June 12, 2003 VNN8129 About the AuthorOther Stories by this Author
Black And White To Shades Of Gray
BY SWAMI B.V. TRIPURARI
EDITORIAL, Jun 12 (VNN) Q & A with Swami B. V. Tripurari
"It is important for neophytes to advance from a literal understanding of Krsna lila to one that acquaints them with its philosophical underpinning and practical insight intended to nourish their practice. This may be disconcerting to them because they must move from black and white to many shades of gray."
Q. Regarding your Sanga on the war in Iraq you wrote: "Based on the teachings of the Gita, it seems justifiable in the current world situation to take steps to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and to free those living under the tyranny and torture of Saddam Hussein, if indeed Iraq has such weapons and its people are suffering from horrendous violations of human rights under Saddam's reign. The Gita opines that, should diplomacy fail, violent means are justifiable."
This sacrilegious attempt to justify the United States' aggression against another country is obscene, especially when you claim to support your position on the teachings of the Gita. It is particularly worrisome when someone who has not experienced the calamities of war sits behind a desk and writes about the 'moral' duty to use violence.
You should ask yourself, in front of the overwhelming evidence, did Saddam Hussein pose a real threat in terms of weapons of mass destruction? After 20 days of the U.S. military massively destroying Iraq, they haven't been able to find a single chemical or biological munitions, let alone the numerous caches that allegedly existed. Also, were the Iraqis calling on the United States to 'liberate' them? Add to that, were all diplomatic venues exhausted? Most leaders around the world think not.
It is regretful that someone who claims to represent the teachings of the Gita would serve as a mouthpiece of the Bush administration and corporate interests of the U.S. You will share their karma for having been such a disgraceful representative of Krsna.
A. It is telling that the quote from my article that you prefaced your email with is separated from its context. By quoting selectively as you have, you make it appear that I supported the war and that I believe that the Gita does as well. You would do well to go back and reread my entire article. In that article I stated that the war was justified only if all attempts at diplomacy had failed, Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and planned to use them in acts of terrorism, and he was engaged in horrendous human rights violations. I also stated that should diplomacy not have been exhausted, etc. that the position of the US was contrary to dharma. It is up to the reader to decide what the truths on these issues are but from a religious point of view the position of the Bhagavad-gita is one that supports qualified violence in instances where diplomacy fails.
Unfortunately, at least from your email, it appears that you lack the objectivity to learn something from an article that addresses a subject in which your own opinion is questioned and your viewpoint is fixed. Fine, but the particular position that you have taken is as factually unverifiable as that of those in opposition to it. Time will tell us more, but you might want to prepare yourself in case weapons of mass destruction are found, and it does appear that at least some Iraqis are grateful for the United States' military intervention.
Q. I read that someone who thinks about a woman at the time of death attains the body of a woman yet in the Bhagavatam it says that Maharaja Agnidhra was thinking about a woman in the time of his death but instead he went to Pitrloka to enjoy her. Can you explain something about this contradiction?
A. Thinking of a woman at the time of death does not necessarily mean that a person will take birth as a woman in their next life. Such an explanation suffers from the defect of being overly broad. The idea that one will attain a birth based upon what one thinks about at the time of death is mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita. However, under scrutiny it is clear that Krsna is speaking about the state of consciousness one is in at the time of death, more than merely a passing thought, as the determining cause for the type of body one takes in their next life.
Sage Agnidhra was spiritually advanced, and although he degraded himself in the association of a woman, his attraction for her did not erase the spirituality that he had attained previously. He was an extraordinary person even when appearing as a man overly attached to a particular woman.
Furthermore, it is not mentioned that he thought of this woman at the time of death, but rather that he thought of her day after day, evanudinam adhi-manyamanas tasyah.
Daily mental preoccupation has much to do with what one will think of at the time of death. Therefore, it is possible that he was thinking of her at that time, but if this was actually so or in exactly which way he may have thought about her, we cannot say.
Q. I read that a divya yuga is approximately three million years. In the Bhagavatam it says that Maharaja Bharata ruled over Bharata-varsa for ten million years and that the kingdom of was prosperous for all those ten million years. I calculated that if this were true his reign would have extended into Kali yuga, the present time of degradation. How am I to understand this?
A: A divya yuga consists of 4,300,000 years. The words varsa-ayuta-sahasra used to describe Bharata's life of material prosperity, while literally meaning 10,000,000, can be interpreted as poetic license for "a long, long time." Do not be overly concerned with the literal accuracy of dates and numbers when studying Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Q. Over and again I hear from senior devotees the necessity for taking the scriptures literally. However, I find that due to the strength of the mind and intellect that this is not possible for me. I have faith in God and can accept that with God anything is possible and if Krsna is in fact God, then nothing is beyond his capabilities. Still I cannot accept literally that God is a blue boy holding up a mountain on his little finger.
I have no way of proving to the full satisfaction of my intellect that this either is or is not fact. But it seems to me that the only progress I have made in spiritual life has come about when I stopped trying to accept everything literally and began seeking the essential message underlying these seemingly impossible tales.
How then am I to reconcile this stressing of the literal, which left me devoid of faith and seriously in danger of rejecting everything, with my seemingly speculative approach, which has served to increase my faith and desire to understand the nature of God?
A. Everything in scripture is not to be taken literally. However, Krsna lila is an ontological reality. His complexion is syama and he is the lifter of Govardhana Hill. Still, there are three levels of scriptural understanding and they can be applied to Krsna lila as well as the entirety of scripture: literal (according to the letter), connotative (implied philosophical content), and interpretive (rasika).
There is considerable value in emphasizing a literal approach in the beginning because this can help give the student something to grab hold of and through corresponding practice he can gain experience. Without this experience, in the name of looking for deeper meaning one may lose sight of the most esoteric reality presented in scripture: the fact that Krsna is the heart of the Absolute, replete with form, qualities, and transcendental pastimes (lila). Reality is a person.
As a person becomes an experienced devotee in terms of inner life, he can draw implied philosophical insight from scriptural narratives of Krsna lila and apply this in his practice. For example, when reading the Damodara lila such a devotee can understand that among other things the philosophical implication of Mother Yasoda's rope being two inches too short in her effort to bind Krsna is that his form is unlimited, even while appearing to be of a particular size. Thus we learn that the Absolute is everywhere and simultaneously in one place. In other words, this lila demonstrates the metaphysic of acintya bhedabheda, which in turn, when studied carefully, offers reasonable ground for the necessity of Krsna lila, as opposed to advaitavada which reasons against the eternal reality of Krsna lila.
Through this kind of connotative reading of scripture, a devotee begins to find his way onto the canvas on which the art of Krsna lila is drawn. He can find philosophical lessons within the lila that he learns to apply in his spiritual practice. A devotee who can read the scripture in this way realizes that Krsna lila is filled with wisdom that is integral to the experience of entering into the love surrounding Krsna's pastimes. These pastimes are not merely stories. They are reality, and thus filled with wisdom capable of dismantaling the empire of our mind.
These pastimes are not what they seem at first glance, nor even what neophyte devotees think they are as they try to convince others of their factual existence. Such neophytes are not wrong to try to share their understanding, but they are wrong to think that their understanding is complete. They need to associate with advanced devotees who are expert in drawing out the philosophical meanings from the narratives and explaining them such that neophytes can progress under their tutelage.
It is important for neophytes to advance from a literal understanding of Krsna lila to one that acquaints them with its philosophical underpinning and practical insight intended to nourish their practice. This may be disconcerting to them because they must move from black and white to many shades of gray. A black and white understanding is valuable to a point, but one who clings to such an understanding when it is time to move ahead will often become proud and in that condition his progress may be hindered or stopped altogether. On the other hand, entering the gray area of a connotative reading of scripture engenders humility in the face of the depth of the subject. Therefore, despite the blurring of black and white, this entrance brings the heart into harmony with the intellect, which in turn fosters another type of inner certainty, one with increasing humility.
In this way, one becomes fixed to go the distance and to some extent help others.
As one applies the tattva, or metaphysical truth, drawn from Krsna lila into one's life, one moves in the direction of being able to read the scripture interpretively. When one reaches this stage one's heart is sympathetic to the lila. Such a devotee can feel the scripture. He can experience the lila. His interpretations of the lila are the most valuable jewels of his realization that he shares with us a glimpse into his own heart. Such a devotee is fully qualified to lead others.
Again, the lila of Krsna is an ontological reality, and the Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas have gone to great lengths to explain the philosophical and theological necessity for its being so. Moreover, they have exhibited wonderful spiritual qualities and led undeniably ecstatic lives as a result of meditating on Syamasundara, the black beauty of Vraja. His black (syama) form is the color of love, and his beauty and that of his lila is the inexplicable experience of absolute self-giving, which is only possible when centered on the perfect object of love--Krsna. Oh! What possibility lies in the properly centered self-giving that leads to the absolute self-forgetfulness we call Krsna lila. Only in this experience can we have acquaintance with satyam and sivadam ruled by sundaram sac-cid-ananda-rupaya.
Indeed, the narrative of Krsna lila is the best possible explanation how experience of absolute self-giving plays itself out, one that can silence the intellect, especially when it is explained connotatively or by one with a sympathetic heart for it, even if such a devotee explains it literally.
Intellect is a mere reflection of light that has no capacity on its own to shed light on the self-luminous soul, what to speak of Krsna, the very light of lights--purna brahma sanatanam paramanandam-- the friend of the cowherds of Vraja headed by Nanda Maharaja.
Your question is good and I assume submitted sincerely, but I cannot do complete justice to it in this format. If you are seriously interested in resolving this issue such that you can be free to pursue love of Krsna, I invite you to visit with me at Audarya, my monastery in Northern California, where I will take the time to discuss this with you at greater length.
Questions or comments may be submitted at the Q&A Forum
http://www.swami.org/sanga/or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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