All posts by Malatimanjari

Concepts of God in Christianity and Vaishnavism

Question: I’ve undertaken a discussion with Christian theologians. Their understanding of a Personal God, specifically their resistance to a God with form, which is cogent and well-argued by their scholars based on their śāstra, has forced me to think carefully about our own theological claims. Please share your thoughts on a few points.

We say Bhagavān and everything in Goloka is made of sat-cit-ānanda. They would say these are qualities, not the substance of God. From these three, sat is just a temporal statement—present active participle—that God’s Being is eternal. Ānanda also seems to be an experience rather than a substance. We are left with cit as the actual composition of Bhagavān’s form. I seem to recall Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī saying that Bhagavān’s form is constituted of ghana cetana. What do you think he intends by this? How can consciousness be condensed or densified?

The Christians do not understand how consciousness can be a substance from which form is composed; they see it as a state. But this seems to be our position—Bhagavān’s rupa is “made” of cetana, yes? If this is so and consciousness can somehow densify into form, does it have a viśeṣa that contains it, such that it does not melt or dissolve, as Nyāya would hold?

This would seem like a limitation, although we would say that this delimited form is an act of God’s will, and He can manifest any form and infinite forms. But if we say this, we start to sound like those who say form is secondary to the will of a Brahman higher than form, which then takes a form secondarily for līlā or as an avatāra.

What we call manuṣya-rūpa in prakṛti is really a set of instruments, indriyas, allowing the ātman to experience prakṛti in delimited ways of seeing, smelling, etc., bound by karma. We also say that rāgātmikā bhaktas likewise need instruments in Goloka to experience and serve Bhagavān. Bhagavān’s form also consists of senses. It is hard to argue that senses are not limitations—why would an omnipotent Being need any sort of instrument at all? Needing instruments suggests being incomplete in one’s own resources.

Perhaps we might say that for Brahman not to be static, impersonal, or undifferentiated, but ecstatic and infinite variegatedness, there must be a way for consciousness to experience different aspects of variegatedness. If there was just consciousness without differentiated instrumentation, wouldn’t this be a monistic Advaita experience?

Additionally, Bhagavān’s senses are all interchangeable—any one sense can perform the function of any other. What then is the use of five senses if they can all do the work of each other?

These are the types of questions raised when dialoguing with other theists; do you have any thoughts to share?

Answer: First of all, I would like to say that according to modern science, matter is nothing but energy. That means energy can have form. We know from quantum mechanics that the solid matter which we see with our eyes is really a bunch of space with quantum particles moving around in it. In fact, it is even wrong to say that they are particles. They may be called “waves.” I read that if all the matter in a human body is compressed, leaving no space between particles, then it would be reduced to a dot on the end of a needle. Yet, from our experience, we see a solid body several feet tall with a certain amount of weight. Indeed, science proposes that the whole universe came from the big bang, which started from a concentrated point of energy. At least we know that the sun is nothing but energy and that the earth formed from the sun. If it is possible that material energy can have a material form, it is surely possible that consciousness can have an immaterial form. It may be difficult to understand how consciousness can be a substance, but everything you see around you is a product of consciousness.

Yes, Bhagavān’s form is made of consciousness, but this consciousness is not what you think or have experience of. This consciousness is a substance. This duality of substance, and its quality of being different from other substances, exists only at the material level. At the spiritual level, there is no such duality. That is why it is called bheda and abheda, one and different simultaneously. At the spiritual level, even emotions have form.

We do not accept the principle of viśeṣa, either of the Nyāya or Madhva school.

There is no difference between God’s form and His will. It is not that God wills and then a form is manifest. His forms are eternal. That is the meaning of sat.

Similarly, the senses which are instruments of God are not like our senses which are distinct from us. He is one composite unit, Akhaṇḍa Tattva. Any part of His body is complete in itself. It is not that His one sense can perform the function of any other sense, but any part of His body can perform any function. Why does He have these parts? That is how He is. The question “why” comes from assuming that He became like this one day. Why does this not apply to Absolute Reality? Absolute Reality has to be studied the way it is. He has a human form and associates who are humans; He walks on His feet, although He can fly also. That is His human līlā. He has mādhurya-līlā and aiśvaryalīlā. In mādhurya-līlā, He acts as a human being, although He has all aiśvarya.

The real answer is that if you want to understand who God is, which means His form, qualities, activities, and nature, then logic is an imperfect means. He is beyond logic. Therefore, mere logic can never give you a proper understanding of God. The only process to know God as He is, when He speaks about Himself, is through śāstra. The human mind and senses have no ability to know Him by their own effort. And the proof is that science has not and will never figure Him out.

You write that your Christian friends base their concept of God on their śāstra. Do they test it with logic? Our concept of God is based on śāstra, not logic. You may think their arguments against a God with form are cogent, but I find holes in their concept of God. What they are doing to our concept, I can easily do to their concept. This does not make them better than us. Why do you think our concept is weaker than theirs? As far as logic is concerned, they have the same problems as we have, possibly more. Their Bible says that God made man in His own image. How does God have an image if He doesn’t have a form? Either we speak on the basis of logic or on the basis of śāstra. It is not that you speak on the basis of your śāstra and then you attack on the basis of logic. As far as logic is concerned, I have shown you how, according to modern science, energy can have a form, so why God cannot have a form, even if He is just consciousness?

In fact, our concept of God is superior to theirs because it is inclusive of their concept. No matter what concept they have, our God has that and much more. Their God is limited because He cannot walk, talk, or have fun. Our God can do anything. He can appear limited and remain unlimited.

Question: What do you think Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī intends by describing Bhagavān’s form as ghana cetana?

Answer: Ghana simply means form.

Question: In its normal usage, ghana means the compacting of something (√han). So, if its semantics extend to form, then surely this would be because “form” in its normal usage is a compacting of matter. I assumed Śrī Jīva had chosen that specific word to indicate this quality of form as some sort of compacting of consciousness. I see no reason why cetana cannot be “compacted,” especially since Bhagavān’s natures of cit and ānanda are infinitely more than that of other entities, and this reading of Śrī Jīva would be śabda pramāṇa for that.

Answer: Yes, you are right; ghana carries the sense of compactness even when used for form.

Question: I accept that we cannot understand all this with logic and philosophy, but we need to push logic as far as we can in support of śāstra in those areas beyond other pramāṇas, as this is the Vedanta position in the beginning of Vedanta Sūtra. Such logic is especially required if we wish to commune with other traditions rather than take a position that one tradition’s śāstra says “xyz” and bas.

Answer: Yes, logic is very important—that is why I wrote from a logical point of view in the first part of my reply.

Your Christian friends must accept that God is the creator of the world. A creator must have knowledge, will, and the ability to create. You can make a logical argument that knowledge, will, and the ability to create do not exist in anything formless, and can exist only in a person having form. So, God must have a form; otherwise, He cannot create. Next, by logic you can prove that His form cannot be material. In this way, we can logically argue our case.

Question: Yes. A straightforward anumāna for an Īśvara as creator would be: 

Īśvara has a form. 

Because He has intelligence and will.

Wherever intelligence and will are found, they are found in a form.

Īśvara has intelligence and will.

Therefore, Īśvara has a form.

Answer: Yes, this is the five-step syllogism. You need to add an example.

Question: But wouldn’t this also apply to the individual jīva by the same logic? Yet no one other than Vaiṣṇavas accept a svarūpa of the ātman with a form in moḳsa. 

Answer: But in the case of Advaitavāda moḳsa, the ātman is not a creator. In case of Vaiṣṇava moḳsa, the ātman has a body.

Question: What is surprising is that the Vaiṣṇavas never seem to argue for a form as a bhaga of Bhagavān. Why are we not able to find any substantial arguments in Rāmānuja, Madhva, or Śrī Jīva defending the logic of God’s form? Why was that not seen as a necessary siddhānta to defend—given no one in their time accepted this principal aspect of their siddhānta?

Answer: We miss the basic premise of Rāmānuja, Madhva, Śrī Jīva, et al. They work hard to establish śabda as pramāṇa. Once they have done that, they do not need to argue for form.

Question: What do you think of this argument: For God to be infinite, active, and nonstatic, He must be infinitely variegated. If God were just infinite consciousness, albeit Personal and distinct from souls, then He would experience one infinite, omniscient state of consciousness of everything at once, hence static. Variegatedness of experience requires senses, each one suited for appreciating and experiencing one aspect of variegatedness. Hence God has senses, to experience the infinitely expanding nature of His own Being and svarūpa-śakti. These are not limitations, but attributes to enhance the variegatedness of bliss. Would something like that work?

Answer: Yes, you can use such a line of argument. Only thing is that it is stronger when you formulate the five-step syllogism used by Nyāya—proposition, reason, principle with an example, application, and conclusion. Once you do that, the opponent must work hard to refute your argument. When you state your position in a descriptive form, then the opponent can pick up some tangential point and drag the argument in the wrong direction.



How Yogamaya Influences Perfected Devotees – I

Question: Regarding the ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānuśīlanaṃ verse in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, Jaya and Vijaya agreed to please Kṛṣṇa by fighting with Him and thus took birth as demons. In this condition, were they aware of this pleasing intention, or were they completely subjugated by yogamāyā so that they could fulfill this role?

Answer: They were under yogamāyā. Śrī Jiva Gosvāmī explains that their inimical mood was external, and so were their asurika bodies. I am citing my translation and commentary on Prīti Sandarbha, Anucchedas 7.6–7, where Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī explains how even perfected devotees can be influenced by Yogamāyā and act as if ignorant of the reality:


The Līlā-śakti’s Influence on Kṛṣṇa’s Associates and the Asuras 

Sometimes, however, the līlā-śakti itself, in order to nourish the sweetness of Bhagavān’s divine play, invests such power in both the favorable and unfavorable elements of its own design (ātma-upakaraṇa) that even those such as [the gopas] who are dear to Kṛṣṇa are made to experience a semblance (ābhāsa) of absorption in the object-field (viṣayāveśa). An example of this is seen in Śrī Śuka’s description of Pūtanā: “Seeing that lovely woman [Pūtanā], who captivated the minds of the inhabitants of Vraja by her sidelong glances and enchanting smiles, the gopīs thought her to be Śrī herself [i.e., Lakṣmī]” (SB 10.6.6).

With the intention of pointing out the mere “semblance” (ābhāsa) of absorption in the object-field [on the part of the Vraja-gopas], Śukadeva employs the words mano harantīm, “who captivated the minds [of the inhabitants of Vraja],” in the sense of a pun (śleṣa), signifying that Pūtanā behaved “as if” (iva) having captivated their minds. Earlier in the same chapter, it was hinted that Pūtanā’s power (śakti) was in fact bestowed by the līlāśakti:

“Fiends and witches [like Pūtanā] can extend their evil influence [prabhavanti, i.e., their śakti] only in those places where people, though devoted to their prescribed duties, do not engage in hearing and singing the names and līlās of Bhagavān Kṛṣṇa, the Guardian of His devotees, which are capable of destroying the fiends.” (SB 10.6.3)

Only in this manner [by empowerment of the līlā-śakti] was the following possible:

“Because she [Pūtanā] was holding a lotus flower in her hand and was exquisitely beautiful, the gopīs mistook her for Śrī [Lakṣmī], who had come there as if to see her husband (patim).” (SB 10.6.6)

The word śrīyam here refers to the presiding deity of material wealth, and the word patim, lit., “husband,” refers to someone who, on the basis of piety accrued from the past, is eligible to obtain such wealth. [The implication here is that without the support of the līlā-śakti, the hideous witch Pūtanā could never have been mistaken for Lakṣmī and especially not by Bhagavān’s eternal associates.] As in the previous case [wherein the captivation of the gopas’ minds by Pūtanā was merely an ābhāsa], so too in the following statement [Yaśodā’s and Rohiṇī’s bewilderment by Pūtanā was only an ābhāsa]:

“Seeing that beautiful woman suddenly present inside the house and behaving most agreeably [in the manner of an affectionate mother (valgu jananyā iva)]—though her heart was cruel, like a sword encased in a soft leather sheath—the two mothers [Yaśodā and Rohiṇī] stood awestruck [and did not intervene (na tu nivāritavatyau)], being overwhelmed by her splendor [i.e., by her display of motherly affection (mātṛvat sneha prākaṭya pratibhayā)].” (SB 10.6.9)

In the same manner, wherever even Bhagavān’s own associates are said to be overwhelmed by māyā, this is to be understood as but a mere outward appearance of such enthrallment (māyā-abhibhava-ābhāsa). This is exemplified in the case of Śrī Baladeva, when He said: “This must be the māyā of My master [Kṛṣṇa] and of no other, because it is bewildering even Me” (SB 10.13.37). 


Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī cites an instance where even Kṛṣṇa’s own associates seem to become absorbed in events or objects other than Him. He clarifies that wherever this type of scenario is described in śāstra, it should be inferred that Kṛṣṇa’s associates are impelled to behave in such manner by Bhagavān’s līlā-śakti because they are beyond all influence of the extrinsic potency. The līlā-śakti does this just to enhance the sweetness of Kṛṣṇa’s divine play. Consequently, the absorption in the object-field on the part of Kṛṣṇa’s associates is merely an ābhāsa.

Śrī Jīva gives the example of gopīs like Yaśodā becoming influenced by the beauty of Pūtanā. It is said that wherever the name of Kṛṣṇa is chanted, fiends and hobgoblins cannot enter, yet Pūtanā was able to enter Gokula itself, where He was personally present. This would not have been possible unless His līlā-śakti had arranged for it so that He could enact the divine play of liberating Pūtanā. Moreover, even Yaśodā was influenced by Putanā’s beauty and thus allowed her to take baby Kṛṣṇa in her arms and feed Him.

Bhagavān’s līlā-śakti can influence even His own direct expansions like Balarāma, as was the case during the Brahmā-mohana-līlā. When Brahmā stole Kṛṣṇa’s friends and calves, the latter expanded Himself into exact replicas of both the cowherd boys and the calves. This went on for an entire year without Balarāma’s knowledge because He too had been under the influence of the līlā-śakti.

In support of his explanation that Pūtanā was able to captivate the minds of the gopas and gopīs by the influence of the līlā-śakti, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī comments that the words mano harantīm, “captivated the minds [of the inhabitants of Vraja],” are spoken by Śrī Śuka in the sense of a pun. The gerund noun harantīm can also mean harantīm iva, Pūtanā behaved “as if having captivated” their minds. This meaning is derived by applying the suffix kvip in the sense of kyaṅ, which is utilized when someone acts like someone else. Furthermore, he comments that the word Śrī, used for Pūtanā, does not refer to the transcendental Lakṣmī, the consort of Nārāyaṇa, but to the presiding deity of material wealth. 


Diving into Bhakti-Rasamrita Sindhu

Question: We are reading the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu in a workshop. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī has ten practices considered “primary in the beginning”—including worship of the banyan tree, etc. Then he speaks of the last five practices as having “extraordinary and incomprehensible power.”

My question is, why are śravaṇa, smaraṇam (smṛti), and dhyāna placed in the middle of the 64 items and not commented upon as especially important when they seem to be the highest goal?

Answer:  Bhakti is the path of turning a non-devotee, bahirmukha-jīva, into a person whose regard is turned toward Bhagavān i.e an antarmukha-jīva. This is its distinction from all other paths.  Therefore, the process of bhakti begins with taking shelter of a guru, prapatti or śaraṇāgati. 

Śravaṇa, kīrtana, etc., can be done by anyone, i.e., they can be done without accepting śaraṇāgati. But that would not make one a bhakta if he is not prapanna or śaraṇāgata. You can witness many people coming to a kirtan-fest and participating in śravaṇa and kīrtana. Even Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla performed smaraṇa, but that did not count as bhakti. Therefore, you will see that prapatti or śaraṇāgati is always the first step in bhakti, e.g., Gītā 18.66, SB 11.3.21, Gītā 4.34.

Thus Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī writes that the first three limbs are the foundation of bhaktitrayaṁ pradhānamevoktaṁ gurupādāśrayādikam (BRS 1.2.83). These three are guru-pādāśraya, dīkṣā and śikṣā, and guru-sevā. All other limbs of bhakti are based on these three. Without these three, there is no bhakti. Why? Because the person is still a bahirmukha. This is a very important point to understand and a very crucial one for a serious sādhaka. We see a lot of stress given to śravaṇa and kīrtana. That is fine but we should not overlook the requirement to take shelter of a guru.

Question: In verse 270, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī begins his discussion on rāgānugā but states rāgātmikā needs first to be understood. Having divided rāgātmikā into kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā, he then jumps into a ten-verse discussion (verses 274–282) about various ways of fixing the mind on Kṛṣṇa, favorably or unfavorably, all of which belong to vaidhī. He does not announce he is taking this excursion—it seems to come under the rubric of rāgātmikā-bhakti. Any thoughts on this from a structural point of view?

Answer: It is not true that in verses 274-282, he describes vaidhī bhakti. Verses 274–275 are examples of kāma-rūpā and sambandha-rūpā-bhakti, as mentioned in verse 273. In these verses, the gopīs are examples of kāma-rūpā-bhakti, and the Vṛṣṇis are examples of sambandha-rūpā-bhakti. In verses 274 and 275, he describes how many people in the past have attained Kṛṣṇa by absorbing their mind in Him. Absorption of mind is the essence of rāga bhakti. He gives examples of different people who attained Kṛṣṇa by absorption. There is no vidhi mentioned in these verses; there is no verb of an injunction. There cannot be any vidhi for kāma or sambandha. Then in verses 276 and 277, he explains that although there cannot be any injunction for fear, bhaya, and hatred, dveṣa, they cannot be counted as bhakti. One may doubt how bhaktas and enemies can attain the same position; he explains that from verse 278 onwards until verse 282. The purpose of all this description is to explain rāga bhakti and not vaidhī. A hint of this was already given in verse 1.2.3, 4.

Question: I had no idea rāgātmikā included Kaṁsa, etc. I had always associated rāgātmikā exclusively with the Vraja community. But it makes sense to think of Kaṁsa and such as utterly and spontaneously absorbed in Kṛṣṇa. 

Answer: He is rāgātmikā but not a bhakta. His absorption in Kṛṣṇa is natural. It was not achieved by any practice or because of some injunction. He feared Kṛṣṇa that he would kill him. Thus his absorption was not favorable. Therefore, it is not accepted as bhakti. Similarly Śiśupāla was also absorbed in thoughts of Kṛṣṇa but out of hatred, dvēṣa. This is stated by Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmi in 1.2.276 – ānukūlya-viparyāsād bhīti-dveṣau parāhatau. 

Question: I’m not clear, in verse 276, why sneha denotes only sakhya, and if so, denotes specifically vaidhi-bhakti. Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī does say later that if sneha denotes prema, it would be rāgānugā.

Answer: In verse 275, sneha is used in reference to the Pāṇḍavas—snehād yūyam (Nārada spoke this to Yudhiṣṭhira). The Pāṇḍavas were sakhās (see Gītā 4.3 and 11.41). This bhāva is considered vaidhi because the Pāṇḍavas were very much aware of Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya-jñāna. Pure rāgātmikā does not have aiśvarya-jñāna in it. The second part of your question is a misunderstanding. He says that if the word sneha is to be taken to mean prema, then it does not have any utility in the description of rāgānugā sādhana-bhakti. Prema is sādhya and not sādhana.

Question: Is the point that the lower level sneha is of lesser intensity than prema and so still needs to be bolstered by vaidhi?

Answer: It is lower intensity because it is vaidhi and not the other way around.

Question: Would this then be referencing Kṛṣṇa’s aiśvarya friends in Dvārakā and the Mahābhārata?

Answer: Yes. The point is that when one has aiśvarya-jñāna, the level and intensity of prīti go down. You cannot be intensely intimate with someone if he or she is much superior to you, and you are aware of this dynamic. Prema gives intimacy and aiśvarya brings distance, a sense of reverence.

Question: Why only sakhya? Why can’t this type of sneha be found in the other bhāvas?

Answer: It is possible in other bhāvas but here it refers specifically to the Pāṇḍavas.

Question: Sārūpya can be of two modalities, yes? One can have a form like Viṣṇu’s and reside in Vaikuṇṭha as a separate being, one of the five kinds of mokṣa frequently referred to, or one can merge into Kṛṣṇa’s body like Agha? In the latter case, one is no longer a separate entity and so cannot express prema but can experience the ānanda of Kṛṣṇa’s body, which would be greater than brahmānanda—is this correct?

Answer: The latter one is not called sārūpya but sāyujya. It is sāyujya, which is of two types—brahma-sāyujya and bhagavad-sāyujya. You are mixing bhagavad-sāyujya with sārupya.

Question: In verse 280, siddha-loka seems to be equated with brahma-sāyujya. I thought it was an actual loka with enlightened siddha beings.

Answer: You are right. It is a place beyond the Virajā River. Those who are śānta-rasa bhaktas live there, and those who attain brahma-sāyujya also exist there without a body.

Question: I am unclear about verse 303. Riraṁsā is the desiderative of ram, meaning that such persons have an intense spontaneous desire. Is this discounted as rāgānugā because it is not focused on a role model in Vraja? If so, does this mean rāgānugā can only be Vraja-centered? Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī seems to say this in 291. Even then, if one has an intense and spontaneous desire to serve Kṛṣṇa in Dvārakā, why would that be classified as vaidhibhakti?

Answer: First, riraṁsā is not pure rāgātmikā. Secondly, it is attained by vaidhi-bhakti. Vaidhi cannot be considered spontaneous. Pure rāgānugā is only in Vraja. Thus, it can be called a type of mixed rāgānugā-bhakti.

Furthermore, verse 303 itself says vidhi-mārgeṇa sevate. That means one is not following the mood of the rāgātmikā-bhaktas, which is the very definition of rāgānugā-bhakti. So, how can it be rāgānugā-bhakti? The word kevalena implies that there is no mood of rāgātmikā-bhakti. To become a gopī, one must follow rāgānugā-bhakti, not vaidhi-bhakti.

Question: What if such a person was not a Vraja-bhakta but a Dvārakā-bhakta but needed no vidhi—what would that be called if it is technically neither rāgānugā-bhakti nor vaidhi-bhakti?

Answer: It is still mixed rāgānugā because such a person would have aiśvarya-jñāna, which will constrict the prīti and cause him to follow specific protocols with Kṛṣṇa because Kṛṣṇa is royalty. He cannot jump on Kṛṣṇa’s shoulders—even if he is in sakhya-bhāva. The friendship would not be like that of the cowherds. Kṛṣṇa will also not be as relaxed as He is in Vraja. He has to maintain His royal demeanor. The mood in Dvārakā is not free as in Vraja. There Kṛṣṇa is a royal person and observes royal protocol. Friends, queens and other devotees are also aware of it and thus their love is not free as those of Vraja residents.

What is Anartha?

The word artha is derived from the Sanskrit root artha, which means “to desire.” Thus the word artha means a desirable object, purpose, goal, wealth, etc. Anartha means that which is not artha. On the path of bhakti, our goal or artha is prema. To achieve a goal, we also need the means. Then those means also become artha or desirable. Thus artha is of two types—the goal and the means to achieve the goal. Anything that supports these two is acceptable. Everything else is anartha. For example, to achieve prema, one needs to engage in sādhana-bhakti, so sādhana-bhakti is also artha. One needs to keep one’s body fit. For that, good sleep is necessary. Although sleeping is neither the goal nor the means to achieve the goal, it supports sādhana-bhakti and thus is not an anartha. Once we understand the definition of anartha and are clear about our goal, we can apply the definition to test whether something is an anartha.

If we are not clear about our goal, then we are not clear about the distinction between artha and anartha. This is the situation with people in general, who are manipulated by social media. Social media programs the mind, and people follow it blindly. Social media, however, is controlled primarily by the corporate world and politicians. The corporate world wants to sell its products and make a profit, and the politicians want to remain in power. Thus they manipulate the minds of people to these two ends.

Some rare people get out of this rat race and take to spirituality. But if such spiritual enthusiasts are not adequately educated about their goals and the means to achieve them, they are again exploited by men seeking wealth and power in the garb of spiritual leaders. If spiritual leaders are not adequately educated in their field, then knowingly or unknowingly, they repeat the same scenario that occurs in society—the pursuit of wealth and power. The common spiritualist cannot see this due to a lack of education.

Everyone is born with a natural attachment to the physical body. This is nature’s arrangement or an outcome of anādi avidyā. The body has its physical needs, and to satisfy those needs, one requires wealth. Even if one somehow acquires wealth, one must protect it from others. Hence there is a need for power. Thus there is a natural inclination to amass wealth and power. These two are natural arthas. However, if one studies life deeply, they realize that mere wealth and power do not bring fulfillment. They are necessary for survival, but the purpose of life is not simply survival. Everyone wants to be happy. But it is seen that the very wealth and power one needs to survive also result in suffering, which is an anartha. Indeed, everything material, no matter how attractive and necessary, is a source of suffering if one does not have the goal of prema.

Thus, if one has proper knowledge of prema and the process to achieve it, one can understand the true anarthas. Otherwise, even so-called arthas are also anarthas. 

Therefore, Śri Kṛṣṇa advises us to surrender to Him. The idea of surrender is to get rid of this anartha. But to our materially conditioned minds, surrender appears like a poison pill. Because of avidyā, the real artha seems like an anartha, and the anarthas seem like arthas. The purpose of spiritual practice is to get rid of anarthas or anartha-nivṛtti—not to engage in anarthas or anartha-pravṛtti.

Surrender is not something new to us, but we have not deliberated on it. We are all surrendered to our bodies completely. We do everything to please our minds and senses. We climb mountains, engage in dangerous sports like skiing, drink horrible-tasting liquids, and smoke unhealthy fumes—simply for the pleasure of the mind and body. We also work odd hours in unpleasant situations just to earn money. This is because we are naturally surrendered to the body. Surrendering to Kṛṣṇa is not as austere as surrendering to our body and senses. There is no need to eat or drink unpleasant substances. Yet because we do not like surrendering to anyone, we have trouble following spirituality. But if we can utilize our intellect correctly, we can avoid all anarthas. This is the ultimate advice Kṛṣṇa  gives to Uddhava:

eṣā buddhimatāṁ buddhir manīṣā ca manīṣiṇām
yat satyam anṛteneha martyenaāpnoti mām ṛtam 

“This is the intellect of the intelligent and the wisdom of the wise, that by using this temporary, mortal body, they attain Me who is eternal and Truth.” (SB 11.29.22)


Consciousness in Deep Sleep, Science and Shastra

Question: I have heard that in the Gauḍīya sampradāya, the ātman is conscious as well as aware of itself. In Advaita Vedānta, the ātman is mere consciousness. Can you please explain how the ātman is aware of itself since in deep sleep we are the awareness (consciousness) but still not aware (conscious) of anything?

Answer: The problem with hearing is that you are not sure whether what you have heard is right, partly right, or wrong. When you pose a question, please refer to śāstra. This is my request. Otherwise, it becomes my responsibility to defend what you have heard. Or, it is better that you ask those from whom you hear these things.

Question: I apologize for not giving references. I read it in your short e-book called “The Self and Free Will in Chaitanya Samprayada.” I am quoting it here.

Ātmā possesses consciousness and is self-aware

Ātmā is not mere consciousness. It is an entity that possesses consciousness. It is consciousness itself, and it possesses consciousness. Therefore, it is described as “self-luminous” (svayam-prakāśa). Objects like a table or a book, for example, are not self-illuminating. They need to be illuminated by a light source before they can be seen. A light bulb, however, is self-illuminating, it illuminates itself as well as objects in its vicinity. But a light bulb is not aware of what it illuminates, because it is insentient, inert. Ātmā is not only self-illuminating but also self-aware. Ātmā illuminates itself and the body, and is conscious of the things it illuminates, including itself. For this reason, ātmā is called cid-rūpa, “sentient by nature.” Although self-luminous like a bulb, however, ātmā does not reveal the body to others, but only to itself. This concept of ātmā is in contrast to the notion of Advaita Vedānta, where ātmā is proclaimed to be mere consciousness, rather than possessing consciousness. In that school consciousness is only seen as the nature of ātmā, but not as its attribute.

How are we (the ātmā) self-aware in deep sleep? According to Advaitins, we are just pure awareness, not being aware of anything (in deep sleep). The ātmā is not aware of itself in Advaita Vedanta. How are we self-aware in deep sleep, according to the Gauḍīya sampradāya?

Answer: So your question is only about self-awareness in deep sleep. What about in the wakeful state? Are you not aware of yourself in the wakeful state? Do you need help of someone else to tell you that you exist? Certainly not. 

We are all aware of ourselves in the wakeful state. Therefore, we use the word “I” to refer to ourselves. This sense of “I” belongs to the ātmā. In the conditioned state, we identify with our body and mind, therefore, we also use the word “I” to refer to these. If the ātmā did not have the sense of “I,” it would not be able to identify with the body etc. To identify with something, first you have to have the sense of “I.” Otherwise, who is identifying with whom? This does not need deep philosophical knowledge. If we have the sense of “I” in the wakeful state, it should also be present in the state of deep sleep. There is no reason for it to disappear in deep sleep.

So the ātmā has a sense of “I” in deep sleep also but it is not aware of it because it is disconnected from everything. That is why when one wakes up, one only remembers, “I slept well.” Such remembrance is only possible if one has experienced it. Experience is not possible without the sense of “I.” And the sense of “I” is not possible without consciousness.




Question: Why do our scriptures clash with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience. Can you elaborate on this?

Answer: To which direct experience are you referring specifically? Unless you refer to something specific, how can I answer you?

Question: Can you explain the 8.4 million species mentioned in the Purāṇas?

Answer: Very interesting question. Now can you tell me how it clashes with the pratyakṣa pramāṇa of science? Has science counted the total number of species all over the universe? I am not aware if this. Assuming that that they have done so, please give the number as per the pratyakaṣa pramāna of science.  When śāstra says there are 8.4 million species, you also need to consider if the definition of śāstra for species matches with that of science. My understanding is that they do not match. The word used by śāstra is yoni, which is loosely translated as species. But śastra says there are some 400 000 yoni of human beings. This certainly cannot pertain to “species”. What it really means is body types.

What I am most amazed is that you wrote: “A few things seem similar but a major part of the śāstra is contrary to our direct experience.” And when I asked you to list the contradictions, you came up with just one, and you did not give any proof of the contradiction. 


Observing Proper Rules of Deity-worship

Question: I have questions regarding offenses to uninstalled Deities. Recently I informed a devotee that keeping dogs in the home is an offense to the Deity, because the dog contaminates the entire house. It is impossible to maintain basic sadācāra with a cat or dog inside the home. Then another devotee said that most devotees have not installed their Deities at home so they cannot commit sevā-aparādhas. Is it true that if a Deity is not installed, then we cannot commit sevā-aparādhas? 

Hari-bhakti-vilāsa describes how to install a Deity. It is a very elaborate and complicated process; hardly someone does this. In the West, it’s hardly possible to do so because certain ingredients for the installation are only available in India.

Some gurus say that receiving mantra-dīkṣā is an automatic installation of the home Deity. If you are initiated, then your Deities are installed as well at the same time.

Can you comment on these topics?

Answer: A dog and the Deity do not go together. The dog has to be kept out of the Deity area. If there is a dog in the house, the Deity must have its own place, where the dog is not allowed to go. The dog should also be not allowed in the kitchen where the Deity’s bhoga is prepared.

If a Deity is being worshiped, whether installed or not, it is offensive not to observe the rules of worship.

The installation of a Deity can be elaborate, as described in Hari-bhakti-Vilāsa, or it can be abridged as per one’s means and the availability of ingredients. Both are fine. Receiving dīkṣā-mantra does not install the Deity automatically.

Question: Is there a specific verse to verify that worshiping an uninstalled deity and not following the rules is an offense?

Answer: You cannot expect a verse for everything. Certain things or customs did not exist in the past. For example, there were no markets to sell and buy Deities. Deities were made on order. Therefore, people did not worship uninstalled Deities. Thus there may not be any reference to offenses or no offenses to uninstalled Deity worship in śāstra. At least I have not come across it.  One should also apply one’s intelligence and logic based on śāstric knowledge. If you are worshiping an uninstalled deity, then you have accepted that Deity as Bhagavān. Otherwise, why would you worship that Deity? You accept the worship as part of bhakti and expect to get spiritual benefit from it. Otherwise, you would not do so.

But you do not want to follow the rules of worship and therefore you suggest that there is no offense in not following the rules because the Deity is not installed. Moreover, you also cannot give any śāstric evidence that no offense is involved. You also cannot give any logic for it.

But I have the logic. If you expect a benefit from your worship, then you should also expect harm if you commit an offense because you accept the Deity (uninstalled) as Bhagavān. If you act wrongly towards a person whom you consider worshipable, would he not feel offended if you misbehave? Otherwise, it is called ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya—the half-hen logic. This means to accept only the back part of the hen, which delivers eggs, but not the front part, which needs to be fed. The meaning is that I only want the benefit but not to pay the price.

If there is no offense done to an uninstalled Deity but you can still worship it, then everyone should only worship an uninstalled Deity. In this way, there is no chance to commit offenses. You may say that logic is not a pramāṇa. But Kṛṣṇa Himself accepts anumāna as one of the pramāṇas. See SB 11.28.9, 11.19.17, and Manu-smṛti 12.105–106.

Moreover, in his commentary to HBV 19.2, Sanātana Gosvāmī writes that Bhagavān is manifest in every mūrti as soon as the mūrti is ready. By installing the Deity, He becomes more specifically manifest. Even otherwise, Bhagavān is omnipresent. So He is also present in the deity.


Question: Many temples use chemical colors to perform aṅgarāga-seva. Is this permissible?

Answer: It is common sense not to use chemical colors for aṅgarāga-seva, just as we would prefer not to apply chemicals to our bodies.


Question: Isn’t it offensive to bring a coffin with the corpse of a devotee into a temple in front of the Deities? 

Answer:  Personally, I see no purpose in bringing the dead body in front of the Deity. I understand that a Vaiṣṇava’s body is not material and thus not impure, still what is the point in bringing it in front of the deities? The body cannot see the deities and I am not sure if the deities are keen to see it. So I really see no purpose behind it. But somehow, it seems to have become the norm for some.







Bhakti in Other Traditions?

Question: The impersonal aspect [of God] (Nirakara, Nirguna) is called Brahman, or ‘unknowable’ by Herbert Spencer, ‘will’ by Schopenhauer, Absolute Noumenon by some ‘substance’ by Spinoza. The personal aspect (Sakara) of that Being is termed ‘Ishvara’ or Allah, Hari, Jehovah, Father in Heaven, Buddha, Siva, etc. Just as vapor or steam is formless, so also God is formless in His unmanifested or transcendental state. (Swami Sivananda)

Where are the inaccuracies in the above quote? Other Advaitavādīs accept God and bhakti as the only means to liberation. How then are they not devotees? 

Answer: A true bhakta is a śuddha-bhakta, one who engages in bhakti to attain bhakti and not to attain something else. The Advaitavādī’s bhakti is covered in jñāna because they want to achieve Brahman.

I hope you understand the definition of bhakti and bhakta. Bhakta means one who wants to do seva and does not want anything in return. Do you think this is the mood of Advaitavādī?

Question: Recently I went to a Seventh Day Adventist (Christian) church with relatives. They worship God very nicely in their own way, so that is bhakti. Once again, here is another religion that worships Kṛṣṇa in their own way. We know that Kṛṣṇa is the fountainhead of all religions, but is their liberation any less than that of a Kṛṣṇa bhakta? I have a hard time believing this.

Answer: I advise you to spend time studying the first chapter of Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, especially the definition of bhakti. Unless you become clear about the definition of bhakti, such doubts and questions will keep coming up. Bhakti may look very simple but it is not that simple to understand.  

Question: Are you saying that other theist systems are not doing bhakti? How can the bhakti of our tradition be the only kind of bhakti that is accepted as pure? I understand kṛṣṇa-anuśīlanam but just because someone doesn’t call God “Kṛṣṇa” doesn’t change their love or devotion to Him. Jesus Christ was an empowered incarnation of the Lord and taught pure bhakti; I know this to be a fact. Is cognizing every little detail of the tattva obligatory for bhakti to manifest? Most of the theistic systems of the world, especially Abrahamic religions at their core, are teaching the exact same attitude and loving service to God. So, if that is cultivated in the right way and their service is favorable, I don’t see how they could not receive entrance into the spiritual world. Like you said—Vaikuntha is a kingdom with many planets. I’m sure that Jesus Christ has his planet with Viṣṇu there. I’d like to believe that Kṛṣṇa Consciousness is not so much the specific practices that we as Vaiṣṇavas do but more so a mood, an attitude, and a practice of devotion.

Answer: I did not comment anything on other traditions—whether they perform bhakti or not. It is not my position to evaluate other traditions. I only advised you to understand the definition of bhakti because your questions were all related to bhakti. My understanding is that if the definition of bhakti is clear, then many of the doubts you raised will be cleared. Christians, etc. may be doing bhakti in their own way. But their bhakti does not fit into our definition of bhakti. Words such as “bhakti” or “love” do not have just one objective meaning like the word “apple.” Therefore, a Christian may also use the word bhakti but that does not mean his bhakti conveys the same sense as when we use it. I use the word bhakti as it is defined in Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11). Unless you give the meaning of bhakti as used in other traditions, I have no means to answer you. But I can say that their bhakti does not fit our definition of bhakti.