Chakra Discussions

Distinction between jiva-tattva and visnu-tattva clarified

by Ananda das

Posted June 4, 2004

Mr. Vohra has cited Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta purports. Some few people practice the chala-dharma of sabda-bhit (irreligion based on word jugglery) -- the habit, for example, of attributing extraordinary importance to Prabhupada's historical correspondence with specific individuals and alleging that one particular letter sent at a particular time, place and circumstance somehow cancels or countermands the specific directions of his life's work -- the translation and commentary upon the sastras, such as Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita and Caitanya-Caritamrta. Such cheaters never prosper and, refreshingly, Mr. Vohra's letter steers well clear of such morbid follies and obsessions.

Disregarding, it seems, my main points (spiritual growth, Vaishnava forgiveness, discernment, the nature of a jiva, and the evolutionary nature of the guru-disciple relationship for both), Mr. Vohra cites a passage (Bhag. 7.7.14, purport) asserting that one should avoid being secluded with a person to whom he or she might become sexually attracted. Of course, as Prabhupada points out, Narada Muni was not a transgressor for providing shelter to Prahlada's mother, nor Haridasa Thakura for preaching to the prostitute who attempted to deviate him from his chanting practice.

Mr. Vohra quotes Prabhupada's commentary on Narada Muni's instructions to Maharaja Yudhisthira (Bhag. 7.15.26-27, purports) to show that the Supreme Lord is never to be considered a human being, and that pleasing one's spiritual master is tantamount to pleasing the Supreme Lord. One should, therefore, honour one's guru as one honours the Supreme Lord (as we daily sing in the Sri Gurvastakam prayers), and strictly follow that guru's spiritual instructions. The acarya becomes transcendental, rising above other, ordinary, human beings through his or her teachings and practice, which, as I wrote in my earlier essay, are "grounded in scholarship -- 'guru, sadhu and sastra'."

I agree with Mr. Vohra that a guru, such as H.H. Satsvarupa Maharaja, cannot be wholly ordinary. Though engaged in ordinary activities, he or she transcends the ordinary by fixedly concentrating on pure devotional service, following the path chalked out by great mahatmas of history. When an accidental error is made, he or she will immediately rectify the error and move on to become liberated from the contaminations of material nature. As Prabhupada writes, "It doesn't matter whether a devotee comes from a brahmana family or non-brahmana family. If he is fully devoted to Krsna, he is a sadhu." (Bhag. 7.15.2, purport).

With determination, one can abandon lust, envy, anger, greed and fear. In this world of conditioned souls, every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. Becoming a devotee, one remains satisfied with his or her position, and strives to satisfy Lord Krsna in all things.

Mr. Vohra quotes another commentary of Srila Prabhupada to warn us that most people of today cannot distinguish between a conditioned soul (who commits mistakes, becomes deluded, has imperfect senses and sometimes cheats others) and a liberated soul (who knows oneself to be a minute separated portion of the Lord and who never forgets His service). Knowing his real position as a representative of Sri Sri Radha Krsna and serving the Divine Couple as instructed by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur, Srila Prabhupada became perfectly liberated. His instructions on spiritual matters, therefore, are perfect. To cast into doubt Srila Prabhupada's spiritual authority is equivalent to disputing the truthfulness of Sri Krsna or the great Mahajanas.

Indeed, even supposing he had led a sinful life, or had had occasional moral failings, which no one alleges, his teachings on spiritual matters would still have been free of error because he always followed his spiritual predecessor authorities and always illustrated every topic with authoritative support from sastra. Srila Prabhupada taught by his life's example. Since Satsvarupa Maharaja follows his guru maharaja and speaks with the authority of sastra, his teachings on spiritual life are perfect, and great good comes from serving him in this mood.

Of course, when Prabhupada spoke on material topics, he was not speaking ex cathedra, that is, with guaranteed inerrancy and official authority. It does not minimise one's spiritual master, or any other sadhu, to declare this simple fact. I will not again belabour the sorts of material mistakes he made from time to time, or again elaborate on the false myths about the material world he perpetuated.

An open-minded person will apply scientific results in forming his perceptions of fact, but one who maintains a theory in ignorance of, or opposition to, clear science voluntarily blocks out the truth. What sort of religion can a person practice which is partly founded on falsity? Mr. Vohra, for example, is an accomplished computer programmer and acknowledged database expert; electronics and computing technologies are dependent on the application of a computer science grounded in mathematics, physics, chemistry and symbolic logic. These are disciplines in which it is important to satisfy oneself that the correct conclusion has been reached, and in which results are derived based on other results derived previously. In short, the scientific method is crucial to his field of employment, and it is important, I think, to clearly differentiate the purview of science from the purview of theology.

Whilst Srila Prabhupada was a sadhu, he was not God, but a jiva. He was, and is, appropriately worshipped within ISKCON on the same level as Sri Krsna, on the same principle that the former Viceroy of India, or the current Governor-General in a Commonwealth country, is offered the honours due to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Making his will nondifferent from Sri Krsna's, he acted as Sri Krsna's deputed agent, and is worthy of appropriate veneration.

I overstated the case in my prior essay when I attempted, in my clumsy fashion, to distinguish between jiva-tattva and visnu-tattva. Whilst the distinction is necessary, my choice of words was infelicitous, and I would withdraw them if I could. In my defence, however, the distinction made was an important one, and a blunt instrument can occasionally be a helpful corrective where a subtler one might have been overlooked. I emphasised Srila Prabhupada's human-ness, not out of envy or in an attempt to minimise my guru's extraordinary and very real accomplishments, but as an antidote to those who persist in deifying him and to those who declare that the disciplic succession has somehow come to an end after him.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia declares, "Submission to infallible authority implies no abdication of reason, nor does it impose any undue check on the believer's freedom to pursue inquiry..." Srila Prabhupada would have been disappointed indeed, had his worldwide society generated only dogma-spewing automatons incapable of independent thought and action in the service of Sri Krsna. It must be highly satisfying to him that many of his properly initiated disciples -- such as Satsvarupa Maharaja, Hrdayananda Maharaja, Jayapataka Maharaja, the late Tamal Krsna Maharaja, Sridhar Maharaja and Jayananda das, Gopiparanadhana dasa, Urmila dasi, Jadurani dasi and many, many others -- have carried on his mission with scholarship, introspection and timeless spiritual practice, and that the disciplic succession continues among those disciples and grand-disciples.

At the end of his letter, Mr. Vohra quotes Srila Prabhupada's commentary on Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's explanation that, in obeyance to the command of His spiritual master, He constantly chanted Hare Krsna instead of engaging in meditation or Vedantic study (Cc. Adi 7.72, purport). Whilst Prakasananda Saraswati considered the sankirtan movement a company of "fanatics" and only appropriate for "lower-class people", Srila Prabhupada cites sastra to show that such low-class people must, in a previous life, have executed penances, performed sacrifices and studied the Vedas in order to develop their taste for congregational chanting.

Sahajiyas envious of Krsna have no interest in authentic literature such as Sripada Baladeva Vidyabhusana's commentary on the Brahma-sutras and, Prabhupada declares, consider the acaryas to be "mixed devotees". That term means devotional service mixed with karma, jnana or yoga (See Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.27.27 and 10.10.20-22, purports). Certainly no member of ISKCON would place Srila Prabhupada in the category of a "mixed devotee". I do not follow Mr. Vohra's logic in placing me in the sahajiyacategory, however. Nor do I understand why he apparently thinks I believe Srila Prabhupada not to have been a pure devotee. Such seeming errors, however, only slightly mar Mr. Vohra's presentation of Srila Prabhupada's purports.