“Lord Chaitanya has said that in this age no one needs to change his position, but one should give up the endeavor to understand the Absolute Truth by speculative reasoning. One should learn to become the servant of those who are in knowledge of the Supreme Lord. If one is fortunate enough to take shelter of a pure devotee, hear from him about self-realization and follow in his footsteps, he will be gradually elevated to the position of a pure devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 13.26 Purport)
Separate and equal. Simultaneous oneness and difference. This is the philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a spiritual teacher from the medieval period in India whose glories and influence continue to expand to this day. Others had described the true position of the individual, who is spirit soul, in varying levels of detail, but Chaitanya descended to this world to give the final word.
The Sanskrit term for the philosophy is achintya-bhedabheda-tattva. The Vedas go beyond blind faith, acceptance of a savior for no reason other than inherited family traditions. The human birth brings the highest potential for intelligence. The idea is to use discrimination to the fullest. Bring every doubt to the table. Ask every question and spend some time considering the answers, which are provided by elevated souls who are acknowledged to be realized.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
That is the only path that brings perfection. Any other effort to understand the mysteries of life is put into the category of mental speculation. Upon agreeing to accept a disciple, the spiritual master warns against this flawed path. Mental speculation may be useful for filling airtime on television when discussing politics or sports, but for understanding the origin of everything the practice is something like guessing what paintings are hanging on the walls in a dark, unlit room.
Not until the light is turned on will there be certainty. Prior to that, each person’s guess is as good as the next’s. In this regard, when lacking the Divine light shone by the realized soul, speculative reasoning leads to some common misconceptions about God and man’s relationship to Him.
1. He is old
The fourfold miseries of life are birth, old age, disease and death. The concept of “old” is relative. A rock band released three albums in four years. When on tour supporting the fourth album they ask the crowd, “Do you guys want to hear some old stuff,” referencing songs from the first album. In fact, those songs are only four years old. Later on the same band plays songs that are ten years old, from their most recent album, and make no mention of the gap in time.
Aging starts from the time of birth. In one sense the birthday marks the amount of time a person has died. A seventy year old person has died seventy years; they are marching closer to inevitable death.
As old age afflicts every person that we know, surely it must be the same with God. Since He was purportedly around at the beginning of the creation, He must be the oldest person. Therefore some visible signs of aging must be there. We know that old people tend to get cranky more easily and often. Hence the imagined image of God as an old, vindictive man, with a long beard, watching disapprovingly from above.
2. He is dead
When someone leaves us, we never get to speak with them again. The only thing remaining are the memories. Perhaps some recorded sound and video, but interaction is not possible. It is one of the harshest realities of life: those most dear to us will one day be gone.
Since we can’t make a phone call to God or find His address online, it must mean that He doesn’t exist. Perhaps people conceived of Him as a way to cope with the aforementioned realities of life. It’s faith, after all. Just believe. Don’t look for evidence. Take strength from your faith. Take comfort.
But don’t try to fool me. I know He doesn’t exist. Moreover, society is succeeding in gradually diminishing His influence. It seems like He is dead now. Man is still eating. They are still enjoying. They don’t have to follow this religion or that. They don’t have to go to church. They don’t have to pray.
3. I am God
Vedic literature provides some justification for this speculative conclusion, but it is only half the truth. The terms abheda and advaita indicate the lack of duality or division. The spirit soul is one with God. The qualities are the same: eternality, bliss and knowledge.
This must mean that I am God. So are you. We are all God; we just don’t know it. One day we will become Brahman realized and merge back together. Until then, don’t worry about stuff. We should go about serving mankind. Let us serve nature. That will bring peace and prosperity. More happy people means a more pleasant experience through the cycle of birth and death. The population is like the clay pot that has shattered into pieces. Each piece equally represents the pot. One day the pieces will come back together and the pot will be whole again.
4. God gave us this life to enjoy
What kind of God would want His children to suffer? Why would He want them to limit enjoyment, especially when there is great abundance on earth? Animals are to be under the care of humans, right? What is the harm in eating them, then? There is nothing wrong with indulging in intoxicants every now and then. Without gambling what will we do to pass the time? We are here now. We believe in Him. Let us enjoy the gift of life. We will ascend to heaven in the afterlife.
As mentioned previously, without consulting authority one person’s speculation is as valid as another’s. The formula provided by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is to hear from realized souls. That determination is ultimately made at the individual level, for there are cheaters everywhere. The effect of proper hearing is that the erroneous conclusions borne of speculative reasoning are removed.
The realized souls tell us that God is nava-yauvanam, or always fresh and new. His body never ages beyond the teenage years, and even prior the aging is not of the type we know. It is something like different images being shown at different periods of time. There is no difference between spirit and body for God.
“I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.9)
Since God is all-attractive, one name for Him is Krishna. As He reveals in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna is the life of everything that lives. He is the very definition of an existence. Thus He can never be dead. Nor is He ever born. He is present through the expansion of Supersoul, or Paramatma. He hears and sees everything. The proper consciousness is required in order to notice His presence. A person sitting in a dark, windowless room thinks that the sun doesn’t exist, but their viewpoint is flawed. Once they leave the room they can get proof.
Advaita says that we are similar to God, but that understanding is only half the truth. We are similar, but different at the same time. We are non-dual in the sense that nothing can be completely separated from God. The hand is part of my body, my existence, but my hand doesn’t represent who I am. The many sparks of the Brahman energy come from God, but they are not God directly.
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
Krishna wants us to enjoy, as bliss is inherent to the soul’s constitutional makeup. The means of that enjoyment is known only to the realized souls. What we typically consider to be enjoyment is actually forgetfulness. Those activities are different ways to sink deeper into ignorance, which keeps Krishna far away. Real enjoyment is entering the eternal engagement that is devotional service. This involves serving both God and His servants, and the bliss only continues to expand.
The ignorance only to expand,
Never properly to understand.
When truth through speculation seeking,
Erroneous conclusions reaching.
Like God old since so long been around,
Or maybe dead, never to be found.
In fact always fresh and new,
Same as us, but vastly different too.
Categories: the four