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February 16, 1999   VNN3063  

With The Help Of The Demons


EDITORIAL, Feb 16 (VNN) — (from Sanga wfd@efn.org)

Some time ago I met a young girl born of Vaisnava parents. She said to me, "I don't believe in Krishna." "Why not?" I replied. "Because he does all of those impossible things, killing demons and all." "Oh, so you do believe in God," I responded. "What do you mean?" she said with a puzzled look. I explained that the very fact that she acknowledged there were laws that could not be broken was indicitave of her faith. Good logic for junior high school. Laws we all accept, acknowledging thereby a superior controlling agency. From here the discussion shifts into another gear determining the nature of that agency. Not everyone will accept the logic of the Vaishnavas which leads to Krishna, but still most common people accept that such an agency indeed exists. This kind of faith is called 'laukika sraddha', while the faith that assures one that the controlling agency is the transcendental cowherder is known as 'aprakrta sraddha'.

'Laukika' means ordinary. 'Aprakrta' means that which appears ordinary yet is not so. The nara-lila, or humanlike pastimes of Sri Krishna, are difficult to understand. This is especially so of those pastimes he performs with his gopis. In these love sports with his maidens, we find little that would lead us to believe that this young lad and his girl friends (many of whom are the wives of others) are worshippable. Yet prior to Krishna's meeting with the gopis in the dead of night, the Bhagavata tells of his extraordinary feats, killing demon after demon. These superhuman feats are not ordinary. This is so much so that we are lead to dismiss them altogether. Yet in doing so the demons within our own hearts live on, and the truth and beauty of madhurya rasa remains concealed - aprakrta sraddha will not awaken.

A few words in praise of the demons is thus quite appropriate. They do much to indirectly promote the transcendental truth of the aprakrta-lila. Sage Narada has glorified them thus:

yatha vairanubandhena martytas tan-mayatam iyat na tatha bhakti-yogena iti me niscita matih

"In my opinion, even devotees (like me) cannot attain such intense absorption in God as can those who think of him in enmity (like Sisupala)." (Bhag. 7.1.27) No doubt Narada is underrating himself here, but demons such as Sisupala, Dantavakra, Kamsa, and others have by their preoccupation with the Lord done much to bring out his glory.

To approach Sri Krishna in the way in which Sriman Mahaprabhu has recommended is simple but not easy. Within 'suddha-bhakti', pure devotion, there are many gradations of transcendental experience. 'Madhurya rasa', in which the devotee has absolutely no concern for himself, is the zenith of spiritual attainment. It is more than suddha-bhakti, it is 'prema-bhakti' and the best of prema as well. How will we reach this goal? How will we even appreciate that it is indeed the goal? Bhaktivinoda Thakura has shown us the way in his analysis of the catuh-sloki of the Bhagavata. He recommends we take help from the demons.

In the concluding verse of Krishna's instruction to Brahma (Bhag.2.9.36), which forms the basis for the Bhagavata, Krishna tells Brahma to both directly and indirectly search out his ultimate prospect in life, 'anvaya-vyatirekabhyam yat syat sarvatra sarvada'. In the opening stanza of the culmination of his life's work, the great and noble Vyasa utters the same, 'anvayad itaratah'. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has suggested that 'vyatirekabhyam', indirectly, means that in order to reach the goal of madhurya rasa we must first cleanse our heart of 'anarthas' (impediments).

How shall we do so? Not by any other method than devotional service, for only bhakti begets bhakti, 'bhaktya sanjataya bhaktya'.

Nothing can cause bhakti other than bhakti herself. If this were not so, bhakti's independent nature as the 'svarupa sakti' of Bhagavan, who is himself independent (svarat), would be compromised. Yet bhakti develops within the heart in progressive stages, from 'sadhana-bhakti' to 'bhava-bhakti' to 'prema-bhakti'. In sadhana-bhakti we find the stage of 'bhajana-kriya', devotional practice ordained by the guru. It is in this stage that the task of overcoming anarthas begins. With the higher goal in mind, Thakura Bhaktivinoda recommends that we discuss the lilas of Sri Krishna in which he kills the demons in Vrindavana.

It may be unbelievable that such demons exist, but it would be hard to deny the existence of the anarthas within ourselves that they symbolize. Here a question arises. Are the demons in Krishna lila merely symbolic representations of the demons within our hearts or do they actually exist as Putana, Baka, Agha, and so on? If they are but symbolic, can not the same then be said of Krishna's lilas with the gopis? What then do those lilas represent? Does the person Krishna represent a philosophical principle upon realizing which his personhood vanishes? These are important questions.

One should not doubt the eternal transcendental existence of Radha-Krishna.

My Gurudeva Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was fond of insisting that all of the lilas of Krishna be taken only literally. Yet is this what he himself did? How could he do so and at the same time recommend the writings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who has sometimes indicated the opposite in books like Sri Krishna Samhita? As a preaching tactic he may have done so or for that matter perhaps this was the intention of Thakura Bhaktivinoda. We can be sure of one thing: the lilas of the Lord are quite different from that which we can imagine in the early stages of sadhana-bhakti.

As Sri Krishna can hardly be fully represented in art, nor if he could would it be possible to appreciate fully his transcendental beauty with our material eye ('atah sri-krsna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih'), so even the writing of Vyasa has its limitation, 'srutibhir vimrgyam'. Brahman cannot be described in words (entirely), yet much can be said about him, 'iksater na asabdam' (Vedanta-sutra 1.1.5). We rely upon such descriptions and the 'bhakti rahasya', the mystery of bhakti, to attain comprehensive understanding of the absolute.

The reasoning behind Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's insistence on a literal understanding of Krishna lila should be clear. Although Krishna lila can serve as a metaphor for a political worldview, (Ghandi's Gita ) a psychological worldview (Jung's Gita ), or any number of other scenarios, these are of considerably less consequence than the Gita 'as it is'.

By 'as it is' Srila Prabhupada meant as Krishna intended. Just as one may speak yet be misunderstood by those who do not know the speaker very well, so Krishna has been misunderstood by many who have dabbled in translating the text of his converstion with Arjuna yet have not taken the time or means to know him. I may say something in jest and be misunderstood by those who do not know my light-hearted nature, while my friends will understand well the spirit behind my speech. Knowing the speaker and the contextual framework from which he or she speaks is more important than knowing the language one speaks.

Who knows Krishna? He is known by his devotee alone, 'bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yas casmi tattvatah'. And who has the 'adhikara' to know him in devotion? One who has attained 'para bhakti' - 'brahma-bhutah prasannatma... mad-bhaktim labhate param' - one who has become free from anarthas. To the extent that we are troubled by anarthas, we cannot appreciate the transcendental reality of the personhood of Godhead. When prema is attained, all anarthas are removed and in a suitable body we can experience Sri Krishna directly.

The material body is not suitable for the experience of prema, in which the beauty, aroma, sound, touch, and taste of Krishna are revealed successively, requiring suitable receptacles in order that they can be assimilated by the soul. Spiritual senses are interchangeable like the Lord's. Thus when he reveals his beauty, all of one's newly acquired spiritual senses turn into eyes to capture the essence of his beauty. When he reveals his scent, the senses and mind all turn into noses, and so with all of the transcendental suprasensual affairs of prema rasa: a suitable spiritual body is required to experience the spiritual reality of Sri Krishna.

Political, psychological, sociological, and other worldviews have little value for the transcendentalist - the realist if you will. Those who are filled with material desire, however, will gravitate more readily towards these worldviews, closer to our material conditioning as they are. Symbolic interpretations of Krishna lila aimed at improving our understanding of the human condition usually lead us to believe this condition is all in all.

Thus such interpretations miss the point of Krishna lila altogether. Such interpretations, however, may be of relative value if the greater picture of the soul is not obscured by the shadow of mundane human concerns. The personhood of Godhead, while considered by most to be a mere myth, is very real, as real as our own soul.

Srila Prabhupada's insistence upon avoiding symbolic interpretations of Krishna lila was thus important. Without such, this ultimate reality could easily disappear, as it has in the numerous translations of the Gita that seek to bring out the 'deeper meaning' of the text. What could be deeper than the reality of the Personality of Godhead, who is both in all places at all times and moves about from place to place performing carefree pastimes? That which is inconceivable to ordinary people is as much so to the great thinkers who cannot accommodate a Brahman that is both immanent and transcendent at the same time, 'acintya-bhedabheda'. Yet this is what the Gaudiya Vaisnavas proclaim.

kam prati kathayitum ise samprati ko va pratitim ayatu go-pati-tanaya-kunje gopa-vadhuti-vitam brahma

"To whom can I speak; who will believe me when I say that Krishna, the Supreme Brahman, is hunting for the gopis in the bushes along the banks of the Yamuna? In this way the Lord performs his pastimes." (Padyavali 99)

At the same time, it is important to acknowlede the symbolism of the Bhagavata, for it speaks to us of the philosophical principles that each lila represents. Without understanding these philosophical points, one will forever remain a neophyte, a 'kanistha-adhikari'. By grasping the important philosophical points of the lila and assimilating them into one's life of devotional sadhana, it is possible in time to experience the transcendental reality of those lilas, represented in part by both the Bhagavata's poetic verse and the commentaries of the rasika-bhaktas, 'bhaktya bhagavatam grahyam na buddhya na ca tikaya'. Only by applying these principles in our sadhana will our bhakti be devotion, 'sruti-smrti-puranadi-pancaratra-vidhim vina aikantiki harer bhaktir utpatayaiva kalpate'. Religion without knowledge is mere sentiment turning to fanaticism. The last thing we need are 'Krishna Fundamentalists.'

Unfortunately, fundamentalism does express itself in all branches of religious and secular life. The world is not black or white - or so we are told, for if you talk to most people, you might think otherwise. Black and white Vaisnavism has been addressed by Bhaktivinoda Thakura in his Sri Krishna Samhita. The Thakura has used the term 'bhara-vahi' (lit. who carries a heavy load) to describe those Vaisnavas who identify more with the surface of the trancscendental precepts of Sri Caitanya than with their essence. For bhara-vahi Vaisnavas, whose ranks reach up into the intermediate bhaktas (madhyama-adhikaris), Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote his Sri Krishna Samhita, as he did as well for those outside of India's familiarity with Vaishnava dharma.

Bhara-vahi Vaishnavas must become 'sara-grahi' Vaishnavas, or essential Vaishnavas. They must give up the heavy load of anarthas that is holding them back from love of Godhead. Relevant to our discussion, in Sri Krishna Samhita Bhaktivinoda has elaborately described the eighteen demons of vraja-lila symbolically. Each of the demons represent anarthas within the hearts of the sadhakas, which must be eliminated if the sadhakas are to advance to bhava and ultimately prema-bhakti.

With less elaboration, he has emphasized the same in his Sri Caitanya Siksamrta thus: "The conduct of Sri Krishna is twofold, i.e. eternal and occasional. In Goloka, eternal conduct and astakaliya-lila exist at all times. In Bhauma Vrindavana that astakaliya-lila is mixed with the occasional lilas. Going from Vraja and returning and killing asuras are occasional lilas... For aspirants, occasional lilas, which are adverse to eternal lila, have been manifested for instruction. Aspirants should pray that those lilas will destroy their own evil." Impediments on the path of suddha-bhakti are many. Only the diligent and introspective sadhaka will be able to surmount these obstacles, invoking as such sadhana-bhakti does, the grace of God.

Sukadeva Goswami has concluded his description of the rasa-lila with an important verse (Bhag. 10.33.39) to guide the sadhaka along this esoteric path,

vikriditam vraja-vadhubhir idam ca visnoh sraddhanvito 'nusrnuyad atha varnayed yah bhaktim param bhagavati pratilabhya kamam hrd-rogam asv apahinoty acirena dhirah

Here Sukadeva has described the efficacy of hearing about Sri Krishna's rasa-lila and his pastimes in general. In doing so he has used the name Vishnu rather than Krishna to help us appreciate the fact that these are the pastimes of God. By using the name Vishnu he has also indicated that indirect cultivation of para bhakti, via discussion of those pastimes in which the demons are killed, is the appropriate course. Sri Jiva Goswami has also indirectly confirmed this in his commentary stressing as he has the word 'dhirah', sense controlled. Only one who is sense controlled, having cleansed his or her heart to some extent can, upon discussing the rasa-lila, be further freed from all remaining traces of kama, or material desire.

'Kama' means lust and kama also means desire in general. If one is not committed to conquering lust, hearing these pastimes can have the opposite effect of increasing lusty desire. Sukadeva says further that faith derived from hearing from the guru-parampara is required for such hearing. This is aprakrta sraddha. If having attained some standing in bhakti (prati-labhya), by proper connection with the 'srota-pantha' and discussion of the occasional lilas, we hear regularly rasa-lila with faith, all remaining traces of lust in the heart (anarthas) will be destroyed.

Sri Caitanya's lila, like Krishna lila, is similarly two-sided. As the Visnu within svayam-bhagavan killed Putana and svayam-bhagavan himself gave her vatsalya rasa, the yuga avatara Sri Caitanya delivered people from their demoniac tendencies and Mahaprabhu (Radha and Krishna combined) bestowed unparelleled prema. Through nama-sankirtana our inner demons will be destroyed, and thus our hearts cleansed to continue the cultivation of love of God. In the words of Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami,

ataeve visnu takhana krsnera sarire visnu-dvare kare krsna asura-samhare anusanga-karma ei asura-marana ye lagi' avatara, kahi se mula karana

"Therefore it is Visnu who is present within the body of Krishna through whom he kills the demons. Thus killing the demons is but secondary work.

Now I shall speak of the main reason for Sri Caitanya's descent." (C.c. Adi 4.13-14)

Here Krsnadasa Kaviraja has told us that Sri Caitanya's preaching campaign is the indirect, or secondary, cause of his descent. Killing the demons within is an incidental yet necessary element in the cultivation of Love of God. The bestowal of love of God in the course of experiencing the same is the primary reason for Mahaprabhu's appearance.

Had Sriman Mahaprabhu not appeared in the world, no one would have ever known about the superexcellence of madhurya rasa in manjari bhava. By his grace we can find the secret path to Krishna lila. We are to appreciate even the demons along the way, knowing that the only enemy is ourself. If you can believe this, you too can do the impossible, the wonderful. It is not that Krishna's killing of the demons is wonderful and therefore hard to believe. That God can do wonderful things is a given. Laws are made (by him) to be broken (by him and his kind). But that he will do ordinary things, such as become one's intimate friend and even lover, is most wonderful indeed. Such may look ordinary, but it is not - aprakrta. That wonder we can know only by the grace of Sri Chaitanya and his intimate associates in the guru parampara.

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