Category Archives: Questions & Answers

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. 


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.




Guiding Principles in the Jungle of Shastra

Question: In the Śiva-Purāṇa, Kailāśa-Saṁhitā, 15.21-29, it is said that Viṣṇu appears from the Vāmadeva face of Rudra, is the presiding deity of the Sthiti-Cakra, and has four vyaṣṭi manifestations. A Śrī Vaiṣṇava, in order to establish samanvaya, as well as to establish Viṣṇu’s supremacy, explained to me that this Viṣṇu is not the unmanifest Viṣṇu, but rather is a manifestation of Aniruddha. He quoted Mahābhārata, Śānti-parva 327.26: “He [Aniruddha], *having become manifest*, created the grandsire, Brahmā” (your translation, obtained from Kṛṣṇa Sandarbha). The Śrī Vaiṣṇava also said that this Viṣṇu is Sattvamūrtī Viṣṇu, who manifests from Aniruddha, and whom we Gauḍīyas call Kṣīrodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, who lies in the milk ocean of the universe.

Is this correct, according to the Gauḍīya viewpoint? What are the vyaṣṭis of Vāsudeva in the Śiva Purāṇa, Kailāśa Saṁhitā? The Śrī Vaiṣṇava told me that these vyaṣṭis are not catur-vyūhas.

Answer: To understand and harmonize such statements, you need to have a complete picture of śāstra, because different śāstras are propagated for different sādhakas. Every śāstra is not for everybody, and knowledge is described according to the adhikāra of the sādhaka.

Śāstra is like a jungle, and you have to know how to find your trail in it to reach your destination. If you read Devi Purāṇa, it says that the three devas appeared from her, whereas in Śiva Purāṇa, they appear from Śiva. The 15th chapter speaks about Sadāśiva, from whom appears Maheśvara. From Maheśvara comes Rudra, and from Rudra comes Viṣṇu. From Viṣṇu comes the caturvyuha of Vasudeva, etc.

The explanation given by the Śrī Vaiṣṇava is not very satisfactory, because even if he is not the unmanifest Viṣṇu, He is still Viṣṇu, or Aniruddha, according to him. So if this Viṣṇu is Kṣīrodakśāyi, then why is He coming from Rudra? That is not clear.

Even if He is just sattva-mūrti, how is He different from the so-called unmanifest Viṣṇu?

My understanding is that the source of all these is Sadāśiva, as per the Siva Purāṇa itself. Sadāśiva is just another name for Mahā Viṣṇu, and all these names (Sadāśiva, Maheśvara, Rudra, Skanda, etc.) are also names of Viṣṇu.

In some kalpas, Viṣṇu Himself takes the position of Rudra or Brahmā, so when it is said that from Rudra came Viṣṇu or Vasudeva, it does not refer to the popular Rudra. Rather, the description is of the kalpa when Rudra, or Śiva, is Viṣṇu Himself.

Secondly, who comes from whom does not always refer to hierarchy. Kṛṣṇa worshiped Śiva to get a son, and Rāma also worshiped Śiva to be victorious against Ravaṇa. That does not make them inferior to Śiva.

Narasiṁha appeared from a pillar. Does this mean the pillar has become superior to Narasiṁha?


Question: I have read your articles on the position of Lord Śiva and have understood that Sadāśiva is an intermediate between jīva and Īśvara, and after him comes Rudra, who appears from the forehead of Brahmā.

In various places in the scriptures, like Ṛg Veda, Mahābhārata and some Purāṇas, it is said that Rudra propitiated Lord Viṣṇu, thus receiving his powers (Rudratva), and became known as Mahādeva.

The same thing appears in different places, but the name Rudra is replaced by Śiva, Bhava, and sometimes Sadāśiva.

For example, in Padma Purāṇa 5.42.18: sadāśivoyamārādhya paramaṁ sthānamāgataḥ, “Sadāśiva reached the highest place after worshipping Him (Śrī Rāma)”.

Some of these references were quoted by Śrī Rādhā Dāmodara Gosvāmī in Vedānta Śyāmantaka, and following him, Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa also did the same, to prove that Śiva’s powers are dependent on Lord Viṣṇu.

My question is, which Śiva is referred to in these places? Is it Sadāśiva, who is an intermediate between jīva and Īśvara, or is it Rudra, who appeared from the forehead of Brahmā?

Answer: This reference is to Rudra.


Question: Do Vaiṣṇavas consider Tantra texts like the Mahānirvāṇa-tantra or Muṅḍamālā-tantra (which are close to Śākta philosophy) as authoritative as the Gautamīya-tantra, which the Gauḍīya ācāryas frequently quote from?

Also, is the Gautamīya-tantra equal to Śrīmad Bhāgavatam in terms of validity, or is it relative to the Bhāgavatam?

Answer: Bhāgavat Purāṇa is the supreme pramāṇa for us. There is nothing equal to it.

Anything else that does not contradict Bhāgavatam is acceptable.


Question: I was listening to your lecture related to Śruti, Smṛti, and Gauḍīya Śāstras, and in that lecture you said that there was originally one Veda, which was Yajurveda, and then Maharṣi Vedavyāsa divided it into Ṛg, Sama, Yajur, and Atharva Vedas.

Is there any śāstric reference to substantiate this?

If not, then on what basis is Yajurveda considered the original Veda, which was then divided into four by Maharṣi Vedavyāsa? I understand that Vedas are apauruṣeya, but how is Yajurveda considered the original Veda?

Answer: For reference, please read Tattva Sandarbha, Anuccheda 14-16.

It was Vyāsa who arranged the Veda into four, for the facilitation of doing yajña. Vyāsa is not really his name—it literally means one who arranges. Veda is apauruṣeya, and by arranging it, it does not become pauruṣeya. Vyāsa did not compose Veda.

For example, the Gītā has 18 chapters and 700 verses. If I divide those chapters into three subchapters for easy understanding, that does not turn it into something else.






Etymological breakdown of the Mahamantra

Question: I am following a Śrīmad Bhāgavata class with Professor Edwin Bryant, and after last night’s class, I asked him a question about the meaning of “Hare” and “Rāma” in the mahāmantra. Though my professor had a few insightful answers for us, he didn’t have a definite opinion on the etymological basis for their meaning and inclusion in our mahāmantra. Therefore, he directed me to ask you this question and relay your answer to him and our class.

And so I humbly ask you, Babaji: What is the meaning of “Hare” and “Rāma” in the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahāmantra? Understanding each part of this mantra would help me understand why I chant it and support my bhakti.

Answer: Prof. Bryant must have already explained the etymological meanings of the words “Hare” and “Rāma” and must have explained that they are derived from the sanskrit roots hṛ (to take away) and ramu (to play) by applying the suffixes in and ghañ respectively. They both are names of Kṛṣṇa in the vocative case. There are different understandings of their inclusion in the mahāmantra.

There is a verse regarding the name “Hari”:

hariḥ harati pāpāni duṣṭa-cittair api smṛtaḥ
anicchayāpi saṁspṛṣṭo dahatyeva pāvakaḥ

“Even if remembered by people of impure hearts, Hari takes away the sins of such a person. Even if one touches fire unintentionally, it certainly burns.” (Nārada Purāṇa 1.11.100)

A sādhaka has difficulty concentrating on the mantra, yet the name “Hari” will purify such a sādhaka. This is understood from the above statement of Nārada Purāṇa. Therefore, the word “Hari” is included and appears eight times in the mahāmantra.

About “Rāma” it is said:

ramante yogino anante nityānande cidātmani
iti rāma-padenāsau para-brahmābhidhīyate

“The great yogis take pleasure in meditating on the unlimited, eternally blissful, and conscious Self (ātmani). Therefore the Supreme Brahman (para-brahman) is called by the word “Rāma.” (CC 2.9.29)

Yogīs here refers to those whose hearts are clean. Hari cleans the heart; then, one can fix it on Rāma, the abode of pleasure. That is the significance.

The etymological meaning of the word Kṛṣṇa is given as:

kṛṣir bhū-vācakaḥ śabdo ṇaś ca nirvṛtti-vācakaḥ
viṣṇus tad-bhāva-yogāc ca kṛṣṇo bhavati sātvataḥ

“The root √ kṛṣ means “existence” and the word ṇa means bliss. Because of being endowed with these two meanings, Viṣṇu who has appeared in the Sātvata dynasty is called Kṛṣṇa.” (Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva 70.5)

The three names used in the mahāmantra are in the vocative case. The usage of invocatory names is to draw Bhagavān’s attention, as is said:

sarveṣām apy aghavatām idam eva suniṣkṛtam
nāma-vyāharaṇaṁ viṣṇor yatas tad-viṣayā matiḥ 

“Indeed, this alone is the atonement prescribed for all wrongdoers—that one chants the name of Viṣṇu because it draws His attention to the chanter or the chanter’s attention is drawn to Him.” (SB. 6.2.10) 

For a sādhaka, the chanting is meant to turn his awareness toward Bhagavān. According to Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī (Bhakti Sandarbha, Anuccheda 1), the root cause of all problems of a living being is his vaimukhyatā—or his regard being turned away from Bhagavān. Therefore the solution is to turn it towards Bhagavān (sāmukhyatā). The direct means for doing so is to chant the name, as stated in the verse above. Therefore, all the names in the mahāmantra are in the vocative case.

For perfected bhaktas, the chanting is a call to their beloved. So the mahāmantra applies to both practicing as well as perfected bhaktas.

This is the most basic explanation of the mahāmantra. There can be other explanations of it based upon one’s devotional mood. According to Śrī Madhvācārya, there are 100 meanings of each name listed in the “Thousand Names of Viṣṇu”, Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma. Based on this, there can be thousands of meanings of the mahāmantra because all the three names are found in the Viṣṇu-sahasra-nāma.