Five Questions To Get A Rundown On The Vaishnava Tradition

[Krishna's lotus feet]“A Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian is in all circumstances a servant of someone. The particular type of faith professed is not sanatana-dharma. Sanatana-dharma is the constant companion of the living being, the unifier of all religions. Sanatana-dharma is the rendering of service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Easy Journey To Other Planets, Ch 1)

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1. What religion do you belong to?

I would never refer to it as a religion, as the common use of the term does not apply to sanatana-dharma, which is the real definition of spiritual life. That way of living can only be one, though because of time and circumstance it may manifest in a variety of ways. Some people receive only a rudimentary understanding, as due to their situation this is all they are able to digest at the time.

Others get a more complete explanation, where they learn that the living entity is a spirit soul at the core. That soul is sanatana in its existence, and so are the corresponding properties, dharma. Sanatana-dharma is the eternal way of living for bringing the intrinsic properties of selfless and devotional service to life at the highest level.

2. Who do you worship?

The spirit soul is one spark of the spiritual energy, an amsha coming from a source. That origin is the person worshiped, and He is understood in three distinct ways. Brahman is the formless Absolute, viewed as a kind of singular energy pervading the entire space. Every living thing is also Brahman, as they are an aspect of this energy.

Paramatma is the plenary expansion of the Divine residing within. Thus every person has God inside of them. They are not Him necessarily, but they are like Him and with Him always. Bhagavan is the complete manifestation, commonly described as the Personality of Godhead. He is not limited to a single visual, but He goes by names like Krishna, Rama, and Narasimha.

[Vishnu's avataras]The more generic term, which closely matches to what others may know of the Almighty, is Ishvara. I worship the same person that everyone else does. He is the same person whose existence is denied by the atheists. Everyone is connected to Him in some way, and as they surrender they are rewarded accordingly.

ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते
तांस् तथैव भजाम्य् अहम्
मम वर्त्मानुवर्तन्ते
मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः

ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
mama vartmānuvartante
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ

“All of them-as they surrender unto Me – I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.11)

3. What is your faith?

Faith, known as shraddha in Sanskrit, is a central aspect to the tradition, but sanatana-dharma is an entire culture. It covers every aspect of living, from morning until night, from childhood until old age, from single life to married with children.

A rational human being does not say they have faith in gravity. They do not say that they believe in the sun or that they are afraid of nature. In the same way, the person following principles of sanatana-dharma has a firm understanding of their nature as spirit soul. They strive for the vision of the humble sage, who observes with an equal eye.

विद्या-विनय-सम्पन्ने
ब्राह्मणे गवि हस्तिनि
शुनि चैव श्व-पाके च
पण्डिताः सम-दर्शिनः

vidyā-vinaya-sampanne
brāhmaṇe gavi hastini
śuni caiva śva-pāke ca
paṇḍitāḥ sama-darśinaḥ

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

[Krishna's lotus feet]They know that God is the Supreme Soul, similar in quality to the individuals residing in various bodies but also vastly different due to a lack of vulnerability to illusion. Followers of sanatana-dharma have faith that staying connected to Bhagavan through a mood of devotion, known as bhakti, will produce the proper outcome. Even if the hellish realm is the next destination, there is no fear because the lotus feet of the all-attractive one will remain on the consciousness.

4. What is the name of your God?

Too many names to count, and He is the same God that everyone else knows to some degree. Krishna says that He is all-attractive. Rama says that He holds transcendental pleasure to the fullest extent. Hare describes how He has a feminine side, as well, which is like His energy that provides pleasure. Vishnu means that He is all-pervading and Narayana says that He is the source of all naras, or human beings.

5. Are people condemned to hell if they don’t believe?

Birth in the material world is itself a kind of punishment. Though the root cause is always desire, something like intentionally forgetting that the film playing on the screen is a scripted performance, the outcome is not necessarily preferred.

The reason is that the miserable and temporary nature of this world is not the desired condition. I would rather stay somewhere that I can enjoy forever. I would rather not quit the rupa, or form, that I accepted at some point. These conditions are forced upon me by a nature described as material.

Residence in the hellish realm is a form of punishment for a life of sinful behavior, papa, but even ascending to heaven is not the final destination. Anything material means that there is an end, such as with Lord Brahma, the creator, living for billions of years.

Anyone who is not conscious of the spiritual side of life while quitting the body has to return to the planet of birth and death, mrityu-loka. Thus the importance of culture versus blind faith comes into play. Live your life in such a way that you are always conscious of God the person. This is also known as Vaishnava culture, which is a further refined definition of sanatana-dharma.

आ-ब्रह्म-भुवनाल् लोकाः
पुनर् आवर्तिनो ’र्जुन
माम् उपेत्य तु कौन्तेय
पुनर् जन्म न विद्यते

ā-brahma-bhuvanāl lokāḥ
punar āvartino ’rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

Do bhajana of Vishnu, who is God the person. Pious behavior will be an automatic byproduct. Kindness, compassion, perseverance, fortitude, intelligence and all other good qualities will emerge, and they will be used in the proper direction, for achieving the most auspicious end to life. The devotees of the Supreme Lord never return to this world after quitting the body.

In Closing:

A spot in His realm to earn,

The liberated never to return.

Because conscious of Him to stay,

Real benefit’s only way.

Not like a religion on faith relying,

Where just for afterlife trying.

Sanatana-dharma describing for all,

Way to reverse original fall.

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