsabhadeva was fully independent. He was always equipoised, and he saw everyone on the same level. He was unhappy to see others unhappy, and He was the well wisher of all living entities. Although He was a perfect personality, the Supreme Lord and controller of all, He nonetheless acted as if He were an ordinary conditioned soul. Therefore He strictly followed the principles of varnasrama-dharma and acted accordingly. In due course of time, the principles of varnasrama-dharma had become neglected; therefore through His personal characteristics and behavior, he taught the ignorant public how to perform duties within the varnasrama-dharma. In this way, He regulated the general populace in householder life, (grahasta ashrama) enabling them to develop religion and economic well being and to attain reputations, sons, daughters, material pleasures and finally eternal life. By His instructions, he showed how people could remain householders and at the same time become perfect by following the principles of varnasrama-dharma.”
It may be quickly noted that varnasrama-dharma consists of the four social and spiritual orders: Brahmanas (priestly or intelligent class), Ksatriyas (military-administrative class), Vaisyas (merchants and farmers), and Sudras (laborer class). Brahmacaris (celibate students), grahastas (family life), vanaprastha (retired life), and sannyasi (renounced order). When all these divisions are implemented in human society according to qualification, there is perfect harmony. Krsna Himself, who is God, creates this system of religion.
In his purport to the above verse, Srila Prabhupada writes (SB.5.4.14) “The varnasrama-dharma is meant for imperfect, conditioned souls. It trains them to become spiritually advanced in order to return home, back to Godhead. A civilization that does not know the aim of life is no better than an animal society. A human society is meant for elevation to spiritual knowledge so that all of the people can be freed from the clutches of birth, death, old age and disease. The varnasrama-dharma enables human society to become perfectly fit for getting out of the clutches of maya (illusion), and by following the four regulative principles of varnasrama-dharma, one can become successful.” Also, see Bhagavad-gita 3.21.24.
Various philosophers that have polluted the pure essence of Veda after the departure of Lord Krsna to His own abode 5,000 years ago will be briefly mentioned as to their impersonal contributions.
The Ajivkas and the Carvakas appeared about the time of the rise of Buddhism with very unorthodox views. They were blatant materialists. They flatly denied the authority of the scriptures and saw consciousness in terms of the bodily concept of life. In other words, hedonism. Nagaraja and the Mahayana school took the middle road and while not denying the material or the spiritual, their philosophies were atheistic in the truest sense of the term. They saw nirvana like the Buddhists as void and took a more more metaphysical worldview.
The Purva-Mimamsa, Bhatta and Prabhakara schools are so transparent that any devotee not fixed in his or her sadhana may be misled. There highly intellectual and sometimes twisting have revealed scripture use of linguistics and their masterful jugglery of words, synonyms and verbs as well as their outward uses of phrases and metaphors can create havoc in the world of bhakti. Again, the final analysis of any philosophy is its conclusion. That is, if it negates the existence of a supreme being, His personhood and service unto Him then it is a cheating process wherein the masses will be deceived.
Somesvara Bhatta who wrote many commentaries upon commentaries, “Nectar of Logic” and a Mimamsa treatise “Light on the Scriptures” by Parthasarathi are ontological epistemologies on the nature of being, the nature of Brahmana and although they view the Vedas as authoritive, in the end it all becomes a diatribe without the bhakti which is the only path for the devotee wanting to attain moksa, or liberation.
Their semantics do very little for the “common man” and in fact only confuse the spiritual aspirant with a pseudo-denial of the varnasrama-dharma which, as stated previously, is essential for human society to at least move into the realm of the mode of goodness.
A devotee may encounter the linguistic philosophies of Bhartrhari and Mandana-misra, ancient grammarians who were opposed to the Mimamsa school and became more concerned with the world of “names and forms” and in the end held a monistic view of the scriptures.
In the Nyaya-Vaisesika school, the actual meaning of Vedanta came very, very close to the actual import of the Vedas. Their exhaustive research into the nature of knowledge, atomistic cosmology and the nature of the soul was superfluous to the personal theism of the Vaisnava school where the main focus again, is bhakti and japa-meditation.
SANKYA AND YOGA
If bhakti were not the final goal of Vedic study then the existence of a living God would be meaningless. Where then would there be a reciprocation of love and who would the devotee be serving? There are philosophies claiming to be “Krsna conscious” but do not have bhakti as their aim. Perhaps the greatest and most accurate commentary on the yoga-sutras that is devotional, rests with Vyasadeva’s known as “Vyasas-bhasya.”
The Saiva school worships the demigod Lord Siva as the highest deity. This is in keeping with the Rudra hymns of the Rig-Veda. All this folds into the Saiva-siddhanta which is realistic and dualistic and the Kashmir system which is idealistic and monistic. Both are impersonal. Lord Krsna states in BG.7.23 “Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees reach My supreme planet.”
Srila Prabhupada discusses the issue of demigod worship in many of his purports. Demigod worship is a dead-end that does not have bhakti, as it’s final goal.
Jainism founded around the 6th century BC by Vardhamana Mahavira, a religious leader of the “jinas” which means conquerors, reject the idea of God as creator of the world but believe in the perfection of man through morality and asceticism. Borrowing from Vedic tradition, there is an amalgam of doctrines that contain only partial truths. In the end they take shelter of empirical perception and knowledge, which culminates in a merging as it were with God or Omniscience. This also is true of the Jainism school. This can also be rejected as it leads to voidism.
The Mughal philosophy has Sufti, Islamic mysticism, with a dash of Vedanta thrown in to harmonize Hindu-Muslim beliefs. The chief architects of this religion are Guru Nanak, Kabir and Ramananda. It is also impersonal. In this grab bag of varying religious doctrines, it was Akbar who in 1581 set out to promulgate a new religion that was short-lived and turned out to be orthodox Unitarianism. It was also at this time that the Vedanta was translated, particularly the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-gita into Persian. Unfortunately, following Sankara’s commentaries, it got lost in the translation. Thus, the Vedanta ended up being identified with Sufism wherein the person of Krsna was reduced to that of a mere saint.
Today, especially in the west, Krsna is seen as a kind of saint or an astute philosopher of metaphysics. According to the American Collegiate dictionary; “The eighth avatar of Vishnu”. This puts Krsna in the status of a demigod and hides His real Identity, at least according to present-day theologians and academicians. But again, Krsna Himself says to Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita, that amongst thousands of men, hardly one will know Him in truth. Krsna even tells His eternal consort Srimati Radharani that He remains invisible or else they think Him a demigod. So this conclusion is not surprising. However, one’s doubts about Krsna’s actual position as God almighty will be put to rest upon a hearing or reading of the Srimad-Bhagavatam from a pure devotee of the Vaisnava school.
That there are many impersonalists from various religious sects around the world who have attempted to translate the Vedas according to their own whims or from a non devotional point-of-view is not surprising. Srila Prabhupada wrote extensively on this subject and one must really scrutinize his books very thoroughly. In Bg.7.15. Srila Prabhupada writes: “There are a great number of mayayapahrta-jnanas (impersonalists), at the present moment, even amongst the scholars of the Gita. In the Gita, in plain and simple language, it is stated that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is none equal to or greater than Him. He is mentioned as the father of Lord Brahma (secondary creator) and the original father of all human beings. Despite all these clear statements, the mayapahrta-jnana deride the Personality of the Supreme Lord and consider Him another human being. They do not know that the blessed form of human life is designed after the eternal and transcendental features of the Supreme Lord. All unauthorized interpretations of the Gita outside the purview of the parampara system (disciplic succession), are so many stumbling blocks in the path of spiritual understanding. The deluded interpreters do not surrender unto the lotus feet of Sri Krsna, nor do they teach others to follow this principle.”
With the Vedanta came a revival of non-dualism. Ramanuja recommended the path of bhakti in which love and devotion to God (bhakti) was the highest. While Sankara hovered very close to ramanuja’s conclusions, he could not come to grips with his brand of theism based on a theory of error into the nature of existentialism, which is far too complex for the common man to grasp. Eventually, Sankara’s movement toward the transcendental broke up into two groups.
The tide of bhakti would now grow into a powerful force just prior to and with the advent of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. With it would come the acceptance of “acintya-bheda-bheda-tattva”. This was Krsna’s simultaneously one, yet different feature regarding the Lord’s internal (yoga-maya) and external (maha-maya) energies. That essentially, Krsna remains the complete whole while expanding into multifarious incarnations, sub-incarnations or plenary and sub-plenary expansions. The individual soul, jiva would also be included in this category, or marginal energy. Therefore the jiva is eternally subordinate to Krsna as servant to master is an example. With the Bheda-bheda school of thought, which is one of the major cornerstones of Vaisnava thought, came such stalwart adherents such as Ramanuja, Nimbarka (12th century) and Vallabha.
Perhaps the greatest adherents of Vaisnavism were Madhva (1199), who wrote extensive commentaries on the Upanishads, the Vedanta-sutras and the Bhagavad-gita. They all had bhakti as their goal and established beyond any doubt as to the actual position of Lord Krsna as God almighty.
19TH AND 20TH CENTURY INDIAN PHILOSOPHY
With the onset of British rule in India in the early part of the century and with western culture strongly influencing Indian religious thought, the brand of philosophy brought by western and English thinkers was mainly agnostic. With Ramakrishna Paramahamsa of Calcutta came the “new wave” of mysticism. His disciple, the well known Swami Vivekananda, appealed more to the rationalistic viewpoints and secularism. That school said that many different religious paths can lead one to the same goal, although that “goal” was never spelled out and if it was, it only fanned the flames of self-interest and false ego. It was impersonal. Devoid of bhakti.
In the first decades of the 20th century the influence of humanism sat well with Indian students in the universities and they imbibed the writings of Hegel and Kant. The ancient philosophies such as the Vedas came to be studied more in the light of German idealism than in Vaisnava fundamentalism. In fact, amongst the social elite of the day, Vaisnavism was seen as a fanatical approach to Brahmanism and the concepts of the absolute.
A good example of this would be Sri Aurobindo (died 1950), whose major works “The Life Divine” and The Human Cycle” was an attempt to define nature or rather the conflict between matter and spirit. Rabindranath Tagore’s famous work, “Religion of Man” came closer to the Vaisnava ideal and in fact embraced Vaisnava theism and he based much of his writings and thinking of the Upanishads, but again, bhakti was not seen as the end all be all.
India also saw political activists who blended religion with statesmanship. Mahatma Gandhi and his nationalistic movement of the 1940’s is perhaps the most famous. J.M.E. McTaggart influenced by Hegelian idealism is another name one may come across in their studies. Later, philosophers such as N.V. Banerjee (1901-1981) and Kalidas Bhattacharya (1911-1984) were intellectuals whose books on the nature of consciousness were very dense and analytical, very academic and devoid of bhakti.
The 18th and 19th centuries saw a new surge in Vaisnavism although it had not reached western shores. With the persons of Gaura Kisora Dasa Babaji, Jagganatha Das Babaji, Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami who all remained hidden in the jewel mine of bhakti, their influence would soon cast a very long and enduring torchlight of bhakti that would span across the entire planet in a very short time and gain a momentum unlike any seen throughout the world.
In the mid-1960’s books like Paramahamsa Yogananda’s “Autobiography of a Yogi” became the cult classic amongst college students or theology aficionados. Individuals who were searching for some meaning in their lives, perhaps as a way to revolt against the staid, Christian and Protestant ethics that had become so rooted in American culture and tradition. Later, the books of Ram Dass (Richard Alpert) “Be Here Now” and “Grist for the Mill” would herald an era of “How I went to India and discovered my guru.”. It caught on and became a phenomenon amongst a certain subculture of society. Drug-induced hippies looking to escape the steel bars of conservatism in a radical way in their romantic search for God. The fad soon ended in a sea of impersonal hodge-podge. Zen-Buddhism with the mysterious Dalai Lama from Tibet was also a popular and still enduring notion. Buddhists however do not believe in a supreme being therefore bhakti is excluded and their brand of sitting meditation is impersonal and dry.
The guru, Maharishi made a big splash as a 60’s “holy man” and claimed to have a monopoly on the “way” to God. Even the famous Beatles had an audience with him and the Swami soon appealed to the Hollywood celebrities more than to the common man or woman. His movement soon fizzled out. It was mystical hype.
The Swami Muktananda ashram became popular in the 1970’s. They were concerned with Kundalini yoga and were worshipers of Lord Siva. They borrowed from various Vedic texts and even used the Hare Krsna Maha-mantra in a round about way, as an aside. There was no emphasis on its spiritual potency or origin. It too was impersonal and devoid of bhakti, devotion to Lord Krsna’s lotus feet.
With the emergence of the 60’s counterculture, the Vietnam War and rebellious youth looking for meaning in their lives or God, the dawning of the “age of Aquarius” was upon the collective psyche of a once conservative, suburban landscape of America. A capitalist stronghold steeped in materialism on one end and on the other, a “hippie” culture rejecting moral values and advocating civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights and ultra-liberalism.
In this anti-status quo environment where “God is dead” came the gurus and swamis from the east all seeking new disciples who could bankroll their mish-mash of religious beliefs. The hatha-yogis and Vipasana meditators taking long retreats in the woods searching for some meaning and peace in their lives. India was a romantic notion, far away in the east, mystical yet enigmatic. The disenfranchised youth of the day experimented with every manner of drugs and hallucinogens, trying to escape….trying to find God. But maybe God wasn’t dead; maybe He was alive and well. But if this were so, who would bring the message? If indeed there was one.
1965 may have been an uneventful year. No one would have ever imagined that America would soon be blessed with the arrival of a lone, elderly sannyasi from India. There were no big ceremonies or fanfare upon his arrival. No one stood at the dock of New York harbor on that cold November day as he walked off the cargo ship Jaladuta with an umbrella and a trunk full of translated Sanskrit books. Who would have known that this mahatma, great soul would soon change the hearts and minds of young people seriously interested in real truth? No one could have imagined what impact this one man would have on a “lost generation” of sleeping souls caught in Maya’s web of illusion. One man, coming from so far away, with no money and just a few books…. the Vedas.
Bhakti was alive and well. In just a short time, this one man would fire the mantra that would be heard around the world. The REAL revolution had begun. His name was A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Pabhupada. A prophecy fulfilled.
HARE KRISHNA-HARE RAMA
By now it should be obvious to the reader that we have come full circle as it were. The ancient religion known as Vaisnavism and the Vedic tradition, which is the real religion for the age, is here. Had it not been for His Divine Grace, no one would have ever known God was alive, or that He was even a Person.
The rest is history.
It would be impossible to attempt to cover the length ad breadth of every world religion since the dawn of time. This paper is a brief attempt to enlighten those persons who may have been misled by various doctrines, particularly eastern.
Vaisnavism or Krsna consciousness purports that the highest goal attainable and the most beneficial for the living entity is to remember Krsna’s holy names at the moment of death thereby gaining entrance into the spiritual world for a life of eternal bliss. ANY RELIGIOUS BELIEF THAT DOES NOT HAVE BHAKI-YOGA AS IT’S FINAL GOAL MUST BE REJECTED.
A devotee of Krsna enters the great family of Vaisnava saints. Their lives are living examples and proof that God is a person and that He is Krsna. We lie like rods on the floor in humble obeisance, even in our minds at their selfless service to the Absolute. By their exemplary character perhaps we too may one day develop pure love of God by following in their footsteps so that we may associate with them in our eternal spiritual forms in Vaikunthaloka.
Bhakta Vaikuntha has been a devotee of Krsna since 1979. He lives in Colorado