Chapter Eleven of Sri Jaiva-dharma

By Srila Bhakti Vinod Thakur

Published in Sri Gaudiya Darsan,
Volume 3, Issue 6,
Saturday, 11 January 1958.

On the western bank of the Ganges is the village of Kuliya Pahadapur. This well-known village is situated in Koladwip within Sri Nabadwip. In the time of Sriman Mahaprabhu, Sri Madhava Das Chattopadhyaya, who was also known as Chhakudi Chattopadhyaya Mahasay, was honoured and prominent there. Chhakudi Chatta’s son was Srila Vamsivadanananda Thakur. By the grace of Sriman Mahaprabhu, Sri Vamsivadanananda became highly influential. Everyone considered him an Avatar of Sri Krishna’s flute and would call him Prabhu Vamsivadanananda. He became renowned as a recipient of the special grace of Mother Sri Visnu Priya. After the disappearance of Sri Priyaji, Vamsi Prabhu moved the service of her Deity from Sri Mayapur to Kuliya Pahadapur. When the descendants of Vamsi Prabhu received the mercy of Mother Sri Jahnavi Thakurani and took shelter at Sripat Baghanapada, the service of the Deity remained in the hands of the servitors residing in Malancha within the village of Kuliya.

The village of Kuliya was on the bank opposite the ancient town of Nabadwip. Chinadanga and a few other well-known places were amongst the numerous neighbourhoods in the village of Kuliya. A devotee merchant from Chinadanga once organised a spiritual festival at the Temple of Sriman Mahaprabhu in Kuliya Pahadapur. Numerous brahman scholars and all the Vaisnavas from the thirty-two mile area of Nabadwip were invited to the festival.

On the day of the festival, Vaisnavas came from all directions. Sri Ananta Das and others from Sri Nrsimha Palli, Gorachad Das Babaji and others from Sri Mayapur, Sri Narayan Das Babaji and others from Sri Bilvapuskarani, the well-known Narahari Das and others from Sri Modadruma, Sri Paramahamsa Das Babaji, Sri Vaisnava Das, and others from Sri Godruma, and Sri Sachi Nandan Das and others from Sri Samudragad began to arrive. They were all radiant with tilak on their foreheads, strands of tulasi beads around their necks, and the Names of Sri Gaura and Nityananda marked all over their bodies. They had Sri Hari-nam malas in their hands, and some of them were loudly chanting the mahamantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Some approached playing the kartals and chanting:  “Sankirtana majhe nache Gora vinodiya: delightful Gora dances amidst the sankirtan.” Some arrived dancing and chanting: “Sri Krishna Chaitanya Prabhu Nityananda Sri Advaita Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura-bhakta-vrnda.” Many had streams of tears in their eyes, and the hair on many of their bodies stood on end. Some fervently cried out, “O youthful Gaura! When will Your eternal Pastimes in Nabadwip appear before my eyes!” Some of the Vaisnavas arrived playing the mrdanga and chanting the Name. Seeing the deep mood of the Vaisnavas, the Gaura-nagaris residing in Kuliya were astonished.

Arriving in this way, the Vaisnavas assembled in the Temple in front of the Deity of Sriman Mahaprabhu. The merchant organiser, with a cloth around his neck, fell at the feet of the Vaisnavas, repeatedly supplicated them, and made gestures of deep humility. When the Vaisnavas had sat down in the Temple, the servitors of the Deity brought over prasadi garlands and placed the garlands around the necks of the Vaisnavas. Then, a kirtan of auspicious songs about Sri Chaitanya arose, and upon hearing the nectarean Pastimes of Sri Chaitanya, the Vaisnavas experienced various types of divine ecstasy.

Just as everyone became immersed in the joy of divine love, the gateman came in and informed the Temple authority, “The head mullah of the Satsaika district has arrived with his party and is seated in the outer courtyard. He wishes to converse with some Vaisnava scholars.” The Temple authority informed the Babaji scholars of this. Upon being informed, the Vaisnavas felt a sort of sadness as a result of this interruption in rasa. Krishnadas Babaji Mahasay of Sri Madhyadwip asked, “What is the intention of the mullah sahib?” The Temple authority came to know from the mullah sahib his intention and then reported, “The mullah sahib wishes to discuss spiritual subject matters with some Vaisnava scholars.” The Temple authority went on, “The mullah sahib is the foremost scholar within the Muslim community, is fully dedicated to propagating his dharma, and does not oppress other dharmas. He is highly respected by the emperor in Delhi. He has requested that a few Vaisnava scholars please come out and discuss scripture with him so that the pure Vaisnava dharma may be defeated.”

Hearing of this opportunity to propound the Vaisnava dharma produced the desire to converse with the mullah sahib within the minds of a few of the Vaisnavas. After conversing amongst one another, it was decided that Sri Gorachad Das Pandit Babaji of Sri Mayapur, Sri Vaisnava Das Pandit Babaji of Sri Godruma, Sri Prema Das Babaji of Jahnu Nagar, and Sri Kali Pavana Das Babaji of Champa Hatta would converse with the mullah and all the other Vaisnavas would join them once the kirtan was completed. Chanting, “Jay Nityananda!”, the four mentioned babajis went to the outer courtyard with the Temple authority.

The outer courtyard was idyllic, pleasant in the shade of a banyan tree. Seeing the Vaisnavas arrive, the mullah and his party respectfully received them. Knowing every soul to be a servant of Krishna, the Vaisnavas offered obeisance to the Lord situated within the heart of the mullah and sat down on a separate asan.

It was an extraordinarily beautiful sight. On one side sat nearly fifty white-bearded, finely dressed Muslim scholars, and behind them were tied finely decorated horses. On the other side four Vaisnavas adorned with divine vision sat humbly, and behind them, numerous Hindus gradually arrived and sat down with great interest.

Pandit Gorachad spoke first, “O noble men, why have you summoned such insignificant souls as us?”

The mullah Badaruddin Sahib politely said, “Please accept our salutations. We have come here to ask you a few questions.”

Pandit Gorachad said, “We will answer your scholarly questions according to what we understand.”

Badaruddin Sahib came forward and said, “Brothers! The worship of gods and goddesses has been going on within Hindu society for a long time. We see in the Holy Koran that Allah is one and indeed not two. He is formless. To make and worship a deity (pratima) of Him is offensive. Being sceptical of this, I have asked many brahman scholars about it, and they have told me, “It is true Allah is formless, but because we cannot conceive of a formless being, we have to meditate on and worship Allah in an imaginary form.” We are not satisfied with this answer. Why? An imaginary (kalpita) form of Allah is a creation of Satan. It is known as an idol (byut, demon, material entity), and worship of an idol is absolutely forbidden. Let alone pleasing Allah, by worshipping an idol one becomes fit to be punished by Him. We have heard that your original founder, Chaitanyadev, rectified Hindu dharma. Still, His teachings prescribe the worship of idols. We want to know from the Vaisnavas why, even after engaging in so much study of the scriptures, you have not given up idol worship?”

Hearing the mullah’s question, the scholarly Vaisnavas laughed within their minds but outwardly said, “O Pandit Babaji Mahasay, please give a proper answer to this question.” Accepting this order, Pandit Gorachad began to speak.

“Whom you call Allah we call Bhagavan. The Supreme Lord is one being. In the Koran, in the Puranas, in various lands, and in various languages, He is referred to by various names. The conclusive understanding is that the name which expresses all the qualities of the Supreme Lord should be specially adored. It is for this reason that we specially adore the name Bhagavan rather than ‘Allah’, ‘Brahma’, ‘Paramatma’, and other names. Allah is the being than whom there is nothing greater. We cannot say, however, that the quality of being extremely great is the Lord’s ultimate quality. The quality which produces the greatest wonder should be adored above all. If we consider the Lord’s extreme greatness, we feel one type of wonder, but in His opposite quality of being extremely small, there is another type of wonder. Therefore, the name of Allah does not evoke the culmination of all wonder. In the name Bhagavan, all types of wonder that exist in human conception are united together.

“Total magnificence (aisvarya), that is, being both the extreme of greatness and the extreme of smallness, is the first quality of Bhagavan. Omnipotence is His second quality. What is impossible according to the human intellect is dependent on His inconceivable power, and by His inconceivable power, He is simultaneously with and without form. If you say He cannot have a form, then you deny His inconceivable power. By virtue of His power, in the midst of His devotees, He possesses an eternal playful form. Allah, or Brahma, or Paramatma, when considered formless, are devoid of this special wonderful quality.

“Bhagavan is always benevolent and glorious. Therefore, His Pastimes are nectarean. Bhagavan is beautiful. All souls see Him with their supramundane eyes as the most beautiful person. Bhagavan is completely conscious, that is, He is a pure, spiritual being beyond matter. His spiritual form is His Deity form, and this form is beyond all idols. Although Bhagavan is the doer of everything, He is independent and untainted. Bhagavan is characterised by these six characteristics.

Bhagavan has two manifestations, that of magnificence and that of sweetness. His sweet manifestation is the dearest friend of the soul, the Lord of our heart, Krishna or Chaitanya. Calling worship of an imaginary form of Bhagavan idol worship is not contrary to our teachings. Worship of His eternal form (which is completely spiritual) is Vaisnava dharma. Therefore, there is no idol worship in the teachings of the Vaisnavas. It is not that worship of the Lord’s eternal form is forbidden just because in some book idol worship is forbidden. Everything depends on the faith (nistha) in the heart of the person engaged in worship. People are able to worship the pure form of the Lord to the extent that their hearts can go beyond connection with idols. You, mullah sahib, are a great scholar, and your heart can go beyond idols, but have the hearts of all your followers become free from thought of idols? To the extent that they think of idols, to that extent they worship idols. By mouth, they may say the Lord is formless but within they are filled with thoughts of idols.

“Making worship of the pure form of the Lord a social practice is difficult. Only qualified persons, that is, those who have the ability to go beyond idols, can transcend thoughts of idols. My earnest request is that you carefully consider this subject.”

Mullah Sahib: I have considered and decided that the six wonderful qualities that you have associated with the name Bhagavan are also associated with the name Allah from the holy Koran. So, there is no need to dispute the meaning of the name Allah. Allah is Bhagavan.

Gorachad: Good. Then, you accept the existence of the beauty and opulence of the Supreme Being, and you therefore also accept the existence of His beautiful form in the spiritual world beyond the material world. This form is our Deity.

Mullah Sahib: The spiritual form of the Supreme Being is mentioned in our Koran also. That we are bound to accept. If we go to make a replica of that spiritual form, however, it becomes mundane, and that we call an idol. The Supreme Being is not worshipped by worshipping an idol. Please tell me your viewpoint in this regard.

Gorachad: The Vaisnava scriptures prescribe the worship of Bhagavan’s pure spiritual form. There are no prescriptions for advanced devotees to worship earthly objects, that is, things produced from earth, water, and so forth.

yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat-tirtha-buddhih salile na karhichij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 10.84.13)

[“Those who think a corpse made of mucus, bile, and air is one’s self, one’s spouse and family are one’s own, earthen images are worshippable, and bodies of water are holy places, and who never associate with the wise are nothing more than donkeys fit only to serve cows.”]

We can see the non-establishment of worship of material entities in authoritative statements like Bhutejya yanti bhutani [“those who worship material things attain only material ends” (Bg: 9.25)]. There is, however, an important point in this regard. Human beings attain different levels of qualification in a gradation according to their knowledge and purity. Only those who have understood pure spiritual existence are able to worship a purely spiritual form. As far below as people are from this, so far only can they understand it. The less qualified cannot understand spiritual nature at all. When such persons meditate on the Lord in their minds, they inevitably imagine a form of an aggregate of material qualities. Thinking an earthen form is a form of the Lord is the same as meditating on a material form within the mind. Therefore, worshipping a Deity is beneficial for persons in this stage. In fact, the absence of Deity worship is very inauspicious for the general populace.

When people are inclined towards the Lord, then they are dismayed not to see a Deity of the Lord in front of them. The less qualified who follow dharmas in which there is no Deity worship are extremely materialistic and averse to the Lord. Therefore, Deity worship is the foundation of human dharma.

The great souls meditate on the pure spiritual form of the Supreme Lord that they have seen through pure spiritual practice within their hearts which are purified by devotion. After meditating, when their heart purified by devotion extends out towards the material world, then a reflection of that spiritual form is portrayed in the material world. In this way, the form of Bhagavan is reflected by the great souls and becomes a Deity.

For the highly qualified, this Deity is always a spiritual form. For the intermediate, the Deity is conscious, and for the lesser qualified, although at first a material form, gradually the Deity becomes a spiritual form as their intelligence is purified by realisation. Therefore, the Deity of the Lord’s form is fit to be served by all classes.

It is not necessary to worship imaginary forms, but worshipping a Deity of the Lord’s eternal form is highly beneficial. Even amongst the Vaisnavas, Deity worship has been established for those in all three classes. There is no fault in this regard because by this arrangement all souls are gradually benefitted:

yatha yathatma parimrjyate ’sau
tatha tatha pasyati vastu suksmam
chaksur yathaivanjana-samprayuktam
(Srimad Bhagavatam: 11.14.26)

[Krishna: “As an eye smeared with ointment can see small objects, so the soul purified by hearing, chanting, and remembering My divine glories perceives subtle truths (the reality of My Form and Pastimes).”]

The spirit soul in this world is covered by the material mind. The soul is unable to know itself and unable to serve the Supersoul. Through practices of devotion, such as hearing and chanting, the soul’s strength gradually increases. As it increases, the bonds of matter loosen. To the extent that the bonds of matter loosen, the soul’s natural propensity becomes predominant and the soul’s own vision and actions develop.

Some say the soul should abandon all impermanent things and endeavour only to attain that which is permanent. This is known as the cultivation of dry knowledge (jnan). Where is the conditioned soul’s ability to abandon all impermanent things? Can someone who is bound in a prison become free just by desiring to free themself? Rectification of the offences for which they are imprisoned is the purpose of their imprisonment. The spirit soul’s forgetting that they are an eternal servant of Bhagavan is their original offence. At first, by whatever means, if their mind turns slightly towards the Lord, then by seeing His Deity form, hearing discussion of His Pastimes, and so on, the soul’s previous nature gains strength. The soul becomes able to realise spirit to the extent that the soul gains strength. Serving the Deity and hearing and chanting about the Lord are the only means for those of very low qualification to gain such strength. The great souls, therefore, have prescribed service to the Deity.

Mullah Sahib: Is meditating within the mind not better than fabricating a Deity with material elements?

Gorachad: The two are the same. The mind is restricted by matter. Everything you can think of is material. For example, if you say, “All-pervading Brahma”, then you are bound to think of an all-pervasiveness like that of the sky. “We are thinking of Brahma”—in such thought must arise a conception of Brahma limited by time. Space and time are material things. If meditation and other mental activities are not beyond time and space, then how can they reach truth that is beyond matter? “Eliminating earth, water, and so on, we have imagined a Deity made of space.” This too is entirely idol worship. There is no particular material element that can used as a means to realise spiritual truth. Bhava (feeling) for the Lord is the only way, and that is present only within the spirit soul. Only when inspired by chanting the Lord’s Name, singing about His Pastimes, and worshipping His Deity does bhava grow strong and become devotion. The Lord’s spiritual form is revealed only by pure devotion. It cannot be revealed by knowledge (jnan) or action (karma).

Mullah Sahib: Matter is distinct from the Lord. It is said that Satan established the worship of matter to bind souls within matter. Therefore, according to our teachings, it is better to not worship matter.

Gorachad: The Lord is non-dual, and there is no one equal to Him. Everything within the world is created by Him and dependent on Him. Therefore, He can be satisfied by using anything with which He can be worshipped. There is no such thing that, if worshipped, will arouse His envy. He is supremely benevolent. Therefore, if there were anyone known as Satan, he would have no power to do anything contrary to the Lord’s will, and if he did exist, he would simply be another soul who is subservient to the Lord. In our conception, however, it is not possible for such a monstrous being to exist. Why? No action contrary to the Lord’s will can occur within the world, and there is no one who is independent of the Lord.

You may ask, “From where was sin been created?” We say that the soul, by nature, is a servant of Bhagavan. Awareness of this is knowledge (vidya), and forgetfulness of this is ignorance (avidya). All souls who have taken shelter in ignorance, for whatever reason, have sown the seed of sin in their hearts. This seed of sin does not exist in the hearts of the souls who are eternal associates of the Lord. Rather than imagining this mythological Satan, it is necessary to properly understand the nature of ignorance. Therefore, to worship a Deity of the Lord made of material elements is not an offence. It is especially necessary for the lesser qualified and greatly beneficial for the highly qualified. “According to our conception, Deity worship is not proper.” Such a statement is simply dogma. It is not based on reason or authentic scripture.

Mullah Sahib: Attachment to the Lord does not develop by worshipping a Deity. The restraints of material nature always constrain the mind of a worshipper.

Gorachad: If you study ancient historical texts, you will find that your conclusion is mistaken. Many lesser qualified persons began to worship deities. As their higher bhava developed through the association of the sadhus, they realised the spiritual nature of the Deity and became immersed in an ocean of divine love. The proper conclusion is that the association of the sadhus is the root of everything spiritual. When someone associates with spiritual devotees of the Lord, spiritual bhava for the Lord arises within them. To the extent that spiritual bhava for the Lord arises, the bhava that the Deity is material disappears. Gradual advancement is the result of good fortune. On the contrary, the followers of non-aryan dharmas are typically opposed to Deity worship. But please consider, how many of them have ever attained spiritual bhava for the Lord? Their days pass in debate and hostility. When have they attained devotion to the Lord?

Mullah Sahib: If with bhava one serves the Lord internally, then even if Deity worship is accepted, there is no fault. But how can worshipping dogs, cats, snakes, debauchees, and so on, ever be service to the Lord? Our venerable prophet has severely condemned such idol worship.

Gorachad: Human beings are naturally grateful to the Lord. As much as they may sin, eventually they come to believe in the Lord as the one Supreme Being and bow down to the wonders throughout the world. Out of gratitude to the Lord, ignorant persons by nature excitedly bow down to deities of the sun, rivers, mountains, large animals, and so on; they express their hearts to these deities and offer themselves to them. Although there is a great difference between spiritual devotion to the Lord and such worship of deities, the ignorant are gradually benefitted by their acknowledgement of gratitude to the Lord and reverence for these deities. Therefore, if you look at it reasonably, they should not be faulted. Meditating on an all-pervading formless Lord and offering Him namaz is also devoid of pure spiritual bhava, so what is the difference between it and worshipping the deity of a cat? According to our conception, awaking and developing bhava for the Lord is completely necessary, whatever form it may take. If all the people in such a stage are laughed at and rebuked, then the door to their gradual progress is slammed shut. Those who become sectarian on the basis of dogma have no magnanimity. They cannot see any sort of worship other than their own, and they laugh at and rebuke others. This a great mistake on their part.

Mullah Sahib: So, should we say that all things are the Lord and any sort of worship that can be performed is worship of the Lord? Is worshipping sinful things also worship of the Lord? Is worshipping sinful propensities also worship of the Lord? Is the Lord satisfied with all such worship?

Gorachad: We do not say that all things are the Lord. The Lord is an entity distinct from all other things. Everything is created by the Lord and dependent on the Lord. Everything has a relationship with the Lord, and through the link of this relationship, enquiry about the Lord can be made through all things. According to the aphorism jijnasasvadanavadhi, by enquiring within all things about the Lord, His spiritual nature is gradually realised.

You are a great scholar. Kindly be broadminded and consider this subject. We are insignificant Vaisnavas. We do not wish to enter into further debate. If you allow us, we can listen to some of these auspicious songs about Sri Chaitanya.

It could not be understood what the mullah decided after hearing all these points. He remained silent for a little while and then said, “I am pleased with your analysis. I will come another day and enquire further. Today, much time has passed, and I wish to return home.”

Saying this, the mullah and his party mounted their horses and set out towards the district of Satsaika. The Babajis joyfully chanted the Name of the Lord and returned to the kirtan.