No doubt, there are many people who are feeling puzzled and saddened by this event. I must admit that I was not altogether surprised. When I saw Madhava in Radha Kund, I embraced him and told him that I had complete faith in him and that Krishna would guide him. I feel a little sad that he did not open up to me more then, as if indeed we are as good friends as Advaita seems to think we are, it would have been nice to go over some of these issues with him. In fact, it is not unlikely that I may have confirmed some of his negative ideas.
Let me say first of all that I do love Madhavananda dearly and will always love him no matter what he does. If he becomes a Buddhist, he will always be a Vaishnava in Buddhist clothing, just as so many Vaishnavas are something else in Vaishnava clothing. I hope that his experience as a Buddhist will ultimately serve to enrich his understanding of spiritual life and shed light on what it really means to be a lover of God.
But it must be said, and I will say it again, that most often it is a kanistha understanding of God that we reject, not a true understanding. That is not surprising, as the kanistha understanding is predominant in most organized religion. It is full of misunderstandings and very susceptible to attacks of doubt. There are two Krishnas, the Krishna of the kanisthas and the Krishna of the uttamas. The Krishna of the uttamas is for them like the air they breathe, like the blood in their veins. Even one who is disappointed with the air cannot stop breathing. A devotee who has achieved a level of nistha cannot abandon Krishna, not because it is an intellectual decision, but because he simply recognizes that it is Krishna that is the all-pervading Truth. If after all these years, Madhava has failed to see how that is true, it is his misfortune. Krishna is not just another name for Brahman, nor a relative mundane aspect of the Truth. Satyam param dhimahi.
Perhaps Madhava felt that Krishna had insufficiently reciprocated his surrendering everything to take shelter of Radha Kund. I think the most telling thing he said when I saw him last was that he felt Ananta Dasji was indifferent to him. Radha Kund is a tough place, especially for a westerner. The fact of the matter is that there ain’t much love there. And if you want to know the truth, we are in this religion because we heard that there was some prema here. And yet, it seems that the prema of the babajis is more theoretical than practical. This is precisely the problem I am trying to address: the kanishtha mentality.
But, before I go on, I have absolutely no doubt that reciprocation is there for every devotee who simply says once "tavaivasmi". there is no need to wait for social approval, money raining from the heavens, or visions of Goloka Vrindavan; the response comes instantly in the utterance itself. It is not even a question of pure mind or aparadh-free mentality. Listen to yourself say these words and your heart will fill with joy and a sense of being rightly situated.
Most of us are intellectual, rational-minded Westerners. A left-brain thinker like Madhava follows a certain logical train through Iskcon, the Gaudiya Math and then the Babajis, discovering one by one that everyone seems to have lost the train. And then it is no surprise that he also loses it in a flood of details, superfluous myths, rituals and sadachar. Dogmatism, dogmatism, dogmatism, and little or no fundamental human warmth. You are with us or against us. If you are lukewarm I spit you out. Snigdha Vaishnava sanga is such a rare thing, alas. Alas, indeed.
When I was writing the first draft of this post I was listening to a kirtan wafting across the Ganga. A small group of two or three people were singing Nityananda Gauranga Sri Advaita Chandra, Gadadhara Srivasadi Gaura-bhakta-vrinda. I wonder why there are not more small groups of devotees in intimate sanga who can sit down and feelingly chant the Holy Name without any abhiman. Without any need to somehow “know” or “be” anything, but simply to throw themselves at the mercy of the devotees and the Holy Name. We need to learn how to cry and embrace each other, to serve and love each other.
Well, that is a nice thought. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world, and the ideals that are inherent in a concept like “prema prayojana” are easily lost. But if they are lost, we must try to go to the very center of the concept and shake out the dust that covers it. In fact, it is my feeling that we need to serve the essence that permeates the words “prema prayojana” and dedicate ourselves to that. We need to remember that this is about service. If what you believe is essential to Mahaprabhu’s dharma is not there, then it is incumbent on you to serve that essence by filling the hole, and not to run away.
What I am responding to here is Madhavananda's claim that he had no real free choice when he came to Krishna consciousness, and that now he is somehow able to choose from a position of knowledge. This is, in my opinion, disingenuous at best. It is a great fortune that our purva samskaras lead us to a particular dharma and satsanga when we are young. These things should not be thought of in terms of the intellect alone, but in terms of forces beyond our control, namely mercy. How Madhavananda can think that he has somehow transcended these forces now and made a purely rational decision shows a level of self-unconsciousness that does not become him.
Nevertheless, let me return to the original question of kanishtha bhaktas and our responsibility toward it. Madhava is responding to the problem of sectarianism (which is the principal characteristic of the kanishtha mentality) by the familiar process of antithesis presented by the atheists, Mayavadis and Shunyavadis, alike. He says, "Krishna consciousness is only one among many systems." Now I have been trying to say recently that this is not altogether incorrect. There are two levels of Bhagavan realization. The first level, which is experienced on the kanistha level, is in fact bhagavad-abhasa. Krishna himself says that if you worship the deity in the temple without recognizing his presence in other jivas or Vaishnavas, then your worship is like oblations in the ashes of the sacrificial fire. The ultimate understanding of Bhagavan comes AFTER Brahman realization.
na zocati na kAGkSati
samaH sarveSu bhUteSu
mad-bhaktiM labhate parAm
This is what is meant in the Bhagavatam when it talks about the Uttama conception. When this happens, then one not only sees the universality of Radha and Krishna, perceived not only in the most fundamental building blocks of creation, but in the very highest heights of human achievement and experience. To look for the absolute in Brahman or Nirvana after understanding the personal nature of the deity, and relativising the personal concept is sadly philosophically and theologically unsound. Blaming it on God is no help.
To summarize: The problem Madhava has encountered is real. His solution is not.