Morality in Scripture, Nonviolence, Vaishnava Commentaries

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Question: Different characters of the Purāṇas, even Brahmā, Viṣṇu, and Śiva, whom we consider guṇāvatāras, are shown to commit immoral acts. By such incidents, are we to understand that the rules of morality pertain only to humans, or is there another explanation?

Answer: Yes, there is a more convincing explanation. You need to study from a qualified teacher about these issues. These are not self-study books. Every story possesses a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. Even Śrī Kṛṣṇa is criticized for acting immorally with the gopīs. 

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Question: This question arose while reflecting on two verses wherein ahiṁsā precedes satyam (SB 3.28.4 and 11.17.1, and Gītā 16.2). In Sanskrit texts, is there a particular significance for the first item in a list? Does the order in which an item appears indicate importance?

Answer: Yes, generally the order of words in a list has significance. It can be of decreasing or increasing importance. For example, in the famous vadanti verse (SB 1.2.11)—brahmeti paramātmeti bhagavāniti śabdyate—the mention of Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān is in the order of increasing importance regarding the manifestation of tattva. But when Kṛṣṇa says that śraddhā is of three types, namely sāttvikī, rājasī, and tāmasī, He lists them in decreasing order of importance.

Question: I’m exploring the relationships between concepts of nonviolence and truth; especially of interest are śāstric examples that illustrate their hierarchy and/or harmony to foster bhakti

Answer: Your first reference (SB 3.28.4) to ahiṁsā is in relation to aṣṭāṅga-yoga, as is clear from the context. The goal of aṣṭāṅga-yoga, as understood from the Yoga-sūtra of Patañjali, as well from the teachings of Kapila in 3.28, is to make the mind void of thoughts and to become situated in one’s svarūpa. Thus, from the yoga point of view, the principle of ahiṁsā is of paramount importance because hiṁsā brings agitation to the mind and goes against the goal. Even other principles, such as truthfulness, celibacy, non-stealing, and non-possessiveness, are part of ahiṁsā. 

Your next reference (11.17.21) to ahiṁsā is in relation to the varṇāśrama system. The basic principle of the varṇāśrama system, also called karma-yoga, is to uplift society from the lower guṇas to sattva and ultimately to free people from the bondage of karma. Thus, from the varṇāśrama point of view, ahiṁsā is of paramount importance because hiṁsā creates bad karma (pāpam), which then leads to tamas. 

The third reference to ahiṁsā (Gītā 16.2) is in relation to daiva qualities i.e., people in sattva. Here Kṛṣṇa does not list ahiṁsā as the first quality yet it is listed before satyam. First in the list is abhayam or fearlessness, which also implies ahiṁsā because anyone who is violent to others cannot be free from fear.

Ahiṁsā is given importance in general because in the material world one subsists by hiṁsā (jīvo jīvasya jīvanam SB 1.13.46). So hiṁsā is unavoidable. Therefore, stress is given to minimize it. One can live without telling lies but one cannot live without hiṁsā, and hiṁsā has dire consequences. In varṇāśrama, one has to do bhūta-yajña (one of the five mahāyajñas) to counteract the unavoidable hiṁsā. On the bhakti path also, it is recommended to minimize it—nātihiṁsreṇa (SB 3.29.15) The ultimate goal of bhakti is to see Bhagavān everywhere (vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti, SB 11.2.45), or to see bhagavad-bhāva in everyone (SB 11.2.45). That will not be possible if one is engaged in hiṁsā.

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Question: Do we have any authentic Vaiṣṇava commentaries on the Vedas such as the Ṛg-Veda, Yajur-Veda, or the Upaniṣads?

Answer: Śrī Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa wrote a commentary on the principal Upaniṣads but we only have his commentary on the Iśopaniṣad. The others seem to be lost. Madhvācārya wrote Sanskrit commentaries on the Ṛg Veda and the Upaniṣads. Raṅga Rāmānujācārya of the Śrī sampradāya also wrote commentaries on some of the Upaniṣads. There is a commentary on the principal Upaniṣads by Amolakrama Śāstrī of the Nimbārka sampradāya. Then there are English commentaries on the Upaniṣads by Yati Mahārāja of the Gauḍīya sampradāya. Recently the Swami Narayana group has published commentaries on the Upaniṣads.

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