Universalist Radha Krishnaism (Part 3)

Dr. Michael Valle and Subal Das continue our conversation:

MV: Are all or many of the primary religious texts in the world, in some significant sense, revealed by God-dess? If so, in what way?

SD: Yes. They are revealed scriptures. God-dess is within everyone. When we surrender, our life, will, thoughts and actions to God-dess, he/she is able to use us as an instrument to channel a divine revelation, which is of course limited by our receptivity, language skills, and the receptivity of the intended audience. So, these revelations are contextual, some being more specific in nature and others more universal and timeless. When confronted with biblical passages that he disagreed with Martin Luther said, “That may be the word of God for you, but it’s not the word of God for me.” Therefore, there are so many revelations according to time and place. Those revelations are still happening today. There is still much more to be revealed.
Bhaktivinode Thakur believed revelations are progressive. He said, “Progress certainly is the law of nature and there must be corrections and developments with the progress of time.”1 According to process theology, everything is in process, including God-dess who is beyond our understanding, and yet our collective and individual understanding of God-dess develops over time. If faith does not grow and develop, it stagnates and dies.

Bhaktivinode says, “Liberty then is the principle, which we must consider as the most valuable gift of God. We must not allow ourselves to be led by those who lived and thought before us. We must think for ourselves and try to get further truths which are still undiscovered. In the Bhagavat we have been advised to take the spirit of the shastras and not the words. The Bhagavat is, therefore, a religion of liberty, unmixed truth, and absolute love.”2

Bhaktivinode believed his understanding of things to be more advanced than that of persons in the so-called golden Vedic age. He believed that when Chaitanya’s teachings came to the West, they would advance still further. I hope I make some small contribution to that advancement of revelation. We should not be fixated on past revelations, but learn from them and listen to what God-dess reveals to us today. Our degree of openness and surrender affects our receptiveness to scripture and direct revelation also. So, the transmitter and the receiver of revelation must be qualified for the desired effect to take place. God-dess reveals constantly in innumerable ways. We just need the eyes to see and ears to hear and the openness of heart to respond.

MV: Is religious belief a necessary condition for achieving union with God-dess after death? For example, could an atheist achieve this state if s/he lives morally? Or is the yearning for God and the activities motivated by that union necessary?

SD: Religious belief is not necessary. I prefer spirituality to religion and faith to belief. Spirituality is about having a personal relationship with God-dess. Paul Tillich, in Dynamics of Faith, describes faith as “ultimate concern” and a centered act that involves the whole person. He also says what it is not. It is not believing the unbelievable. Our beliefs may change over our lifetime as mine certainly have, yet my faith remains solid.

What do we have faith in? Do we have faith in God-dess, Radha Krishna? or the teachings of a guru? or what it says in some old books? or the process of devotion? the grace of God-dess?

We need not believe anything to have faith, yet beliefs form the content of faith. Those beliefs are expressed in symbol and myth. They may be changed and altered over time just as we may rearrange the furniture of our home. The symbols and myths point to God-dess, but are not God-dess per se. Yet they partake in the nature of God-dess and are therefore simultaneously one and different from God-dess.

Bhaktivinode was influenced by Unitarian theologians and his views are similar to Tillich’s. One important point for Bhaktivinode was that these symbols are not based on material conceptions, but on what we may call spiritual archetypes, and here Jungian thought and Joseph Campbell are relevant. This world is seen as an emanation of the spiritual world, and therefore, the patterns seen here are derived from there rather than us projecting our patterns on the spiritual world.
I think it is important to make the distinction between faith and belief so that when we find out the Bhagavad Gita wasn’t written by Vyasa, 5,000 years ago and transmitted to us exactly by an infallible disciplic succession, or when someone like me says we need to transform these myths and symbols to make them relevant, we do not lose faith because our beliefs are challenged. This is a progressive Protestant way of thinking. I think Chaitanya Vaishnavism needs a reformation of its own.
When we place our faith or ultimate concern/passion in something that is not ultimate, that is idolatry. This can take the form of nationalism, success, Jesusolatry, or taking the symbol to be the object itself, whether that is the myth, the sect, a particular concept. Remember, God-dess is beyond the limits of our language and conception.

What makes all this vital is that faith calls us to make a central act of total surrender to the object of our faith. If we take this seriously, it’s an awesome thing. What if we’re wrong? What if this really isn’t real? Therefore, doubt is an inherent part of faith. The seriousness of our doubt should reflect the seriousness of our faith. This doubt must be met with courage. A dynamic faith must include and encourage doubt. That way it will grow and not stagnate.

Lalita Prasad Thakur initiated me into ekadas-bhav and told me to go back to the West and preach. I learned a method of visualization and meditation from him. I wondered if Goloka Vrindaban existed on its own, or did it exist because I imagined it.
“The doubt which is implicit in every act of faith is neither the methodological nor the skeptical doubt. It is the doubt which accompanies every risk…it is the doubt of him who is ultimately concerned about a concrete content. One could call it the existential doubt…it is aware of the element of insecurity in every existential truth. At the same time, the doubt which is implied in faith accepts this insecurity and takes it into itself in an act of courage. Faith includes courage. Therefore, it can include the doubt about itself.” Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith, p 23.

After many years, I now conclude that it doesn’t matter. Everything we can imagine is real on some level of existence. With so many persons imagining Radha Krishna and Goloka Vrindaban for so many years, they must exist. Whatever we most desire, set our mind on, love, cherish and focus our life energy on, we will think of at the time of death and that will carry us on to the next life.

So, as for atheists, who do not place their faith in God-dess but in secondary causes such as nationalism, capitalism, self, family, etc., I do not think they will attain the same result. We have free will and God-dess will not take that away. Atheists can go on life after life as atheists reaping the fruits of their actions. However, devotees will attain God-dess’ eternal realm by grace attained through the means of grace such as hearing, chanting and remembering God-dess. It is a matter of being in a relationship of love.

1 The Bhagavat, Its Philosophy, Ethics and Theology
2 Ibid.

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