The Culture of Gaudiya Vaisnavism

The perceived necessity for a culturally neutral transcendence is perhaps rooted in the postmodern sensitivity (or a common misunderstanding of postmodern philosophy—not sure which) that leads one to believe that all cultures are of equal value. Personally I see no reason to level the cultural playing field. I my experience, all cultures are not equally valuable. They are so only in as much as it is true that one can learn something from all cultures and all of them have some value.

Arguably, the one that God most prominently manifests within is notable. If God personally manifests within a particular culture—Sri Caitanya in Bengali culture of 500 years ago—and teaches about the nature of transcendence through that culture, it is reasonable to think that meditating upon him within that cultural setting has immense spiritual value for a the practitioner, if for no other reason than the fact that it provides a handle to grab on to that is practically essential for sadhana. But furthermore this is especially so given the theology of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, in which love of God that is the goal is very specific.

And the less specific the goal the less lovable it is. The more one loves an object the more one becomes acquainted with its details, and if it lacks details, the less loveable it is. It is erroneous to think that the summit of spiritual experience is that which is the least detailed, the least specific. No, such is rather the lowest common denominator. There are no details in the sunyavadaprakriti nirvana—of Buddhism, for example. Thus the fact that Buddhism as a religion has transcended cultural bias, is no great accomplishment. For that matter Gaudiya Vaisnavism has proven itself to be culturally adaptable in the past within India. The example of the Manipuri and Orrissan “Gaudiyas”—better referred to as Caitanya Vaisnavas—is there to learn from. Prabhupada also adapted, as did BSST Prabhupada before him by riding in motorized vehicles, etc.. etc.

And with regard to the specifics of the Gaudiya’s prema prayojana, it is has been presented primarily in terms of love psychology, which is pretty much a universal found in all cultures. The exception may be today’s industrial, technological, materialistic cultural mindset, in which one could argue well culture in a classical sense is lacking.

Rupa Goswami employed the love psychology of Indian aesthetics to explain his rasa theory. This gives us a handle and terms to use that enable us to talk about and contemplate the various bhavas of the lila, etc. more readily. And it is universal. In other words, it is not difficult to relate to Krsna lila because we are all familiar—regardless of our culture—with the love psychology of the Absolute by way of of our own human familiarity with love psychology.

For example, at least in times gone by no young illicit couple would want the young male lover’s older brother to know about their relationship, and thus he has no place there. Still that older brother might not discourage it and might even encourage it behind the scenes should he be aware of it. This was true of American and European culture in the not so distant past, not merely Indian culture. The elder brother is typically a senior who is looked up to and from whom the younger brother learns how to behave properly (my, things have changed!). Thus it is not difficult for anyone to understand why Balarama is not directly involved in Krsna’s love affair with Radha.

As for the demigods and the forces of nature, which is a more accurate description of nature, a poetic one or a mathematical one? I go with the poetic one. To me it is more real. One should not be enamored by reason. It is a petty thing. Still we should be reasonable in our love. There is nature and there is consciousness behind nature. That is a fact. Math won’t find that consciousness and it transcends words. Still poetry can do some justice to that which math cannot. In the world I live in, there are gods and goddesses. And there is Krsna, as Sri Caitanya experienced him.