Published on June 13th, 2014 | by Harmonist staff46
Preaching the Essential Truth of Gaudiya Vedanta
Q & A with Swami B. V. Tripurari
Q. The Krishna consciousness movement (at least in the West) has little impact on the public, and for the most part those who know we exist ignore us like they do any insignificant oddity. To most people Krishna consciousness is irrelevant or ludicrous.
This isn’t because we don’t preach. We’ve opened numerous centers, distributed millions of books and magazines, and through media outlets and other venues have been promoting Krishna consciousness for over forty-five years. Perhaps, the problem has something to do with how we preach.
We don’t communicate well. Our philosophy is sensible and convincing, it towers above other ideas, yet we’ve tried to present this simple open-and-shut case for almost half a century, and the audience still has no idea what it is. Other than bad communication, what could prevent the exchange of such plain and obvious facts? Have we exhausted the possibilities? Have we reached the limits of explanation? Or is Krishna consciousness bigger than that? Will Krishna consciousness be taken seriously as a beacon of clear thinking or will it continue to be ignored as unrealistic and cultish?
Is there something wrong with making sense? Where are our well-crafted introductory materials focusing on the commonsense certainties of Krishna consciousness? Am I wrong to think we’ve left a catastrophic hole in our presentation? What is your opinion?
A. Thank you for thinking of me and sending me your thoughts on the problem of contemporary outreach to Westerners. My opinion is that it is important for those engaged in sharing Gaudiya Vaishnavism to emphasize the essential underlying truths of Gaudiya Vedanta over the non-essential, or what Bhaktivinoda Thakura sometimes referred to as the cultural baggage of the tradition. These truths are not exactly self evident to everyone, but to a majority of people they will be, if properly presented.
You ask, “Other than bad communication, what could prevent the exchange of such plain and obvious facts?” My answer again is that the vast majority of devotees seem to be unable to distinguish between the essential and the non-essential aspects of our tradition, which of course puts them at a disadvantage in the marketplace of reasonable theology. For example, the most prominent Gaudiya Vaishnava organization in the world is spending over forty-five million dollars to build a planetarium in India to present their understanding of ancient Vedic cosmology/astronomy. While Vedic cosmology may be of interest to some, entering into a comprehensive understanding of the subject is certainly not essential to the culture of bhakti, what to speak of preaching the Bhagavatam 5th canto version of cosmology as being the final word on the matter.
Many, including former disciples of Srila Prabhupada, have turned away from Krishna consciousness because of the prominence of fundamentalist preaching on this and similar non-essential issues. Such preaching continues although Sukadeva Goswami does not claim that his description of the universe as found in the Bhagavatam is definitive. Actually he says the opposite: kastham manasa vacasa vadhigantum alam vibudhayusapi purusa, “No one can possibly explain or perfectly conceive of the nature of the material universe even in a lifetime of Lord Brahma.”1
Indeed, when Krishna dasa asked Srila Prabhupada about the discrepancy between the Vedic description of the universe and that of modern science, Srila Prabhupada replied, “These things are not very important; we may not waste our time with these insignificant questions. There are sometimes allegorical explanations (in the Bhagavatam). We are concerned with Krishna Consciousness, and even though there is some difference of opinion between modern science and allegorical explanation in the Bhagavata, we have to take the essence of Srimad-Bhagavatam and utilize it for our higher benefit, without bothering about the correctness of the modern science or the allegorical explanation sometimes made in Srimad-Bhagavatam.”
See Sanga: The Sun and The Moon
Given the dismal condition of the movement in the West, might not similar energy as is being spent on the Mayapura planetarium be utilized in finding the ways and means to expand preaching here? In England Srila Prabhupada told his disciple Dhananjaya dasa that the lion’s share of our efforts should not be centered on cultivating ethnic Hindus who already have faith in Krishna, but rather on convincing local Englishmen and women to take Krishna consciousness seriously. Preaching some notion of 5th canto cosmology is certainly not the way to convince educated Europeans and Americans to take Krishna consciousness seriously.
Admittedly, there is value in the Mayapura planetarium in that it will bring people to the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu where they may learn something of his essential teachings, which was Srila Prabhupada’s main concern. The distilled essence of those teachings are found in Mahaprabhu’s Siksastakam, eight elegant verses that describe the glories of chanting the holy name of Krishna with a pure heart—there is nothing in the Siksastakam on ancient cosmology or astronomy.
Another concern worth mentioning is the public debate being staged by devotees who argue that Gaudiya Vaisnavism prohibits women from serving as diksa gurus. This drones on even though historically there have been a number of women gurus in the tradition, the most prominent being Jahnava Ma and Gangamata Goswamini. Here the essential principle everyone should be concerned with is found in Caitanya-caritamrta: yei krishna tattva vetti, sei guru haya, “One who knows the truth of Krishna consciousness is guru.” This means that anyone, regardless of race or gender, who knows and lives the tattva of Krishna Consciousness can give diksa and siksa.
The list of similar topics of public debate goes on. Other than poor communication, those who desire and have some ability to thoughtfully communicate our essential truths have to deal with damage control as their constituents run into dogma, superstition, sectarianism, sexism, and in general the ugly face of fundamentalist kanistha adhikari Vaishnavism mistaken for Absolute Truth and broadcast all over the Internet.
Therefore, there is a great need for devotees to be educated as to the difference between the essential and non-essential aspects of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, and those who are already educated and able to think outside of the proverbial box need to develop an alternate non-sectarian Krishna conscious association in the West that speaks louder and more pleasingly both by example and precept. Such like-minded devotees will have to do more than think about the topic and more than write occasionally about it as well. With clear goals and the willingness to take a strong stand on what is essential and what is not, on controversial social issues, on what constitutes practicing life/sadhana, they should come out and make their presence known.
This is what my associates and I are doing with some success. We have the language, books, sensibilities, and so on that will help bring about a much-needed renaissance of practical, common sense Krishna conscious practice and preaching. I would be proud to stand with Godbrothers and Godsisters, devotees of any mission, who see the importance of such a renewal and who understand the value of going beyond fundamentalism through what Bhaktivinode Thakura referred to as
saragrahi Vaishnavism–emphasizing and preaching the essential truth of Gaudiya Vedanta.
- Srimad Bhagavatam, 5.16.4 [↩]
“there is a great need for devotees to be educated”. I second this without hesitation. And by education I do not mean the typically rushed morning “class” and occasional lectures, appearance speeches,spiritual motivational talks or once-in-a-while chats and facebook assemblies, but an intelligently planned and committed approach to personally and systematically educate, nuture and guide disciples.
I agree with your example of polemical arguments (especially by men) relating to women-gurus and other similar topics as “non-essential” but using the building of the Vedic Planetarium as an example of the same is, i find, debatable given that it is in pursuance of Srila Prabhupada’s wish and grand vision for defeating impersonalism (references available). The famous French proverb “chacun son métier, les vaches seront bien gardées” comes to mind.
How will showcasing the fifth canto cosmography defeat impersonalism?
Planetarium VS Devotee Care:
Great points Maharaja and all nicely stated. I believe that you are pointing out the great imbalance that has taken over our Gurudeva’s Mission.
If I may, my point of reference is the Planetarium versus the ‘much needed care of the devotees.’ The details here may seem unrelated but please bare with me as this total picture drives a point about the general mindset, spanning over a decade. Some may remember that ten years ago I founded the Buddhi Yoga Temporary Hospice at the MVT in Vrndavan, which also offered the ISKCON members a 403B retirement plan, a social security plan, a health insurance plan, and an assisted living plan.
We asked for ‘endorsement-only’, at a presentation given on my behalf by Prahladananda Maharaja in the 2003 Mayapur GBC meeting. The topic was dismissed immediately without any regard to the actual goal, based on an unfounded personal attack: (Badrinarayana apologizes) At that point, the entire meeting of a couple of hundred ‘leaders,’ simply moved on to the next topic—which I was told, ‘was the Planetarium.’
Our philosophy holds at its highest esteem two essentials, “Service to the Devotees,” and “(the) state of mind (of that devotee) at the time of death.” As a point of reference, the current and beautiful hospice in Vrndavan has been reported as having become primarily an affordable Brjibasi hospice, (which is marvelous). However, I get reports that it is too expensive for Western Devotees to actually afford to be transported to Vrndavan, unless they are in ‘Management’ or have pensions, etc.—and they have only 20 beds. While wonderful and successful, it is not enough. Moreover and to that point, early this year (2014) I was contacted by ‘GodSister‘ devi dasi from Mayapur asking me to come to Mayapur and launch and run the same Temporary Hospice there that I had done in Vrndanvan ten years ago.
I was packed and ready to move, even though Mayapur is very austere for me. When I asked to be flown over to make an assessment and to begin preparations, my airfare was denied and I was told, “that’s not the way things work.” While ‘there was plenty of money set aside two to three years ago, it is all tied up by three to four councils, before it gets to the Hospice GBC (Who happens to be the same individual who derailed the Buddhi Yoga Health Care & Hospice ten years ago).’
It’s also worthy to reiterate that the approvals for this Mayapur Hospice funds and the resources were done over two-to-three years ago. Meanwhile devotees are still not being taken care of with those available funds and approvals, even in Mayapur.
In light of this great need, the idea of finishing a Planetarium of such cost and priority above the care of the devotees is clearly a force of Maya. I believe in my heart that Srila Prabhupada is very upset about the health and welfare of the devotees coming second! He must be saying, “Where is your common sense?” It’s NOT about not having a planetarium, or so many of Srila Prabhupada’s wishes! It is, however, about common sense and ‘balancing’ priorities.
Please forgive my offenses.
Yadunandan Pada Dasa ACBSP
P.S. All Glories to Krsna’s devotees!! We do know that all things in this world are driven by modes and forces of Maya, and that all individuals are not the sinners of neglect but the victims of the forces of Maya. Please forgive my offenses in presenting the truth as I see it and my sincere opinions.
Yadu Nandan Pada Dasa ACBSP
Swami Tripurari Ki Jaya! My friend Aravinda Prabhu once told me that he wanted that his view of the world not be the result of his being born at a particular time and place, but based on something more eternal and universal. What an admiral sentiment.
Hare Krishna Maharaja
You make the sweeping statement that “The Krishna consciousness movement (at least in the West) has little impact on the public, and for the most part those who know we exist ignore us like they do any insignificant oddity. To most people Krishna consciousness is irrelevant or ludicrous.” I am not sure from where you have obtained this data. I live in NYC and to the contrary the number of devotees in the NYC area seems to be increasing as time go by. Yesterday at the NYC Ratha Yatra there were over30000 people in attendance.
It was a question posed to Tripurari Swami, so you are mistaken that this is his statement. Please read it again.
With respects, your number must have a typo and you must have meant 3,000, not “thirty thousand. Still, I too was there at the NYC Rathayatra and while it was definitely glorious, the apparent numbers actually intentionally attending the festival (not the usual Saturday crowd) that I see in the videos I shot all day were around 3,000 at any one given time. I will find out how many plates of prasad were given out. Accuracy is important on a number of levels for the sanctity of the much needed balance of cooperation. Please forgive my offenses.
Y/s Yadu Nandan Pada Dasa ACBSP
It is important to remember that the number of participants is not an indication of success.
Success is determined by devotees making progress on the path. Krishna himself describes those who are fully surrendered to him as sudurlabhah, extremely rare (Gita 7.19).
As Maharaja mentions in the article, it is the quality of the preaching that is most important, not the quantity. Preaching to the common man requires that the speaker simplify the message. Preaching to those who already have a spiritual or philosophical orientation, what to speak of devotees themselves, requires more insight into the subject on the part of the preacher. An audience that is actually interested in a deeper understanding of Gaudiya Vaisnavism will be small.
Gaura Vani Prabhu,
Yes! I was only clarifying the stretch of 30,000 “attendants,” as a typographical error, to what I was actually able to witness.
Although, I believe that Mithuna Prabhu was more referring to the actual statement in the article: “The Krishna consciousness movement (at least in the West) has little impact on the public, and for the most part those who know we exist ignore us like they do any insignificant oddity. To most people Krishna consciousness is irrelevant or ludicrous.”
While the figure of 30,000 may have been a typographical error, I do agree a little with Mithuna Prabhu that the presentation in NYC has gotten somewhat better in recent years. This I get from seeing the caliber of newer and newer visitors (professionals) at the Bhakti Center. They keep coming back and applying the process to their lives on their own by dint of the progressive presentations—no ‘Bhakta Program’ needed ;-). If only I could see this elsewhere. Most temples are filled with a few Hindu God-kin and largely Hindu God-kin congregations, and that is wonderful!! However, the outreach to the ‘Western Audience’ is not showing. That was, after all, our Gurudeva’s main mission—the Western Audiences.
Reiterating, I have to enthusiastically endorse this progress and success to the ‘progressive Krsna Consciousness’ presentations that are being spearheaded by the younger generation at progressive centers like the Bhakti Center. I believe this is precisely what Tripurari Maharaja may be talking about. We need to mould our vernacular, our expectations and even our dress “code,” to our audiences, and to time, and to circumstance. I think that it is correct to say that, ‘all things being equal,’ it is always prudent to do ‘out with the old and in with the new.’
On that fine point, I believe that as a group we tend to forget much too often that Srila Prabhupada, in only 12 years, was always changing course according to not only time and circumstance, but when something did not work he would try something else. We need to follow that very example of His as well – in cooperation – remembering that cooperation is a ‘two way street of reciprocity’—not “my way or the highway!”
Let us all support open mindedness and progressive Krsna Consciousness presentations, while understanding that fundamentalism is the very antithesis to spirituality and it is simply a Force of Maya to hold progress back—to dwell in the past. As Tripirari Maharaja points out, we need to stop being Bharavahis and become Saragrahis and deal with “Essentials.” Here is Bhaktivinode’s article on that, for anyone to read:
SRI BHAGAWATA DHARMA VICHAR
Please forgive my offenses,
y/s Yadu Nandan Pada Dasa
Jai Maharaja — Pranams.
As always, your thoughts are infused with the mood of a Saragrahi Vaishnava, assimilating the essence of the Bhagavata’s teaching, and are replete with the nonsectarian realizations of our forbears. My only reservation would be in regard to your pronouncements on the Vedic Planetarium. I too have often wondered about how the cosmology of the Bhagavatam’s fifth canto might attract a wide number of people. It is simply beyond my grasp. And yet, it behooves the chaste disciple to admit that Prabhupada’s vision surpasses his own, hmm? The record shows that Prabhupada was adamant about the importance of the Planetarium, and so I am willing to admit that he might have seen something in it that I cannot. I mention this only because it seemed like you were giving short shrift to the TOVP in your article. If I am mistaken, then simply ignore these words. If not, a word to the wise. 🙂 All the best, my dear friend. With love, Satyaraja Dasa
Yes, I do not think it is a good idea to showcase the fifth canto cosmography at an expense of $80,000,000 collected primarily from conservative, if not fundamentalist, ethnic Hindus in the spirit of challenging the observable evidence that has lead to the modern cosmography that we are in many ways benefitting from.
I am more interested in the spirit of what Prabhupada wanted to accomplish by this particular preaching strategy of a Vedic planetarium. Others who have no brain for preaching can follow him literally and strive to put in place preaching strategies hatched half a century ago, but Prabhupada recognized me as someone who had a brain for outreach. And outreach to the public requires the ability to adjust, change, or even discard preaching strategies in consideration of time and circumstance such that the ideal and the means to attain it are kept alive and well in the world.
Furthermore, I do not believe that the fifth canto cosmography is in direct competition with modern cosmography. I believe it represents a Puranic description suitable for yogis to meditate on and visualize as a manifestation of God and thus progress spiritually. It is not for Vaisnavas to meditate on because they are eligible and inclined to meditate on the spiritual form of God, as opposed to a material representation of him (sthula-rupe). Here I follow the lead of the venerable Visvantha Cakravarti Thakura, another of our gurus.
This section of the Bhagavata also serves to give its essential message a Puranic setting and thus make that message palatable at its time of authorship. The essential message of the text would not, however, be lost if this section were omitted. That does not mean to say it has no spiritual value or in some way is not a manifestation of divinity. It is, describing as it does the subtle material world in a particular way suitable for the contemplation of certain transcendentalists. But the essential teaching and focus of the text is something else.
The Bhagavata retells narratives, etc. found in other Puranas and Itihasas from its own perspective to make its own points—krsnas tu bhagavan svayam, and so on. Given this fact about its composition and purpose, there is little reason to insist upon a literal interpretation of its cosmography that places it is direct competition with modern cosmography. The Bhagavata leaves the literal world of history, authorship, linear narrative, and objective measurement and takes a liminal position, representing that place where time and eternity meet momentarily, inviting us to quickly cross over the threshold on which it rests between the two worlds—from measurement to the immeasurable. The Bhagavata invites us to live in another world beyond measurement, in the world of the measurer—consciousness—caitanya—and its source. It prods us to leave the small and mean spirited world of measurement—the myth of maya. It asks us to literally leave the shadow of maya and enter the sun of Krsna consciousness—Krsna caitanya.
So your caution and wisdom are lost on me. Indeed I cast such caution to the wind because I believe that it represents a misunderstanding of what it means to follow one’s guru as a living representative of the guru parampara. It also leaves no room for reason to take its rightful place as an assistant to faith, encouraging blind following. Caution it is, but it is not wise in my estimation.
If I may?
For balance I may point out that Srila Prabhupada was also adamant (albeit in various degrees) about many other things. This is true from Ishtaghostis to the DOM, etc., which are no longer even considered by those that found it necessary to move forward beyond Srila Prabhupada’s original instructions.
This says two things.
One, that even those who resist change have been open to change when they saw the need for change—albeit convenient, nevertheless open for “betterment”.
The second, that there is an unspoken agreement that changing Srila Prabhupada’s non essential ‘instructions-for-40-years-ago’ is a process that has already been adopted by all when opinion deemed it for the benefit of the mission.
So, there is hope!!
Now it is just a matter of everyone putting their dear sweet most intoxicating substance, ahankara, to the way side and simply admitting that more compromise, communication and acceptance—ahead—among all the branches of this Chaitanya tree is needed and a must—without having to take over and control everything.
Please forgive my offenses,
y/s Yadu Nandan Pada Dasa
P.s. Moreover, I keep seeing in this TOVP back-and-forth discussion, that in upstaging the rest of topics in the article, this TOVP discussion is also upstaging the parent mission that is Srila Prabhupad’s highest priority, *and* order from His Guru, *and* “specific” prophecy from Mahaprabhu (Antya-lila 4.126)— mainly bringing KC to the Western and entire World. We need to be careful not to get stuck on the TVOP, *either way*, or as I said before we throw the baby out with the bath water—in this case the parent mission. I humbly advise everyone that, under the circumstances, if the individual gets stuck on the TOVP in light of the other topics and the larger mission, one needs to take very one long hard look at oneself—please.
Please forgive my offenses.
Dear Tripurari Swami Maharaja,
I usually do not get involved in these discussions, but I respect that they have value. Satyaraja posted your article to a few god-brothers that he respected and a discussion ensued. Below is my post towards the end of that discussion. He requested that I share it:
“I think everything Tripurari Swami said makes perfect sense and it is articulated brilliantly.
I even agree with his reasoning about the TOVP. I think a better use of the money would be to fund preaching in the West or to take care of the devotees.
There are many things that Srila Prabhupada said or did that I see differently and would do differently.
But I would never imply Srila Prabhupada is wrong or criticize those that support his clear directives, such as the TOVP.
Either I would try to reconcile those ideas by trying to understand their essential meaning, and if I couldn’t, I would just humbly say I don’t understand.
The example of the TOVP in his article was not an attempt to understand the essential meaning of what Srila Prabhupada said on that, but to just state another idea.
I don’t think it is fundamentalist to point that out, or even think that it mars the article. I think it is part of the reasonable culture of faith that is ultimately needed for empowerment.”
I am not sure that modern advances in cosmography merit a dismissal of Srila Prabhupada’s directives on the TOVP hatched fifty years ago, for even fifty years years ago there was such radical variance between Srila Prabhupada’s understanding of cosmography and the scientific understanding of his day. I thus feel it prudent to deal carefully with Srila Prabhupada’s directive and those that humbly serve that mission.
For ten years I facilitated a conference of young Vaisnava scholars. One year a paper was offered on the relevance of the presentation in Srila Prabhupada’s Gita on modern science and contemporary social issues. I was feeling uncomfortable with the discussion, although the conclusion of the conference was satisfying. Pradyumna, Srila Prabhupada’ sSanskrit editor, would also attend. I remember his counsel. He cautioned how carefully one must deal with the the words of the Acarya. He gave an example of Sanskrit mistakes in commentaries found by modern Vaisnava commentators and how they would never say that the Acarya was wrong. They would simply state what the Acarya said by prefacing it with “rsi ucuh” and then state what they thought was the correct word or phrase. He described that in context of the importance of a culture of faith in Vaisnava sanga.
I thus think that Satyaraja’s gentle suggestions were prudent advice and I was surprised at your response.
Humbly in service,
I find your reply a little confusing. You wrote:
I did not imply that Prabhuapda was wrong. I said that I felt that one of his strategies of 50 years past needed re-visioning. I also stated that in my opinion others are following close to the letter of this particular strategy. I don’t think that will be fruitful in terms of accomplishing what Prabhuapda intended. If that discourages others for proceeding along those lines, maybe they will change course, which you seem to think would be a good idea. Meanwhile some persons are discouraged by the more literal approach. And I offer them an alternative way to think about it that results their being encouraged.
There is nothing I have said that warrants the assumption that I have not dealt carefully in arriving at my opinion of his directive, etc. I have thought it out. Not jus this particular issue, which I consider symptomatic of a larger issue.
Otherwise there is much that has occurred in science over the last 50 years that might cause Prabhupada to reconsider a strategy that involved the idea of proving that the Bhagavata’s fifth canto cosmography was in direct competition with that that of modern science. And I think Prabhuapda would be completely satisfied if saying the Bhagavata’s cosmographic description was not in direct competition with that of modern science helped educated people to take up Krsna bhakti, especially given the fact that one could support that position with comments from previous acaryas.
Dearest Tripurari Maharajaji — Hmm. I never meant to create controversy. I guess I wrote a brief, casual letter, not thinking of how you might take it, and now I should restate my concern in clearer terms.
My reservation is not about the TOVP as such; it is more about a general principle concerning the reinterpretation of Srila Prabhupada. The chaste disciple needs to be careful, as I’m sure you are. Believe me, I know that the articulated need for “caution” has been abused in ISKCON for years, and people tend to hide behind it because they are afraid to dig deep, to understand what Prabhupada really means in any given situation, and I think you are reacting to that. But I am talking about legitimate caution.
Maharaja — know for certain that I never doubt you or your fidelity to Prabhupada. My concern involves the pros and cons of public forum. If you boldly talk **online** about reinterpreting Prabhupada’s directive — in regard to the TOVP or anything else — then neophytes will take your cue, even if they are not qualified to engage such reinterpretation (leading to the disintegration of their spiritual lives).
Sure, your disciples will say, “Tripurari Maharaja has the insight to reinterpret, while I do not.” But what of others? All kinds of people will read your words — well-meaning (and some not-so-well-meaning) readers will think they can casually reinterpret Prabhupada. This is not good, to say the least.
If you had included some claus, or some disclaimer along the following lines, that would have been all I need, and I would have been pacified: “While our tendency should be to understand Prabhupada as he presents himself, there are instances where we would do well to re-think him — with caution if also with logic and common sense — and in this way we could accommodate the modern era and the people of today.” Something like that.
Anyway, I think you can more clearly see where I’m coming from now. If I offended you in any way by inaccurately stating my case, I am sorry. I was just thinking of your readers and how they might get the wrong idea from your words. –S
Thank you for your clarification. I wholly agree that when pursuing the spirit of the Guru’s instructions in comparison to the letter of them one should exercise caution, logic, and common sense, as you suggest, as well as if I may add, scriptural support. I always try my utmost to do that. So I am glad that we agree.
Maharaja, is ministering to large masses of devotees from many missions who are vocal about being inspired and uplifted by his siksa, integrity, honesty, depth of scriptural understanding, broadmindedness, and his willingness to put himself on the line to uphold truth and siddhanta. His opinions are weighty on the world and rightfully so.
Your main concern seems to be all the neophytes that may be misled and the fear they will somehow reinterpret Srila Prabhupada arbitrarily as a result of hearing from an advanced, learned Vaisnava like Tripurari Maharaja. It seems you fail to understand the concept of guru parampara in this regard.
Look in your own backyard. Srila Prabhupada’s mission since his departure has lost its way in many areas of siddhanta, most prominently in the area of guru tattva. It’s an embarrassment. Shall we blame that on hearing from advanced Vaisnavas or the blatant disregard over decades for the well wishing and guidance of realized souls? My money is on the latter.
Perhaps instead of cautioning a learned sadhu and suggesting censoring his expression and realization as concern for the “neophytes” which in my opinion reinforces the culture of spiritual poverty which is so rampant in some spiritual circles. A more uplifting scenario would be encouraging devotees to educate themselves, think for themselves, and broaden their understanding of siddhanta and the path they are involved in.
Senior Vaisnavas should pave the way for thoughtful insightful discussion on areas of siddhanta such as the topic of this article, distinguishing principle from detail.
My hope would be to see more participation in forums like this and others, by experienced Vaisnavas from many missions discussing these most important foundational principles of Gaudiya siddhanta.
😉 it is with a chuckle that I must point this out. Satyaraja often makes fun of me for stating that I see the various forces (of Maya) ‘stampeding,’ intermingling and hiding in the shadows waiting to ‘tsunami’ at an unsuspecting situation. Satyaraja will poke fun by saying, “Yes, and may the force be with you.” And, I always reply jokingly, “and with your spirit.”
So here again as always I can see the force of miscommunication, brought on by the force of “defending”, which in turn is brought on by the force of ahankara, skewing what both/all sides are saying—while it is clear, to the neutral, that every one is saying essentially the same thing.
Do you remember the allegorical Genesis’ Tower of Babel?
Please allow me to state the obvious and preach to the choir. The forces of Maya are very powerful and very magical and granularly hypnotically deluding at every single turn and instance. That is why it’s called illusion.
Puranic Thought, Science and Common Sense show us that while looking at an object from various angles, say North, West, South and East, the shadow and all relationships to that object will all appear different to each viewer. Nevertheless, it’s the same object with simply different nisargas — occasional or temporary qualities. Yet, the essential nature of the object remains fixed.
Both in Tripurari Maharaja’s article and in the comments here, there is agreement on the essential concerns, yet as always both sides tend to get caught up in the details of the nisargas and make those the focus, instead of ‘agreeing to disagree’ on the details and jointly addressing the essential agreement. This has been the history of our movement’s decline.
In the corporate world we professionally ‘agree to disagree’ on details in order to move on with deadlines and then address the details separately, later, as their own objective.
The essential object (objective) here is the repositioning of non-essential nuances for the present day audiences and demographics. As soon as anyone of us begins to defend the granular nisarga details of either the Planetarium or the ‘Param para,’ we are deviating the entire conversation from the essential, and are fueling the forces that are meant to derail progress. That person then becomes a puppet of the tsunami force to stop cooperation.
To site one of the examples in this thread, Satyaraja and Tripurari Maharaja have already qualified both their statements to each other and moved on. There is no need to rehash or focus on that detail in light of the much larger issues outlined in the article.
May I recommend that as professionals we ‘agree to disagree’ on the transitional or circumstantial details (nisargas) so we may cooperate on the essentials of the objective?
Please forgive my offenses,
Yadu Nandan Pada Das
Satyaraja Prabhu, I appreciate your realization as expressed above.
However (you probably knew THAT was coming), it is this sentence
and in particular the word
which stands out to me. Is Swami Tripurari reinterpreting Srila Prabhupada or is he reinterpreting the interpretations regarding Srila Prabhupada’s teachings? Is the message to “re-think” Srila Prabhupada, as you had mentioned, or to “re-think” what we think we know about Srila Prabhupada and his teachings.
I do not hear this as a call to either learn different “Prabhupada says” so that he is presented in a more acceptable way to the modern mind or to bury, for sake of chastity, those statements found to contradict the current philosophical paradigm. I hear it as a call to learn the process of understanding sastra and the teachings of the acharyas, and how to cull the lesson from the story. This dynamic approach creates the sustainability of disciplic succession.
Your concern for interpreting a guru’s teachings based on immaturity and then the whimsical implementation of that idea is indeed an important one, as it is a common practice. As you have noted, Swami Tripurari’s disciples will say, “’Tripurari Maharaja has the insight to reinterpret, while I do not.’” But that is not merely said out of hierarchical sentiment. It is said due to training. I have experienced that his students are taught how to think more than what to think. They learn the difference between sastra jnana (knowledge of the sastras) and sastra yukti (the heart of the sastras). For example, I know of you. You’re Satyaraja dasa. You write books. If I spent some time, with the help of Google, I could probably compile a detailed list about you – giving me something to think about you. I might end up more acquainted with you, but would I then know you? I believe that that requires me to know your heart. Similarly, to go beyond sastra jnana to sastra ukti – to a knowing of the heart of sastra, to the ability to read the nuances of poetic expression, do I dare say to recognize the “bhava” of sastra itself – one’s own heart must live there. That type of knowing leads to informed action.
Quite the opposite of fault-finding or whimsical action based on immature understanding which you fear. Any honest person who knows and values the process leading to sastra ukti will know their qualification (or lack there of) to speak in such bold ways. Other honest people whose hearts are moved toward the depths of bhakti by such an informed vision will naturally support such a person.
Oh, My Krsna!!
As with my just recent explanation of the forces of Maya here in this thread already beginning to surface like a stampede or tsunami, this comment by Bhakti Rasa is totally off the subject, off the mark, off the in left field and does nothing but completely kill the article and the purpose of the article — total Maya in relation.
May I recommend a private conversation or separate thread to settle the nisargas and simply stay on topic as requested above each form entry. Otherwise, I’m outta here!! Good luck!
The instant I read this piece, I had no doubt that a number of devotees would misunderstand the point Swami intends to make in the section addressing the ToVP. And, sure enough, when I was at the Rathayatra in New York City this past weekend, a few devotees, while expressing deep appreciation for the bulk of Swami’s response, trusted me enough to share their misgivings about that one point.
As far as the extent to which the presentation focuses on Sukadeva’s description of the universe in the Bhagavatam’s 5th canto is concerned, we may note how that description is set up. King Pariksit acknowledges Sukadeva’s more general discussion and asks for more specific details, with an eye to seeing how contemplating it as an aspect of the Supreme Lord’s energies may facilitate spiritual progress. Sukadeva prefaces his response, as Swami Tripurari often reminds us, by asserting that the material energy and its manifestation as the universe is more complex than we can conceive and that no one can really do it justice. Still, he says, he’ll make his best attempt.
Most of the readers here are probably well aware of how difficult it has been for Srila Prabhupada’s most qualified disciples to makes sense of that description in a way that clarifies things for others, especially in a way that squares that description with what empirical scientists have discovered over the last two or three centuries. Some devotees have mentioned the tension in the discussions among ISKCON’s leadership aimed at deciding how to present this in the temple in Mayapura Dhama. But I’ve seen evidence that Srila Prabhupada originally wanted the temple to present the vision given in Brihad-Bhagavatamrita, with which his Godbrother B. R. Sridhara Maharaja agreed. And much later, in a conversation at Sridhara Maharaja’s math in Navadvipa in which Srila Prabhupada invited Sridahra Maharaja to stay at Mayapura Chandrodaya Mandira, Srila Prabhupada reminded him of this: “That Planetarium [The “Temple of Understanding”] also will be built under your direction.”
Discussing Satyaraja’s reservation elsewhere, Tripurari Maharaja wrote, “Better to leave the detailed descriptions of the objective world to those preoccupied with it, especially when we are living the the space they are measuring through cell phones. etc. Our contribution is to map the subjective world. And that is what Brihat-bhagavatamrta is all about.” I was struck by this comment as the perfect response, addressing the essence of the issue, leaving aside all else that is incidental.
Dear Tripurari Maharaj,
Please accept my respects.
I much appreciate the dialogue enacted herein as it facilitates clarity. It seems as if the TOVP section of your article touched a raw nerve. So many cogent, salient points were made by you in regards to the need for progressive, relevant, revitalized preaching in the west. Yet the Planetarium issue somehow trumped these (as I read the related comments above), hence the raw nerve reference.
It seems as if there are two lines of reasoning being brought to light;
– one is; sometimes it is circumstantially appropriate to pursue the spirit of the Guru’s instructions in comparison to the letter of them.
– the other is; “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” – that certain foundational, monumental mandates given by the acharya do not require reinterpretation or modernization to appease or appear relevant to the current scientific culture. They are simply “As It Is”, by dint of the degree of complexity/detail that HDG poured into these instructions.
Please bear with me as I reference a letter sent by Srila Prabhupada to SL Dhoni, an expert in the field of Puranic Astronomy, on Nov 14th, 1976.
“Now, here in India, we are planning construction of a very large “Vedic Planetarium” or “Temple of Understanding”. Within the planetarium we will construct a huge, detailed model of the universe as described in the fifth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam.
Within the planetarium the model will be studied by onlookers from different levels by use of escalators. Detailed information will be given on open verandahs at the different levels by means of dioramas, charts, films, etc.
The planetarium is planned to be approximately 400 feet high and will have a floor space of approximately 90,000 sq. ft.
The model will depict: (from bottom to top)
1) The lower planetary system (pataladi-saptaloka)
2) The earthly system (bhu-mandala) with Sumeru in center, seven islands (saptadvipa), seven oceans ((sapta-saumdra), Manasottara Parvata, Lokaloka Parvata, Alokavarsa.
3) The Bhuvarloka (Siddhi-caranada-loka)
4) The upper planetary system (Svarga-loka) beginning from the Sun, showing with electrical apparatus both it’s horizontal and vertical rotations, Rahu, the Moon, the Naksatras, the other seven planets ending with Saturn, (Saniscara), the Saptarsis, and Dhruvaloka with Kairodakasayi Visnu on the Ksirodaka ocean.
5) Maharloka 6) Janaloka 7) Tapoloka 8) Satyaloka
9) Garbhodakasayi Visnu lying on Sesanaga on the Garbhodaka ocean
10) the seven coverings of the universe
12) Karanavasayi Visnu lying on the Karana-samudra
13) Impersonal brahmajyoti
14) Vaikunthaloka with the various Visnumurtis
15) Goloka Vrndavana
This model (approximately 200 feet high and 100 feet wide) will be engineered to suspend from the structure of the dome and rotate according to the real movement of the planets. The plans for this very large project are being taken solely from the
references found in fifth canto Srimad Bhagavatam and it’s authoritative commentaries by important acaryas, along with other Puranas and Samhitas like Brahma-samhita, etc.
As you can appreciate, the work involved in this project will be gigantic and the advice of many experts from all fields will be needed to make it come out successful. It will be a glorious exhibition of India’s Vedic culture that will attract visitors from all over the world. I am inquisitive to know how you can help us with this project, as I know you are an expert in the field of Puranic astronomy. Hoping to hear from you in the near future.”
In this letter SP is exacting and specific. He has a laser-like clear vision and it is unequivocally based on 5th Canto, with great attention to detail.
Maharaja, in your article you state;
“While Vedic cosmology may be of interest to some, entering into a comprehensive understanding of the subject is certainly not essential to the culture of bhakti, what to speak of preaching the Bhagavatam 5th canto version of cosmology as being the final word on the matter.”
Compare your statement to Srila Prabhupada’s statements in this 1976 letter. Does it seems open to interpretation? The details of implementation, yes of course, they are to be ironed out. Yet your comment above is a 180 degree turn from HDG – it is counter opposed and contradictory to Srila Prabhupada’s expressed statements, at it’s very core. Therein lies the rub.
You go on to say, just after this, that;
“Many, including former disciples of Srila Prabhupada, have turned away from Krishna consciousness because of the prominence of fundamentalist preaching on this and similar non-essential issues.”
It appears that Srila Prabhupada did not share your opinion, that this was a non essential issue. To the contrary, on Srila Bhaktisiddanta’s appearance day, his voice choked up in emotion, he begged his disciples to make this project, and this very 5th canto vision, a reality.
In your response to Satyaraj above, you state;
“Yes, I do not think it is a good idea to showcase the fifth canto cosmography.” Again, this is counter opposed and contradictory to the exacting descriptions given in the letter above and to the detailed statements made numerous times in many places by HDG.
Then you continue;
“Others who have no brain for preaching can follow him literally and strive to put in place preaching strategies hatched half a century ago, but Prabhupada recognized me as someone who had a brain for outreach”
It appears from these statements that you boldly claim to know better than, have more updated insights, than Srila Prabhupada. In so doing you also decry those that follow his literal and extremely specific/complex instructions (in this matter), whilst placing yourself as being recognized by Srila Prabhupada as the one who really knows how to preach/outreach. Taken at face value, these statements sound strikingly infused with pride. At least that’s how it comes across…..and it is backed up by your other interpolations.
I view you as a brilliant devotee with an innovative progressive methodology. But I see Srila Prabhupada as having the visionary upper hand here.
To Dhanudhara Maharaj you say;
“Otherwise there is much that has occurred in science over the last 50 years that might cause Prabhupada to reconsider a strategy that involved the idea of proving that the Bhagavata’s fifth canto cosmography was in direct competition with that that of modern science. And I think Prabhuapda would be completely satisfied if saying the Bhagavata’s cosmographic description was not in direct competition with that of modern science helped educated people to take up Krsna bhakti, especially given the fact that one could support that position with comments from previous acaryas.”
Honestly, we will never know….if it “might cause Prabhupada to reconsider”. But we do know that he was as specific, detailed and absorbed in the complexity of this vision, than he was was with almost any other project.
And yet I much appreciate the tenor of your comments in the above paragraph; if we can present evidence that correlates with recent scientific findings then our efforts can potentially open the minds of many steeped in the awe of empiric evidence.
But again, Prabhupada was focused with intensity on presenting the information “being taken solely from references found in the fifth canto….”. Why second guess him when he was so exacting? Isn’t it that interpretation is called upon when the subject matter is murky? In referencing SP’s letter above, murkiness is conspicuous by it’s absence.
There are brilliant triple Phd’s (devotees) currently working on this presentation. It is not something for those “who have no brain to preach” as you say. In the statement above you also seem to be saying that if we placate modern science, we will have a better opportunity to preach Krsna bhakti. That doesn’t sound like the consistent Prabhupada who emphatically stated; “I have come here for two reasons; to establish Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and to smash the material scientists.” Granted there are varied ways and means to do so, from more refined and scientific (more potent) to less refined, but placating them was not one employed by HDG.
You say to Satyaraj that you try your utmost to exercise caution, logic and common sense when re-interpreting, or pursuing the spirit as opposed to the letter of the Guru. However on this very particular issue, there is a most specific letter referenced above (Nov. 14, 1976). Perhaps in this issue the letter is a sounder way to proceed, with the mood of “having implicit faith in Guru”.
I’d rather put my eggs in that basket.
Yours in service,
You quote Prabhupada’s letter, one part of which says:
To me, this letter is very obviously NOT laser focused despite Prabhupada’s detailed presentation of his ideas. What this letter demonstrates to me is that Prabhupada had ideas for what he wanted and is asking for help from an expert in the field of puranic astronomy and he acknowledges that many experts will be required. History shows us that Prabhupada took the advice of experts and adjusted his preaching strategies. As has been pointed out above, Srila Prabhupada also sought Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s input as an expert in spiritual astronomy and many times spoke about building the planetarium under a model of Brhat-Bhagavatamrta, a spiritual evolution through the planetary systems. I think all of this suggests that Prabhupada in his glorious enthusiasm to do enormous preaching, was simultaneously flexible. phalena pariciyate – judge something by the results. Just as Prabhupada was also originally opposed to his disciples dressing in western clothes to distribute books, when he heard the reasoning of devotees such as Tripurari Maharaj and saw the results he changed his opinion and even preached about its utility in his purports!
A PhD in any field does not qualify one for a PhD in spiritual science, particularly the preaching of bhakti. That PhD comes from deep absorption and understanding of the message of sastra and the blessings of the guru.
For the record I have no PhD and no college education.
So you have called me a fool while considering yourself an Angel. Let me give a little background to your post for perspective. I received an email from Satyaraja expressing concern on your behalf that he apparently shares. Your concern was your perception that your post was not published owing to the “biased sectarianism” of the moderators and myself. My disciples moderate this site. At the time of Satyaraja’s email your post had not even been posted for our moderators to consider publishing it because you did not know how to post it and sent it somewhere else. At my request our moderators respectfully exerted considerable effort to find out where you sent your “post” so that it could be published. Once they read it they felt it was offensive and were reluctant to publish it. Thus they asked me to weigh in. I told them to publish it.
In your post you tell me nothing I do not already know and you exhibit the kind of thinking or lack of it that I critiqued. I know that Prabhupada wanted to build this temple and showcase the fifth canto, etc. But unfortunately you don’t understand my position in more ways than one. Indeed, to quote you “Fools rush in where angles dare to tread.”
My Gurudeva’s idea for this temple is a preaching strategy. Preaching strategies are subject to re-visioning, especially on the part of present day acaryas in the lineage. In re-visionin such a strategy one must understand the intent behind it and what the purvacarya wanted to accomplish by it. My Guru Maharaja wanted to accomplish two things: Attracting many people to Mayapura by establishing a materially and spiritually ideal community/village, and in the context of doing so to offer a well thought out alternative to modern science’s metaphysical materialism. The question for persons in my position to consider is whether the details of my Guru’s particular strategy will deliver the intended results, given the fact that it was drawn up a half a century ago. Now while some people seem to think noting has changed over the last 50 years, they also seem to think that my Gurudeva was inflexible with regard to his preaching strategies as well as with regard to his most often stated take on the Bhagavata’s fifth canto cosmography. I differ considerably. Thus my conviction is that those who are seeking to implement the strategy without re-visioning it are doing a disservice at considerable expense.
So what we have here is two sides. Your side identifies with the letter of the strategy, with the thinking that the purvacarya wanted it and he knows best to the point of dismissing present day acaryas who seek to focus on the desired result and take the liberty to adjust the details of the strategy. You call such acaryas “proud.” You don’t think about the strategy any further than the fact that my Guru Maharaja wanted to expose the shortcomings of scientific materialism by his particular strategy and thus you accuse those who desire to expose the shortcomings of scientific materialism thoughtfully today in the context of re-visioning the strategy of merely placating the scientific community. And you think that the approach of persons like myself lacks “implicit faith in Guru.” Well, from my side I think you have no brain for preaching and that you identify with religious fundamentalist sensibilities. You also do not understand the nature of guru parampara and lack faith in it.
In the past big was big. Big buildings—skyscrapers—were a symbol of conquest. So my Gurudeva envisioned a very large building in Mayapura that would be the centre of his desired ideal village. However, in today’s world small is big and environmental sensitivity and working with nature and indigenous people attracts attention. The Mayapur project as it is presently being implemented has alienated indigenous people, who when asked to sell their farmland to expand the project and refused, woke up the next morning to find their farmland poisoned. This is but one example of an approach that thoughtful people will find distasteful. And there are many others. Together they constitute an example of Western imperialism, a very unappealing idea today.
I would have gone about it differently. I would have changed the plan to small is big and hired the best environmental architects and engineers of the world to plan villages that fit into the local environment such that they also encouraged and even taught local residents of the dhama how to improve their building, farming, sustainability, etc.—idillic environmental villages. Not one but nine, one on each island of Navadwipa so that no one particular village would be too large. Thus I would have tried to establish communities that local residences would embrace with strategies they could also implement and in this way serve the residents of the dhama. And I would try to do all of this with such state of the art, progressive sensibilities that the world would take notice and appreciate it. In other words I would try to do something so materially right that it in and of itself would be considered spiritually ideal. And of course it would also be spiritually ideal by way of showcasing the Gaudiya contribution to the world of spiritual insight. Thus I would focus the desired preaching exhibits on mapping the subjective landscape. This is the unique contribution of our tradition, plumbing the depths of the subjective world. And this approach focuses on the a Achilles heel of scientific materialism: the nature of consciousness. It also centres on the original idea of my Guru Maharaja and that of Pujyapada Sridhara Maharaja of showcasing the Brihat-bhagavatamrta. This book is the essence of Srimad Bhagavatam.
I could go on but I will stop here.
You make many sound points in your response to me. The one’s that resonate the most are your focus on an emphasis on eco-sustainability, care for the local community in Mayapur etc. These are significant and important details that have often been overlooked. It is sad and unfortunate. At the same time they do not eclipse the overarching theme of my letter to you.
When our Gurudeva was exacting and specific, what need is there to reinterpret, essentially change the entire model? That is what you are proposing. I appreciate the logic behind it, it has a reasonable ring. But then there are numerous specific instructions given with great attention to detail, only one of which is the 1976 letter.
Many others share your vision, and they are enacting projects that embody this. It is a progressive and beautiful vision of “smaller rather than bigger”. Radhanatha Swami’s project in Pune, The Govardhana Eco Village, has utilized state of the art sustainability technologies to capture the hearts and minds of locals and westerners alike. Have you been there yet? It is most impressive. I believe that you are endeavoring to do the same in Asheville and Costa Rica. Clearly these will all be monumental achievements that can bring so many souls to Krsna bhakti.
But you insist on superimposing your vision on one that has long been established by our Gurudev in great detail, insisting that your re-visioning is in the spirit of what he would want. And your followers will stand by you in railing against the evil empire who have no brain to preach. They accept you as the acarya currently, so it is proper in a sense. Why not give your suggestions and constructive input and then try to appreciate the TOVP attempt, whilst endeavoring to do better? That would be more in mode of what is truly a Harmonist.
As to the point of triple Phd’s, I knew that would be one of the key bullseye’s to go after in my post. Of course, I am not equating academic education with realization. Simply I am making the point that this issue of ‘how to present the cosmology of 5th canto’ is being studied and scrutinized from a modern scientific vantage point. There is a comprehensive team of qualified devotees, from the siddhantic, philosophical, scientific and technological arenas. That’s the point – quite simple really.
As Citta Hari says above; ” Just because SP went into great detail about this particular project in pursuance of creating doubt in modern science does not mean he would have stayed with the same strategy forever”.
It’s a matter of where you put your faith. You put yours in Tripurari Maharaj as the acarya, I’d rather respect TM and put my faith in the vision that SP set forth. It’s a matter of reasonable faith. Our Gurudev was very clear on these points, thus my reason goes there.
To quote you above;
“And you think that the approach of persons like myself lacks “implicit faith in Guru.” Well, from my side I think you have no brain for preaching and that you identify with religious fundamentalist sensibilities. You also do not understand the nature of guru parampara and lack faith in it.”
I truly have no brain to preach, you are correct in your assessment, and I thank you for so clearly pointing it out. The thing is, I respect you and your vision, but on the theme presented herein, I trust Srila Prabhupada’s brain more than yours.
Though I have long stood against fundamentalist sensibilities throughout my life, truly it has defined what I do in many arenas, on this point I am pleased to be labeled as such for the historical record. Thank you again.
I genuinely wish you all success and empowerment in all your outreach endeavors. You are a master of plumbing the depths of the subjective world, which is ultimately the basis of all that we do. Praying that you can present this understanding of the Brhat Bhagavatamrta in most powerful way – that will be a great contribution and be very pleasing to our Gurudev and Srila Sridhar Maharaj.
In the meantime, I am also praying that we can all harmonize on the principle of simple appreciation for the sincere endeavors of the Vaisnava’s, even if goes against our grain.
yours in service,
You refer to Srila Prabhupada as “our Gurudeva.” Were you initiated by him? If not, which Guru do you serve under and have implicit faith in? If you were not initiated by him but your implicit faith is in him, anyone else by your logic could place their implicit faith in any other previous acarya. That then would make Prabhuapda’s most often (but not only) stated perspective on the fifth canto relative because other purvacaryas have expressed different opinions. With that in mind, some of the absoluteness others attribute to Prabhupada’s popular perspective with a view to give importance and a sacred cow-ness to what is really a just a preaching strategy is balanced out and given new perspective.
I see a need to change the model because I do not think it will accomplish the desired result. That is my sense of where the world is at. Indeed, I think it may even be counterproductive. And given that the cost of the project is enormous and money could arguably be better used in other areas of the world that were also very important to Prabhupada and are now less than vital, I have formed my opinion, which I am entitled to. Prabhupada wanted many things. I try to look at the big picture. And in that picture I think this project will not have the kind of impact desired and that the funds could be used better elsewhere. Or if they are to be used for this project, that it would produce better results if re-visioned. Personally I think that is obvious to any educated person not blinded by faith in sri guru that lacks understanding of the nature of guru tattva.
You ask why I don’t just do something alternative and let this project be. I am doing something alternative and leading Iskcon members are quick to criticize me and label me unchaste, etc. I have an opinion about the way this project is going and sometimes I voice it. To be told that I should not do so is unreasonable. And I believe what I have to says is constructive input. Unfortunately it falls on deaf ears within the leadership of Iskcon.
Yes, it is a matter of faith. Let’s see if the temple is ever finished, and if it is, what effect it has on the world in terms of convincing educated people that modern science has it all wrong. And if it does not prove to be effective in this regard and attract Westerners to Mayapur in droves in celebration of Gaudiya Vedanta, I suggest you look back at this discussion, as will I if it proves successful as intended.
And of course if you were initiated by Srila Prabhupada, what I have written in my question to you does not apply to you in the same way as it would if you were not. Nonetheless it is an important point for others to consider. And for that matter, as members of a lineage we do have plurality of gurus to be chaste to. They voice different opinions on the same subject, which sheds light on their relativity.
Incidentally, referring to them as relative in such instances is not derogatory.
1. Just because SP went into great detail about this particular project in pursuance of creating doubt in modern science does not mean he would have stayed with the same strategy forever. He was clearly quite flexible when presented with new information and was willing to change course whenever he deemed it necessary to deliver the essential message. Attacking modern science outright may have worked in his time but it doesn’t take a genius to see that it won’t be very effective now if one wishes to be taken seriously by thoughtful, educated people of today.
2. Just because one has a triple PHd does not mean he or she has the sensibilities required for effective outreach.
To Maharaja / Moderators:
Oh Boy!! Perhaps it is time to publish my entry on ‘forces and nisargas? (It’s partly from the Jaiva dharma first chapter coupled with B.R. Sriddhar Swamis, Sataputa Prabhu’s and Srimad Bhagavatam’s explanation of the 24 substances/elements) …because I see the tsunami of forces now stampeding though here to derail this needed project… Believe me, my weird preaching on these ‘forces‘ (albeit controversial) typically helps diffuse these situations because it takes the guilt out of the person and places it back on the substance of universal ahankara—neutralizing personal resentment. I use similar strategies in the corporate world.
If you would like me to make changes to it please send it back with your comments and I will edit if requested. We need this ‘Essential Preaching vs. Fundamentalism’ project to go through once and for all!!
It is also worth noting that accusations of lack of spiritual fidelity and warnings to proceed with caution could have been applied by others in relation to Prabhupada’s most often stated position on the fifth canto cosmography. How so? Because that position is entirely different from that of some of our previous acaryas. In an earlier post I have pointed out the position of Visvanatha Cakravarti on the relevant chapters. Does Prabhuapda lack fidelity and implicit faith in the previous acaryas to differ so from them as it appears?
So, again, what we are really dealing with here is, ironically, lack of faith in and understanding of the nature of guru parampara. And also the misconstruing of details with principles and preaching strategies with siddhanta. This is an example of how misunderstanding of guru tattva leads to further bondage, even when it shows itself in the form of praise and apparent chastity to the guru.
Here is Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s idea about the temple:
Badarayan Prabhu is not only a disciple of Srila Prabhupada in good standing, but at the cutting of preaching here in New York. Among other things he runs with his wife Rukmini the cutting edge, successful and high end Stanton Street Yoga and bed and breakfast. He is known as a well-behaved, thoughtful and broadminded Vaisnava. He has the adhikari to offer his opinions. I value his association.
There is an issue here and he gave evidence for one side. I am also not a fundamentalist, but I tend more to agree with him. I think a mature discussion would allow for such disagreement without condemnation.
Thanks for the information, Maharaja. I did not think his post was an example of the best behaviour. And his evidence is simply that Prabhuapda had a strategy to depict the Bhagavatam cosmography. Everyone already knew that. What you refer to as condemnation involved my assessment of the mindset behind his position that leads to the conclusion that Prabhupada’s strategy should not be tampered with, and that in response to being called a proud fool that lacks implicit faith in the guru. I also revealed the mindset behind my thinking that Prabhupada’s strategy can be re-visioned. Feel free to participate in and continue the discussion. But simply calling my response immature condemnation does not add anything.
Sorry. I see now that Dhanurdhara Maharaja was replying to Madan Gopala’s post and not mine.Then again, I don’t see anything in Madan Gopala’s post that constitute condemnation and it was I who asked whether Badarayana was initiated by Srila Prabhuapda.
It’s difficult to argue when both sides are correct, except for the denigrating language. The TOVP is happening, therefore it is Krishna’s will. HH Tripurari Maharaja has some criticism of the way it’s being handled, or of it’s necessity or factual ability as a way to “challenge modern science.” That is happening, it’s also therefore Krishna’s will. These things are not debatable if you understand Gaudiya siddhanta. So what is being debated?
Some people believe it harms your reputation in the greater society to promote all that Prabhupada promoted. They consider that the “politically correct” attitude is dominant in the world’s modern societies, and that along with an ability to quickly inform the whole world of your foibles can cause serious harm to your reputation. You can’t say the earth is flat and that the sun revolves around us without being laughed at. That is a simple fact.
Some devotees don’t want to deal with that and believe they should just go on as ISKCON always has without any adjustment for time, place or circumstance. Others believe that without change to some things which are wholly objectionable to the modern social and scientific ethos that any large expansion of Krishna consciousness is untenable due to the ridicule factor.
Is it wise to present Puranic cosmology as literal truth if you want to be accepted as leaders of truth and absolute perfect knowledge to society at large? Clearly many Gaudiya Vaishnavas see a problem with that approach. To have fidelity to Prabhupada – does that mean promoting everything he ever said or taught as absolute truth? Or can it mean fidelity to his mission of spreading Krishna bhakti? If you believe the former then you will never be accepted on a wide scale outside India. Never. Prabhupada said too many things which are simply too unacceptable to the modern ethos. Not only unacceptable, but you will be severely attacked and will be subject to government sanctions if all the unacceptable things become known to the wider society.
Those with more complete knowledge of modern society have the duty to make changes as they see fit in order to present Krishna bhakti in the most attractive fashion. You can’t tell people in this day and age that Krishna is all perfect and beauty, that your are presenting the height of sophistication – and then have them go to your main website where right now there is a lengthy and heated argument by your leaders, in public, on whether or not women are wholly to blame for divorce because they are weak and less-intelligent, or that sometimes men might be a little to blame as well. You can’t have a discourse like that in today’s modern world and not be the target of ridicule and censure by most all people, and especially any type of media.
Would Prabhupada care more about being right on everything he taught on topics not directly about bhakti, or about not being ridiculed and savaged by most everyone and the media? I think his followers do him a disservice by serving the idea of him as infallible on all things when by doing so it will clearly cause his mission to suffer. Prabhupada was pragmatic, if he knew that something he taught was holding back so many people from taking Krishna bhakti seriously, I think it is an offense to him to think that he would choose to never make an adjustment in his presentation.
Consider that Prabhupada changed the Gaudiya tradition he came from for the explicit purpose of catering to modern views. He allowed women in the previously male only ashram society of the Gaudiya Math. His reasoning was that the people coming from modern culture would resonate more with Krishna consciousness if he made some major changes. Some, or in fact most of his followers believe that what Prabhupada set forth should never be changed – just like when Prabhupada’s own godbrothers complained about Prabhupada’s changes to what their gurudeva had set up.
Why is it that no one can any longer make changes? Does all change end with Prabhupada? Is that a shastric vision, seeing through the eyes of shastra? Or is it fanatic sentimentality? Prabhupada was not as expert on western society as those who are born and bred in it, unless you see him as godlike – which he was against. In the culture he came from it was acceptable to speak like he did of women; or child rearing; or race; or even cosmology, and not be severely ridiculed by society at large. That is not the case today. You cannot present any of that without being judged a lunatic or deviant in modern society. Period. Devotees need to realize how sticking to an unchanging paradigm as if time ends with Prabhupada is not what Prabhupada taught; or as HH Tripurari Maharaja tells us: they are not understanding the parampara. Changes are needed from time to time in your methodology to be able to be acceptable to the society you are dealing with. Because if you are unacceptable then you are simply preaching to the choir. The preaching mission is then over for the most part outside of Hindu culture.
I am not sure how the TOVP is going to present that information, are they going to go with the way Sadaputa Das spoke on Puranic cosmology, as allegorical? Or will they take the literal approach that Prabhupada most often took? Sadaputa was a contributor to the project, and his vision was to try to reconcile Puranic cosmology with modern views – to show how similar they were in order to promote the view that ancient Vedic society was very advanced in scientific knowledge. There is some hint that the TOVP is going in that direction, i.e. I heard a lecture by a GBC member who was speaking of the TOVP and Puranic cosmology. He was putting forth Sadaputa’s idea that Bhu-mandala equates with modern cosmology, being a metaphor for the plane of the orbits of the planets, or ecliptic plane. That is, the orbits of the planets are aligned on the same plane more or less, a flat plane. Instead of presenting a literal flat earth vision of Puranic cosmology, where the sun is closer to us then the moon, with oceans of sugar, etc., the GBC member was dismissing that as a misunderstanding and promoting Sadaputa’s ideas as the correct vision.
If the TOVP goes in that direction, then ISKCON will not become ridiculed, it will be celebrated. The same mentality of doing the needful for a higher purpose is the guiding principle of guru-tattva. You cannot be accepted as a guru to the world if the world sees you as madmen because of obstinately sticking to some ultimately non-essential point in the name of devotion. That is the opposite of devotion. Krishna says to abandon all dharma but surrendering to him, that is bhakti. The glorification of Krishna should not be damaged in the name of devotion to Krishna. That should be the attitude of those engaged in Sri Chaitanya’s sankirtan mission, otherwise it becomes something other then his sankirtan mission, and the empowerment is removed.
I have been told that they have rejected Sadaputa’s explanation. His explanation basically says that the two views are not in competition and that the Bahgavata’s description is from a different perspective that basically comes to the same conclusion. If that were the case, the proposed exhibit would say little more than that the Bhagavata’s picture was accurate in terms of modern science, while written centuries ago and arrived at without modern instruments. In that way it would help to make the text credible to the eyes of modern people. But in affect Sadaputa’s view, while different from mine, essentially consist of the same approach. And as I understand it, he was marginalised for it.
When I first read the above posts, I was bewildered by what I saw as strong statements of my spiritual master, Swami Tripurari, against the opinions and even character of well-wishers. I am used to him chewing up small-minded, apasampraday-infused and confused people who attack him on all levels out of ignorance or envy. But this, not these people – people who have genuine appreciation for my gurudeva and his service; a few broad-minded souls brave enough to admit their respect and appreciation for him in public, in writing. There are many people associated with ISKCON who appreciate Swami Tripurari – some who come to him for advice, some who are pleased to place their disciples under his guidance, but few, if any, out of one fear or another, would admit such a thing in public. So when Satyaraja, Badarayan, and Dhanudara Maharaja laid out the evidence for their side of the argument in a way that gave space and even validation to my gurudeva’s vision, I wanted to see them garlanded for playing nice. But instead, their appreciations were apparently back-handedly dismissed. I thought throughout the night and early this morning, “what am I missing? I know he has the fighting spirit, and loves to spar with opponents for the sake of clarifying siddhanta, but these are “friendlies”, what is the lesson to be learned here?”
Putting my ego aside, just for a brief moment, laying down my need to have my guru’s service praised or appreciated, I heard the lesson. THAT was the lesson. That I needed my guru praised, appreciated – but that is certainly not what my guru needs, wants or cares for. I heard my words again, “He spars for the sake of clarifying siddhanta.” I would have settled for the appreciation, shaken hands, felt good about myself and left the siddhanta out swinging in the breeze. So I re-framed my approach, from the side of siddhanta rather from my sentiments for my guru.
If Krishna was to call away my spiritual master for service to a realm beyond my time and space, as a disciple I would naturally try to bring into manifestation the vision of my beloved gurudeva, to finish what he had started as I carry forward the principle of spreading Krishna consciousness. My god brothers and sisters would rally around his vision and we would do our utmost to fulfill it. However, if in the implementation of that vision, the dynamic nature of guru became stifled and the bold revolutionary forces necessary to keep the siddhanta accessible in relevant ways became diminished, I would be duty-bound to my gurudeva to forsake my sentiment for a preaching detail he had envisioned under different circumstances. This would be the way to perpetuate him into the future – for this is the basis for all of his visions. This – bringing the heart of siddhanta to the world of the heartless – is the basis of all of our acharya’s actions.
This is the truth that fueled Srila Prabhupada’s movements in this world – he left his guru’s institution and gave up association of stagnant godbrothers (and was considered a heretic for it); flew on airplanes and rode in limousines; shared a stage with rock bands and acid-washed hippies; gave brahminical initiation to people born way outside the borders of brahminical culture; allowed and encouraged his female disciples to take up activities usually beyond those offered to women. Srila Prabhupada simply followed in his beloved guru’s dynamic footsteps. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta sliced and diced formidable traditions for the sake of separating bhakti from its surroundings, even willing to abolish the facility of ashrams because they no longer assisted the development of suddha-bhakti and focus, rather, on the development of a printing press. And Bhaktisiddhanta’s numerous innovations were following the teachings of his beloved gurudeva, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who taught to “work with times that are with THEE, and progress thee will call”. And we all know that Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s dynamic actions were like TNT.
The individual visions for spreading krishna consciousness by the acharyas of the Madhava-Gaudiya sampradaya are details churned from the chastity to guru-paramapara, and are never meant to be principles that freeze in time the free flow of bhakti thru one acharya into the next.
This is the lesson I learned from this discourse after setting aside sentiment and bringing siddhanta to the forefront of my consciousness. I bow to all of you for your assistance.
Identifying Fundamentalist Thinking
So, now that we seem to have gotten past the detail of the Planetarrium and the Parampara, can we please begin by making a list of proposed Essentials and Non-Essentials to discuss and examine, in order to decide / vote which nuances or specifics in our presentations are identified as “Fundamentalist thinking?” I’ll start. Here’s three small items to begin with, in order of difficulty (easy to difficult). Let’s call this a test.
1.) Suppose it’s Ekadasi. Extenuating circumstances dictate that you can either chant your prescribed daily rounds or follow Ekadasi, but not both. Which do you choose? At the moment of initiation you were asked to chant a number of daily rounds, there was no mention as you received your beads about following Ekadasi. Which is essential?
If you are not able to decide, or feel that both are equal, or simply refuse to choose because of equal importance, then chances are that you may be a fundamentalist and not know it. (Please call Ted Patrick at 1-800-D-PROGRAM)
(I pose this Ekadasi simple topic because I find many to think that this is a ‘regulative essential principle,’ and I feel it needs to be weighed in “our presentation.” I know at least one Sadhu in Vrndavan who called it non-essential)
2.) Dress code — I remember standing just behind Srila Prabhupada in New Dvarka at the beginning of his lecture as he arrived in LA, and you could have heard a pin drop. Prabhupada, panned slowly at the beautifully decked-out, ironed, pleated, embroidered, dhoties and sarees, with Indian Jewelry and painted on tilak, that made everyone look like a bollywood set. Gravely He stated, “Just because you have nice saree and dhotie does not mean you are devotee.” Of course, everyone was trying to please Prabhupada by looking their best. But that was not what Srila Prabhupada was looking for and He made it clear that He was disappointed. So unless you’re on the altar or in a renounced asram, is it essential to dress like a Hindu (“devotional clothing”) in America and the West. Or is it just something we did/do to make Prabhupada feel that we were following him. Which is more intimidating to new comers, the *semblance* of strict Hindu dress code or come as you may ‘no dress code?’ …and how to begin communicating the obvious to the world without doing away with the beauty of this non-essential cultural application?
Of course, if a person thinks that we are supposed to outwardly dress this way in order to actually be devotees, …and/or that the outer garments in the Spiritual world are the same type of fabric and style as we are able to perceive and construct with our limited senses here on Earth, …then chances are that such a person possibly-maybe-probably-might be a fundamentalist. (Don’t call Ted Patrick, it’s too late)
3.) Shakta Vesh Avatar — When presenting to the Western world the blanket, unqualified declaration that Srila Prabhupada was/is a “Shakta Vesh Avatar incarnation of Vishnu,” we always alienate a majority who are just not ready to hear that. They have been hearing and reading about hundreds of ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘Jesus’ appearances on pieces of toast, and cloth, and pizza from Mexico to Italy, in the news over the last five decades. They also already have issue with accepting the Lila pastimes as a separate, nonetheless ‘reality.’ Now, this is the last thing they want to hear from us—“Shakta Vesh Avatar.”
Having to explain the nuances and intricacies of ‘shakta,’ and ‘empowerment,’ and ‘Vishnu,’ and ‘avatar,’ and ‘incarnation,’ in order to properly qualify this entire statement in it’s granular subtlety of detail and proper vernacular to a new student, requires its own Shakta Vesh Avatar to appear. Consequently we have new devotees running around telling new comers that Prabhupada is an “empowered incarnation of God.” This is especially disturbing as I remember the lecture well, where Srila B.R. Sriddhar Swami was asked the loaded question, “Maharaja with everything that Srila prbhupada did, is it true that He is a Shakta Vesh Avatar?” Swami B.R. Sridhhar Swami of course replied, “Well, he must be, look at everything he has accomplished.” This was the first mention of this in Vrndavan and the dialogue is printed in a book by the Sri Caitanya Saraswat Math. It went viral after that! And, that is wonderful because we don’t doubt that He was, and when properly defined we can understand that He is. Yet without the granular understanding, should we even be saying this in class and Sunday lectures, or at all?
If one believes that this (Shakta Vesh Avatar) is worthy of public distribution by dint of its own importance, without the needed mature clarification and serious positioning, then chances are, in some unexplained manner, that one possibly-maybe-probably-might be a… ahhh, forget it!!
I’ll stop there and leave this as food for thought.
Please forgive my offenses,
Yadunandana Pada dasa ACBSP (⇠ now I feel I have to divulge that ;-0)
P.S. Remember that historically the mainstream has always typically been incorrect in Man’s History
On the essential vs. nonessential point Bhaktivinoda Thakura broke it down pretty much as far as it goes: jive-daya, krsna nama–sarva dharma sara, “The essence of dharma is kindness to jivas and chanting Krsna’s names.”
I have been saying for decades, with a lot of push back, that we NEED to have ‘Bhaktivinode Class‘ every single day for proper balance. He published enough work to keep us busy. We may all never get to read and understand all His ‘Divine Positioning‘ if we do not add Him to our daily education process. Doing so would rid us all of most of this fundamentalism, if not all.
No doubt BVT needs to be better understood by many of his followers. His presentation, while geared primarily toward the Bhadraloka (Western-educated Bengali intelligentsia of his era), was so essential that much of what he wrote is perfectly relevant today, albeit with some updating of the language. That’s pretty amazing for someone who wrote his material over a hundred years ago.