The Enquirer

by Vraja Kishor dās

Author Archive

What the ISKCON GBC is Supposed to Be?

What the ISKCON GBC is Supposed to Be?

Life is weird. There are things we don’t want to be involved in at all, yet we can’t get off our minds. In such times, I think maybe the best idea is to get it off our minds by expressing it and trying to let go. This particular subject is hard to let go of, because Śrīla Prabhupāda, naturally, is such an important person in our lives, and we are attached to the hope that the main part of his Society would function with as much spiritual efficacy as possible. Maybe it already does, but I think it’s worth the stress publish my thoughts about how to dramatically improve its spiritual performance… and then try to let go.

Unfortunately I am a junior person with no special qualities, and no position in or out of ISKCON, but hopefully someone might pay attention to the truth in this presentation.

Anuttama Prabhu (current Chairman of the GBC) says, “Srila Prabhupada stated the GBC is ISKCON’s ultimate managing authority. That means overseeing the practical management as well as being the highest ecclesiastical body of ISKCON.”

My guess is that “highest ecclesiastical body” means “ultimate religious authority.” So, Anuttama means, “The GBC is not only the overseer of all practical management in ISKCON, it is also ISKCON’s ultimate religious authority.”

He makes this statement immediately after quoting Śrīla Prabhupāda, so the obvious implication is that Prabhupāda’s quote validates his statement. Prabhupāda said, “The GBC is ISKCON’s ultimate managing authority.” Do you see any mention of anything ecclesiastic in this? I don’t. I do see obvious validation for the idea that the GBC is the overseer and ultimate director of all practical management in ISKCON, but I don’t see any validation for the idea that the GBC is also the ultimate religious authority.

One can argue: “ISKCON is a religious institution, the ultimate institutional authority is necessarily also the ultimate religious authority.”

That’s a weak notion. A religious institution requires practical management, and religious authority. There is no necessity that they be provided by the same entity.

One can ask, “Well, if not the GBC, the who is the ultimate religious authority for ISKCON?”

The answer is, “śāstra” (see Vedānta Sūtra 1.1.3, 2.1.27, and 2.1.11, for example). Anyone who doesn’t agree that śāstra is the ultimate religious authority has no right to consider themselves Vaiṣṇava or Vedic. This being the case, I am sure every leader of ISKCON would immediately agree.

Of course, the problem is that śāstra doesn’t sit in front of you and reply directly to the nitty-gritty of your short-list. That’s what a guru is for. Guru is the entity who understands śāstra so thoroughly and carefully that s/he can sort out how śāstra would most likely address the nitty-gritty of your short-list.

Really, these are elementary points. Certainly Anuttama and everyone else is already very familiar with them. Therefore everyone knows that asserting the GBC to be “the highest ecclesiastical body” of ISKCON is in fact an assertion that the GBC is the ISKCON’s ācārya, ISKCON’s ultimate Guru.

Is that really a good idea?

Is it really a good idea to expect a large panel of people to function effectively in a role classically placed in the care of a single individual? How many cooks can fit in a kitchen?

Further, is it really a good idea to expect that panel to juggle the practical managerial affairs of a complex international corporation at the same time as we ask them to be the (necessarily) detached spiritual leaders of our society? Can anyone be a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, and vaiṣya all at the same time, without significantly compromising their efficacy in all three roles?

There are infinite precedents for individual gurus teaching śāstra (and thus the ultimate religious authority) for one or many people. Is there any precedent of a group of people burdened by monumental management tasks yet effectively teaching śāstra (and thus functioning as the ultimate religious authority)?

Someone may say, “Yes. Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvati Mahārāja set the precedent.”

That’s quite misleading. He established a GBC to look after the practical management of his institution. As for the spiritual leadership, he explicitly told them to wait for an obvious spiritual leader to emerge.

Someone may lament, “What you say is reasonable, but there is no one fit to assume the position of ācārya for ISKCON.”

Probably there are at least a few who could at least be considered. But I can also agree that no one is doubtlessly “self-effulgently” qualified to fill the role of spiritual leader for ISKCON.

But, Why not?

Doubtlessly there must be many reasons. But here is a ver big, very relevant one: all of the candidates currently looked towards for the position of “spiritual leader” are practically forced to become mired in managing the web-like co-dependecies of “practical affairs” for an international clearinghouse of novices who are still very needy, confused, and often quarrelsome. Thus these candidates scarcely ever find the time and inner-clarity to focus on purifying and increasing their dedication to hari-nāma-saṁkīrtan and hari-nāma-japa.

Ironically, those who do make time for personal purification are removed from the running, so to speak, somewhat insanely looked upon as having a misunderstanding of “Prabhupāda’s mood” and labeled as a “Bābājī” and “Bhajanānandī” (as if such titles disqualify one from spiritual leadership).

The slogan “work now, samādhi later” is brandished with confidence against such trends. But the brandishers seem not to realize that we are supposed to work towards samādhi. The misconception that workaholism dovetailed to the legacy of a pure devotee with grant us kṛṣṇa-prema is heterodox, wrong, against śāstra. Harer nāmaiva kevalam! Hari’s name is the only means to get kṛṣṇa-prema. Working for a pure devotee is also glorious because it is karma-miśra bhakti and rapidly purifies us for hari-nāma niṣṭhā. However, if an individual languishes for decades in karma-miśra without developing inclination for hari-nāma niṣṭhā, something is amiss in their approach to karma-miśra-bhakti.


The problem is that ISKCON asks its leaders to be multinational managers and spiritual superheroes at the same time. That doesn’t work. Fish are fish and birds are birds. Some birds can swim, but not very far. Some fish can fly, but not very far. ISKCON currently asks its leaders to be fish who can fly south for the winter. Thus the leaders die, or never become very spiritually healthy.

Then what’s the solution?

1) GBC restricts itself to being the overseer and ultimate director of business and politics in ISKCON.

2) Spiritual leaders (Gurus) are expelled unless they relinquish all financial and political power, direct or indirect.

The GBC no longer decides who will be a guru or a sannyāsī. A disciple decides who will be their guru, and it is the guru’s business whether to acknowledge or discourage the relationship. Similarly it is the sannyāsa-guru’s business to accept or reject a candidate for sannyāsa.

Obviously the situation needs “police” but these police are not the managers. Brāhmaṇas, sannyāsīs, and gurus police one another.

This would fail because power corrupts. To combat this, Gurus and sannyāsīs no longer have any position allowing them to control finance and manpower. The role of the GBC (and the whole hierarchy, coming into the individual temples as the presidents, etc) is to allocate resources. The role of gurus (sannyāsīs, brāhmaṇas, etc) is to educate people in the bhakti-śāstra so that they can clearly and intelligently understand sambandha, abhidheya, and prayojana-tattvas and thus attain kṛṣṇa-prema.

The GBC determines the practical “services” of individual members, and the gurus oversee the sādhana of their disciples.

In addition to separating the spiritual leaders from corruptive practical power, they must also volunteer to abide by an extremely rigorous sādhana: Gurus (sannyāsīs, etc.) are required to spend several months a year in Vṛndāvana, studying with learned scholars, doing kīrtan in the Kṛṣṇa-balarāma Mandir several hours a day, and chanting 64 rounds every day, in focused solitude.

Within a short time of such adopting sādhana many self-effulgent leaders will emerge with sincerely pure hearts free from greed and envy. At that point the GBC managers would naturally look to them for general inspiration as to the best allocation of resources, etc.

Śrīla Prabhupāda ki Jaya

Śrīla Prabhupāda ki Jaya

At least a brief word about Oṁ Viṣṇupāda Paramahaṁsa Śrī Śrīmad Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Prabhupāda, on this occasion of the 37th anniversary of the sacred day on which he departed for nitya-līlā (the eternal realm).

It is impossible to illuminate the sun, but we can point towards it. Similarly, nothing can be said about Śrīla Prabhupāda, because words will fail to convey the fulness of his excellence. But, with words we can point our attention towards the greatness of his being.

Śrīla Prabhupāda possessed a degree of śraddhā in śuddha-bhakti (assured conviction in the principle of pure devotion) that glowed with an effulgence even the sun cannot match. Just as we feel warm as soon as we come into the sun’s rays, a living being immediately feels suffused by the warmth of Krishna consciousness simply by coming into respectful, receptive, proximity of our Param-Gurudeva, Śrila Prabhupāda. Just like a powerful magnet automatically aligns small filings of iron with the currents of its magnetic field, similarly, when a small jīva even stands receptively in the proximity of Param-Gurudeva Śrīla Prabhupāda, automatically he feels the magnetic flow of Prabhupāda’s feelings and thoughts rushing towards the All-Attractive magnet, Śrī Krishna, and his own thoughts and feelings automatically become aligned to that flow.

We have no need of anything else auspicious to happen to us, for we have already received the most incalculably, inconceivably auspicious prize: somehow or other we have been granted the priceless opportunity to respectfully place ourselves in proximity to A.C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī Mahārāja. We wish for nothing else. All we pray for, fervently, is fortitude, strength, and lack of insanity, so that we can cling ever more desperately to this opportunity to stand in the glow of his divine consciousness, and feel the flow of his ”tivrena bhakti-yogena (powerful devotional link to Krishna) as it aligns our own malignant, malformed, and diseased consciousness into a pure, healthy, and blissful condition of Krishna-prema.

”Sei mora mantra-japa” — We chant our mantras, and we study our śāstras only in the hope against hope that doing so will edify our heart and mind against the constant proclivity to be distracted from his spiritual proximity and drawn off into useless, meaningless busy-body-thoughts and deeds. We seek no other goal from our sādhanas.

The phrase “Śrīla Prabhupāda ki jaya” has become as hackneyed as the phrase “I love you.” Nonetheless a true lover can say “I love you” with full feeling and wholehearted meaning. Similarly, we hope conclude by sincerely saying, “Śrīla Prabhupāda ki jaya!”


Nitya-Siddha of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gaṇodeśa Dīpika

Nitya-Siddha of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gaṇodeśa Dīpika

In Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa-gaṇodeśa-dīpika, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī introduces us to the nitya-siddha Vrajavāsīs, the eternal resides of Śrī Vṛndāvana. Among all perfected souls, the Vrajabāsīs are the most important. Śrī Rūpa says (in BRS 1.2.270): virajantim abhivyaktam vrajavāsī janadiṣu, rāgātmikā “Love for Godhead is manifest most powerfully and brilliantly in the Vrajavāsīs.” And anuśrtā ya sa rāgānugocyate“to aspire for their love of Godhead is described as the main affair of devotional practices.”


First, Śrī Rūpa categorizes the Vrajavāsīs according to their varṇa. Most of them are vaiṣya, but there are also some brāhmaṇa, and there are also śudra.

In Vraja, there are three communities of vaiṣya. The higher class (vaiṣya) for cows. The middle class (ābhīra) cares for buffalo. The lower class (garjara) care for goats, sheep, etc. They don’t live much in Vraja, but a bit on the outskirts.

But Śrī Rūpa gives a more pertinent way to categorize the Vrajavāsī into eight groups.

(1) Superiors
(2) Siblings
(3) Messengers
(4) Servants
(5) Crafters
(6) Maids
(7) Friends
(8) Lovers

The Rādhā Kṛṣṇa Gaṇodeśa Dīpika is organized around this 8-fold classification.

Texts 14–69 describe the Superiors — They include all the parental figures in Vṛndāvana, as well as the brāhmaṇas (especially the main Guru of Vṛndāvana, Paurṇamāsī-devī).

From there the book divides into two halves, the first being titled Bṛhat (“bigger”) and the second Laghu (“smaller”). The first part deals with most of the remaining seven categories of Vrajavāsīs as they pertain to Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī, while the second part deals with them as they pertain to Śrīman Krishna-candra.

Almost the entirety of the rest of Part I (Texts 70229) describe the Gopīs in the role of friends, maids, messengers, and crafters. Those who are Krishna’s age are “friends”, those who are a little younger are their “maids” and those who are still younger or otherwise less intimate are “messengers.” The maids are also “crafters.”

Among the “friends” (Gopīs the same age as Krishna) there are exalted and more exalted groups. Texts 7697 describe the 8 more-exalted friends (Rādhārāṇī’s “aṣṭha-sakhī”). Texts 98–120 describe the 8 exalted friends. Texts 121–136 describe the activities of Rādhārāṇī’s friends.

Texts 137–163 describe the amazing, beautiful flower-items crafted by the “crafters.”

Text 164c.173 describes the “messengers” and their chief activities. Here, the organization become less clear because many gopīs from many groups play the role of messengers. Viśākhā and Raṅgā, for example, from Rādhārāṇī’s eight more-exalted friends, carry messages, and they are again described in texts 165 & 66. “Maids” also often act as messengers. Text 167 describes maids who dress Rādhikā. Some gopīs tend the forest groves under Vṛndā’s direction, Viśākhā and Campakalatā (from the most-exalted 8 friends) also tend the forests (and act as messengers) Texts 169172 describe Campakalatā. And since she is a super excellent cook, text 173 refers to other excellent cooks among the gopīs.

Texts 174203 give further descriptions of the eight most-exalted friends, focusing on Citrā, Tuṅgavidyā, Indulekhā, Raṅgā, and Sudevī.

Texts 204224 describe miscellaneous gopīs who are very important Vrajavāsīs.

Texts 225229 describe the most important duties of the “messengers” — to arrange for the secret meeting of Rādhā and Krishna.

Texts 230251 describe alternate ways of categorizing and counting the Gopīs. The first part of Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa Gaṇodeśa Dīpikā ends here.

PART II (Laghu) Begins by describing what could be considered the 8th category from the original list: the beloved — Krishna. It elaborately describes him in 19 verses.

Texts 20~ 72 Describe Krishna’s friends. There are four types: 1) Those who are older and thus more protective (this includes the “Siblings” category from the original list of 8). 2) Those who are the same age. 3) Especially beloved among them. 4) Especially beloved and confidential.

Texts 22 ~ 27 describe Krishna’s protective, older friends.

Texts 2829 describe Krishna’s friends, (“ordinary” or “same-age”).

Texts 3034 describe Krishna’s especially beloved friends.

Texts 3572 describe Krishna’s especially beloved and confidential friends. Balarāma (although older and also a protector) is also among this group, and several verses describe him.

Text 73 describes “crafters” in relation to Krishna.

Texts 74100 describe various types of “servants”, “messengers” and “maids.”

Texts 7482 describe the various “servants.”

Texts 8385 describe various “maids.” These maids are female servant’s of Krishna. Since they are female they can easily mix with Rādhārāṇī’s friends, thus one of their special tasks is to act as “spies.”

Texts 86100 describe those who carry messages on behalf of Krishna.

Texts 101108 describe Krishna’s “crafters” and the amazing things they craft for him.

From here, things related to Krishna will be described. Texts 109111 describe Krishna’s pets! Texts 112118 describe special places in Vṛndāvana. Texts 119124 describe Krishna’s toys and accessories (including his flutes!). Texts 125132 describe Krishna’s jewelry. Text 133 defines his birthday.

The entire rest of the book is focused on Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī directly. Texts 134167 describe her in detail. Texts 168174 describe her family. Texts 175178 describe her friends. Texts 179181 describe her Mañjarī friends.

Text 182 describes her religion! (She worships the Sun, her mantra is Krishna’s name, and her Guru is Bhagavatī Paurṇamāsī).

Texts 183190 describe the gopīs in miscellaneous ways.

Texts 191–196 describe Rādhārāṇī’s servants (parallel to the types of servants of Krishna described in 109111). Texts 197199 describe her pets! Texts 200206 describe her Jewelery, clothing, and cosmetics. Text 207 describes special places of hers. Text 208 describes her favorite singing rāgas (Mallāra and Dhanāśrī), and her favorite dancers. Text 209 defines her birthday. Text 210 ends the book.

Kapila’s Definition of Pure Devotional Service

Kapila’s Definition of Pure Devotional Service

Devahūti requested her son, “Please say more about the type of bhakti that pleases you the most, is within my reach, and will swiftly make my obstacles obsolete and eternally situate me with you in your abode.” [ŚB 3.25.28]

The-transcendental-result-of-the-intimacy-between-Kardama-Muni-and-Devaki-is-Lord-Kapiladeva.jpgHer son, Kapila replied, “The most perfect form of bhakti is greater than any other perfection. It absorbs your consciousness in the All-Attractive by directing your activities and perceptions towards his spiritual reality, without interruption or ulterior motive. This can be done by following the instructions and mantras given by your guru from the śāstra, and is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire.” [ŚB 3.25.32]


First, Kapila makes it clear that there is no attainment to be achieved that is greater than this topmost bhakti. Not even mokṣa (liberation) can compare to this, because this automatically includes mokṣa right from the start (viz. Gītā 18.54).


Next, he explains the basic principle of how bhakti-yoga works: ”It absorbs your consciousness in the All-Attractive by directing your activities and perceptions towards his spiritual reality.

Kapila describes consciousness as “sentience” (sattva), and as, “the divine faculty which grants perception of sense objects” (davānāṁ guṇa-liṅgānām).

The essence of bhakti-yoga is to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive (bhāgavatī) — and the simple, practical way to do that is to focus our perceptions and activities (karmaṇām) on the All-Attractive. For example, if we look at a painting or mūrti of Krishna we absorb our visual perception in the All-Attractive. Another example is that we can absorbs our aural perception in the All-Attractive by hearing kīrtan of his name, or describing his beauty, attractive qualities, and loving pastimes.

Bhakti-yoga also entails direction our actions towards the All-Attractive. One example of such action is to host a party where people come together to perform kīrtan. Other examples: to dress Krishna’s mūrti, cook and offer food to him, clean his temple, offer ārati, visit his temple and sacred places, tend to the care of his devotees, and so on.

By directing our activities and perceptions towards the All-Attractive, our consciousness becomes absorbed in him, and this is the essence of what bhakti-yoga is all about.


Next, Kapila explains purity in bhakti-yoga. He says that our endeavor to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive should be, ”without interruption or ulterior motive.

Bhakti-yoga is “mixed” with “impurity” when it is used as a vehicle to some other goal. For example, if we visit a temple and donate money in the hopes that we will become rich as a result of that righteous sacrifice, our activities could in some ways be considered bhakti-yoga but it is impure (miśra-)bhakti-yoga. Ulterior motives are very subtle and difficult to completely root out. We can practice bhakti-yoga for decades only to find that in truth we were motivated to get three steady meals a day and a place to sleep, or to find some sense of community, or to convince at least a few people to respect us and listen to our opinions.

Kapila says that pure bhakti-yoga has no ulterior motive, using the words evaika-manaso which literally means “certainly with nothing else in mind.” To practice pure bhakti-yoga we should strive to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive simply because we wish to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive, not for any ulterior goal. Unfortunately it usually takes many years or lifetimes to root out ulterior motives by truly realizing that the All-Attractive is in fact “ALL-Attractive” and no other motive is attractive in comparison.

Kapila also indicates that pure bhakti-yoga as “no interruption” (animittā). The two principles (“no interruption” and “no ulterior motive”) go hand-in-hand, for if we have ulterior motive we will be distracted into other pursuits, or distracted by other concerns and tribulations. If we simply and purely desire to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive we will not be distracted from our pursuit of bhakti-yoga.

So, Kapila says that our endeavor to absorb our consciousness in the All-Attractive by direction our actions and perceptions towards him should be concentrated and attentive, which becomes possible only as we give up on hoping for other achievements and pursuing other motivations.


Finally, Kapila says that there are two ways to do bhakti-yoga: “This can be done by following the instructions and mantras given by your guru from the śāstra, and is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire.”

The two ways are not at all mutually exclusive!

First Kapila indicates that our endeavor to practice bhakti-yoga should be “anuśravika” — following the instructions and mantras given by guru, from śāstra. Śrī Rūpa Goswāmī classifies this approach as “vaidhi — the endeavor that is directed by the instructions (vidhi) given by guru, from śāstra.

Not just bhakti-yoga but any spiritual endeavor, any yoga, must be directed by śāstra because our senses and intellect cannot yet directly comprehend spiritual reality on their own. Therefore the guru teaches us the śāstra and thus guides and informs our activities and perceptions, which then gradually become capable to directly interact with and perceive spiritual realities. It is something like an expert musician pointing out the specific notes and nuances in a sophisticated melody. Guided by such an expert, even a novice musician begins to appreciate the subtleties of music, and thus gradually becomes expert herself.

But Kapila also says, ”it is particularly excellent when it arises naturally from your own desire” (svabhāvikī tu). Śrī Rūpa classifies this as rāgānugā — the endeavor that arises naturally from pursuing (anuga) your natural passion (rāga) for the All-Attractive.

The greatest misconception is that when one pursues ones natural passion one does not follow the guidance of Guru. What foolishness!

The greatest misconception is that when one pursues ones natural passion one does not follow the guidance of Guru. What foolishness! If one passionately wants to become a great violinist, does she not carefully and fastidiously consider the advice of great teachers, does she not attentively listen to the playing and technique of great violinists? To counteract this dull mistake, Śrī Rūpa explicitly states that Rāgānugā also observes the viddhi (BRS 1.2.296) and quotes an important śloka from Brahma-yamala (BRS 1.2.101) stating that so-called bhakti-yoga that ignores śāstra is nothing but a disturbance.

It is said that bhakti-yoga motivated by spontaneous passion doesn’t “depend” on the instructions of guru and śāstra — but we can’t twist this to mean that it ignores or transgresses the instructions of guru and śāstra, unless we are foolishly content to fall outside the umbrella of the bhakti-yoga established on behalf of Śrī Caitanya by Śrī Rūpa — for in so interpreting we would contradict his explicit statements in BRS 1.2.296 and 1.2.101.

That spontaneous devotion “doesn’t depend on instructions” simply means that when one has inherent desire to absorb ones consciousness in the All-Attractive, that become the prime motivating factor, one doesn’t need any convincing or argumentation or logic. As a result of spontaneous passion for bhakti-yoga, one will seek out and apply the guidance of guru and śāstra with even more ardor and intent that then person without spontaneous passion for it. Again, the example of the violinist is useful.

In short, Kapila states that the most powerful form of bhakti-yoga is svabhāvakī — it arises naturally from our own inherent desire for the All-Attractive, and avails of the guidance of guru and śāstra as a result of that inherent passion.

Does Vaidhi Evolve into Rāgānugā?

No, vaidhi does not automatically become Rāgānugā, but it does eventually become bhāva-bhakti, and the bhāva-bhakti that arises from vaidhi-sādhana is svabhāvikī, a lot like rāgānugā-sādhana in some ways.

Commenting on this verse of Bhāgavatam, Śrī Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākur explains that vaidhi-sādhana naturally becomes svabhāvikī when it achieves perfection as bhāva-bhakti, but that rāgānugā-sādhana is svabhāvikī even in the stage of practice, even before attaining perfection as bhāva-bhakti. The svabhāvakī trait is therefore qualitatively greater in the perfection attained through rāgānugā-sādhana (termed rāgānugauttara-bhāva-bhakti) compared to that which can be attained through vaidhi-sādhana (termed vaidhyottara-bhāva-bhakti).

Correlation Between the Śrī Kapila and Śri Rūpa’s Definitions of Bhakti.

Śrīla Rūpa Goswāmīpāda defined the most perfect form of bhakti (uttama-bhakti) In Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.11:

anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ, jñāna-karmādy anāvṛttam
anukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śilanam bhaktir uttamam

This definition is exactly analog to Kapila’s definition.

Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is absorption of the consciousness in the All-Attractive by focusing ones actions and perceptions on him. Śrī Rūpa says this with the words anukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śilanam.

Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is to be done without ulterior motive or interruption. Śrī Rūpa says the same with the words, anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam, jñāna-karmādy anāvṛttam.

Kapila says that bhakti-yoga is done under guidance of guru and śāstra and is particularly effective when it arises from ones own spontaneous passion for it. Śrī Rūpa explains the same at great length in his sections on Vaidhi and Rāgānugā sādhanas.

Kapila says that bhakti-yoga makes all other perfections insignificant. Śrī Rūpa says the same, for example in BRS 1.1.17 and 1.1.33.

Ineffective Chanting

Ineffective Chanting

You’re chanting and chanting, but are you learning any philosophy? Really learning it so it makes sense? Chanting without knowledge of what the chanting means is not very effective.

bahu janma kare yadi śravaṇa, kīrtana
tabu ta’ nā pāya kṛṣṇa-pade prema-dhana

— Caitanya Caritāmṛta (adi.8.16)

Chanting can go on ineffectively for many, many births (bahu janma). Something is required before it becomes effective. That requirement is Śrī Caitanya’s “mercy” – what is that “mercy” it is the instructions about the meaning of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam left behind by his followers, particularly the Six Goswami’s of Vrindavan. So we have to study their books (particularly bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, ṣaḍ-sandarbha, and bṛhat-bhāgavatāmṛta) until we really understand what they are saying. Then our chanting has effect very quickly, because we chant properly, without mistake, without “offense” without misconception.

Śrīla Prabhupāda therefore instructed us to study these books. We have to study Śrīmad Bhāgavatam through understanding the way Bhāgavatam is explained in these books. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s writings lay the foundation for this study, but one cannot really say he follows Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions unless he also takes the trouble to follow his instructions to directly study the works of the Six Goswāmīs.

Escaping the Association of False Saints

Escaping the Association of False Saints

Kapila explained: “Intimate association binds the soul, but experts know that the same intimacy applied towards saintly people opens the doorway to liberation.

One what criteria can a person be evaluated as “saintly”? Kapila explained, “You can recognize a ‘saintly person’ by the ‘ornaments’ they wear: tolerance, compassion, friendship with all creatures, enmity towards none, serenity, and honesty. Deeper than these ornaments, you can recognize a ‘saintly person’ by their essential nature: their entire being is firmly fixed in devotion to me. For my sake they are willing to sacrifice their own deeds, their own friendships, and even their own families.”

Canto Three (25.20–22)

The hallmark of such determination is that they are willing to sacrifice anything and everything for it.

But not at the expense of others. We have seen so many people run away from their families by putting on saffron halloween costumes and claiming to be sannyāsīs or brahmacārīs seeking the Absolute Truth, when in fact they were simply seeking to get free from the burden and stress of the responsibilities entrusted to them by the Creator. We ourselves have been guilty of this. But real saints do not behave in this manner. We did not see Kardama, for example, leave to the forest until his son was grown and promised to take care of Devahūti. We do not see Śrī Rūpa, for example, leave his family without first arranging for their welfare by giving a huge amount of wealth into their accounts.

Selfishness which dons the garb of “saintliness” is the most pernicious and disgusting of all. Better to be an honest drug addict than a deceptive “saint.”

To associate with false saints is worse than associating with materialists, for the association of a false saint directly destroyed ones interest and trust in the path of saints, bhakti, whereas the association of materialists merely inclines one towards materialistic pursuit if one is particularly weak. We should avoid false saints as we would avoid persons carrying a terrible, contagious disease.

In avoiding the false saints, we should not ourselves become a false saint by enjoying the garbage of criticizing them. Silently, patiently, calmly, honestly, and without enmity, we should arrange to avoid the intimate association of false saints, simply by not taking their example, advice, or instruction very seriously at all.

Did Shiva Give Vishnu the Sudarshan Chakra?

Did Shiva Give Vishnu the Sudarshan Chakra?


My wife showed me this painting and asked, ”What story is this?

This story is not from any Purāṇa, or any Upaṇiṣad or from any Veda. Some devotees of Śiva wrote a poem called Śrī Śiva Mahimna Stotra, in which they claim that Viṣṇu got the Sudarśan Cakra from Śiva.

Their idea is that Viṣṇu could not defeat the asuras to protect the devas, so he went to seek Śiva’s help.

Śiva was in trance, so Viṣṇu worshipped him for many, many days by offering 1,000 lotus flowers, and chanting Śiva’s name with each flower he offered. Finally Śiva came out of trance while Viṣṇu was gathering flowers. He stole one of the flowers Viṣṇu had already gathered and pretended to still be in trance. When Viṣṇu ran out of flowers at 999, instead of not completing the worship, he took out his eye and offered that as the 1000th lotus flower. (you can see this on top of the Lingam in the picture, it seems)

Then Śiva gave Viṣṇu the discus and Viṣṇu could then defeat the asuras.

The story is nice for those who are devotees of Śiva and don’t really care much how accurate their devotion is. But for those who value accuracy — it makes no sense (a) that Viṣṇu would be unable to defeat the asuras, since the Purāṇa’s have hundreds of stories showing how easily Viṣṇu defeats the asuras time after time. It also makes very little sense (b) that Śiva would be able to give Viṣṇu a weapon that is more powerful than he himself is (there is at least one Purāṇic account that not even Śiva and Brahmā could save someone from the Sudarśana chakra that was chasing him).

What does make sense is that this story is just a poem that some Śiva devotees wrote, which became very popular among them. It does not have any authoritative origin.

It also does make sense that Śiva and Viṣṇu would respect and worship one another, since they love each other immensely and are both expansions of Nārāyaṇa. It’s unfortunate, though, when their followers and devotees try to raise one to prominence at the expense of the other.

The Key Difference Between Mayavada and Bhaktivada

The Key Difference Between Mayavada and Bhaktivada

In Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (3.24.31), Kardama says:

Ah! Even though he is beyond the delimitation of form, the All-Attractive appears in such beautiful forms just to delight his own beloved devotees!

The Supreme Being is beyond delimitation, beyond form, and beyond comprehension. However, to enjoy the bliss of love, he delimits himself within infinite forms that come into the comprehension of his devotees. He enjoys doing so because he enjoys the bliss of delighting those who love him.

So, how is this different from māyāvāda?

Māyāvāda claims that "the Supreme Being is beyond delimitation, beyond form, and beyond comprehension.” So does Kardama, representing the bhakti-siddhānta.

Then what is the difference?

Māyāvāda claims that the forms taken by the Supreme Being, such as in his many avatāra, are limitations of him imposed by Māyā (illusion), and he seeks to become free from these limitations and return to his formless state.

Kardama (representing bhakti-siddhānta) makes a very different claim: the forms taken by the Supreme Being, such as in his many avatāra, are accepted by his freewill, as a result of his natural, inherent desire to enjoy bliss by exchanging love with his distinctly manifested energies.

In short, Māyāvāda claims that the Supreme Being has form because it comes under the sway of illusion (Māyā), but Kardama claims that the Supreme Being has form because he enjoys it.

The sum difference between the two claims is that Māyāvāda makes no sense, while Kardama’s bhaktivāda makes very good sense. It makes no sense to suggest that the Supreme Being can come under the sway of anything unpleasant (such as illusion). But it makes very good sense to suggest that the Supreme Being can do anything he pleases by his infinite freewill, in the pursuit of his intrinsic desire to experience bliss.

This is exactly the difference between Māyāvāda and truly Siddhāntik Vedānta.

The Key Difference Between Modern and Ancient Science

The Key Difference Between Modern and Ancient Science

In the Bhāgavata (3.24.18) we hear Brahmā tell this to Princess Devahūti:

My dear daughter of Manu, the destroyer of deceptions has come forth from your own womb! His teachings will traverse the globe, setting it free from the knotted ropes of ignorance and confusion. He will become the leader of hosts of people attaining perfection. He will become the exemplar of the sciences, and will speak with excellent and full deliberation upon authority. With the name ‘Kapila’ he will be celebrated throughout the world, thus increasing your fame

Kapila’s science was explained with excellent and full deliberation upon authority. This means that Kapila’s epistemology begins with śabda-pramāṇa and descends into anumāna and pratyākṣa-pramāṇa. (he begins with statements from primeval authority and carries those statements into logical rationale [anumāna] and then into practical observation [pratyākṣa].

Later on, science changed. Even in India, the saṁkhya-darśan later changed. Another person came forward calling himself Kapila and gave new conclusions to the science. His version influenced the Greeks, which has created the modern science that now dominates the world. This form of science differs from the sciences explained by Devahūti’s beautiful son in that her son established science “with excellent and full deliberation upon authority” where as the later ‘Kapila’ (and the modern science stemming from his root) take an opposite approach.

Devahūti’s Kapila’s approach is avaroha — it comes from “top-down.” It begins with authoritative knowledge (śabda) and this informs and guides the rationale and logic (anumāna) which then educates and informs the perception (pratyākṣa).

The other Kapila’s approach is varoha — it goes from “bottom-up.” It begins with perception (pratyākṣa) from which one constructs logical rationale (anumāna) and finally arrives at authoritative knowledge (śabda). This approach is insufficient compared to the approach of the original Kapila because perception is subjective and incredibly subject to flaw and limitation.

Veda, Upanishad, Purana, Mahabharata, Vedanta-Sutra and… Srimad Bhagavatam?

Veda, Upanishad, Purana, Mahabharata, Vedanta-Sutra and… Srimad Bhagavatam?

A friend kindly asked me, “Srimad Bhagvatam is what? Veda or Purana or Upanishad?”

In reply, I wrote this:

The Veda is a unified body of knowledge with billions of verses worth of content. In every kalpa, however, humans, sages, and even the gods gradually lose their ability to comprehend the Veda, and by the end of each Dvāpara Yuga there is a great, great deal of confusion. So at that time a “Vyāsa” always comes forward to edit, organize, and restructure the Veda so that it becomes clear once again.

The general editing strategy is always similar: the Veda is mainly about “sacrifice” (i.e. how to live in such a way that one fulfills ones ambitions without causing undue harm and without degrading oneself entirely by unrestricted selfishness). There are four parts to sacrifice (preparation, ritual, song, and consummation), so the editor, Vyāsa, always separates these four themes into four distinct books (Ṛg, Yajur, Sāma, and Atharva respectively). Then he edits the material describing the philosophical significance of the sacrifices, and uses this to produce the Upaniṣads and similar appendices to the Four Veda.

After this edit, one billion verses remained unincluded and unsummarized in the four Vedas. What is the content of these verses? These are the sections of the original Veda which do not deal with sacrifices (karma) nor with the philosophical meanings of sacrifices (jñāna) but directly with material that inspires loving devotion towards divinity, and ultimately towards the Supreme Bhagavān.

Vyāsa summarizes them into 500,000. He takes 100,000 of these verses to create the Mahābhārata. The remaining 400,000 he divides into 18 Purāṇas. [It should be noted that the verse-counts given above represent the Veda as it exists in Satya-loka. Human beings currently have access to only a fragment of this content.]

Still Vyāsa feels less than perfectly satisfied with his work. This is often the case for an editor, it almost always takes several passes at a text before one achieves a really successful edit. So, Vyāsa was not satisfied with his first edit. Primarily he felt he failed to condense it sufficiently and present only the relevant material. So, to make amends, he created the Brahma-Sūtra (aka Vedānta Sūtra), in which the entire gist of all of the original unified Veda is given in a very short, direct series of concise codes.

But even after forming these Sūtra he wasn’t perfectly satisfied, mainly because the Sūtra were too difficult to understand and too open to interpretive manipulation. He did not know what to do, so Nārada advised him that he not only needs to make everything concise, he needs to make it very clear and only focus on the truly essential topics.

We should note at this point that not every Dvāpara Yuga is the same. Specifically there is one Dvāpara Yuga in every day of Brahma (every 1000 kalpas) in which Krishna appears in our world, in Vrindavana, with Radharani and the gopis. That is a very special Yuga. The Vyāsa in charge of editing the Vedas at this very important yuga is an avatāra of Viṣṇu who appeared as the son of Satyavatī and Parāśara by the name Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipayana. When speaking of the conversation between Nārada and Vyāsa we are specifically speaking about this Kṛṣṇa-Dvaipayana-Vyāsa. He was specifically advised by Nārada that he has to make the nature of Vrindavana Krishna very clear.

Receiving this instruction, Vyāsa re-compiled the Bhāgavata Purāṇa by explaining the Gāyatrī, Mahābhārata and Brahma-Sūtra with a very clear focus on Krishna-bhakti. He instructed the essence of this Purāṇa to his son, Śuka.

So the Bhāgavatam is a Purāṇa, but in this kalpa it is a unique Purāṇa. In every kalpa it is a sattvika purāṇa (6 of the 18 are sattvik, 6 are rajasik, and 6 are tamasik), and in every kalpa it is based on the narration of Bhagavān to Brahmā. (One of the reasons it is called Bhāgavata is because the original speaker is Bhagavān). But in this Kalpa the 10th canto is vastly elaborated and it is delivered through the narrations of Śuka to Parikṣit and Sūta to Śaunaka (all of them very ecstatic Krishna-bhaktas), so that the pure vision of Krishna bhakti becomes exceedingly clear throughout all 12 divisions.

The uniqueness of the Bhāgavatam, which make it more than an ordinary Purāṇa:

(1) It elaborates upon the meaning of Ṛg Veda and all the Veda, which is encapsulated into the Brahma-gāyatrī. The Bhāgavatam is Vyāsa’s explanation of the full meaning of Brahma-gāyatrī.

(2) It elaborates on the essence of Mahābhārata, which is Krishna-kathā.

(3) It expands and explains the meaning of the terse Brahma-sūtra, and is superior to other commentaries on Brahma-sūtra because it is written by the same author.

(4) It is the most purely sattvik of all the sattvik purāṇa.

Purāṇa are called Purāṇa because they make the Veda “Pūrṇa” (complete). Therefore when we identify the Bhāgavatam as the cream of the Purāṇas we simultaneously identify it as the cream of the Upaniṣads and Vedas.

Purāṇa are very similar to Upaniṣads, which seek to complete and explain the Veda. The specialty of the Purāṇa however, is that their linguistic structure is simple and flexible (unlike the Veda), and they deliver their message with more drama and flair, so they are very accessible to anyone and everyone.

For a more careful and detailed study of this, with elaborate references from śāstra, I advise a study of Śrī Jīva’s Tattva-Sandarbha. I am putting together notes on the Tattva-Sandarbha currently, very likely I will release or publish them sooner or later. Śrī Satyanārāyaṇa dās has translated and explained it super-excellently (published by JIVA). It is already published and a revised edition will be published soon.

Tattva-Sandarbha thoroughly explains why the Gauḍiya Vaiṣṇava school of thought distinguishes itself from other schools by wholeheartedly accepting the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam as the ultimate authority in Veda.

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 362 other followers

%d bloggers like this: