Question: Why would a Vaiṣṇava Upaniṣad, like Gopāla Tāpanī Upaniṣad, recommend that one meditate on the concept “I am Gopāla” or “I am He”? This is a little confusing to me. How do we understand such statements in śāstra?
Answer: Śastra is for all. But not everything in it is meant for everyone. It is like a good drug store that carries all sorts of medication, but not all medicines are suitable for everyone. Therefore, there is the subject of adhikāra, or eligibility. Not everyone is an adhikārī for every path. This type of worship, called ahaṅgra upāsana, is not for pure Vaiṣṇavas.
Question: Rūpa Gosvāmī gives a definition of uttama-bhakti in Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu in that it should be devoid of jñāna and karma. Śāstras like Śrīmad Bhāgavatam or Gopāla Tāpanī Upaniṣad also have statements about jñāna-mārga. Do we find these types of statements because śāstra is a kalpa-taru and fulfills the desires of different kinds of people who approach Kṛṣṇa?
Answer: Yes. Śastra is not only for followers of uttama-bhakti but also for those who follow the paths of karma, jñāna, and yoga. However, it recommends uttama-bhakti for all.
Question: Should one first come to the platform of realization in jñāna-mārga before one becomes qualified and capable for uttama-bhakti? Just as wood that has to be dry for it to catch fire.
From a practical standpoint for sādhakas, realization in jñāna-mārga seems important. For example, if a person is addicted to sense pleasures, he will be obsessed with sense objects and will not have any time left for sādhanā.
Answer: No. You do not need to have realization of jñāna-mārga to be qualified to practice uttama-bhakti. Bhakti is self-sufficient and does not need any other process.
Please don’t confuse jñāna-mārga with jñāna. Jñāna is needed on any path. Also, do not confuse action with karma-mārga. Action is needed on every path.
Question: Śaṅkarācārya elaborated on impersonalist philosophy in order to counter the expansion of Buddhism. Is this a wrong interpretation or scripture, or does it have some real value?
Answer: The Absolute Reality has both aspects, personal and impersonal. The personal aspect includes the impersonal. In Śrimad Bhāgavatam 1.2.11, both of them are mentioned. Bhagavān and Paramātmā are the personal aspects and Brahman is the impersonal aspect. In Bhagavad Gītā 14.26, Kṛṣṇa also says that He is support of Brahman, the impersonal aspect. Therefore impersonalism is also based on scriptures, but the problem with Śaṅkarācārya’s interpretation is that he denigrates the personal aspect and calls it a product of māyā. That type of interpretation is not acceptable to us.
Question: After asking to see the Lord’s universal form (Gīta 11.8), Arjuna is upset and asks to see the Lord in his four-armed form, and then again in the form of Kṛṣṇa. The Lord had said that no one can see His universal form and that Arjuna would be granted spiritual eyes to see it. But, how can Arjuna see Lord Viṣṇu and Kṛṣṇa with material vision? It would seem that the universal form is then superior to personal form?
Answer: You cannot see Kṛṣṇa with material eyes. When Kṛṣṇa says He gives Arjuna divine eyes, divya-cakṣu, it means He gives him the eyes to see something inferior to His personal form. To see His personal form, you need eyes of love, but to see the universal form, you need the eye of majesty. That is what divine eye means. The word divya means divine. It refers to devam.
Moreover, when Kṛṣṇa says that this form is difficult to see (Gītā11.52), it does not necessarily mean that He refers to the universal form. It can also refer to His personal form. This is how some commentators have interpreted it.
“Will-power” is euphemism for ego-power. Its real use is to become a devotee.
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Regarding the “so’ham’asmi” question… A person who has ever fallen madly in love can understand the context in a personal philosophical way. The special intensity of śṛṇgar-rati is that it absolutely unites the lover and beloved. Its really the advaitists who convolute and distort a statement like “so’ham’asmi”.
“When Kṛṣṇa says He gives Arjuna divine eyes, divya-cakṣu, it means He gives him the eyes to see something inferior to His personal form”.
If a bhakta has already anointed his eyes with premāñjana, can he apply the eyeshadow of divya-cakṣu above it? Which one is the more appropriate collyrium to obtain a full darśana of one’s own guru?
The answer to these questions will vary from individual to individual. This application of collyrium is not something physical.
Ultimately it depends on Krishna, i.e., His grace, what He wants a bhakta to realize, just as in case of Arjuna.
Krishna fulfilled Arjuna’s desire to see His Vishva-rupa. Similarly, He may or may not fulfill the desire of a particular devotee.