You can submit your article, report, announcement, ad etc. by mailing to editor@dandavats.com

Romeo, Rama – and the rebelious Riff-Raff

Sunday, 31 January 2010 / Published in Articles / 3,893 views

By Niscala Dasi

In “The Cry for Myth”, Rollo May makes a powerful case for the need of myth in every society, and that societies and cultures can be seen as byproducts of their collective myths. In this essential service to society, it doesn’t matter at all if the myth is fiction or fact, for either way the myth acts on the collective subconscious of the society, which moulds its identity, values and attitudes around the myth. Even modern society has myths which have molded the character of its people- the courage and confidence of the first settlers as they pressed on westwards into unknown territory can now be seen in the many risk-taking adventures that Americans are famous (and more recently, infamous) for…

In the area of personal relationships, myth also plays a vital role, which may explain the stark contrast between how societies deal with, for example, romantic love- the differences can be traced back to different myths…

Romeo and the Riff-Raff

In western society our ideal romantic couple, the couple which we feel most fully embody ideal love, was portrayed with force and style by Shakespeare in “Romeo and Juliette”. In that story, the lovers break all social taboos, all requirements of society…forsaking the desires of their parents, they love only for the sake of love.

On the other hand, in India it is not Romeo the rebellious romantic youth, but Sri Ramachandra, the obedient and loving son who is the hero of the story. Ramachandra’s example has molded Indian society, and thus, it can be seen that even with the influx of western influence into the subcontinent, still nearly all marriages are arranged by the parents, with the child’s consent, and divorce is a rarity. This astonishing phenomenon makes clear the superexcellent holding power of myths.

In the Ramayana, Sri Ramachandra risks all for filial obedience, whereas in Shakespeare’s play, Romeo risks all for the opposite- filial rebellion. Thus, it is no wonder that in Indian society the importance of the desires of the parents, even in regard to career but most definitely in regard to marriage, are foremost, and all the talk in India that this is “old-fashioned” and “outdated” has had little effect, and will continue to have little effect, because their myths are still strongly internalized.

In the West, rebellion is the norm for teenagers, it is even seen as healthy- part of growing up, yet is it? When they rebel against loving parents who only wish to guide them for their own good, the effect is that they become lost and fall prey to their own whims, often ending up as victims of the drug trade. The tendency towards rebellion is further facilitated by the psychoanalytical discovery that most psychological problems can be traced back to the parents’ behavior- this reinforces the Romeo myth, but also may have been born out of it as well, in terms of the original hypothesis- though I am not sure if Freud ever read Shakespeare, or if there was a German equivalent, but certainly the extreme popularity and ready acceptance of his theory reflects our internalization of the Romeo myth of heroic rebellion against domineering parental authority.

Of course, the real issue is which myth is good for us, and in this respect the Ramayana appears to win the race- Indian arranged marriages stay together, with the effect that children don’t have to be traumatized by the break up of their parents. Are they happy together- we may wonder? Would they be happier if they were to marry through choice?

First consideration is whether happiness is more important than duty, and if doing one’s duty can lead to happiness- certainly the Gita is based on this premise. Here we have another myth- with the hero being Arjuna. He was speculating on his future happiness, what we in the West would romantically call “having a dream” but when he forsook the dream for duty, he experienced great joy, which is something that Oprah fans would have been astonished by- we must follow our dreams!

There is joy in duty- it is experienced by the mother who sacrifices her comfort, sleep, time and energy for her child. Contrary to Freuds theory, the children coming from Indian families do not appear to suffer from following the parents’ desires- they appear to be generally well-balanced, successful and driven. And drugs appear to be less of a problem in India, despite the widespread corruption of its police force (taking bribes is normal).

It may be argued that in many cases, where there is marital conflict, it is better for the child if the parents split, and that social pressure to stay together may result in psychological harm to the children. Still it is far better if there is no conflict, or if conflicts remain contained, and the parents stay together. Divorce has not made marital conflicts any less common, and this is logical. If one knows that one is expected to stay with this person, “come hell or high water”, then naturally one will work on the relationship, work through the difficulties, reach compromises… If one knows that by signing a paper, it can all be over, what is the point in being so tolerant of the other? One who knows that his whole life will be spent with this person, will try to make the situation pleasant- for one cannot live in constant conflict. And this pleasant situation is enjoyed by the children, and gives them security.

Working on conflict, learning to see things from the other’s perspective, surrendering time which would otherwise be spent making money in order to uphold family commitments, all contribute to a quality of life that is nurturing and full of higher value. In the frantic search for happiness we must not forget that it may be found not only in new places (relationships), like the early settlers pressing on westwards, but within ourselves and between the selves that we know. It may be found in places that we least expect it, like in honoring the desires of a wise and caring person, as Arjuna and Rama did. But in order to have faith in that, we must work on dismantling the Romeo myth inside us, which is reinforced by at least half of what Hollywood produces, with the result of blind cynicism of authority figures, and blind faith in one’s own desires- characteristics of “rugged individualism” that can so quickly degenerate into selfishness and thus rupture family bonds. The myths of India, in contrast, have led to a relatively healthy stable family structure. Internalizing such myths, and having such heroes as Arjuna and Ramachandra as our role models, we may be able to replace the heady, whimsical and blindly rebellious role model of Romeo that has led our society down the path of ruination, at least for a large portion of our youth, our future hope….

Clearing Things up a Bit

In writing this, I do not mean to suggest that in every case parents should be obeyed, that arranged marriages are better, or that Indian society as a whole is better than western society. Modern Indian society is a corruption of varnashrama by the so-called brahmanas, but it was only the caste or varna part that they corrupted- for the sake of self-aggrandizement…the ashrama part, including the grhastha-ashrama, has remained relatively uncontaminated over the millennia. Thus, we see a mixture of good and bad in India- very functional families, in a society where many children of lower castes have to rummage through trash for food- unheard of in the West.

Such exploitation of the lower castes is NOT part of any Indian myth, but is the concoction of power-mongers. Still much can be gained from separating gold from mud, particularly much can be gained from the Indian conception of ashrama- which is an arrangement for pursuing duty and spiritual elevation, not for facilitating the overwhelming whimsical, lustful attractions we call “falling in love” which we just as whimsically fall out of. Meanwhile Indian society can learn from our better conception of varna- which is less about inequality (at least in relation to humans), and thus closer to genuine varna …Varnashrama means that all, from washerman to king, are essentially equal, being parts and parcels of God Who dwells in all. Our bill of rights upholds this equality, for humans at least, and thus we have shelters, education and welfare for the underprivileged.

Obedience and duty is served by the Ramayana myth, whereas service to one’s own desires is served by the Romeo myth. Thus vedic traditions can turn our families into ashramas- peaceful places for spiritual evolution, rather than feverish places for pursuing personal desires and attractions. The lessons of the Gita in God-conscious vision can expand our western sense of equality to include animals, the unborn and the environment. Thus the vedic traditions can contribute to social harmony that is the outcome of following varna, and the spiritual elevation that is the outcome of ashrama.

In writing about myth in this context, I do not mean to suggest that the Ramayana or the Bhagavad-gita are not factual, historical texts. I use the word “myth” in the context that the above-mentioned author uses it, which has nothing to do with whether it is fact or fiction, but everything to do with how it molds our collective thinking, attitudes and behavior. A myth is not any less powerful from being fiction, neither is it more powerful from being fact- actually the opposite may be true, because facts engage the conscious and analytic part of our brain, whereas fiction, being more dreamlike, may effect more the subconscious, which has more to do with identity. But whether the stories are facts or fiction is irrelevant for us, as this is the domain of scholars. We are only interested in consciousness, and how to transform it into the Godly type- therefore we do not have to waste time to research how historical our myths are- for to do so detracts us from the purpose and power of their effects on consciousness. Meditating on the myth, our consciousness is transformed, our attitude to life, changed. Through the myth, the role model hero lives in- and through- us all.

36 Responses to “Romeo, Rama – and the rebelious Riff-Raff”

  1. Interesting.

    The materialist historians point to changes in technology and economics as the driving force in changing society, culture, morals. Marxians believe an economic “base” more or less determines the cultural “superstructure.”

    However, it is a fact that culture itself is very powerful and can be a substantial change agent. A great work of literature can move great masses of people and even change economic conditions.

    National feeling has been a substantial factor in modern history because culture matters. Nations have their own myths, and politicians can manipulate these myths, as Nazis tried to do with Wagnerian resurrection of Teutonic legends. (Tristan and Isolde rather than Shakespeare’s “star cross’d lovers”)

    By hearing topics of the Supreme Personality of Godhead discussed among faithful devotees, the listeners have their hearts rearranged and cleansed. Lust, greed and envy are driven away, the mode of goodness becomes prominent, and this in turn affects the way the listeners interacts with the world and others around them.

    This is the real “myth” our souls are truly crying for. The stories told by enlightened devotees have a way of coming alive, enlightening and inspiring us. Modern culture does not really have any “myth” to live by. The modern myths are dry: “big bang” theory and material evolution.

    Popular culture and even high mundane literature like Romeo & Juliette does not really capture the collective psyche the way Bhagavatam can. Modern culture suffers from a lack of true “myth”, while it still exists in India to some extent with Epics and Puranas.

    Whether the myth is “factual” (i.e., mode of pure goodness) or “fictional” (i.e., promising material enjoyment) makes a big difference in terms of how it will influence those who drink it up and live by its inspiration.

    Mundane modern people have a different idea of “factual and fictional”. They think of what we can observe and measure with our senses as factual, but when we discuss myth and its power on the psyche, we are dealing with something beyond the range of gross sense perception.

    It is a function of the intelligence to discriminate between the factual and the fictional. That which is actually factual is that which is perceived with clear intelligence. “The truth shall set you free,” indeed.

    But economic changes do strongly influence culture, and Bollywood today churns out tons of Romeo & Juliette stories. Modern India has more than its share of ills.

  2. caitanya caritamrta says :

    Thorough write by Niscala Dasi, and there are some parallels with Tom May’s “ The Cry for Myth” in his own life, some of his observations were quite accurate. Defining things on familiar terms is an art in itself, here’s Webster’s take on this:

    myth ; n
    mythos

  3. krishna-kirti says :

    While I believe that fiction can have a profound influence on culture, I think it tremendously important–indeed, essential–to know whether whether Lord Ram and Mother Sita actually existed and did all the things the shastras said they did. The reason it is important is because making the question of fact or fiction irrelevant to the application of “myth” as a useful cultural device strongly presupposes a consequentialist approach to ethics.

    The problem with a consequentialist approach to ethics is that if the “cash value” of some mode of behavior or “myth” is measured by its utility, then in due course of time something else with similar “cash value” will do if it pleases us. For example, a consequentialist would say that being faithful to your husband or wife is good because it spares children from the emotional trauma of divorce. But if a show of faithfulness can acheive the same end (or at least one personally feels that it can), then faithfulness itself is no longer something worthy of upholding. And that is the situation we have today in western countries.

    With regard to just being devotees, our whole devotion rests on the question of the factuality of these so-called “myths”. That explains why Srila Prabhupada openly objected to the use of the word “myth” to Krishna-lila and Ram-lila. It could be rationalized, for example, that some author wanted to “trick” us into a healthier lifestyle, but then if the true nature is understood, the myth vanishes and truth behind the “myth” is now what sustains us. Consequentialism is therefore a dangerous idea for Vaishnavas.

  4. krishna-kirti says :

    But whether the stories are facts or fiction is irrelevant for us, as this is the domain of scholars. We are only interested in consciousness, and how to transform it into the Godly type- therefore we do not have to waste time to research how historical our myths are- for to do so detracts us from the purpose and power of their effects on consciousness.

    For the simple reason that, being devotees, we are trying to understand the truth, I disagree with the assertion that whether the stories are true are not is irrelevant for us. Because we are devotees, truth matters to us. (And since when has truth become the sole domain of scholars?) Otherwise, this is something like saying understanding what is sat and asat is irrelevant to our progression in Krishna consciousness.

  5. I take for granted that all of us here are convinced of the super-factual nature of the pastimes of Lord Rama. (Maybe I am assuming too much, given some of the discussions about the factual status of “Vedic cosmography and cosmology” we had last year).

    Niscala can speak for herself, but what I got from what she was saying is that the question of “factual versus fictional” does not even have to be addressed when your concern is the effect of myth on society. It can be seen as irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    In other words, she was attracted to the idealism (in the sense of philosophical opposition to materialism) inherent in the trend of Rollo May’s thinking. Consciousness is primary. Subtle causes in the nature of our psyches (things that line up our subtle body in a certain way) produce powerful effects in the phenomenal world, in how people behave.

    Behaviorists do not want to talk about what’s going on internally. To them it is irrelevant and all this talk about ego and id and subconscious is not really “scientific”.

    Those in the psychoanalytic tradition who are interested in the power of myth to transform society and the individual are getting closer to understanding that the stories we tell are important, that the world we observe and measure with gross senses is only a small part of reality.

    Closer, but, unfortunately Mr. Freud, no cigar. Most were unable to break the power of the materialist paradigm, and Freud himself argued that religious experience had biological origins, rooted in memories of nursing as babies.

    I can say that Mythologist Joseph Campbell has helped me sell many books. People on the street sometimes say they are interested in these books because of Campbell. They want to understand powerful statements of world “myth”. Of course, my hope is that later they will see that these so-called “myths” really reveal the Absolute Truth, and I am not shy about telling them so.

    I like Krishna Kirti’s point about consequentialist ethics. The idea that “the myth does not have to be true” was one of the frightening things about Hitler, quite apart from his horrible conception of what a good outcome was.

    We want to know the truth, and our overriding ethical principle is that we want to please Krishna, who is not an “artificial imposition on the mind,” but is the actual dearmost friend of all living entities.

    I wanted to flip the “fact vs. fiction” debate: A “factual” myth is one that brings you direct perception of Krishna.

  6. In around 1983 I took a Sanskrt class from a professor named Jerry Fleck in the German department at University of Maryland.

    Dr. Fleck was a folklorist and his folklore classes were popular (I never took one). There is something interesting about the phenomenon that similar versions of the same stories keep popping up across different cultures, and it also seems evident that some stories are historically related, retold versions of others. Aesop’s fables are often linked to Pancatantra. The Greco-Roman gods often seem to me to be merely distorted and reimagined version of the true, Vedic demigods, sharing similar characteristics. Mount Olympus may be Mount Meru, and so on..

    Dr. Fleck, who was of course fluent in German, was a linguist who studied old versions of myths and folk stories in their original languages, like Old English, Old Norse, Avestan, Pali, etc. His interest in Sanskrt stories was linked to this humanist approach to world literature, and he often compared Sanskrt “mythology” to other mythology like Greek or Norse mythology, and gave interesting comments about possible word origins and their relation to myth and symbolic concepts.

    I was not wearing dhoti, tilak or sikha in those college days, but I let everyone know I was a Hare Krishna (though not a very strict, serious one). One day in class after Dr. Fleck used the word “mythology” in connection with Ramayana, I spoke up and said, “I do not regard this as ‘mythology’.” The students, who were almost all Hindus from India, applauded me. Dr. Fleck and his wife, who attended every class, seemed embarrassed. He stopped using the term “mythology” during the remainder of the course, but it cramped his style.

    If I had it to do over again maybe it would have been better to just approach him in private during office hours. I always felt I should apologize to him and kind of clear the air. I imagine he would also apologize to me and we could have a nice discussion. I am mildly sorry I never had that discussion with him. I thought I would get that off my chest here. :-)

  7. Regarding consequentialist or utilitarian versus deontological ethics, I would say there is room for both, and that both exist in Vedic culture and in Srila Prabhupada’s writings.

    Take, for example, this passage from the Purport of B.G. 1.37-38: “Obligation is actually binding when the effect is good, but when the effect is otherwise, then no one can be bound.”

    Or take Srila Prabhupada’s famous dicta: “Utility is the principle.” “We judge by the results.” “Spiritual life is practical.”

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea that good behavior is that which produces good results. Moreover, sometimes the best course of action is the one calculated to produce the best overall results among several undesirable alternatives.

    [Speaking of Pancatantra, many recoil at the Machiavellian, amoral or even immoral character of these stories. Success is often prized above fairness, and the goody-goody loser is ridiculed. Machiavelli would argue, with some force, that the Prince's responsibility to his subjects at times requires shrewd, diplomatic behavior, and Srila Prabhupada would agree. Every activity is covered by some fault. (B.G. 18.48) A merchant sometimes may have to tell customers "I am not making any profit at this price", just to stay in business.]

    The utilitarians’ slogan is, “the greatest good for the greatest number.” The real mischief lies in defining what results qualify as actually being good. Good should not be identified simply with apparent material well being or short-term happiness. Until we understand the conditioned souls’ predicament in samsara, due to illusion as to their true spiritual identity (as eternal, loving servant of Krishna), we cannot understand what is actually in their true best interest.

    Therefore, Krishna begins His instructions to Arjuna, in 2.11-38, by speaking sankhya philosophy about the difference of the soul from the body, and describing the bad results of not fighting (loss of honor, incurring sin for neglecting duties, loss of the opportunity to attain heaven by discharging ksatriya’s duty to fight courageously). It is only in verse 39 of the Second Chapter that Krishna starts speaking of buddhi-yoga.

    The ultimate bhakti yoga vision unites consequential and deontological ethics. When we water the root of the tree, the leaves are automatically satisfied. Only by surrendering to Krishna and seeing all as His servants can we really do the “para upakara”.

  8. Phalini devi dasi says :

    Although I understand your motive in citing the Ramayana and Bhagavad-gita as examples of “myths,” I object to your use of the term “myth” in connection with these two works. They are not myths, nor should we allow anyone, including ourselves, to read or use the term “myth” in connection with the epic histories Mahabharata and Ramayana.
    That said, I agree with you that the absorption of these wonderful epics in their ears and hearts has deeply ingrained in the people of India a strong sense of duty and propriety, which cannot be said for the Romeo and Juliet story.

  9. caitanya caritamrta says :

    Thorough write by Niscala Dasi, and some parallels with Tom May’s “ The Cry for Myth” in his own life, some of his observations were quite accurate. Defining things on familiar terms is an art in itself, here’s Webster’s take on this:
    myth ; n : mythos

  10. niscala says :

    I have been offline for a week, and it is now fascinating to read the responses, particularly Akruranath’s response below, which has added greater depth to the topic and put it in perspective. He is exactly right that I am not writing the word “myth” because I think vedic stories are non-factual as quite the opposite is true. I used the word in the sense that it shapes us from the inside, imperceptibly it changes us from within. So Rollo May lumps in the historic events of America’s settlers into this category- myth, in the sense that they formed a part of the national identity and character structure. Thank you Akruranatha! Its also fascinating that respect for myths has made Srila Prabhupada’s books more popular. If we insist people believe they are true, we are mistaken about their value. Whether or not people believe they are true, they have effect on the heart, on the consciousness. The hero is a godly character, or God Himself- if we identify with that godliness, we act and think in that way- it starts from where the ego alligns itself. If we identify ourselves with a rebel romantic like Romeo, we will act brashly on our own impulses, believing them to be good for us, and that only ourselves can know what is good for us. So who is our hero? That will determine who we are, psychologically speaking. We may think ourselves to be independent thinkers, but unconsciously, we copy. That is called conditioning. It starts in the crib where we copy the mothers smile. Later we develop other heroes. We can choose our heroes, and then the myth around the hero acts for us. Am I right Akrurantha prabhu- as you seem to be more well-read on the topic than myself.
    Your response:
    I take for granted that all of us here are convinced of the super-factual nature of the pastimes of Lord Rama. (Maybe I am assuming too much, given some of the discussions about the factual status of “Vedic cosmography and cosmology” we had last year).

    Niscala can speak for herself, but what I got from what she was saying is that the question of “factual versus fictional” does not even have to be addressed when your concern is the effect of myth on society. It can be seen as irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    In other words, she was attracted to the idealism (in the sense of philosophical opposition to materialism) inherent in the trend of Rollo May’s thinking. Consciousness is primary. Subtle causes in the nature of our psyches (things that line up our subtle body in a certain way)

  11. niscala says :

    There seems to me a direct correlation between Rollo May’s thinking and Srila Prabhupada’s preaching…Srila Prabhupada described the chanting to be effective whether or not one believes it will work- similarly for hearing and remembering etc. Chanting also includes chanting of pastimes, what we call in this context, myths. So really, they are saying the same thing, proving the process is scientific. In a science laboratory, it is not that if you believe hydrogen and oxygen will combine to produce diamonds, suddenly it will happen! Things happen, independent of belief. Similarly, myths work, independent of whether one believes in them or not… Krsna consciousness, we are told, is not a faith, but a science. Yet because it produces results, it inspires faith that is not blind- quite in a different category to belief.

    I agree that we should not refer, in our general preaching, to the scriptural stories as myths- as for most people a myth is something to be dismissed – “…it was dismissed as a mere myth”. But with educated people, who revere the power of myths, there is no need to convince them whether the stories are true or not. If they can listen or read with reverence, the goal is achieved.

    Rather than wrangling with people over whether or not they are fact or fiction, let them see the sastric stories as allegories, which are stories which may or may not be true, but point to a higher truth, for the stories are that as well. It was either Bhaktisiddhanta S. or Bhaktivinode T. who gave allegorical interpretations of each of Krsna’s pastimes of killing demons- each of the demons was described as representing a different anartha. So in terms of allegorical imparting of wisdom, and in terms of molding the subconscious personality around the figure of the hero/es, these stories have profound influence to transform the whole personality, purifying both the intelligence through wisdom, and the ego through identification with transcendence, while the philosophy they include as part of the story (such as the Bhagavad gita within the Mahabharata, or various instructions by sages within the story of the cursing of Pariksit in Srimad Bhagavatam) purifies the mind itself, that reasoning part of our psyche..

    We have over-sophisticated ourselves in our obsession with facts, considering that stories that are not true must be meant only for children at bedtime. As children grow, they are expected to learn history, though it is often bloody (continued next post

  12. niscala says :

    … continuing…We have over-sophisticated ourselves in our obsession with facts, considering that stories that are not true must be meant only for children at bedtime. As children grow, they are expected to learn history, though it is often bloody, based on greed, sectarianism and hatred (even in a relatively noble war like ww2, much killing of innocents was rationalized by labeling them “the enemy”). On the other hand, most myths are based on nobility, universal justice, heroism, extraordinary power, amazing insight, and wonder.

    Here is another point. If a myth that is mundane, can have so much effect on consciousness, what to speak of a myth that is transcendental? In transcendence there is no difference between the utterance of a pastime, and associating with the hero/heroine within it. What I got from Rollo May’s book is an ever-deepening appreciation for our sastra, and a relaxing of guard in relation to the credibility of its particulars…It doesn’t matter that some stories in our sastra may seem too fantastic to be believed in by educated people, and thus not taken seriously, as it does nothing at all to lessen their power, their grip on the consciousness, which is independent of the belief or cynicism of the reader.

  13. krishna-kirti says :

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea that good behavior is that which produces good results.

    The problem with this approach is that it is valid only within very limited circumstances. Other problems such as the four defects of the conditioned soul (especially the one of cheating) predispose us to making big mistakes in the name of trying to weigh consequences. In most cases, we should not rely on it.

  14. pustakrishna says :

    Haribol! I have not read this carefully, but the comments brought to mind something that Srila Prabhupad once said to me on the roof of the Sri Chaitanya Chandrodoya Mandir in Mayapur. In contemplation, Srila Prabhupad said the following, and I shall paraphrase accurately:

    “Vyasadeva is not wasting his time telling children’s stories. When he speaks of Bakasura, the great demon appearing like a duck, it is literal. Vyasadeva, the greatest philosopher, is not trying to entertain us with stories. If one takes this as an imaginary story, then the whole thing, the Vedas, are in question…a chain is broken if one of its links breaks.”

    In this context, Srila Prabhupad accepted very literally all that is presented by Vyasadeva, the incarnation of Godhead (Vedanta vit veda krit eva ca aham). Interestingly, Srila Prabhupad’s lack of acceptance of man reaching the moon, and even the existence of dinosaurs (“the Vedas have not made any reference to dinosaur like creatures”) is based solely on His Divine Grace seeing things through the Vedas. In this context, it is interesting to mention something, if my colleagues and Godbrothers will kindly print it. One of my old friends, Adikeshava das, went to Srila Sridhar Maharaj with other ISKCON leaders in the early 1980s. The question came up of cosmology as it related to descriptions in the Srimad Bhagavatam, specifically whether the moon was closer to earth than the sun or not. This was a controversy and remains a controversy. Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s explanation (as related to me by Adikeshava das) was this. “It does not matter, but what matters is that this was the way in which Sukadeva Goswami looked at the world. ” This made the issue a noncontroversy from Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s viewpoint. If Sukadeva Goswami viewed the world in a particular way, that was sufficient.

    Will this satisfy everyone…probably not. But, it is very valuable to know just how our acharyas view the world and the world of the Vedas. They were not naive, nor uninformed. They are transparent via media to the Supreme Absolute Truth, and hence, their vision is sufficient. I always remember how Srila Prabhupad would react vehemently when a disciple would start a sentence with “I think…” Srila Prabhupad would react, “What is the value of your thinking”. So, my advice is to consider all of this deeply. Yours in service, happily…Pusta Krishna das

  15. niscala says :

    “The problem with this approach is that it is valid only within very limited circumstances. Other problems such as the four defects of the conditioned soul (especially the one of cheating) predispose us to making big mistakes in the name of trying to weigh consequences. In most cases, we should not rely on it. ”

    We always have to weigh up circumstances- that is use of intelligence, which Srila Prabhupada urged us in. So considering the Ramayana, if we blindly follow Lord Rama, we will follow our father’s every desire- in which case I certainly would not have joined the devotees. If we were to follow arjuna, we would have to kill agressors, those who insult our wives, those who try to kill us, those who usurp our possessions- but such retribution is illegal.

    But assuming that what you say is correct, and that we must follow blindly, since we cannot decide what is good or bad action on our own, still it does not matter whether the story from which we are molding our actions is factual or fictional, as either way, we accept it as instructional. We mold our values, attitudes and behavior on it- and the fact that this happens whether or not we regard the story as true, as proven by May, means that following blindly, or with intelligence, our transcendental heroes, is not dependent on our belief.

    What you are arguing is a different proposition- whether one should follow blindly, since our senses are defective, or use the defective senses as best we can to follow with intelligence. That is another matter. What we are discussing here is whether a story acts within us, independently of our belief in it. Srila Prabhupada’s preaching indicates that the hearing process acts on the heart, independent of belief- that is science. And that correlates with Rollo May’s analysis as well. As regards Srila Prabhupada insisting that the stories be regarded as factual, it is not that if we don’t regard them as so, they will lose their power, for that would be a contradiction. He was well aware that myths are generally dismissed or seen as fascinations for the simple-minded. Certainly that was the mode of thinking of the day- intelligent people were concerned with facts- with history, not myths. If, on the other hand, the intelligensia start regarding myths as more powerful than facts, and the word “myth” in time invokes a sense of wonder reverence and interest, then there is no need to continue to insist on their factuality. We are not at that point yet, however…

  16. “That will determine who we are, psychologically speaking. We may think ourselves to be independent thinkers, but unconsciously, we copy. That is called conditioning. It starts in the crib where we copy the mothers smile. Later we develop other heroes. We can choose our heroes, and then the myth around the hero acts for us. Am I right Akrurantha prabhu- as you seem to be more well-read on the topic than myself.”

    Yes, you are right, except the conditioning started long before the crib, long before our previous hundred or thousand or million lifetimes ago, so long ago that it is said to be beginningless.

    Modern intellectual historians credit Freud with “discovering” the subconscious, but it is there in Vedic literature from thousands of years ago. For example, in Padma Purana there is the description of how karmic fruits we are enjoying or suffering today previously appeared as seeds, then saplings, then twigs, etc. before they became fruits. Pleasures and pains and even the thoughts and desires that come into our mind now have antecedent causes of which we are not conscious, the origins of which go back to our struggles and experiences from many lifetimes ago.

    And so what we understand in our conditioned state to be our free will is not really our free will. We do have free will, but it can only fully and freely express itself in pure devotional service. Otherwise, the very thing I am willing today is the result of the disposition of my gross and subtle bodies that were formed by my prior deeds and the untrue “stories” that play in the amphitheater of my heart. That is, my will is clouded by my conditioning under a mixture of the three gunas, and I cannot desire correctly. I do not know what is truly my real best interest.

    Moreover, my ability to enact my will is checked and constrained by so many natural limitations, because it is false, improper. But in pure devotional service there is no such limitation as the desires are all completely free from impure motives of trying to be something I am not (viz., an enjoyer rather than a loving servant).

    When we hear harinama, Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, Bhagavatam, we are in touch with our true (spiritual) nature, and it acts like powerful medicine in the heart. These are the true stories, and everything else we tell ourselves about how to become a happy “hero” is mythology.

    Therefore, those who hear stories about heroes who are not Krishna or His devotees are like hogs, dogs, camels and asses.

  17. Pusta Krishna Prabhu wrote: ‘The question came up of cosmology as it related to descriptions in the Srimad Bhagavatam, specifically whether the moon was closer to earth than the sun or not. This was a controversy and remains a controversy. Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s explanation (as related to me by Adikeshava das) was this. “It does not matter, but what matters is that this was the way in which Sukadeva Goswami looked at the world. ” This made the issue a noncontroversy from Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s viewpoint. ‘

    Yes, this is exactly the idea. Everyone has their own “myth,” including mundane astronomers. After all, no “subject” can truly claim to have a completely point-of-viewless viewpoint.

    We accept the so-called “myths” told by those (pure devotes) who no longer confuse themselves with being “subjects.” These truly divine explanations actually convey the infinite Absolute Truth, who is the real subject. He can only be understood by us, the (comparatively) finite objects of His enjoyment, through pure devotional service, beginning with hearing. “Bhaktya mam abhijanati…”

    The empirical scientists (materialists, positivists) may achieve practical success in the objective world, understanding some of its gross material causes and effects, by believing only in the objects of their sense perception. That’s fine, as far as it goes.

    But they cannot really live like that, because they themselves have volition, intention, awareness, hopes, fears, desires, pains and pleasures. Their science does not give them a proper myth to live by, or live for. It cannot tell them, “What should I do? What should I want to do? Why do I want to do wrong? How can I want to do right?” For that they turn to moral philosophy, poetry, drama, cinema, music, or various religious scriptures.

    What makes Srimad-Bhagavatam (and Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and other pure bhakti literature) truly factual is that it is perfectly in relation to Absolute Truth, in His complete manifestation as Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, these (Prabhupada’s) books are the highest treasures, the philosopher’s stones.

    Our scientists and engineers bring us labor saving devices, but when the problems of eating, sleeping etc. are taken care of, what should we do with our precious time? Which channel on our satellite TV should we watch to bring us the full satisfaction we crave?

    The “Sukadeva Goswami channel” is the only reality TV. MTV and History and Discovery channels show only myths.

  18. Krishna-Kirti wrote: “The problem with this [consequentialist] approach is that it is valid only within very limited circumstances. Other problems such as the four defects of the conditioned soul (especially the one of cheating) predispose us to making big mistakes in the name of trying to weigh consequences. In most cases, we should not rely on it.”

    Yes, I agree. It would be wrong to think, “We encourage reading Bhagavatam and believing in God because it makes us nice people who can enjoy our lives better in peace and harmony and prosperity.”

    Hearing Bhagavatam actually does do that, but it does that by teaching us that we are not the enjoyers, we are lovers of God. It attacks the very root of our misconception. Strong medicine. The goal of having more comfortable material lives is not the real goal, not the real “good”.

    Cheating religion says, “If you act this way, God (or demigod) will be placated and give you the enjoyment you seek.” It is a business proposition, in which the goal is still self-centered (false ego) pleasure.

    Ultimate morality is really truly practiced by those whose only motive is to please Krishna.

    There are rules for the rest of us, the rules ordained by God (and nature) for living relatively peacefully in the prison of material life, performing our conditional duties according to our station and not encroaching on the portion of another. The results of such good behavior really are helpful, at least to the extent they propel us to an existence where we at least have a hope of getting a glimpse of spiritual reality. “Sattvam yad brahma-darsanam.”

    You do not have to be a devotee or even a theist to understand this kind of right from wrong. Karma-mimamsa has some validity in this sense: good material results really are produced by good material actions.

    But good material results are not our ultimate good.

    Moreover, it is impossible for anyone to be completely good all the time. Look at King Nrga. Eventually a mistake will occur.

    Nor is following moral rules without internalizing the values that underly them ever a winning proposition, just as learning and carefully observing the rules of grammar hardly makes one fluent in speaking a language. Native speakers observe the rules effortlessly without even knowing them.

    Similarly, one who loves God automatically treats every being with due respect and kindness. Those who are “fluent” in this Krishna bhakti are thus the most moral and beloved of all people.

  19. krishna-kirti says :

    Things happen, independent of belief. Similarly, myths work, independent of whether one believes in them or not… Krsna consciousness, we are told, is not a faith, but a science. Yet because it produces results, it inspires faith that is not blind- quite in a different category to belief.

    The analogy between “things” that happen and “myths” is inappropriate, because on the one hand “things” that happen indeed do happen independently of our beliefs about them but “myths” depend in their entireity on our belief in them. If you take a so-called “transcendental myth” that has an effect on our consciousness irregardless of our own belief, then it’s not something that belongs to the “myth” category but the “things that happen” category. It is something that belongs to objective reality proper, not to imagination. In other words, in this case the myth is in objective reality that according to the development of our consciousness we are able to apprehend more, or less, not at all, or in a way that harms us.

    For example, let us say that someone educated man considers the glories of chanting Hare Krishna to be imagination–a noble myth– and that he even partakes of chanting, regularly, because it’s a part of his “faith tradition.” When asked about it and he replies candidly, he tells you plainly that the claims attributed to chanting are imagination. As we know, this is one of the offenses against the Holy Names, and this will result in his inability to progress in chanting Hare Krishna. His chanting will always remain offensive chanting as long as he maintains the idea that the glories of chanting Hare Krishna are imagination.

    So, belief matters in “myth”, but not in the way that Mataji Niscala describes it. Instead, belief makes a difference because it’s both a prerequisite and an expression of one’s surrender to Krishna. Krishna says that “as they surrender to me, I reward them accordingly.” Belief matters, because Krishna reciprocates with us according to our beliefs.

    Belief in the so-called “myth” of Krishna-lila is therefore a prerequisite for making spiritual advancement and, of course, attaining love of Krishna. Those who are content to remain agnostics, who believe that belief is irrelevant to their progress will, on account of their impersonal tendencies, be prevented from achieving any high level of spiritual advancement. Until they give up their agnosticism, they will have to continue acting in ignorance.

  20. niscala says :

    Krishna Kirti wrote: For example, let us say that someone educated man considers the glories of chanting Hare Krishna to be imagination–a noble myth– and that he even partakes of chanting, regularly, because it’s a part of his “faith tradition.” When asked about it and he replies candidly, he tells you plainly that the claims attributed to chanting are imagination. As we know, this is one of the offenses against the Holy Names, and this will result in his inability to progress in chanting Hare Krishna. His chanting will always remain offensive chanting as long as he maintains the idea that the glories of chanting Hare Krishna are imagination.

    Very good point, and its helped me to clarify. The point is we can have faith in the power of something, without believing it to be completely true in regard to its particulars. Bhaktivinode Thakura certainly had complete faith in the power of Srimad Bhagavatam, yet he took the descriptions of hell therein to be non-literal – a description to detract the soul from impious activity. Similarly, transcendental myths have power on us to liberate us from material conditioning, whether or not we believe them to be true in detail. The point is to be open to their effects- to have faith in their power upon the subconscious- Rollo May’s book supports this idea, and thats why I found it exciting. We can have complete faith in the power of chanting, without being privy to the pastimes of the Lord, for we are not yet on that level to affirm that the pastimes recorded in the Bhagavatam are the same as those in the spiritual world. In other words, we can have faith that is not blind, but based on the scientific knowledge that here is a cause and effect relationship,- one hears, and the consciousness is transformed. This is the effect we can experience from day one- both in regard to chanting, and in regard to the pastimes. So the fact that internalizing myths works, fosters faith in their supernatural power. The fact that hearing the name of a hero, molds the subconscious after Him, is scientific proof that chanting works, and delivers us from the offense that the glories of chanting are simply imagination.

    I think what you don’t understand here is that I am not saying faith is not needed, I am saying this process works, whether or not there is belief in it, as it is a science. The result of such a concept is not belief or blind faith, but scientific faith, much like every scientist has faith in tested outcomes.

  21. niscala says :

    Krsna kirti raised a valid point is regard to the importance of faith, but we are told that we should not have blind faith, it should be based on reason, and on experience, the two hallmarks of science and the scientific method. Through reason, in the beginning, then later through experience, we gain faith that is not blind. We reason that since God is Absolute, His name and Himself are One, so that-logically- the name of God has all His potencies within it. So we begin to chant, and we may not experience these potencies with our conscious mind. At least not in the beginning- (a beginning which may take years), so we have to rely on the faith that we gained through reason. But here is another source of faith- the knowledge that something can be affecting us on a subtle level, far from our conscious thoughts. The idea that reciting something can affect the subconscious, which later manifests in behavior and attitude changes, is an added item to the stock of faith.

    The power of the Name of the Lord, and His pastimes penetrate all the coverings of matter that are the layers over our ego, or true sense of self. We seem to have a subconscious mind that is receptive to names and pastimes- certainly this is meant for our deliverance. But if we recite Romeo and Juliette we will find ourselves becoming blindly rebellious, as our subconscious has taken on the qualities of Romeo. If we recite Krsna’s names and pastimes, we take on His nature, which is spiritual, beyond the blindly rebellious mode of passion, or the lethargic mode of ignorance. If we take on such heroes as the gopis, we find ourselves wanting to bring others to Krsna, and engage them in His service.

    The role models we think of, live within us. Now, most of us do not believe that Romeo ever existed, but still he can have a grip on consciousness. What to speak of someone who not only existed, but exists now, and lives within us, waiting for us to remember Him, and ready to reciprocate such remembrance? How much more effective on our subconscious, would remembering Him have? If a mundane, non-factual myth can grip the subconscious, holding the free will to virtual ransom, how much more so, a myth that is full of transcendental and eternal fact?

  22. Another angle on “consequentialist ethics” is, there is some force to the argument atheists frequently make against “religion”, when they complain that it causes war, strife, and cruelty.

    Of course, true religion does not cause such problems (it cures them), but beginners on the path of devotion may become so caught up in that which is not essential that they torture other religious people in inquisitions, or fly airplanes into crowded buildings and things of that sort. Politics is organized around religion and politicians use religion to justify great evils.

    We frequently meet people when preaching who raise this argument: Belief in God seems to bring out a kind of chauvinism and insensitivity to those not within one’s own faith community. We have to answer this argument.

    We can point out that such behavior exists among nonreligious people as well, that Stalin and Mao and Hitler and Pol Pot carried out evil policies without using God’s will as a justification. We might say that what is *really* motivating immoral religious people is politics and “skin disease”, not their faith in God.

    However, people are still not convinced: It seems there is something about religious faith that allows people to justify their cruelty and callousness and stirs up passions to dominate others.

    I propose that the Hare Krishna tradition of Lord Caitanya, when properly applied, is the real antidote to such misuse or misunderstanding of religion.

    “There is need of a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship and prosperity with a common cause. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need, for it is a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society.” (Srila Prabhupada’s Preface to Srimad Bhagavatam).

    We need to ask ourselves, are we really embodying the qualities of those who understand that all sentient beings are part and parcel of Krishna?

    “Without good qualifications, one cannot be a pure devotee. Harav abhaktesu kuto mahad-gunah: one who is not a devotee has no good qualifications. One who wants to be recognized as a devotee should develop the good qualifications. Of course he does not extraneously endeavor to acquire these qualifications, but engagement in Krishna consciousness and devotional service automatically helps him develop them.” (B.G. 12.19 Purport)

    Christians say, you know a tree by its fruit. We agree. A real, mature devotee has the “daivi sampat” qualities Krishna describes in Bhagavad-gita.

  23. “Bhaktivinode Thakura certainly had complete faith in the power of Srimad Bhagavatam, yet he took the descriptions of hell therein to be non-literal – a description to detract the soul from impious activity.”

    Did Bhaktivinode Thakur really take the descriptions of hell to be not literally true, or was he talking in that way to attract a particular audience?

    I mean, the descriptions of hell are literally true, aren’t they? At least, something very like what is described in the Bhagavatam must be true. After considering the situation, I think so, not just because I have heard so from authorities like Srila Prabhupada, but because it makes sense.

    We can see that even in this earthly life, many hellish conditions exist. Souls undergo such misery in this life, both from physical torture by other living beings, by diseases and natural disasters, and also by mental suffering even when the physical body is more or less sound.

    Where does such suffering come from? From past sinful deeds, right? And if deeds can cause such suffering here on earth, why not in hellish planets as we have heard from real seers like Sukadeva Goswami?

    Some souls are suffering within bodies of a variety of flora and fauna species. We see this daily with our present eyes. It is thus easy to understand that before a soul from within a human body is placed in the womb of some miserable lower species, a process of torture must take place to prepare the psyche for that kind of existence. That just makes perfect sense to me, and it has been accepted by many great devotees and philosophers throughout the world.

    Of course, great scriptures like Srimad-Bhagavatam are full of layers upon layers of meanings, both direct and indirect. Some of the stories, such as various instructions by Narada Muni, have been presented as allegorical teachings. But the description of tortures of the hellish planets seem literal.

    After all, we know there must be some hellish tortures in the afterlife, so why wouldn’t Sukadeva Goswami present an accurate picture of what the hellish worlds are like? Why would he bother to present them in an inaccurate way?

    But deeper than that is the question of what facts count as historically “true” anyway?

    Gauragopala is presenting in another thread that the world is like a dream. Did Socrates exist? Winston Churchill? Did the U.S. drop an A-bomb in WWII? What do we mean to say it “really” happened, and how do we know it did? Our senses and memories?

  24. krishna-kirti says :

    Dear Niscala Mataji,

    You wrote:

    I think what you don’t understand here is that I am not saying faith is not needed, I am saying this process works, whether or not there is belief in it, as it is a science. The result of such a concept is not belief or blind faith, but scientific faith, much like every scientist has faith in tested outcomes.

    I think I understand that. The most charitable rendering of your effort to destigmatize the use of the word “myth” with regard to the Bhagavatam is that you want to include a wider range of people who could potentially take up the process of Krishna consciousness. Some people who might like everything else about KC but think the notion that the stories in the Bhagavatam are at most fanciful but well intended could then be drawn into the KC movement. Your oblique reference to Shri Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s Shri Krishna Samhita causes me to think this.

    To present your argument in what I think are stronger terms, your argument rests in part on the example in SB 6.1 wherein Shukadeva Goswami explains that chanting the Lord’s holy names does not depend on the understanding of person chanting:

    If a person unaware of the effective potency of a certain medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge because its potency does not depend on the patient’s understanding. Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants knowingly or unknowingly, the chanting will be very effective. (SB 6.2.19 trans)

    And then one can extend this to other transcendental activities. For example, it matters not that that a person has faith in prasadam. If he eats it, it will nevertheless have its effect. If he reads about Krishna, whether he believes they are true or not, they will nevertheless have an effect. Therefore, as a pragmatic preaching strategy if we avoid portraying the stories as factual history not only should that not bother those who already have faith in them as such, but it will not disturb those who have yet to develop faith in them. Otherwise, refering to them as factual will have the effect of keeping away others who would otherwise benefit from closer association devotees have to offer. This seems to be the most charitable rendering of intent and purposes of your strategy that I can think of.

    However, your strategy does not follow from the the above facts. . .

  25. krishna-kirti says :

    If the effect does not depend on the knowledge of listener, then listeners will nevertheless be purified despite themselves–even if they find distasteful the idea that the Hare Krishnas regard the pastimes in the Bhagavatam as fact, not fiction. An alternative strategy that relies on this same fact could justify vigorous public promotion of these histories. The more people hear about them, the more people will become devotees. Whether they find distasteful the idea KC pastimes are factual is irrelevant to their purification. Indeed, people who have received books and have scoffed at them have nevertheless become devotees who regret ever having doubted their authenticity.

    Since the argument that purification does not depend on the listener’s disposition can be equally used to justify a preaching strategy that seeks to either suppress public claims that the Bhagavatam’s pastimes are factual or encourage such public claims, the issue is not about the process of shravanam kirtanam vishno smaranam itself. Nor is it about potential recruits, since hearing the Lord’s names purfies them despite themselves. Instead, the issue is about devotees already within the International Society for Krishna Consciousness but who have widely differing levels of faith.

    Not all ISKCON insiders believe that the stories in the Bhagavatam are factual. Some believe they are fictional–even ones that Srila Prabhupada himself said are factual. This includes not just newcomers but also devotees with decades of experience within ISKCON. Some devotees have simply lost faith, and they are trying to somehow reconcile their loss of faith with their long-standing relationships with other devotees. The real issue then revolves around association (sanga), and it is with this issue that your belief these stories are factual or not makes a big difference.

    This is where Srila Prabhupada’s oft repeated assertion that these stories are factual, not fictions, becomes relevant. Why would Srila Prabhupada say this not only to his own devotees but to non-devotees as well? The reason is simple: it’s the truth. Not only is it every devotee’s obligation to try to make other devotees, it is also their obligation to present Krishna as He is. Thus Srila Prabhupada objected to the use of the word “myth” to describe Krishna’s pastimes. A devotee who understands them otherwise has a debased understanding of Krishna, and his association with other devotees could influence their thinking unfavorably. . .

  26. krishna-kirti says :

    Furthermore, how we use language makes affects how we think about things. Where the term “myth” is generally inappropriate not only for insiders but for outsiders as well–even in the sense you [Niscala Mataji] use it, namely to refer to a purifying effect that stands apart from the knowledge of listener–is that making the term “myth” a term that devotees use to commonly refer to Krishna’s pastimes will also condition them to think of these pastimes as not having the property of being factual historical accounts. The reason it will work this way is that the conventional meaning of “myth” strongly implies fiction. Despite the best of intentions, the conventional meaning will remain the dominant meaning, and hence its regular use by devotees will condition them to think about Krishna’s pastimes in terms of the conventional meaning of “myth”. To believe that devotees will somehow change the conventional meaning of “myth” to suit their own purposes is most unlikely–even Rollo May’s exotic use of the term hasn’t appreciably changed its convential meaning.

    But Rollo May’s use of the term “myth” is actually closer to its conventional meaning than has been suggested here. To understand why May finds the term “myth” useful, one must also understand May’s philosophical perspective. As one of the founders of humanistic psychology, and as an American, May’s philosophical perspective is a currious blend of existentialism and American pragmatism. As an existentialist, May believed that all reality is always understood subjectively. Even if it is admitted that there is something out there that stands apart from of one’s own self, the only possible position from which to understand that “something out there” is from one’s own vantage point. Hence, as with his other colleagues, May’s epistemology is radically subjectivist, and that radical subjectivism explains why phenomenology is fundamental to the theory and practice of humanistic psychology. Since as per a phenomonological approach to aquiring knowledge it matters not whether something exists out there or not, “myth” in its conventional sense is a term Rollo May would understandably find suitable for describing reality as he sees it. . . (continued…)

  27. krishna-kirti says :

    As an American, Rollo May’s use of myth also nicely coincides with the pragmatic theory of truth as articulated by William James, one of the founders of American pragmatism and, coincidentally, one of the founders of modern psychology. As per James, the pragmatic theory of truth is that truth is that by which existing realities can be changed. As per James, if a theist and a pragmatist were to offer equally competent explanations of how the world as we see it were to come into being, the two explanations would be equivalent. All that matters is their “cash value”–the end result. Hence, the two theories “mean exactly the same thing”. For James and other pragmatists, all that matters is their effect. “Theories become instruments, not answers to enigmas in which we can rest.” From the perspective of pragmatism, a true account might as well be called a “myth” and a “myth” might as well be called a true account, as long as they have the same “cash value.”

    But as devotees, we do not accept the subjectivists presuppositions of phenomenology. Our epistemology allows us to understand things outside of us as they are–at least some things. We are also against the pragmatic theory of truth. We do not accept that two explanations that have the same result are identical. Adopting certain terms such as “myth” and the patterns of thinking that go with them by means of conventional usage will have the effect of predisposing us to think of Krishna consciousness in a way unfavorable to our spiritual development.

  28. krishna-kirti says :

    If a mundane, non-factual myth can grip the subconscious, holding the free will to virtual ransom, how much more so, a myth that is full of transcendental and eternal fact?

    But why use the term “myth” at all? If the categories of myth and fact accurately represent reality, then they should be just fine as they are. When the conventional meaning is accurate, why would you want to go against convention? Unless, of course, you disagree that these categories accurately reflect reality.

  29. Boy, this is getting very interesting. I am very glad to see you back here Krishna Kirti Prabhu, I was missing your association.

    “Even if it is admitted that there is something out there that stands apart from of one’s own self, the only possible position from which to understand that ‘something out there’ is from one’s own vantage point.”

    This is certainly true for conditioned souls. Isn’t it? They are concerned with relative truths. They are constantly participating in “constructing” a version of reality they accept.

    As lawyers we see this all the time. How could these witnesses have seen the same car accident? You think, “one of them must be lying”, but eventually the shocking truth dawns on you that we are all lying all the time. We are filtering our version of history through what we perceive to be our self interest.

    As long as that version identifies the self with matter and some form of material success as real success, it is untrue, an unreal version, a “myth” in the sense of something commonly accepted but false.*

    *[Not to be confused with the other sense of "myth", as a powerful narrative that shapes our sense of meaning and purpose in life.]

    The same can be said for those jivas who accept themselves to be Absolute and who count liberation of merging into undifferentiated spiritual existence to be success. It is an illusion, or at best only a beginner’s, hazy understanding of Absolute Truth (Sri Krishna).

    “Oh Brahma, whatever appears to be of any value, if it is without relation to Me, has no reality.” [S.B. 2.9.34]

    “…[T]his Bhagavata Purana propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. Such truth uproots the threefold miseries…” [S.B. 1.1.2]

    Krishna-Kirti, I think the insights of the subjectivists, phenomenalogists and pragmatists as you describe them seem very profound. They undercut the common notions of “reality” that, “I am this body and whatever pleases my senses is what I consider as valuable.”

    “As per James, if a theist and a pragmatist were to offer equally competent explanations of how the world as we see it were to come into being, the two explanations would be equivalent. All that matters is their ‘cash value’–the end result.”

    Okay, but “cash value” should not be to explain the world as we see it, but to please Vasudeva, in surrender and love. He is Truth.

  30. If we understand that the world as we [presently] see it is not reality — if we have some insight that we are not this body, that our perceptions are mediated through nature and depend on our present conditioning, due to causes outside ourselves, bigger than ourselves — then what we should value is not being able to give an account of the phenomenal world. We should try to understand and escape from our illusory predicament. We should take the red pill, not the blue pill.

    Empirical scientists are interested in explaining what we perceive with our current senses. They do not know what is valuable. They want to build a better mousetrap, but they cannot see how they themselves are trapped, prisoners of their own conditioning.

    The phenomenological insight of the philosophers is a step in the right direction.

    Of course, understanding Krishna is always dependent on obtaining His mercy, and it is only the devotee, and not the philosopher, who can understand Krishna a little.

    (No one can understand Krishna completely, except Krishna, and even He does so by appearing as a devotee!) “bhaktya mam abhijanati” Krishna, the Absolute Truth, is understood only by pure devotional service.

    But devotees who understand Krishna are not without philosophy. Jnana helps beginners become detached from material life and dedicate ourselves to a life of cultivating devotion. It gives us a roadmap to prevent us from losing our way.

    We are not against jnana. Of the four kinds of pious persons who try to surrender to Krishna, the jnani is special. After many, many births, one who is truly jnanavan surrenders to Krishna, knowing “Vasudeva is everything.”

    The term “myth” is used a number of ways in conventional usage.

    In one sense it means something commonly believed but actually false. An urban legend, an old wive’s tale.

    In another sense it means the deeply cherished stories by which we live our lives, which provide reference points and infuse our culture with meaning. We need heroes, examples of ideal people and the lives they lead, the challenges they face and how they succeed. Such stories help us understand and explain who we are and why we live as we do.

    Devotees are not like anti-intellectual fundamentalists who can only say, “we are right and you are wrong”, “our scripture is God’s word and yours is ‘myth'”! Whose only response to a challenge is to shout louder.

    Devotees are reservoirs of all Vedic wisdom, the greatest philosophers.

  31. As devotees, we have a way of living with the scriptures, with dwelling in the narrations we regularly hear of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, Ramayana, as explained by pure devotees.

    These stories of other times, other worlds, even other universes, really “come alive” for us. We begin to see how to live lives of pure devotional service, following in the footsteps of the great devotees throughout history. A doorway is opened for us to go where they go, do as they do, see as they see.

    Even the illustrations in Prabhupada’s books are “windows to the spiritual world”, and the mantras and Bhaktivedanta purports even more so.

    Because of the special quality of these stories, handed down in disciplic succession by those who relish them and realize the profound truths they contain, they affect us differently than mundane stories do. They teach us how to live righteous lives and, more importantly, they enliven our consciousness and inspire us to meditate on Krishna, His names, forms, pastimes, qualities, moods.

    Such meditation is really tangible, palpable. Pratyaksavagamam dharmyam. It is directly perceived, once someone gets a little mercy.

    It *is* pragmatic, in this sense. The result really is more important than the supposed “truth” value of the stories. We have a different view of history from the mundaners.

    “What if it’s not true?” is a doubt that nags beginners. Advanced devotees see truth in terms of what brings us closer to Krishna. He is the only measuring stick of truth.

    People in general do not have a very clear idea of what they mean by “truth”, but they know what they feel. When they chant Hare Krishna they feel something wonderful. Later they can understand how phenomenal reality is constructed by Krishna’s illusory energy, and the substantial, eternal realm of devotional service is constructed by His internal energy, where we really belong.

    If we live in that internal energy of uninterrupted devotional service, we can finally be happy. Otherwise we we always be fish out of water. This is the actual reality we ignore at our peril.

    Therefore, the Christians are right to say a tree should be judged by its fruits. A sampradaya should be judged by how well its true followers are becoming enlightened with all the good qualities of the demigods.

    Give William James his due. Any account that can produce pure devotees of Krishna is valid, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hegelian, whatever… That is the real “cash value”.

  32. There is this great class I heard years ago, where Srila Prabhupada is in Bombay (a lot of traffic noise outside on the recording), and he is showing Indians that his western disciples are becoming sincere devotees (an astonishing feat).

    He says it is because he is giving them “right information, not wrong information” from Vedic literature.

    He compares the effects of such “right information” to the effects of fire. If you touch the fire, it will burn you, whether you believe it or not.

    Similarly, Srila Prabhupada’s books are full of this powerful information that will ignite a fire of enlightenment and auspiciousness throughout the world.

    Someday, when the philosophers and intellectuals start to appreciate these books, they will see that all the controversies and debates of hundreds and thousands of years are answered in these books.

    In around 1983 at University of Maryland I had a philosophy professor, a smart young British guy from Liverpool (he heard the Beatles when they were a “good local band”). His name was Michael Williams. I am sure he must have had a brilliant career by now.

    So, we were covering George Berkeley and the idea that objective reality is dependent on subjective mind, perception. I told him that this insight was already anticipated in ancient Vedic culture.

    Berkeley says that a tree falling in the forest with no one around does make a sound, because God is always around. Similarly, I said, Maha Vishnu is dreaming the entire creation and destruction of numerous universes in His yoga-nidra trance. It is perceived by Vishnu. That’s what makes it real.

    He responded that the Hindu sages did not go through the more sophisticated philosophical reasoning of Berkeley to come to their conclusion. I believe his cultural prejudices (and consequent lack of familiarity with the trends of Vedic thought) unfortunately misled him.

    Actually there is truth in the phenomenological or subjectivist insight of Bishop Berkeley, and it comes from a natural examination of the world not unknown to the sages of India. They were not repeating some “primitive” myth, but were giving mature, philosophical conclusions, backed by understanding of the process of perception and reason.

    Srila Prabhupada explains this process in the Purport to S.B. 2.2.35. Just as early physicists like Descartes understood that the surface appearance of things depends on our own perceptive abilities, we can also understand that our “science” does too…

  33. krishna-kirti says :

    Hare Krishna, Akruranath Prabhu. And thank you for your warm words of welcome. And you are right that this correspondence is getting interesting. You wrote:

    Any account that can produce pure devotees of Krishna is valid, whether it be Christian, Muslim, Hegelian, whatever… That is the real “cash value”.

    Would that account also include Mayavad and Buddhism as well? I think not. If we’re not going to give these a pass, we shouldn’t so easily make room for Hegelian idealism and American pragmatism. Hegel’s metaphysics quickly transformed into Marxism, and as for American pragmatism — from James onward, American society has become more materialistic and amoral than ever. Marxism and Pragmatism are impersonal philosophies, and being impersonal philosophies, their popularity has made people of the western countries more materialistic than ever.

    As per Srila Prabhupada’s second pranama mantra, the western countries are filled with impersonalism and voidism, and Hegelianism and Pragmatism are two examples of impersonalism. Being impersonalist, these philosophies are therefore opposed to the development Krishna consciousness, and spreading Krishna consciousness successfully means that these philosophies must be defeated. Since Mayavad and Buddhism are opposed to Krishna consciousness, we should not so easily assume other religions and philosophies are not opposed to Krishna consciousness. The specific ones we’ve been discussing at length here are impersonal, and mixing them up with one’s spiritual life will make one fall down.

  34. Yes, Krishna Kirti, we do have to know the art of appreciating what is wrong in the philosophies of Adi Sankaracarya, Buddha, Marx, Kant, Nietzsche, etc. while also appreciating what is valuable in them.

    I think that must have been what Srila Prabhupada was doing in the “Dialectic Spiritualism” interviews with Syamasundar and Hayagriva, etc. There is even a current BBT title (is it “Beyond Illusion and Doubt”?) that reproduces some of these dialogs.

    What I loved about George Berkeley was this: The early physicists (especially Cartesians) attacked occult traditions and Aristotelian views that described qualities in natural objects based on how they appear to our senses. They said there is an underlying reality, what things “really” are, which for them was to be understood in mathematically apprehended properties of extension, motion, weight, force, etc. (It was entirely mechanical. When Newton came along with gravity acting at a distance it really freaked them out, as if it was a reintroduction of mysterious occult forces). Their insight was that things had “secondary” qualities, based on how they appeared to our senses, because of the way our sense organs were constructed.

    For Aristotilians, opium had a “dormative virtue”, an inherent power to induce sleep (sort of like many of my Dandavats comments) :-) The Cartesians said that these qualities in nature were “secondary”, and that the “real”, primary qualities were things like size, shape, etc. There was something about the composition of opium that interacted with the biological machine to induce sleep, but that was not its essential quality. [Modern, materialistic science has added gravity and fields and wavelengths, even quantum states and uncertainty, but still participates in this distinction between how we perceive things (full of values, qualities, colors, smells) and how they "really" are in their valueless, quantifiable, supposed essence.]

    Berkeley took this a step further and realized that, even the “primary” attributes like shape and size and weight depended on the way we perceive and understand the world. It all depends on mind.

    In other words, how can there be an object without a subject? What does “objective reality” mean, if there is no one for it to mean something to?

    From this insight he argued for the existence of a personal, subjective God. When we are always talking about “subjective plenary portions”, don’t we mean “subjective” in that sense?

  35. Aside from that there is a very pragmatic side to the way Srila Prabhupada taught us, by his example, to move in the world, which we ignore at our peril.

    He did not pretend to know everything the way Krishna does. Sometimes he showed us how he miraculously knew things no ordinary person could know, but other times he showed us by his own example how we have to engage our practical intelligence in trying to figure out how to serve Krishna properly, always seeking His guidance and depending on His mercy.

    This nice talk by Giriraja Swami about Srila Prabhupada’s interaction with Mr. Sethi in Bombay shows both aspects: http://www.girirajswami.com/?p=859. On the one hand, Srila Prabhupada knew they did not need pilings for the Juhu construction even without consulting a soils engineer or geologist! (He did still let them test, though.) On the other, he engaged in deliberations with his disciples to decide whether to give a bribe to get the construction permit.

    He never pretended to be omniscient. Its just that a person who knows Krishna knows everything. He is beyond the four defects in this sense. He can perceive Absolute Truth. He does not have display God-like independence from sense limitations. He may still turn the light on when the room is dark.

    We have to understand the epistemological hierarchy of “sense perception, logic and Vedic authority” carefully. We are not advocates of blind faith. “Religion without philosophy is fanaticism, or mere sentiment.”

    Using our powers to deliberate sincerely in Krishna’s service, and to do so harmoniously together, is crucial to the success of the movement. Yes, we have perfect authority, but we also have to use our intelligence and our sincere, humble, yet serious attitude to understand and follow the authority correctly and beneficially, to produce good results.

    Some of the quarrels among our own devotees may stem from the misconception that there is no place for sense perception and logic in devotional service. All that is important is to rally around the standard of the infallible authority. The problem with that is, as long as we do not have full realization, we may be like the blind men and the elephant, fighting with each other destructively about our various limited conceptions of the authoritative truth.

    So yes, Vedic authority is ultimate and infallible. But we still have to be practical and make sure we are applying and following that authority correctly and beneficially.

  36. “Subject” and “Object” seem to be closely synonymous with “Purusa” and “Prakrti”.

    Purusa is the enjoyer, or subject.

    In the material context, when conditioned jivas try to assert themselves as false Purusas or enjoyers of dead matter, they enjoy and suffer the qualities born of prakrti, due to their association with those qualities. As false purusas, they experience material existence.

    purusah prakrti-stho hi
    bhunkte prakrti-jan gunan
    karanam guna-sango ‘sya
    sad-asad-yoni-janmasu

    “The living entity in the material nature [i.e., the purusa situated in prakrti] thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil among various species.” (B.G. 13.22)

    The real purusa is Krishna. He is the real enjoyer, the real subject. Prakrti is His. It is His object, though it is neither dead nor without volition.

    We assert ourselves as purusas (subjects) due to ignorance, envy, unwillingness to serve Krishna, and thus we are undergoing material existence as experiencers of good and bad results, or objects. We seek to objectify the world around us as if it was our property meant for our happiness. As a result we do not see things as they really are, and we obtain only limited, flickering happiness against a background of more or less constant suffering.

    Prakrti means Krishna’s energy, that which He enjoys, the “object” of His enjoyment.

    In illusion, we are taking it as the object of our enjoyment, and this is false, “maya”, a complete misconception. We do not properly understand what is subject and what is object.

    As noted in Svetasvatara Upanishad 1.12 (see, B.G. 13.3 Purport), prakrti is Brahman as the field of activities, the jiva is also Brahman and is trying to control material nature, and the controller of both of them is also Brahman, but He is the factual controller.

    This is a subjectivist philosophy. Is it not?

    [Linguistic note: The word "subject," when used in the political sense of the subject of a monarch, has the opposite meaning. It is one of those English words that, due to tricks of etymology, may be taken in two contradictory way. The praja of a kingdom are "subject" to the will of the king, and thus they have come to be known as "subjects", but it would be more appropriate to say that the king is the subject and that the citizens are his objects, in the sense that he may dispose and deploy them as he sees fit.]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

TOP