Descriptions of the Spiritual World, By Stephen Knapp

The spiritual world is not a myth, although it may certainly be a mystery to those without sufficient knowledge or experience. Many traditions, religions or cultures from around the world tell of another world, the afterlife or a heavenly or spiritual abode. But many of them do not say much about it, but only give hints as to its real nature, leaving the rest up to one’s imagination. The Vedic texts, however, have many descriptions of what the spiritual world is like, in fact more than you will find anywhere else. So we will take a few of these to get a good idea of the conditions there. In fact, such Puranas as the Bhagavata, Vishnu, Garuda, and others explain many of the Lord’s pastimes and expansions as they are found in the spiritual world as well as the activities that He and His devotees display within this material creation.

The Chaitanya-caritamrita by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami has some important verses that summarize what many of the Vedic texts describe, and explain the nature of the spiritual world. In the Adi-lila portion of his book, Chapter Five, we find that the spiritual sky is called Vaikuntha, which means where there is no anxiety. It is all-pervading, infinite, and the supreme abode. It is filled with innumerable spiritual planets, each of which is a residence of one of the unlimited expansions of the Supreme Being. The highest planet is called Krishnaloka, which is the residence of Lord Krishna Himself, the source of all other expansions of God. It is divided into the divisions of Dvaraka, Mathura, and Gokula. All of these divisions also appear on earth where the Supreme Being comes to display His pastimes. Gokula, also called Vraja and Vrindavana, is the highest of all. These abodes that appear on earth are expansions of the supreme spiritual atmosphere and nondifferent in quality to the places in the spiritual world.

Lord Krishna expands into many forms, beginning with His form as Sri Baladeva, also called Balarama, who is considered Lord Krishna’s brother. It is by the energy of Lord Baladeva that the spiritual world exists.

In the Madhya-lila section of the Chaitanya-caritamrita (21.55-57), the spiritual planets are described as larger than we can imagine, larger than any material universe. Each planet is also made of spiritual bliss. All of the inhabitants are associates of the Supreme Lord. And, in Chapter 20 (257-258), the spiritual world is referred to as the abode of the pastimes of the eternal spiritual energy.

There are also many verses in the Brahma-samhita which describe the nature and activities of the spiritual realm. In verse 29, for example, we find that the Lord engages in many playful pastimes. He is not some old man sitting high in the sky in a chair trying to manage everything while overlooking the material creation. Instead, we find that Lord Krishna is engaged in playfully tending the cows with his many friends, or engaged in dancing, having a picnic, teasing His relatives, or sporting with friends in the abodes built with spiritual gems and surrounded by millions of wish-fulfilling trees. He is served with great reverence and affection by thousands of goddesses of fortune. In verse 2, it states that Gokula, the supreme abode and planet, appears like a lotus flower with a thousand petals.

Life there is eternal, as is everything else in the spiritual world, and full of bliss and knowledge. It is full of pure devotees who have unlimited facility for their loving service to the Supreme Being. There are beautiful homes and gardens, with ample vegetables, flowers, and jewels. Each person is full with all beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and bliss. They also wear the most beautiful of clothes, and fly in wondrous planes around the spiritual planets. All walking is a dance, and all speech is a song. The water is nectar and the land is touchstone.

 In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto, Fifteenth Chapter, there is the following description of the kingdom of God: “In the spiritual sky there are spiritual planets known as Vaikunthas, which are the residence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His pure devotees and are worshiped by the residents of all the material planets. In the Vaikuntha planets all the residents are similar in form to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They all engage in devotional service to the Lord without desires for sense gratification.

            “In the Vaikuntha planets is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the original person and who can be understood through the Vedic literature. He is full of the uncontaminated mode of goodness, with no place for passion or ignorance. He contributes religious progress for the devotees.

            “In those Vaikuntha planets there are many forests which are very auspicious. In those forests the trees are desire trees [trees that fulfill all desires], and in all seasons they are filled with flowers and fruits because everything in the Vaikuntha planets is spiritual and personal.

            “In the Vaikuntha planets the inhabitants fly in their airplanes, accompanied by their wives and consorts, and eternally sing of the character and activities of the Lord, which are always devoid of all inauspicious qualities. While singing the glories of the Lord, they deride even the presence of the blossoming madhavi flowers, which are fragrant and laden with honey. When the king of bees hums in a high pitch, singing the glories of the Lord, there is a temporary lull in the noise of the pigeon, the cuckoo, the crane, the chakravaka, the swan, the parrot, the partridge, and the peacock. Such transcendental birds stop their own singing simply to hear the glories of the Lord. Although the flowering plants like the mandara, kunda, kurabaka, utpala, champaka, arna, punnaga, nagakesara, bakula, lily, and parijata are full of transcendental fragrance, they are still conscious of the austerities performed by tulasi, for tulasi is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with tulasi leaves.

            “The inhabitants of Vaikuntha travel in their airplanes made of lapis lazuli, emerald, and gold. Although crowded by their consorts, who have large hips and beautifully smiling faces, they cannot be stimulated to passion by their mirth and beautiful charms. The ladies in the Vaikuntha planets are as beautiful as the goddess of fortune herself. Such transcendentally beautiful ladies, their hands playing with lotuses and their leg bangles tinkling, are sometimes seen sweeping the marble walls, which are bedecked at intervals with golden borders, in order to receive the grace of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

            “The goddesses of fortune worship the Lord in their own gardens by offering tulasi leaves on the coral-paved banks of transcendental reservoirs of water. While offering worship to the Lord, they can see on the water the reflection of their beautiful faces with raised noses, and it appears that they have become more beautiful because of the Lord’s kissing their faces.

            “It is very much regrettable that unfortunate people do not discuss the description of the Vaikuntha planets but engage in topics which are unworthy to hear and which bewilder one’s intelligence. Those who give up the topics of Vaikuntha and take to talk of the material world are thrown into the darkest region of ignorance.”

         The Vedic texts further describe that in the center of all the spiritual Vaikuntha planets is the planet known as xe “Krishnaloka” Krishnaloka or “Goloka Vrindavana” Goloka Vrindavana, which is the personal abode of the original Supreme Personality of God, Sri Krishna. Krishna enjoys His transcendental bliss in multiple forms on that planet, and all the opulences of the Vaikuntha planets are found there. This planet is shaped like a lotus flower and many kinds of pastimes are taking place on each leaf of that lotus, as described in Brahma-samhita, verses two and four: “The superexcellent station of Krishna, which is known as “Gokula” Gokula, has thousands of petals and a corolla like that of a lotus sprouted from a part of His infinitary aspect, the whorl of the leaves being the actual abode of Krishna. The whorl of that eternal realm, Gokula, is the hexagonal abode of Krishna. Its petals are the abodes of gopis [friends] who are part and parcel of Krishna to whom they are most lovingly devoted and are similar in essence. The petals shine beautifully like so many walls. The extended leaves of that lotus are the garden-like dhama, or spiritual abode, of Sri Radhika, the most beloved of Krishna.”

In this way we can understand that the spiritual realm is not some form of nothingness, as some people may imagine. It is further described that there are millions of Vaikuntha planets, each with a form or expansion of the Supreme Being who resides on it. Each resident of the spiritual world goes to whichever planet has the form of God to which he or she is most attracted. Each Vaikuntha planet is self-effulgent, and many millions of times brighter than the sun. Material time and the modes of nature have no influence in the spiritual realm. There is no birth, death, old age, or disease, and no past, present, or future. Time is conspicuous by its absence. Everything, including the homes, trees, animals, and plants, are all eternal. It is full of beauty and bliss.

The Lord is like a blazing fire and the spiritual entities are like sparks of that fire who engage in unlimited varieties of service for the Lord’s enjoyment. Since the Lord is also the source of all pleasure and happiness, when the living entities come into contact with the Supreme, they also feel a happiness which far supersedes any pleasure they could feel through contact with the material energy. Because the innumerable spiritual entities are engaged in serving and pleasing the Lord in this way, which is their natural, constitutional, spiritual position, they also feel a bliss that knows no bounds. They feel that there could be nothing better that they could do, or would want to do. Thus, they all feel perfectly situated.

Why does the Lord create the spiritual sparks, or the innumerable living entities? Because He is the source of  both the unlimited and limited potencies. The Lord is only complete when He displays all of His energies. The unlimited spiritual potency is exhibited by the spiritual world. The limited energy is exhibited in the material cosmos. And the marginal potency, which are the living beings, can be in either the material or spiritual energy, depending on their consciousness.

To exhibit His omnipotency, the Supreme exhibits all of His energies. In this way, the Lord is the source of all potencies, including all pleasure potencies for which all living entities are hankering. When they come in contact with the Lord through the service attitude for pleasing Him, they are also full of all pleasure and happiness, in the same way that a spark becomes bright again when in contact with the blazing fire. Because the Lord is the reservoir of all pleasure, and He also enjoys spiritual ecstasies, there are the living beings who also give Him happiness and provide the means for many pastimes in which there are varieties of pleasurable exchanges between them. The living beings provide the means for the Lord’s variegated activities. Without the spiritual entities, the Lord would remain inactive, although He is complete in Himself. However, merely by looking at all the activity within the material creation we can see that there are unlimited activities. Thus, we can get a clue as to how much more active is the spiritual realm. We can plainly see that we are not alone. So, it is illogical to think that there are no activities in the spiritual realm, or that it is merely some inactive void or Great White Light.

In this way, we can begin to understand that the spiritual world is simply for the transcendental loving relationships and recreational activities that expand the happiness and love of all, without the limitations found within material existence. Besides, what is the meaning of the word “lord” if there is no one to overlord? Similarly, a king without subjects has no meaning. Thus, the spirit souls are the complimentary side of the Supreme Being, and are His parts and parcels. So it is natural that there are reciprocal feelings of love between the infinitesimal living beings and the infinite Supreme Being. This form of love between the Supreme and His spiritual parts and parcels is the ultimate loving relationship. Every other form of love is but a dim reflection.

When the living beings display their pure spiritual tendencies to serve the Lord, they become liberated souls in the spiritual world. However, they have independence to act spiritually or materially. When they wish to pursue their limited desires for material enjoyment to satisfy themselves, then they take up existence in the material creation and acquire a physical body so they can chase after the idea of gratifying their minds and senses. The pleasure of the mind and senses is merely an idea because it is based on the mood of the mind and the level of reality that the materially conditioned soul accepts as his life and drama. The senses alone, being lumps of matter, or parts of an animated and temporary material body, cannot in themselves feel happiness. They only feel sensations which the mind then interprets as being either agreeable and wanted, or disagreeable and unwanted. Such sensations are then merely interpreted by the mind, which then accepts such sensations and situations as happiness or unhappiness. In other words, it has the reality of a dream. In a dream one finds himself affected by various levels of his imagination, or memories of past bodily experiences, until he wakes up. Then he remembers his real and present situation. That is why spiritual realization is also called a spiritual awakening when a person awakens to one’s actual position as a spiritual being, beyond the material body and all its limitations. This realization also makes it clear that he or she ultimately belongs to the spiritual realm and needs to follow the process by which one can attain entrance into the spiritual world.

As it is further described, the Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual world float in the Brahman effulgence. Some call this the Great White Light or void. Merging into this Brahman is for those who prefer to exist in a spiritual vacuum, floating in an eternal sky without any form or activities. For this reason, it is considered an incomplete level of spiritual realization and existence.

“What the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul is but His localized plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, full with six opulences. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him.” (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi-Lila, 2.5)

The Brahma-samhita (5.40) similarly describes the Brahman as being emanated from the body of Lord Krishna: “I worship Govinda [Krishna], the primeval Lord, whose effulgence is the source of the nondifferential Brahman mentioned in the Upanishads, being differentiated from the mundane universe, and appears as indivisible, infinite, and limitless truth.”

Herein we can understand that the Brahman effulgence, or the Great White Light in the spiritual sky, is nothing but the bodily rays coming from the Supreme Being, Sri Krishna. It is within those bodily rays that the unlimited Vaikuntha planets float, and into which the innumerable impersonalist philosophers merge who have attained liberation from material existence and who think there is no Supreme Being. However, such liberated souls who merge into the Brahman have no spiritual form or body, but remain only as a spiritual spark without any activity, floating in the Vaikuntha sky.

The Upanishads, focusing on describing the nonmaterial aspects of the Supreme and spiritual truth, especially put emphasis on the great, impersonal Brahman effulgence. The Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.10-12) provides additional insight into the nature of the Brahman: “In the spiritual realm, beyond the material covering, is the unlimited Brahman effulgence, which is free from material contamination. That effulgent white light is understood by transcendentalists to be the light of all lights. In that realm there is no need of sunshine, moonshine, fire or electricity for illumination. Indeed, whatever illumination appears in the material world is only a reflection of that supreme illumination. That Brahman is in front and in back, in the north, south, east and west, and also overhead and below. In other words, that supreme Brahman effulgence spreads throughout both the material and spiritual skies.”

The above verses mean two things: First, the very word Brahman, being the bodily rays of the Supreme Being, and being an effulgence which must come from a source, means that the Brahman cannot exist without its source. Therefore, by implication, the Brahman means the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Secondly, the rays and spiritual force of the Brahman also pervades the material creation. It is in a corner of this Brahman in which the material creation manifests like a cloud. Within that cloud the necessary transformations take place in order to create the material elements, planets, universes, and innumerable living beings. However, between the material universes and the brilliant effulgence of the Brahman is what is called the Virajanadi or Brahmaloka. It is like a river, also called the Viraja River, which is the separation between the spiritual world and the material world. It is within the confines of the cloudy Viraja River that the material manifestation takes place.

The millions of universes in the material creation float on the waters of the Viraja River. On one side of this river are the material universes, and on the other are the spiritual Vaikuntha planets which float within the Brahman effulgence. The Viraja River is a marginal position between the material and spiritual realms, and is thus not under the control of the material energy. That is why those persons who merge into the Viraja River are considered to have escaped material existence, yet have still not quite entered the real spiritual worlds.

In this way, the Viraja River is also a shelter for those living beings who are disgusted with material life and who become successful in a religious or philosophical discipline that is bereft of true spiritual knowledge. For example, the goal of Buddhists is to reach nirvana in the Great White Light or Clear Void. This void is found in the existence in the Viraja River, which is outside of the material worlds, but still not in the spiritual realm. It is in between. Therein they deny the variegatedness of material existence as well as that of spiritual existence. Thus, if they wish to leave material life yet still have no true understanding of spiritual life, or life on the Vaikuntha planets, it is into this area in which they merge, if they are successful. Without knowledge or the practice of life in the spiritual world, they cannot go beyond this Viraja area. Thus, it is to our advantage to study what is the spiritual realm and how to follow the process best to attain it, as described in the Vedic literature. That is the means of becoming truly free from the limited material existence within this cosmic creation, which was created for the materially conditioned souls who prefer to attempt to satisfy all of their material desires. That is also why it is best to continue to hear about and familiarize ourselves with the deeper and blissful aspects of the spiritual world, such as with additional descriptions as follows:

             “Vrindavana-dhama is a place of ever-increasing joy. Flowers and fruits of all seasons grow there, and that transcendental land is full of the sweet sound of various birds. All directions resound with the humming of bumblebees, and it is served with cool breezes and the waters of the Yamuna River. Vrindavana is decorated with wish-fulfilling trees wound with creepers and beautiful flowers. Its divine beauty is ornamented with the pollen of red, blue and white lotuses. The ground is made of jewels whose dazzling glory is equal to a myriad of suns rising in the sky at one time. On that ground is a garden of desire trees, which always shower divine love. In that garden is a jeweled temple whose pinnacle is made of rubies. It is decorated with various jewels, so it remains brilliantly effulgent through all seasons of the year. The temple is beautified with bright-colored canopies, glittering with various gems, and endowed with ruby-decorated coverings and jeweled gateways and arches. Its splendor is equal to millions of suns, and it is eternally free from the six waves of material miseries. In that temple there is a great golden throne inlaid with many jewels. In this way one should meditate on the divine realm of the Supreme Lord, Sri Vrindavana-dhama.” (Gautamiya Tantra 4)

            “I worship that transcendental seat, known as Svetadvipa where as loving consorts the Lakshmis, in their unalloyed spiritual essence, practice the amorous service of the Supreme Lord Krishna as their only lover; where every tree is a transcendental purpose-tree; where the soil is the purpose-gem, water is nectar, every word is a song, every gait is a dance, the flute is the favorite attendant, effulgence is full of transcendental bliss and the supreme spiritual entities are all enjoyable and tasty, where numberless milch-cows always emit transcendental oceans of milk; where there is eternal existence of transcendental time, who is ever present and without past or future and hence is not subject to the quality of passing away even for the duration of half a moment. That realm is known as Goloka only to a very few self-realized souls in this world.” (Brahma-samhita, 56)

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The Absolute Truth: What or Who is It, by Stephen Knapp

Scientists agree that all time, all history, and all creation start from a single point. And that point would have to be the ultimate or Absolute Truth. So what exactly is the Absolute Truth? How do we go back through time and space to find the original source of everything? Even if we research the Bible, the Koran, the Jewish writings, or even the Sikh, Zoroastrian, or Buddhist texts, we will find limited information on what is the Absolute Truth. And forget about depending on modern science, they are still searching and have many varying theories to offer. 

Fortunately, the Vedic texts of India have always been a guiding light to provide knowledge of what is the Absolute Truth. For example, the second verse of the Vedanta Sutras (1.1.2) clearly explains, “The Absolute Truth is that omniscient, omnipotent, all-merciful Being from whom proceeds all things (origins, sustenance, and dissolution).”

This is similar to the Aitareya Upanishad (1.1.2) which states, “He (the Supreme Person) created this entire material world.”

Herein we start to understand that the Absolute Truth is a person, the Supreme Person, who is all-powerful, fully merciful, and the origin and source of everything. Thus, the single point from which all time, history, and creation originate is this Supreme Person, God. Actually, this is only logical because material nature is inert. It cannot be the cause of its own creation. Thus, a living brain is behind the great plan for this manifestation. Seeing how everything is wonderfully arranged in this material world for its continued existence, we should understand that a living brain, a person, is the cause of this development, just as a building cannot develop and build itself.

The Aitareya Upanishad (3.11) goes on to explain, “He saw, and His power sent forth the creation.” The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.22) continues, “He is the Lord and controller of everyone.”

The Vishnu Purana (1.3.2) also explains that all creative energies that act in the process of creation, maintenance, and annihilation are the natural characteristics of the Supreme Truth, just as heat and light are the natural energies of fire. Therefore, we can understand that everything in the cosmic creation emanates from this Absolute Truth, and even after its annihilation the material energies again enter the same Absolute Truth.1

The definition of this Absolute Truth is presented in the Vishnu Purana,2 that He is the all-pervasive, all-increasing, changeless soul of all. Furthermore, He is one without a second, without whom nothing can exist.3

The Svetasvatara Upanishad (6.1-5) goes on to explain that God is the ultimate cause of all causes. It is He, the Supreme Person, who pervades the whole world with His consciousness and power. He is the controller of time, through which the creation itself unfolds. It is He who sets the creation in motion and then rests peacefully, after uniting the individual jiva souls with the principles of matter. He is the primal cause of the universal creation and propels the living beings toward their material desires. He is the one reality without a second, beyond matter and time. He is beyond the perception of our senses but can be perceived through the eyes of devotion. He is immortal and the monitor of every living being as the Supersoul in the core of everyone’s heart. Knowing Him in this way can lead one to final liberation from the material energy.

The Svetasvatara Upanishad (6.8) gives further information about the nature of God and describes the Supreme as having nothing equal to or greater than Him. Through His various potencies He manifests His parts and parcels–the individual living beings–who are all situated differently within His energy. Later on in verse thirteen of the same chapter we find it said, “The Supreme Lord is eternal and the living beings are eternal. The Supreme Lord is cognizant and the living beings are cognizant. The difference is that the Supreme Lord is supplying all the necessities of life for the many other living entities.”

The point that God is one only is repeated in the Svetasvatara Upanishad (3.2), “Truly God is One; there can be no second. He alone governs these worlds with His powers. He stands facing beings. He, the herdsman [meaning Sri Krishna], after bringing forth all worlds, reabsorbs them at the end of time.”

Herein we get an additional hint of who is this Supreme Person. We find He is called the “herdsman,” which is a clear reference to His pastime of being a cowherd boy. This is none other than Lord Sri Krishna. And this manifestation of His material energy is considered to be only one of His innumerable pastimes.

The Kurma Purana (1.5.1-3) relates that there are innumerable names for the Supreme Person. He is named according to His qualities and activities. “Because He is not born of any prior person, he is called Svayambhu (self-born). Since He is the goal of men, he is called Narayana. Because He is the remover of samsara (the cycle of repeated birth and death), He is Hara. He is called Vishnu because of His all pervasiveness. He is called Bhagavan because of His perfect knowledge of everything. He is called OM because of His protectiveness of all. He is called Sarvajna (omniscient) because of His knowledge of everything. He is called Sarva because he is identical with everyone [spiritually of the same quality but infinite in quantity].” And, as we find elsewhere, the name of Krishna means the one who is attractive to everyone, who can provide the greatest pleasure.

In the Vedic classic Bhagavad-gita (7.6-7)  Lord Krishna is quite clear about being the Absolute Truth, wherein He says, “Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution. No truth is superior to Me. Everything rests on Me as pearls are strung on a thread.” Also (9.5), Krishna explains that He is the maintainer of all living beings and the very source of creation.

In the four most important verses in the Bhagavad-gita (10.8-11), Sri Krishna explains, “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” 

Even the Rig-veda (1.22.20 & 21), one of the oldest of all Vedic texts, establishes that there is no higher truth than Lord Vishnu, Krishna. “The supreme abode of Lord Vishnu, or the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, is spread all around like the sunlight in the sky. Great demigods and saintly persons always see that supreme abode, recognizing Him as the highest truth. Spiritually awake souls learned in transcendental understanding glorify the Lord and make that abode more brilliant.”

Srila Jiva Gosvami also presents a common verse that is found in three Puranas, namely the Padma Purana, Linga Purana, and the Skanda Purana, which states, alodya sarva-shastrani / vicharya cha punah punaha / idam ekam sunishpannam / dhyeyo narayanah sada: “By scrutinizingly reviewing all the revealed scriptures and judging them again and again, it is now concluded that Lord Narayana is the Supreme Absolute Truth, and thus He alone should be worshiped.”

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavat Purana) (10.85.4) also specifically relates how Lord Krishna is, “the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who manifests as the Lord of nature and the creator of nature [as Maha-Vishnu]. Everything that comes into existence, however and whenever it does so, is created within You, by You, from You, for You, and in relation with You.”

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.24.19) goes on to describe how the material nature, time, and Maha-Vishnu, all come from Krishna, who is the Absolute Truth. Furthermore, it is explained that the entire cosmic creation is caused by Lord Krishna, and the material manifestation is an effect of His energy.4 

Sanatana Gosvami has also concluded, as related in the Chaitanya-caritamrita,5 “Both the material and spiritual world are transformations of Krishna’s internal [spiritual] and external [material] potencies. Therefore Krishna is the original source of both material and spiritual manifestations.” 

The three main categories of these energies of the Lord are explained in the Vishnu Purana (6.7.61-63). These are the spiritual potency, by which the spiritual world is manifested; the individual living beings, which belong to the marginal potency since they can enter the spiritual strata or be subject to bewilderment in the material energy; and the third energy is the material potency, which is filled with ignorance and exhibited when the living beings become godless or instilled with the desires for fruitive activities. It is this darkness which covers the living being with forgetfulness of his true spiritual position. Thus, the living beings exist in numerous forms and species while in the material creation. Through these energies, all aspects of the spiritual and material worlds are manifested. In this way, we can understand that not only does everything come from the Supreme Being, but nothing can exist without Him.

The  Vishnu Purana (1.12.69) goes on to explain that the nature of the Supreme Being Himself is sat-chit-ananda-vigraha. This means the personal form of God is eternal and full of pleasure and knowledge. Thus, he is beyond all material influences. However, the living entities, being part of the Supreme in quality, can also experience this eternal pleasure and knowledge to a lesser degree once they regain their eternal spiritual position. 6

Thus, whatever we see in this material world is but an expansion of the different energies of the Supreme Person.7  It is He who is the Supreme Being and Creator of all. This is why the Brahma-samhita (5.1) explains that, “Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the supreme controller. He has an eternal, blissful, spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, for He is the prime cause of all causes.”

This is also why Krishnadas Kaviraja further explains in his Chaitanya-caritamrita (Adi-lila, 1.3), “What the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul is but His localized plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, full with six opulences. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him.”

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.28) specifically relates Akrsnas tu bhagavan svayam,@ which means that out of all the various avataras of God, “Lord Sri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in person.” All other incarnations or avataras are but plenary portions or portions of the plenary expansions of the Lord.

In this way, we can understand that the ultimate philosophical conclusions, as presented in the above Vedic references, and by various spiritual authorities, is that the Absolute Truth is a person, known in the Vedic literature as Sri Krishna. It is He who manifests the material creation through His various forms and energies. Many more verses that establish this are found in the Bhagavad-gita, Brahma-samhita, as well as various Puranas and other Vedic texts written by many spiritual masters and teachers that verify this point.

 CHAPTER NOTES

1. Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya.lila, 6.143

2. Vishnu Purana, 1.12.57

3. Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 24.72

4. Srimad-Bhagavatam, 7.9.31

5. Chaitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila, 20.150

6. Ibid.,  Madhya-lila,  6.153

7. Ibid., Adi-lila, 7.120 purport, quote from the Vishnu Purana

What is Vedic Literature, By Stephen Knapp

      To begin explaining what is really Vedic, we can understand that the word Veda has its root in the Sanskrit vid, which means “to know”, or simply “knowledge”. The word Veda also has three root meanings, representing its connection with the power of God, namely 1) that Vedic knowledge is eternal; 2) Veda is the essential knowledge itself, which means that it provides knowledge of God, or that we can know the Supreme through the Veda; and 3) Veda gives the most desirable thing to the souls, which is the Divine Bliss that comes from our connection with God. Therefore, any part of the literature which does this and supports the Vedic conclusion is a part of the Vedic literature. This is confirmed in the Bhavishya Purana (Brahma Parva, 4.96): “The Vedas, Vedic mantras, and Vedic literature are three parts of the same body.”

      According to Vedic tradition, when the Supreme Lord created this material world, His transcendental energy pervaded every corner of it. This spiritual energy was the pure vibration, shabda-brahma, in which the Supreme Himself can be found. It is explained that first there was the subtle vibration of spiritual sound, the eternal and spiritual vibration called the shabda-brahman. It is explained that through the worship of this subtle form of the Vedas, mystics can cleanse their hearts of all faults and impurities caused by the association of various material substances and actions. Thus they can attain liberation from further cycles of birth and death. From this spiritual sound vibration, Srila Vyasadeva compiled the Vedic literature. (Bhag.12.6.37-38)

      As most scholars on Vedic philosophy know, when you say Vedas you refer to the original four Vedas: the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas. From the four main Vedas are branches or appendices called Brahmanas, which relate to rituals and ceremonies. From these are derived the Aranyakas. The Upanishads are the appendices (the secret and esoteric knowledge” secret and esoteric knowledge) of the Aranyakas. When you say Veda (without the s) you not only refer to the four Vedas, but also to the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads, or all the texts that are considered Shruti. Shruti is considered the original revealed knowledge which was unveiled to self-realized sages. Shruti also means that which is heard. It was first heard from God and then was heard and passed along in an oral tradition in the association of other sages. In this way, it was protected from being misunderstood or misused. It is this sound vibration that will awaken mankind’s higher awareness and inclination to attain the spiritual dimension, thus providing the means for mankind’s liberation from material existence.

      The remaining parts of Vedic literature, besides the Tantras and Agamas, consist of the Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita, the Ramayana, and the Puranas. These are the Itihasas or histories and supplemental portions of the Vedic literature, which is called Shmriti, or that which is remembered. The Puranas are especially an elaboration of the original Vedic concepts and philosophy of the four Vedas and Upanishads. So when we say “Vedic literature,” it refers to both Shruti and Shmriti in a general way. However, some scholars think that the Shruti is more important than the Shmriti. So some may object to the way I alternately use the words “Vedas” and “Vedic literature” to refer to the same thing, which includes all of the Vedic texts, both the early Shruti and later Shmriti.

      The reason I do this is that I present Vedic evidence from any portion of the Vedic literature, and I often use quotes from the Puranas. To leave out the supplemental portions of the Vedic literature would deprive the reader of an enormous amount of Vedic knowledge and elaborated explanations. Furthermore, some of the greatest of spiritual authorities, like Shankaracharya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, and others, have presented Smriti as valid evidence of spiritual truths and wrote commentaries on Bhagavad-gita. In fact, Madhvacharya, in his commentary on the Vedanta-sutras (2.1.6), quotes the Bhavishya Purana, which states: “The Rig-veda, Yajur-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, Mahabharata, Pancharatra, and the original Ramayana are all considered Vedic literature. The Vaishnava supplements, the Puranas, are also Vedic literature.” Even the Chandogya Upanishad (7.1.4) mentions the Puranas as the fifth Veda. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.4.20) also clearly agrees with this, saying, “The four divisions of the original sources of knowledge (the Vedas) were made separately. But the historical facts and authentic stories mentioned in the Puranas are called the fifth Veda.”

      The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.5.11) also relates: “The Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva Vedas, the Itihasas, Puranas, Upanishads, verses and mantras, sutras, and the spiritual knowledge and explanations within, all emanate from the Supreme Being.” It not only says it once, but the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad says it again (2.4.10), “As from a fire kindled with wet fuel, clouds of smoke issue forth, so, my dear, verily, from this glorious great God has been breathed forth the Rig-veda, the Yajur-veda, the Sama-veda, Atharvanagirasa, Itihasas, Puranas, science of knowledge, mystic doctrines or Upanishads, pithy verses, aphorisms, elucidations, and commentaries. From Him, indeed, are all these breathed forth.” Thus, they all have importance in presenting Vedic information, and one should not be biased toward one set of shastra or scripture to exclude the other.

      This point is confirmed again in the Bhavishya Purana (Brahma Parva, 7.55): “Shruti refers to the four Vedas and Shmriti refers to the revealed scriptures that were compiled in pursuance of the Vedic version. One should consult both kinds of scriptures as a guide to all one’s activities because religion that does not refer to them is simply a disturbance to society.”

      The Mahabharata (Adi Parva 1.267) explains the necessity of understanding Vedic knowledge with the help of the Puranas: “One should expand and accept the meaning of the Vedas with the help of the Itihasas and Puranas. The Vedas are afraid of being mistreated by one who is ignorant of the Itihasas and Puranas.” This is quite similar to what is related in the Prabhasa-khanda section (2.93) of the Skanda Purana, where it is said, “I consider the Puranas equal to the Vedas. . . The Vedas feared that their purport would be distorted by inattentive listening, but their purport was established long ago by the Itihasas and Puranas. What is not found in the Vedas is found in the smritis. And what is not found in either is described in the Puranas. A person who knows the four Vedas along with the Upanishads but who does not know the Puranas is not very learned.” In this way, we should understand that one’s education in Vedic culture and science is not complete if one excludes the understanding and knowledge given in the Puranas.

      To further verify this point, in the Naradiya Purana Lord Shiva is quoted as saying to his wife Parvati that, “I consider the message of the Puranas to be more important than that of the Vedas. All that is in the Vedas is in the Puranas without a doubt.” So I relate this simply for those who feel that there should be some further distinction between Shruti and Smriti and may object to the way I use the terms “Vedas” and “Vedic literature” to mean the same thing, although many parts of the Vedic literature point to the need for using the Puranas and other portions of the Shmritis to more fully understand the depths of Vedic knowledge.

American Hindus: How to Cultivate Your Culture in America, by Stephen Knapp

            One thing I have witnessed is that how 20, 30 or more years ago, when Indians were coming to America, they came to concentrate on their careers, not their culture. Yet, many of them have now turned back to their culture and have become better Hindus than if they would have stayed in India. Some may have realized that the American dream is not all it’s cracked up to be, or, more simply, in order to feel more complete and fulfilled, it is better that they still have a strong connection with their Vedic traditions. It may also be because they want their children to be trained-up in the culture of their homeland. So, now many of them have reconnected with the spiritual customs and traditions of Vedic India.

            However, a problem that many Indian Hindu families are facing is that many of their children, growing up in the West, are losing interest in their culture. That can partly be because the parents don’t show enough interest, which is the impression passed on to the children. But, it is also encouraging to see that those children who do take an interest are often becoming more dedicated Hindus than their own parents. Yet, we can see that this is often a matter of association, who the children pick as friends and how they learn about what Vedic culture or Sanatana-dharma really are. Therefore, the children have to be guided by proper training, proper association, and proper observance of Vedic traditions. This also is part of forming the proper samskaras in the minds of the children. And isn’t this what we are meant to do anyway?

            One thing that we should realize while we live and grow in America, is that the way things are going in India, we practically have more freedom to practice the Vedic culture and its traditions in America than we do in India, and I could certainly elaborate on that point, but already have in other articles that you can read on my website. So, we need to know how to utilize this freedom that we have.

            Secondly, we need to know that America is a prime location where we can work together for cultivating as well as protecting and preserving the Vedic tradition. But we need to base this cooperation beyond the considerations of caste or ethnic differences, those labels of the body. We may call ourselves Hindus, and then Indians, but how many times do you call yourselves Gujarati Hindus, or Bengali, or Marathi, or Tamil Hindus, and so on. Such temporary distinctions of the body are taught in the Vedic texts to be but part of the illusion. And we should not want to remain in such illusion, such maya. The whole basis of the Vedic spiritual process is to raise ourselves out of such illusion and recognize our higher spiritual potential as spiritual beings. We are actually the spirit soul within whatever kind of body we may temporarily have. We need to base our cooperation and the way we identify with each other on that. And America can be the best place for this to happen. 

            Yet, this is one of the problems that we see in India: there are so many groups that have similar goals and interests for the benefits of the culture and country, but there are so many differences between these groups based on superficialities of the body that they cannot unite and become a strong federation, a powerful organization that can determine their own fate, or the future of the country. If anything, so many associations in India still fight with one another and, thus, weaken each other to the point of becoming incapable of performing any worthwhile actions that will make a real difference for the unity and future of India and its culture.

This was the same sort of weakness of the past 1000 years when invaders came into India, sometimes few in numbers, but took over parts of the country without much resistance. It was a lack of unity amongst the princely states, their inability to support each other or come to the aid of another that allowed for such a poor defense system that they could not repel their invaders. So we have to ask ourselves, are we going to continue the same pattern? Are we going to sit back and criticize others and what they have done and point out what they should have done, while we do nothing? If we do, then there is no doubt that we are already finished. It is only a matter of time when we and the Vedic system will become so reduced that it will fade from the world, like other cultures that have been reduced to mere museum pieces. We have to rise above that.

Some of you will say that I’m being overly dramatic, and that Sanatana-dharma is eternal, so that will never happen. To that I will only ask, haven’t you honestly read the Bhagavad-gita? Haven’t you read one of the reasons why Lord Krishna appeared in this world? It was to revive the Vedic traditions and its teachings, which had become lost, faded from what it once was. So, are we going to allow that to happen? Are we going to simply wait for someone else to take up the reigns to lead us, to protect and preserve the culture, or to bring it back to its glory the way it used to be?

So, as American Hindus, we should first recognize ourselves as spiritual beings, followers of Sanatana-dharma. Only after that should we recognize each other as Indians, or connected with India. We must first see ourselves as spiritual beings, and then everyone else in the same light, the light of spiritual knowledge. Then we can come together and cooperate in real unity, real concern for protecting and preserving the Vedic Dharma, not only for ourselves, but for our families, our children, and for the many generations to come. Even my own spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, once asked us, what is the use of being Americans if you cannot do something significant?

Let us make sure that the Vedic tradition and its  spiritual knowledge is not an eternal yet hidden philosophy that has been forgotten or difficult to attain and utilize. Let us make sure that it remains a guiding light for everyone, all over the world, and accessible for those who seek deep spiritual knowledge, over and above mere pious religion. That is the way it is meant to be. I have often said that Vedic culture is the last bastion of deep spiritual truth. If we lose that, then all of humanity is in for a very dark future.

However, as Americans of Indian descent and followers of Vedic culture, we also must never forget that India is the homeland of our Vedic tradition, and that is what it must always remain. We must protect that as well. But how do we use our freedom here in America to do that? What do we do?

AN EIGHT POINT ACTION PLAN

FIRST, as I mentioned, we need to respect each other as spiritual beings, followers and friends on the path of Vedic Dharma. We can become encouraged by coming together and associating in this way, and seeing the positive effects of the tradition on each other. Then we must cooperate and work together to assist ourselves and our friends along this path, and there are many ways in which we can do this, of which I will mention only a few here.

SECONDLY, we utilize our freedom to assemble and rejoice in the Vedic festivals and celebrations that we can observe. This makes way for the joys of life, and also creates many samskaras of these happy times in the minds of our children, the memories of which last for many years and propels them to do the same with their children. This is love, this is what we want, love for God and love for each other as parts of God.

            THIRDLY, the Indian community in America is one of the wealthiest. According to Vedic Dharma, such wealth is a tool to either help spiritualize your life, or build a crown on your head, the weight of which will only drag you down into darker realms in the next life if you are a miser. For example, the Rig Veda (Mandal 10, Sukta 117) says a person who hoards their money goes to a temporary hell and endures future troubles: “Those who are rich having food and money etc., but do not donate to the needy, poor and hungry never gets peace and find none to comfort him.”

Furthermore, the Mahabharata (XIII.59.11) states: “There is none other who does greater good than the one who removes the hunger of those in a difficult situation, helpless, weak and disturbed.” And we also find in Bhagavad-gita (18.3): “Acts of sacrifice, charity and austerity should never be abandoned.” This shows the need for us to use our financial good fortune for the benefit of others. And there is no hunger more relative to our well-being than spiritual hunger, meaning spiritual ignorance.

            In this regard, there is nothing more beneficial than to use our financial facilities to help secure the spiritual welfare and progress of others, whoever they may be. We may start with our own families, but when we contribute to the construction of new temples, and to the maintenance and the programs and festivals held at existing temples, it is certainly the most beneficial use of our money and our earnings. And when used in this way, it purifies the time we spent in earning it, and turns our occupation into karma and bhakti yoga. Furthermore, you then share in the good fortune of the spiritual progress made by others through your contributions. It is similar to a network marketing program where the more people you sign up under you and help them be successful, the more you also earn. But this is spiritual, so this goes into your spiritual bank account. Thus, the more people who participate in any programs you arrange or support, such as those at a temple, the more spiritual credit or punya you get for the spiritual progress they make. And this can go on for generations, long after you have left this world, depending on what it is that you arrange or establish. Is there a better way to leave your mark in this world than in benefiting others in such a way, as well as yourself? And if you cannot start or do your own projects, at least support those people who are already working in this way. This is far better than dying with large bank accounts that you cannot take with you into the next realm.  

These days we can see Indians in America of all status who do anything and spend all kinds of money so their children can go to the most prestigious or most costly universities available. It is almost like a competition in who can boast the most about what colleges their children are going to. And what happens? Much of the time their children become wealthy materialists with little or no interest in the culture or in following Vedic Dharma. They earn lots of money only to spend lots of money on temporary, bodily pursuits. But why not? This is the way they were pushed by their own parents, so what else can we expect. Or people spend lavish amounts of money on weddings. It is a grand festival, but within a few days, it’s all over and what has the money really done, other than provide something more to boast about? Is this the best we can do? I don’t think so. Why not be a little more moderate and spend more money for really benefiting others and future generations by giving for the preservation of the Dharma.  

            FOURTHLY, educating yourselves and the youth in the Vedic customs and its philosophy is of extreme importance. The number one reason why Hindus convert to other religions is not because the other faiths are so much more organized and well-funded, though this may sometimes be a part of it. But it is primarily that Hindus are not educated enough in their own traditions and Vedic philosophy. They may go to the temple and do pujas, but they may not even know the significance of them, or the spiritual knowledge that is a part of the Vedic tradition, or the depth of this spiritual philosophy. Thus, it is important that everyone is educated properly. This can be done by holding regular group classes and discussions in the temple. And if this is not so easy, I have seen where people get together on a weekly basis to read, comment on and discuss such sacred texts as the Bhagavad-gita among themselves. This is extremely important so that people, and especially the youth, understand their own culture more deeply and can perceive the profound nature of it. I have already written an action plan with a list of points on how to help make the temples more effective.

            FIFTHLY, we may do all of the above, but we also must realize that all we do to preserve and protect the Dharma can not be fully accomplished without its promotion. Yes, we have to promote the good and the depth of this Vedic culture. Such promotion may start amongst other Hindus, or within our family, Indian community, etc. Or it may also be done in ways to share our culture with other non-Hindus who are interested, such as inviting them to a festival, to the temple and showing them around, or just having a lunch with them at the local Indian restaurant and sharing the stories of your own life on how your culture has had positive affects on you. This is easy, there is nothing hard about it. And if you don’t know what to say, then give them a brochure, or a booklet or book that explains the basics of the philosophy so they can start to understand it or look more deeply into it. (And I’ve got plenty of free brochures or booklets on my website or that I can send you if you need them.) Basically, whether you like this idea or not, we must learn to promote the values of the Vedic tradition in order to help preserve and protect it, and so others can appreciate it by seeing what it has to offer. This is a reality of these times, and the need for people to understand us. No matter what other religions you see, they all engage in strong promotion in order for people to understand them, or to attract other people to support or be a part of them. Thus, without proper promotion of Vedic culture, the cultivation of it and the protection and preservation of it remains incomplete. If we can present it properly, in a way in which it makes sense to the people, then they will understand it. It’s all in the presentation.

Such promotion may also include advertising the activities at the local temple, or about the festivals that are being held, or that all in the community are welcome to attend. Such promotion may also involve preparing publications, websites, radio programs, and other ways that help people to get to know about the unique and profound characteristics of the Vedic culture. You never know what might happen through such endeavors. You may find others, such as westerners, who want to participate, or even help support the temple, festivals or projects.

To give an example, I was giving a presentation to around 120 people of an interfaith group at the Cincinnati Hindu temple. It was a presentation on how the Divine appears in Vedic art and the various forms and deities of God. Later, as the people were given a tour of the temple and further explanations of the temple deities, so many people came up to me to express how much they liked the presentation and slide show. But they also would say that though they have been Catholics, or practicing Jews for years, they have never felt a strong connection to their religion. But they were really attracted and felt a kinship with what they were experiencing at the Hindu temple that evening. So, we encouraged them to visit more often and read about the Vedic traditions to learn more about it. This proves that you never know what can happen, and that people from all walks of life can feel attracted. We need to realize how special this spiritual culture is and not be afraid to share it with others.

            SIXTHLY, we must object to all prejudice against Vedic culture and Hinduism in the media. Why are people so easy going about writing and publishing any damn criticism about India and Hindus and Hinduism? Because they know that in most cases, no one and nothing will be done about it. No one will stand up against them. This attitude must change. In America free press is for everyone. In other words, you can also write into the editor of any publication to object to something you disagree with. However, the point to remember is that the more who do that, the more effective it is. And this is where group cooperation becomes very important and influential. If someone denigrates a Hindu or Hinduism, it is not so difficult to write a letter and demand an apology. But if that same letter is circulated to a large group, along with the email or address of the editor, and many people start signing it and sending it in, it will flood the editor’s office or email address and certainly get noticed. In today’s world of communication, a program of protest could be put together and accomplished within a few days.

            A standard letter could be posted on a website in which blanks are there in the form to fill in for whatever incident is to be described, and then used to send into the editor, writer, publisher, or whoever. This makes it very easy, and less likely that such incidents will go without protest. We need to do things in this way.

            We also need to process lawsuits as well. Utilizing part of our money in defense of Vedic Dharma in lawsuits against slander or other crimes against Vedic culture and those who follow it will also help make sure that people become more cautious about committing such acts again. These and other methods need to be taken into consideration to make sure that people and the media realize that Hindus are a force to be reckoned with. American Hindus must clearly understand that they cannot remain silent or wonder who will be the fodder for the next racist policeman or person who wants to take their anger out on them. For too long Hindus have not been organized and have remained apathetic to what has gone on around them or to them. This needs to change.

            SEVEN. This leads to point number seven, in which American Hindus must become politically active. This does not simply mean that you vote, or that you attend fundraisers for your favorite candidate to have a photo with them that you can hang on your wall. How has that helped anything? We need to get more serious. American Hindus can also volunteer in large numbers in political campaigns to show the force that we can have, that politicians realize we are a great force that they will want on their side. But we should also vote as a block. We should look seriously at the issues any candidate is addressing, and then vote for the person who will be best for the interests of American Hindus and relations between the U.S. and India. 

            Presently, there are also more Indians in America that have been voted into various offices than ever before. Unfortunately, some are converted Christians. But the point is that it is not so difficult to get started. American Hindus can also run for school boards, city councils, for mayor, and on up to state governor. We should see that as not merely a chance to get into office, but a chance to show the influence of Vedic thought and ideas on the issues of the day, and a chance to show the beauty of the Vedic culture. I had a friend who ran for office in Hawaii. He had no money, no influence, but as he appeared on television shows, and in debates, he gained influence and support. He did not win the election, but everyone knew of his connection with Vedic culture and people admired him. If he would have continued to run for office in following elections, he may have won. In other words, it is all positive. We simply have to step out and do it. And if people do take notice, or if we do win, it can be a major step in preserving, protecting and promoting the beauty of Vedic culture, which can also be appreciated and utilized by Americans themselves. Then instead of you wanting to get in a photo with your favorite politician, people will want their photo with you.

            EIGHT. The last point is dealing with interfaith marriages. This is happening on an increasing level. As they say, love is often blind, keeping you from seeing the realities that will become apparent down the road. But statistics have shown that most interfaith marriages dissolve, ending with divorce, especially when the issue of children comes up and the decision has to be made regarding how they are going to be raised, and what religion will they follow. The fact is that most Hindu girls who marry outside the Hindu fold either convert or allow their spouse to have control over the children in regard to their faith. And Hindu boys often do the same thing. Therefore, whenever an interfaith marriage occurs, much of the time you can figure that by the next generation or two, that family will no longer be following Vedic culture. They will be something else, which contributes to what may be viewed as the slow demise of the Vedic tradition. That is why the fourth point about educating yourselves, your children and giving them the right association and friendship through temples and youth or Dharmic camps can be so helpful for them to realize the depth of what the Vedic philosophy has to offer, and to keep them in the Hindu fold. This can help pave the way for them to realize the importance of this to their future, their children, and the future generations of their family if they remain in the Dharmic fold by marrying another Hindu, or someone who wants to follow it.

            These are all powerful ways in which the community of American Hindus can work together to cultivate and benefit from the oldest living, spiritual tradition on earth, as well as preserve and protect the Vedic tradition. Let us all help each other do this. Dharma Rakshati Rakshitah. Jai Sri Krishna.

The Vedas Say They MUST be Shared With Everyone, by Stephen Knapp

For those of us who have traveled the length and breadth of India, there are many temples that have allowed us in and left indelible and inspiring memories for our spiritual progress. There have also been some temples who have kept us, as Westerners, out, or even kicked us out after we have already entered, as if they do not want to share their culture with us, or anyone they feel does not meet their requirements. I can understand that to a degree. But with a little research, I have found that even the Vedas say they should be shared with everyone, regardless of race, caste, ethnicity, etc., as long as the people are respectful and sincere. And when I say Vedas, I’m talking about those early books such as the Atharva and Yajur Vedas that many seem to regard as being more authoritative than the more recent texts, like the Itihasas or Puranas. And here is what they say:

First of all it is explained that the Vedas spring from God: “The verses of the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Atharva Veda, and the Yajur Veda, along with the verses pertaining to the creation and dissolution of the universe, all the luminous objects in heaven, and all emancipated souls spring from God.” (Atharva Veda, Book 11, Hymn 7, Verse 24)

Not only does it establishes that the Vedic knowledge originates with God, but: “In the enjoyable realm of God, full of manifold powers, do the emancipated souls, calm and sedate, sing in a sweet voice the glory of the knowledge of the Vedas.” (Atharva 5.6.3)

Therefore, having originated with God, the Vedic knowledge is the greatest fortune that one can acquire, a spiritual vibration that pervades both the spiritual world, as well as the material creation. It is, thus, the rarest good fortune for anyone to come in contact with it, as confirmed, “Of all the beautiful forces, which the investigators after truth have accepted as excellent, elevating themselves through the contemplation of God, comradeship and charity, the sagacious learned person deems the Vedic knowledge to be the most developed and majestic.

“Scholars considered in doubt whether Vedic knowledge was a desirable or undesirable object. The wise learned persons declared it as the most desirable of desirable objects.” (Atharva 12.4.41-42)

One of the reasons for this view, as also explained, is that the highest understanding of life, namely God, can be realized through Vedic knowledge. This means that God is not merely a belief, but is the highest truth that can be realized or perceived through such knowledge and practice. “The Divine God, who is the Lord of the world, should alone be honored and worshiped by the people. I realize Thee, O Divine Lord, through the knowledge of the Vedas. May I enjoy Your company in the highest stage of liberation. My obeisances to You.” (Atharva 2.2.1)

As with most Vedic knowledge, what is said in one place is often corroborated in another within the Vedic texts. And here we have the above point also made in the Yajur Veda (29.29) but it also says that such God realization removes all miseries: “O men, in this world, the Immortal God, all-pervading space, beyond the light of day, early in the morning before dawn, grants to the learned and immortal soul happiness that removes miseries and is most excellent. Know and realize Him by following the instructions of the Vedas.” 

This is an important point, that humanity’s search for happiness does not rely on catering to the needs of the body as much as it does on the realization of and attaining unity with God: “O yogis, unite the soul with God and enjoy happiness. Always expand the delight of salvation [spiritual liberation]. Employ your acts of devotion, and arteries full of breath [prana], in the worship of God. Having thus purified the mind, sow the seed of knowledge in it through yoga. May we soon acquire the fruit of all yogas. May we, through God’s grace, obtain the mature fruit of pure joy. Yogic functions act like sickles in allaying [cutting down] sufferings. May they be endowed with peace and prosperity. Practice union with God through them.” (Atharva 3.17.2)

However, who can actually attain this knowledge, this happiness and freedom from miseries through unity with God? Only a devotee, obviously, because without a receptive consciousness, a doubter remains cut off from the means of spiritual realization. “A devotee alone beholds that Highest God, who lies hidden in the inmost recesses of the heart, in whom this whole universe remains in one form and fashion. From Him hath matter milked life and brought into existence many objects. The learned who know God, extol Him in a respectable way.” (Atharva 2.1.1)

Yes, only devotees can acquire the means to approach God, but, nonetheless, God is equal to all and gives everyone the opportunity to approach Him. “God is He who is equally kind to each. God is He, who specially treats each according to his deserts. God is He, who generally pervades each place. God is He who is present in each place, with His special characteristics. God is He who loves the learned as well as the ordinary mortals.” (Atharva 4.16.8)

Therefore, God being equal to everyone allows everyone to be benefitted to the degree to which  they use the spiritual knowledge found within the Vedas. As it is explained, it is through the Vedas, and all supporting Vedic literature, that God preaches to humanity. “God, who is the controller of the universe, is the Creator and Knower of all objects. He preaches through the Vedas, the different modes of creation of all the forces of nature, like the sun, earth, etc. From Him comes the knowledge of the Vedas. Hence, self-existent, He pervades all places low and high.” (Atharva 4.1.3).

As it specifically says in the Veda, “The God-created Vedic knowledge belongs to those who come to ask for it.@ (Atharva 12.4.11) Or, as it is more clearly stated in the Yajur Veda (26.2) AI do hereby address this salutary speech for the benefit of humanity, for the Brahmanas, the Kshatriyas, the Shudras, the Vaishyas, the kinsfolk, and the men of the lowest position in society.”

Therefore, this Vedic knowledge is for everyone and it is through it that God has educated all of humanity: “O men, God is the Creator and Protector of all. Praise Him with your speech. He has educated humanity through the Vedas. God is the guardian of the Vedas and the Lord of all. He has revealed the Vedas, full of knowledge…” (Yajur Veda 14.28)

“God is all-pervading, lustrous, bodiless, flawless, sinewless, pure, unpierced by evil. He is Omniscient, knower of the hearts of all… He truly reveals through the Vedas all things for His subjects from His immemorial attributes, free from birth and death.” (Yajur Veda 40.8)

In this way, it becomes clear that the Lord has provided this spiritual knowledge to educate and guide all of humanity. Thus, the Vedic knowledge is meant for everyone who seeks it, regardless of their position, status, social class, or background. If they are faithless, then they will go their own way, but those who respect and wish to obtain the Vedic knowledge should not be disregarded. And those who know the wisdom of the Vedic tradition must be willing to allow the same privilege to others, or as it is said, “He whose knowledge of the four Vedas is like four horns, who studies and enjoys the Vedas, is perfectly well versed in them all, preaches them to humanity and listens to their teachings from others, is the praiseworthy embodiment of knowledge. It is our duty to propagate it to others, and act upon it in our domestic life with words of veneration.” (Yajur Veda 17. 90)

If this is not clear enough, then this is further corroborated in the Atharva Veda (5.17.10): “The sages, mortals, and the kings, the lovers of truth, have verily given the knowledge of the Vedas to others.”

Thus, it becomes the duty and responsibility of those who know the Vedic wisdom to supply it and teach it to others because it can become like a mighty and uplifting force in the way it affects society. And for those who do not know it but still have faith in it, it becomes their highest good to make arrangements by which others can become learned in this knowledge, as confirmed in the Atharva Veda: “Preached freely, it acts as a powerful force. Held in high esteem it acts as a benefactor of humanity like a leader. It acts as a thunderbolt completely annihilating the usages and practices of a sinner. It acts as a conquest-loving hero throwing light on all topics.” (Atharva 12.5.18-19)

Therefore, it is wrong to think that the Vedic knowledge is only meant for a small section of society, while these verses proclaim that everyone can benefit from it. This is especially the duty of a learned Brahmana: “Even if ten former guardians, none of whom is a Brahmana, espouse the cause of Vedic knowledge, they are no match for a Brahmana who takes into his hand the task of propagating her [the Vedic knowledge]. He alone is her true guardian.” (Atharva 5.17.8) Thus, the Brahmanas, gurus and acharyas, if they are true to the Vedic cause, cannot keep the Vedic knowledge to themselves, but must go out of their way to make it available for the benefits of humanity. Otherwise, it is the lack of Vedic spiritual knowledge that corrupts society and misleads people onto the wrong path of ignorance. And those who know the Vedic sciences and withhold it from society become responsible for the godless nature that civilization exhibits, as confirmed as follows:

“In ancient times the sages who practiced penance through the seven vital forces, verily thus declared about this divine Vedic knowledge, ‘Dreadful is the result of neglecting divine knowledge, which causes confusion and calamity, where its teachings are violated.’ When infants die, [or are] untimely born, when herds of cattle waste away [from drought or death by other causes], when heroes strike each other dead [as in useless wars], the neglect of Vedic knowledge destroyeth them.” (Atharva 5.17.6-7)

“Ignorance that overtakes a village is spoken of as a star with contradictory light. Lack of Vedic knowledge disturbs the kingdom where fall a lot of [inauspicious] meteors and shooting stars.” (Atharva 5.17.4)

Herein it should become obvious to all that society needs the higher wisdom of the Vedic spiritual knowledge to keep itself on the right path to attain the proper qualifications, insight, cooperation, humility, strength, and the means to work in harmony with each other and nature. Without that, life becomes increasingly complex, and a struggle for existence. Without that, society becomes lost, as well as do those who do not promote it, as also explained in the Vedas:

“They perish who do not preach the Vedas. He who hoards the Vedic knowledge loses renown. Their houses are burnt who withhold the Vedic knowledge. He suffers utter destruction who preaches the Vedic knowledge without the support of Nirukta [word meanings] and Grammar.” (Atharva 12.4.3)

“If a violent [or selfish] man or woman disregards the wealthy store of knowledge of this Vedic speech, he or she gets the stain of inseparable infamy, due to that sin…  The God-created Vedic knowledge belongs to those who come to ask for it. The learned call it an outrage on Vedic scholars when one retains Vedic knowledge as his own precious heritage.” (Atharva 12.4.9, 11)

In this way, it actually becomes dangerous not to help or assist in the spread of Vedic knowledge, or to think that it belongs to only one class of man only, as is typically thought in India. It is like ahimsa or non-violence, when a person knows he can help someone in reducing the other person’s suffering but refuses to do so, then he is actually practicing violence, and that will come back to haunt him in the end and create future sufferings of his own. Similarly, “It [Vedic knowledge] wounds like an arrow him who obstructs its free spread. It brings calamity on him who reviles and abuses it. It is fearfully venomous when it is down-trodden by its foe. It brings death-like darkness on him who has degraded and dishonored it. Pursuing him, Vedic knowledge extinguishes the vital breath of its injurer.” (Atharva 12.5.25-27)

“It weakens physically him who torments its preachers. It destroys the wealth of him who snatches it away from the learned. It brings misery when it is suppressed, and ill repute when it is shown disrespect. . .  It is sinful to try to spoil it. Its destruction is distressing like an evil dream. . .  It brings loss of power to its opponent who forcibly retards its progress, and humiliation when its spread has been retarded. . .  It brings poverty when it is being outraged. . .  Vedic knowledge, when desecrated, cuts off the injurer of the learned from this world and the next.” (Atharva 12.5.29, 32, 35, 37, 38)

“If in his house alone one preserves the Vedic knowledge received from an acharya or acquired otherwise, but imparts it not to others, such a dishonest person, doing wrong to the learned and the Brahmacaris [those worthy of receiving the Vedic wisdom], departs from this world in a miserable plight.” (Atharva 12.4.53)

Herein we can see that if we have acquired this Vedic knowledge from an authorized teacher or guru, or have grown up with it and have become well acquainted with it, then, in the end, our spiritual advancement and securing the spiritual progress of others is all that really matters. All else is temporary and comes and goes.

Therefore, if we have benefitted from the spiritual knowledge that we have acquired from the Vedic tradition, then it behooves us to share that blessing with others, and provide a means for others to also benefit and become blessed. If, however, we do not do that, then it is but a sign of selfishness, and, indeed, a disqualification for having attained such knowledge. “He who wants to derive full advantage from this Vedic knowledge should aspire after this life-infusing knowledge. This knowledge, when not given, however, harms a man who does not impart it to others when they ask for it. . .   However, unavoidable adversity overtakes him who does not like to part with Vedic knowledge even when it is asked for. His wishes and hopes, which he would like to gain, are never fulfilled when withholding Vedic knowledge.” (Atharva 12.4.13, 19)

Thus, we can see what may happen to those who restrict the flow of Vedic wisdom, or who selfishly hold it as if it is their property alone and not for others. However, it is even more damaging to a leader, king, or ruler who denigrates it, neglects it, takes it cheaply, or does not work to protect its existence and the lives of those who know and teach it.”Vedic knowledge preached in all parts of the world attains to fame and dignity. It brings misery and suffering on the king who restricts its spread.” (Atharva 12.4.39) Thus, for anyone who teaches the Vedic wisdom, or for the country who provides for such activities to go on, great well-being can be given. But for a king or ruler who neglects it, great misfortune can follow for himself and his whole family, either in this life or the next. “Whosoever looking on Vedic knowledge as fruitless, or defames it at home, God, the Lord of mighty worlds, reduces his sons and grandsons to extreme poverty.” (Atharva 12.4.38)

Furthermore, a leader who is influenced by those who hate Vedic culture will bring ruin to the whole country, and such a person will depart this life heading toward ultimate darkness in the next. This may be more prophetic than we think, for is not the next statement what is happening in India? “They who seduce the king [or ruler] and say, ‘Propagate not Vedic knowledge,’ encounter through their lack of sense, the missile shot by a powerful person. . .   For the Kshatriya [or leader] who usurps this Vedic knowledge and oppresseth the Brahmanas, the courteous language, heroism, and auspicious fortune all depart. The energy, vigor, patience and might, the knowledge and mental strength, the glory and virtue, devotion and princely sway, kingship and people, brilliance and honor, splendor and wealth, long life and physical beauty, and name and fame, food and nourishing edibles, right and truth, hospitality and acts of public utility, and children and cattle, all these blessings of a Kshatriya depart from him when he oppresseth the Brahmanas and usurps the Vedic knowledge.” (Atharva 12.4.52, & 5.5-11)

“The sages, O King, have not bestowed this [Vedic] knowledge on thee [or society at large] for abuse! Seek not, O King, to destroy the Brahmana’s Vedic knowledge, which is unworthy of destruction. A voluptuous, sinful, spiritually degraded king, who destroys the Vedic knowledge of a learned person may live for today, but not tomorrow.” (Atharva 5.18.1-2)

In conclusion, it should now be clear that:

1. The Vedic knowledge must be made available and open to all of society who sincerely wish to participate in it.

2. If the Vedas must be shared, then the temples also must be open to all who are respectful and sincere, regardless of caste, status, social background, race, or ethnicity.

3. No one who respects Vedic knowledge and seeks its blessing should be denied access to it.

4. It does not belong to only one class or section of society, and such concocted restrictions or barriers must be broken down.

5. Those who know Vedic wisdom must teach it to others and pass it along, or provide and support the means for its distribution by those who can do so, otherwise they leave this world like one who is but a thief, heading toward darkness. (I have many action plans that explain ways in which this can be done in my book “Crimes Against India: And the Need to Protect its Ancient Vedic Culture” and on my website: http://www.stephen-knapp.com.

6. Any national leader or politician must pave the way to protect and preserve the Vedic tradition and those who work in this way, or, if he works against the Vedic tradition, he or she loses all that is good and brings a curse on him or herself and to their family for generations.

This is evidence merely from the Vedas, while much more could be found that supports this by investigating the Vedic texts that follow, such as the Upanishads, Bhagavad-gita and Puranas. For example, the Bhavishya Purana explains what portions of the Vedic literature were especially made and meant for everyone in society:  

“O distinguished member of the Kuru dynasty, the narration of the transcendental characteristics of Lord Ramachandra, who appeared in the Raghu dynasty, is very glorious within the eighteen Puranas, and it has been presented with the aim of awarding the three objectives of life to all classes of human beings.

            “O hero, the great epic, Mahabharata, which embodies all of the Vedic purports and instruction of all kinds of religious scriptures, was composed by the supremely intelligent son of Parashara, Vyasadeva.

            “The compassionate Vyasadeva had compiled the Mahabharata-samhita, which is like an excellent boat for delivering the members of all the four varnas [classes of men] who are drowning in the ocean of material existence, after conceptualizing the eighteen Puranas and eight grammatical works.

            “O King, simply by hearing this transcendental literature, human beings can be liberated from the reactions to even grave sinful activities, including killing a Brahmana. . .” (Bhavishya Purana, Brahma Parva, 1.55-59)

            “. . . Then there are [the] eighteen principal Puranas. These include the Brahma, Padma, Vishnu, Shiva, Bhagavata, Narada, Markandeya, Agni, Bhavishya, Brahma-Vaivarta, Linga, Varaha, Skanda, Kurma, Matsya, Garuda, and Brahmanda.

            “O lion-like king of the Kuru dynasty, this literature was compiled by greatly learned scholars for the eternal benefit of all classes of human beings. O foremost of kings, all these religious scriptures are meant to be heard by the members of all the four varnas [classes of society].”  (Bhavishya Purana, Brahma Parva, 1.61-66)

So, herein it is clear that these Vedic texts are not exclusive but are meant for everyone. Furthermore, in the Bhagavad-gita (18.69) Lord Krishna explains, “For one who explains this supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” So, we can understand how much the Lord appreciates those who take the time and endeavor to help spread this information to others.

Also, Lord Krishna continues in the Bhagavata Purana: “One who liberally disseminates this knowledge among My devotees is the bestower of the Absolute Truth, and to him I give My very own self. He who loudly recites this supreme knowledge, which is most lucid and purifying, becomes purified day by day, for he reveals Me to others with the lamp of transcendental knowledge. Furthermore, anyone who regularly listens to this knowledge with faith and attention, all the while engaging in My pure devotional service, will never become bound by the reactions of material work.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.29.26-28)

However, one must be careful not to give it to the ignorant or those who hold disrespect for it, or who would mistreat it. “Whoso imparts this beautiful Vedic knowledge not to the learned [those who respect and request it] but to the ignorant, Earth, with the sages, is hard for him to win and rest upon.” (Atharva 12.4.23)

Nonetheless, Lord Krishna clarifies this point as He continues to speak in the Bhagavata Purana: “However, you should not share this knowledge with anyone who is hypocritical, atheistic or dishonest, or with anyone who will not listen faithfully, who is not a devotee, or who is simply not humble. This knowledge should be taught to those who are free from these bad qualities, who are dedicated to the welfare of the spiritual, and who are saintly and pure. However, if any common people are found to have devotion for the Supreme Lord, they can also be accepted as being qualified to listen. When an inquisitive person begins to understand this knowledge, he or she has nothing further to know. After all, one who has drunk the most palatable nectar cannot remain thirsty.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.29.30-32)

This is the message of the Vedas, and of Lord Krishna. Any follower of Sanatana-dharma, the Vedic tradition, should take this seriously. The Vedic knowledge is supplied by God to fulfill the spiritual needs of the people. As it is explained:

            “Hearing the Mahabharata awards one devotional service, which gives pleasure to the demigods, exalted personalities, the personified Vedas, qualified Brahmanas, and above all, the Supreme Lord Vishnu.” (Bhavishya Purana, Brahma Parva, 1.22)

“Therefore, it is to be understood that the members of all four varnas and ashramas [all social divisions of society] are either directly or indirectly entitled to take advantage of what is taught in the Vedic literature.” (Bhavishya Purana, Brahma Parva, 9.14)   

Thus, it is the responsibility of every Dharmist, devotee, or Hindu to be pro-active and spread this opportunity to others as a service to God and to themselves. Everyone should put their differences aside and work together in this way to spread the nectar of the Vedic spiritual knowledge to all who are inquisitive, who are in search of it, or seeking the means to solve their problems, or the way to attain a closer connection with God. There is no higher welfare work than this. This will preserve the culture, and pave the way for higher spiritual progress for generations to come.      

 REFERENCES

Atharva-veda, translated by Devi Chand, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1980.

Bhagavad-gita As It Is, translated by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, New York/Los Angeles, 1972.

Bhavishya Purana, translated by Bhumipati Prabhu, Rasbihari Lal & Sons, Vrindavana, India, 2007.

Srimad-Bhagavatam, translated by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Bhaktivedanta Book trust, New York/Los Angeles, 1972.

Yajurveda, translated by Devi Chand, Munshiram Manoharlal, Delhi, 1980. 

Visiting the Grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir, by Stephen Knapp

            I had visited the place that is called the grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir in June of 2007. And, actually, unless you know the history and controversy about this little building, there is not much that will give any indications of this being the grave of Jesus. But it is good that I went when I did, because now it is locked and off-limits to foreigners, especially westerners.

            This place is also called the Roza bal, or Rauza bol, which means “tomb of the prophet.” This is the burial place of Yuz Asaph (or Asaf), in the center of Srinagar’s old part of town. The name  Yuz Asaph is said to relate to Jesus. Some people believe it is the grave of Jesus and others think it is all based on faulty premises, meaning it is merely a rumor or urban legend. However, there is a complete line of logic behind this, so I will only give you the evidence and what people say and you can decide for yourself. That way, if you are ever in Srinagar, you can have some understanding of the significance of this place and check it out yourself.

        To visit this grave of Jesus, you will find it in Anzimar next to a small Muslim cemetery in the Khanjar (Khanyar) quarter of Srinagar’s old town. You find Rauza bal Khanyar down a narrow alley in an old, wooden mausoleum. The grave itself is inside the building. The sign in front says that it is the tomb of Ziarati Hazrati Youza Asouph and Syed Nasir-u-Din. Thus, this is a grave of two people, with Nasir-u-Din being a Muslim saint. Some say that Youza Asouph (or Yuz Asaph) means the gatherer, which could be in relation to the idea that Jesus was a gatherer of the lost tribes of Israel, some of whom were known to have come to Kashmir. Others say the name means the leader of the healed, since Jesus was a healer. While still others say the name Youza Asouph means Joseph’s son.

You enter the rectangular building through a small doorway on the side of the structure. This leads into a small hall that allows to you to look through a few windows at the small central room inside with the sarcophagus. If the inner doorway is unlocked, you can go in for a closer view. On your way in you will see an inscription on a board that explains that Yuz Asaph (or Asaf) came to Kashmir many centuries ago and dedicated himself to the search for truth. The single inner chamber has a cheap looking, raised wooden frame in the shape of a sarcophagus for two graves, each covered with heavy, embroidered cloth. The first and smaller grave is for an Islamic saint Syed Nasir-ud-Din, buried here in 1451, a descendent of Imam Moosa Ali Raza, said to be a great devotee of Jesus. The larger grave behind it is for Yuz Asaph. A document signed by five Muslim judges (Muftis) of that time certifies that the tomb contains the remains of the prophet Yuz Asaph. Near this along the side of the inner chamber is a stone with the imprint of two feet showing what seem to be nail wounds (a round wound on the left foot and an arc-shaped wound on the right foot), the scars Jesus would have suffered from his crucifixion. Some people feel this is the sign for the identity of who is buried here. It is the custom for pilgrims to place candles around the gravestones, and when years of wax was removed by Professor Hassnain, not only did he discover the footprints, but he also found a cross and rosary. As typical with Muslim mausoleums, these graves are replicas and the actual graves are in a crypt under the floor in the basement. However, some also say that due to age, the ground gave way years ago and the original grave simply sank into the ground, with the present sarcophagus built over it. A look into the real burial chamber is provided by a small opening. But that window is now covered by a cloth to block the view. The grave which contains the remains of Yuz Asaph also points east to west, according to Jewish tradition.

            Previously, several decades ago, the central shrine in the house was surrounded by beautifully carved wooden panels. But these have now been removed and replaced with glass windows. These windows, of course, let you see the fake sarcophagus inside, which is covered with the cloth, as well as the two feet carved into the stone block at one end. You can also see this from outside through the windows of the house, but the stone with the feet can be seen only as long as the doorway is unlocked and you can get in. It is also now painted green, the color for Islam. Whatever else was once inside, including various relics, scrolls, and information regarding the place, have now been removed.

            Suzanne Olsson, while appearing in the video “Jesus in India” by Paul David (2008), mentions that in her research she was told by local authorities that below the main floor, the real graves do not contain any bodies. But behind the wall was a ledge where the body of Yuz Asaph was actually placed, and then the ledge was sealed. That is the actual grave behind the false wall. She at one time had the permission to take DNA samples from the body through a small opening in that wall. This way she could verify the age and possible identity of the person buried there. But Islamic militancy arose before she could accomplish that and kept her from doing it. Thus, possible verification of this may now never be possible.

            However, when talking with the local Muslims who live nearby, they will tell you adamantly that it is not the grave of Jesus, but is the tomb of a Muslim prophet, Youza. If you ask too much, or insist on an alternative view, they will tell you that you are committing an offense to Islam and the Koran. Nonetheless, the tomb is built in an east-west direction, the same as the Jewish tradition, in line as a follower of Moses, and is not in the direction facing Mecca. But this is inconsequential to the locals. Therefore, without background information, you would never know the significance of this place.

            The locals will also tell you that the grave is that of a messenger of God who liked the Muslim people and settled there. They admit that the grave is ancient, but they forget that the person buried there arrived hundreds of years before Islam was ever an established religion. But they do not think it was Jesus. So even among the local people different versions of the story about the grave circulate. Also, some Muslims feel that in the end, after the crucifixion, Jesus was lifted up to heaven because if he had actually died on the cross, it would be a sign that he had failed in his mission.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

             The grave has been maintained by attendants since its construction, which is established by ancient records to be as far back as 112 CE. The premise is that Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yuza, similar to Yuz. In Arabic and in the Koran his name was Hazrat Isa or just Isa, and Issa in Tibetan, both of which are similar to the name Isha in Sanskrit. This tradition has been carried down through the Farhang-Asafia, Volume One, which explains how Jesus healed some leper who then became asaf, meaning purified or healed. The word yuz means leader. Thus, Yuz Asaph became a common reference to Jesus as “leader of the healed.”

            There are other accounts of how Yuz Asaph preached throughout Persia, present-day Iran, converting many people. Some of these details can be found in Agha Mustafai’s Ahivali Ahaliau-i-Paras which confirms that Jesus and Yuz Asaph are the same person. Even the well-known Emperor Akbar had a court poet who referred to Jesus as Ai Ki Nam-i to: Yuz o Kristo, which means, “Thou whose name is Yuz or Christ.” Also, at Akbar’s city, Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, as you enter the main gate toward the mosque, there is an inscription which states: “Jesus (Peace be with him) has said: ‘The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not settle down on it!’” 

            Other records and place names that relate to Jesus point to his presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Acts of Thomas describe the journey of Jesus and Thomas in Pakistan (then Taxila) at the court of King Gundafor in the 26th year of his rule, which would be about 47 CE.

            Also, when Jesus came to Kashmir he came with a group of followers which included his mother, Mary, who must have been over 70 years old, and was no doubt weakened by the journey. Seventy kilometers east of Taxila, and 170 kilometers west of Srinagar on the border of Kashmir, is a small town called Mari, or Murree in English, near Rawalpindi. In that town is a very old grave called Mai Mari da Asthan, meaning “the final resting place of Mother Mary.” This is a tomb in Jewish style, aligned on the east-west line, while the Muslim tombs are always aligned on the north-south axis. Here is where she must have died before Jesus reached Kashmir, which was considered paradise, or heaven on earth. Even to this day this grave is maintained by Muslims as the resting place of Jesus’ mother because he (Isa) is considered one of the main prophets of Islam. However, the British knocked down the original shrine to Mother Mary to build a fort at that place because of the view over the surrounding area, and because they did not believe in Mary being buried there. Out of respect, the local people gathered the rocks of the grave and put them back near the original site. So, it is not in the same place as where the body was located.

Also near the villages of Naugam and Nilmag, about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar is a large plain called the Yuz Marg, the meadow of Jesus. It is said that from Murree, Jesus proceeded to Srinagar entering Kashmir from the pass now called Yuz Marg, and he rested at Aish Muqam, about 50 miles south of Srinagar, where a sanctuary was erected containing the horns of ‘God’s ram’ and a walking stick that is considered Moses’ stick, later used by Jesus. It is also here that some of the tribes of Israel are supposed to have settled after 722 BCE to live as shepherds, which is still a major occupation in the area today.

            More evidence of Jesus in Kashmir is found in an inscription that was carved on the sides of the steps at the threshold on the Throne of Solomon in Srinagar. Behind the Boulevard near Dal Lake is Shankaracharya Hill which rises 1100 feet above the city. At the summit is a Hindu temple for Shiva, but an earlier temple was built here around 200 BCE by Ashoka’s son. One temple that had been built was by King Laltaditya in the 6th century CE known as Gopadri. The road at the base of the hill where the State Government officials are located is still known as Gupkar road in connection with that temple. This is the oldest known site in Srinagar, believed to date back to 2500 BCE when the original sandstone structure had been built by King Sandiman. It is also said that the philosopher Shankaracharya visited Kashmir many centuries ago and had stayed on the hilltop to meditate. The top of the hill also provides a great view over the lake. But due to security reasons cameras are not allowed through the final checkpoint when going to the hilltop Shiva temple. The temple as we find it today is built on a high octagonal plinth, reached by a flight of 270 steps, the side walls of which used to have inscriptions on them. The main interior shrine is a small circular room with a lingam about three feet tall. A new ceiling has inscriptions in Persian which connects its origin to the reign of Shah Jahan. 

            The hill used to be called Takht-i-Sulaiman, the Throne of Solomon, which definitely represents some of the history of this region, and why some people think that King Solomon had been here. Other factors to consider is that there was an inscription on the remnants of the old building which states that the new temple was restored in 78 CE by King Gopadatta (or Gopananda), who ruled Kashmir from 49-109 CE. According to tradition, Solomon had visited the land of Kashmir. In fact, the local Muslims know Kashmir as “Bagh Suleiman,” the Garden of Solomon. This would go in accord with the theory that some scholars believe that Kashmir was the “Promised Land,” or the “Land of the Fathers” that the “ten lost tribes of Israel” wandered to in northern India where they found peace and tranquility. This was after they had moved eastwards when they had been driven out of Israel by the Assyrians, never to be heard from again. Therefore, it may have indeed been Solomon, as tradition declares, who divided the Barehmooleh Mountain and created an outlet for the water that later formed Dal Lake. He also may have constructed the original building of the Takht-i-Suleiman on top of what is now Shankaracharya Hill.

            The meaning of the inscriptions on the Throne of Solomon is described in detail by Mullah Nadiri, a historian during the rule of Sultan Zainul Aabidin, in 1413 in his book on the history of Kashmir, Tarikh-i-Kashmir. He relates that Gopananda, or Gopadatta, ruled Kashmir and had the Temple of Solomon refurbished by a Persian architect. During the renovation four sayings in ancient Persian were set in stone that said, in essence, that Bihishti Zagar is the constructor of these columns in the year of 54. Khwaja Rukun, son of Murjan, had these columns built. In the year 54, Yuz Asaf proclaimed his prophetic calling. He is Jesus, prophet of the sons of Israel.

            Unfortunately, these inscriptions are another artifact that has been removed from the premises, so you can no longer find these carvings in the building if you try to look for them. Nonetheless, Mullah Nadiri goes on to relate that during the rule of Gopadatta, Yuz Asaf came from the Holy Land to the Kashmir valley and proclaimed to be a prophet and preached to the people. Gopadatta ruled sixty years and two months before he died. It is calculated that Jesus came to Kashmir nearly 16 years after the crucifixion and lived to be around 80 years old. Even the Koran (23.50 or 52) intimates that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived the crucifixion and ascended to live in a peaceful hill-side watered by a fresh spring.

            All this seems to indicate that not only did Jesus come to India to learn the spiritual knowledge of the Vedic Brahmanas and Buddhists as other records have described, but after returning to his land of Israel to preach and was later crucified, he did not die on the cross but suffered and recovered. After that he ascended to heaven, known as Kashmir, where, after some years, he died and was buried in Srinagar.

            According to various records, during his missing years Jesus was supposed to have studied for four years at the temple of Jagannatha Puri. In this regard, the 145th Shankaracharya at Jagannatha Puri was asked if Jesus had come there, and he agreed that Jesus came to Puri. He explained that the truth of Jesus’ visit to India was hidden in order to propagate lies, rather than let it be known that he came to India to study amongst the Brahmanas to acquire his deeper spiritual knowledge. The Shankaracharya mentions that Jesus studied the Vedic code of conduct on being compassionate, merciful, forgiving, etc. But most Christians deny this.

            However, the book “The Life of Saint Issa” from the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh explains that he later criticized the Brahmanas and the caste system and later was forced to leave. Then he traveled north to Kapilavastu (present-day Lumbini), the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, and studied with the Buddhists. This is said to be where he got more of his wisdom. Then he went to Lhasa in Tibet for five years. After that he went homeward and then to Greece for sometime before going on to Egypt. Then at the age of 25 he went to Heliopolis and studied for five more years before returning to his homeland at the age of 30.

            The Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, near Leh, is another place that I have been fortunate enough to visit. They have a big festival every year with masked dancers, and people from all over attend. It was here that one of the books that stirred great interest in the idea of Jesus going to India was discovered.

            “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” by Nicolas Notovitch describes his finding a document on Issa at the Hemis Buddhist Monastery, which took place in 1886. He describes how he was there for several weeks after breaking his leg from a fall from his horse. After becoming acquainted with the monks, one showed him the document on the life of Issa, the name used in India for Jesus. He had the text translated, first into Russian, and then published it his book in France in 1894. Though critics such as Max Muller and others attacked Notovitch to debunk his claims, Notovitch in turn said he talked in private to a Catholic priest at the Vatican who told him that the Vatican library had 63 documents of various oriental languages that referred to Jesus traveling in India. These had been brought to the Vatican by missionaries from India, China and Arabia.

            Later, there were others who also claimed to have seen that same document or scroll at the Hemis Monastery on “The Life of Saint Issa.” This then helped confirm that Jesus studied amongst the Hindus and Buddhists and valued their teachings and learned from them, setting the example that his followers should also exhibit such respect and value for other religions.

            This document at Hemis was later seen by Swami Abhedananda who was able to read and translate it, which he discussed in his book, “Journey into Kashmir and Tibet.” He visited Hemis in 1922 and relates in his book how a monk showed him the manuscript while he was there. The monk told him it was an exact translation of the original that could be found in the Marbour Monastery near Lhasa, which was in the Pali language, while the Hemis one was in Tibetan. Swami Abhedananda lived at an ashrama called the RamaKrishna Vedanta Society in Kolkata, which you can still visit today. His book is also still available today and provides for very interesting reading.

            Nicolas Roerich, a Russian born Jew who converted to Christianity, claims to have also seen the Hemis Monastery document in 1926. 

            Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the document at the Hemis Monastery seems to have since disappeared with present day monks knowing nothing about it. Some feel that certain Christian missionaries or agents had gone there to deliberately confiscate it to prevent any such evidence from being available any longer.

            The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is also interesting because, generally, most people die on the cross by starvation or suffocation when the ribs press down on the lungs so that the person can no longer breathe. This often takes several days. According to tradition, Jesus was nailed on the cross in the early afternoon of a Friday and taken down as dusk was approaching, after being nailed on the cross for only four or five hours. So it is most unusual that a young and healthy person like Jesus died after only four hours on the cross. Thus, it is more likely that as a yogi he was able to enter an altered state and appear as if dead, only to be revived later. This is not uncommon with some yogis in India. Furthermore, there are modern commemorations of Jesus’ crucifixion wherein people are crucified every year in the Philippines and Mexico and survive quite easily. A person does not die of crucifixion after only four hours. Thus, it is quite likely that he survived the crucifixion and died elsewhere. 

            Nonetheless, there were no witnesses to any resurrection, and it certainly cannot be investigated historically. So there is plenty of room for speculation about this from all sides, and that is mostly what we have. However, if he had survived the crucifixion, it would make sense that he would want to leave Jerusalem and the area to be free from any threat from the Roman soldiers. Thus, there is the idea he went to Kashmir where some of the lost tribes of Israel are said to have relocated. Thus, even today, one can recognize similarities with the Jewish culture in Kashmir, such as with some of the foods, clothes, butcher knives, heart-shaped boat paddles, etc.

            Of course, when talking to most Christians, they are often convinced that Jesus never went to India. They feel that there would be no need for him to learn from any Hindus or Buddhists. Plus, the Bible gives no information about the 18 missing years of his life (between the ages of 12 and 30). But that is the question, what happened during those 18 years?

Except within certain esoteric circles the shrine itself had not been discussed for some time after Notovitch, Swami Abhedananda, and Nicolas Roerich had brought attention to it. Then it again came into the limelight when a local journalist, Aziz Kashmiri, argued in his 1973 book, Christ in Kashmir, that Jesus survived the crucifixion some 2,000 years ago, migrated to Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. The modest stone building with traditional multi-tiered roof again slipped into oblivion but came into focus again in 2002 when Suzanne Olsson arrived in Srinagar, claiming to be Christ’s ‘59th descendant’ and seeking DNA testing of the shrine’s remains. 

Olsson, though, doesn’t seem to be alone in her conviction. There are some who support her view. Renowned Kashmiri academic Fida Hassnain’s 1994 book, A Search for the Historical Jesus, was about this legend. Later, he co-authored a book on the subject with Olsson, Roza Bal the Tomb of Jesus. The stories of Jesus in India date back to the 19th century and now find mention in a plethora of texts by scholars of varied persuasions — Islamic, Buddhist and Christian.

CONCLUSION

             In the end, even after visiting the Roza Bal, what you think of it or believe about it all depends on your research, what books you read, or who you talk to about it. The conclusion is yours, but if you do look into it, at least you have taken the privilege to ask and to investigate the issue rather than remain in the confines of some dogmatic dictates hammered into you by others. In the end, truth prevails, but sometimes it may take some time for the truth to become clear.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

James Deardorff has also done some serious research on this topic, which you can see at his website www.tjresearch.info/legends.htm.

Suzanne Olsson, author of “Roza Bal: The Tomb of Jesus” with Dr. Fida Hassnain, has also done much research, as described in her books and her website at: www.jesus-kashmir-tomb.com.

Arif Khan, editor of the www.tombofjesus.com website, has made an attempt to gather all such knowledge and evidence concerning the issue of Jesus in India. A variety of photos and a few videos of the tomb of the tomb of Jesus in Srinagar can be found on his website, which is especially helpful for those who have not or cannot go there.

Why All Religions Are Not the Same, by Stephen Knapp

Why All Religions Are Not the Same

By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

              It is often said by some Hindu gurus and leaders that all religions are the same. But is this really the case? Naturally, anyone who studies religion can see many similarities between them. And if we are talking about getting closer to God and increasing our understanding and love for God, then what religion is not trying to do that? Who cannot go to a church, mosque, or temple and worship and bow to God in prayer? It is what many of us do no matter where we may be. So, what is the difference? Are not all religions the same?

SIMILAR FACTORS IN ALL RELIGIONS 

            We can all recognize how many of the moral principles that we follow are observed and recommended by all religions. For example: no matter whether we talk about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, or Zoroastrianism, they all recommend daily prayer. In Islam they are regulated to pray five times a day, while in Hinduism they chant the gayatri mantra three times a day. And in all religions they pray any time of day. All of these religions believe that God or the Absolute Truth is ultimately one, except Buddhism in which some sects do not except the soul or a God. They also believe that we are spiritual beings, and that we should become sincerely devoted to and develop love for God. They also recommend giving alms and doing welfare work for society. They also accept the idea of meditating or calling out the holy names of God, fasting, and remembering God, especially on their holy days.

All of these religions also advise pilgrimage, going to the holy places that are important to them. They also advise that followers be humble, honest, and tolerant in their religious practice, and compassionate to all living beings. Thus, several of these religions outline the ideal of being vegetarian. They all recommend, or at least advise the decrease of the consumption of alcohol and intoxicants, as well as the restriction of gambling. Monogamy in marriage is often considered the highest standard, and divorce is never recommended or is discouraged. Thus, there are many principles that are common amongst all religions. So, what is the difficulty?

The point is that it is often soothing to try to show how we could all live peacefully if we all focused on our similarities. Who in their right mind would not want that? It is certainly much easier than focusing on our differences. The core of each religion, meaning its ultimate purpose, is similar to others in that they all promote the increase in one’s devotion to God, being kind and compassionate to all, and give the principles to follow to live a good and moral existence. And for those who recognize these similarities, they all can easily come together and worship God in unity, and respect one another and their traditions. Yet, to actually find this kind of a situation with mutual respect seems quite rare. Not only do those of various religions separate themselves from others, but even within the same religion there can be many different sects that do not agree, or even fight to the death with one another. So, it seems that many religions do not agree with each other on the finer details, and at best may succeed at only tolerating one another while being quick to criticize the other. Quite honestly, it can be said that some of the most unsettling and warring factors created in this world are caused by religions and their attitudes and views toward one another. History has shown that the major focus of most wars has been the differences people perceive in one another’s religion. For example, the blood that has been spilt in the name of Jesus or Allah is inestimable. So, is there any chance that real harmony can exist between the various religions of the world?

             Two factors that keep the world from being united is the presumption of racial superiority, and the desire to conquer and convert. This means that often times the status of religions is viewed by how much territory it controls, and how many converts it has made. If this is how religions view their success, then there is no way in hell that harmony will ever be created by religion. In fact, it turns them into nothing different than political parties vying for influence. Thus, they create hell on earth rather than being able to bring in the Kingdom of God, as some of them say they can.

The only way to breakthrough the barriers of distinction that seem to exist between us is with love. However, that love cannot be love of the body or one’s own society. It has to be better and higher than that. It has to be a spiritual love for all beings. The Dammapada (5-6) explains: “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule. The world does not know that we must all come to an end here; but those who know it, their quarrels cease at once.”

Therefore, it is only the path of genuine spirituality that can bring us to a level higher than what ordinary religion offers. It has to be based on the transcendental principles of spiritual realization, not merely on the basics of moral foundations. And if you look into the teachings of most religions, such a lofty view of spirituality is not easily found. Thus, there is no question that they are not all the same.

SARVA DHARMA SAMBHAVA 

            Another part of this issue, at least amongst the Hindus, is the phrase “Sarva Dharma Sambhava,” which many people take to mean that all Dharmas or religions are the same, or are equal, or that they all are merely different paths that lead to the same goal. Thus, with this line of thought, any religion is as good as any other. When viewing the essence of religions, we may find this to be a fair assumption, with differences only in their outer superficialities. So, while using this form of logic, it should not matter if one is a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Jew, etc. But this is also a mistranslation if we analyze the phrase carefully.

            We could say the same thing in regard to foods—that they are all the same. But are they really? Are they the same in every way? They are the same in that they are food, and the goal of food is to satisfy and nourish the body. So, are they all the same? Some food is Chinese, Italian, Mexican, French, Indian, etc. Plus, they are made using different ingredients, they come from different cultures, they have different tastes, and different effects on the body, and so on. There are specific variations which distinguish them in ways that make some people prefer certain foods over others. Thus, there is no way they are all exactly the same.

            So, when it comes to understanding the meaning of Dharma, we have to be aware of its Sanskrit definition. The root of the word dharma comes from dhri, which means to uphold or maintain. The Sanskrit says dharayati iti dharmaha, which translates as “dharma is that which upholds.” However, not only what is supported is Dharma, but that which does the supporting is also Dharma, dhriyate iti dharmaha. So, Dharma consists of both the force that sustains as well as what is sustained. It can also be said that there is the path of Dharma as well as its conclusion, the object of Dharma, or what we are seeking, meaning the ultimate goal of life. So, Dharma is the means or path as well as the goal.

            Dharma is also said to be the force which maintains the universe. Where there is Dharma there is harmony and balance individually, socially, and inter-galactically. Therefore, the path of Dharma brings about the harmony and contentment that is also another aspect of what we are seeking. In this way, we want harmony inwardly, in our own consciousness, but we also cannot have individual peace unless there is harmony or cooperation socially, amongst the masses. Without that, no one can have peace, unless you are completely outside the effects of society.

The practice of Dharma should be done not out of compulsion but out of love due to the perception of the Supreme in all living beings. With this motivation, Dharma can assist in preventing injury to others and treating each other respectfully. Dharma also means righteous conduct. This includes following social laws and proper moral activity and behavior. It encourages truthfulness of thought, word and deed. The point of which is to reach the goal of Dharma.

            Dharma also means truth. So, we follow the path of Dharma to free ourselves from illusion and reach the ultimate Truth, which is the topmost reality, the spiritual strata. The Absolute Truth means the final philosophical goal and end of all knowledge, or Vedanta, which is God, the Supreme Being. So, when we want to attain liberation from material existence, then it becomes much easier to follow the path of Dharma and overcome the temptations of the temporary material world. Then we can let go of the illusory objects that are, in fact, hurdles on the path to Truth and God, and happiness in general.

Furthermore, doing what should not be done is called vidharma, which is a type of adharma or nondharmic activity. The conclusion, therefore, is that if we want happiness and peace we must learn how to live according to the path of Dharma. So, where there is no Dharma, there is disharmony and a state of being that is out of balance. And socially it means that without Dharma, there is a lack of cooperation, along with escalating quarrel and fighting. When we act against the law of Dharma, we disrupt the very harmony and cooperation that we want. In other words, we create a life for ourselves in which there is stress, confusion, discontent, and frustration, and even war. And when we feel this way, that becomes our contribution to the general social condition. It is the exact opposite of what we wish to attain. Thus, to live a life outside of Dharma means to work against ourselves. Therefore, we can conclude that if each and every religion really had Dharma as the basis of its teachings, and helped spread Dharma, there would be no conflict. But as we can plainly see, this is not the case. 

            With this analysis in mind, there are a few questions we should ask. For example:

1.      How many religions really offer true Dharma to its followers?

2.      How many really uphold the principle of Dharma within its teachings?

3.      How many truly offer mutual respect for others, even those who are outside their own religion?

4.      How many actually teach the ways to provide balance and harmony throughout society, rather than dividing people into false classifications, such as those who are “saved” and those who are hell-bound, kafirs, infidels, disbelievers, etc?

5.      How many so-called religions actually spread adharma or nondharmic activities, such as the needless killing of useful animals like cows and bulls, or the Brahman class of society who help preserve the Dharmic traditions, or who try to unnecessarily criticize other religions in their attempt to gain converts?

            This makes it more obvious that not all religions promote Dharma, nor live up to the saying of  “Sarva Dharma Sambhava.” And understanding this should cut down on the confusion that makes some people think that all religions are the same, or are equal.

            What this phrase actually refers to are the other sects within the Vedic fold. Sanatana-dharma or the Vedic path has various schools of Vedanta; including Vaishnavism, Saivism, Saktism, etc. It has various creeds, and the Vedic path accommodates all types of men. This is the glory and liberality of the Dharmic process which provides spiritual guidance for all. Thus, no one is considered a non-believer or hell-bound when they are only taking up different levels of their spiritual quest through some aspect of the Vedic teachings. Therefore, Dharma means an inclusive spiritual process, not an exclusive system which considers only certain people being eligible to participate, or that only those who follow the dogma of a certain religion are eligible for heaven or the promised land. Therefore, Dharma in the phrase of “Sarva Dharma Sambhava” really means the different schools of thought, lineages, or paramparas within the Vedic fold, those that actually know and contain the principles of true Dharma. It does not mean that every religion throughout the world is the same or propagates true Dharma or deep spirituality. This is something we need to clearly understand.

            A religion may indeed have some level of Dharma in it, and similarities they all should share, as we have previously analyzed. But you may have to cut through so many layers of externals before you reach it. These layers may include forms of politics, prejudice toward outsiders or “nonbelievers” of other religions, or ethnic superiority, or the feeling that they are the only true followers of the only true faith, the only ones who are really saved or who understand the teachings given by God at the exclusion of everyone else, and so on. Somewhere in all that there may be some genuine Dharma, but by the time you reach it, and many never do, there may already be too many corruptions or perversions in the teachings to see the core of what it was meant to be, unless you have been educated in a system that allows you to know and recognize genuine spirituality beforehand, which also is rarely the case. Thus, the differences between religions can be glaringly obvious, and are what many people cling to, and are held more firmly than some people would care to admit.

            Furthermore, if a religion has too much rajo-guna or tamo-guna, meaning too much of the mode of passion and ignorance in it, then it keeps a person bound to that level of consciousness, imprisoned by the dictates of a mere belief system or a rigid dogma rather than a spiritual process that can bring a person to the ultimate freedom of spiritual self-realization. This is the danger. In this case, such a religion certainly cannot bring one to the level of sattva-guna or to the mode of goodness from which one can progress to the level of sudha-sattva, or the quality of pure goodness of the spiritual dimension. It is no longer a process for reaching total freedom up to and including moksha, or liberation from all material existence, but instead keeps one bound to the realm of samsara, repeated births and deaths in the material creation regardless of how pious that person may be.

ALL RELIGIONS ARE REALLY NOT THE SAME 

So, let’s face the truth, in spite of many similarities in their core purpose, each religion offers very different views of themselves, of other religions, of those who do not follow their particular path, as well as different views of God and the purpose of life. Plus, they are often quick to create and show deep boundaries between each other at the slightest provocation.

One of the most important points is that if we look closely, we can easily recognize that each religion certainly brings their followers to different levels of understanding and consciousness, both materially and spiritually. Which level of consciousness they attain will make a great deal of difference in how they perceive themselves in relation to others. They will have different ideas on what is their spiritual identity, on who or what is God, how to please Him, and what His attitude is toward His followers and who are not considered to be His followers, at least according to the dictates of that particular religion.

Furthermore, like I said, some Hindu gurus say that all religions are the same, but you really never hear the authorities of other religions say that. Who among the Christians, Muslims, Jews, or even the Buddhists say that all religions are the same? Some big preachers from non-Hindu religions even vehemently disagree with that point and not only disrespect those of other religions, but say they are all condemned to hell in the eyes of their God. Well, isn’t that a soothing thought? This is also why an increasing number of people are giving up the conventional forms of religion and taking up what can be called spirituality, which can be more personal and not tied to the dictates of a dogma. Why would someone do this? Obviously, they want to continue in their own development without being a part of all the trouble, divisiveness, and quarrel that comes from holding an allegiance toward one particular religion. Freedom to think, ask, inquire, investigate, and experience what we want in our spiritual quest certainly begins to make more sense than to be tied to the obligation of accepting a dogma in order to be accepted by the church or mosque or institution for getting to heaven, if you believe in such a thing.  

Another point is that some people think the Hindu sages of old said that truth is one, but the paths to it are many. So, again we have a misunderstanding that keeps some Hindus thinking all religions are equal. However, once again that is not accurate. The real saying is “ekam sat, vipra bahuda vadanti,” that truth is one, but the names for it are many. This means something else entirely. Thus, it becomes obvious that different religions also prescribe different ways to reach God, or attain heaven, or whatever it is they promise people. And each religion thinks that they offer the one true and only way, as if they have a patent or copyright on the process and teachings, as if God spoke only one time to one person and no one else, and now that person is the only representative of God that we must all follow, or go to eternal damnation. Here again is only mankind projecting their own weaknesses into their conception of God. And when that is the case, there is no end to the variations or differences in religions.

To get a better idea, let us compare some of the differences in religions that we can easily recognize.

 DIFFERENT FACTORS IN VARIOUS RELIGIONS 

  • One book or many. Here we can start with the fact that the Christians have their Bible, composed of a variety of books, divided into the Old and New Testament. Then we have the Koran for the Muslims, and a few other books for the Jews. While in the Vedic system we practically have a whole library that takes a person through many levels of understanding the Absolute Truth. These include the Vedas, like the Rig, Atharva, Yajur, and Atharva, then the Upanishads, Vedantasutras, Ramayana, Mahabharata of which the classic Bhagavad-gita is a chapter, then the 18 major and 18 minor Puranas, the various Agamas, and others. Thus, there are differences in the religions from the start.
  • One savior or many. Again we see that the Vedic system provides a variety of teachers, gurus, prophets, as well as avataras of God to help guide humanity at different times throughout history. While in the conventional religions there is one God, one savior, one main messenger and no one else, and you either believe in him, or you are as good as condemned.
  • One God or many forms. In the Vedic tradition there are many forms of God, many descensions or avataras of God, all of whom show the pastimes, characteristics and qualities of the one Supreme Being. But in other religions, they do not accept this. In fact, they do not even know any descriptive form of God. You ask them what God looks like, and they are not sure. They may say something about His character, but even very little of that. And Christianity says that God appears only as Jesus, or maybe a great cloud over a mountain, a dove, or something in a figurative sense. Islam, on the other hand, does not present any form of God, nor does Judaism.

      ·    One God, or Brahman, Paramatama and Bhagavan. In the Vedic system, these are the three aspects of God, namely the all pervasive Brahman, spiritual energy; the Paramatma or localized expansion known as the Lord in the Heart or Supersoul; then Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality. Whereas in Christianity they are known as the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, though the meanings of which are not as profound or specific as that given in the Vedic descriptions. So, from the start, the concept of God is not the same. In this way, the Vedic culture establishes one Absolute Truth that appears in many forms, whereas the western and middle eastern religions say there is only one personal God with only one form, of which they are not sure what that is.          

      ·    In the Vedic system God can expand and appear in the localized form of the Deity in the temple, whereas the western and middle-eastern religions condemn Deity worship.   

      ·   Dharmists (those who follow Sanatana-dharma, the Vedic path) are usually very tolerant of other religions and can recognize the spiritual truths wherever they may be, in whatever form. Many Christians and Muslims may also be tolerant, but many are not, and are quick to criticize those of other religions since they cannot recognize spiritual truth so easily in other forms. One of their criticisms they often use is that if it is not of their religion, then it must be of the devil. Where is the logic in this?

      ·    Dharmists often welcome other religions, as in the way we have seen so many that have settled in India and made it their home, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, the Parsis, Jews, Zoroastrians, Sikhs, Baha’i, etc. While Christians and Muslims, on the other hand, have a vast history of destroying any other culture or people in whichever land they invaded. This is a profound difference that history cannot deny. Intolerance kills.

  • So, we can see the liberality, kindness and openness of Dharmists, yet in any Muslim country, they allow but one religion to flourish, and any other religion must practice undercover, or they are persecuted and driven out or even thrown into prison, just as we are seeing many Hindus and Christians being driven out of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, etc.
  • The Vedic system says there are various ways to progress toward God, but the western and middle-eastern monotheistic religions generally say there is only their way to God.
  • The Vedic system says that all is God, while other religions say God is far away and takes great endeavor and approval through the church to reach God.       
  • The Vedic tradition says that one can take many lifetimes to attain the spiritual dimension or reach God, while others says there is but one life to reach perfection or go to eternal hell.
  • This brings us to the point wherein the Vedic system says there are numerous temporary heavenly or hellish realms that we may have to work through, based on our pious or impious deeds, while western religions says there is but one heaven or one eternal hell.
  • Vedic Dharma says that a person can ask many and any questions to understand spiritual truths, while the western religions curb many questions regarding its dogma, and say you are a doubting person if you ask too many questions.
  • Eastern religions explain that one’s situations in life are due to karma for which a person has to take responsibility, while the western religions have little philosophy to clarify one’s good or bad circumstances in life.         

      ·    The Vedic spiritual path explains that all beings have souls, while the western religions say that only humans have souls.

      ·    The Vedic tradition has always accommodated diversity, while western religions say that you must fit in or face excommunication, and another says even death.

      ·    The Vedic Dharmists have always spread their culture through the use of philosophy and spiritual purity, while the western religions have often spread through the use of force, fear, intimidation, and by criticizing and threatening all other religions, which is but materialism and ego (“my religion is best”). We can especially see this when Muslims have demonstrated in London in their campaign for ruling the world over everyone else, with signs that said death to non-Muslims and that Islam will rule the world, and so on. Or when some fanatics try to commit suicide while blowing up themselves and as many people of other religions as possible, or even other sects of their own religion, thinking that is a way to get to heaven. Thus, we can see different views within each religion and the numerous sects.

      ·    Another difference is how Dharmists use the Sanskrit phrase “Vasudhaiva Kutumbukam”, which means the whole universe is all one family. This shows the spirituality of each other and how it is important that we all cooperate and work together. Yet, we can see that Dharmists have rarely received the same respect from those of other religions, even those who have settled in India. How is this an example of all religions being one? Yet, if Hindus stand up and defend themselves and their culture in their own homeland against the conversion tactics of Christians, or the violence of Muslims with similar strength, they are often labeled as saffron communalists or extremists. It is as if to be a good Dharmist or Hindu, you must lay your head down so others may cut it off, while those of other religions can do as they like.

      ·    The fact is that Christianity and Islam will never agree that they are one with Vedic culture, Hinduism, or that they are the same, or even part of the same family. They say they are the only one true faith, and all others, especially Hindus, worship Satan and devils, and are in darkness and must be “saved”.     

      ·    Thus, in what other religion do you find the “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” concept? Where do you find that any other religion tries to offer the spiritual vision of seeing the unity between us all? They may promote that there is unity between all those of the same faith, but they do not value those of other faiths, unless they are seen as potential converts. In fact, Christians and Muslims often disdain those who worship differently, even when in the different sects of the same religion. What kind of religions are these? Why do they not also advocate seeing the Divine or spiritual identity within all regardless of religion?

      ·    Vedic tradition does not have a particular founder of the culture. Whereas there is a specific founder in most conventional religions with a clear history of how it developed and from where it originated.       

      ·    The origins of Vedic culture predates recorded history and certainly predates any other of the prominent religions that exist today, such as Christianity (2000 years old) and Islam (almost 1400 years old), and is not a response to some issue or quarrel. It has stood on its own for many centuries before the ones that now say they are the only way, or that you are lost and going to hell if you do not convert to their way of thinking. Since when do they have the audacity to say such a thing? Since when do they justify their hostility toward any other religion? They are but recent inventions compared to Vedic culture and the many older indigenous traditions around the world.

      ·    How is it that western religions, which are all relatively new, all think nonbelievers will go to hell? Or think that Hinduism came from the Bible, when it is obvious that Hinduism predates Christianity by hundreds if not thousands of years? Dharmists / Hindus do not think like this.        

      ·    All religions have validity by what they offer, but how many are ready to admit that? How many are ready to show respect to other traditions? If they really did, it would take away from their reason for conversion campaigns. For example, when will Christianity or Islam admit that they are not the exclusive religion, the only one authorized or approved by God? When will they admit that other religions also have validity and spiritual knowledge to offer? If they cannot, then their view is but an immature form of egotistical materialism. 

      ·    Hindus/Dharmists are always seeking higher levels of spiritual truth, either by knowledge or realization and experience, whereas the monotheistic religions say they already have the truth.  

      ·    Vedic knowledge is often in harmony with science, whereas the western and middle-eastern religions are often contrary to science, keeping their own dogma no matter what.              

      ·    Vedic culture accepts reincarnation and karma, but western and middle-eastern religions do not accept it and say that we all have but one life to attain spiritual perfection by faith, or meet our place in eternal hell.

      ·    Vedic tradition says you were born divine and must merely awaken to that divinity, while western religions say we were born sinners or “in sin” and must work to be rectified and saved from our sins. 

      ·    Vedic followers accept responsibility for their actions as part of their own karma, while the western religions say it is the devil that tempts them to do evil things. Or even if they succumb to their temptations they are saved by the blood of Jesus, who is their savior, or they are saved by their faith in Allah. 

      ·    In the Vedic tradition there is no supreme evil force or devil, or prince of darkness, though there are certainly evil beings that exist in both the gross material realm and the subtle realm. Whereas in conventional western religions there is a devil or Satan that is the cause of the evil in the world, and who in this way fights with God. 

      ·    Vedic Dharmists accept that the means for liberation or freedom from continued material life is by education, following a spiritual path, and reaching spiritual or God realization, while conventional western religions feel that their savior and faith in him is the only way to reach heaven, which may include baptism, going to church, reading the Bible, etc. Therein, liberation is promised by Jesus, while in the Vedic premise, liberation must be earned by the individual.

      ·    Dharmists can view everything as spiritual. Thus, their path becomes more than a religion but a way of life. While conventional western religions often divide what is religious and what is secular.

      ·    Vedic Dharmists often try to work in unity with nature, but the West and western religions often want to control nature and take whatever they want from her in whatever way they want, often causing trouble and imbalance in the process.

      ·    The Vedic tradition offers many, many names of God, such as found in the Vishnu-sahasranama or “Thousand Names of Vishnu” which are based on His activities, pastimes and many characteristics. Whereas in other religions His name is only a title, or is limited to Jehovah, Yaweh, or Allah, or the unnamable. This shows a most limited understanding of the real character and nature of the Supreme.

      ·    The philosophical purview of the Vedic tradition is wide, and can include the Purva Mimamsa of Jaimini, the Uttara Mimamsa of Vyasa, Vaisheshika of Kanada, Nyaya of Gotama, Samkhya of Kapila, Yoga of Patanjali, Vedanta of Vyasa, and others such as Vaishnavas, Shaivites, Tantrics, and Brahmanandis. Though these are all schools of thought with their own followers, they are all still part of the Vedic and Dharmic fold. While in Christianity or Islam there is only a rigid view or dogma to be followed, whether it makes clear sense or not, and if there is any difference of opinion, then that person or persons become forced out or become a separate sect that disagrees with everyone else.    

      ·    Dharmists believe that hellish punishment can exist after death if one is too evil, but that it is temporary after one becomes rehabilitated. However, in Christianity or Islam they feel a person has but one chance to reach heaven or hell, and that is also eternal with no chance of rehabilitation. This seems to give a harsh view of God and fly in the face of any idea that God is merciful and full of unconditional love.

CONCLUSION

             We could go on describing such differences, but this should be enough to make our point clear. You could also say that these differences listed above are but rifts between the ways of religion as we know it today and spirituality. The core purpose of each is meant to be the same, which is to help a person connect with the spiritual dimension or bind themselves to God. But conventional religion seems to have taken a different route, based on the desire to conquer, convert and control. This is much like a political movement that gives the people just enough information to make them think they are making progress in the right direction, but still withholds the most essential knowledge in order to keep them under the influence of the institution. Religion, thus, seems to expect people to blindly accept whatever is given or forced on them without question. Spirituality, on the other hand, is the freedom a person can exercise in his or her search for the spiritual path that provides the lessons, knowledge and experience that is most suitable for that person’s inner development in this particular lifetime.

Spirituality is basically an internal process, which is emphasized in yoga and meditation. Spirituality is often more personal and individual then the way we see religion today, though it is sometimes shared in groups such as on holy days when large gatherings may take place. Nonetheless, it does not depend so much on outer customs, although external rituals may be done for the development of internal changes or other benefits. Furthermore, anyone practicing religion is usually considered a religious person, but is not necessarily spiritual if he or she is not able to recognize the spiritual essence within that is shared by one and all. If a person cannot recognize the spiritual identity of oneself and others, then he is not spiritual, no matter how religious he may pose himself to be. This is one of the main differences between ordinary religious practice and genuine spirituality. And this is something that should be kept in mind. 

In conclusion, it is a great disservice and a misjudgment to say that all religions are equal, or are the same. Actually, they all take you to different levels of consciousness, different views of God, varying levels of understanding, assorted reasons for life, and dissimilar views of each other or of ethnic groups. In fact, in this way, some religions perpetuate what is really a materialistic view, the bodily concept of life, which also emphasizes the ego and one’s status or position compared with others. This gives way to views such as “I’m better than you, my religion is superior to yours, my God is better than yours.” This latter point certainly leads to disharmony between us. It leads to quarrel, friction, persecution of others who are different, and even religious wars, which the world has seen so much of, and which is not the purpose of real religion. This is not the way to reach the goal of life.

Thus, the reality is that religions and spiritual paths are not all the same, and it behooves us to understand and distinguish what is genuine spirituality or Dharma, and learn how to follow it to attain the inner realizations that make all the difference between mundane or faith-based religion and that which will take us to a higher consciousness and perception of who and what we really are. This is the real purpose, rather than merely being sold a level of self-glorification or pride for considering ourselves to belong to a particular religion that gives us the favor from who or what we think is God, and, thus, privileging ourselves to think that we are automatically “saved” simply because we “believe”, and are above all others who are not “delivered” in such a way. That is another egotistical conception that should have been overcome and left behind long ago if and when we follow a real spiritual path that uplifts us above and beyond such a view. It is only at that time when we might have the possibility for genuine religious harmony.