More on Prabhupadology. Myth and reason. Liberal religion.

Jagadananda das
http://www.jagat.wisewisdoms.com



When I used the term 'charisma', I was NOT using it to mean 'personal presence' even though that is the way that it is customarily used. I was simply saying that the term fittingly applies to the concept which you seemed to be having trouble naming, and to which you gave the appellation 'Holy Grail.'

With reference to your comments on diksha, I wonder if you were referring to my article rather than anything that I said in my letters, as you seem once again to have misunderstood my meaning. This is quite understandable, as my article was a little unclear. Although at a certain point in my career I believed that the unbroken disciplic succession was a necessity in achieving spiritual success, I have revised my opinion. I do consider, however, that Bhaktisiddhanta and his followers were not up front about the so-called 'direct spiritual succession' from Krishna and Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and I still take this original deception to be a valid and major criticism of the Gaudiya Math and its branches, of which Iskcon is one.

>Regarding seemingly failures of the sastra, Visoka Prabhu gave the right
>interpretation. Srila Prabhupada's explanation about this topic is to be
>found in CC Mad. 23.117-118p. Shortly: One has to hear sastra from the
>pure devotee and not from atheists, bogus gurus or the like. Only the
>devotee can give the proper understanding.

And when the proper understanding is 'it cannot be understood'?

>The theologian on the universities - many of them are the biggest atheists
>and unbelievers I ever seen, regardless of faith; that's because they
>try to understand sastra without guru and sadhu and invent their own
>"knowledge". The results are only imperfect speculations, full of
>errors, contradictions and misconceptions and confusions. Each year a
>new speculation - what a waste of time.

Yes, I expect this kind of argument. Those who ask questions sacrifice a certain amount of certainty. Sometimes the damage is irreparable. But I spent 9 years in Iskcon and 15 years in Gaudiya Vaisnavism as an orthodox practitioner, condemning every doubt I had with these arguments, so I am not surprised to hear them coming from you. My point is, and I will continue to make it, that we sacrifice a lot for this pretense at absolute knowledge. The shastra is full of errors, contradictions and misconceptions and confusions, but somehow we can tolerate that because it has been given the name shastra. On the other hand, the sum total of human knowledge only appears to be full of errors, contradictions, misconceptions and confusions, because (as in Iskcon) when there are differences, they tend to be accentuated.

What is the difference between an Iskcon devotee and a ritvik-vadi (a word which I use for want of a better term)? They agree on 99% of everything, and yet they are fighting over the 1%. How does that look to an outsider? No two individuals can possibly agree on everything, let us put it out of our minds and glorify the variegatedness of Mahavishnu's creation.

At the same time, there are many areas of broad consensus in the scholarly community. There is even an important element of sincerity in atheism, and religious people have been forced to listen to their criticisms and nod their heads. If I can learn from Pingala, I can also learn from an atheist, believe it or not.

>Srimad Bhagavatam says in a well-known verse: "Such transcendental
>literatures, EVEN THROUGH IMPERFECTLY COMPOSED, are heard, sung and
>accepted by purified man who are thoroughly honest." (SB 1.5.11) And it
>says that in Kali-yuga, the Vedas will be interpreted by atheists. (SB
>12.3.32) So, it's the same. Sadhu and sastra. To receive perfect
>transcendental knowledge, one cannot separate.

Your understanding of 'even though imperfectly composed' is probably erroneous and refers, not to siddhanta, but to its grammatical incorrectness, or faults of prosody (of which there are many in BhP), or just general poor poetry. This is what would be indicated by the word abaddhavati.

>Fire is to be cosidered pure, although there is smoke. Where there is
>fire, there is smoke. I would say, regarding the sastras, it's the same.
>Although there may be "smoke", they are to be considered pure.

My point is that someone has to discern between smoke and fire. That is the function of reason. And you and I will not necessarily agree about which is which.

>Regarding Srila Prabhupada. You wrote "the more divine we make
>Prabhupada...". This indicates a very strange view about the followers
>of Srila Prabhupada. It indicates that they are some kind of cheaters
>who want to make their own self-made god. But this would be demoniac,
>idolatry. A real follower of Srila Prabhupada knows or wants to find
>out, who Srila Prabhupada really is. If one says that Srila Prabhupada
>is a pure devotee, a saint, a saktyavesa-avatara, a successful ordinary
>person or god Himself, he should be able to justify his opinion.

I don't think that this is a strange view at all. Considering someone else divine, regardless of objective reality, is a subjective act, as is any belief. There is a difference between saying that Prabhupada is a messiah for the millennium, born pure and holy, who was sent by God to perform a mission, and saying that he is a man who through faith, perseverence and his own example, spread the beliefs of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Though the mythic and realistic interpretations of Prabhupad's life may intersect, there is a world of difference in the perception. I prefer a more human Prabhupad; I find him more inspiring. And in a sense, I do think that imparting excessive divinity to the guru is a kind of idolatry. The problems that this kind of institution create in a society are self-evident.

>Srila Prabhupada was a saint and pure devotee, a qualified and autorized
>spiritual master. So, this all is definitely not what one can call a
>ordinary person.

Inasmuch as God has been revealed to you through Prabhupada, and inasmuch as he continues to provide an ideal conception of human life to you, he is not an ordinary person. Samasti guru has acted through him to reveal himself. This is guru-tattva.

>Jagadananda, to read your message is like reading a message from an
>unbeliever, an atheist. It manufactures many speculations and ends up
>confused and questioning. You don't want to offend, but then you write
>that the followers of Prabhupada "make" Prabhupada something, that
>Prabhupada is mediaeval and "chutzpah", only an ordinary person, that
>Srila Bhaktisiddhanta did vituperous criticism on the sadhus, that
>sastra is not absolute, that guru is ordinary person... well, WHO is
>this hellish dog you did NOT want to offend?

I was expecting such a reaction and if I were not prepared for it I would not have written. Of course I don't want to offend anyone, and yet I realize that parts of what I say might be taken as offensive by some readers. That unfortunate situation results in misunderstandings, name calling and all the rest of it. I have come to my conclusions after long, hard, and difficult thinking. I stand by everything. I singled out the Fifth Canto as an example of problems in scripture. I could have chosen a hundred other mythical passages that Iskcon followers demand that we accept as gospel truth. The Bible has many much less difficult mythological passages that are interpreted as allegory by Christians, but we have not yet introduced allegorical thinking into Iskcon. It is understandable. As soon as I say no to one thing (neti neti) I am on the slippery slope to nihilism and impersonalism, in the devotee way of looking at things. I either accept the whole kit and caboodle or I die amongst the faithless.

Someone may say, "The Fifth Canto is achintya. I cannot understand it and therefore I bracket out this part of scripture. I can do this because (a) it does not have a direct relationship with my devotional life and is thus unimportant, or (b) it will be revealed to me in due course if I follow the program given to me by my spiritual master." This person has made a rational decision, or someone else has made it on his behalf, about which parts of shastra are relevant or irrelevant. Obviously, the Fifth Canto is not particularly important in a practical sense because I cannot use maps based on it to travel from point A to point B. In the 8th century, people studying the Bhagavata in South India were not about to travel very far anyway! Most other scientific information in the Puranas and Itihasas is similarly fixed in a certain time and place. Let us be content to accept this on the basis of comparative studies. I think that even Bhaktivinode, for instance, in Krishna Samhita, was willing to accept another chronology for the Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavatam than our customary 5,000 years.

I mentioned in my first letter that "We had become so alienated from our own tradition." We have indeed become alienated from our Western heritage, primarily our scientific and political achievements. We live in an age of relativity, which is perhaps one of the things we (with good reason) rebelled against. Yet Prabhupada put a lot of stock in our being Westerners. At the same time, the analogy of the blind man and the cripple was rather condescending to a long and venerable Western tradition. It comes out of revamped Indian nationalism of the 19th century, which used a smug sense of spiritual superiority to justify itself. And if you want more, I will explain this to you in detail.

>So, I know that you had intimate relations with some of Prabhupadas
>godbrothers. Your message is proof, that what Srila Prabhupada said
>about them, is completely right. You know of which statements I'm
>speaking. Look what they've done to you! They even made you a cheap
>guru? Look what they've done to you! What kind of dog is the dog who
>bites the giving hand of its owner and well-wisher? What do you expect
>from this kind of dog? What you wrote is something what one expects to
>hear from an unbeliever and not from a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. But
>you are disciple of Srila Prabhupada. Krishna gave you so much and He
>will give you a lot more, but it's up to you, to use it for the higher
>purpose, for the well-being of people who didn't have your blessings.
>This shall be your greatness - the honour of your spiritual master and
>Krishna. Reject this dogs who want to bite those who love them. They'll
>do no good. Life is much to short to squander on this kind of people and
>they won't help you when you have to pay for your life.

As I said, I expect this kind of response, but I wish that you would not blame Prabhupada's godbrothers. They most likely think exactly the same things that you do, at least as far as what I have to say here is concerned. As a matter of fact, the last time I had the good fortune to have darshan of Sridhar and Narayan Maharajas, they were far from happy to see me. Don't blame any of my gurus. Blame material nature if you will, for having given me a questioning mind. This questioning mind took me to all of these people and I still love and respect them for all that they have given me, even if I may deviate from the entirety of their conclusions.

I got out of the guru business before I got too involved, thank God. Ever since I was given the not so enviable task of trying to apply the concept of the varnashram system to the education of young children, I have identified myself as a brahman.

sahajam karma kaunteya sadosam api na tyajet/
sarvarambha hi dosena dhumenagnir ivavrtah//
Do not give up the work born of your nature, O son of Kunti, even if it is full of fault. All endeavors are to some extent covered with flaws, like fire covered with smoke.
I use the same analogy about my prescribed duty: to use my feeble ability to reason, to question.

Prabhupada (I cannot quote chapter and verse) said that if there is one error in someone's philosophy, then the whole thing is bogus. This is what I mean by chutzpah. This is one of the reasons that the guru parampara issue held such importance for me back in 1979. I don't today believe that a single blemish destroys an entire edifice, because I think that through inconceivable oneness and difference, everything contains some good. That even Pingala the prostitute has something to teach me. That my guru can manifest himself anywhere, when he is kind enough to do so.

madhu-lobhena yatha bhrngah
puspat puspantaram vrajet
jnana-lobhat tatha sisyo
guroh gurvantaram vrajet

na hy ekasmad guror jnanam
susthiram syat apuskalam
brahmaikam advitiyam vai
giyate bahudharsibhiH
Like a honeybee flies from one flower to another in search of honey, so does a disciple go from one teacher to another in his hunger for knowledge.

An understanding that is entirely dependable and clear cannot come from any single teacher. The Supreme Truth is "One without a second", but it is glorified by the seers in many different ways.
This is some of the sastra that I live by. All philosophical edifices are adequate to give shelter to their inhabitants. We can still search to improve. This is only human nature.

My overall way of looking at religion is liberal. I think that we should try to find out what is essential and what is good, and not lose our time with the rest. That which is essential and good should find support in reason: a theology that can deal with the type of questions that I ask. Those who can only find comfort in dogma, the fundamentalists, are quite welcome to their position. They will belong to the category of yas ca mudhatamo loke, because of ostrich-head-in-the-sand attitude. A true philosophy must be able to face its own history, it must ask the difficult questions and it must be able to adapt when it is necessary.

Does this necessarily mean falling into atheism, impersonalism or voidism? I don't honestly know. This is the particular game that I am playing with Krishna since it is only he who reveals. For many long years I prayed to him for his service and that of Radharani. This I did with as much sincerity as I could muster. I now pray that he will be a kind master and drag me by the hair back to his lotus feet. A couple of verses after the one you quote, Narada says,

na vai jano jAtu kathaJcanAvrajen
mukunda-sevy anyavad aGga samsRtim/
smaran mukundAGghry-upagUhanaà punar
vihAtum icchen na rasa-graho janaH//
1.5.19.

Never does a servant of Lord Mukunda who falls away from that service ever undergo material existence like others, because anyone who has once relished the taste of Krishna’s lotus feet remembers those ecstasies again and again, and can ultimately never give them up. (1.5.19)
Let this verse be true, at least the way that Prabhupada translated it.

Your servant, Jagadananda.

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