What can Krsna consciousness possibly
offer someone who has studied
with Franciscan monks,
read the Koran, worshipped Allah,
and been "born again"?
Several times lately I have come upon an attitude best summed up in the following letter I receive from a friend:
As a child I was an altar boy in the Catholic Church. In my teens I studied with the Franciscan monks, and in my 20's I was reading the Koran and worshiping Allah. at around age 25 I became a born-again Christian and three years later found myself a pastor preaching to hundreds on a radio program. Based on my extensive experiences with different religions, I can understand that they are basically all the same. Each has a set of standards to reach the same goal, perfection, and each thinks its way is the only way. I got some literature from one of your temples recently with pictures of the devotees laughing and dancing, and I thought, Here it is again, the same propaganda I used write for the Church. "Just join us and do what we say and you can also be happy and perfect." So although I think Krsna consciousness is one of many paths to God, I don't believe it is superior to any other religion.
While my friend makes some good points, he has some basic misunderstandings about Krsna consciousness.
First of all, let's examine the word religion. In Sanskrit, the word most often used for religion is dharma. But dharma denotes more than just a particular sect one joins for worshiping God. Dharma literally means "the essence of a thing," it's reason for being. The dharma of sugar is sweetness; the dharma of fire is heat. The ancient Vedas of India, the oldest scriptures on earth, give this explanation for the dharma of human being: "The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to the loving devotional service unto the transcendental Lord" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.6).
In other words, the duty of every human being is to love and serve God. It doesn't matter whether one is a Christian, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a member of any other group. If he is being taught and is practicing religious principles, then he is on the spiritual path and will make progress toward God. But Krsna consciousness is more than just a sectarian religion. In Krsna consciousness one can learn the highest knowledge of the Absolute Truth, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and that knowledge is essential for one to progress toward the goal of awakening pure love for God.
It is not possible to love someone unless you know something about that person. If I were to tell you that I have a friend whom you are really going to love, but I don't tell you anything about this friend what his interests are, what he likes and dislikes, how he looks, what kind of person he is it would be very difficult for you to love him, wouldn't it? Similarly, it isn't possible for us to fully love God (and thus want to be reunited with Him in loving service) unless we know exactly who it is we are supposed to love.
The Vedic scriptures give this concise definition of God: "Learned transcendentalist who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, or Bhagavan." Thus it is explained that God, whose eternal form is composed of knowledge and bliss, has three features. Brahman is His impersonal feature, what many call the "white light," or the energy of God. One who realises the Brahman feature of God attains eternity but no knowledge or bliss. In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is stated that what is described as impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of the body of the Supreme Person.
The next feature of God is Paramatma, or the Supersoul. God is within the heart of every living entity, traveling with the individual souls from body to body as they try to enjoy in this material world. Yet Paramatma is but a portion of God, and realisation of Him brings one eternity and knowledge but not full bliss.
The highest realisation of God is of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Person. As we are persons with forms, relationships, and activities, God is also. In fact, He is the source of all other persons, as He is the original creator of everything and everyone. It is only in the Bhagavan feature of God that eternity and full knowledge and bliss are present.
Many religionists accept that God is a person, but beyond that they don't have much knowledge of what kind of person He is. They may know that He is powerful or great, but that alone will not enable them to love God as they would love someone in this world whom they know intimately. For intimate knowledge of God, we must again turn to the Vedas.
God comes to this material world in many incarnations to accept the service of His devotees and teach them how to return to Him. But the original name of God is Krsna, "the all-attractive one." In His highest feature God, or Krsna, lives in the spiritual world, known as Goloka Vrndavana, and has loving relationships with His devotees in five ways: (1) in neutrality, as one who is adored; (2) in servitude, as one who is served with great awe and reverence; (3) in friendship, in which He plays with boyfriends much as children play in this world; (4) in parental affection, in which He becomes the loving child under the protective care of His devotees; and (5) in conjugal love, in which He shares the most intimate reciprocation with His confidential devotees as lover or husband. (This conjugal relationship is not the same as relationships in the material world. Since God is pure, His relationships also pure and untainted by lust.)
These relationships are known as rasas. The relationships we have with other living beings on earth are all attempts to rekindle the feelings we experienced in our rasas with Krsna in the spiritual world. But in the material world our friends move away, our parents grow old and die, and our spouses divorce us. Thus the only truly perfect relationship we can have is with God, who will never grow old, never leave us, and never die. The happiness we are searching for life after life in relationship after relationship is only to be found in our original relationship with the Supreme Person, Krsna.
Therefore, since Krsna consciousness teaches this fullest knowledge of God in His topmost feature, it is described in the Bhagavad-gita (9.2) in this way:
This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.
By chanting Hare Krsna and singing and dancing in the company of like-minded devotees, one gets the realisation within his own heart that glorifying the Lord is indeed the supreme religion and the easiest way to return back home to the spiritual world and be with Him.
My friend stated that other religions also say, "Just join us … and be happy and perfect." But one can judge a thing by its result. Many religions point out the path back to God, but they can also be examined as to how quickly they can lead one to the supreme destination. By chanting Hare Krsna one can feel his material desires decreasing day by day, and thus Hare Krsna devotees are easily able to follow the strict religious principles of no meat-eating, no gambling, no intoxication, and no illicit sex, which most religionists find it impossible to follow. Yet only by avoiding these pillars of sinful life and concentrating on activities that please the Lord can we ever hope to rejoin Him. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." Therefore, Krsna consciousness is more than just a religion. It is the topmost science of God consciousness, and we welcome anyone and everyone to sample it and see what we mean.