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Interreligious Questions

Questions about brainwashing and paradigm shift
Question about participating in Christian service and Vaisnava temple worship
Questions about attitude toward impersonalism
Why hinduism forbids one to cross the sea?

Questions about brainwashing and paradigm shift

Q: I was talking to one of my non-devotee friends. She had heard some things about brainwashing and said that some of the things in the movement seem as if they are brainwashing tactics. I assured her there were none, but how do I go about explaining such things? What to say to people who are wary of us because they think we will brainwash them? I have noticed that this is why most people are not too favorable towards us. I recently tried to bring all of my friends to the temple for a festival, but none were allowed to go because their parents thought they would get brainwashed. They say that I am a nice person, but my religion is bad. What should I say to people who think I am trying to brainwash them?

A: Terms like brainwashing are used by anticult movement which is (according to my understanding) one of many harmful fruits of secularization of modern society. People are supposed to believe that pursuing of a religion as a full-time activity (as opposed to "free time" or "hobby" type of activity of most of believers today) must be necessarily harmful to personal freedom. As symptoms of such freedom restrictions are usually recognized the uniform dress, lifestyle and spiritual practices of a particular group (in the case of Vaisnavism it is usually shaven head, dhoti/sari, chanting, busy day schedule etc.)

However, similar symptoms are to be found in all the genuine spiritual traditions, especially in their monastic orders. If you read about the early Christian church you will see that their spiritual practice was (and in some orders still is) much more strict than in ISKCON. But because they live isolated life behind the walls of monasteries and convents their influence on society is insignificant and people do not feel threatened by their saintly philosophy and lifestyle. They are like a mirror in which people see their own wrong way of life and are at least subconsciously irritated in their conscience. Some are so irritated that they cannot stand to see a holy person.

Another view is that the supposed "brainwashing" one undergoes is not very effective - there is hardly anyone so "brainwashed" that he cannot break his connection with the particular group. (I heard that 80% of persons joining ISKCON stay only up to 3 years and then they leave and usually resume their previous lifestyle...)

People arguing in this way operate totally on emotional level. They heard some negative information from the second, third or even more distant hand but they themselves have no idea what is going on. If you ask them: "What exactly do you find bad?" they have no answer. I always make clear to them that they should not criticize the unknown. I simply do not accept uninformed criticism.

Sometimes one can bring them on a rational level by informing them about the ISKCON activities like Food for Life program to which they can relate. (No sect cares about others, right?)

Q: I would like to know why all the people in my city say that you are kind of crazy. I only hope that all those comments about you people are not true. Because I like your way of life. Thanks a lot. Hare Krishna.

A: How to objectively distinguish who is crazy? It is easy. You can say the tree according to its fruit. [Luke 6:44] Just compare the outcome of the modern Western and the ancient Vedic lifestyle. Western materialistic society exists maybe for two hundred years and it already reached its limits. This is obvious to all thinking people. The Vedic culture lasted for thousands of years and in India still survives, especially in the country. It is simple, self-sufficient, sustainable and conducive to a spiritual growth.

What you describe is a common reaction of an ordinary materialist when he comes into contact with someone living in so different way, that he cannot understand it. He feels uneasy about it but at the same time he does not want to investigate and ask questions because this would reveal his ignorance and endanger his social status. Thus to solve his dilemma and to make himself satisfied he labels such a person as "crazy" etc. and that's it.

When a person gets stuck in his world-view, voluntarily shuts himself off the natural information flow and looks inimically at things foreign to his experience he is called close-minded. This is unfortunately quite a common psychological phenomenon. Here we see this approach illustrated. (Philosopher Thomas Kuhn popularized the term "paradigm" meaning "world-view" or "outlook" and speaks about the conflict of paradigms. Here we have one such example of conflict/misunderstanding between "two worlds".)

Practically it is known from the world history that every religion was in its beginnings viewed by outsiders as something "crazy". Just remember from the Bible what happened to the first Christians. So this is nothing new and we are accustomed to such an attitude. Indeed, if we were NOT seen in this way it would be a warning signal for us that we got assimilated into the general materialistic society and lost the spiritual dimension of our life.

On the other hand a reasonable person who takes to an investigation, comes to us and asks relevant questions, very quickly finds that the reality is different. I hope you took the time to read about us and you already know the basic facts. If not I recommend you to do it. If you will have more questions I will gladly try to answer them.

Personal experience is the most important thing. We are inviting everyone to visit us, learn about our lifestyle and ancient cultural background and with his intelligence decide if it is good or not. If one thinks it is good he can follow our practices and thus be happy.

You say you like our way of life. So visit our temples as much as possible and try to chant the maha-mantra:

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

You will perceive the result soon. It is very nice.

Here's a quote about paradigm shift from the book "Money by the Mouthful", ch. 10, p. 60-61:

This chapter on "psychology" is to help you feel fully grounded in your "new" frame of reference. It is going to be tested, the first time you talk to a dentist; or when your next-door neighbor, "the world's foremost authority," gets a can of beer under his belt.
You should understand, about yourself and your new perception, that it is presently based only on inductive reason: In other words, we've been throwing a lot of facts at you, facts, that, taken together, make a lot of sense. You've been able to reason; to tie things together with logic, and to modify your belief patterns accordingly. We have not been able to do anything about your pre-programmed beliefs; nor have you, as yet, had any empirical proof that we are telling the truth.
We've given you the basic tools with which you can employ both cognitive (thinking) and conative (insight) understanding, but we can't - in a book - give you the actual experience you will need before your perception becomes grounded in personally experienced fact.
When someone challenges your new thinking, they will sooner or later ask you to prove it. As of now, you can't... you can give them this book to read; or you can cite some of the evidence we've offered... but you can't "prove it," at least not yet.
Be careful of this... because you are one of a relatively few people who have ever found all of this information in one place, between the two covers of a single book. No dentist has... unless he's read this same book. Your neighbor hasn't; your co-workers haven't. They will still view odontosis through the old frame of reference... and they will be just as "sure" of themselves as you once were, when you shared that frame of reference.
"They" are going to try to shake you. Your oral health hangs on your ability to resist both challenges to your new-found perception and the "tug" of the old, familiar way of thinking; a perception and set of values that is more comfortable than these new values simply because it is familiar; you're "used to it."
Before any of this book can personally benefit you, it must be the catalyst that causes you to modify your behavior. Just knowing about these things won't do you any good unless you do something about what you know. When we accept that behavior as the way we react to our perception of reality, then the value of this book is to change reality about your oral health... so you can react differently - by taking charge of your own dental destiny.
Only after you begin reacting in different ways to the new reality will you begin to accrue the personal, empirical proof that dental disease can be conquered; and not whether we can stamp it out worldwide... but only whether we can eliminate it in your own mouth.
When you talk to someone about these things today or tomorrow, they'll challenge you:
"Prove it." You won't be able to.
If you modify your behavior and begin to participate actively in controlling the factors of dental disease, and if you do it for a month to six weeks, it will then be a whole different story. Then, when someone challenges you to "prove it," you can smile and say something like this:
"Would you be willing to bet a hundred dollars in cold, hard cash that there is any active disease in my mouth?"
You see, when your own, personal Navy Plaque Index is down below or near level three, and when your saliva culture indicates no organized bacteria activity, you will have conquered odontosis.
Today, we want you to hang on tight to this thought: "I believe..."
Next month, we want you to be able to say it a bit differently: "I know!"

Q: I am a student at Leicester University, England, studying for a degree in sociology. I am currently doing some research on new religious movements and would value your opinion.

I would like to know if you and your counterparts believe people are turning to Hare Krishna as a preference to traditional religions and if so, why? Any information and evidence would be greatly appreciated.

A: Your question is interesting and quite a complex one. The devotees who are taking up the process of bhakti-yoga (development of Krishna consciousness) come from as many walks of life as one can imagine. Many of them were interested in philosophy and religion before (as me, for example), some were even members of "traditional religions" (I understand you mean _traditional in the West_ because Vaisnava tradition is one of the oldest spiritual traditions in the world) but they were looking for something more.

When a sincere seeker sees that the Western spiritual traditions deviated a great deal from their original teachings both in theology and practice it is quite natural to look somewhere else. What is he missing elsewhere he can, on the other hand, find in Vaisnavism because thanks to a succession of spiritual masters (guru-parampara) the ancient knowledge remained preserved in its original pure form. It can be seen by the fruits, as the Bible says. When a devotee realizes that Vaisnava tradition firmly rests on the solid basis of transcendental knowledge (and not just a mere faith which can be changed several times in one's life) and that the process of spiritual development really works he becomes very happy. Thanks to Krishna's mercy I am slowly realizing that.

Question about participating in Christian service and Vaisnava temple worship

Q: I have been attending the Krishna temple in my area for about a year now. And whenever I attend, I totally feel the love, and basic goodness that radiates from the temple, but I have to admit I feel guilty when I get home, cause I was baptized Catholic and I have been told that going to "the temple" is like turning my back on "my" religion. But to be truthful I feel more love at the temple then at Sunday mass (which I rarely attend). I think I chant more now, then pray, is this right? Does Krishna Consciousness allow me to chant and go to the temple, but still be the Catholic? I dunno... I'm just confused. Thanks for your time.

A: My [Urmila Devi Dasi's] father asked our founder, Srila Prabhupada, a similar question. So, I will answer in the same way.

There is nothing wrong with attending the temple if you have been baptized Catholic. There is no contradiction. The purpose of religion is to know and love God. If you know the purpose and are achieving it, then that religion is fine. We do not ever ask that someone convert or change religion, because true religion - that of knowing and loving God - is the eternal nature of the soul and cannot be changed. Krishna consciousness is a process whereby one can realize the deep truths present in every bona fide religion.

A [Jan]: There's no conflict between baptism (which is analogical to an abhishek) and confirmation and Vaisnava diksa. In early Christian tradition of Desert Fathers, which is still present in Eastern Orthodox tradition and possibly others, an already baptized (= accepted into the Church, i.e. sanga) disciple accepted a teacher (Russian: staretz, lit. 'old man') and their relationship was analogical to the guru-disciple relationship in Vaisnava traditions. This is because Vaisnavism and Christianity are two parallel bhakti traditions.


God, the Supreme Person, has no equal. Although there are powerful beings in the cosmic divine and demoniac hierarchies none of them can be an equal opponent to God. Personalities in the Vedic thearchy like Siva, Durga/Kali and Yamaraja are sometimes thought to be an analogy to Satan (e.g. they're invoked among so-called hellish names in the Church of Satan and The Temple of Seth order) but they are Lord's servants, not enemies. Personality of Kali, ruler of this age (yuga-purusa), is a sin personified but even he is a part of God's plan. All of them are allowed to punish those who break the cosmic order (dharma). Neither is Mara from Buddhism an equivalent of Satan. He is an ugra rupa of Kamadeva (Amor, Eros, i.e. material desire).

The Judeo-Christian concept of Satan is based on two sources - one coming from Persia and another from Egypt.

Jewish religion is thought to have been widely influenced by Zoroastrianism during the exile of the Jewish tribes after the destruction of the First Temple (586 BC) and the consequent Babylonian captivity. In Babylonia the Israelites were exposed to, and adopted, new ideas, e.g., the personification of evil (Satan) and the resurrection of the dead. Satan, however, plays quite a minor role in the Old Testament. He appears only in the Book of Job; 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zacharias 3:1-2.

"The original Priesthood of Set in ancient Egypt survived for twenty-five recorded dynasties (ca. 3200-700 BC). It was one of the two central priesthoods in predynastic times, the other being that of HarWer ('Horus the Elder'). Unification of Egypt under both philosophical systems resulted in the nation's being known as the 'Two Kingdoms' and in its Pharaohs wearing the famous 'Double Crown' of Horus and Set.

"Originally a circumpolar/stellar deity portrayed as a cyclical counterpart to the Solar Horus, Set was later recast as an evil principle by the cults of Osiris and Isis. During the XIX and XX Dynasties Set returned as the Pharaonic patron, but by the XXV Dynasty (ca. 700 BC) a new wave of Osirian persecution led to the final destruction of the original Priesthood of Set. When the Hebrews emigrated from Egypt during the XIX Dynasty, however, they took with them a caricature of Set: 'Satan' (from the hieroglyphic Set-hen, one of the god's formal titles)." [Murray Hope, "The Temple of Set FAQ"]

Horus's principal enemy - originally Horus's other face or "dark" aspect - was this "Set" or "Sata", from which comes "Satan". Horus struggles with Set in the exact manner that Jesus battles with Satan, with 40 days in the wilderness, among other similarities.

Bhakti Ananda Goswami:

In Egypt, this great religious and social trauma is associated with the dark ages of the Anti-Helios Hyksos, who corruptly identified Ketu / Setu with the Universal Savior, Baal. The Hyksos were not the enslaved Semitic heroes of the Jewish Exodus story. This is one of the worst mistakes historians have ever made. It is purely based on the racial assumption that, because the Hyksos were Semites, they somehow had to be the heroes of the Biblical Epic. In fact, all the evidence indicates that it was under the Hyksos that the Semitic and 'mixed multitude' worshipers of God Helios were enslaved.

Eli-Yahu is Helios / Hor-us, whose cosmic enemy is Ketu / Setu / Chata (Hebrew 'sin') with his minions, the rahus. Srimad Bhagavatam (8.9) narrates the story of Rahu-Ketu's (Satan) casting out of heaven. Half of Rahu-Ketu stays in the celestial realm becoming the cosmic force of destruction. Other half, Setu / Satan / Ketu, cast down (Satan falling like a lightning from heaven - Luke 10:18), was the 'father of lies' and the distortion of words (cata-chresis), the cause of celestial sun and moon-eating eclipses, inauspicious asterisms, comets (Sanskrit 'ketavah'), meteors and floods etc. (catastrophe, cataclysm), the dis-integration of all things (catabolism), and cause of possession / seizure / madness (catalepsy), disasters, disease and death.

In the Egypto-African and Helleno-Semitic traditions Setu or Satan is associated with catabolism and the Hebrew word 'chet' or 'chata' is used for 'sin' 195 times in the Hebrew scriptures. In Biblical Hebrew, evil, wickedness or destruction is expressed by the letters 'resh-ayin (usually now translated 'r-a') over 100 times. Satan is also called the evil dragon, which is Ketos in Greek! 'R a' or Chet (Setu or Ketos the Evil Dragon / Anti-Christ) is the Biblical catabolic Destroyer and Evil-Sin personified Satan. For instance, as late as the New Testament, he is envisioned by the apostle John as the cosmic dragon lying in wait to devour the Messiah as He is 'born' from the celestial Virgin. This is obviously the sun and moon devouring Rahu-Ketu, enemy of Visnu and the devas.

In Egyptian Setu is also associated with 'pp' or 'sin', which is clearly the Sanskrit word 'papa' for 'sin'. This arch-foe of God should not be confused with Shiva or the delivering-by-annihilation form of God. As the Enemy of beauty, truth, goodness, life, health and order, Rahu-Ketu and his rahu-minions are combated by the Lord in His various salvific descents (avatara). Thus as Ananta Charaka The Great Physician, Lord Baladeva descends as the Ayur Vedic Savior Asclespius or Jesus Christ (Serapis in Egypt, Yakushi-ji in Japan etc.) to defeat Rahu-ketu / Satan and relieve the suffering of all beings, restoring life, health and good order (dharma) to His creation.

In both the East and West Satan is depicted as a cosmic dragon who devours the sun and moon. As such he is Ketos or Drac in Greek, Ketu or Drug to Tibetan Buddhists and Satan the Dragon to Jews and Christians. By confounding the Enemy of life, truth, order, beauty and health, etc., with the Lord of life, truth etc., the Hyksos worshiped 'anti-Christ' in the place of Christ. They created the false Baal-Dionysos-Christ, and changed the capital of Egypt from one of the traditional Heliopolitan centers to the very capital city of Setu / Ketu (Avaris). Breaking with Heliopolitan tradition, they plunged Egypt into a 'dark age'.

Semitic Hyksos in Egypt, this left-hand tantric related deviant group of Eli / Heri - Baal worshipers, militarily conquered and devastated the Heliopolitan civilization of Northern Egypt. They moved the capital of Egypt to Avaris (yes, spelled like 'greed'), the city devoted to Setu (Rahu-Ketu / Satan), the catabolic, sinful (hebrew chata = sin), cosmic enemy of Heri. There they demonically associated the semitic second person of the Godhead Baal with the Egyptian personified evil, Setu.

Originally in the ancient Mediterranean Proto Catholic complex, Brahma and Siva were considered forms of Heri-Asu / Eli-Yahu, and Brahmaism and Saivism were not separated religions. Saivism, as separated Yahu-Baal / Dionysos worship, split from the sattvic tradition of Eli-Yahu / Helios / Heri- Asu and developed on a separated track after the great Egyptian regional trauma of the Hyksos period. During that time tamasic Baal-Yahu worshipers corruptly identified Setu-Raah (Ketu-Rahu, Satan) the arch fiend and enemy of Hari and the devas with Baal-Dionysos. This historical rise of the cult of the anti-Baal or anti-Christ led ultimately to the name Baal being dropped from common use as a name of Yahu, and to development of the separated left-hand tantric tamasic traditions of Siva, Kali (Sekmet in egypt) and Murugan worship.

Setu = Ketu, Chata = Ketu / Satan

Raah (Hebrew 'sin' / evil) = Rahu

The most frequent question about all-negative Satan being created by all-positive God can be answered in a way that Satan wasn't created as bad but chose the evil path on his own. God honors this free will of every being. As far as why God doesn't stop atrocities of Satan, that's answered in the BG 4.7 - He comes periodically to annihilate the asuras. In the meantime, esp. in Kali yuga, they can do their thing, indirectly testing the decision-making of others (good/evil) and acting like catalysts/distributors of the negative karma. See Isa. 14:12-20.

Rahu is the son of Vipracitti and Simhika (one of the daughters of Prajapati Daksa): siMhikA suSuve putraM rAhuM candrArka mardanaM (MBh Adi Parva 59.30), see also Agni Purana 19, Visnu Purana 1.3, Harivamsa 3.

Writings of Bhakti Ananda Goswami
Orthodox monks from Mount Athos and their sadhana
Calling on the Name of the Lord in the Bible
Question about participating in Christian service and Vaisnava temple worship
Christianity - connections
Cross-cultural traces of Vedic civilization

Questions about attitude toward impersonalism

Q: I want to hold all beings in a spirit of love and acceptance. I want to accept others' decisions about their spiritual path and continue to be open to associating and not always try to convert anyone away from their chosen path. That is a major concern to me. What do you and ISKCON think about this?

A: As Vaisnavas we would say that there is no truth beyond Krishna. This is confirmed by Krishna in the BG 7.7, where He states, "There is no truth superior to Me". ISKCON is dedicated to spreading the glories of the Personality of God, not His impersonality. Lord Krishna in His form as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has said that the Mayavadis are offenders at His lotus feet, since they maintain that the personal aspect of God is ultimately an illusion and that the impersonal aspect, or the oneness is the final state of transcendence.

Actually this debate between the personalists and the impersonalists, the Vaisnavas and the Mayavadis, has been going on for thousands of years in India. At times there was even violence involved, from the side of atheistic Theravada Buddhists and Sankarite Mayavadis when they came to power. This may be surprising because Buddhism is often glorified as the only nonviolent "religion" but the truth is different.

More on this topic here.

The disciplic succession that ISKCON descends from has been very active in this debate. If you study our history you will find that all the great acaryas of our line of teachers have been very adamant in their refutations of the Mayavadi philosophy. Madhvacarya traveled all over India to refute the Buddhist and Mayavada philosophies. Lately Srila Bhaktisiddhanta and Srila Prabhupada have been very heavily on the case of impersonalistic philosophies. Why? Because impersonalism ruins the chance of the individual soul to engage in loving service to Krishna. Therefore the Mayavadis have been described as offenders by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It is the duty of the disciple to faithfully render the teachings of his spiritual master, without adding or subtracting anything. Therefore it is the duty of everyone in ISKCON to strongly speak out against Mayavada philosophy.

Of course we would never, ever suggest that someone should not be free to choose whatever spiritual path he feels comfortable with. Even Krishna does not interfere with the living entity's free will. But it is also the mission of ISKCON to disseminate proper spiritual knowledge into society, and to preach the glories of the Personality of Godhead.

There is no need to disturb anyone's mind. But if the question arises or there is a public debate, it is the duty of the Vaisnava preacher to present the philosophical conclusions of the disciplic succession. And the Vaisnava conclusion is in direct opposition to the Mayavadi conclusion. There is simply no way around this clash of ideas.

Q: People of differing spiritual views, I believe, should be accepted and respected.

A: That is true. One should respect all living entities, no matter what their beliefs are. But it is not that we have to respect a philosophy if it is wrong or speculative. Then it is our duty to point this out. We will of course respect - not necessarily agree to - anyone's belief. What else can we do? None can be forced to think in a certain way. But we have to provide the our alternative so that people can choose for themselves. Just like your kids. It is not that you respect and condone everything they do. Sometimes you simply have to get on their case and tell them what they are doing or thinking is plain wrong, isn't it?

Q: Sometimes I perceive a bit fanatic approach among Vaisnava devotees. This attitude is one of my fears about giving the Vaisnava path a try, honestly.

A: Krishna says in BG that His devotee should take care to respect all living entities and not give them any trouble. But He also says that one should preach the conclusions of Bhagavad-gita. Usually a Vaisnava will not preach to those who are not receptive or who do not want to hear, but sometimes - like in a public debate - it has to be done for the sake of those who listen in on the debate.

I think you should not fear giving the Vaisnava path a try. In whatever path you choose in life you are bound to meet opposition as well as neophytes within the process itself who will turn you off by their immaturity. This is after all Kali-yuga - the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. What can be done? If you choose a Mayavada path you will also find that they hate the conclusions of Krishna consciousness.

Discussion about advaita and God

Q: You ask, "Do you understand how insignificant we are on this planet?" I do not relate to the word "insignificant". As part of consciousness, I feel neither significant nor insignificant.

A: Depends on our angle of vision. If "we" denotes human and other beings (living organisms) on this Earth which is just a tiny speck in the universe then we are surely insignificant.

Being more precisely defined as parts of consciousness as you say, then we can be considered significant as eternal, knowledgeable and blissful entities, parts and parcels of the Supreme Whole.

Now follows the important question - what is the nature of that Supreme Whole/Consciousness/Brahman etc.? This question is as old as the history of human philosophy itself. There are two general opinions, expressed as two main schools of philosophy - impersonalistic and personalistic.

Mainstream Judaism, Advaitism (followers of Sankara), Taoism etc. fall into impersonalistic category whereas personalism is promulgated by Christianity and Vaisnava sampradayas (schools). ISKCON is a branch of one of them, Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradaya, and presents the acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, "doctrine of inconceivable oneness and difference", the ultimate synthesis of all personal-impersonal approaches. This philosophy is based on a deep understanding of Vedic literature, which is considered a supreme evidence in all Indian philosophies.

The Supreme Reality is understood to have both impersonal (lower) and personal (higher) aspect and this seeming paradox is "inconceivable". Still, we offer explanations enabling to partially understand it, so we are not agnostics.

Q: I have trouble with the various older writings which phrase reality in terms of a feudal society. While I realize that these teachings do lead to knowledge, I also suspect that we are transitioning to a higher level of consciousness where the individual will relate directly to higher consciousness.

Of course, I also recognize that my "suspicion" may merely be a reflection of my Jewish orientation to the cosmos. We do not believe in intermediaries. That is one reason we do not understand Catholics who have Mary and various saints for intervention. Thus, if there is a single GOD, like a FATHER, we would related directly without asking mother to intercede.

However, to me the idea of a GOD, the Father, is a limited notion which segments the totality of consciousness. People who are accustomed to families with someone telling other people what to do can understand a cosmos which is set up in the same fashion. Likewise, people can understand a cosmos which basically reflects the familial pattern on a larger scale with Lords taking the place of the father.

A: As I explained, the Vedas hold a contrary view - the totality of consciousness or Brahman is a subordinate aspect of personal God, Bhagavan. This can be understood by a simple logic - the superior must include the inferior. Brahman, being an effulgence of Bhagavan, is dependent on Him, not the other way around. One can approach God either directly through meditation or through intermediaries like spiritual masters and saints through prayer and devotional service. However, He prefers the second way and to its followers He reveals His full, personal aspect, whereas to others He reveals Himself only partially, as "Light" or "Total Consciousness".

These universal hierarchies are not superimposed from the earthly reality by humans but just the opposite is true - our earthly social structures are reflections of a higher, universal structure.

Q: Consciousness invests itself into certain forms, which depending upon the state of their nervous systems, can or cannot perceive that they are not little children or servants, but merely facets of the totality. The fact that certain organisms happen to have nervous systems which allow them to more readily perceive the totality of the universe does not make them superior - just fortunate.

A: Nice example of the relation between our nervous system and us (particles of consciousness) is that of relation between a computer and its user. If you have just an old 486 you are pretty limited and disadvantaged in comparison with a Pentium user, although as persons, living entities, you are both on the same level.

However, we, living entities, _are_ children of God and also His servants. Only because we did not like it we were sent to this material world full of suffering. Being servant of God does not mean to suffer (as we have experienced in the position of servants in this world) but to be happy in His company.

The word "fortunate" suggests a random occurrence but in reality our present hardware (bodies) depends on our previous actions. This is called a law of karma, a physical law of action/reaction on a subtle level.

Q: I recognize that on this level there are lots of individualized aspects of consciousness and that they see themselves as separate and distinct from each other. I imagine that on higher levels of consciousness, there may be other particularized manifestations that think that they are separate and distinct from each other.

A: This separation is experienced only on the bodily level which unfortunately prevails more or less in the whole material world.

Q: I do not see any reason to think that just because some entity is on another level that it is necessarily all-knowing. There may be a different set of errors for different levels of consciousness.

A: Yes. Only really all-knowing and supremely blissful entity is the Supreme One. Others possess different grades of perception/reasoning abilities, knowledge and happiness. They - consciously or unconsciously - look for the higher expressions of these features as their ideals and models because they inwardly understand their own imperfections and want to compensate them.

Q: To the extent the Lord-master, Father-child approach reinforces the idea of distinct entities, it leads people away from an understanding of the totality of Oneness.

A: Totality of Oneness, however, does not fulfill their expectations, at least not forever, because on the stage of being immersed in oneness there is a lack of impressions and activities which are inherent to us, even on the purely transcendental level.

Q: The value of believing in the hierarchical approach is that it imposes order on society. Chaos is not good. Unfortunately, order imposed from the top-down also leads to oppression.

A: This is our experience in this material world. But it is not natural for us to be here. Therefore we suffer all kinds of tribulations, oppression being just one of them. Our home is in the spiritual world, where everything shares the same nature as God - eternity, knowledge and bliss - and hierarchy there is qualitatively completely different than here.

Q: The visionary sees the totality of the universe and his "light" often brings coherence to society. After his passing, his followers establish institutions. At first they usually want to teach, but when other people do not follow, the become angry and demand obedience to "God's Will". Soon there is oppression in the name of God, which may lead to some outward coherence, but oppression breeds hostility, resentment, anger and rage... which always result in incoherence.

A: Fanaticism has many varieties, religious is just one of them. Often a nationalistic fanaticism is disguised as a religious one. Srila Prabhupada used to say, "Religion without philosophy is sentimentalism or fanaticism, and philosophy without religion is dry speculation". History shows ample cases. Vaisnava philosophy has both heart (transcendental devotion) and head (transcendental knowledge) and therefore Vaisnavism in general never fell into the above mentioned traps, what to speak of oppression and hostilities.

Q: Thus, I like to think that we, as an entire species, are moving to a higher level where we can dispense with the hierarchical approach with its inevitable oppression. Eventually direct perception will result in coherence without oppression. Maybe not. Maybe biological organisms are inherently incoherent. But this leads me to speculate how the totality of the universe can have incoherence as one of its attributes.

A: We are inherently incoherent with matter, our present bodies and this material world which is "programmed" to be incoherent with us for our rectification.

Q: Maybe I will get out my copy of the Bhagavad-gita and pursue it for a while.

A: Very good! And get also Isopanisad, to fully understand the personal vs. impersonal nature of Absolute Truth, Krishna, from the foremost of Upanisads.

To summarize your text: You are basically rejecting the materialistic religious ideas in favor of impersonalism. But you have to go further, to the perfect stage of transcendental eternal religion, sanatana-dharma. That is also our goal. We are endeavoring and it works.

Why hinduism forbids one to cross the sea?

Such rules are present in dharma sastras and Puranas.

Let him not entertain at a Sraddha ...
An incendiary, a prisoner, he who eats the food given by the son of an adulteress, a seller of Soma, he who undertakes voyages by sea (samudra yAyI), a bard, an oil-man, a suborner to perjury, (Manu smriti 3.151,158, Buehler)

Now (the customs peculiar) to the North are, to deal in wool, to drink rum, to sell animals that have teeth in the upper and in the lower jaws, to follow the trade of arms and to go to sea (samudra samyAnam).
He who follows (these practices) in (any) other country than the one where they prevail commits sin. (Baudhayana Dharma sutra

These actions cause one to become fallen (aka 'to lose the caste', atha patanIyAni)
travelling over a sea (samudra samyAnam) (Baudhayana Dharma sutra

The reason is that a dvija, esp. a brahmana, can't properly follow the sadhana during the trip and in the foreign country due to the lack of holy rivers and other tirthas listed in sastras and can't avoid mixing with non-Vedic people, esp. eating in their houses. B. R. Siddhanti M. adds that during a sea voyage one can't avoid passing stool and urine into the water and this is an offense to Varuna, the lord of waters.

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