Stepping Back Before Reaching Out
Published on December 11th, 2011 | by Harmonist staff26
The three young men—perhaps eighteen years old—huddled closely, speaking in whispers as they gestured towards the life-sized diorama. One shook his head while stifling a laugh amidst a playful, but hushed debate. The boys were gathered in front of a model of samsara, depicting the movement of the individual soul through a growing, maturing, and aging human body. Readying a rusty Bhagavad-Gita sloka and rustling up a bit of boldness, I inserted myself into the conversation and pointed decisively towards the figure that I thought best corresponded with the young men’s relative youth. I then, with a self-deprecating roll of the eyes, gestured to the more mature figure that might represent me.
Although I had done little more than extend a finger in the direction of some resin statues, I suddenly had a rapt audience. Not insignificantly, I was also a Caucasian westerner who had traveled all over these young people’s country of India, and who seemed (to the group’s collective amazement) to also know something of the philosophy underlying the fairly crude tableau that served as a backdrop for our meeting.
One of the men asked, “You have this [philosophy] in the USA?” I replied, with a hint of pride, that not only did we have the philosophy, but for several decades we have also had – in nearly every major city – deity forms that are only beginning to manifest in this particular region of India.
Not one to dominate a conversation, I asked my new acquaintances about their ambitions, schooling, and hometown. And not to my surprise, this group wanted just about everything that, at least on some level, characterized my life back in the U.S. Indeed, what eighteen-year-old in India is not excited by the economic developments in that country, new prospects for mobility of all kinds, and the demise of some of the most stringent socio-religious norms?
When I was younger, I might have cautioned this same group: “You won’t know what India is losing in its pursuit of ‘progress’ until it’s gone. Trust me. I’m an American. The west is a hellish place.” For various reasons, I did not conclude my interactions with this small but impressionable audience by issuing a grim prophesy. Rather, I wished them the best and took my leave with folded hands and a smile.
As I made my way onto the grounds of the architecturally staggering Radha-Krishna temple, I contemplated why I didn’t use my impromptu “authority” to decisively win those boys over on philosophical grounds. Did I lack faith? Has the intensity of my personal convictions waned? The group spoke reasonable English. I could have dropped the philosophical hammer and practically ensured that my new charges left the temple complex with no fewer than ten books and several meters of tulasi beads between them.
The more I reflected on that meeting, however, the less I worried about what I’d said (or didn’t say). I instead thought about the profound differences between the diffusion of Gaudiya Vaishnava philosophy in the West and its diffusion in countries that are striving—in nearly every way—to become like the West in terms of standard of living, sophistication, and social character. That latter group of countries, although often imbued with a cultural richness, traditional set of values, and general moral turpitude long ago forfeited by the West, also embrace some ideas and beliefs that will not endure the tide of Western influence. That tide will dislodge things both good and much less good, as new and often well-reasoned information about history, psychology, and biology crashes into worldviews based on more ancient means of knowing.
In the meantime, however, outreach efforts by Gaudiya groups across the planet appear to have flourished in places that have not yet been exposed to the full face of powerful alternative views from academic disciplines and social movements. Such positions are not so easily brushed aside with a casual wave of the hand and a simple retort. But for the moment, even with little in the way of actual realization or expertise on my part, I probably had enough philosophical firepower in the holster (made credible by my unusual appearance among Indians) to leave a long-lasting, if not transformative impression. Something about doing so, however, felt disingenuous. I moved on.
I haggled for an auto rickshaw outside the temple complex. As luck would have it, I negotiated a ride with a young driver who gave me a break on the price, perhaps in exchange for my (somewhat feigned) appreciation of his auto’s sound system and dance-club interior lighting. The pulse of deep bass from the vehicle was like the restless heartbeat of the young man in the driver’s seat. Although performing a humble job, he seemed to be looking to the future with optimism, rather than to the past with reverence.
Tearing through the city on three wheels, I realized how long it had been since I’d actually shared something direct about Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy with a complete stranger, what to speak of with teenagers who, in America, constitute one of the more challenging demographics. I thought about what it would take to effectively share that deceptively simple point, “kaumaram yauvanam jara,” with worldly, educated, and reason-demanding people. Could I do it? Would I sound genuine and relatable? Do I possess the vocabulary? The answer, I’m afraid, was an emphatic “No.”
Yet moments before, perhaps I could have convinced my small congregation of the fallacy of the entire scientific paradigm and compellingly put forward the precise formula for skirting the influence of Kali Yuga. (All with one hand bound securely in my bead bag, no less!)
The issue began to take shape as my rickshaw wove through traditional obstacles like cows, careened past new threats like passenger cars, and negotiated new nuisances like pedestrians engrossed by their mobile phones. To share Gaudiya Vaishnavism in a way that will resonate with a world that is reaping the fruits (some ripe, some spoiled) of reason and science necessitates an understanding of the essential spirituality that serves as the tradition’s basis. It necessitates the development of a language and supporting realization that allows one to talk to (and sympathetically hear from) his or her own contemporaries. It requires that one come to terms with the worldview of the present, and from there to discern a point of entry. This is much more difficult than conquering three eighteen-year-olds with one’s relative worldliness and seniority, or charming them with a few carefully chosen barbs flung at the west.
As the towering temple receded into the distance, I recognized that I had not yet reached the threshold of realization required for sharing something important to me in a way that will matter and make sense to those in my immediate world. And I didn’t want to put forward anything less to those three young men at the temple. They (and I) will ultimately need to develop a firm, yet flexible faith that can deal with—rather than flatly deny—the intellectual and other challenges that arise as science- and reason-driven perspectives come to dominate.
In light of that almost inevitable dominance, I chose (and choose) to focus on Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s capacity to effectively respond to, accommodate, and even embrace new information and change. The application, potential appeal, and transformative power of the tradition are not tied to any place, to any time, or to any phase in any culture’s trajectory. Rather it is a participatory tradition, the relevance and essence of which is perpetuated in the hearts of the true sadhus and acaryas who inherit, process, and—after some time—share something very old, anew. I recognize, too, that I need to become an active agent in that process of realization and renewal, rather than someone who mechanically passes on a few foreign words, to a few foreign people.
This was a really well-written piece, definitely a pleasurable read.
One point I’d like to bring up, though, that has bewildered me and I think is very relevant to sharing our tradition in the modern world.
“The application, potential appeal, and transformative power of the tradition are not tied to any place, to any time, or to any phase in any culture’s trajectory.”
At least on its surface, our tradition seems very much tied to the culture it appeared in. It is, after all, Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Even the ultimate eternal goal of Gaura-lila has a semblance of Bengal 500 years ago.
Also, it seems like one has to be familiar with the bengali or indian culture to really understand the purport and subtleties of the lilas so that would indicate that the people who are from that culture can access the descriptions more deeply because of the cultural advantage.
Another point is that any kind of conceptualizing or even thinking is tied to language, which in turn is a direct product of culture, so it seems impossible to bypass cultural biases or influences when sharing Gaudiya Vaishnavism or any other ideology.
These are my concerns. Maybe you can shed some light on all this.
Certainly culture cannot be separated from Gaudiya Vaisnavism because the description of
“so it seems impossible to bypass cultural biases or influences when sharing Gaudiya Vaishnavism or any other ideology”
I disagree. In Buddhism and Christianity, there are so many variations that you can bypass culture. However, in Gaudiya Vaisnavism, everything from the way of dressing (Bengali dress, covering of the heads by ladies depicted in paintings, sikhas (that is controversial) in Gaura Lila in paravyoma to the etiquette in the spiritual world (Radharani not coming in front of Balarama), instruments being used in the spiritual world are very much Indian cultural details that emerged at one point of history. I always had difficulty with accepting how culture specific details that appeared on earth, insignificant portion of the multi-verse, can encompass the whole Absolute. How can you reduce the Absolute to a cultural expression. Anyway, it can happen. But then it is true of all branches of vaisnavism. For Sri Vaisnavas and madhvas, south Indian dressing and culture encompasses the whole Absolute. Whether Vaikuntha follows the south indian style or north Indian style is something to be debated.
Gurunistha, this is a point that interests me greatly as well (but not sure how much light I can shed!).
Although the piece makes an argument for an essential spirituality, such spirituality is essentially meaningless unless it is articulated in language, symbols, and activities. As you note, there is a strong correlation between all (legitimate) articulations of GV in recent history and the cultural details of a particular place and time. Of course, some of those details have been (and will be) emphasized or downplayed over time, but on balance there is clearly an enduring and important connection to Gauda-desa.
I suppose one way to address this apparent tension between essence and details is to stress that, when we move from mere theologizing/philosophizing to action, cultural details (from India, America, or wherever) must come into play. Spiritual life is a participatory activity. You need to speak a language. You need to put on clothes. You need a sadhana. There may be some relativity when it comes to the external details of that participation, but to the extent that we take the underlying philosophy seriously we are likely to be attracted to things that have symbolic or other connotations in Gaura-lila. It would seem natural to be attracted to such things, at least insofar as they facilitate and deepen our participation.
So in some ways I don’t see cultural bias or influence as being automatically at odds with essential spirituality. They are necessary (or at least unavoidable) dimensions of expression and involvement. The problem arises when the line between culture and siddhanta gets blurred, or on the other hand when the utility (and often sweetness) of specific cultural expressions is overlooked in the name of some purely intellectual interest in the philosophy.
Incredibly well written article! I was “right there with ‘ya”.
I was equally interested in the questions your article raised for Gurunistha. He wrote:
“(i) At least on its surface, our tradition seems very much tied to the culture it appeared in. It is, after all, Gaudiya Vaishnavism. Even the ultimate eternal goal of Gaura-lila has a semblance of Bengal 500 years ago.
(ii) Also, it seems like one has to be familiar with the bengali or indian culture to really understand the purport and subtleties of the lilas so that would indicate that the people who are from that culture can access the descriptions more deeply because of the cultural advantage.
(iii) Another point is that any kind of conceptualizing or even thinking is tied to language, which in turn is a direct product of culture, so it seems impossible to bypass cultural biases or influences when sharing Gaudiya Vaishnavism or any other ideology.”
Regarding his points (ii) and (iii):
Yes, there are definitely differences. We know from our experience in the GV tradition *and* being westerners that translations are clumsy at best and sometimes fail to capture the essence of a word, concept, or ideal completely. However, if we rule out language as a capable means of bridging some ideological gaps, then we’re crippling the whole project of much of philosophy and religious studies, at least academically speaking. If language can’t do at least somewhat of an effective job then why bother at all? Perhaps it’s all just linguistically relative?!?! I certainly don’t subscribe to this view.
Regarding points (i) and (ii):
There are times when I agree with Gurunishta here. It does seem that to get a really good handle on Gaudiya Vaishnavism one should be conversant with a fair amount of the culture, geography, language, and history of the region. But then there are times I’m not so sure that’s the case.
Generally, at least from the academic courses I’ve take in school, Hinduism isn’t categorized as a “universalizing” religion. Meaning, it’s not widely thought of as a set of religious beliefs accessible “for everyone”, whereas Christianity is a universal, proselytizing type of movement offering access to God for everyone. I would argue this is an ingrained misconception in western academia and it’s unfortunate. Certainly Mahaprabhu’s mission was for everyone! And when we think of Mahaprabhu and the Gaudiya tradition, here’s where I think the tradition definitely becomes more “universal” and we *can* worry less about the concern you raise in (i).
I was watching Frontline on PBS last night. It was a show about the early “Jesus Movement” and how it sprung from its parent religion, Judaism, and how people should best understand the person of Jesus and the movement he initiated given what we know historically. When Jesus was present, and for at least a century or two after his death, it’s wasn’t called Christianity—they were all practicing Jews! Jesus was a jew, his students were jews, he traveled and spoke to jews, and one of the political machines he was up against was the Jewish establishment. The Jesus movement were Jews who followed a new messianic preacher who came to breathe life back into an existing tradition. Jesus appeared within a law-based, ethic focused, tradition and worked within that infrastructure. He worked to redefine it and take it beyond just rules and regulations, and he brought new insights and ideas to the table in the process.
As I watched the show, I noticed that if I swapped out some words in my head with words from our tradition—there was an amazing amount of similarity! Jesus and Mahaprabhu have a lot in common historically, politically, how they traveled geographically, the type of people they tended to engage with, and I would argue there were *some* philosophical commonalities as well (granted, we have to be charitable and open in our readings of certain texts to pull this off).
My point is that when Gopala prabhu wrote, “The application, potential appeal, and transformative power of the tradition are not tied to any place, to any time, or to any phase in any culture’s trajectory”, I can rally behind this claim as well.
On the surface, the traditions look vastly different, when you dig just a little bit we see they share a LOT in common, and then, yes…..if you go really, really deep (which for most people comes much later in their devotional life if it happens at all), then we see that Chaitanyadeva *did* explicate on philosophical nuances, which Jesus barely touched on. This is why I am confident holding the belief that the GV tradition does have more to say on important, subtle matters, but that is *not* to say it is a tradition which should be considered inaccessible to persons who are not acquainted with the language, culture, history, etc. I think you have to go pretty damn deep before you start hitting philosophical and theological roadblocks that cannot be worked through and reconciled. Most people won’t ever get that deep in this life anyway, so if we can teach people to at least do the initial digging to see that GV is a universal teaching, that alone is a HUGE accomplishment!
So we SHOULD share the tradition with the modern world, but the manner in which we do so becomes very critical. It requires sensitivity and humility and a willingness to understand where people are at in their own personal faiths. We should all be communicating to others about our tradition in a way that demonstrates where GV shines (because we all know it really shines), and at the same time recognizes that other religious traditions shine in their own right!
Great article Gopala! Thanks for bringing out in words the discomfort I think may of us feel in presenting a superficial version of Gaudiya Vaisnavism; just because we can. It is a challenge, a very rewarding one, to consider one’s audience and most importantly ones own level of spiritual maturity when it comes to “preaching.” I find that more growth is readily available for both parties when the gap of realization between the two is smaller.
I really enjoyed and could relate to your inner dialogue.
Beautiful insights into the relationship between the past and the future and how they are both harmonized in the present. Gaudiya Vaisnavism, being beyond time and space, is always relevant to everyone, everywhere. The trick, as you have so eloquently pointed out, is for practitioners to develop the internal realization to be able to present in such a way that one’s audience with see that relevance.
Nice article, thanks. Very nice language as well 🙂
But i have a comment…
I have seen some becoming more serious devotees than me due to (atleast externally) having come in contact with me in the days when i was more active in ‘reaching out’ and for sure there was quite a bunch of vegetarians that was born from that efforts as well. I prayed (tried to) in the morning “oh lord, let me be an instrument of your love” inbetween the constant meditation on prasadam and less innocent thoughts. For sure my realizations were not many, if any.
I did that as my guru-seva, but lately i have been wrestling with what is being described in the article. The need for reflection and living knowledge. The need for quality. The need for depth so that one may be able to communicate in a transdiciplinary way with people according to time, place and cicumstances.
The practical dilemma in my case is that this need for depth has many times just kept me idle (lazy) instead. And this idleness i feel is a much greater loss for both me and others than the faults of my intention and presentation. In other words it seems to yield more happiness and more good change in me and the world to always try to give something to others rather than to back off and reflect on my incapacity to do so.
This is a reflection i am wrestling with right now. That i-can-be-an-instrument-of-Lord-Chaitanyas-love-no-matter-my-qualification in one hand and omg-that-presentation-of-the-hare-krishnas-was-anything-but-charming-or-adapted-to-the-audience in the other hand.
I would be glad to hear further comments on this ‘dilemma’ as it is not really clear to me.
Nityananda knows no borders in his distribution and we are encuraged by Him to share whatever we know and we believe in.
If you know little then you will naturaly share little. but better little then nothing.
Because from nothing comes nothing
if water only accumulates and there is no flow there will be risk for stagnation.
we recieve through sravanam and becomes an instrument for the divine names, accompanied by all the vedas to pass through us.
vyaso vetti na vetti va
you may have the fruits of divine love in your hands, and distribute them to others, without being able to peel and taste those fruits yourself.
that may be the sacrificial struggle of the Sadaka and is beautiful to accompany with introspection guided by higher vaishnava sanga , but to exclude the sharing process from the dynamics of KC creates a distance from the spirit and example that the previous and present Gaudiya saints give.
as we share what we have heard we grow in our own understanding on the divine word and mature, simultaniusly as we do the greatest Bhakti sukriti activity, giving the message of Sri Nitay. there is no more auspicious wellfare activity in the the 3 worlds and beyond.
If there is a house on fire we need to act even if we are just in kaupins half dressed
If we know of a tidalwave coming we need to inform the public.
If we know of the raging forestfire of material existance and have the capasity to be intrumental in its extinguishing we are expected to give an invitation or a website, but most importantly, your testamony of Shradda divine faith is so valuable in these times
Christmans Marathon Sankirtan ki jay
Very thought provoking. I could really feel the turmoil of adequacy and relevancy.
I believe the antidote to timidity is faith in one’s own story combined with the ability to adapt its substance to the audience at hand. Verbal trial and error is the most efficient and effectual means to develop one’s preaching vocabulary. The telling is as much a part of the story as the plot, for it is the telling that impacts the knowing. Dynamic application of metaphor and reason enables the audience to imagine what words cannot otherwise statically and universally convey. With the imagination unlocked through empathetic analogy, the audience will then be able to engage curiosities long dormant or newly discovered. The hidden secret is that the story-telling of philosophy is an exercise in engaging the audience in the thought process itself. Moving through and beyond thought is to engage in the “process” of Krishna Consciousness. That is the essence of the Science of Self-realization, for it leads the audience to understand that the universal truth in its most intimate form is a personal truth, and for a personal truth, one should be able to conceive of the personalities of Godhead. Once the multiplicity can be imagined, then the Supreme singularity can be truly appreciated.
Our personal lack of realization , coupled with the contemporary global standard of a reduced attention span, makes preaching-in- passing a challenge.
For that reason, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami urged us to get a book into a person’s hand.
Then there’s also the understanding that people are not saints, or they wouldn’t be here on planet earth. Rather, they’re hell-bent on reaching for the proverbial carrot that material nature dangles before us in its various forms.
Harinam sankirtan and prasadam distribution are still major limbs of the prescribed program. But someone has to do that.
We reflect too much – and do too little.
But perhaps the growing global catastrophe of economic disparity and unsatisfying ways and means will cause people to have a greater desire for real understanding. Surely we haven’t seen the full fruition of Lord Chaitanya’s movement. Maybe just a hint of things to come – in the decades, or centuries ahead.
Good article… sincere, honest, and thought provoking. I think most of those reading it can relate to it’s content. We have all been there.
In every situation we encounter in life, there are many different options for our response.
First question: What should our intent be for the response? I try to simply be helpful to the person I am interacting with. What are they looking for at this particular point? Is it knowledge? Is it emotional comfort? Our intent shapes our response.
Second question: How should we present our message? We do not have to know all the answers in order to help someone. We can always at least point someone in the right direction, or let them know their questions are not unique, we have or had them as well. Resist the temptation to pose as an authority unless you really are. Honesty and humility go a long way in relying our message.
Third question: Where do we stop? You will never know where to stop unless you learn how to listen and observe. It is best to keep our answers fairly short and to the point. If they want more, they will ask a question.
The ability to communicate with others is a very valuable thing. It is something that we should always try to improve.
Absolutely a good article. I always liked the analogy used that knowing the goal is the most important thing. Didn’t Srila Prabhupada always say that if we know all planes are going to Chicago, the goal, then we know that they will arrive there. They are just coming from different directions. I always try to keep that in my heart when speaking to people. They seem to feel less threatened and oftentimes point out the similarities in philosphies. I had some JW’s come to my door several times and we spent the ten minutes talking about “the similarities”. When they wanted to read scripture I said that I would read from Gita. What was so nice is that the energy flowed, with no animosity and their concluding words were that they truly felt I loved God. Finding a commonality in dialogue opens the heart, and, isn’t that what we want to happen?
In my experience going deeper within myself, clarifying my motives and generating a feeling of compassion (the desire to help, as Kula-pavana so nicely put it) takes care of how to relate to others. And as K-p also pointed out, it’s not always Gaudiya Vaisnavism per se that people want and if we try to give it to them it may not be as effective as just being kind to them. So being sensitive to what one’s audience can digest is of utmost importance, and I’ve found that when I am attentive to my internal states that sensitivity arises naturally.
To reflect on one’s incapacity to present the tradition in a relevant and compelling way is a useful exercise, and once we have acknowledged that incapacity we can then take steps to become capable. In verse 2 of Siksastakam, Mahaprabhu recognizes the rarity and greatness of the gift that has been extended to him and in contrast to that his lack of taste for the name. The recognition of this dichotomy gives rise in him to great humility, and it’s that humility that drives our practice. We start asking the questions that are directly relevant to our internal progress and then act on the answers. Humility flings open the doors of the heart and we can thus communicate with our Deity in a tangible way. When that starts to happen things get really exciting.
Well said, Citta Hari.
The perceived necessity for a culturally neutral transcendence is perhaps rooted in the postmodern sensitivity (or a common misunderstanding of postmodern philosophy—not sure which) that leads one to believe that all cultures are of equal value. Personally I see no reason to level the cultural paying field. I my experience, all cultures are not equally valuable. They are so only in as much as it is true that one can learn something from all cultures and all of them have some value.
Arguably the one that God most prominently manifests within is notable. If God personally manifests within a particular culture—Sri Caitanya in Bengali culture of 500 years ago—and teaches about the nature of transcendence through that culture, it is reasonable to think that meditating upon him within that cultural setting has immense spiritual value for a the practitioner, if for no other reason than the fact that it provides a handle to grab on to that is practically essential for sadhana. But furthermore this is especially so given the theology of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, in which love of God that is the goal is very specific.
And the less specific the goal the less lovable it is. The more one loves an object the more one becomes acquainted with its details, and if it lacks details, the less loveable it is. It is erroneous to think that the summit of spiritual experience is that which is the least detailed, the least specific. No, such is rather the lowest common denominator. There are no details in the sunyavada—prakriti nirvana—of Buddhism, for example. Thus the fact that Buddhism as a religion has transcended cultural bias, is no great accomplishment. For that matter Gaudiya Vaisnavism has proven itself to be culturally adaptable in the past within India. The example of the Manipuri and Orrissan “Gaudiyas”—better referred to as Caitanya Vaisnavas—is there to learn from. Prabhupada also adapted, as did BSST Prabhupada before him by riding in motorized vehicles, etc.. etc.
And with regard to the specifics of the Gaudiya’s prema prayojana, it is has been presented primarily in terms of love psychology, which is pretty much a universal found in all cultures. The exception may be today’s industrial, technological, materialistic cultural mindset, in which one could argue well culture in a classical sense is lacking.
Thank you four your clarifications Swami, Gopala and Jason.
On further reflection it crystallized in my mind how contemporary philosophy thinks that there’s no common ground or inherent shared structure behind the appearances of the world. Obviously we don’t believe that and that disbelief makes it totally reasonable to say that there are more advanced and less adnvanced cultures. The level of their advancement is relative to their understanding and realization of the underlying structures and dynamics of reality, whereas for postmodern thinkers such ideas are simply wishful thinking.
For them metaphysics is something that belongs to the past and they feel that the gradual development of philosophical thought has demonstrated how metaphysics are irrelevant.
It’s going to be interesting to see if metaphysics will do a comeback in the western intellectual world or not. In any case, we’ll keep moving on.
It may be no big accomplishment in another universe, but in this one, it is a pretty big deal, and I think, a very important and necessary step on the path out of the duality of the material world. Loving Krishna would be a fairly easy deal were it not for the fact that we have so much material conditioning covering us up. Sama darshina is a strategic goal to shoot for in our deconditioning process. And just where God has incarnated is a mysterious thing, beyond sectarian loyalties to see what other cultures have, albeit hidden from normal view. Today is the advent of Jesus, who the angels identified as the Christ, when they appeared before the shepherds who were tending their flocks by night, and were contemplating the meaning of the huge star in the east. ‘Unto us is born a saviour this day in Bethlehem, who is Christ the Lord. The shepherds were obviously farmiliar with the term Christ, thought the child was named Jesus.. There is a video circulating on fb, where Prabhupada is saying ‘Christ is Krishna, Christ is Krishna. ” So it seems to me the angels were announcing the birth of an Avatar, Jesus of the Christ (Krishna) The world may not be as divided as our Kali Maharaja would have us think.. Merry Christmas Tarun..
Dear Tripurari Swami,
Sometimes, your prose is more lofty than my simple intelligence can digest.
I do hear you saying that a kind of universalism that enables everyone to participate at the same table (Joshua Greene’s metaphore)will of necessity lack the detail that enables us to cultivate love for the objective of the practice. I agree. I see this in movements that want peace, and good feelings between all people, as their primary objective.
At the same time, you are devoting some consideration to the subject of God presenting a path of religious pursuit through the venue of a specific culture. In this context you mention Lord Chaitanya. I never thought of the teachings of Lord Chaitanya as culturally tinged, except with the culture of Vrindavan or Krishna Loka. And I always assumed that the venue He selected was simply because it was most capable of relating to those eternal cultures, by virtue of their involvement with Vedic writings.
Perhaps you are not saying that Lord Chaitanya adapted His way of teaching to suit the cultural needs of the time and place. But it sounds like that to some extent, (perhaps only to me.)
Your statement regarding Gaudiya’s prema prayojana being presented primarily in terms of love psychology, sounds to me like saying that the love psychology of Vrindavan is a metaphore through which we can describe the goal of life. I cannot believe that you are actually saying this, and therefore conclude that I am not understanding your statements correctly.
I agree that whether we drive in cars, fly in planes, or walk on land, the goal of Goloka Vrindavan can surely be preached and reached successfully, and that we don’t have to behave exactly as Sri Chaitanya did in these respects to achieve our goal.
In any case, if you like you can shed some light on my questions. Otherwise, I was reading your Bhagavad-gita only last night and was enjoying your very well-rounded authorized comments.
However I will say that sometimes your descriptions of the demigods as personifications of the forces of nature are such that my partner will read your words as “personalities attributed to the impersonal forces of nature”, whereas I will read your words as saying that the forces of nature are the way, at present, that we can relate to the personalities behind these forces. I know that you are preaching in a western world that is filled with impersonal conceptions and your goal, at least in part, must be to bridge a great gap. But I think that in some ways we have to hit the nail on the head, to offset people’s tendancies to stick to their impersonal conceptualizations. However, if you are saying that the conceptualization of the devas is a metaphoric way of describing the forces of nature, then I have to say that this is very new to me, and not how I have understood Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.
Hare Krishna! Ishan das
I was saying that the culture in which Sri Caitanya appeared and performed his lila has value in that it serves as form in which his lila can be meditated on. How else could one meditate on it? Thus to simply refer to it as Bengali culture of centuries past that has little relevance today, or to think of it as irrelevant to transcendence because it is merely a myopic form of human culture on one planet seems shortsighted. But this does not mean that we must live like 16th century Begalis to engage in Krsna Caitanya bhakti. It does not mean that we can only offer food that was growing in Bengal at that time, for example.
Regarding love psychology, Rupa Goswami employed the love psychology of Indian aesthetics to explain his rasa theory. This gives us a handle and terms to use that enable us to talk about and contemplate the various bhavas of the lila, etc. more readily. And it is universal. In other words, it is not difficult to relate to Krsna lila because we are all familiar—regardless of our culture—with the love psychology of the Absolute by way of of our own human familiarity with love psychology.
For example, at least in times gone by no young illicit couple would want the young male lover’s older brother to know about their relationship, and thus he has no place there. Still that older brother might not discourage it and might even encourage it behind the scenes should he be aware of it. This was true of American and European culture in the not so distant past, not merely Indian culture. The elder brother is typically a senior who is looked up to and from whom the younger brother learns how to behave properly (my things have changed!). Thus it is not difficult for anyone to understand why Balarama is not directly involved in Krsna’s love affair with Radha.
As for the demigods and the forces of nature, which is a more accurate description of nature, a poetic one or a mathematical one? I go with the poetic one. To me it is more real. One should not be enamored by reason. It is a petty thing. Still we should be reasonable in our love. There is nature and there is consciousness behind nature. That is a fact. Math won’t find that consciousness and it transcends words. Still poetry can do some justice to that which math cannot. In the world I live in, there are gods and goddesses. And there is Krsna, as Sri Caitanya experienced him.
Dear Swami Tripurari Mahraja,
I am feeling that you are very kind to answer my questions so patiently.
Thank you so much for your explanations. For me they are not explanations but meditations that I should and will read over repeatedly.
When I read your words, as I proceed through a sentence, different tangents of illumination shoot off in different directions faster than I can hang on to them. These glimpses are exciting. I will read more, and let things sink in before jumping up with questions.
Thank you for your kindness, Ishan das
Dear Guru Maharaj,
This is such a beautiful reply, I am compelled to express heartfelt dandavats. Your grace is so full of bliss.
If this is so for people from India then it would follow that we as Westerners would more properly be termed Caitanya Vaisnavas than Gaudiyas, no?
Some do argue for that. But at the same time Gauda Mandala Bhumi is not to be considered a geographical area. To do so is a Dhama aparadha.
I don’t get it. Why don’t you just read more of Prabhupada’s books and straight-out preach like he does? The imposition of the neophyte pattern works to transform people into neophytes, and from there they can go forward into something more nuanced.
Sure it doesn’t work on everyone, but “not preaching” doesn’t work on anyone.
Sitapati-ji, knowing your penchant for sarcasm and thoughtfulness both, its not clear to me if you are being sarcastic here, but I think Gopala somewhat explains why he doesn’t just “straight-out” preach like Prabhupada (albeit, I think he somewhat underestimates his own ability to present GVism, though):
“…I recognized that I had not yet reached the threshold of realization required for sharing something important to me in a way that will matter and make sense to those in my immediate world. And I didn’t want to put forward anything less to those three young men at the temple. They (and I) will ultimately need to develop a firm, yet flexible faith that can deal with—rather than flatly deny—the intellectual and other challenges that arise as science- and reason-driven perspectives come to dominate.”
Furthermore, one thing I think is far too overlooked in the global Gaudiya community is the very real and important act of “preaching” to devotees, which I think most of Gopala’s articles do, this one included. It is the preaching of more mature sadhakas that will help the neophytes go forward into something more nuanced, as you say. And the Gita proclaims no greater service than explaining it’s teachings to the devoteesThere is a dearth of such preaching, in my opinion, in favor of ever-increasing membership. “Boiling the milk” may entail not looking out upon the world as a series of opportunities to make people take a Bhagavad-gita, and if one wants to see that as not capitalizing on preaching opportunities, I think that is a limited view. As I think you would agree, Krsna Consciousness is not merely about how many necks have kanti-malas around them.