Field Notes Issue #15 – July 11th, 2020

July 11th, 2020 | Posted by ww-seva2 in field notes

Newsletter by Krishna Kshetra Swami, Issue #15 – July 11th, 2020


The idea of Dialogical Vaishnavism is a little bit strange, unfortunately, although it should not be. “Dialogical” means having a dialogue. Dialogue means that you have at least two people and they speak with each other. There is a conversation. Dialogue is about back and forth, while sometimes devotees think we are in a one-way street. We give out the mercy. We are a preaching mission, we give. This is a nice idea, to give, but also, we hear about receiving, from Rupa Goswami:

dadati pratigrhnati
guhyam akhyati prcchati
bhunkte bhojayate caiva
sad-vidham priti-laksanam

That is actually a form of dialogue, asking and hearing about confidential topics. There is the official ISKCON statement of interreligious dialogue. It is very inclusive and encouraging for dialogue. To have a good dialogue there has to be some sense, or awareness, or knowledge about the other tradition that one may be interacting with. I’m discussing this topic because I was in China and talked there about connecting Buddhism, Confucianism and Vaishnavism. I spoke about three specific concepts: compassion or karuna, which Buddhists see as especially a Buddhist idea, ren from the Confucius tradition or humanity, being human in a compassionate way, and ahimsa from India. I thought, let’s see how they relate to each other.

People in China tend to see China as the center of the universe. Just like people in India tend to see India as the center of the universe. Americans also have a big problem with thinking they are the center of the universe. That is why I actually focused on basic concepts and made a comparative study of it. There are different ways to do it, but for me the idea is to make a connection and open a deep, broad sense of what I identify with from my own tradition of Vaishnavism for others to appreciate in a way which is not pushing aside another tradition, but rather is inclusive. Srila Prabhupada would say, “We do not want to change people’s faith, if you are Christian, become a better Christian.” We see much conflict in the world, a lot of violence, many conditions of disturbance which seem to lack any culture of karuna, ren or ahimsa.

Karuna is sometimes translated as compassion and is associated with Buddhism and the origin of Buddhism. Srila Prabhupada explained that at the time of Gautama Buddha there was a lot of sacrifice going on in which animals were slaughtered. There are various statements in Sanskrit literature saying that when an animal is sacrificed it will be elevated or go to Svarga. Whether it happens — especially in the present age, when priests are less qualified — is a question. This kind of sacrifice was overdone, too many animals were killed and Buddha protested. “What is this?” He asked. Brahmins answered: “We follow the Vedic injunctions.” Then Buddha declared: “Then I reject the Veda.” That was a very radical thing to do, but his point was to stop the unnecessary violence of rampant animal slaughter in the name of Vedic sacrificial injunctions. Buddha is one of the main avatars of Vishnu. So, Vishnu was rejecting Veda in order to bring the alternative, which is karuna. Buddha was seen as the perfect embodiment of compassion. There are many Buddhist texts, and according to one of them, he himself considered himself as such and it was his basic motivation for teaching what he taught: compassion. It is one of the divine abidings, or brahma-viharas. There are four them: one is karuna, one is maitra (which comes from mitra, which means friend, so friendliness; in English Buddhism it is often translated as loving kindness), then mudita (which means sympathetic joy, specifically joy in others’ happiness), and finally upekka or upeksa (which means equanimity, equality of all beings). In some Buddhist meditation traditions, they take each one of these brahma-viharas and make it a practice to expand outward. For example, friendliness, maitra. Take the one you are already friends with and you feel that friendliness that you feel. It is easy. Right? Now take the one you do not know, maybe you see him around but do not have a friendly relationship with him and you meditate on extending the feeling of friendliness to that person. Than go a step further, to someone who is maybe not so friendly and you extend that feeling of friendliness to that person. And like that you extend outward the feeling that you already have and all you have to do is by your meditation extend it outward. The same thing with compassion. One feels for someone dear who is suffering and wants to help. How to extend it not just to human beings but to all sentient beings? The same with mudita, and upekka, upeksa. This is the practice. That is what Buddhists do.

On the side of Confucianism here is this idea of ren. Confucius lived around the time of Buddha. He was trying to reform governments in China and he was a wandering sage. He wanted to be a minister, but none of the kings wanted him, because he tended to speak what he thought. He tended to say what he meant, and often kings did not like that. He was especially concerned with human relationships. And his idea was: if the relationships would be proper then everything would be balanced. These are relationships of hierarchy: king – citizen, father – son, older brother — younger brother, and so on. Confucius appreciated that human beings had stronger feelings for those who are closer to us, like our children, parents. His idea was: let’s take our strongest relationship and see how we can extend it outward. Not a bad idea starting with one’s own experience and going from there. He was quite practical. Central virtue of Confucianism is ren. The written sign for ren consists of two parts, one means person and the other means two. Two persons. There is one aspect of ren — which is shu — which means sympathetic understanding. According to Confucius there is one word by which one can guide his entire life — shu, or sympathetic understanding.

Next is ahimsa. The idea of ahimsa became famous in the West because of one person. You all have heard of him. His name was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He came to be known as Mahatma Gandhi, because Rabindranath Tagore gave him that title, and it stuck. Gandhi spoke and wrote extensively on the subject of ahimsa. Of course he did not invent the idea; we find the word ahimsa in the Bhagavad-gita. The idea of ahimsa goes way back in time. In the Vedic literature ahimsa is mentioned in relation to rejecting rituals of animal sacrifice. But how can the very core idea of the Veda be realized without killing animals? It gets more complicated because even without killing animals the idea is there that killing is going on. Even when one offers grains in the fire those grains are potential plants. In the Mahabharata after the war, after everyone has been killed, Bhisma talks about ahimsa. He preaches ahimsa. He says in one verse: Ahimsa is the highest dharma, it is the best of sacrifices, it is the best of everything. And essentially it is associated with dharma. Dharma is a proper, righteous human life. So, what is ahimsa? Ahimsa means to not harm, but then what is Suta Goswami saying in the Bhagavatam?

ahastani sahastanam
apadana catus-padam
phalguni tatra mahatam
jivo jivasya jivanam

It is the harsh reality of biological violence. Those who are devoid of hands are prey for those who have hands; those devoid of legs are prey for the four-legged. The weak are the subsistence of the strong, and the general rule holds that one living being is food for another. That is the harsh biological reality, there is no way out from violence.
Let’s complicate it a little more. In the Jain tradition of India, which has also started about 500 years before the Common Era, they radicalize the idea of ahimsa. They say the way to liberation is by stopping violence, and there are 432 types of violence, and we should try to avoid all of them. And in general violence is committed by the act of eating. So, the best way to stop violence is to stop eating, and some Jains actually do that. When someone becomes old and his health is declining or there can be other reasons, they get permission from Jain sadhus to give up their life by fasting. In the Bhagavad-gita it is mentioned that austerity can be in different modes of nature: goodness, passion, ignorance. Austerity in the mode of passion is causing pain to the Supersoul within. It is kind of ironic, because you are fasting, which seems like nonviolence, but it is becoming another form of violence. It becomes violence to oneself. Then how do you stop violence? There is only one way. We understand from the Bhagavad-gita:

patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakti-upahrtam
asnami prayatatmanah

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it.”
That is how you practice ahimsa, by offering everything with bhakti. “Whatever you eat or give away, whatever austerity you do, do it for Me.” Krishna is very inclusive. “Whatever you do, do it for Me.” If one of us would say that, it would not get far. But Krishna can say that, because as the result, He takes one back home to Godhead. In the spiritual world there is no karma, no violence, only lila.

Srila Prabhupada said that ahimsa means to share Krishna consciousness with others. And to not do that, that is violence. To not share Krishna with others is violence. We should think of how we can give some of our understanding of what is Krishna to others. Then we are avoiding violence and practicing karuna and really practicing ren. At this point one question always comes. The ninth of ten nama-aparadhas is to preach the glory of the holy name to the faithless. This can be taken narrowly or more broadly.

A preacher is one who can sense what a person is ready for. That is an art. When we are talking about dialogue it means we are also listening. Everyone is in the modes of nature, everyone is conditioned, so you may ask what could I possibly learn from another conditioned soul. What you can learn is what sort of challenges a person has and how you might be able to help in a particular way with some particular problem. That helps people to develop some faith in you and that is how they start to listen. It only comes if the person can feel that you are willing to listen to them. Isn’t it so? To listen to others is to be ready to be someone’s friend. And to be someone’s friend is also to commit yourself in a way which can be demanding. It can call for your attention, energy, help, care. That is really what we are about. If we really want to be a community, which is attractive to be a part of, then really this is the only way. Isn’t it?

—From a Sunday program class by Krishna Kshetra Swami on October 15th, 2017 in Goloka Dhama, Germany


Sadhu bhavan, Poland

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