Harish Dindigal Syracuse University
I have seen the letter you wrote to the editors of Back to Godhead. You describe yourself as a South Indian Hindu brahmana "asking questions and inquiring seriously about religion." You are a devotee of Krsna, but as you tell me, the scholarly books you are reading have confused you.
I think the reason you are confused is that these books are anti-religious. If you are inquiring about God out of a hankering to know Him, then you are searching in the wrong place. Professed atheists whose authority is the speculation of the mind and who study religion only as an academic or historical exercise cannot satisfy the needs of the self. Such persons are especially unfit to understand confidential topics about the nature of Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
As a graduate student in computer engineering, you know that each science has its own experts. For example, to study computer science you have gone to recognized experts in computing. If you had wanted to learn medicine or law or violin playing, you'd have gone to doctors, lawyers, or violinists. Similarly, to understand God you have to approach experts in the science of God.
Every world religion has a theology, a scientific approach to understanding God. Among these theologies, the Vedic teachings are the oldest and most comprehensive. The actual science of Krsna, however, lies beyond even the student of religion; it can be understood only by one who is transcendentally qualified.
Those who are not Krsna's devotees can never be experts in understanding Him. So the Vedic literature forbids us to try to understand Krsna by hearing their commentaries and explanations. As stated in the Padma Purana:
sravanam naiva kartavyam
sarpocchistam yatha payah
"One should not hear about Krsna from a nondevotee. Milk touched by the lips of a serpent has poisonous effects; similarly, talks about Krsna given by a nondevotee can also be poisonous."
Commenting on this verse, His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada writes, "We should strictly follow this injunction and never try to hear from Mayavadis, impersonalists, voidists, politicians, or so-called scholars. Strictly avoiding such inauspicious association, we should simply hear from pure devotees."
Some of the books you have read declare that Krsna never existed and that He is just a myth. The authors speak from their own historical analysis, from disbelief in God's descent as an avatara, and from an inordinate trust in their own speculations. And so they dismiss the formidable evidence of the Vedic scriptures, the testimony of those who witnessed Krsna's appearance, and the teachings of learned Vedic scholars and devotees throughout the ages.
You are at a crossroads in your religious life. So you have to decide which authorities you are going to accept.
The ancient philosophers of India have thoroughly discussed the points upon which the empirical and scriptural authorities clash. Such persons as Sankara, Ramanuja, Madhva, and in the modern age the Vrndavana Gosvamis and Srila Prabhupada have all knocked apart the false arguments used to show that Krsna is just a myth or an ordinary man. Some of Prabhupada's followers have also written books discussing the claims of mundane Indologists. You may like to look at those books. I think they may help you. For example, see Archeology and the Vaishnava Tradition, by Steven Rosen. This book clearly establishes the pre-Christian roots of Krsna worship. Also, see my Readings in Vedic Literature, in which I give evidence that empirical approaches to Vaisnava teachings have been faulty and biased and have failed to let the tradition speak for itself. Also, see the books of Sadaputa Dasa. Sadaputa writes for the scientifically trained person who wishes to understand and confront the differences between mundane science and Vedic thought.
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.11) Sri Krsna states, "Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature as the Supreme Lord of all that be." Commenting on this verse, Srila Prabhupada states, "The scholar may be born an extraordinary man due to his previous good work, but his conception of Sri Krsna is due to a poor fund of knowledge." Materialistic scholars, Srila Prabhupada says, "do not know that Krsna's body is a symbol of complete knowledge and bliss, that He is the proprietor of everything that be, and that He can award liberation to anyone. Because they do not know that Krsna has so many transcendental qualifications, they deride Him."
You mentioned that some scholars criticize what they see as flaws in Krsna's character. "Krsna's retreat from the warriors Kalayavana and Jarasandha is inconsistent with His hero image. The destruction of the Yadava clan and the death of Krsna are themes derived from outside India." Again scholars are poking their noses into an area to which they have no proper access. The so-called flaws in Krsna's character are displays of transcendental variety in His pastimes. God always has a purpose to accomplish in His pastimes. Learned devotees understand that purpose and glorify Him as all-good.
For example, when Krsna ran from the demon Kalayavana on the battlefield, the demon thought that Krsna feared him. So the demon kept running after Krsna, and Krsna led him far away into a cave. Was Krsna hiding in the cave to avoid fighting? With this thought in mind, Kalayavana rebuked Krsna and followed Him inside. There Kalayavana saw a man lying asleep. Thinking it was Krsna, the demon kicked the man, who then awoke and opened his eyes. As soon as the man glanced upon Kalayavana, rays of fire emanated from the man's eyes, burning Kalayavana to ashes. This was a tactic Krsna used to kill Kalayavana and deliver the sleeping man, who was a great devotee of Krsna's named Mucukunda. Commenting on this narration, Prabhupada writes that when Kalayavana was following Krsna, running very fast, "he could not catch Krsna because he was not free from all contaminations of sinful life." Similarly, the mundane scholars cannot catch Krsna with their speculations of "mythology" and "character flaws."
When Krsna left the battlefield during His fight with another demon, Jarasandha, the Lord again had a special purpose. He wanted to attend to a confidential letter He had received from Rukmini, His future wife. By leaving the battlefield, Krsna also displayed the opulence of renunciation, showing that He was not attached to reputation or power. When time and circumstances were right, Krsna proved that He was competent to defeat Jarasandha.
Krsna's devotees do not consider Krsna's leaving the battlefield a shameful act. In fact, there are many temples, especially in Gujarat, where Krsna is worshiped as Ranacoraji, "He who left the battlefield." By hearing from pure devotees, we can understand that Krsna, Ranacoraji, left the battlefield not out of fear but for another purpose. In similar ways, there are transcendental explanations for all of Krsna's so-called controversial or contradictory activities. His dancing with other men's wives (the spiritual gopis of Vrndavana), His disappearance from the earth (which was not by "death" but by His return to the spiritual world) all such pastimes can be understood only from self-realized souls. Those who are envious of Krsna will always try to find fault with Him. In the old days of British rule in India, missionaries used to criticize Krsna's boyhood by saying He was a notorious butter thief! But devotees always worship and find pleasure in Krsna's activities, despite the envious attacks of nondevotees.
In your letter you describe yourself as a devout Krsna bhakta, but you express being disturbed by the scholars' allegations. You see a conflict between religious faith and scientific evidence. Don't feel intimidated. Al-though people who approach Krsna sentimentally or with blind faith may not be acting scientifically, there is a science of Krsna Krsna consciousness. It is both superior to and transcendental to all the limited and imperfect material sciences found in this world.
I would advise, therefore, that you become a scientific student not only of computers but of Lord Krsna, whom you have worshiped since your child-hood. If you are serious about inquiring into God consciousness, then avoid those who are inimical and unqualified in their approach to the science of Krsna. Go to those who have the transcendental qualification to teach you real religion.
Ultimately, Krsna is known through love. That love is dormant within the soul. What I have referred to as the science of Krsna is properly called bhakti-yoga, and it is the means to purify the heart and bring out the in-nate love of Krsna inherent in every-one. Whoever does this and attains even a little bit of love for Krsna becomes the most learned person.
Please forgive me for trying to instruct you, Harish. You are fortunate because by birth you have worshiped Krsna as God and heard about Him from your parents and from the scriptures. So you need not be affected by Western ways and awed by the apparent prowess of scientists and scholars. We who were born in Western countries, and who are not so fortunate as you, have heard this atheistic speculation throughout our childhood and youth. There was little chance we would ever understand Krsna. But by Krsna's grace His pure devotee Srila Prabhupada brought the science of Krsna to the West by teaching Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam, transmitting the words of the sages who know Krsna in truth. It is only by Prabhupada's mercy that I dare offer you some advice and encourage you to embrace your original faith in Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of more than two dozen books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.