Universalist Radha Krishnaism (Part 2)

Dr. Michael Valle and Subal Das continue our discussion of Universalist Radha Krishnaism.

MV: Is God-dess present in other religions? If so, in what way? And how do we explain the exclusivism that is often present in religions?

SD: God-dess is present in other religions, but usually in a more limited stage of realization. For example, the Abrahamic religions tend to focus on a male creator God who started out as sort of a storm god, war god or tribal god who gradually evolved to become a more universal God as Karen Armstrong nicely explained in her A History of God. Buddha is considered to be an incarnation of God-dess, even though he taught an atheistic religion which is what some people need.

Similarly, Radha Krishna evolved out of the Vedic concept of God in dialogue with other concepts, both indigenous to the Indian sub-continent and imported. A long process led up to the revelation of Chaitanya and his followers, which I consider to be a sublime achievement of mythology and theology. I am universalizing these teachings–freeing them from the Indian context in which they were born and making them more accessible to persons of different backgrounds.

Religions with a more limited scope of realization may make claims that their God is better or their way is the only way. I say their God is too small. God-dess has no rival, and indeed is all-in-all. Everyone realizes God-dess according to their nature. Therefore, God-dess is known as Radha Krishna, Parvati Shiva, Brahman, Paramatman, Yahweh, Father, Allah, Great Spirit, Holy Spirit, Cosmic Christ, Ground of Being, Cause of all Causes, the Great Mystery, the Higher Power and many other names which are virtually limitless.

We are universalist in our views, meaning we see all faiths as steps or stages of God-dess realization according to the level of consciousness of persons in different times and circumstances. Universalist Radha Krishnaism (URK) is a living, evolving process of God-dess realization that takes the best of past teachings from varied sources and updates them so they are relevant in today’s context. We do not seek to convert members of other faiths, but offer a sweet, natural and easy alternative for essence seekers who want more than they find elsewhere.

I live in a relativistic, pluralistic world that is open to truth in all forms. I feel it is our unique opportunity at this time to be able to take the best teachings and practices of all paths and integrate them into a multi-faceted whole which gives a more complete picture of Truth than any one path could do alone.

MV: Explain what you mean by “panentheism.” How is it different from theistic, pantheistic and deistic views of Divinity?

SD: Panentheism refers to the belief that God-dess is greater than the universe yet includes and interpenetrates it. God-dess is the basis of existence, the source of all life and love. God-dess is eternal. God-dess exists before the beginning of time and beyond time in eternity. Time and space began with the material creation. God-dess was and is and ever shall be before and after that.

Radha Krishna live in the transcendental realm of Goloka Vrindaban which is beyond the time/space continuum of this material universe. Not bound by space/time, they can be anywhere and everywhere, including our hearts and minds, and when we remember them, anywhere can be seen as Goloka Vrindaban. This universe is created by the union of Radha Krishna. It is a manifestation of their love. It is an expansion of their creative energy which is inconceivably, simultaneously one and different from them. As the Ground of Being, they are the very substance of creation. They pervade and support the creation as well as guide the living entities as the Super Soul within the heart. God-dess is the super soul, the universal guru, the cosmic Christ.

God-dess is incredibly close and immanent. We can talk to God-dess and God-dess hears and knows and feels and experiences our lives right along with us. God-dess talks to us and guides us on the path of life. God-dess is a constant presence with us. We are free to acknowledge God-dess’ presence and follow God-dess’ guidance or not.

God-dess is all pervading. God-dess’ presence in every atom, in every galaxy, in every rock and tree and person is what sustains creation. God-dess keeps the electrons spinning around the nucleus, the stars orbiting in the galaxies and the whole creation alive with wonder. God-dess is the soul of the universe, and the universe is God-dess’ body.

God-dess’ consciousness pervades the entire material creation. Everything is God-dess’ energy and nothing is separate from God-dess. Therefore, everything is spiritual. It is because we see things as separate from God-dess that they are called material. As soon as we realize that this is God-dess’ creation, simultaneously one and different from God-dess, and that God-dess is all that exists, then we are enlightened. Then we are awake. We know what’s what. So, in this panentheistic view, God-dess is both transcendent and immanent.

Theistic, pantheistic and deistic views of Divinity are incomplete. Theism kind of deals with the old creator God up in the sky, puttering around, creating the earth in six days and occasionally popping in to check up on things or make adjustments. This view is quite obsolete in light of current cosmology and philosophy. Deism is quite similar except God does not keep up a relationship with humankind. He becomes more of a distant High God who is irrelevant to people’s lives.

Pantheism identifies God with the universe or considers the universe to be a manifestation of God. This is a partial truth. God-dess is one with the universe, yet different at the same time. God-dess, the Whole is more than the sum of the parts. A part of God-dess is not God-dess totally, yet is not different either. Panentheism acknowledges God-dess’ existence beyond the universe as well as in it.

MV: Vaishnavas usually take the stories of Radha and Krishna in the Bhagavata Purana to refer to literal, historical events. How do you understand those stories?

SD: I view them as myths. I don’t know what else one might call them. They are certainly not literal, historical events as we currently understand history. Radha is not specifically mentioned in the Bhagavata. Her character was developed later.

As I learned it, myth builds worlds. It creates a world view that encompasses both this world and the spiritual world. It is something that springs forth from the collective unconscious or spiritual plane manifesting the archetypes or gods and goddesses in a language we can relate to. These universal truths are revealed according to time and circumstance, and therefore, are culturally conditioned.

I am dedicated to extracting the essence of the Radha Krishna myth, stripping it of many of the cultural externals and reviving it in a Western context. This is a huge undertaking, and I hope others are of like mind and interested in developing such a revisioning. Myths have their limits, and if they are not constantly renewed and revitalized to make them relevant to current recipients, they may die.

I seek to extract the essence of the Radha Krishna myth and give it a Western makeover. It’s like Chinese Christians depict Jesus and his disciples as Chinese, Africans as African, European as European. Radha and Krishna are the ideal young Indian couple. What would the ideal Western couple look like and what would their pastimes be? These things can’t just be made up intellectually, but must transcend the intellect while including it in a revelatory experience that comes through persons like us. Who else but Westerners could produce an indigenous Western Radha Krishnaism?

This requires quite a break with the past, and naturally a lot of feathers are going
to be ruffled, but I feel driven by my guru’s mandate to preach in the West, and to do so in a way that is relevant today.

Reading various books of Radha Krishna pastimes that are now available, that I realized how Indian those descriptions were and how dysfunctional by current psychological standards much of their behavior is. Even from the view point of aesthetics, which much of the pastimes are based on, much of the writing is not aesthetically pleasing today. It’s also hard to visualize stuff when half of it is flowers, trees, fruits, ornaments, etc. that can’t be translated into English because there is no English equivalent. I very much want to spend eternity serving Radha Krishna, but not in some dysfunctional, antiquated, Indian version of Goloka.

In Sri Madhava Mahotsava by Sri Jiva Gosvamipada, translated by Bhanu Swami, in the final section, The Union, Jiva says, “The Divine Couple Radha-Madhava, the personifications of beauty, the temple of youthfulness, the kingdom of good qualities, the treasure house of all types of bliss, the essence of all sixty four arts, a heavenly flower scented by Cupid’s own fragrance, and the shelter of Their devotees…” I think this is a pretty good statement of what the essence of God-dess is.

Then, in The Concluding Request, Jiva says, “With all my intelligence I have not even been able to vaguely describe this blissful pastime.. Far from presenting the details, I cannot even present a general description. The form of the moon is only manifest in the full moon.” Jiva Goswami, who is better known for his theological treatises, did an outstanding job of describing Radha’s bathing ceremony and coronation as the Queen of Vrindaban. He talks about using his intelligence to describe these blissful pastimes. Faith transcends intelligence, but it does not negate it. We are to use our intelligence in these matters.

Jiva also admits his inability to describe these pastimes because of the limitations of language and he also admits that his description is different from the actual pastimes. They are symbolic, metaphorical, mythological descriptions of the actual spiritual realities, and that is the only way spiritual truths can be described. It is a language of faith developed by a community of faith. Therefore, it is subject to scrutiny and further development.

If we could all admit the limitations of our visions and descriptions as Jiva so humbly does throughout, perhaps we would not be so attached to them and not need to take them in such a literal, concrete way.

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