In any standard religion, including the great faiths of the West, elements of karma, jnana and bhakti can be found. When these three are not kept separate but are allowed to commingle, that is called viddha-bhakti, polluted devotion. The viddha-bhaktas worship God—unquestionably an act of devotion—but the goal of their worship is influenced by the karmi and jnani ideals of salvation: “heaven” and “liberation.” On the path of suddha-bhakti, pure devotion, these imperfect goals drop away.1
silanam bhaktir uttama
One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krsna favorably, without the ambitions cultivated by jnana and karma. That is called pure devotional service. (Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11)
A quotation in Chapter One argued that “the problem of evil” was largely one of the Western religious tradition. Let us see why. While it is true the karmi’s ambition for heaven is evident in Hinduism and Buddhism, the jnani’s ambition—salvation through negation of the illusory personal self—is the final goal of these Eastern religions. Hindus believe that after negation something remains: the impersonal Brahman, which they conceive of as an ultimate light (param jyoti) and an eternal root sound (aum). Buddhists believe that after negation nothing remains but emptiness.
In the Western religious tradition, the final goal, salvation, is equated with entry into heaven. The Western picture of salvation is traced through history by scholar Henry Corbin to the pre-Biblical “paradise of Yima” 2 described in the Zoroastrian scriptures of Persia (ancient Iran), the oldest religious texts of the Western tradition. Yima, a form of the name Yama, was said to be the ruler of an underworld heaven.3 Just as Yama is the son of the sun-god Vivasvat, so Yima is the son of Vivanghant. We saw in a previous chapter quotations from Garuda Purana depicting Yama as a fearsome judge and punisher of sinful souls. But there are verses in Mahabharata that describe Yama’s sabha (assembly palace, where he associates with his companions) as heavenly. Yamaraja is designated in Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.26.6 as Pitr-raja, the king of the Pitrs (the departed ancestors, who are pious karma-margis enjoying their heavenly reward).
While the karma-marga is unarguably prominent in the Western tradition, I do not mean to suggest that bhakti is entirely lacking. Great souls were undoubtedly sent by God to turn the attention of Western people away from their hopes for heavenly reward to selfless loving service to God. Thus we find in the Old and New Testaments:
Have you never learned that love of the world is enmity to God? Whoever chooses to be the world’s friend, makes himself God’s enemy. (James 4:4)
Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (II Corinthians 11:14)
Stand up to the devil and he will turn and run. Come close to God and He will come close you. (James 4:8)
In heaven the angels do always behold the face of my heavenly Father. (Matthew 18:10)
As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the Living God. (Psalms 42:1,2)
Whoever wants to be great must be your servant…like the Son he did not come to be served but to serve. (Matthew 20:27-28)
Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. (Hebrews 13:15)
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30)
Yet a Western religious authority of the present day admits:
We are an indulgent people in a selfish age. Even as Christians we do not celebrate discipline, whether physical, intellectual, social, or spiritual.4
Why are pious Westerners held back from the pure celebration of the bhakti discipline so clearly evident in their own tradition? From the Vedic perspective, it seems there is a historical explanation. The explanation in brief is that transcending the body-based duality of good and evil has never been an option in Western religion, which has its root in an ancient distortion of the Vedic path of fruitive activities (karma-marga). While karma-marga, the path of fruitive work, is certainly a doctrine taught by the Vedas, it is not an end itself. Karma yields no eternal gain. Its good and bad fruits are strung together by time to form an endless chain of duality, a “carrot and stick” combination that drives the living entity ever onward in the cycle of birth and death.
karmana jayate jantu karmanaiva praliyate
sukham duhkham bhayam sokam karmanaiva prapadyate
A living entity takes birth by karma. He passes away by karma. His karma brings about happiness, suffering, fear and misery. (Brahma-vaivarta Purana 2.24.17)
Jnana-marga, the path taught by the Upanisads, attempts to throw off the bondage of this chain of duality by knowledge of the self as transcendental to the “good” and “bad” we perceive in matter. Hanti karma subhasubham: “Annihilate karma, good and bad!” cries Maitri Upanisad 6.20. The same scripture (6.7) advises how karma may be uprooted: vijnanam karyakarana-karmanirmuktam—through “transcendental knowledge free of both the cause and effect of karma.” Human beings should learn to 1) live aloof from desires (the cause), and 2) live aloof from sensory and mental happiness and distress (the effect). Thus duality is to be negated by asceticism and the insight that all is one. We find in the Western religious tradition no strong jnana revolution like in India, where around AD 600 the impersonalist Sankaracarya popularized his philosophy of “the world of duality is false—absolute oneness is true.”
Yes, the West has been host to upsurges of theistic devotion. But the element of bhakti was never systematically separated from the ancient Western version of the doctrine of fruitive work. Because body-based duality was rarely questioned, devotion in the West gravitated toward heavenly material happiness and away from renunciation. This is why modern religion is trapped by self-indulgence.
To see how this came to be, I shall now follow the trail of history. Between the Western religious tradition and Vedic dharma there is an ancient nexus, or link. But it is a link that divides as well as connects, like a locked door between two rooms for which the key was long ago lost. History holds the key; in the next section, titled The Zoroastrian Nexus, history will give that key back to us.
A word of caution: the reader may find this section too laborious. If so, kindly jump ahead to the seven summary conclusions at the end of this section. And a word about the method of the Zoroastrian section: I will bring Vedic testimony, which I esteem, together with the testimony of modern historians of religious antiquity, which I do not esteem (though that does not mean I reject a priori all that historians have to say). One reason I do not esteem the historians’ testimony is that the story they tell is a fickle one. For example, today they tell a different story of how the Old Testament came to be than did the historians of a hundred years ago…a story so very different that in 1884 a man killed himself because evidence he gathered that supports today’s story was rejected as a hoax by the historians of his own time.5 Another reason I do not esteem the historians is that their stories are colored by the interpretations of “schools of thought”: the nature myth school of Max Mueller; the anthropo-ethnological school of Durkheim, Spencer and Frazer; the psychological school of Freud and Jung; to mention a few. These interpretations reflect modern attitudes of skepticism, atheism, materialism, evolutionism and so on. I readily admit I take a risk in touching the Western historical narrative. Still, because it is accepted in the West, and because in key areas it can be shown to agree with the Vedic version, I shall employ that narrative to give force to a venerable maxim of logic: quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus traditum est—what was handed down at all times, in all places and by all persons, we ought to believe.
The Zoroastrian Nexus
Vedic India and the ancient West shared a common cultural base. A. Seidenberg, a historian of mathematics, has shown that the geometry used in building the Egyptian pyramids and the Mesopotamian citadels was derived from Vedic mathematics.6 The Oxford scholar M.L. West has tracked core ideas of ancient Greek and Middle Eastern philosophy back to the Vedas.7 At one point, though, something that India rejected took hold in the West: Zoroastrianism. Here we find both the tie that binds the Western religious tradition and the Vedic heritage, as well as the point at which they departed from one another.
Zoroastrianism is an ancient doctrine of dualism propagated in Persia (now called Iran, from the Sanskrit aryan) at some unknown date by the prophet Zarathushtra. As a religious faith Zoroastrianism is almost extinct. But its concept of dualism lives on in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.8 The teaching of Zarathushtra was not unknown in ancient India either. He is named Jarutha in several passages of the Rg Veda. However, these references are not flattering. Rg Veda 7.9.6 indicates that Jarutha was opposed by the sage Vasistha.9
In the Zoroastrian scripture called Zend Avesta, Vasistha is named Vahishtha.10 He is said to be a person of harmful intellect who opposed Zarathushtra. Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.18.5-6 states that Vasistha was fathered by the demigods Varuna and Mitra; 9.1.13 confirms that he was a worshiper of Varuna. Rg Veda, Mandala Seven, has much to say about Vasistha’s devotion to Varuna. Scholars opine that Vasistha and Zarathushtra were both priests of Varuna, who is called Asura-maya in the Rg Veda. It appears that a rivalry broke out between the two.
The name Zoroaster is a variant of Zarathushtra;11 similarly, in the Vedic scriptures Jarutha is also called Jarasabdha. Bhavisya Purana chapters 139-140 present an extensive account of the background of Maga Jarasabdha. The word maga refers to a dynasty of priests of whom Jarasabdha was a progenitor. In ancient Iran, the hereditary priestly caste was called the Magi. Jarasabdha was born in the family line of vira aditya, “the powerful Aditya” (sun-god). The Vedic scriptures list twelve Adityas (sons of Aditi, the mother of the demigods). They are the twelve spokes of the kala-cakra, the wheel of time. Chandogya Upanisad 3.8.1 proclaims Varuna as their chief. In successive months of the year each of these twelve takes his turn in piloting the solar chariot across the sky. It would appear that the lineage of Jarasabdha (Jarutha, Zarathushtra) begins from Varuna, leader of the Vedic solar deities. The sun, like Varuna, is called Asura (from asun rati, “he who gives life or rejuvenates”); because Varuna is very powerful, and because he measured out the sky (as does the sun), he is called maya—hence the title Asura-maya fits both demigods. Varuna is called Asura also because he commands a host of demonic undersea creatures. (Lord Krsna killed one of these asuras named Sankhasura; another asura of Varuna arrested Nanda Maharaja, Krsna’s father, as he bathed in the Yamuna River.) In the Zoroastrian Zend Avesta the name of the worshipable deity of Zarathushtra is Ahura-mazda (Wise Lord), which matches Varuna’s title Asura-maya.
In Bhavisya Purana, Vyasadeva tells Samba that Jarasabdha’s descendents, the Magas (Magi), follow scriptures that are reversed in sense from the Vedas (ta eva viparitas tu tesam vedah prakirtitah). Indeed, Zend Avesta presents the “daevas” as demons and the “ahuras” as good spirits.12 Vyasadeva says that the Magas are attached to the performance of fire sacrifices. Even today the small remnant of the Magi—the Parsi community in India—is known as “fire-venerating.”13 It appears from the Bhavisya Purana that due to an offense committed by his mother, Jarasabdha’s birth was not very respectable. He and his lineage became “black sheep” among the Vedic priesthood. Yet Jarasabdha was always favored by the sun-god, and in return he placed himself fully under the protection of this deity. The Zoroastrian scriptures (Korshed Yasht 4) do indeed prescribe worship of the sun:14
He who offers up a sacrifice unto the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun—to withstand darkness, to withstand the Daevas born of darkness, to withstand the robbers and bandits, to withstand the Yatus and Pairikas, to withstand death that creeps in unseen—offers it up to Ahura-mazda, offers it up to the Amesha-spentas, offers it up to his own soul. He rejoices all the heavenly and worldly Yazatas, who offers up a sacrifice unto the undying, shining, swift-horsed Sun.
It is in this special allegiance to Varuna as a solar deity that the Vedic root of Zoroastrian dualism can be discerned. As one of the Adityas, Varuna is a close companion of another Aditya, Mitra. Rg Veda 10.37.1 states that the sun is the eye of Mitra-Varuna. (The followers of Zarathushtra regarded Mitra—as Mithra—to be one with Ahura-mazda, since Mithra was the light of the Wise Lord.) Mitra-Varuna together are the all-seeing keepers of dharma. Of the two, mankind has more to fear from Varuna. A hymn in Atharva-veda 1.14 is addressed to varuno yamo va (Varuna or Yama), linking Varuna to Yamaraja, the judge of the dead and punisher of the sinful. Though Mitra-Varuna are equals in upholding universal law and order, Taittiriya Samhita identifies Mitra with the law of the day and Varuna with the law of the night. Though at night the eye of the sun is closed, Varuna, with his thousand eyes or spies, observes the acts men do under cover of darkness. Here, then, emerges a dualism. Mitra (which means friendship), the daytime witness, is kinder than Varuna (binder), the nighttime witness—mitro hi kruram varunam santam karoti, says the Taittiriya Samhita: “Mitra pacifies the cruel Varuna.”
It is curious how Zoroastrianism amplified this dualism. In the Vedic version, Asura-maya Varuna, lord of the waters, dwells in the depths of the cosmic Garbhodaka ocean, far below the earth. Yama’s underworld heaven and hell are very near that ocean; in the matter of chastising the sinful, Yama and Varuna are closely allied. In the Zoroastrian version, Ahura-mazda (Varuna) is the lord of light who gave his servant Yima an underworld kingdom called Vara, a realm that, while dark to human eyes, is mystically illuminated. In the Vedic version, Mitra-Varuna are a pair of demigods who in ancient times served the Supreme Lord as a team by supervising the realms of light and darkness. In the Zoroastrian version, Varuna is the supreme lord. Mitra is his light. The mantle of darkness (evil) is worn by an unceasing enemy of Ahura-mazda named Angra Mainyu or Ahriman. It appears that Angra Mainyu is the Vedic Angirasa (Brhaspati), spiritual master of the devas and a great foe of Sukracarya, the spiritual master of the asuras. From Mahabharata 1.66.54-55 we learn that Varuna took the daughter of Sukracarya, named Varuni, as his first wife.
In the Vedic version, the powers of light and darkness or good and evil are not ultimate. By taking them to be ultimate, and moreover by reversing them (portraying the asuras as good and the devas as evil), Zarathushtra twisted the Supreme Lord’s purpose for the cosmos that is administered on His behalf by such agents as Varuna, Yama and Brhaspati. Zoroastrianism was a revolutionary departure from Vedic philosophy.
A revolution in the history of concepts occurred in Iran…with the teachings of Zarathushtra, who laid the basis for the first thoroughly dualist religion. Zarathushtra’s revelation was that evil is not a manifestation of the divine at all; rather it proceeds from a wholly separate principle….The dualism of Zoroastrianism…is overt; that of Judaism and Christianity is much more covert, but it exists, and it exists at least in large part owing to Iranian influence….All posit a God who is independent, powerful and good, but whose power is to a degree limited by another principle, force, or void.15
Professor Norman Cohn heads an influential school of thought among historians of religion. In his opinion, the teachings of Zarathushtra are the source of apocalypticism—the belief in a final cataclysmic war between God’s army of angels and the devil’s army of demons. In Zoroastrianism, this war was expected to be sparked by the appearance of a Saoshyant or messiah who would prevail against the forces of evil, resurrect the dead and establish the Kingdom of God on earth.
An important movement within Zoroastrianism was Zurvanism, which became the Persian state religion during the fourth century BC. Zurvan in the Avestan language means “time”; scholars note the similarity between the Zurvan deity and the Vedic Kala, who in Vaisnava philosophy is a reflection of the Supreme Lord as well as His agent of creation, maintenance and destruction. Kala powers the cosmic wheel of time (kala-cakra) upon which the effulgent chariot of Surya (the sun-god) moves through the heavens, illuminating the universe and marking the passage of hours, days and years.
In Omens of Millenium, Harold Bloom, following Cohn’s line of thought, claims on pages 7-8 that Zurvanism was assimilated into Judaism. Thus the Jews came to equate Zurvan with Yahweh. Citing Henry Corbin, Bloom says Zurvanism lives on today in the Iranian Shi’ite form of Islam. Damian Thompson, on page 28 of The End of Time (1996), suggests that Zurvanism influenced John of Patmos, author of the New Testament Book of Revelation.
On page 32 of Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (1971), Oxford scholar M.L. West cites testimony by an ancient Greek that the Magi taught that Zurvan (Time) divided the cosmos into realms of light and dark, or good and evil. West, then showing the Vedic parallel, cites the Maitri Upanisad Chapter Six. Here, God (Brahman) is said to have two forms—one of time, the other timeless. That which existed even before the sun is timeless. Timeless, transcendental Brahman cannot be divided into parts (i.e. light and dark, good and evil), hence He is ever non-dual. But the Brahman that began with the sun—time—is divided into parts. Living entities are born in time, they grow in time, and die in time. This Brahman of time has the sun (Surya) as its self. One should revere Surya as being synonymous with time. The correspondence between the Vedic Surya and the Persian Zurvan is thus quite clear.
Seven conclusions rest on the evidence of the foregoing section.
1) In ancient times, one Jarutha, Jarasabdha, Zarathushtra or Zoroaster, the founding priest of the Magas or Magi clan, departed from the Vedic tradition. Western historians believe that Judaeo-Christianity and Islam share principles derived from his teaching, called Zoroastrianism, the predominate religion of pre-Islamic Iran.
2) The deviation of Zoroastrianism was that it accepted only the Brahman of time (the sun), leaving aside the timeless Brahman: Krsna. The Supreme Lord was identified with the sun-god, specifically the Aditya Varuna, who is known in the Vedas as Asura-maya and in the Zoroastrian scriptures as Ahura-mazda.
3) The Vedas teach that Varuna is teamed with Mitra to uphold the law of dharma within the realms the sun divides (light and darkness). Here dharma means religious fruitive works that yield artha (wealth) and kama (sense enjoyment) on earth and in heaven. Varuna is associated with Yama, the judge of the dead. Yama’s abode is the place of reward and punishment for good and evil karma.
4) If, as the Zoroastrians believed, Asura-maya Varuna is all-good, then he is not all-powerful. The fact that he must protect dharma with a watchful eye indicates that evil is capable of opposing his order. (Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Ten, relates that a demon named Bhaumasura bested Varuna in combat; thus sometimes evil gets the upper hand).
5) Scholars who specialize in the history of the Western religious tradition believe “Zarathushtra was the first person to put forward the idea of an absolute principle of evil, whose personification, Angra Manyu or Ahriman, is the first real Devil in world religion. Although the two principles are entirely independent, they clash, and in the fullness of time the good spirit will inevitably prevail over the evil one.”16
6) The apocalyptic End of Time envisioned by Judaeo-Christianity and Islam is believed by historians to have been devised by “Zoroaster, originally a priest of the traditional religion, [who] spoke of a coming transformation known as ‘the making wonderful,’ in which there would be a universal bodily resurrection. This would be followed by a great assembly, in which all people would be judged. The wicked would be destroyed, while the righteous would become immortal. In the new world, young people are forever fifteen years old, and the mature remain at the age of forty.17 But this is not a reversion to the original paradise; nothing in the past approaches its perfection. It is the End of Time.”18
7) Those who await this End of Time expect to achieve eternal life in a resurrected body of glorified matter on a celestial earth cleansed of all evil. They expect, as human beings, to be “above even the gods, or at least their equal.”
From historian Jeffrey Burton Russell comes one more key element of the Zoroastrian faith that needs to be mentioned: “Indeed, celibacy was regarded as a sin (as was any asceticism), a vice of immoderation, a refusal to use the things of this world for the purposes that the God intended.”19 Celibacy—which is highly respected in Vedic religious culture—is likewise a sin in Judaism and Islam. It was a discipline important to early Christianity. But reformed Christianity has discarded it entirely, heeding Martin Luther’s admonition that:
The state of celibacy is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but—more frequently than not—struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God. (Table Talk CCCCXCI)
That Zoroastrianism regarded celibacy and all asceticism as sinful returns us to the premise that launched our survey of the historical foundation of Western religion: “transcending duality has never been an option in Western religion, rooted as it is in an ancient distortion of the Vedic path of fruitive activities (karma-marga).” The karma-marga is concerned with what is termed tri-varga, or dharma-artha-kama (religious piety, economic development and bodily happiness). Householders pursue these principles in the course of their productive lives. But the Vedic path takes mankind further, to the varga (principle) of moksa, liberation. This varga is the goal of the jnana-marga, tread by those who have passed from grhastha-asrama (household life) to sannyasa-asrama (renunciation).20 The jnana-margi aims to pass over the time-defined duality of good and evil to the timeless absolute, beyond birth and death. The Prasna Upanisad 1.9 advises the jnana-margi that he must renounce istapurta—Vedic sacrifices (ista) and charitable work (purta)—for it is by istapurta that the soul remains bound to the cycle of birth and death. Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 4.4.7 states that one achieves immortality in the timeless Brahman upon the departure of all material desire—sarve pramucyante kamah. This anticipates the cessation of sexual attraction, which is the foundation of all other desires.21
The pure bhakti-marga begins here, with the transference of the soul’s attraction from dead material forms to the divine ecstatic Form of all forms, the all-attractive Sri Krsna.22 Pure loving attraction to Krsna is called rasa. It is reflected in this world of time as our attraction to material forms. That reflected attraction powers our karma. Taittiriya Upanisad 2.7 explains:
raso vai sah rasam hy evayam labdhvanandi bhavati. ko hy evanyat kah pranyat yad esa akasa anando na syat esa hy esanandayati.
The supreme truth is rasa. The jiva becomes blissful on attaining this rasa. Who would work with the body and prana (sensory powers) if this blissful form did not exist? He gives bliss to all.
Though rasa impels fruitive work, fruitive work does not permit the soul the pure, eternal taste of rasa. This is because fruitive work, by definition, brings one no farther than to the enjoyment of temporary material fruits. Even when fruitive work is governed by scriptural direction, it yields only ephemeral enjoyment in the heavenly spheres of the material universe.
Whether on earth or in heaven, the sine qua non of material enjoyment is sex. Sexual attraction is a perversion of attraction to Krsna. To achieve personal association with Krsna, this attraction must be purified.
tenatmanatmanam upaiti santam
anandam anandamayo ’vasane
etam gatim bhagavatim gato yah
sa vai punar neha visajjate ’nga
Only the purified soul can attain the perfection of associating with the Personality of Godhead in complete bliss and satisfaction in his constitutional state. Whoever is able to renovate such devotional perfection is never again attracted by this material world, and he never returns. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.2.31)
Time is the irresistible force that pulls living beings together in sexual relationships all over the universe. The same time factor brings them distress and separation. Ultimately, time dissolves the entire cosmic manifestation. Thus sexual attraction is inseparable from fear of destruction.
apisvaranam kim uta
The attraction between man and woman, or male and female, always exists everywhere, making everyone always fearful. Such feelings are present even among the controllers like Brahma and Siva and is the cause of fear for them, what to speak of others who are attached to household life in this material world. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.11.17)
Vedic dharma is termed sanatana-dharma (eternal religion). It leads the worshiper from the Brahman of time—the universal form of the Lord, in which demigods like Brahma, Siva, Varuna, Yama, Brhaspati and the sun-god Surya are stationed as departmental heads—to timeless Brahman: Parambrahman Sri Krsna. Parambrahman is achieved when the soul, purified of sexual attraction, dives into the rasa-ocean of Krsna’s holy name, form, qualities, pastimes and His loving relationships with His pure devotees in the timeless realm of Goloka.
The conviction that religion is tri-varga—encompassing piety (dharma), economic development (artha) and bodily happiness (kama), with no scope for liberation from time-bound attraction to the body and material sense objects—is demonic. This is clear from Srimad-Bhagavatam Canto Seven, Chapter Five, where the brahmanas in the employ of the demon Hiranyakasipu are depicted as teaching only tri-varga. When Hiranyakasipu suspected these brahmanas of schooling his young son Prahlada in Visnu-bhakti, he angrily rebuked them. They assured the demon they’d taught Prahlada no such thing; apparently, the boy’s devotion to Krsna was spontaneous. Hiranyakasipu then decided to kill his own son. But in the end Hiranyakasipu was destroyed by Lord Nrsimha-deva, the half-man, half-lion incarnation of Krsna. Lord Nrsimha-deva installed Prahlada as the crown jewel of his dynasty, though his teachers had mocked him as a “cinder.” Prahlada is the best example of dharma-sila; Hiranyakasipu the best example of adharma-sila.
Nowadays thoughtful people regret the lack of discipline in modern culture. They would do well to consider Lord Krsna’s instruction to Arjuna (Bhagavad-gita 2.62-63), in which the total breakdown of discipline is traced to contemplation of the objects of the senses.
While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises. From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.
Because the karma philosophy begins with the contemplation of sense objects, it ends in the breakdown of all spheres of human endeavor—physical, intellectual, social, and religious. The karma philosophy was, is, and remains the main root of materialistic culture. Part Two of this book will consider the consequences of that philosophy in the modern world.
From the book – Dimensions Of Good and Evil by Suhotra Swami
1 The viddha-bhaktas worship God—unquestionably an act of devotion—but the goal of their worship is influenced by the karmi and jnani ideals of salvation: “heaven” and “liberation.” On the path of suddha-bhakti, pure devotion, these imperfect goals drop away: To the degree that they resist or oppose suddha-bhakti, pious karmis and jnanis are irreligious. One who completely opposes suddha-bhakti is perfectly irreligious and thus called adharma-sila. It similarly possible for a “demon” opposed to viddha-bhakti to be dharma-sila, if his only desire is to serve the Lord. This is evident in the case of Vrtrasura. (Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto Six, Chapter 9-10)
2 The Western picture of salvation is traced through history by scholar Henry Corbin to the pre-Biblical “paradise of Yima”: As cited by Harold Bloom, Omens of Millenium (1997) 196.
3 Yima, a form of the name Yama, was said to be the ruler of an underworld heaven: M.L. West, Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (1971) 191.
4 We are an indulgent people in a selfish age: David L. McKenna, president of Asbury Theological Seminary, cited in Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster (1988) 205.
5…a story so very different that in 1884 a man killed himself because evidence he gathered that supports today’s story was rejected as a hoax by the historians of his own time: The man was Moses Wilhelm Shapira (1830-1884). The evidence was fifteen strips of manuscript parchment discovered at Dhiban, near the Dead Sea, which he believed to be an early variant of the Book of Deuteronomy. Several prominent European scholars of Biblical history examined Shapira’s manuscript and pronounced it a contemporary forgery made by someone who learned bad Hebrew from within the Jewish community of northern Europe. On 9 March 1884, a disheartened Shapira killed himself in a Rotterdam hotel with a pistol shot to the head. But after the Dead Sea scrolls were found between 1947 and 1952, scholars changed their opinion about Shapira’s manuscript. Now it is considered genuine.
6 A. Seidenberg, a historian of mathematics, has shown that the geometry used in building the Egyptian pyramids and the Mesopotamian citadels was derived from Vedic mathematics: Cited by Klaus Klostermaier, “Questioning the Aryan Invasion Theory and Revising Ancient Indian History” ISKCON Communications Journal Vol.6, No. 1 (June 1998).
7 The Oxford scholar M.L. West has tracked core ideas of ancient Greek and Middle Eastern philosophy back to the Vedas: See his Early Greek Philosophy and the Orient (1971).
8 As a religious faith Zoroastrianism is almost extinct. But its concept of dualism lives on in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: From A World History by William H. McNeill (1979) 75:
Zororastrian dualism explained evil more plausibly than any strictly monotheistic faith could do. Dualisms which trace their origin to Zoroaster have therefore cropped up repeatedly in the Judaeo-Christian-Moslem tradition; but Zoroastrianism itself barely survives and not without extensive later emendation, among the Parsi community of India.
9 Rg Veda 7.9.6 indicates that Jarutha was opposed by the sage Vasistha:
tvam agne samidhano vasistho
jarutham han yaksi raye puramdhim
purunitha jatavedo jarasva
yuyam pata svastibhih sada nah
Vasistha is kindling thee. Agni (the fire god): destroy the malignant Jarutha. Worship the object of many rites. The community of demigods, on behalf of the wealthy institutor of the sacrificial ceremony, offer praise—Jatavedas, with manifold praises—and do ever cherish us with blessings.
Rg Veda 7.1.7 and 10.80.3 also mention Jarutha as an enemy who was consumed by the flames of Agni.
10 In the Zoroastrian scripture called Zend Avesta, Vasistha is named Vahishtha: From The Study of Indian History and Culture edited by S.D. Kulkarni, vol. 1 (1988). This book cites a passage from Zend Avesta (Yasna Ha 43.15) as translated by the scholar S.K. Hodivala:
O Ahura-mazda, then indeed I regarded thee as bountiful when that angel came to me with good mind and informed me with wisdom that neither the harmful-intellected Vahishtha, nor Puru belonging to the Dregvant [=Grehma or Brahma] is dear to us: indeed they have all regarded all the Angras [=Angirasas] as righteous.
In the Avestan language, Ahura-mazda means Wise Lord (Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, under Zoroastrianism, 866). Asura-maya is a title given by the Rg Veda to the demigod Varuna, lord of the waters. Besides meaning “demon,” the word asura can mean “spirit,” “good spirit,” and “supreme spirit.” The sun-god is also called Asura; Varuna is the chief of the twelve Adityas who take the post of the sun once a month. A stone carving at the ruins of Persepolis in Iran is said by scholars to show Ahura-mazda. The figure is blended with that of a winged sun. (See photo in The Devil—Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity by Jeffrey Burton Russell, 1977, 106)
Scholarly opinion is, “Zarathushtra like Vasistha was the worshiper of Varuna.” (The Study of Indian History and Culture, vol. 1, 198) The Angras are considered demonic in the Zend Avesta. In the Vedas, the Angirasas are the followers of Brhaspati, the priest of the demigods.
11 The name Zoroaster is a variant of Zarathushtra: Zoroaster is the Greek form, Zarathushtra the Persian form.
12 Indeed, Zend Avesta presents the “daevas” as demons and the “ahuras” as good spirits: Jeffrey Burton Russell, on page 104 of The Devil, writes:
Zarathushtra was largely responsible for the relegation of the daevas to the ranks of the demons by elevating one of the ahuras, Ahura Mazda, to the position of the one God. The daevas then logically had to be categorized as enemies of the God.
13 Even today the small remnant of the Magi—the Parsi community in India—is known as “fire-venerating”: Maseeh Rahman, Time Magazine (16 March 1998) 25.
14 The Zoroastrian scriptures (Korshed Yasht 4) do indeed prescribe worship of the sun: The quotation is from The Zend-Avesta, translated by James Darmesteter (1883).
15 A revolution in the history of concepts occurred in Iran…with the teachings of Zarathushtra, who laid the basis for the first thoroughly dualist religion: Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Devil, 98-99.
16 “Zarathushtra was the first person to put forward the idea of an absolute principle of evil…”: Jeffrey Burton Russell, The Prince of Darkness (1988) 19.
17 In the new world, young people are forever fifteen years old, and the mature remain at the age of forty: In a book published by a modern Christian missionary movement, we find the same Zoroastrian theme.
…God has, and will yet use, the power to reverse the aging process. As the Bible describes it: “Let his flesh become fresher than in youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor.” (Job 33:25) The aged will gradually return to the perfect manhood and womanhood that Adam and Eve enjoyed in Eden.
The long-standing orthodox Christian position on the resurrection of the body is succinctly stated by Macrina the Younger, a principle theologian of the early Greek church: “We assert that the same body again as before, composed of the same elements, is compacted around the soul.” (See page 289 of Jaroslav Pelikan’s Christianity and Classical Culture, 1993.) Augustine, in De civitate Dei (The City of God), suggested that when the bodies of dead believers are resurrected, they will be restored to thirty years of age. (See page 98 of Caroline Walker Bynum’s The Resurrection of the Body, 1995.)
Questions about physical resurrection were heavily debated in the history of the Christian church, particularly in the fifth, twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Some theologians who defended a purely spiritual conception of resurrection—that a non-material body is raised—were condemned as heretics. The orthodox position was, “I am not ‘I’ if I rise in an aerial body” (Bynum, 60). Bynum comments on page 229, “materialistic conceptions of bodily resurrection were significant elements of the positions that triumphed as mainstream Christianity.”
18 “Zoroaster, originally a priest of the traditional religion, [who] spoke of a coming transformation…”: Damian Thompson, The End of Time—Faith and Fear in the Shadow of the Millenium (1996) 15.
19 “Indeed, celibacy was regarded as a sin (as was any asceticism)..: Russell, The Devil, 115.
20 This varga is the goal of the jnana-marga, tread by those who have passed from grhastha-asrama (household life) to sannyasa-asrama (renunciation): There are four asramas or stages of life. Traditionally, these are each related to a grade of mastery of Vedic knowledge. The first is the brahmacari-asrama, or student life. Here the four Vedas (Rg, Sama, Yajur and Atharva) are memorized. The second is the grhastha-asrama, or married life. Here the brahmanas—which teach sacrificial duties—are studied. The third is the vanaprastha-asrama, or retired life. At this stage the aranyakas—the “forest texts” that teach meditation to forest-hermits—are studied. The fourth is the sannyasa-asrama. Here the Upanisads (Vedanta) are studied. The goal of the Upanisads is liberation from birth and death by means of knowledge of the absolute.
21 This anticipates the cessation of sexual attraction, which is the foundation of all other desires: This is made clear in Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.8:
pumsah striya mithuni-bhavam etam
tayor mitho hrdaya-granthim ahuh
janasya moho ’yam aham mameti
The attraction between male and female is the basic principle of material existence. On the basis of this misconception, which ties together the hearts of the male and female, one becomes attracted to his body, home, property, children, relatives and wealth. In this way one increases life’s illusions and thinks in terms of “I and mine.”
22 The pure bhakti-marga begins here, with the transference of the soul’s attraction from dead material forms to the divine ecstatic Form of all forms, the all-attractive Sri Krsna: However, this does not mean that one must formally pass from the karma-marga (household life) through the jnana-marga (renunciation, or sannyasa) before one can arrive at pure bhakti. Lord Krsna gives His own definition of sannyasa in Bhagavad-gita 18.57.
mayi sannyasya mat-parah
mac-cittah satatam bhava
In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.
The Lord says that in sarva-karmani (all activities) one can be a sannyasi by remembering Him and working under His protection. He spoke this verse to Arjuna, who was a ksatriya householder engaged in battle, not an ascetic monk engaged in the pursuit of transcendental knowledge. Thus the bhakti-marga does not require one to first graduate through the Vedic social divisions before one is allowed to devote one’s life to Krsna. Householders can cross from the karma-marga to bhakti-marga by surrendering all their works to the Lord, just as Arjuna did.