Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Inconceivable

Krishna lifting Govardhan Hill “Just like Krishna is lifting the hill, then what is the difficulty for God to lift a hill if He is all-powerful? But as soon as they read it, that Krishna is lifting hill, they will take it as mythology. So when God shows that "I am God," that is mythology, and they imagine God. That is rascaldom. When God comes and shows His godly power, they take it as myth, mythology. And they imagine God according to your definition. Is that sanity?” (Shrila Prabhupada)

Comment: The scriptures shouldn’t be interpreted literally but should be looked at more for their inner meaning and symbolism.

Response: The Vedas, Mahabharata, and Puranas are all retellings of historical events that took place on this planet and others. Not only past events are covered, but even events that have yet to occur are discussed in detail in these wonderful books, such as the Bhavishya and Kalki Puranas. Since these books contain direct quotations from conversations between great personalities, demigods, and even God Himself, they must be taken literally. We shouldn’t try to imagine the true meaning behind someone’s quote, or even think that these events didn’t take place.

Conversations are conversations. When we talk with our friends in person, on the phone, or through email, they are exchanges of ideas and comments. Very simply put, what we say is what we say. We may go back and not like some of the things we have said, but it doesn’t mean that we didn’t say them. In the same way, the Vedic literatures have conversations between God and His associates, and also conversations between spiritual masters and their disciples. These conversations were specifically chronicled in written form for the benefit of current and future generations of man. The science of self-realization described in the original Vedas and the Vedanta-sutras can appear to be very complicated to many, for it has various aphorisms and postulates that neophytes will have trouble understanding. For this reason, the Puranas, Ramayana, and other great works contain those same teachings but told in the form of stories and conversations.

There are many instances described in the Vedic texts that may seem extraordinary to us. Lord Rama killing 14,000 Rakshasa demons all by Himself, Lord Krishna as a small child lifting a hill with just one finger, Gandhari giving birth to 100 sons…all these seem extraordinary to the common man, for we can’t fathom someone doing these things. God is great. This is the belief of people of all faiths. Yet the Vedas go one step further by trying to describe just how great He is. Of course, God’s greatness is inconceivable. His is described as paramam or Supreme because He possesses six opulences in full and simultaneously. We don’t know any single person who is the wealthiest, most beautiful, most famous, the strongest, the most knowledgeable, and the greatest renunciate at the same time. Yet Krishna possesses all of these attributes, and for this reason He is God. Just because we don’t know anyone capable of performing these great feats, we shouldn’t think that these incidents are merely fabrications of someone’s mind. These sages who composed the Vedic literature were all perfect souls. Having surrendered everything for the service of Krishna, they were given the divine vision to see all these things happen and then be able to write about them. The great Maharishi Valmiki described the events of the Ramayana before they even occurred.

Scene of Bhagavad-gita If we think that these incidents are just mythology, then we lose our ability to understand God. In actuality, we can never truly understand God for His is beyond our comprehension. However, through faithfully studying the scriptures under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, we can start to understand Him to some extent. The Lord and His spiritual master must be approached in a humble manner. We all at some point in our life have prayed to God for something. “Please God give me this, give me that, make sure my family is healthy, etc.” The understanding that God is great is something inside of us, part of our core. If we challenge Him, or start thinking that His scriptures are mere mythology, then we are cheating God. We may cheat our friends, coworkers, or enemies and be able to get away with it, but cheating God never pays. He knows and sees all, so if we cheat Him, we are only cheating ourselves. The Bhagavad-gita is probably the most famous Vedic literature, detailing the conversation that took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra between Lord Krishna and Arjuna some five thousand years ago. There are many high scholars and philosophers who have commented on the Bhagavad-gita, all with the purpose of advancing their own opinions. Many of them have postulated that the events of the Gita actually never happened and that we should study it simply for its symbolism. The ultimate conclusion of the Gita is that people should surrender unto Krishna or God and become His devotee. The flowery language that precedes that is all meaningless unless one comes to the proper conclusion as stated by the Lord Himself. Those who extract any other meaning from the Gita are only cheating God. He has given us such a nice book for us to learn from, so we shouldn’t dishonor Him by making false conclusions.

The Vedic literature should be heard from devotees, otherwise we become prone to believing some of these false theories put forward by mental speculators and pseudo-yogis. Shukadevi Goswami, Vyasadeva, Narada Muni, etc. are all great devotees who presented these works in a mood of devotion. The various quotes and teachings found in the Vedas should also be understood in the proper context. One can pull out quotes to buttress their positions, but these statements should be understood with the full context presented at the same time. For example, there are many conversations in the Vedas where women are criticized for having various shortcomings. However, these faults don’t exist in people who are great devotees, be they men or women. The material world is full of dualities, so any mundane argument will naturally have a counterargument. There may be different teachings presented due to time and circumstance and the ability of the people at the time to grasp Vedic wisdom, but the end goal is always the same. The purpose of the Vedas is to present everything in relation to Krishna, who is the Supreme Absolute Truth. Since He is completely spiritual, mundane dualities don’t exist when discussing topics relating to Him.

It is natural that occasionally certain statements in the Vedas will rub us the wrong away. However, just because we might not agree with them at the time, doesn’t mean that the Vedas are at fault. When we were younger, our parents prohibited us from taking part in many activities. These rules and regulations angered us very much and we thought our parents were in the wrong for imposing such restrictions. However, as we got older, we not only realized that our parents were correct, but we started imposing the same rules on our children. In the same way, the Vedas represent perfect knowledge. The rules and regulations prescribed are those coming down from God Himself, so they cannot be faulty. We may disagree with them, but that is our problem, not God’s. If Krishna or one of His associates say something, we must accept it as fact.

Shrila Prabhupada The great founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, summarized all of the Vedic teachings in his numerous books and recorded lectures. One simply needs to consult his teachings in order to gain a firm grasp on the Vedic tenets. Since he was a pure devotee, his explanations and commentaries are perfect. We may not agree with everything in the beginning, but if we continue reading and stay connected with Prabhupada, then we will become perfect devotees.