Impersonalism vs demigod worship

Urmila (Devi Dasi) ACBSP - 18.6 2021

It is difficult to say which is "better."  In the Isopanisad it is stated that impersonalism is worse than demigod worship, and that demigod worship leads one to ignorance.  But in Bhagavad-gita demigod worship is described as being in goodness, and impersonalism (not Mayavada) as being a beginning transcendental phase.  In fact, Prabhupada writes in several gita purports that one who hasn't yet contacted a bona fide Vaisnava guru may temporarily take to impersonalism (again, not Mayavada.)

As to comparing Krishna consciousness to other religions and psuedo religions, I must beg Vasu Murty to consider that such comparisons cannot be superficial.  It is a fact that the Catholic dogma and, to some extent, practice, is much closer to our Vaisnava understanding than other branches of Christianity, over all.  Yet, the Seventh Day Adventists advocate vegetarianism and no intoxication--principles certainly not shared by Catholics.  Followers of Edgar Cayce accept Christianity and reincarnation--again not shared by Catholics.  The Catholic world view and ultimate, guiding philosophy is so radically different from the Vaisnavas' that the superficial areas of similarity simply show that originally there must have been genuine potency in Christ.

Incidentally, Protestants are far more likely than Catholics to reject Darwinism and preach that there must be a personal, creator God.  Most Catholic schools and textbooks teach some watered-down compromise between evolution and creation, or just teach straight evolution.

I really don't understand Vasu Murty's treatment of Judaism.  It seems that people he knows equate us with Jews.  This has never been my experience in the 27 years I've known of Krishna consciousness or the 21 years I have (tried to!) practice it.  Personally, I studied Judaism intensely.  I attended the Jewish Theological Seminary and spent much time in Israel.

Originally, Jews certainly had some form of deity worship as evidenced by the current remnants of Torah worship in which the Torah is kept in an altar behind doors, covered with embroidered silk velvet and toped with a precious crown.  When the Torah is removed from the altar, everyone stands in reverance.  There was a system where only priests and high priests could worship on the altar.  In fact, the holy of holies (the pujari room?) was a part of the temple only accessible to the priests.

The early Jews certainly practiced either the four regs or a somewhat diminished version of them.  Although they never, as far as I know, had a celibate order, married couples are greatly restricted in their sexual activities.  The general principle is that couples must purify themselves before relations in order to have a good child, and must abstain until the most favorable time for conception.  Jewish law allows for gambling once a year, very small amounts of wine as part of religious ceremonies, and definitly advocates vegetarianism.  It is very common to find that religious Jews are vegetarians.  If not, their meat-eating is restricted in so many ways.  Additionally, they have a process for "blessing" their food which was probably in its original form a way of offering.  The bread is on a special dish, covered.  They remove the cover, offer the plate in the air (there is no altar because there is no temple) and ask God to accept the bread.  Then everyone takes a small portion.  They also offer candles and then touch the flame to their head.  The men also wear an undergarment with strings that are bound around their fingers thrice a day while they say a silent prayer.  Men and women are segregated during prayer and life in general.  (They are very strict about such things) They have a prayer for every action, every moment, so that one can always be conscious of God.  They advocate that at the time of death one must remember God.  Religious Jews are very simple and austere in their general habits.  You will not find them living in opulence, watching tv, etc.

One significant aspect of Judaism until recently (the last 100-150 years) was that all boys had to study under the guidance of a guru.  The boys lived with their guru (or at least attended day school) until they married.  The rabbis had to prove their disciplic succession and had many disciples of their own.  (By the way, this was also the Muslim tradition and still is in parts of Indonesia). These boys lived a life of strict celibacy and great austerity.

The *philosophy* of Judaism today is so opposed to Krishna consciousness that we may not realize how alike the orthodox practices are.  In fact, most Jews today can hardly claim a transcendent philosophy at all.  Their only claim in this regard is that, unlike the Christians, they encourage philosophical inquiry and debate.  It is perhaps this philosophical openness and encouragement that helped so many Jews to become members of ISKCON.  And most of them, like myself, do not feel that they have "abandoned" Judaism but have simply expanded and more fully understood it.

It may surprise many devotees to know that there was a strong personal element in Judaism until the time of the Rambam (Maimonides), who, like Sankaracarya, completely reinterpreted the Jewish scripture and commentaries in an impersonal way.  Just like most "Hindus" have been more or less affected by Sankaracarya's philosophy, so the Rambam's work inflitrated almost every branch and aspect of Jewish thought and practice. Unfortunately, unlike the Vaisnavas who had strong preachers of personalism, the Jews' personal disciplic succession is all but finished so that for all practical purposes only the impersonal remains.  There was a great controversy during the Rambam's time, but eventually practically all scholars and rabbis accepted his views.

The only exception were the Hassidic, who continued to teach that God is a person who can be approached by personal meditation and joyful singing of His name.  The Bal Shem Tov, or "follower of His Good Name" used to dance and chant through the streets with his disciples.  His modern followerss have been corrupted because of materialism, politics, and to some extent, the general impersonalism of the rest of Judaism.

We should also note that historically, only the most qualified rabbis were allowed to study the deeper philosophy of Judaism; the common people were just taught rules for living.  In my understanding, a similar situation existed in Vedic times where only brahmanas, and to some extent highly qualified ksatriyas, studied the confidential portions of the Vedas.  For society in general, there was varnasrama.  The mysticism that qualified rabbis studied taught of reincarnation, a personal God, etc.  In Chicago I remember that some students of this knowledge came to the temple after learning in their own studies that God is a blue boy!  If you read the "Song of Solomon" you can certainly see that some personal understanding was there.

Overall, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are religions for lower class people and are temporary, partial manifestations of sanatana dharma.  Only portions of the truth and portions of spiritual practices are available there.  At present it is very hard, as Prabhupada said so many times, to find a true follower of these religions.  It is even difficult to find someone who knows what these religions originally practiced and believed. It is also difficult to know whether or not their scriptures have value, as much has been changed and lost.

Personally, I've had much success by learning the good points of various religions and then emphasizing those when preaching to people who are very attached to a sectarian conception.  At the same time, any contact I have with any branch of Protestant Christianity, Catholics, Muslims or Jews always confirms that what Prabhupada gave us was so far superior in every respect.  Each of these "religions" has something that could induce its followers to take up sanatana dharma and something that would make them inimical.  It is really hard, and to some extent fruitless, to compare them to one another, or to Krishna consciousness, or to decide which is overall more favorable.  A truly sincere, favorable *person* from any of these religions will take up Krishna consciousness quickly, bolstered by his own relgious understanding.  And a demonic person will reject Krishna consciousness on the basis of disagreements with his dogma or practice.