Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #48 – Which Religion is Best?

November 26th, 2018

One of the best summaries of comparative religion, at least in the tradition to which I adhere, is the recounted discussion between Rāmānanda Rāya, the great Vaiṣṇava scholar, and Śrī Caitanya found in Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta. It begins when Śrī Caitanya asks Rāmānanda Rāya, the most learned devotee at the time, to recite a verse from the revealed scriptures concerning the ultimate goal of life. He responds by citing verse after verse, progressively describing higher and higher attainments in religious life, until Śrī Caitanya is finally satisfied that the apex of spiritual attainment has been cited.

 

What follows is a brief outline of this ladder of religious ascent as described by Rāmānanda Rāya. I will use the following template to describe each step.

  1. Paraphrase of the verse Rāmānanda Rāya’s cited to answer Śrī Caitanya’s question
  2. Explanation of why the verse was cited
  3. Quote of Śrī Caitanya’s response to the verse cited
  4. Explanation of Śrī Caitanya’s response

 

The Ladder of Religious or Spiritual Attainment

Level 1: Sva-dharmācaraṇe: Executing one’s duties properly

  1. There is no other way to worship and satisfy God than by adhering strictly to one’s social and occupational duties. (Viṣṇu Purāṇa8.9)
  2. We all have social and occupational duties. Most people accept that there are social standards for what constitutes a good parent, son or daughter, spouse, and so on. Today we also see that people expect standards of appropriate behavior from people in different occupations, from the President of the United States down to an honest worker. To adhere to one’s occupational or social duty according to the proper standard outlined in śāstra is to follow God’s desire for order and purification and thus worshipping or satisfying Him.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Properly following one’s duties is certainly praiseworthy, but ultimate spiritual attainment means something more. It is a direct manifestation of the soul, which is unfettered service to God. One can certainly satisfy God by his duty and advance in spiritual life, but as one’s duty is still prescribed according to one’s embodied nature, it remains connected to the body and the three modes of material nature. In that sense, prescribed duties are external to the soul and certainly not the highest attainment. Śrī Caitanya therefore requests something more.

 

Level 2: Kṛṣṇe karmārpaṇa: Offering the results of one’s activities to Krishna

  1. All the results of whatever one is doing, from eating, sacrifice, and charity to austerity, should be offered to Krishna. (Bg. 9.27)
  2. When one realizes that God is the basis and sustainer of all, one becomes conscious that our ultimate service is to Him, even as we still adhere to our “local” responsibilities or duties. Therefore, higher than just performing one’s duty is to consciously offer and dedicate one’s activities to God.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Although one is consciously offering one’s activities to God, the basis of those activities is still born of one’s nature and material situation. Again, although laudable, it is still not the highest attainment. Śrī Caitanya thus requests something further.

 

Level 3: Svadharma-tyāga: To renounce one’s social and occupational duties (sannyāsa)

  1. Give up one’s religious and occupational duties to fully dedicate oneself to God. (Bg. 18.66)
  2. Higher than offering one’s material activities to Krishna is renouncing them and fully dedicating oneself to God’s will.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra)
  4. Although one is no longer bound by social and occupational activities, which are dictated by one’s bodily situation, renunciation is still external to the soul, which is, in essence, dedication to God, not negation of the material world. Śrī Caitanya continues to ask for something more.

 

Level 4: Jñāna-miśrā bhakti: Devotion mixed with empirical knowledge

  1. Perform devotional service from the platform of the deep cultivation of knowledge that detaches one completely from the material world. (Bg. 18.54)
  2. Higher than coming to devotional service by the renunciation of karma or one’s duty, is coming to devotional service after one has already achieved bhakti. Here bhakti refers to a thorough realization of the soul’s difference from the body as a result of the cultivation of empirical knowledge.
  3. This is external. Say something more (eho bāhya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Quite astoundingly, Śrī Caitanya rejects this. Although one is now detached from the material world, the thrust of one’s devotional service is still tinged with a focus on renunciation. As materialistic thoughts, positive or negative, mix something with devotion, jñāna-miśrā bhakti is still external to the pure nature of the soul. Not satisfied, Śrī Caitanya asks Rāmānanda Rāya to go on.

 

Level 5: Jñāna-śūnyā bhakti: Devotional service unfettered by any other consideration such as jñāna.

  1. Give up the unnecessary focus on the empirical cultivation of knowledge and surrender fully to just chanting and hearing about the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of Krishna under the guidance of a pure devotee. (Bhāg.14.3)
  2. At this level of spiritual attainment, one’s devotion is completely free from the contamination of jñāna and karma. Therefore, both in consciousness and practice, there is nothing external to the soul.
  3. This is alright, but still speak something more (eho haya, āge kaha āra).
  4. Although Rāmānanda Rāya has finally cited a verse expressing pure devotional service that Śrī Caitanya has approved, until one achieves prema-bhakti, ecstatic love of Godhead, one’s attainment is not complete. Śrī Caitanya therefore requests Rāmānanda Rāya to go further.

 

When I start a Monday Morning Greeting I don’t have a complete idea how it will go, but I am conscious that it must fit into my general format of less than two pages, and I am pretty good about that. This one has already gone on past that. I am also close to the deadline where it must be completed. I will therefore end with a short summary of the rest of the concepts and verses cited by Rāmānanda Rāya until the highest attainment is finally referenced to Śrī Caitanya’s satisfaction.

 

Composite Summary of the Rest of the Levels of Attainment

Next Rāmānanda Rāya cites several verses describing prema bhakti, ecstatic love of God. Although Śrī Caitanya also very much appreciates the citations given about prema-bhakti, He still requests him to go further because love is ultimately expressed through a particular relationship. Rāmānanda Rāya thus progressively describes the glories of the various relationships or rasas one can have with the divine, but only when he has cited six references that beautifully illustrate the force of mādhurya-rasa, becoming a lover of Krishna, does Śrī Caitanya become satisfied. He finally declares that this is certainly the limit of perfection (sādhyāvadhi suniścaya).

 

Śrī Caitanya is somehow still eager for more and how the dialogue continues is certainly quite astounding in terms of the theological conceptions of Krishna consciousness. I, however, must unfortunately stop here, but I do highly recommend the complete study of this astonishing discussion on comparative religion.[1]

 

 


[1] The full discussion between Śrī Caitanya and Rāmānanda Rāya is found in Madhya-līlā, Chapter 8, of the Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta.

 

 

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