Positive Universality

Setting sacred literature and the logic for adherence to its conclusions aside, is there any other logic that supports the notion of a concrete Absolute of unlimited form? While the highest form of divine revelation must be free from sectarianism and thus represent the greatest generality, it must also possess the greatest wealth of positive content.

The Russian mystic and philosopher Vladimir Solovyov coined the phrase “positive universality” in his attempt to describe the Absolute. He conceives of positive universality in contradistinction to the absence of all determinate properties and distinctive features. He opines in concert with the Upanisads that in seeking a universal religion and ultimate spiritual reality, it is insufficient to merely do away with all distinctive features of the Absolute. This is so because in doing so we reach at best only the lowest common denominator of religion. We arrive at the minimum of religious content. Such an abstract form of religion under any name, he reasons, leads ultimately to nihilism and atheism.

Solovyov would have us take a step forward. Acknowledging the general religious principle that constitutes our common religious ground, he asked his audience to go higher. “The richer, the more alive and concrete a religious form is, the higher it is. The perfect religion is not the one that is equally contained in all religions [the indifferent foundation of religion]; the perfect religion is one that possesses and contains within itself all religions [the complete religious synthesis].” This is the meaning of “Krishna,” in which all forms of love find transcendental expression.

In devotion to Krishna, we do not encounter the fanaticism that holds to only one spiritual revelation, for Krishna includes all forms of the Godhead and thus all varieties of love of God. Nor do we encounter the abstract rationalism that evaporates the essence of religion into a fog of indeterminate concepts, fusing all religious forms into a formless, colorless, impotent generality or void.

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6 Responses to Positive Universality

  1. Beautifully said. Enjoyed reading this. It is sad because Krsna is so beautiful and universal but my Christian friends lump all of this sort of thing into the occult which is a gross misunderstanding and ignorance.

  2. ancientmariner- I know exactly what you’re talking about. There’s nothing to prove to them, they’re convinced. Some other methods of worship seem to get their appeal by control, control of God, and a presumption to know what God wants (which invariably corresponds with their views). The beauty of bhakti is it’s not about control, it’s about surrender, humility, service. They are not so much misunderstood and ignorant, but their souls aren’t ready for the spirit of surrender and service (and greater spiritual fulfillment) that bhakti-yoga requires, but how many lifetimes has it taken to even be conscious of this greater taste, this spiritual world, and how many more until the true meaning of unattached service is fully realized?

  3. Society does seem bent on using the lowest common denominator as the yardstick of equality. The problem is that if we strip away everything distinctive, it requires that we subject the fonts of the spirit to some sort of systematic analysis – typically in the form of misapplied scientific method. Once you take something driven by faith and look at it from a point of view that considers spirit to be a little more than an undemonstrable hypothesis, you’re left with nothing more than the bare bones. The art, mystery, and power to change lives simply dries up.

    To take the Christian example, why would someone offer themselves to Jesus, one of many Jewish philosophers, who one might argue did a reasonably successful job of synthesizing contemporary Jewish schools of thought and on whose biography was overlaid numerous mythological motifs from Near Eastern mystery cults? Generations, though, have lived and died for Jesus the Christ, son of the Living God, who taught that all humanity might be one in the love of God. The words of Jesus Christ carry an imperative from the realm of the spirit which can transform lives. The words of Jesus, philosopher of Nazareth, are little more than hollow suggestions. Take them or leave them.

    When we apply this sort of reductionism to spiritual teachers, we start looking at them as nothing more than people with delusions of grandeur. Their teachings become inherited prejudices, fairy tales, and best guesses and not a means of deliverance. God is reduced to, at best, a generalized force which rubber stamps our social mores, and at worst, a coping mechanism for people who just can’t deal with mortality. We are left with a vague spirituality which provides no guidance, no insight, nothing to catalyze our growth and provide us with the ability to search out our meaning. Such a system is impotent to speak to us individually, because only geared to the generalized everyperson who only exists in our philosophy anyway. What we sacrifice in the process is a diversity of powerful spiritual systems which can speak to a variety of individuals and have demonstrated their ability to transform lives.

    The problem is that the lowest common denominator is laid side by side with the history of dogma-inspired strife as some sort of binary system. If these are the only two options, I can’t really blame people for opting in favor of the “everyman” option. They’re just afraid that when people are just too individual, when they hold too many strong opinions, they fight. They argue. There is discord in the home and among nations. In other words, when we believe too strongly, we go to war.

    But fortunately, a third option is offered here. A worldview may be so strong that it doesn’t just allow for diversity, it affirms it and considers it an integral concept. What if a religion doesn’t simply allow for the idea that “other religions are equally valid paths to God”, but is based on the idea that God manifests Himself throughout the universe, and under different conditions and in a diversity of manners gives souls precisely what they need to go back home to Him? Such a religion would be powerful enough that it could embrace another religion and see it as non-different, as integral to its being and sacrifice nothing for it.

    I have to believe that when Lord Krishna manifested His universal form on Kurukshetra, one of His faces was Jesus of Nazareth. I have to believe that my sincere Christian friends who live out the sermon on the mount driven by faith will find their way to our shared heavenly homeland. And the best part is that I lose nothing for this belief – my faith in Lord Krishna is not shaken in the slightest because I know He is there, present in the teachings of Jesus and the object of faith for my Christian friends.

    Perhaps dogmatism might form a stumbling block for some of our Christian friends, but I’d rather see them take their spiritual lives seriously. Those who are really dogmatic Christians would probably make dogmatic Muslims, Hindus, whatever, under different conditions. I don’t think that the particular system is really to blame as much as where the soul happens to be at. There have been people of all religions who were both strong exemplars of their particular faiths and generous enough to affirm that God was working in the lives of other communities. Some have even been bold enough to say that there was really just one community, with only appearances to the contrary.

    Please pardon the rambling book report, everyone, but this one is an idea near and dear to my heart. Thank you so much, Maharaja, for articulating such a profound concept.

  4. I guess the surprising thing to me is the level of dogmatism that Christianity still pervades especially against “eastern” religions. When I was younger I could clearly see that the message of Jesus is universal and is not contradictory to Krishna Consciounsess or if so only very minutely so I had this naive expectation that everyone else in Christianity would eventually see that and it has been nothing but a rude awakening since then.

    • No, I get you there. Dogmatic attitudes can be a real disappointment, especially when you just want to connect with others and you realize that there’s nothing that’s really keeping you apart. Some folks understand that there is only one God, but won’t explore all of the implications that come with that.

  5. Did Solovyov ever acknowledge a foundational irony in his attempt? In the real world, we can often find two Gaudiya Vaishnavas proclaiming the “universality” of their faith with regard to Christianity, Islam, indigenous religions, etc…. while at the same time denouncing the other Gaudiya Vaishnava for his aparadha and apasiddhanta. Many Gaudiya Vaishnava institutions are far more likely to welcome a Christian or Shaivite as an honored event-guest than they are to welcome a member of another Gaudiya Vaishnava institution. Universality often seems to end at the ashram door, “I will honor your choice to worship any other gods any way you like, but my worship of Gaura/Krishna is the only bonafide way to worship Gaura/Krishna!”

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