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Monday, 23 September 2013

Does Iskcon promote blasphemy against saints of other traditions?

In Hinduism, all sages, saints and godmen are seen with reverance. People may chose what to follow from the holy teachings according to their own needs, but the teachings are not supposed to be subject to scrutiny and criticism. However, such an attitude does not follow the Indian philosophical tradition nor any rational premise. Iskcon has supposedly hurt the sentiments of many Hindus due to its critical position on Mayavada, while accommodating Abrahamic prophets like Jesus and Mohammad as Vaishnavas. Similarly, Gaudiya Vaishnava literature, recognised by Iskcon, are also accused of deliberate discourtesy against great Vaishnava saints.

I may not speak on behalf of Iskcon, which actually is quite polite towards other saints.  Only a few devotees like myself, concerned with philosophical polemics, may have written things that categorise saints into ideological boxes. But such a breach from the Hindu consensus is necessary to understand what the true teachings of sages, saints and godmen really are. I beg forgiveness from those who are offended by such endeavours. Let me present a brief summary of the categorisation (names of only the most prominent saints are mentioned) I have often used:

(1) Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is accepted as the combination of Radha Krishna Themselves, thus making His ontological position superior to any other acharya.

(2) His main associates, Nityananda Prabhu and Advaita Prabhu, as accepted as Mahaprabhu's expansions, thus also placing them above other acharyas.

(3) The six Goswamis of Vrindavana, Rupa- Sanatana- Raghunatha Dasa- Raghunatha Bhatta- Gopala Bhatta- Jiva Goswami, and their successors, Krishnadasa Kaviraj Goswami, Shrinivasa Acharya, Narrottama Dasa Thakura, Shyamananda Pandita, Visvanatha Chakravarti Thakura, Baladeva Vidyabhushana, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, are all accpted as intimate servants of Radha Krishna, fully conversant with the highest transcendental matters, parakiya madhurya bhakti in the mood of the manjaris (who are unaware of any selfish pleasure and are only concerned with the service to the love-affairs of Radha Krishna under senior gopis).

(4) The acharyas of the four bona fide sampradayas, Shri, Brahma, Rudra and Kumara, viz. Alvars, Nathamuni, Yamunacharya, Ramanujacharya, Pillai Lokacharya, Vedanta Desika, Manavala Mamuni (Shri); Madhvacharya, Jaya Tirtha, Vyasa Tirtha, Vadiraja Tirtha, Purandara Dasa, Raghavendra Tirtha (Brahma); Vishnuswami, Vallabhacharya, Suradasa, Purushottama Acharya (Rudra); Nimbarkacharya, Shrinivasacharya, Keshava Kashmiri Bhatta, Haridasa Goswami (Kumara), are considered as pure devotee representatives of Krishna/Narayana. They represent aspects of devotion other than parakiya manjari bhava, as such although their doctrines are flawless, they relate to a particular point of view. Since Vaikuntha is unlimited, there are unlimited possibilities of worship of Krishna/Narayana.

(5) Some saints, who may not have belonged to any Vaishnava samparadaya, were considered authorities by Mahaprabhu. They include Jayadeva Goswami (formerly a Smarta), Chandidasa (formerly a Shakta), Vidyapati (formerly a Shaiva), Shridharaswami (supposed to have been a Mayavadi sannyasi, may have belonged to Rudra sampradya, his commentary on Shrimad Bhagavatam was considered the authority by Mahaprabhu) and Bilvamangala Thakura (formerly a sense-enjoyer, may have belonged to Rudra sampradaya, his text Shri Krishna Karnamrita was considered His bhajana guidebook by Mahaprabhu). The writings of these saints are considered the most authoritative as they give direct pleasure to Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. [Another text, 5th chapter of Brahma-samhita that explains the philosophical position, achintya bhedabheda tattva, was introduced by Mahaprabhu.]

(6) Some saints, who were worshippers of Krishna/Rama/Narayana, but were not directly recognised as devotees by any of the acharyas, may have been pure devotees, mixed devotees or non-devotees. Let us name Ramanandacharya, formerly belonging to the Shri sampradaya, who started his own sampradaya, known as Ramayats or Ramanandis (just like Madhavendra Puri started the Gaudiya sampradaya, out of the  Brahma sampradaya). His disciplic succession included great saints like Kabir and Tulasidas, who represent separate schools of thought, viz., Nirgunavada and Sagunavada respectively. Guru Nanak laid the foundations of Sikhism based on Nirgunavada. Another example is Sant Jnaneshwar, who founded the Warkari sampradaya (other saints include Namdev and Tukaram), representing the devotional trend within Mayavada (Shankaracharya's Kevaladvaita). Shankaradeva started the Neovaishnavite movement (other saints include Madhavadeva and Damodaradeva) in Assam, based on Shridharaswami's commentary on Shrimad Bhagavatam. Madhusudana Saraswati was a Mayavadi sannyasi, but he desired to serve Vrindavana as a jackal, rather than merge in Brahmajyoti. He was a close friend of Tulasidas. Saraswati may have been converted to Vaishnavism (just like Ramanujacharya converted Yadavaprakasha and Mahaprabhu converted Prakashnanda Saraswati), after a career of polemics against it. Mirabai, Narsi Mehta, etc. are examples of devotional poets who did not establsih any sampradaya. Swami Sahajanand belonged to Shri Vaishnavism, but started his own sampradaya, Swaminarayana. He was a devotee of Radha Krishna, but he established temples of Lakshmi Narayana and Nara Narayana. However, his followers proclaimed the acharya as the Supreme Godhead, the source of Krishna/Vishnu and thus, have lost their claim to be called Vaishnavas. I generally term saints in this group (those who mix desire of impersonal liberation with devotional service) as Bhagavata Mayavadis for philosophical polemics, however, some of them may have been pure devotees. Tulasidas can be called a Rama bhakta in the dasya bhava and Madhusudana Saraswati a Krishna bhakta in shanta bhava, similarly others. Kabir, most certainly, was a non-devotee.

(7) Then, there have been orthodox Mayavadi saints, Shaivas, Shaktas, Vedic scholars representing other darshanas, even Jainas and Buddhists, who accept certain basic premises adopted from the Upanishads. Their religious piety and scholarship may have been undoubtedly vast, but they cannot be called Vaishnavas nor worshipped by Vaishnavas. Exceptions are Shiva and Devi themselves and acharyas like Shankaracharya, who are actually Vaishnavas, and Vishnu avataras like Rishabhadeva, Dattatreya and Buddha. They are worshippable. But how can Vaishnavas worship Raja Rammohan Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Swami Ramakrishna, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhimrao Ambedkar or Shri Aurobindo?

(8) Now, the Abrahamic prophets are outside the Vedic fold, who neither worshipped nor condemned Krishna/Rama/Narayana. They can be respected as much as their teachings advocate Sharanagati, complete surrender to God, but beyond that they have no information of who God is. Modern Gaudiya acharays like Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati and Shrila Prabhupada have praised Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammad, so we cannot be disrespectful. May be they were Vaishnavas or may be it was just a preaching strategy adopted by our acharyas. Similar respect can be accorded to other religions like Zoroastrianism, but they must be thoroughly criticised for all the wrong doctrines.

(9) The godmen like Sathya Sai Baba who call themselves God or Kalki avatara, bogus preachers like Zakir Naik and atheistic godmen like Osho, must be shown no respect whatsoever, except as needed for rule of law and general civility.

(10) Innocent public, fallen devotees, apasampradayas and many such groups need to be educated on the correct precepts of Vaishnavism, to the extent they have faith. We cannot disrespect our family members,  especially parents, secular teachers, employers, elderly, etc., even if they are averse to devotional service. If a devotee cannot tolerate them, then he/she should simply maintain distance and avoid any arguments.

These are my opinions. Hare Krishna.

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