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I’m arguing with YOU, not Prabhupāda.

Friends, if I argue with you, I argue with you.

Please don’t wear the plastic armor that by arguing with you I am arguing with Prabhupāda. It should be pretty obvious how wildly pompus that attitude is.

Yes, you are a devotee, an ISKCON member, a disciple of Prabhupāda or of Prabhupāda’s disciple, etc. but this doesn’t make you identical with Prabhupāda, nor does it mean that you understand Prabhupāda perfectly (or less). I understand that you have your opinion of what Prabhupāda teaches, wants, etc. I respect that as your opinion. Please have the presence of mind and meekness of ego to recognize that other people besides yourself can have different opinions of what Prabhupāda teaches, wants, etc.

A person with a different understanding of Prabhupāda is not automatically any of the following catchphrases: blooped, a fringie, a speculator, unchaste, independent, a puffed up scholar, or a self-appointed ācārya. What they are is just a person with an  understanding of Prabhupāda that is different from yours.

Maybe their understanding is better, closer to the divine truth. Maybe its worse, further from the essence. Figure that out by discussing it rationally, please – not by claiming that, since it’s not how you see things, its completely wrong and anti-Prabhupāda.

I understand that you hang out with lots of people who have the same understanding of Prabhupāda as you do. I understand that there is a feeling of strength in numbers. But please don’t think that simply because a lot of people believe something, it is true. If there are a lot of very deep, very intelligent, very sincere people who come to the same conclusion about Prabhupāda that is important. But 95% percent of the time the strength in numbers is just might-makes-right by the size of the herd. Just because a person with a half-baked idea was the best person at the time to assume a position of power and prominence, and now has lots of people without the inclination or ability to scrutinize or question his or her concept of “Prabhupāda says” or “Prabhupāda wants,” it doesn’t make his concept of Prabhupāda any more or less half-baked than whatever it actually is by virtue of whatever it actually IS.

I understand that being a “Prabhupāda Disciple” feels like a passport to the V.I.P. section of heaven, and implies that you are right about your opinion of what Prabhupāda said. But unfortunately 98% of the Prabhupāda Disciples spent as much time studying personally from Śrīla Prabhupāda as you or I have – zero. They all percieved Prabhupāda through their own intellectual and emotional lenses (just like you and I), or, worse, through the intellectual and emotional lenses artificially imposed on them by their bhakta leaders, temple commanders, and so on and so forth.

The fact that you are socially senior means that you deserve social respect – it doesn’t mean you comprehend philosophy better or worse than anyone else. Maybe you do  comprehend it better. If you do, its because you comprehend it better – not because you have a certificate, or a rubber stamp, or a letter from Prabhupāda changing your name to something in Sanskrit.

So, please, what I am saying is, if I am arguing with your idea of something, I am arguing with your idea of it. The fact that you think it is also Prabhupāda’s idea is part of your argument, that’s all. Defend the idea please, or don’t engage in a debate or proselytize it.

If you don’t know the basic principles of how to debate a topic rationally, how analysis of statements can be made (“hermeneutics” / “exegesis” or mimaṁsa), or the hierarchy of importance in assessing evidence (“epistemology” or pramāna), it would be much better for you (for your sake, too) to stop blogging, stop posting, stop commenting, and start listening and studying under a teacher who does.

Thank you, please forgive my frustration. Hare Krishna.

Vraja Kishor dās

VrajaKishor.com

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My First Sunday Feast

Now that I had gone to the Hare Krishna temple and survived, I felt brave enough to try one of their “Sunday Love Feasts.” The temple was a lot less imposing on Sunday afternoon with dozens of people around, a lot of them “normal looking.”

Inside, the temple floor was rich checkered marble. Marble pillars lined along the side walls, with beautiful original Krishna-paintings in the archways between them. The ceiling was two stories high, and looked  like an Indian version of the Sistine Chapel, with a huge painting of beautiful people in robes dancing and chanting in some rural setting. A big, crystal chandelier hung from the middle. Above the pillars, on the second-story level of the walls, were ornate bas-relief statues of Vedic deities dancing, singing, and playing drums and hand cymbals.

At the front of the temple was a stage about a meter high, with three elaborately carved wooden doors, opened so that only pillars and Indian-style arches remained visible unless you looked from the side. Brilliant light streamed out from the altar inside, revealing a huge, incredible wooden structure, carved and shaped more gorgeously than anything I had ever seen before.

This wooden masterpiece from another dimension formed a canopy over three sets of deities. The set on the right included the big round eye that had jumped out and stared at me when I peaked in the door the last time I had been here — three wooden figures, squarish, with exaggerated and simplified eyes and mouths painted over their black, yellow, and white surfaces. The set in the middle was Rādhā and Krishna in marble — big, full of flowers, amazingly colorful and, to use some of my favorite words from Prabhupāda’s books, “sumptuously opulent.” The set on the left were another two marble figures with arms upraised. The entire sight saturated and satisfied my eyes the same way a cake saturates and satisfies the tongue.

Someone was explaining what the Krishna philosophy is all about. I don’t remember much about that, but I remember the dancing! The Krishna’s had these two-headed drums and little metal hand-cymbals, and could really get something going with them. They even had mosh-parts! Their chanting would speed up and speed up and speed up, and then drop into a huge, slow, moshy, stomp. I was leaping and moshing around with my dreadlocks flying all over the place – feeling like a puzzle piece put in the right spot.

People gave me a little distance as I jumped around, but they looked at me with smiles. Some of the Krishna guys would even come over and leap around with me.

By the time it was over, I was sweating and out of breath. I sat there on the floor with paper plate and cup in front of me, in a line with the dozens of other people, plates and cups. Chatter was all around, but I had no one to talk to, and liked it that way. Talking to myself was more fun. A devotee proceeded down the line of plates and people, pushing a plastic bucket in front of him, scooping food onto the plates.

Splish… he dumped some spinach into my plate.

It’s green mass sat there on the white plate, slowly leaking green juice around it. There was nothing in the world I hated more than cooked spinach. Sometimes I would literally vomit when my mom put it on my plate and make me eat it.

Maybe the next bucket would have something I could stomach?

Splash.. This time a devotee plopped down something with a lot of carrots. Besides spinach, there was nothing I hated in the world more than cooked carrots.

I stared at the two dire enemies of my taste-buds, with growing determination. “This stuff is ‘prasādam’” I thought. “Krishna ate it. I should at least try it.”

I spooned a bit of the spinach into my wary mouth. It was delicious! Incredible!

Next, a spoon of the carrots… “What the fuck!?” I shouted to myself in amazement. “Why do I love this?”

– Excerpt from early draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence:
A Collision of Hardcore and Hare Krishna

By Vraja Kishor dās
VrajaKishor.com

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A Lot of Musicians Are Into This Book

By the time I left New York, Beyond had become pretty huge, at least relative to the size of Hardcore Punk. What started off as the offshoot of a battle-of-the-bands project now played real shows with real bands to real people paying real money. What started off as a high-school hobby now had national attention in the hardcore punk scene.

We even had a record offer! Of course we are talking hardcore punk, not motown. Our “record offer” was from John Porcel – guitarist of Youth of Today, singer and mastermind of the band who practically invented militant straightedge, Project X, and the Chief Executive Officer and Primary Shareholder of a record label called Schism Records. (Schism’s stock traded only slightly higher than Shred Zine Records but was destined for greatness with such an influential figure at the helm).

So, at the end of the Summer of 88, I flew back from San Diego to New York to record a full-length LP record with Beyond. The flight had one stop, in Texas, where I had to change planes. As I walked through the airport with a guitar, skate-punk clothes, and dreadlocks, a short man walked up to me, middle-aged and with round glasses over his kind eyes.

“You must be a musician,” he said. “Are you on your way to play a concert?”

“No,” I said, secretly thrilled to have the chance to say, “I am going to record an album.”

“Wow, that’s great!” he exclaimed, and reached into a large bag at his waist, hanging from his shoulder by a strap that went across his chest. “You would really like this book. A lot of musicians really like this book.”

I recognized the book the instant he began pulling it from his bag. “That’s Bhagavad-Gītā!!!” I exclaimed.

He froze with the book in his hand instead of handing it to me immediately like a properly trained salesman should. “You know about the Bhagavad-Gītā?” He asked in amazement.

“Yeah!” I said, “Can I have it?”

He was delighted to hand it to me. “How do you know about Bhagavad-Gītā?”

“Some of the bands I am into are into Krishna consciousness,” I said. “I’ve read one book… eesshoo…”

I struggled with the pronunciation, so he helped me, “Īśopaniṣad?”

“Yeah! And a few other zines and magazines.”

“That’s great!” he said, eyes as wide as his smile. “Can you give a donation to cover the cost of printing?”

“Well… I sent away for a free copy of Bhagavad Gītā,” I explained, “but it never came. Sooo… can’t you just give me it?”

He thought about it for a moment and then said, “Yeah, I suppose so… Sure, why not!”

Finally, I had a copy of Bhagavad-Gītā! Between this book and Śrī Īśopaniṣad I felt prepared to learn more about Krishna than any punker had ever dared to learn before.

— An excerpt from the first draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence:
A Collision of Hardcore and Hare Krishna

by Vraja Kishor

VrajaKishor.com

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Revisiting Arguments About Vegetarianism

“Plants have souls, too – but you eat them”

OK, that’s true.

Life = “soul”. Anything that’s alive therefore has “soul.” Plants have souls and animals have souls and humans have souls, yes. And so do germs. But the BODIES of different life-forms are different, and expose different degrees of the life-force/consciousness. The human body exposes a lot of consciousness, and plants , insects and germs expose very little. Killing a human is therefore more violent than killing and animal, which is more violent than killing a plant, which is more violent than killing a germ. The idea of Vegetarianism is not to “eliminate” violence but to “reduce” it as much as we reasonably can.

Humans have canine teeth, so they are omnivores

Carnivores have no molars, all fangs. Herbivores have molars and may also have a few sharp teeth to help with splitting the foods.

Carnivores have short intestines. Yes, any body type can somewhat digest anything, but the main diet of a creature with grinding teeth/jaws and long intestines is herbivore, and the main diet of a creature with sharp fangs and short intestines is carnivore.

God said we can eat meat

The bible in founded on 10 principles, the first of which is, “Thou shalt not kill” – not “thou shalt not murder.” The herbrew is lo tritzach which means “no killing” not “no murder” – murder is included in killing, but not visa-versa.

The bible is full of slaughtered lambs and calls for human sacrifice and dominion over all things

A sacrifice is not a “killing.” If not, the fact that the hebrew god called Abraham to sacrifice his son would contradict the commandment “thou shalt not kill” even if that commandment only refers to murder.

Humans do have dominion over the earth. But dominion does not mean the right to exploit and kill. A father has some “dominion” over his family, but this means it is his duty to protect and maintain them, not that it is his right to slaughter and eat them.

Additionally, much of the bible describes things that disappointed and pissed Yahweh off.

Things eating other things everywhere you look. If that’s not what God intended then why is it everywhere?”

This pretends that God is all-powerful and the individual has no will and no power at all. Messed up things (violence, etc) happen because indivduals have quite a lot of power and will, and usually use it selfishly. Not because God gets a rush and a kick from violence.

Things eat things everywhere, but most things eat what is natural for them to eat, and also, the human being is distinguished by its intellect and ability to promote itself above the rest of the world – so to say “well tigers do it, so we can do it too” is really not taking advantage of what it means to be a human. If we are better than beasts, then we really should be better than beasts.

Vraja Kishor

VrajaKishor.com

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Your father, husband, boss, king, Bhakta Leader, Temple President, and GBC is GOD, but…

The scholars concealed their anger and approached Vena, placating him with gentle words. “Great and beloved king,” they said, “we would like to reveal something to you. If you accept and understand it, your health, wealth, power, and fame will greatly enhance.”

“Speak,” said the king.

“Religion is a most important thing,” the scholars explained. “A citizen who is religious does not cause problems with their intellect, body, desires, or words. And religion also bestows immortality to those who are detached from externalities. O hero, you should not outlaw religion, for it calms and governs the people. A king who abolishes religion easily falls from majesty.

“A king deserves to accept taxes in tribute and thus enjoy great wealth because he protects the from the likes of thieves and manipulative ‘guidence.’ A king also deserves to enjoy in his next life, because he helps the citizens of his kingdom to worship the All-Attractive Personification of Sacrifice by carrying out their four social and religious roles.”

The king’s smile faded and his eye began to twitch.

“Most blessed Lord,” the scholars continued, “all people, all kings, even all the gods up to and including the masters of the masters of the universe, pay tribute to him with great affection. For he is the All Attractive Maintainer of Existence and the Soul of All, and is completely satisfied by anyone who follows his orders. When he is satisfied with someone, nothing is impossible for them to achieve. He is the one who grants entry to the god’s paradise. He is the essence of knowledge. He is the essence of wealth. He is the essence of discipline. Therefore it would be best for everyone if you would enjoin your people to worship him according to their various desires and conceptions.

“If the priests in your kingdom worship the demigods, who are expansions of Hari, the gods will feel properly respected and will be very pleased to give you everything you desire. It would be best for you not to disrespect them.”

Vena’s face had grown sour, despite his efforts to appear calm. When the scholars finished their sermon, the King scoffed. “Ha!” he spat disdainfully. “You are so childish! You think immorality is morality. You want people to ignore their true husband, and have an affair by worshipping some other protector!

“Any jackass who does not acknowledge the Supreme Master in the form of their king will not receive anything auspicious in this life, or after death! Who is this ‘All-Attractive Personification of Sacrifice’ you love so much? You are like sluts who adore some lover more than their own husband!

“Viṣnu, Brahmā, Śiva, Indra, Vāyu, Yama, Ravi the sun, Parjanya the rain-giver, Dhanada the lord of wealth, Soma the moon, Kṣiti the earth, Agni the fire, and Varuṇa the lord of waters – all of them, and all the other wise gods, entrust the King with their powers to bless or curse. Thus the King is known as the essence of all the gods!

“Therefore, scholars, the priests should dedicate their ceremonies to me, without envy. They should bring their offerings to me. Who but me should be the first to enjoy all things?”

– Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.14.13 ~ 28
Translated by Vraja Kishor dās

VrajaKishor.com

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Japa Tips 2: Be COGNIZANT

Nāma-japa is meditation on a mantra composed of Krishna’s name. We should therefore consider ourselves “meditators,” and we should be aware that we are supposed to be practicing our nāma-mantra meditation for 1 – 2 hours daily.

In meditation, negative simply clears the path for positive. Pratyahāra is the negative step – removing, silencing, negating all thoughts, all activity in the material mind. This negative step always must immediately be followed by the next step, the positive step, dharana – placing the object of meditation within the consciousness.

Consciousness cannot focus on emptiness, it focuses on a subject with a name, quality, etc. Therefore, we should not think that our objective is to keep our minds free of distraction – that is a negative goal. Consciousness cannot be satisfied to focus on the absence of distraction, emptiness. The absence of distraction simply clears the field so that consciousness can focus clearly and fully on the object we want to meditate upon – in our case the Krishna-nāma-mantra.

This is why my second japa tip is about how to be cognizant – how to have focus on the mantra. I have found two ways: (1) cognizance of the mantra itself, and (2) cognizance of the act of invoking the mantra.

Cognizance of the Mantra

Words are sounds, but they are a special type of sound – they are a sound which conveys meaning. Sound can often convey meaning without words, but words convey uniquely specific and exact meaning. The nāma-mantra is not made of sounds it is made of words, specifically, nouns, names, “nāma“.

Hearing a word is more involved than simply hearing a sound without meaning. When we hear a sound we can pay attention to its pitch, texture/timbre, volume, the sharpness of its attack, the mellowness of its decay, the rhythm formed by the alternations of its attacks and decays, etc. When we hear a word we also hear all these qualities of sound, but the most important part of hearing a word is to become cognizant of the exact meaning conveyed by the word.

I’ve written posts, like this one, about the meanings of the names in the Hare Krishna mahāmantra. While chanting, we must focus on these meanings of the sounds we hear! We must think about these meanings while hearing the words that encapsulate them. Not exactly in an intellectual way, but in an experiential way. Not so much to “understand” as to “experience.” We must listen to the words of the mantra – cognizant of their meanings – so that we can experience them.

Thus a good deal of improving japa happens when we aren’t chanting japa. We need to study about Krishna, deeply, so that we can fully comprehend (not just memorize) the meaning of his names. And we need to regularly review and remind ourselves of what we have already begun to learn about him.

Here is an attitude towards hearing that is simple and effective:

I remember the first time I heard Krishna’s names, especially the name Krishna itself. There was a certain tingle in my skin, flutter in my heart, excitement in my mind – when I heard the name. The sound, the pattern of consonnants and vowels, was a sonic stimulant that brought out an exotic sense of transcendental adventure and excitement. The sound itself had a velvet to it, a purr to it, an allure.

[by the way, thats why I continue to spell it “Krishna” and not “Kṛṣṇa.” For me, something about the shape of the letters in the word “Krishna” evokes those early reactions to the name]

When hearing the name today, I’ve heard it and said it and typed it so many millions and millions of times, I am a little desensitized to it. So, while chanting, I try to make an effort to put myself back in the mental and emotional space I was in 26 years ago when I started hearing “Krishna” for the first time. I find this very effective, the velvet and purr starts to come back.

Cognizance of the Act

We also have to be cognizant of what the act of trying to meditate on the name actually implies. This puts us immediately into the right mental and emotional space for the name to more truly manifest in our consciousness.

The Vedas explain carefully that the one becomes many for the sake of its thirst for bliss. We exist for the sake of enhancing the bliss of the one, and thereby experiencing the same, or even greater, bliss (just as a wire carrying current to an appliance also becomes electrified).

How do we enhance the bliss of the Original One? By pure love. Love is synonymous with ānanda, bliss. And ānanda is synonymous with consciousness in its supreme condition (ānanda-maya). 

Krishna, the supreme consciousness exists full of all bliss (akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrti), but has infinite thirst to expand that bliss infinitely. To do so he manifests you and I and everyone else. We among his manifestations who require sādhana however, are those not initially inclined to dedicate our existence to the expansion of his bliss. We instead have spontaneous interest in developing a separate existence for ourselves.

The act of nāma-japa and nāma-kīrtan is the most direct and powerful reformation of this inclination. To do nāma-japa properly, we must agree – “Today, for these next few minutes, I will give up hoarding my consciousness for my own separate interests. Now I place this consciousness at your feet, Krishna. You desire to expand. I offer you the infinite space within my consciousness. Expand! Manifest in me. Step into me, enter me, pervade me, expand within my consciousness. Take all that I am, take my conscious-universe, and do whatever you like with it. My darling, my love. I am yours. I exist for you.”

The very act of nāma-japa is thus the most profound revolution of consciousness and the most sublime expression of the essence of gopī-bhāva.

Let me strive for it. May my foolishly writing of it, not weaken the flame. May it serve the Vaiṣṇavas.

Hare Krishna.

Vraja Kishor dās

www.VrajaKishor.com

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Ridiculously Esoteric Stuff From a Teenager

The more I read that book, the more I became the local authority on the subject. Not many people asked me much, but Tom was a bit interested in the whole Krishna thing, so at one point, while we were driving slowly through my neighborhood, he asked, “So, Krishna’s have four rules, right? And one of them is ‘no sex,’ right?”

“Yeah,” I said. “‘no illicit sex.’”

“OK, whatever,” Tom said. “But why should Krishna be allowed to have sex with all these girls?”

“Gopīs?”

“I guess,” he said. “Is that what you call all those girls who are always around Krishna?”

I tried to answer as I made the right turn from Gainsborough onto Berkshire Road. “Well, we’re not Krishna.” I said. “Krishna lifted a mountain with one hand – so obviously he’s a bit different than you or me.”

“What’s so different about him?” Tom asked.

“It’s hard to explain,” I said, “But the difference is that, by nature, Krishna is male and we are female.”

Tom squinted at me, trying to figure out what the hell I had just said.

Hoping to explain how two guys driving a car down Berkshire were actually female, I said, “‘Male’ means ‘predominating’ and ‘female’ means ‘predominated.’”

His squint turned to incredulous frustration. I knew I was saying some incredibly weird stuff, but I always considered Tom incredibly weird himself, so I had hoped he might get it. The look on his face, however, made me suspect he was hearing me in a sociological context, in which case what I just said must have sounded very sexist. “I’m not talking about sexism or social stuff,” I said. “I’m talking about psychology, you know? About the basic psychological natures of men and women. And you can even see that nature in our physical bodies. Men have a penis…” As I said this I extended the pointer finger of my left hand, holding the steering wheel with the other fingers. “And women have a vagina…” I took my right hand off the wheel and joined thumb and forefinger to make a circle. “A penis goes into a vagina…” here I enthusiastically performed the typical gestures for visual aid. Then, holding the penis-finger aloft, I said, “This one ‘predominates.’” Waving the vaginal-hand, “This one is ‘predominated.’”

Tom backed away from me in his seat, looking at me like I was a raving lunatic who might say or do anything next.

I knew my ridiculously esoteric explanation was failing pretty hard as a useful answer for Tom, but I felt like finishing it anyway. I had already come this far out into the deep end, so I might as well at least try to wrap the whole thing up. “So Krishna is the real male,” I concluded. “He’s the real enjoyer. And everything that comes from Krishna, like you and me and everything else… we are all female, at least psychologically – because we are enjoyed by Krishna. So for him to enjoy the things that come from him is totally right. It’s totally proper. But for us to imitate him and try to enjoy, it’s not right.”

Tom pulled himself together and asked another question, “So a Krishna devotee isn’t supposed to enjoy anything?”

“Being enjoyed is enjoyable!” I said. “Women enjoy sex too, right? So, we enjoy life, but not in the male position, in the female position.”

“Yeah,” he said, “but Krishna is supposed to be your role model, right? Your leader; the example you try to follow, right? So why should his followers not be allowed to do what he did?”

“Krishna’s not our ‘leader’ or ‘role-model’,” I said. “Guru is that. Krishna is the object of our love. Guru is the guide. Guru lives the way you are talking about: never doing anything that we shouldn’t follow.”

We arrived wherever we arrived and did whatever we did next. I don’t know if I helped or hindered answering Tom’s question, but the conversation did burn itself into our memories forever.

— Excerpt from the first draft of
Train Wrecks and Transcendence: The collision of Hare Krishna and Hardcore.

By Vraja Kishor dās

www.VrajaKishor.com

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Totalitarianism, Secular Communism, and King Vena

Scholars headed by Bhṛgu always look out for the welfare of the world. They had seen that humans become just like animals when they are without guardians, so those spiritualists called for the heroic mother, Sunīthā, to coronate Vena as the guardian of the world – even though he was not really qualified for it.


So it does seem reasonable that sometimes substandard people have to fill leadership posts. But it leads to serious problems, as we will see as the story continues


Like rats terrified of snakes, criminals vanished when they heard that the very fierce punisher, Vena, had ascended to the throne.


So it seems that even an oppressive government with a cruel leader has advantages over a completely weak and disorganized government, or ungoverned lawlessness. Specifically, at least the people have only one harasser, who is rather predictable – the state/king, instead of fearing bandits and theives from any direction and any time.

Nonetheless oppressive leaders cause problems and therefore cannot remain in control for very long before being hated and overthrown.


Vena’s pride inflated with the wealth and power he gained over the eight directions by his royal ascension. Thinking that he had become the strongest and most glorious person, he disrespected everyone, even the most exalted. Blinded by his intoxicating pride, he roamed in a chariot like an unbridled elephant making heaven and earth tremble. His entourage beat drums everywhere as he prohibited religion by declaring, “Worshiping anyone but me is banned! Charity to anyone but the state is forbidden! And the priests can never again offer sacrifices!”


This sounds exactly like secular communism.


Watching all the misadventures and wrong-doings of Vena, the compassionate scholars who had been band from their sacred duties, considered how to save the people from disaster. “Aho, like a log burning from both ends, the people face disaster from both sides. The king harasses them, but without a king, criminals will harass them. Even though he was not fit to be king, fearing what would happen to the kingdom with no leader, we enthroned him. But now we fear what will happen to the kingdom because of the leader! What can we do for the welfare of the people?

“A snake fed milk is dangerous to the person who feeds it. Vena is naturally just as wicked as a snake, since he came from the womb of Sunīthā. Like a snake biting the hand that feeds, he punishes and harasses the people who have appointed him king and the citizens he was appointed to protect. Since we appointed him, we share the blame for what he does. We must therefore find some way to calm him down.

“We made a great mistake by appointing him king, when we knew what sort of wicked person he was. If we will not calm down and heed our advice, we will burn him with our powers. The people have already burned him with their condemnation.”

— Translated  from Śrīmad Bhāgavata 4.14.1 ~  12

By Vraja Kishor dās

VrajaKishor.com

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Govardhana Śila – A Gauḍīya Hallmark: Original and Modern Approaches

We encounter worship of (or via) stones in many diverse cultures across the world. It is a particularly fascinating phenomenon because it uniquely exemplifies “aniconic” worship. In contrast to the more prevalent iconic worship of an idol/statue, worship of a sacred stone is aniconic because the stone does not have visible correspondence to the deity or principle it enables worship of.

The most prevalent stone-worship in Indian culture centers on stones found near the town of Shaligram, in the Kali-gandaki River (a location now considered Nepal). All sorts of “Hindus” worship these “Śālagrāma Śila,”[i] especially Vaiṣṇavas, including Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. The Gauḍīyas, however, also have their own unique sacred stone, introduced by their founder, Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya: the Govardhana Śila, a stone from Vraja’s foremost hill (originally a mountain), famous as a direct manifestation of Krishna, whose beautiful glens, valleys, rivers, lakes, and caves host Krishna’s countless sports and dalliances, including the most intimate springtime rāsa-līlā.[ii]

In this article I will demonstrate how Govardhana Śila worship very clearly exemplifies the core ideals of Śrī Caitanya’s Gauḍīya School, and I will compare his definition of the worship with modern conceptions.

Original Approach

Caitanya Caritāmṛta, the hagiography of Śrī Caitanya written in Bengali and Sanskrit by the outstanding Kavirāja, Śrī Kṛṣṇa dāsa, contains a brief but extremely useful section[iii] describing the origin of Govardhana Śila worship, as it was practiced by Śrī Caitanya and passed on to his follower Śrī Raghunātha dāsa, one of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism’s famous “Six Goswāmī’s of Vṛndāvana.”

Caitanya Caritāmṛta on the Origin of Govardhana Śila Worship

śaṅkarānanda-sarasvatī vṛndāvana haite āilā
teṅha sei śilā-guñjā-mālā lañā gelā
pārśve gāṅthā guñjā-mālā, govardhana-śilā
dui vastu mahāprabhura āge āni’ dilā [288-289]

Śaṅkarānanda Sarasvatī brought this [Govardhana] stone and Guñja necklace from Vṛndāvana, and gave them to Mahāprabhu, bound together.

dui apūrva-vastu pāñā prabhu tuṣṭa hailā
smaraṇera kāle gale pare guñjā-mālā
govardhana-śilā prabhu hṛdaye-netre dhare
kabhu nāsāya ghrāṇa laya, kabhu śire kare [290-291]

Prabhu was pleased to obtain these two rare things. When meditating he would wear the Guñja necklace on his neck, and hold the Govardhana-stone — sometimes to his heart, sometimes to his eyes, sometimes smelling it with his nose, and sometimes putting it on his head.

netra-jale sei śilā bhije nirantara
śilāre kahena prabhu — ‘kṛṣṇa-kalevara’ [292]

That stone was constantly wet from his tears. Prabhu said, “This stone is Krishna’s body.”

ei-mata tina-vatsara śilā-mālā dharilā
tuṣṭa hañā śilā-mālā raghunāthe dilā [293]

Like this, he kept the stone and necklace for three years. Then he was pleased to give them to Raghunātha.

prabhu kahe, — “ei śilā kṛṣṇera vigraha
iṅhāra sevā kara tumi kariyā āgraha
ei śilāra kara tumi sāttvika pūjana
acirāt pābe tumi kṛṣṇa-prema-dhana [294-295]

Prabhu told [Raghunātha]. “This stone is Krishna’s form, serve it very attentively. Worship this stone with your sattva [heartfelt sentiment, sincerity, and purity] and before long you will obtain a treasure of divine love of Krishna.

eka kuṅjā jala āra tulasī-mañjarī
sāttvika-sevā ei — śuddha-bhāve kari
dui-dike dui-patra madhye komala mañjarī
ei-mata aṣṭa-mañjarī dibe śraddhā kari’  [296-297]

Offer one cup of water and Tulasī buds [mañjarī], with heartfelt attention and pure emotions. Put your heart into offering eight buds, the soft young buds of each flanked by a leaf on each side.

śrī-haste śilā diyā ei ājñā dilā
ānande raghunātha sevā karite lāgilā [298]

After giving these instructions, his beautiful hand gave the stone, which Raghunātha blissfully accepted and began to worship.

eka-vitasti dui-vastra, piṅḍā eka-khāni
svarūpa dilena kuṅjā ānibāre pāni [299]

To help Raghunātha take up the worship, Svarūpa [Dāmodara] gave him a wooden table, two short lengths of cloth, and a cup for the water.

ei-mata raghunātha karena pūjana
pūjā-kāle dekhe śilāya ‘vrajendra-nandana’ [300]

Raghunātha worshipped as advised. While worshipping, he saw that the stone was Vrajendra Nandana.

‘prabhura svahasta-datta govardhana-śilā’
ei cinti’ raghunātha preme bhāsi’ gelā [301]

“Prabhu gave this Govardhana-stone with his own hand!” Thinking about this flooded Raghunātha in an inundation of divine love.

jala-tulasīra sevāya tāṅra yata sukhodaya
ṣoḍaśopacāra-pūjāya tata sukha naya [302]

The happiness that arose from these attentive offerings of water and Tulasī could not be matched by the happiness that arises from elaborate sixteen-item worship.

ei-mata kata dina karena pūjana
tabe svarūpa-gosāñi tāṅre kahilā vacana
“aṣṭa-kauḍira khājā-sandeśa kara samarpaṇa
śraddhā kari’ dile, sei amṛtera sama” [303-304]

Like this, he worshipped for some days. Then Svarūpa Gosāñi said, “Make an expensive offering of sweets (khājā and sandeśa). By putting your heart into the offering, it will be equal to offering heavenly nectar.”

tabe aṣṭa-kauḍira khājā kare samarpaṇa
svarūpa-ājñāya govinda tāhā kare samādhāna [305]

On Svarūpa’s order, Govinda made arrangements to pay for the expensive sweets to be offered.

raghunātha sei śilā-mālā yabe pāilā
gosāñira abhiprāya ei bhāvanā karilā
“śilā diyā gosāñi samarpilā ‘govardhane’
guñjā-mālā diyā dilā ‘rādhikā-caraṇe’ ” [306-307]

When Raghunātha got that stone and necklace, he grasped the inner meaning of the Gosāñi’s gift. “By giving me the stone, Gosāñi granted me a place at Govardhana. By giving me the necklace of Guñja, he granted me a place at Rādhikā’s feet.”

Govardhana Śila & Rāga-Mārga

Pādas 290-292 in the above section describe how Śrī Caitanya worshiped the Govardhana stone: He wore the Guñja necklace, embraced the stone with great emotion, and constantly bathed it in his tears. This shows Govardhana Śila as a deity saturated in the trademark Gauḍīya focus on rāga-mārga, which emphasizes the importance of internal significance in external practices.[iv] It does not depict Śrī Caitanya worshiping the stone with any significant external formalities, as are so pervasive in the brahmiṇical approach to ritual worship. It depicts him engaged in the emotion-based worship that is a definitive hallmark of his school.

The passage also describes how he passed Govardhana Śila worship on to Raghunātha. In the 295th pāda he instructs Raghunātha to worship the Govardhana Śila with sāttvika pūja. This means, “Worship with purity, in sattva-guṇa.” The ultimate purity is the consciousness itself (sattva), so the advice ultimately means, “worship with heartfelt concentration.” In the next line, Kṛṣṇa dāsa clarifies this, sāttvika-sevā ei — śuddha-bhāva, “this sāttvika worship is done by pure bhāva [emotion].”

Thus, our first discovery on investigating the subject of Govardhan Śila is that it is primarily an internal, emotional affair, whose external actions are secondary and minimal, serving simply to symbolically support the internal bhāva in the sattva of the devotee. In more technical terms, it is rāga-mārga worship. It is, after all, quite appropriate that Govardhana Śila worship fully integrates rāga-mārga, since Govardhana Śila and the rāga-mārga are both unique hallmarks of the Gauḍīyas.

Internal Significance of External Actions

In ritual, especially in the rāga-mārga, every external act or object overflows with internal significance. To begin with, as should be obvious for any path, not just raga-mārga, the worshipper does not experience the stone itself as merely a stone. Pādas 292 and 294 explain how Śrī Caitanya saw the stone, and how he advised Raghunātha to see it. Śilāre kṛṣṇa-kalevara — “This stone is Krishna’s body.” Ei śilā kṛṣṇera vigraha — “This stone is Krishna’s form.”

In pādas 296 & 297, Śrī Caitanya defines the main items to be used for worshipping Govardhana Śila: a cup of water and eight Tulasī buds (mañjarī), each one soft and young, and flanked by two leaves. All of these are very simple items, but each has opulent internal significance. I will now suggest the analogues.

Water was likely used to bathe the stone, as that is an essential part of Śila worship[v]. Perhaps it was also offered as drinking water. Water has cross-cultural symbolic connection with the inner mind and its emotional reflections. In Vaiṣṇava (and especially Gauḍīya) connotations, liquidity and water is particularly associated with bhāva (emotion), and prema (love).[vi] Thus, a possible internal significance of pouring water over the Govardhana Śila is to express the desire to pour ones emotions over the divine body of Krishna.

Tulasī is famous for her connection to Viṣṇu in the clandestine-romantic parakīya-mādhurya-rāsa,[vii] which Gauḍīyas supremely revere in the divine context as the most intimate, powerful expression of divine love. Therefore offering Tulasī to Krishna is ripe with internal significance. Śrī Caitanya specified that Raghunātha should offer tulasīmañjarī, not just her leaves. Amongst modern Gauḍīyas, the word mañjarī has become laden with a great deal of extrapolated definition and is the focus of a great deal of attention. It is far outside the scope of the current article to unravel all this. For our current discussion, I hope it will suffice to say that the word mañjarī literally means, “a cluster of blossoms; a budding flower.”[viii] In horticulture, the term refers to flowers clustered together, exactly as the Tulasī and other basils flower. The term is mainly used in Gauḍīya literature to indicate a young woman freshly blossoming into womanhood, and to indicate a “blossom” directly connected to the main “blossom” (Śrī Rādhā). Although it is beyond our scope to explore the word more thoroughly here, we can at least see that tulasī-mañjarī are symbolic of the young gopīs who are Krishna’s clandestine lovers.

Śrī Caitanya specifies that Raghunātha should offer eight mañjarī. Eight is a significant number because the closest friends of Śrī Rādhā are eight in number (aṣṭha-sakhi). Thus, the eight tulasī-mañjarī clearly symbolize these eight blossoming gopīs.

Śrī Caitanya specifies that each mañjarī should be flanked by two leaves. The Tulasī-mañjarī is not offered alone. Some foliage accompanies it. The symbolism here is that the worshipper of Govardhana Śila does not bring the aṣṭha-sakhī to Krishna without their young assistant maidens. With these simple metaphors, the external act of the offering of tulasī to Govardhana Śila expresses the Gauḍīya’s desire to assist the romantic services rendered to Krishna by Rādhā’s eight associates and their assistants.

Guñja is another absolutely essential item of Raghunātha’s Govardhana Śila worship. The 307th pāda describes Raghunātha thinking, “By giving me the necklace of Guñja, he offered me a place at Rādhikā’s feet.” So it appears that the Guñja necklace signifies Rādhā. Perhaps the metaphor centers on the fact that Rādhārāṇī always desires to embrace Krishna, just as a necklace wants to embrace the shoulders and neck. There may also be symbolic affinity between the primarily red colors of the Guñja beads and Śrī Rādhā’s passionate affections for Krishna. It is understandable that Śrī Caitanya would wear the necklace while worshipping Govardhana Śila, since Gauḍīyas identify him as Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī. Śaṅkarānanda-sarasvatī, on the other hand, kept the necklace wrapped around the stone, symbolizing Rādhā’s embrace of Krishna.

A cup for the water, two bits of cloth, and a wooden table are practical items given by Śrī Svarūpa Gosāñi to support the worship. Their simplicity is congruous with Raghunātha’s lifestyle as an extremely spartan ascetic. Generally a simple thing is less desirable than an opulent thing. No one would choose a free night at a one-star hotel over a free night at a five-star hotel. Kṛṣṇa dāsa said, however, “The happiness that arose from these attentive offerings of water and Tulasī could not be matched by the happiness that arises from elaborate sixteen-item worship.” In this case, the externally “one-star” approach was more wonderful than the externally “five-star” approach.

This is because Raghunātha’s simplicity evoked the Vṛndāvana-mood, the happiness of which excels the happiness of the Vaikuṇṭha-mood. Gauḍīya’s say that in Vaikuṇṭha, opulent majesty is a conspicuous component of the bhakti-ānanda, but in Vrndāvana the sweetness of bhakti-ānanda is so intense that it makes one relatively oblivious to the opulence and majesty of divinity. Denizens of Vṛndāvana therefore experience the opulent surroundings of divinity as if they were rustic, rural, cozy and simple.

The rustic, simple accouterments of Raghunātha’s worship resonate with this Vṛndāvana mood. That is not to say that the Vṛndāvana mood never commands external opulence. Quite the contrary, the powerful sweetness of the Vṛndāvana mood subjugates (i.e. utilizes and exploits) the greatest opulence. But in Raghunātha’s specific case, being a penniless renunciate, the extremely spartan setting is more appropriate.

A point worth considering here is that when the accouterments are fancy, the worshipper may rely upon them to make the worship suitable. If the accouterments are minimal, the worshipper must rely upon sincerity. A sincere worshipper can, however, utilize opulent accouterments in worship, similar to how Svarūpa Gosāñi soon advised Raghunātha to include another, more opulent element – yet still quite personal and romantic: sweets.

Replacing Śālagrāma Śila?

Some may express the opinion that Śrī Caitanya’s giving Raghunātha Govardhana Śila is tantamount to denying him Śālagrāma Śila. They say that only the Brahmin caste was permitted to perform such worship, so Śrī Caitanya declined to grant Raghunātha the Śālagrāma Śila, because Raghunātha was a Kayastha (an inferior derivation of the Brahmin caste who had brahminical literacy and intellect but applied it mainly to financial-political record-keeping).

Proponents of this theory may cite that Śrī Caitanya inspired Raghunātha’s compatriot, Gopāla Bhaṭṭa (a pure Brahmin) to worship twelve Śālagrāma Śila.

This theory has flaws. Śrī Caitanya was a Brahmin, but he worshipped the Govardhana Śila for three years. This plainly contradicts the idea that he considered Govardhana Śila something for those whose caste prevented them from worshiping the Śālagrāma-stone. Additionally, the depiction of Śrī Caitanya as being significantly encumbered by the caste system does not match the universally accepted descriptions of his personality.[ix]

It doesn’t seem accurate to suggest that Govardhana Śila worship was born from a caste issue. It seems far more in keeping with the known nature of Śrī Caitanya to say that he introduced Govardhana Śila worship out of his special affection for Vraja Dhāma, especially Govardhana Hill.

Gopāla Bhaṭṭa does not contradict this view, he simply stands as important evidence that Śālagrāma Śila worship is also a valid part of the Gauḍīya rāga-mārga.

Contemporary Approaches

We have familiarized ourselves with the conception of Govardhana Śila worship given by Śrī Caitanya to Raghunātha. In summary: The stone itself is Krishna, embraced by Rādhārāṇī in the form of a strand of Guñja, decorated by Rādhārāṇī’s eight principle friends and their assistants in the form of eight fresh Tulasī mañjarī each flanked by two leaves. Now we will review the modern Gauḍīya approaches to worshipping Govardhana Śila, and discuss how they harmonize with or differ from Śrī Caitanya’s original conception.

The Govardhan Shila of Śrī Raghunātha dās Goswāmī

The Govardhan Shila of Śrī Raghunātha dās Goswāmī

I have observed, in both Śalagrama and Govardhana Śila worship, a trend towards iconism. Contemporary Śila worshippers often draw or affix eyes, mouth, and tilok on the stone, and dress it with a turban, crown, etc. If Raghunātha and Śrī Caitanya treated their Śila similarly, Kṛṣṇa dāsa failed to record it here. I don’t think it is likely they did, since the stone purported to be the one given to Raghunātha by Śrī Caitanya to this day remains unadorned except for the embrace of the Guñja necklace.

I do not mean to infer that inconism is bad or contrary to rāga-mārga. My observation is simply that stone-worship is inherently aniconic, yet over the centuries seems to have become more iconic. This trend is paralleled amongst the icons as well: Those fashioned centuries ago are approximations compared to the elaborate realism found in those fashioned today. It seems to be a trend that spans many sects. I do not believe it to be a negative trend. It has its advantages, as does the older style. The older style of deity strikes me as being akin to reading a book, while the newer style is like watching a movie. It’s more exciting and easier to watch a movie, but a book often leaves significantly more room for the mind to explore the story.

Another observation is that today’s worship of Govardhana Śila tends to be significantly more opulent than Rāghunatha’s. This, however, seems quite natural, since Raghunātha was an exceptionally austere renunciate. I don’t think it reasonable to say that everyone who worships Govardhana Śila should be as absolutely renounced as he. Govardhana Śila worshipers will come from many walks of life, and it is a principle of sādhana to offer Krishna the things that are nearest and dearest to oneself, [x] so I don’t think it necessary to preserve the utter simplicity we observed in Raghunātha’s worship. Nonetheless, I think it good for every worshipper of Govardhan Śila to be aware that the main focus intended by Śrī Caitanya was internal participation in the worship, not external details.

Worship Outside the Mādhurya-Bhāva

It seems quite clear that Śrī Caitanya and Raghunātha worshipped the Govardhana Śila with mādhurya-rati, symbolized by the central importance of the Guñja-māla and eight Tulasī mañjarī. Modern Gauḍīya approaches, however, also include other emotional relationships like sakhya- and vatsalya-rati. It would not seem right to denigrate these alternative approaches, since Śrīmad Bhāgavatam (the ultimate authority for Gauḍīyas) clearly states that Bhagavān manifests in exactly the form and mood appropriate to the heartfelt feelings of his worshipper.[xi]

Some modern Gauḍīyas who approach Govardhana Śila in the friendly sakhya mood worship multiple stones as both Krishna and Balarāma. Again, this is not exactly consonant with Śrī Caitanya’s system, but need not be branded heterodox, since Śrī Bhāgavata clearly indicates that Krishna is the source of all expansions of Bhāgavan.[xii] One could argue that since Śrī Caitanya declared the Śila to be Krishna, it can be worshipped as any of his avatāras or Bhagavān-expansions.

In Chapter Five of his book Subjective Evolution of Consciousness, the contemporary Gauḍīya ācārya Śrīdhāra Mahārāja goes so far as to suggest that Govardhana Hill is, along with other natural features of Vṛndāvana, a component of the passive śānta-rasa. In my opinion this statement is more about śānta-rasa than it is about Govardhana. It glorifies śānta-rasa because any rasa with Krishna is worshipable, and śānta-rasa is the basis and foundation of all others. It is clear that the author embraced Śrī Caitanya’s original idea that Govardhana is Krishna himself, for he writes in the same section, “Apparently it is a hill, but Govardhana is worshiped as Krishna Himself.” This acknowledgement that Govardhana is Krishna is a tacit indication that the surrounding statements about it being a component of śānta-rati cannot be taken at face-value, for, in Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu Śrī Rūpa clearly specifies that Krishna himself is not involved in śānta-rati.[xiii]

Govardhana as Rādhā Krishna

Some contemporary Gauḍīyas worship two (or more) Govardhana Śila simultaneously as Krishna and Rādhā (and other Gopīs). Again, it does not seem heterodox but is not identical to the original conception. In Śrī Caitanya’s original system, the Śila is Krishna and the Guñja and Tulasi-mañjarī are Rādhārāṇī and the Gopīs. In this modern approach, multiple Śilas are Krishna, Rādhārāṇī and the Gopīs, rendering redundant the Guñja and Tulasī-mañjarī.

Govardhana as a Devotee

Some Gauḍīyas worship Govardhana Śila as Krishna in the mood of a devotee. Gauḍīya principles certainly uphold the concept that Bhagavān sometimes behaves as a devotee of himself. Rāma’s brother Lakṣmaṇa and Krishna’s brother Balarāma are examples, as is Śrī Caitanya himself, whom the Gauḍīyas revere as Krishna in the mood of Rādhā.[xiv]

Garga Saṁhitā explains one way Govardhana acts as the servant of Krishna: by becoming his “umbrella,” shielding the entire township of Vraja from the most ferocious downpours Indra could set loose.[xv]

A famous expression of how Govardhana excellently serves Krishna is found in Śrī Bhāgavata, wherein a Gopī (Rāghunātha says it was Rādhārāṇī herself [xvi]) exclaims: “Oh girls, this mountain is the best servant of Hari. Delighted by the touch of [Bala]rāma and Krishna’s feet, along with all their cowherd friends and cows, he serves them delicious water, vegetables, and grasses, and gives them lovely dells to play in.”[xvii]

Śrī Caitanya cried out this verse while rushing towards a hill in Orissa that he mistook for Govardhana.[xviii] Yet he directly told Raghunātha that Govardhana is Krishna and should be worshipped as such. The fact that Govardhana serves Krishna does not alter the fact that it is Krishna.

In Śrī Bhāgavata, Krishna says: śailo ’smi – “I am this mountain.”[xix]

Govardhana is Krishna because it simply is what it literally is: a hill in Vraja. This makes it an integral part of vraja-dhāma. The dhāma is an integral part of Krishna’s vastu-svarūpa;[xx] therefore any integral part of the dhāma is an integral part of Krishna himself.

Govardhana is a servant of Krishna because it simply is what it literally is: a hill in Vraja, a landscape that provides an ideal arena for Krishna’s līlā. Any integral part of the dhāma is identical to Krishna, and simultaneously serves Krishna most excellently. So it is not inconceivable that an entity could be Bhagavān and also serve Bhagavān (thus having the “mood” of a Bhakta). Just as I can buy myself an ice cream cone, Krishna can serve his own līlā.[xxi]

Therefore it is certainly not wrong to see Govardhana as Krishna with a devotee’s mood. Followers of some contemporary gauḍīya ācāryas, however, stress the conception with such enthusiasm as to warrant some points made as counterbalance. Some of them say that worshipping Govardhana Śila as a devotee is better than worshipping it as Krishna. Others go still further, describing it as a misconception to worship the Śila as Krishna.[xxii] They also claim that Raghunātha worshipped Govardhana Śila in this mood, since his poems glorify Govardhana as a devotee of Krishna, and since he seems to have realized the Śila to be Govardhana itself, not Krishna, when he said, ‘By giving me the śila, the Gosāñi granted me a place at Govardhana.’

The following are my observations in this regard.

It Says in Black and White…

In the 300th pāda Krishna dāsa gives a direct statement describing how Raghunātha worshipped the Śila: ei-mata raghunātha karena pūjana, pūjā-kāle dekhe śilāya ‘vrajendra-nandana’: “Raghunath worshipped as advised. While worshipping, he saw that the stone was Vrajendra Nandana.”

“Worshipped as advised,” indicates that Raghunātha followed Śrī Caitanya’s advice, which includes the advice to see the Śila as Krishna (“ei śilā kṛṣṇera vigraha”). “While worshipping, he saw that the stone was Vrajendra Nandana.” This spells everything out clearly and leaves little or no room for entertaining the idea that he did not see the Govardhana Śila as Krishna.

Logical Flaws

(A) Govardhana Hill is the best devotee of Hari.

(B) Raghunātha saw the Śila as Govardhana Hill.

(C) Therefore Raghunātha worshipped the Śila as the best devotee of Hari.

This logic has the flaw of being non-sequitor because it lacks word only in Statement “A” and “B”. Raghunātha did not only see the Śila as Govardhana Hill (as per pāda 307), he also saw it as Krishna (as per pāda 300). Govardhana is not only the best devotee (as per Bhāgavatam 10.21.18), it is also Krishna himself (as per Bhāgavata 10.24.25).

I believe the best way to frame the correct logic is like this:

(A) Govardhana is Krishna, and serves Krishna.

(B) Raghunātha saw the Śila as Krishna, and as Govardhana itself.

(C) Therefore Raghunātha worshiped the Śila as Krishna and also saw it as a servant of Krishna.

Propriety in the Elements of Worship

If the Śila is a devotee, or is in the mood of a devotee, is it not inappropriate to make Rādhārāṇī embrace it (as the Guñja), and to bring her young Gopī friends to serve it (as the Tulasī-mañjarī)? [xxiii]

It’s Better to Worship the Devotee?

Śrī Rūpa defines bhakti as anukūlyena-kṛṣṇānuśilanam:[xxiv] “The expression of affection towards Krishna.” Jīva and Viśvanātha do comment that this can include expansions and devotees of Krishna, but the central figure of bhakti is Krishna himself. Śrī Rūpa’s definition of bhakti-rasa clarifies that Krishna is always the object of bhakti (viṣaya-alambana-vibhava), and Krishna’s devotee is always reservoir of bhakti (āśraya-alambana-vibhava).[xxv] Thus, devotees of Krishna should come into kṛṣṇānuśilaṇam as the āśraya, not as the viṣaya of bhakti.

Govardhana Śila (Krishna) attended by the Guñja and Tulasī (Krishna’s devotees: Rādhā and Gopīs) perfectly facilitates this paradigm of worshipping the object of bhakti (Krishna) in context of the reservoir of bhakti (Rādhā and the Gopīs). If Govardhana Śila is not Krishna, but another bhakta, it is unclear how the Govardhana-Guñja-Tulasī scenario facilitates Śrī Rūpa’s paradigm. It would seem that every element in the worship would then represent the bhakta; none would represent Krishna. This seems to lose cohesion with the Gauḍīya core and possibly gain some sympathy for the Śakta paradigm (worshiping śakti independent from śaktimān) and/or the Kartābhajā approach (worshipping the devotee/guru independent from Krishna).

Gauḍīyas certainly revere devotees, but within the context of their service to Śrī Krishna, not as independently worshipable beings. The Padma Purāṇa considers it devotionally-antithetical (aparādhā) to worship any being, even Śiva, independently from Viṣṇu.[xxvi] Gauḍīyas never worship the deity of Śrī Rādhā, for example, independently of the deity of Śrī Krishna. We could argue, “Krishna is implicit within the devotee’s heart,” and, “We worship the devotee because Krishna loves him and he loves Krishna.” These are valid statements, but the fact that there are no Gauḍīya altars dedicated solely to Rādhā or other devotees casts doubt on the utility of using these truths to worship a devotee without also explicitly worshipping Krishna at the same time. On certain occasions, Gauḍīyas worship a devotee as Śrī Guru, a representative of Vyasa, on account of his implicit role in connecting them to Krishna. But they never conduct this worship with items meant only for worshipping Krishna, such as Tulasī. They worship Guru by offering him Krishna-prasāda, or items of general utility in traditional worship.

Śrī Rūpa quotes a famous verse from Ādi Purāṇa, “My dear Partha, one who claims to be My devotee is not so. Only a person who claims to be the devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee.”[xxvii] In the very next verse, however, he explains the context of such statements, “The wise know that almost all ways of worshipping Bhagavān include worshipping his devotee.” Gauḍīyas consider it important to worship devotees with Bhagavān, not in preference him.

Some say they are worshipping to attain prema, so it is better to worship the devotee, who has prema. It is true that Krishna empowers his devotee to deliver prema,[xxviii] but this does not render him incapable of bestowing it directly. Śrī Rūpa definitely states that Krishna can directly bestow prema.[xxix] Gauḍīyas identify Krishna as pūrṇa-śaktimān[xxx], rendering it unreasonable to claim that he lacks the most important of all śakti, the ānanda-śakti, prema. It is however, more effective and practical to seek prema from the blessings of a devotee, no Gauḍīya could deny this.

This, however, does not change the nature of sādhana. Śrī Rūpa clearly says that kṛṣṇa-prema arises by sādhana, which consists of various ways to focus the heart on Krishna.[xxxi] This does not contradict the view that prema comes from the devotee, because the devotee teaches us how to apply ourselves to the sādhana. The sādhana itself, however, is focused on Krishna, not the devotee. In rāgānugā-sādhana, Śrī Rūpa advises us to focus on Krishna with a particular devotee.[xxxii] The original conception of Govardhana Śila, inaugurated by Śrī Caitanya, represents this perfectly: The sādhaka fixes their heart and mind upon prema-viṣayī Krishna as the central figure, the Śila, along with prema-bestowing devotees, Śrī Rādhā and her Gopī friends, as the Guñja and Tulasī-mañjarī.

Govardhana as Govardhana

It seems Raghunātha had several attitudes towards Govardhana. While worshipping, Raghunātha saw Govardhana Śila as Krishna himself, Kṛṣṇa dāsa could not have been more clear about this. At other times, however, Raghunātha glorifies and beseeches blessings from Govardhana Hill as a great devotee. And it certainly is fascinating that Raghunātha thought, “By giving me the Śila, the Gosāñi granted me a place at Govardhana.” It seems to me that Raghunātha worshipped the Śila as Krishna, and this includes seeing it practically, literally, as a stone from Govardhana Hill, an integral part of the dhāma manifest by Krishna’s vastu-svarūpa. Thus, when Śrī Caitanya gave him the stone, Raghunātha felt that the Gosāñi had literally given him a piece of Govardhana. By keeping the stone near him at all times, he felt that he gained the chance to live always at the foot of Mount Govardhana.

Conclusion

In the original form of Govardhana Śila worship given by Śrī Caitanya to Raghunātha, the Śila is Krishna, embraced by Rādhārāṇī in the form of a strand of Guñja, decorated by Rādhārāṇī’s eight principle friends and their assistants in the form of eight fresh Tulasī mañjarī. This Govardhana Śila worship has thrived over the centuries. We have surveyed several ways that it has expanded from the original blueprint. In the author’s subjective opinion, the original conception given by Śrī Caitanya to Raghunātha is the most exquisite. At the very least, we can objectively state that it is the most purely Gauḍīya approach to the Gauḍīya hallmark: Govardhana Śila.

Endnotes

[i] Śila simply means “stone.”

[ii] “Direct manifestation of Krishna” – see Bhāgavata 10.24.25, śailo ’smi. “Springtime rāsa-līlā” – see Sri Govardhanasraya-dasaka (Raghunātha dās Goswāmī), text 7.

[iii] Antya 6.288 ~ 307

[iv] A central practice of rāgānugā-sādhana is to perform external spiritual practices with internal cognition of their relevance to the desired perfection. (See BRS 1.2.294-296, especialy seva-sādhaka-rūpea siddha-rūpea cātra hi)

[v] I do not have an exact reference for this, but heard the late Aindra dāsa (a renowned worshipper of Śālagrāma and Govardhana Śila) say, “The śāstra says the minimum standard for Śālagrāma worship is to touch Them with water and Tulasī.” He may have been citing Padma Purāṇa. I have also noted that “anointing” with liquids is a cross-cultural aspect of stone worship.

[vi] For example: BRS 1.3.1: rucibhiś-citta-māsṛṇya-kd-asau bhāva ucyate — “Bhāva is that which melts the heart, allowing its affections to flow.”

[vii] The well-known story of origin of Śālagrāma Śila, from Padma Purāṇa, centers on clandestine romance (out-of-wedlock) between Viṣṇu-Krishna and Tulasī Devī, resulting in his becoming a stone and her becoming a bush.

[viii] Monier-Williams

[ix] For example, Śrī Caitanya’s intimate associates consisted of Brahmins and non-Brahmins quite equally. He flatly declared, kibā vipra, kibā nyāsī, śūdra kene naya yei kṛṣṇa-tattva-vettā, sei ‘guru’ haya “He who understands Krishna thoroughly is a guru. It doesn’t matter if he is a [Brahmin] Vipra and Sannyāsī, or if he is a Śūdra.” (Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 8.128) He also said, “‘I am not a brāhmaṇa, I am not a kṣatriya, I am not a vaiśya or a śūdra. Nor am I a brahmacārī, a householder, a vānaprastha or a sannyāsī. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the maintainer of the gopīs.” (Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Madhya-līlā 13.80)

[x] Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.199: nija-priyopaharaṇam

[xi] For example, 3.20.25, which describes that Brahmā ran to Hari – who takes away all problems and bestows all blessings, and who affectionately shows himself to his devotees in a form perfectly suited to their devotion (anugrahāya bhaktānām anurūpātma-darśanam).

[xii] Bhagavatam 1.3.28 (ete cāḿśa-kalāḥ puḿsaḥ kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam)

[xiii] Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 3.1.7

[xiv] Caitanya Caritāmṛta Adi-līlā 1.5: caitanyākhyaṁ prakaṭam adhunā tad-dvayaṁ caikyam āptaṁ

[xv] Garga Saṁhitā 2.2.15. By thus defeating Indra (rain) the enemy (eroder) of mountains, Govardhana did what no other mountain could, and thus earned the title, “Girirāja” (king of hills)

[xvi] Śrī Govardhana-vāsa-prārthana-daśaka, verse 8

[xvii] Śrī Bhāgavata 10.21.18

[xviii] Antya-līlā 14.85-87

[xix] Śrī Bhāgavata 10.24.25

[xx] Śrī Bhāgavatam 1.1.1: dhāmnā svena sadā

[xxi] There is no flaw of selfishness in this, because Krishna manifests his līlā for the sake of sharing his inherent ānanda with multitudes of conscious entities (See Taittirīya Upaniṣad 2.6: so ‘kāmayata bahu syāḿ prajāyeya – “for the sake of pleasure I will become many.”)

[xxii] See, for example, a lecture given by B.V. Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja in Badger, California on May 7, 2001, entitled The Glories of Giriraja Govardhana; and Sri Giri Govardhana Prayers, page 4, by Gaura-govinda Swāmī.

[xxiii] Accordingly, some who practice this approach do not offer the Śila worship Tulasī-mañjarī and Guñja-māla.

[xxiv] Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.1.11

[xxv] See Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 2.1.12-300, especially texts 15 and 16.

[xxvi] Brahma Kanda, 25.16: śivasya śrī-viṣṇor ya iha guṇa-nāmādi-sakalaḿ dhiyā bhinnaḿ paśyet sa khalu hari-nāmāhita-karaḥ.

[xxvii] Quoted in Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.218

[xxviii] Mādhurya Kādambinī, 1.6 & 7

[xxix] Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.4.9

[xxx] Caitanya Caritāmṛta, Adi-Līlā 4.96

[xxxi] Bhatirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.2: kṛti-sādhyā bhavet sādhya-bhāvā sā sādhanābhidhā. nitya-siddhasya bhāvasya prākaṭyaḿ hṛdi sādhyatā.

[xxxii] Bhaktirasāmṛta Sindhu 1.2.294: kṛṣṇaṁ smaran janaṁ cāsya preṣṭhaṁ nija-samīhitam.

This article originally appeared as Vraja Kishor, Govardhana Śila – A Gauḍīya Hallmark:  Original and Modern Approaches, Journal of Vaishnava Studies, Volume 23, issue Number 2, Spring 2015, pages 47-62. Used with permission.

By Vraja Kishor dās

www.VrajaKishor.com

brahmana_performing_fire_sacrifice

When Things Just Don’t Go Right… Leaders Blame You

ŚB 4.13.25 ~ 34

Aṅga was indeed a great philosopher-king, but when he undertook an elaborate horse sacrifice, the gods would not attend no matter how the learned priests tried to summon them. Perplexed, the priests explained to the proponent of the sacrifice, “King Aṅga, the gods do not accept our offerings. They are not impure, we have prepared them with attentive care. Our invocations are properly incanted, they are not chanted by those who are unchaste and unabiding. We don’t know why the divine overseers of all endeavors will not accept their sacrificial shares. We do not seem to have made even the smallest offense to them.”

The proponent of the sacrifice, Aṅga, became very dejected when he heard this. With the permission of his priests, he began to ask them questions.


He asked their permission because the proponent of the sacrifice (the person who seeks a result from the sacrifice) is not normally permitted to speak during the entire ceremony.


“We invite the gods, but they do not come,” he said. “We offer to them, but they do not accept. Oh experts, please tell me frankly, What mistake have I made?


This is pretty glorious. Usually a leader would blame other people when things go wrong. “What’s wrong with you? What are you hiding from me? You must be so stupid that you don’t even realize how stupid you are.” Aṅga was a king, but a philosopher-king. Therefore he behaved with humility. When things went wrong, he assumed it was his fault. This is ideal. Leaders should follow this model.


“God of men,” they replied, “In this life you have not the slightest fault. But a fault from your past life prevents you from gaining the son you hope to gain by performing this ceremony.”


There is no mercy in worldly deeds. Either you have enough money to buy something, or you don’t. Either you deserve something or you don’t. In material consciousness, no one awards anyone anything they do not pay for. Vedic sacrifices are a sophisticated, subtle way of doing something very simple: trying to fulfill basic material needs and desires. In such sacrifices, there is no mercy – there is only payment. If a sacrifice is done properly and the person deserves a reward, it is given by the cosmos and the cosmic controllers, otherwise not. King Aṅga had a very slight disqualification from a previous birth, which prevented the sacrifice from being effective, disqualified him from being “accepted for the loan from the bank of the gods.” These days, definitely none of us would have any hope whatsoever of performing a Vedic sacrifice effectively. Such endeavors are useless.


“Then, is it hopeless for me?” The king would ask.

So they blessed him, “Be blessed to attain the good child you seek!”

“How?” he would ask.

So they explained, “Instead of worshipping the gods, directly take your desire for a son to the ultimate enjoyer of all sacrifice, Hari. He will grant you a son. When you directly worship him, the personification of sacrifice, all the celestial denizens will accept their portions of the sacrificial offerings. Hari grants whatever we desire. The surest way for people to achieve their objectives is to worship him.”


Vedic sacrifices are merciless, but Viṣṇu / Hari is merciful. The experts advised Aṅga to give up trying to achieve his goal on by the karmic-merchantile system of sacrifice, and to instead rely upon the mercy of Viṣṇu.

However, it will be interesting to learn why such a bad son wound up as the result. Stay tuned for that.

– Vraja Kishor dās

www.VrajaKishor.com