The Holiday Festival
A talk by Giriraj Swami in Ojai, California, 2001
Posted December 23, 2002


Mother Urvasi called tonight's occasion The Holiday Festival. Of course, the main holidays in the Western world now are Christmas and Hanukkah. As Srila Prabhupada has explained, the Lord comes into the world to enlighten people with transcendental knowledge. Sometimes He comes personally, and sometimes He sends His son or His prophet or His messenger or His representative, but they all come with the same message. They may speak in different languages according to the circumstances and the audience, but the essence of the message they bring is the same: that God is great, and we are but small parts and parcels of Him, meant to serve Him with love and return to Him.

When we spoke here on the occasion of Krishna Janmastami, we read one verse and purport from Bhagavad-gita, which I shall read from now in relation to the holidays people in the West are about to celebrate:

"The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara." [Caitanya Caritamrta, Madhya 20.263-264]

"There are various kinds of avataras, such as purusavataras, gunavataras, lilavataras, saktyavesa avataras, manvantara-avataras and yugavataras-all appearing on schedule all over the universe. But Lord Krsna is the primeval Lord, the fountainhead of all avataras. Lord Sri Krsna descends for the specific purpose of mitigating the anxieties of the pure devotees, who are very anxious to see Him in His original Vrndavana pastimes." (Bhagavad-gita 4.8 purport)

Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada, has opined that Jesus Christ is a saktyavesa avatara. As we just read, avatara means one who descends. So he accepted that Jesus Christ descended from above to the earth. That is "avatara." And "saktyavesa" means one who carries the power of the Lord. So he accepted that Jesus Christ descended on earth with the power of the Lord to preach the message of Godhead. And Jesus Christ preached more or less the same message as Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita. Sometimes people would ask Srila Prabhupada about Jesus, and Srila Prabhupada would reply that Jesus said that he was the son of God, and in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says that He is the father of all living entities, so there is no contradiction.

In fact, Jesus Christ played the part of a spiritual master, or guru. The spiritual master teaches the science of Godhead, and when a disciple surrenders to a spiritual master, the spiritual master accepts the disciple's sinful reactions. So Jesus Christ performed the same function in relation to his followers or disciples, and he accepted their sinful reactions. Sometimes Christians quote the verse, "There is no way to the Father except through me." Of course, the verse is a little controversial in learned circles-whether the verse is authentic or was interpolated. But in any case, Srila Prabhupada took the truth in the verse to be that one cannot approach the Lord directly: One can approach the Lord only through the spiritual master. Thus, "There is no way to the Father except through me" is taken to mean that one can approach the Lord only through the Lord's representative.

As far as the idea that Jesus Christ accepted the sins, or sinful reactions, of his followers, Srila Prabhupada expressed one concern: The followers should refrain from sin. They should consider, "Oh, if I sin, my spiritual master will have to suffer," or Christians in particular may consider, "If I sin, then Jesus Christ will have to suffer for me, so I should not commit sin." That should be the basic sense. Not "Oh, I can go on sinning and poor Jesus will suffer for me."

So we accept Jesus as a saktyavesa avatara, as an incarnation of Krishna. And Christmas should be a time when we remember the teachings of Jesus Christ, the mercy of Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice he made for us. And we should resolve to be better followers, better servants of God and God's representatives, and of all humankind and all living beings.

Hanukkah is also an important festival, coming from the Jewish tradition. Different festivals take place in different seasons and have different significances. Hanukkah is a winter festival, and winter is a dark season, when the sun sets early and rises late. Hanukkah is the festival of light. Historically, the ancient temple in Jerusalem had been seized and desecrated, but eventually, with great courage and sacrifice, the Jews won it back. They wanted to clean and purify the temple to make it fit for the worship of the Lord. The worship included a flame that was sustained by sanctified oil, to be maintained at all times. But when the Maccabees regained the temple, they found only one flask of the priestly oil, enough to burn for only one day. Still, they lit the great temple lamp, or menorah, and, according to the story, the oil burned for eight days, until they could get more. So the miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil, which was sufficient to last only one day, burned for eight days, time enough to obtain more of the purified oil.

Figuratively, the temple is the heart. Cleaning the temple means cleaning one's heart of the many dirty things that accumulate there by material association. The dirt includes the false identification with the body and material desires for the gratification of the body's senses and mind, independent of God's sanction and God's service. And, figuratively, the light is transcendental knowledge, or consciousness of God, which illuminates the heart and dispels the darkness of ignorance.

Just as the year has its cycles, we also pass through phases. We wish we could always be fully God conscious, but practically we may find cycles in our spiritual lives, periods of increased devotion to God interspersed with periods of increased preoccupation with other matters. So the Hanukkah festival, the lighting of the candle or the burning of the lamp, means brightening our hearts with God consciousness or Krishna consciousness - rededicating the temple of the heart and rekindling the light of God or devotion to God within the heart.

In such devotional activities we require help, because each of us alone is quite weak. In the face of the material world, in the face of maya, we are weak and feeble, and we need the support and help of other devotees. If one person alone had to clean the temple, he or she would have a very hard job. But when all the devotees combine together to clean the temple, the job becomes much easier.

The most complete science of God consciousnes is presented in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The Srimad-Bhagavatam nicely explains the process for cleansing the heart:

srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
punya-sravana kirtanah
hrdy antah stho hy abhadrani
vidhunoti suhrt satam

The Bhagavatam says that hearing topics of Krishna or God is itself a pious activity. Just like we all have gathered here and are hearing the message of Krishna - just sitting and hearing itself is a pious activity. We have only to open our ears to the message of Godhead and we become pious (srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah punya-sravana kirtanah). Then, hrdy antah stho hy abhadrani: The inauspicious things in the heart- we could say the dirty things in the heart, the evil thoughts and the selfish desires- become cleansed. How? Vidhunoti suhrt satam: The Lord Himself helps the truthful devotee to clean the dirt because the Lord Himself is already there in the heart. He is already there, but because the heart is covered by material contamination we cannot perceive the Lord's presence. We cannot hear the Lord's voice. But when we show our eagerness to hear the Lord's message through our ears, the Lord within reciprocates. He helps to cleanse the dirty things from within the heart so that we can also hear the Lord within the heart. And when we surrender to the Lord and make sacrifices for Him, He supplies endless fuel for maintaining the flame of devotion in our hearts.

Suhrt satam means the truthful devotee. The truthful devotee is honest in his endeavors in Krishna consciousness. One who is dishonest will make a show of piety or religiousness, but behind the show he will have other interests. He will harbor other ambitions. But the truthful devotee actually wants to understand the science of God and actually wants to serve the Lord and all living beings. Though he may be weak, if he is honest in his endeavors to listen to the messages of Godhead and apply the principles in life, even if he is incapable of executing the orders perfectly, still he is considered suhrt satam, a truthful devotee. And the Lord within the heart, who acts as the well-wishing friend of the truthful devotee, will cleanse the heart of the dirty things that have accumulated there.

Again we see how important association is, because the process for cleansing the heart is hearing the messages of Godhead, and only in the association of devotees can we receive the messages properly. Through hearing and then chanting or repeating what we have heard, the heart becomes cleansed by the grace of the Lord. Ceto darpana marjanam: By chanting the holy names of God and by hearing the transcendental glories of God, the heart becomes cleansed, and the light of Krishna consciousness burns bright in the heart. And it spreads throughout the entire body, and it comes out, yes, through the skin, through the eyes, through the different senses, and especially it comes through the mouth in the form of transcendental sound, which comes from the heart. The messages that one has received through the ears and that have entered the heart come out again through the mouth and spread light or enlightenment throughout the world.

So we very much appreciate the efforts of Mother Urvasi because she works so hard to create a situation where we all can come together and speak about God, hear about God, and remember God. And holy days are special occasions when we can get together and remember the Lord's appearance, or some great devotee's appearance or disappearance, or some great event that took place in the service of the Lord. And when we get together and hear about the Lord and the great devotees of the Lord and the great service and miracles that took place in relation to the Lord, we become purified. We become enlightened and engladdened.

So peace on earth and good will toward man can be achieved really through God consciousness. Bhagavad-gita explains how we can achieve peace and, as we hear, we must "first make peace with God." If we reestablish our relationship with God and experience God's friendship, then we can have real friendship amongst ourselves and help each other in our relationships with God.

We have time for a couple of questions, and then we will have a little kirtan and prasada. So, are there any questions?

Q: I did want to ask how you feel about a belief I am entertaining that Jesus was a spiritual master in the sense that he had attained a spiritual level of consciousness or ascendancy through releasing his ego attachments and becoming transparent to God, in my growing understanding of what that may be. And when it is attributed to him that he said, "No one can come to the Father but through me," and "I am the way, the truth, and the light," he could have been making reference to the way that he had attained his level of spiritual mastery, that one could not come to the Father in any other way but to release ego attachments and create this transparency to God. I realize that you were saying that-you made reference to the need for a spiritual master to assist one in achieving a level of spiritual ascendance, but could Jesus have been saying, "This is the way: the way I've done it?" What do you think?

A: What you say could be true. In fact, Srila Prabhupada used to describe the spiritual master as the "transparent via medium" to God. To be transparent we have to purify ourselves of all material dross, and the subtlest level of material contamination is the false ego. We cannot be transparent unless we become free from false ego. But we do not accept the idea of impersonalists, that we give up our ego and merge and become one with God. We accept the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, of Jesus Christ and other theists, to give up the false ego that "I am the body, I am the Lord, I am the controller, I am the proprietor, I am the enjoyer," in favor of the real ego, which is "I am the eternal servant of God." Certainly the spiritual master is the eternal servant of God or Krishna, so he can properly represent Him and direct others to Him. And certainly the process of giving up the false ego in favor of the real ego, the process of devotional service, is the only process that will bring us to God, to realize that we are the servants of God rather than masters of the world. So what you said is nice.

Q: What does Caitanya mean, other than a name?

A: Lord Caitanya was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared five hundred years ago in Bengal and began the sankirtana movement of chanting Hare Krishna in the streets and other public venues. But the word "caitanya" literally means consciousness. It serves as a name but it means literally "consciousness." And I suppose one could say the complete name of Caitanya, which is Sri Krishna Caitanya, could be taken in a literal sense to mean "Krishna Consciousness." And certainly He was the embodiment of Krishna consciousness.

Q: It seems to me that there is a danger in the process of wanting to identify with something. Why does one have to identify with something? It seems like people want, people have this urge to identify with something. It seems to me that it is a dangerous process.

A: Are you talking about the concept of ego, or identification with a group or a mission or a cause? Or do you mean what we were talking about earlier, false and real ego?

Q: Well, false ego or real ego, it is still conjured up by the mind, it seems to me.

A: Ego means the sense of "I am." So we say false ego is, "I am this body," and real ego is, "I am Krishna's servant." But as I mentioned, there are impersonal philosophers who want to eradicate all ego, all sense of "I am," and to merge and become one with God and cease to exist as individuals. Is that what you are suggesting?

Q: No.

A: Then what are you suggesting? Just to clarify my point and then get back to your point, say a madman thinks, "I am Mahatma Gandhi," or "I am Theodore Roosevelt," or "I am Napoleon Bonaparte," - that is false ego. Giving up the false idea that I am Mahatma Gandhi is good. But still, the next question will be, "Who are you?" All right, you are not Mahatma Gandhi, but then who are you? To give up the false identification with the body is good. But then the next question is, "What is your real identification?" As Lord Caitanya said:

naham vipro na ca nara-patir napi vaisyo na sudro
naham varni na ca grha-patir no vana-stho yatir va
kintu prodyan nikhila-paramananda-purnamrtabdher
gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah

"I am not a brahmana. I am not a ksatriya. I am not a vaisya. I am not a sudra." These are different classifications in Indian society or Vedic culture. "I am not a brahmacari. I am not a grhasta. I am not a vanaprastha. I am not a sannyasi." All right, you are not so many things, but then what are you? Lord Caitanya says, gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasanudasah: "I am the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, who is the maintainer of the gopis." That is our understanding of who we are. And that understanding comes not from the mind; it comes from the spiritual platform, from hearing transcendental knowledge from a higher source, and from realizing transcendental knowledge by spiritual advancement. It does not come from the material mind, like false identifications and designations. In fact, that is just what we were discussing: Ceto darpana marjanam. The chanting of the holy names cleanses the mind, and when the mind is completely purified we realize that we are the eternal servants of God, Krishna.

Happy holidays, and Hare Krishna.

(Originally posted on CHAKRA 21 December 2001)