How Should We Love in the Material World? And other Krishna Q & A

Question: How do we love in the material world in such a way that it does not overshadow our pursuit of real love? I have seen both extremes: people whose “love” for material relationships interferes with their spiritual practice, and people who, supposedly in pursuit of divine love (prema) neglect love in their material relationships.

I think you have the idea that there are two kinds of love – material and spiritual. I think this is a misconception. Love is love. It is inherently spiritual.

Certainly there is a distinction between love and lust – a.k.a. prema and kāma. But it becomes confusing if we consider lust as “material love.” Love is love, lust is lust. Any similarity in expression is very superficial. The deep difference between love and lust is the focal point of the emotion. The focal point of love is the beloved, and the focal point of lust is oneself.

This seems to take a lot of the mystery out of your question. We must love people for their benefit, not for our own. This love is inherently spiritual, and should hardly or rarely, if ever, be expected to  interfere with the development of divine love.

The difference between “divine love” and “love” is only the identity of the beloved. In divine love, the beloved is divine. Specifically, in Krishna prema the beloved is Krishna.

We can’t get Krishna prema by loving our neighbor or our parents, but the idea that loving people might hamper our attainment of Krishna prema seems to be very ignorant of the fact that all things and all beings are manifestations of Krishna’s energy. In fact, Śrī Jīva’s commentary on Śrī Rūpa’s definition of love (Bhakti-rasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.11) makes an effort to specify that the word “Krishna” in that definition does not exclude other entities who manifest portions of Krishna’s energy.

To sum it up, if we want Krishna-prema, we definitely have to exercise love specifically for Vṛndāvana Krishna, following the cues set by the Vṛndāvana residents who love him, such as his friends, his elders, and especially his girlfriends the gopīs. But the necessity of specifically loving Krishna does not mean we don’t love other people, or that loving other people interferes with loving Krishna. This just seems extremely novice to me. It reminds me of the definition of kaniṣṭha-adhikārī (lowest-class, most novice “devotee”) who only thinks that the obvious form of God in a temple is worshippable, and ignores everything and everyone else through whom God manifests.

Question: What do you make of the Bhagvatams often mentioned advice to meditate on the lotus feet of the Lord. I just read today in the 3rd canto: The miracles of meditating on the lotus feet of the Lord with eagerness and devotion are so great that no other process can compare to it. (3.5.42) This comes in the section where the demigods are praying to the Lord to utilize the material elements to be able to carry out their service. Does this mean to literally meditate on each of the symbols of Krishna’s feet?

Bhāgavatam is a kavya (poetic) composition, because the beautiful rasa of Krishna-tattva can not be expressed in anything less than sublime poetry. You should read it with this in mind. It is not simply a technical manual.

Poetically, when I refer to you by a reference to your feet, it shows that I greatly value you. I consider myself fit to only mention the lowest part of you, your feet. It does not mean that I am interesting only or main in just your feet! It means that I greatly admire and revere you. This may seem like a bit of a Vedic cultural specificity, but I think it’s a fairly universal principle of human culture that direct address is uncouth unless the conversation is between intimate partners. Even then, among intimates, direct address is not preferred because it is often boring. Indirect address is much more respectful, and in intimate relationships it is also much more affectionate and emotionally rich.

Krishna says, parokṣavāda ṛṣayaḥ, parokṣam mama ca priyam – “The sages speak with indirect words, and I also love to speak indirectly.”

In the section you’ve quoted, the personified śaktis of paramātmā are petitioning him for his help (because they cannot cause the atomic material elements to combine into complex molecular structures. They cannot generate the forces of cohesion). So they are speaking in a very respectful mood. Therefore they would never directly address Viṣṇu. They indirectly address him, by for example addressing themselves to his feet. This is an example of “ṛṣayaḥ parokṣavāda” the respectfully indirect speech of great sages.

In other places, very intimate associates of Krishna like the Queens of Dvārakā or the Gopīs of Vraja may also use indirect address like this. There it has nothing to do with awe-insiring distant reverence. Krishna and his intimate associates speak this way because it is simply more affectionate, nuanced, and emotionally rich. It is an example of “parokṣam mama ca priyam.”

Question: In the first chapter of, Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, Prabhupada says that God has no name, but we give Him different names according to His qualities. This statement confused my mind. If has names are just things we’ve ascribed to him, how is he “non-different” from his name?

That book is a compilation of conversations Prabhupāda had with different intellectual or philosophical people. So you have to account for the conception of the person Prabhupāda is speaking to. A good communicator tailors what he or she says so that the specific individual they are talking to will be more likely to understand and relate to what they are trying to communicate.

This person was probably coming from the idea that God is beyond definition, so Prabhupāda explains the importance of God’s names without trespassing on the person’s conviction that God is ultimately beyond names.

This is a subjective truth – it is a way of explaining something to a specific individual with specific preconceptions. The objective truth is that anything directly related to a self-causing eternal entity is also self-causing and eternal. Krishna exists eternally as the ultimate root of self-manifest consciousness. His qualities are co-eternal with him, as are his actions expressing his qualities, and the “bodily” form he uses to carry out those actions, and the names which describe his qualities and their expressions.

In other words, Krishna’s nāma, rūpa, guṇa, parikara, and līlā are eternal expressions of his eternal nature, but Prabhupāda didn’t explain that point to this particular man, because there is only so much you can say to one person at one time, and you have to focus on the most important thing you want to get across – which in this cases seems to have been Prabhupāda’s intention of conveying to the man the reasonable importance of God’s names.

Question: Since Krishna is non-different from his form, we can worship a deity and it is the same as if we are worshipping Krishna directly. But there are deities of demigods too, and they’re not absolute and non-different from their form. If it still works,  it means that deity worship has nothing to do with absoluteness. So, how can deity and god be the same?

The principle of absolute non-duality between Krishna and his form is important, but deity worship in general is a valid and effective system even without this principle (as in the case of demi-gods).

The basic purpose of a deity is to give a focal point for personal “worship” or personal devotional practice. The deity is a focal point for our consciousness to access a remote entity. Therefore the deity is basically as good as the entity it provides a access to.

The same principle works for any statue or image. If you look at a picture of a long lost friend, for example, your consciousness focuses on that person. The image/form always grants access to the entity, even if the entity is remote. Form is always related to the entity possessing/generating the form – even when that relationship between entity and form is not eternal or absolute.

Question: I chanted two rounds a day for a year, and found it very boring. Now, since a month ago I chant sixteen rounds a day, and find it to be very fun. Can I see this as a sign of success? Or could it be just a kind of meditative state which my mind enjoys?

What’s the difference? If you are enjoying meditation on Krishna’s name, that is success.

Many people, including myself, have had a similar experience: chanting more seems to solve the problem of not getting into the chanting. Maybe it is because the effort to chant more renews our focus, and the focus is what provides the spiritual experience?

– Vraja Kishor dās

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1 Comment

  1. On the topic of love, this reminded me of the past time of “The Stealing of the Boys and Calves by Brahma.” What I find interesting about this pastime is that it really blurs the boundary between “love” and “divine love.” In the pastime, Krishna became the cowherd boys but their mothers did not know it was Krishna and though the boys to be their sons. During this pastime, the love of the mothers increased. So the question is, did the love increase for Krishna or for the boys whom the mothers considered to be their sons? When the boys returned back to their mothers, did their mothers love them less because they were not Krishna, or did that increase in love carry over to their original sons?


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