How can we persuade followers of other Vaishnava sampradayas to accept that Lord Chaitanya’s teachings are the climax of the historical evolution of theism?
Transcribed by: Raji Nachiappan
Question: How can we persuade followers of other Vaishnava sampradayas to accept that Lord Chaitanya’s teachings are the climax of the historical evolution of theism?
Answer: Generally, when we share knowledge with others, we have to understand what pramana will be acceptable to the person and speak accordingly. Pramana means an authoritative source of knowledge. If we are speaking to new people, who have no understanding of Bhagavad-gita or dharma and we explain to them that they are not their body but the soul, they may retort by saying, “Who says so?”. If we answer “Krishna says so”, then they may not necessarily accept, because they do not accept the authority of Lord Krishna yet. If we want to talk with such people, then we have to see what kind of pramana they find acceptable. For example, if certain people believe in science, there is a lot of scientific evidence of past life memories, evidence of consciousness not being material, near-death experiences etc. with which they may connect. Therefore, we need to present Krishna consciousness according to the pramana the other person accepts.
Srila Prabhupada says that realisation means to speak knowledge in such a way that is interesting to the audience. The knowledge becomes interesting when it clicks and makes sense within their world view. Ultimately, we want to change their worldview to Krishna’s worldview in Bhagavad-gita. However, at present, they have a specific worldview and we should try to present Krishna conscious knowledge within the reach of their understanding.
Also, nobody lives without accepting authority. Everybody accepts some authority. If we do not accept scriptures as an authority, then we will google it and thereby accept Google as an authority.
The understanding that there is an evolution in the revelation across the tradition is an insight that is given by the Gaudiya acharyas. This, however, may not be acceptable for those who have not accepted the authority of the Gaudiya acharyas. Therefore, there is no need to unnecessarily stress this point.
In general, knowledge has to be presented according to the adhikar of the people. For example, let us take the point that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is a combined manifestation of Radha and Krishna. Now, this is a very important truth of Gaudiya Vaishnavism, however, this is not important for new people to be immediately aware of.
Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur offers a very non-confrontational way of presenting Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In the introduction to his book, Life and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, he says that as far as the Gaudiya Vaishnavas are concerned, they accept Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as Lord Krishna himself. For them, the many miracles that Lord Chaitanya has performed, are testimonies of his divinity. However, Bhakti Vinod Thakur himself plays the devil’s advocate and says that miracles are no proof of divinity. Even demons like Ravana could perform miracles like changing their form etc. Therefore, he concludes by saying that he will leave it to his esteemed readers to decide upon the position of Lord Chaitanya, but what he requests his readers is that Lord Chaitanya has come to give the gift of love of God and that we sincerely follow the process to take advantage of that gift and experience love of God.
Suppose, somebody comes to us and says, “This doctor is the best doctor in the world”. We may naturally question the authority of the person to make such a big claim. That person may say, “I had a terrible disease and hundreds of doctors could not cure it, yet this doctor cured it”. Since, this has been the experience of this person, that is why they have developed such conviction. This person, however, cannot expect everyone else to have the same conviction because they have not had similar experiences. Therefore, if the person wants to recommend that doctor he will have to talk about the qualifications of that doctor in a manner, that is intelligible for others. He will have to talk about the education, work and treatments that the doctor has done so far and then let people try out the doctor’s treatment. When they try it and they get cured, then the conviction increases. Therefore, when we are practicing Krishna bhakti, there is no need for us to get into what we can call as religious one-upmanship – that we go around proclaiming that Gaudiya Vaishnavism is highest amongst all forms of theism. The intention may not be religious one-upmanship, but it can be perceived as such.
We focus primarily on elevating people’s consciousness from where they are. We need to educate people on how they are not their bodies but souls, how by chanting the Hare Krishna mahamantra the consciousness can be elevated, how to manage the mind and become free from anarthas as well as on how to become better human beings. These are universal principles and practically applicable to everyone’s lives. To the extent people practice these principles and get benefitted, to that extent they will be inclined to go further. Srila Prabhupada is the most prominent representative of Gaudiya Vaishnavism which centres on Srimati Radharani, the topmost devotee. Srila Prabhupada when writing his foremost book for outreach, the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, refers to Srimati Radharani only once – in the introduction, when he prays, tapta-kanchana-gaurangi radhe vrindavaneshvari vrishabhanu-sute devi pranamami hari-priye (O Srimati Radharani, I offer my respects to You whose bodily complexion is like molten gold. O Goddess, you are the queen of Vrindavana. You are the daughter of King Vrishabhanu and very dear to Lord Krishna). Besides this, he does not refer to Radharani at all in the entirety of the Bhagavad-gita. Srimati Radharani, the feminine divine, is a very elevated subject matter and it is not relevant for that audience. Hence, Srila Prabhupada does not get into that.
In general, there is no use in getting into confrontation with people who do not accept the pramana that we accept. We have to find out what is the pramana that they accept and speak to them at that level. Along with the pramana, is also the adhikara of the person. What is it that they need to know now?
Sometimes people come and start asking very advanced questions about Krishna lila and when we give the answer and tell them that Krishna is God, then they question whether God exists. While they have very advanced questions, they do not have clear basic conceptions. Therefore, we cannot really do significant outreach to them at this point and we need to go step by step.
Once people start practicing Gaudiya Vaishnavism and experience the sweetness of bhakti as offered by the Gaudiya Vaishnavas, then the authority of the acharyas of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition, becomes intelligible to them. Also, if somebody is from a Sri-Vaishnava family or a Madhva-Vaishnava family and they do not accept the evolution of theism, that does not mean that they are lesser devotees. If they are following their path, they are devoted to Lord Krishna or Vishnu, and practicing a pure life, they will also get elevated.
Therefore, we have to recognise what the thrust of our outreach should be and speak those things that help people rise upwards from where they currently are.
End of transcription.