Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 18 Aug 2019


Two Confusions in Hinduism

1) Shri Kishore Ram, Shri Hrushikesh and Kum. Purnima asked: There are two common confusions people have about Hinduism. The first is theoretical and the second is practical. The first is regarding Śaṅkara’s theory that every soul is God. The second is about the practical behavior of Krishna, since He stole butter and danced with the Gopikās. How do we resolve these two?

Swami replied: O Learned and Devoted Servants of God! The greatest confusion arises when you combine these two confusions mentioned by you. As per Śaṅkara, the soul is God, which means that every human being is a Human Incarnation or Lord Krishna Himself. If every human being feels that he is Krishna and starts behaving like Krishna—stealing others’ wealth and dancing with illegitimate partners—the confusion reaches its climax! We have to understand both these confusions independently and also when they are combined together.

Confusion Regarding Śaṅkara’s Philosophy

Let us examine the theoretical confusion regarding Śaṅkara’s philosophy, which is the result of the lack of correct understanding of His philosophy. When Śaṅkara came, the country was full of atheists, who did not believe in the existence of any God other than themselves. There is no other way to bring the atheist to the path of theism other than by telling him that he himself is God. The atheist accepts the existence of ‘God’ because he knows for sure that he exists. Hence, Śaṅkara had to say that every soul is God. Since the soul exists and the soul itself was said to be God, Śaṅkara was able to convince the atheists that God exists. But Śaṅkara carefully took all the necessary steps to prevent a person from thinking that every ordinary soul is actually God. The truth is that every ordinary soul is not God. It was the extreme condition of society in Śaṅkara’s time that had forced Him to say that every ordinary soul is God. So, even though Śaṅkara initially said that every soul is God, in course of time, He slowly introduced some other concepts too. These other concepts indirectly indicate that every soul is not God. But He took sufficient care to avoid a self-contradiction. i.e., He did not say that every soul is God and then directly contradict it by saying that every soul is not God.

If every soul is already God, the soul must become God as soon as it recognizes itself to be God. What is the identifying characteristic of God? The Veda says that God is the one who creates, controls and destroys this world. This means that as soon as the soul comes to know that it is God, it must be able to create the world, control it and destroy it. But even after knowing that it is God, the soul is unable to create even an atom of matter or even a ray of energy! It clearly proves that every soul is not God. This would have caused Śaṅkara’s followers to give up His philosophy and turn back to atheism. But Śaṅkara did not allow the followers to lose their faith and turn back. To motivate them to progress further, He told them that they would become God only when they were firmly convinced that they are God. He said that by merely knowing that one is God, the practical effect of one’s deep and long-standing ignorance (ajñānavikṣepa) does not come to an end. The soul is unable to come out of the practical influence of the long-standing ignorance. Simply knowing that the soul is God is removing the theoretical ignorance (ajñānāvaraṇa).

Śaṅkara gave an example to explain this point. A person saw a tiger in a dream and was shivering with fear. The person was awakened by another person. As soon as the dreaming person awoke, he knew that he had been seeing a dream and that the tiger from his dream did not actually exist. But in spite of his realization of the truth, his shivering due to fear did not stop all at once. The knowledge that the tiger is non-existent had only removed the theoretical ignorance. But the removal of the theoretical ignorance, did not end the practical ignorance (shivering out of fear). It took the person some time to come back to a stable state of mind and be fully convinced that the tiger he had seen was unreal. The practical effect (shivering due to fear) ends only once the person is fully convinced. Using this example, Śaṅkara explained to them why the practical effect of the soul’s ignorance does not vanish as soon as the theoretical ignorance is removed. The followers were pacified with this logic. They accepted that even though their theoretical ignorance had ended and they had realized that they were God, they would actually become God only after the practical ignorance ended. To get rid of the practical ignorance, Śaṅkara said that attaining purity and concentration of the mind was essential. For this, Śaṅkara suggested that the soul must worship God! He told them that without the grace of God, it was impossible to remove the practical ignorance. Thus, He turned them into devotees of God. In the first step, He converted atheists into theists and in the second step, He converted the theists into devotees of God. This is the twist of Śaṅkara for gradually bringing atheists to the path of devotion by these two steps. The two-step twist became necessary only because of the peculiar situation during Śaṅkara’s time. If this twist is carefully understood, the theoretical confusion related to the philosophy of Śaṅkara disappears.

The main focus of Śaṅkara was only the first step even though He introduced the second step too. So, He never left the concept that the soul is already God. Worshipping God was only treated by Him as an intermediate step to becoming God. The first step, as per Śaṅkara, was theoretically knowing oneself to be God. The second step was worshipping God to purify and focus the mind. The third step was the final goal of becoming God. This is what He told to His followers. But in reality, the first step was converting the atheist into a theist. The second step was converting the theist into a devotee and the third step was a total lie, if generally applied to the majority. But the third step represented a possibility or an opportunity for a soul to become God. If an atheist first became a theist and then developed devotion and further intensified his devotion, he might be selected by God to merge with Him and become a Human Incarnation. So, in the sense of this exceptional case of becoming a Human Incarnation of God, Śaṅkara’s third step was indeed true. Hence, Śaṅkara set this highest goal even for the atheist. Since there is every possibility of even an atheist becoming God, you cannot say that what Śaṅkara told was a total lie. But one must be very clear that the exceptional case of becoming a Human Incarnation of God cannot be generalized.

Rāmānuja followed the second step and stressed on the devotion of the soul to God. Śaṅkara said that the knowledge that the soul is God is the main means to attaining the highest goal. Rāmānuja said that the devotion of the soul to God is the main means of attaining the highest goal. Rāmānuja said that the soul is not God, but is a tiny part of God. His concept diverges from Śaṅkara’s concept but it provides some consolation to the soul that even though it cannot become God, it will at least become a tiny part of God. Madhva’s concept was completely opposite to that of Śaṅkara since Madhva said that the soul is neither God nor a tiny part of God but is totally different from God and will remain totally different from God, forever. He said that the soul was eternally a servant to God. Madhva said that service to God is the main means of attaining the highest goal.

Madhva’s theory was the most accurate truth. Does it then mean that what Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja said were blatant lies? Not exactly. It is possible for the soul to become God or, at least, become a tiny part of God. However, every soul is not already God nor is the soul already a tiny part of God. Basically, the soul is totally different from God. It is only by the will of God that a selected soul can either become God or a tiny part of God, in due course of time. Becoming God means becoming a Human Incarnation of God when God merges with that selected soul. In the Incarnation, the soul exists in a state of monism with God. Apart from this monistic Human Incarnation, a soul can also become a dualistic Human Incarnation. In this case, that soul is associated very closely with God as a tiny part of God. Even though God has not actually merged with the soul, it is still treated to be an Incarnation by the public. The most important point is that the soul should never desire to either become a monistic or a dualistic Incarnation of God. It should be God’s desire to make that devoted soul into any of the two types of Incarnations. As long as the desire to become God or to become a tiny part of God persists with the soul, the soul will neither become God nor even a tiny part of God.

The Human Incarnation happens only when God desires to become a Human Incarnation for the sake of the welfare of the devoted world. Krishna was a monistic Incarnation whereas Balarāma was a dualistic Incarnation, who was counted among the ten major Incarnations of God. As per Madhva, the soul is always a servant of God and should never wish to become God or a tiny part of God. The soul should never have an eye on becoming Human Incarnation. Whenever God wishes, He will make a certain selected soul an Incarnation. Due to this possibility, we see that Śaṅkara and Rāmānuja are not at all wrong. If this is understood deeply and patiently, the philosophy of Śaṅkara, as supported by Rāmānuja and Madhva, has no trace of confusion at all.  Even though a soul is basically different from God, there is no harm if a person thinks that he or she is God as long as the assumption of monism is made for a good cause. Sometimes, a person can lose confidence while doing some good work. To regain confidence, the person can think that he or she is God. Even though this assumption is not true, it can boost the person’s confidence and help the person in his or her worldly as well as spiritual life. In assuming oneself to be God, one should be broad-minded and work for the benefit the world. One should not be narrow-minded and work only for the benefit of one’s own family. Śaṅkara propagated His monism with a view to enabling such good worldly work and the spiritual development of the soul. But when the soul misuses this monism and commits sins, it becomes necessary to reveal the total picture of Śaṅkara’s philosophy. It becomes necessary to reveal that the monism is not real, but is a twist that was meant to convert an atheist into theist.

Confusion Regarding Krishna’s Behavior

Stealing Butter and Dancing with the Gopikās

Let us come to the second confusion created by Krishna’s practical behavior in Bṛndāvanam. Krishna said in the Gita that greed, anger and illegitimate sex (Kāmaḥ krodhaḥ tathā lobhaḥ) should be avoided, since they are the main gates to hell. But what did He practice? Even though He had plenty of butter in His own house, He stole butter from others’ houses, which is climax of greediness. He even killed a lady (Pūtanā), who had fed Him milk from her breast, like a mother. This shows the climax of His cruelty and anger. He danced with the married Gopikās at night, which shows the climax of His involvement in illegitimate sex. What He preached in the Gita seems to be quite opposite to His practical behavior! Assuming that He was God, He should not have done these three sinful deeds in the interest of being an example for humanity. Following His example, human beings are highly likely to imitate His behavior, leading to the rapid spread of sin in society.

This confusion regarding the practical life of Krishna can be removed by understanding the background of the Gopikās. The Gopikās were sages for several millions of births and had been searching for God. Finally, they realized that God can be found in human form itself, since He incarnates in human form in every human generation. The Human Incarnation is most convenient for interacting with humanity. The sages, in their final birth as sages, discovered that Rāma was God-in-human-form in their generation. They were greatly attracted to the divine personality of Rāma. A devotee can worship God by loving Him as a family member or friend. Different devotees in the past have loved and worshipped God in the form of different relations. For instance, Lava and Kuśa loved God as their father. Lakṣmaṇa and Balrāma loved God as their Brother. Sītā and Rukmiṇī loved God as their Husband. Daśratha, Kausalyā, Nanda and Yaśodā loved God as their Son. The Gopikās and Meera loved Him as their illegitimate Lover. Both the Gopikās and Meera were married and had legitimate husbands and yet they loved Krishna, as their Lover. Out of all the above bonds, sage Nārada says in his Bhakti Sūtras that the bond with God as an illegitimate Lover is the strongest (jāravatca, yathā vraja gopikānām).

A person who has an illegitimate lover, is able to overcome the bond with the legitimate partner for the sake of the lover. It means that the bond with the illegitimate lover is stronger than all legitimate bonds. It is the strongest bond. Sage Nārada means to say that the bond of a devotee with God is the strongest when it is stronger than all the legitimate bonds. Such a devotee is able to overcome all the legitimate bonds for the sake of the bond with God, which is similar to the case of a person having an illegitimate affair. It certainly does not mean that any illegitimate bond in the world is an example of the highest devotion. The illegitimate bond is only being compared to the bond of devotion. The bond of devotion between the devotee and God is the item that is compared (upameya). It is compared to the illegitimate bond (upamāna). The similarity between the two, which is reason for comparing them, is the strength of the bond which exceeds the strength of all legitimate bonds. All other aspects between the bond of devotion and the illegitimate bond are very different and are not to be considered. Such a comparison is called a nīcopamā, which means a ‘simile with a bad example’. Another example of such a comparison is when a poet writes in praise of a king “The king’s fame is spreading in the world as fast as sin.” Sin is spreading very fast in the present Kali age. So, the statement means that the king’s fame is spreading very fast. Here, even though the comparison is bad, the common aspect of spreading fast makes the comparison perfectly suitable. Such a comparison (simile) is allowed but there is a caution: One must confine only to the common aspect in which the comparison is valid. One should not misunderstand that an exact comparison in all aspects is valid.

The behavior of Krishna involving dancing with the married Gopikās and stealing their butter can be undertood on the basis of the following three points:

  1. The Gopikās were sages in their previous births. After doing penance for millions of births, they finally found God in the form the Rāma, the living Human Incarnation in their generation. They were highly attracted to the personality of Rāma. They wanted to become females with their miraculous powers and embrace Him as females. The sages knew that Rāma was already married. So, even if they had become females, they would have become His illegitimate lovers. In other words, the sages had wished to become Rāma’s illegitimate lovers. Note that the illegitimate bond with God was chosen by the sages and not by God. Rāma told them that the purpose of His Incarnation was to preach to humanity through His own example of how an ideal human being should behave (Ādarśa Mānuṣāvatāra). Hence, it was not possible for Him to grant their wish during that Incarnation. But He told them that He would fulfill their desire in the next birth.
  2. Accordingly, in the next birth, Rāma incarnated in the form of Krishna and the sages were reborn as Gopikās. Krishna danced with the married Gopikās because the Gopikās, who were sages in the past births, had themselves desired for having this strongest illegitimate bond with God. Krishna did not have any such desire for illegitimate relations, which is proved by the fact that He never repeated such behavior anywhere else and with anyone else. He only had such relations with the Gopikās of Bṛndāvanam. He did not repeat it with anyone else because there were no other souls like Gopikās, who were reborn sages and had desired to be His lovers. If Krishna had been a person with a loose character, He would have returned to Bṛndāvanam to be with the Gopikas again. But He never returned. If He had been a peson with a taste for having such illegitimate relations, He would have repeated the same behavior with others elsewhere, later in His life. But He never repeated such behavior. In fact, even though sixteen thousand daughters of kings loved Him, He did not choose to have illegitimate relations with them. Instead, He formally married all of them.
  3. The three strongest worldly bonds of any soul are (a) the bond with money, (b) the bond with one’s issues and (c) the bond with one’s life-partner. God tests devotees by competing with these worldy bonds. If the devotee votes for God instead of these three worldly bonds, it means that the devotee’s bond with God is the strongest. The above three worldly bonds are stronger than all other worldly bonds such as the bonds with relatives, friends etc. If the bond with God is stronger than the above three, there is no need to test whether it is stronger than the other worldly bonds. Butter was the hard-earned wealth of the Gopikās. When Krishna stole butter from their houses, their bond with wealth was tested. They knew that Krishna was God, since He had performed several miracles from His childhood. They had to choose between God Krishna and their wealth. Those Gopikās, who considered the bond with their wealth (butter) to be greater than their bond with God, went to Yaśodā and complained against Krishna. They failed in the test. The successful Gopikās were the few ones who were happy about His stealing. They deliberately went out of their houses leaving the doors open to allow Krishna to come in and steal their butter. The stealing of butter not only tested the Gopikās’ bond with their wealth but also the bond with their children. This is because the butter stored in their houses was meant for feeding their children. Hence, the stealing of butter simultaneously tested the bonds with wealth and issues. The third strongest bond was with their life partners. It was tested by Krishna by dancing with a few of them in Bṛndāvanam secretly at night. God tested their ability to overcome these three bonds for His sake and the successful Gopikās were granted salvation. Salvation means the total liberation from all worldly bonds.

Krishna’s use of violence

2) Shri Kishore Ram, Shri Hrushikesh and Kum. Purnima asked: Some religions, especially Jainism, criticize Krishna for using extreme violence (killing) in order to establish justice. What do You think about this?

Swami Replied: Krishna never supported unjustified violence. The case of killing Pūtanā has been mentioned above. Pūtanā was a demoness, who had been sent to kill the baby Krishna. Pretending to be a nurse, she had applied poison on her breasts and had tried to feed milk to Krishna. Of course, Krishna, being an Incarnation of God, could not be killed by her and instead, she got killed. Krishna never favored violence. He used violence only as a last resort and that too, only against wicked and unjust people. Even to such people, He usually gave many opportunities to change and return to the path of justice. Only when they rejected all those opportunities and continued their unjust behavior, did He finally control them with violence. Such violence is not only justified but it is necessary for maintaining justice and balance in the world.

You might wonder why Krishna did not advise Pūtanā to avoid injustice as He advised Duryodhana. Pūtanā was a 100% demon and her external human form was just like an external mask hiding her true demonic nature. Demons never listen to anybody’s advice due to their 100% ego. Duryodhana was also previously a demon, called Kālanemi. But, he was born as a human being. Besides, in his birth as Duryodhana, he was under the training of the good teachers, Bhiṣma and Drona. So, his demonic quality was somewhat reduced. He was 75% demon and 25% human being. For such a soul, there is at least a small chance of listening to good advice, if given. Krishna personally knew that Duryodhana’s inner demonic tendency (pūrva janma saṃskāra) was too strong and that it would not allow him to follow good advice. But, if Krishna had proceeded to war without properly advising Duryodhana, the world would have blamed Krishna. People would have said that since Duryodhana was also a human being, there might have been some possibility of his listening to good advice and avoiding the war. Hence, Krishna, not only advised him personally, but He also made several sages to come and advise Duryodhana. After his death, Duryodhana did not turn to a demon like Pūtanā.

Some Jains criticize Krishna for supporting war, which is not correct. Even some Christians criticize Krishna for adopting violence to reform a soul. Krishna tried His level-best to reform Duryodhana several times through His divine advice. When the soul is not reformed inspite of hectic divine efforts to reform, even in Christianity, the condemned soul is thrown into liquid fire forever. Is that not the climax of violence? God is only one, whether the religion is Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity or any other. The actions of God are always justified because He is the best judge to decide on the specific punishment for every soul.

Thus, we see that the ignorance of the truth is the reason for our misunderstanding of Krishna’s behavior. He never supported illegitimate desire, violence or greed. Instead, He always supported justice. He was the highest embodiment of justice and He established justice in the world. When the truth is known through deep analysis, all confusions disappear and the extraordinary divine personality of Krishna is revealed.

Shankara Sankara ajnaanavikshepa ajnaanaavarana Ramanuja Raamaanuja kaamah krodhah tathaa lobhah jaaravatcha yathaa vrajagopikanaam Dashratha Kousalya Nandana Yashoda Lakshmana Balrama Balarama Gopikas Meera upameya niichopamaa aadarshamaanushaavatara Yashoda Bhisma Drona Putana