IS BACK TO GODHEAD AN OFFENDER?
In 1995, Back to Godhead published a series of articles called “The Glories of the Demigods.” Not everyone was pleased with it. We publish here excerpts from an objection and our reply.
Federation of Hindu Associations (FHA), Inc., Hawaiian Gardens, California
The Federation of Hindu Associations, Inc. (FHA) takes strong exception to the article in the Back to Godhead magazine, 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 worshiped, 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 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.
Please Remember: Confinement is not Hinduism. HINDUS, PLEASE SAVE HINDUISM.
(Prithvi Raj Singh, President)
Our Reply: 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 Krishna 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 Shiva, 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 Krishna, the Supreme Lord Himself and deities such as Lord Shiva, 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.
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,” “imposter,” 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 Krishna 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
te ’pi mam eva kaunteya
Here Lord Sri Krishna clearly says that those who are devotees of other gods (anya-devata) and who worship them with faith (sraddhayanvitah) are actually worshiping only Him (mam eva) but they are doing it in the wrong way (avidhi-purvakam).
The Bhagavad-gita says it is wrong. Why should we say it is right?
Elsewhere in the Gita (7.20), Lord Sri Krishna says that because of materialistic desires (kamaih), those who surrender to other gods (anya-devatah) are bereft of intelligence (hrta-jnanah). The intelligent, Lord Krishna says (7.19), surrender to Him (mam prapadyante), knowing that He, Lord Sri Krishna, 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 worshiping Krishna 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.*
Therefore, we have to follow the method given in the Bhagavad-gita by Lord Sri Krishna, God Himself: surrender to Krishna. 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 Krishna 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 worshiping any other god is in fact bestowed by Krishna Himself (mayaiva vihitan hi tan, Gita 7.22). Why then should one refuse to surrender exclusively to Lord Sri Krishna?
The benefits one gets from other gods are temporary (anta-vat), and therefore Lord Krishna 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 Krishna, on the other hand, attain the abode of Krishna 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 bhagavata-dharma, devotion to Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord. In Bhagavad-gita (14.4) Lord Sri Krishna 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, Bg. 10.2). The mother religion, therefore, is the worship of the Supreme Father (Bhagavan), the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna.
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 Krishna (Krishnas 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 Krishna 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 Krishna consciousness movement and spreading it everywhere for the eternal benefit of all living beings.
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 Krishna says to give up all such notions, accept Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and surrender to Him alone (sarva dharman partiyajya mam ekam saranam vraja).
As long as we refuse to surrender to Krishna we shall be confined to this material world (Gita 9.3). So if confinement is not Hinduism, we should at once surrender to Krishna. Lord Krishna 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 Krishna Himself one attains the perfection of Hinduism, and the perfection of human life.
(Jayadvaita Swami,(Former Editor)