Is BTG an Offender?
Are we “violating the very spirit of Hinduism”?
[Reprinted from BACK TO GODHEAD (Jan./Feb. Issue).
Copyright 1996 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International. Used by permission.]
Back to Godhead has been publishing (and plans to continue) a series of articles called "The Glories of the Demigods. " Yet not everyone is pleased with it. We publish here an objection, along with our reply.
Federation of Hindu Associations (FHA), Inc.
Hawaiian Gardens, California
The Federation of Hindu Associations. Inc. (FHA) takes strong exception to the article and subsequent rejoinders in the Back to Godhead magazine, May/June 1995, which in effect state that Shiva, Ganesha, Brahma, Rama and other deities can at best be considered as "demi-gods" and "a little higher" than human beings.
Statements of this type are extremely offensive and confusing to the devout Hindus and are destructive to the Hindu interests. Branding the worshipers of such deities as "offenders" is not fair to the compassionate and diversified philosophy of Hinduism.
With interpretations suiting to themselves, from obscure Puranas, since thousands of years, schools of Vaishnavism (Krishna), Shaivism and Shaktism (Durga) are unfortunately conflicting on this question. The attitudes reek of fundamentalism, violate the very spirit of Hinduism, and create the possibility of another offshoot from the mother religion. By following such interpretations, they are creating exclusive territories of influence and business around one deity, by eliminating or reducing the significance of others.
FHA considers that in Hinduism all deities represent the different forms, attributes, qualities, powers or shaktis of the same Almighty. A partial attachment to any of them, and not surrendering to all of the others remaining, does not complete surrender to all the qualities and components of the definition of God. Surrender to any deity is surrender to one of His attributes. Hence, all of them are worshipped, at one time or another, to complete the "Puja" [worship of the Supreme. So, nobody should knock down, degrade or insult any of the Gods or Goddesses by creating classes or grades around these multi-faces of the same God. FHA proposes that, for the benefit of Hinduism, we should stop this discussion and treatment of superiority and inferiority.
FHA appeals to ISKCON to continue the good work initiated by Swami Prabhupada. FHA notes that even after the identification of this controversy by Radha Raman temple, Placentia [California], the statements of ISKCON are still confusing and hurting to the cause of Hinduism.
FHA appeals to ISKCON to make a clear statement that "there is no superior or inferior among Krishna, Shiva or Durga" and retract the objectionable statements and declare themselves belonging to the Hindu family and way of life, respecting everyone.
FHA appeals to all temples, associations and activists to join and work together in the best interests of Hinduism, to benefit this commonwealth of beliefs and protect it from any damage.
Please Remember: Confinement is not Hinduism. HINDUS, PLEASE SAVE HINDUISM.
Prithvi Raj Singh, President
BACK TO GODHEAD
Founded in 1944 by His Divine Grace
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Dear Mr. Singh,
Thank you for sending us a copy of your resolution. I am grateful to you for expressing to us your concern. You have appealed to us to continue the good work initiated by Srila Prabhupada. Thank you for that request. We consider it your blessing. You have also appealed to us to make a clear statement, and so we shall. Here it is:
We reaffirm that Krsna alone is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. He appears in unlimited Vishnu forms such as Narayana and Rama. All other gods and living beings are His servants. Now, let me respond in some detail to the points you have raised in your resolution.
Yes, we have referred to Lord Siva, Sri Ganesha, and Lord Brahma as demigods--but not Lord Sri Rama. We consistently distinguish between the forms of Vishnu (the Supreme Lord) and the devas (the exalted servants of the Supreme Lord). According to authoritative scriptures, Lord Rama is another form of Vishnu--He is identical with Krsna, the Supreme Lord Himself--and deities such as Lord Siva, Lord Brahma, and Sri Ganesha are His servants.
Yes, we refer to these exalted servants as "demigods." This is an English rendering of the Sanskrit word deva, and it means that they are partial manifestations of God. Yes, we say they are subordinate to God and are His servants. Far from being insults, these are terms of high praise. According to the Rg Veda (1.22.20), to be subordinate to the Supreme Lord is the glorious qualification of the gods (om tad visnoh paramam padam sada pasyanti surayah). As conditioned souls, we are insubordinate-rebellious against the Lord--whereas the devas always humbly consider themselves subordinate and always look toward His lotus feet.
We therefore honor the devas for being exalted devotees. We do not call them ugly or bogus, dismiss them as "seducers," or consider them merely "a little higher" than human beings.
In a sheet attached to your resolution. you have enclosed a page from Back to Godhead in which you circle some passages to which you object. There we find the context in which we used the word bogus. We said that any one who claims to be God but whose claim has no basis in scripture is "simply bogus." Do we still stand by that? Absolutely. An impostor who claims to be God is not God but a dog. Such an impostor is just the opposite of the devas (gods); he is an asura (demon).
Are the devas "a little higher" than human beings? No, we never said that. They are vastly higher. But they are still subordinate to Vishnu, the Supreme Lord.
You are unhappy that we published a statement describing the worshipers of the devas as "offenders." But that word wasn't ours. It appeared in a direct quotation from the Padma Purana (one of the eighteen principal Puranas and hardly obscure). The specific Sanskrit word used is pasandi. We have given the translation "offender." According to the Monier-Williams Sanskrit-English dictionary, alternatives are "heretic,' "hypocrite, "impostor," or "anyone who falsely assumes the characteristics of an orthodox Hindu."
That's not our fault. That's what the scriptural quotation says. We have simply repeated it.
Anyway, for the moment let us leave the Puranas aside. In the Hare Krsna movement, our main source of teaching is Bhagavad-gita. That is our primary source of authority, the main scripture we follow. How about you? Do the members of your Association accept the words of Bhagavad-gita? I assume they must.
Then what do you make of this statement (Bhagavad-gita 9.23):
ye 'py anya-devata-bhakta yajante sraddhayanvitah
te 'pi mam eva kaunteya yajanty avidhi-purvakam
Here Lord Sri Krsna clearly says that those who are devotees of other gods (anya-devata) and who worship them with faith (sraddhayanvitah) are actually worshipping only Him (mam eva)--but they are doing it in the wrong way (avidhi-purvakum).
The Bhagavad-gita says it is wrong. Why should we say it is right?
Elsewhere in the Gita (7.20), Lord Sri Krsna says that because of materialistic desires (kamaih), those who surrender to other gods (anya-devatah) are bereft of intelligence (hrita-gyanah). The intelligent, Lord Krsna says(7.19): surrender to Him (mam prapadyante), knowing that He, Lord Sri Krsna, who appeared as the son of Vasudeva, is everything. He is the complete whole, the Absolute Truth, of whom all other living beings are a part.
Therefore, by worshipping Krsna one automatically worships all other deities, just as by watering the root of a tree one waters all the leaves and branches or by putting food in the stomach one feeds the entire body. We can't water every leaf of a tree or offer food to every cell in the body. But when we pour water on the root or put food in the stomach, the entire tree or the entire body is satisfied.
As you say in your resolution, "Surrender to any deity is surrender to one of His [God's] attributes." True. But surrender to the Supreme Lord Himself is surrender to the source of all deities and all attributes. You speak of the need to surrender to all the gods. But the Vedic scriptures tell us there are 330 million gods. So how will it be possible? We can't even think of all those gods, what to speak of surrender to them. [A friend has pointed out to me that to separately worship each of the 330 million gods within the course of a year, we'd need to worship more than 900 thousand of them every day.] Therefore, we have to follow the method given in the Bhagavad-gita by Lord Sri Krsna. God Himself: surrender to Krsna. In that way our surrender will be complete.
God is the complete reservoir of all qualities, powers, and attributes, and yes these are represented by various gods. Therefore some people are attracted to one god, some to another. But as you say, "A partial attachment to any of them, and not surrendering to all of the others remaining, does not complete surrender to all the qualities and components." But because Krsna is the origin and refuge of all these gods, one attains the perfection of surrender to all--in one stroke--simply by surrendering to Him alone.
Whatever one might get by worshipping any other god is in fact bestowed by Krsna Himself (mayaiva vihitan hi tan, Gita 7.22). Why then should one refuse to surrender exclusively to Lord Sri Krsna? The benefits one gets from other gods are temporary (anta-vat), and therefore Lord Krsna says in the Gita (7.23) that those who worship such gods are alpa-medhasa, "meager in intelligence." The devotees of such gods attain the abodes of those gods, which are all temporary and subject to distress (duhkhalayam asasvatam, Gita 8.15). The devotees of Krsna, on the other hand, attain the abode of Krsna Himself (yanti mam api), where they enjoy immortal bliss and knowledge. Again, these are not our statements. They are the statements of Bhagavad-gita. We simply accept them. What else are we supposed to do?
You castigate us for violating "the spirit of Hinduism." But without the Bhagavad-gita, what is the meaning of Hinduism? The ideas to which you are objecting come directly from the Gita. So why are you objecting?
You accuse us of deviating from "the mother religion." But the mother religion is not "Hinduism." The mother religion--for all living beings--is Sanatana dharma, or bhagavat dharma, devotion to Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord. In Bhagavad-gita (14.4) Lord Sri Krsna says that He is the father of all living beings (aham bija-pradah pita). He is even the father of the devas (aham adir hi devanam, Gita 10.2). The mother religion. therefore, is the worship of the Supreme Father (Bhagavan), the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna.
The Vedic scriptures, in fact, may be compared to our mother, and the Supreme Lord to our father. If we are in doubt about who our father is, we should best consult our mother. And according to the conclusion of all the Vedic literature, the father of all living beings is Bhagavan Sri Krsna (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam).
Srila Prabhupada, therefore, in books such as Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam, has presented the Vedic literature with scrupulous integrity. And he has distributed its message intact through the Krsna consciousness movement. Anyone born in India, the land of Vedic knowledge, is extremely fortunate. And we appeal to all such fortunate people to make their lives perfect by joining the Krsna consciousness movement and spreading it everywhere for the eternal benefit of all living beings.
On your letterhead I see the slogan garv se kaho ham hinda hai” Proudly declare, ‘I am Hindu.' " But in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna never tells Arjuna to declare himself Hindu. Rather, He directs Arjuna to give up all other forms of religion and simply surrender exclusively unto Him (mam ekar~ Saranarit vraja). The Lord then says, kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhakta pranasyati: "0 Arjuna, declare to the world that My devotee will never be vanquished." Therefore, if we are going to follow Bhagavad-gita, a better slogan would be garv se kaho ham bhagavan-Sri-krsna-ke das hai" Proudly declare to everyone, ‘I am a servant of Lord Sri Krsna.’ "
If Hinduism is to be saved, the way to save it is to accept Bhagavad-gita as it is. We may have been taught that all gods are equal and we should therefore surrender to them all. But Lord Krsna says to give up all such notions, accept Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and surrender to Him alone (sarva dharman partiyajya mam ekarit Saranam vraja).
As long as we refuse to surrender to Krsna we shall be confined to this material world (Gita 9.3). So if confinement is not Hinduism, we should at once surrender to Krsna. Lord Krsna will then at once grant us liberation from all material confinement and take us back home, back to Godhead. In this way--by following the divine instructions given in Bhagavad-gita by Lord Sri Krsna Himself--one attains the perfection of Hinduism, and the perfection of human life. Hare Krsna.
Jayadvaita Swami, Editor