Sources of Knowledge

“Shabda (revelation) is clearly recognized as the only proper source of knowledge. Sri Chaitanya is represented, in Chaitanya-charitamrita, as saying to Sanatan that the only way to right knowledge is through scriptures…Most philosophers, however, limit themselves to perception and inference as the only sources of knowledge. According to Sri Chaitanya, perception and inference, as based on our sense organs, are defective and unreliable.” (63)

Certainly, Empiricism and Rationalism have their limits. They are not capable of perceiving or conceiving God-dess. However, scripture also has its limits. Here is where a clash of cultures and worldviews comes into play. Traditional Chaitanyaism takes a literal view of scripture. They believe the Vedic scriptures to be more ancient than they are, written by Vyas, an incarnation of God-dess, and containing the actual, revealed words and deeds of God-dess and demigod-desses from the beginning of creation. Vyas means “author.” Many persons wrote under that name producing scriptures over the centuries.

For example, the Srimad Bhagavat is traditionally believed to date c 3,000 BCE. Contemporary scholars date it c 900 CE. Many devotees deny the reliability of the scholarly date based on arguments as given above. They literally accept a pre-rational, magical-mythical world-view populated by God-dess, gods, goddesses, saints and demons engaged in cosmic battles of good versus evil. They believe this knowledge is perfectly preserved and transmitted through the ages and contains literal information of life in the spiritual world, beyond the material creation of innumerable universes.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, who introduced Chaitanyaism to the West, claimed an infallible disciplic succession going back to Krishna teaching Brahma at the beginning of creation. Thus, the infallible teachings of the scriptures are passed on infallibly by a succession of gurus since the beginning of time. These teachings are to be accepted literally, without question, as the Absolute Truth.

I look at books such as the Srimad Bhagavat as superb myths that provide a fantastically beautiful, compelling world-view for this life and the next. Yet these books are not to be taken as literal histories of occurrences on this plane of existence, although there are some correspondences. These scriptures contain revealed knowledge of God-dess, but that revelation comes to and through Indian culture at different times in history. They represent how God-dess spoke to Indians in antiquity. What do they have to say to us today? This requires a hermeneutical leap.

Bhaktivinode Thakur, my grand-guru, began using the Western, critical scholarly approach to scripture in the nineteenth century and wrote for Western educated persons of his day. He saw the introduction of Chaitanyaism to the West as an evolutionary step, entailing the establishment of a rational approach to faith rather than emotionalism and superstition. Therefore, I accept a more academic view of scripture and history. I do not ask persons to believe the unbelievable, deny their innate intelligence or an objective, scientific view of material reality.

I revere the scriptures and love reading them. However, they must be reinterpreted considering today’s understandings and updated for a whole new context. They contain eternal wisdom, the perennial philosophy, but it is sometimes difficult to approach, due to secondary cultural influences. I am an essence seeker whose project is to harmonize revelation with objective reality and a rational approach to spirituality. A holistic, body, mind, intellect, spiritual path is what I offer. Being whole, healthy and holy are closely related. When Truth is our goal, we need to employ all means at our disposal to attain it combining the wisdom of today with the wisdom of antiquity.

“While, however, in the opinion of the relativists, perception and inference, must by their very nature, be always denied access to reality, according to Sri Chaitanya they can be treated as valid sources of knowledge when purified by Bhakti.” (64) When engaged in the service of God-dess, our senses, mind and intellect are purified and open us to God-dess. Those who are adverse, will never experience God-dess, but God-dess cannot hide from devotees.

Kapoor says, “the vision of the pure soul is the mystic element in religion.” (65) This mystic vision is the source of revelation. When we look at the mystical teachings of the various religions, we find the eternal wisdom of the ages which transcends sectarian boundaries.

Mystic experience transcends the scope of science and psychology, enabling the mystic to experience God-dess directly. The spiritual potency of God-dess is able to enter the devotee’s consciousness enabling direct perception of the spiritual dimension of reality beyond the material plane. This is not provable through the senses or reason, but one can see the effects on the mystic’s life and in the philosophy that develops from it.

When we go from the experience itself to describing the experience, it becomes a whole other thing. Then we need to consider the qualifications of the mystic and the milieu being addressed. The description becomes part of the accumulated tradition which is subject to objective, psychological and rational, critical scrutiny, especially when approached in a devotional attitude.

God-dess dwelling in the heart of all, is able to completely infuse us with spiritual potency, transforming our entire being to a higher, spiritual nature suitable for self-realization. Establishing a loving relationship with God-dess is a subjective process that must be realized for oneself guided by scripture, tradition and teachers, but we must each find our own unique path.

Different persons have different degrees of openness to God-dess’ persuasive guidance. The more we are surrendered and receptive to God-dess, the more grace we receive. It is a descending, revelatory process initiated by God-dess rather than our ascending to discover God-dess on our own.

“The immediate and intuitive character of mystic experience, no doubt, signifies that the realization of truth cannot come through any conceptual system, however logically articulated, but this does not mean that the mystic experience is of the nature of sensuous experience, or that it is irrational. Intuition gives the soul a new immediacy, whereby the abstract terms of philosophical and theosophical insight are incorporated in a direct apprehension of God…His philosophical or religious doctrine is no longer a doctrine but a life.” (68)

We should not reject philosophical systems of thought, but use them as jumping off points for our own mystical journey. We must immerse ourselves in the process to such a degree that we live the myth. Chaitanya insisted on the rational nature of mystic experience as understood by the sages. God-dess realization is fruitful only for those with this higher understanding. However, “The mere logical intricacy of a system of thought is no proof of its objective reality.” (69)

Chaitanyaism is the most logical intricate system of thought I know. It contains detailed analysis of emotional states, levels of love, spiritual pastimes, descriptions of various forms of God-dess and their interrelationship ad infinitum. It is a great mine of spiritual wisdom developed over millennia by a highly spiritually evolved civilization. Does this make it all objectively real? No. Does it contain a wealth of relevant spiritual insights? Yes.

“Muirhead compares philosophies to ‘the creation of the poet or the artist, embodying his idea, expressing his feeling’ rather than to ‘scientific discoveries or technical invent
ions, which are not only impersonal but depersonalized and thus in a sense self-explanatory products of intelligence.’” (69)

When we allow God-dess to interpenetrate our life and we enter into God-dess’ life, we can experience the true meaning of Chaitanya’s manifestation as it is revealed in our heart. It is a living faith, and each generation should make a contribution to its development.

God-dess communicates divine knowledge to us in various ways. God-dess lives in our hearts and directs our understanding. God-dess takes the form of the guru or spiritual teacher who guides us through initiation and instruction to realize the divine. God-dess appears as the “heard transcendental word” received through the line of disciplic succession and embodied in the scriptures.

The guru is the embodiment of God-dess’ mercy. The guru may manifest in our heart as the guiding and controlling spiritual principle of our life. The guru may also manifest as a leading devotee teacher who inspires and imparts instruction. The teacher is not infallible, and a questioning, philosophical approach is encouraged. There is a give and take, reciprocal relationship between the teacher and disciple.

Scriptures are to be studied and revered. We focus on scriptures dealing with Radha Krishna, but recognize divine truth revealed in all great scriptures and holy writings ancient and modern. By studying broadly, we are able to get a fuller picture of God-dess than is available in the Vedic literature alone. By engaging these esteemed writers in conversation we are able to realize the common essence of all. We are especially blessed to have such a vast knowledge base available right on our desktop or at the local bookstore and library. We need not be parochial in our search for unlimited, universal truth. However, it is wise to follow one path with others being supplementary.

Since the Vedic literature is not consistent or necessarily clear in what it says, Chaitanya and his followers focus on the Srimad Bhagavat as their main scripture. “The Bhagavat is, really speaking, an exposition of Pranava or Om, the transcendental word of eternal harmony.” (73) It deals with the relationship between the living entities, world and God-dess. It provides knowledge of the personality of God-dess and our true relationship with God-dess. It also describes the way to attain this relationship and the purpose of seeking it. God-dess conceived in full perfection is the relation. Devotion is the way, and pure love is the purpose.

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