Friday, August 12, 2005

A Hindu Encounter With Islam

Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, whom Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship as Krishna (God) Himself, appeared in Mayapur, Bengal, in 1486 and resided on this Earth for 48 years to the year 1532. During this time, by Mahaprabhu's influence, a powerful and historical spiritual rennaisance took place in Bengal and throughout throughout much of India. For readers of this blog, what is especially noteworthy is that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's spiritual rennaisance, called The Sankirtan Movement, took place in a land that was controlled by Muslim invaders. The following excerpt from the scripture Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, by Krishnadas Kaviraj Goswami, describes an incident in which Mahaprabhu and His associates encountered a group of Muslim soldiers and converted them to Vaishnavism.

The next morning, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu got up early. After taking His bath, He became ecstatic with love, knowing that He now had to leave Vrindavana. Although the Lord did not exhibit any external symptoms, His mind was filled with ecstatic love. At that time, Balabhadra Bhattacarya said, "Let us go to Mahavana [Gokula]."

Saying this, Balabhadra Bhattacarya made Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu sit aboard a boat. After they crossed the river, he took the Lord with him. Both Rajaputa Krishnadasa and the Sanodiya brahmana knew the path along the Ganges bank very well. While walking, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, understanding that the others were fatigued, took them all beneath a tree and sat down. There were many cows grazing near that tree, and the Lord was very pleased to see them. Suddenly a cowherd boy blew on his flute, and immediately the Lord was struck with ecstatic love. Filled with ecstatic love, the Lord fell to the ground unconscious. He foamed about the mouth, and His breathing stopped.

While the Lord was unconscious, ten cavalry soldiers belonging to the Muslim Pathana military order rode up and dismounted. Seeing the Lord unconscious, the soldiers thought, "This sannyasi must have possessed a large quantity of gold. These four rogues here must have taken away that sannyasi's riches after killing Him by making Him take the poison dhutura."

Thinking this, the Pathana soldiers arrested the four persons and decided to kill them. Because of this, the two Bengalis began to tremble. The devotee Krishnadasa, who belonged to the Rajaputa race, was very fearless. The Sanodiya brahmana was also fearless, and he spoke very bravely. The brahmana said, "You Pathana soldiers are all under the protection of your king. Let us go to your commander and get his decision. This sannyasi is my spiritual master, and I am from Mathura. I am a brahmana, and I know many people who are in the service of the Muslim king. This sannyasi sometimes falls unconscious due to the influence of a disease. Please sit down here, and you will see that He will very soon regain consciousness and His normal condition. Sit down here for a while and keep us all under arrest. When the sannyasi regains his senses, you can question Him. Then, if you like, you can kill us all."

The Pathana soldiers said, "You are all rogues. One of you belongs to the western lands, one to the district of Mathura, and the other two, who are trembling, belong to Bengal.

Rajaputa Krishnadasa said, "I have my home here, and I also have about two hundred Turkish soldiers and about one hundred cannons. If I call loudly, they will come immediately to kill you and plunder your horses and saddles. The Bengali pilgrims are not rogues. You are rogues, for you want to kill the pilgrims and plunder them."

Upon hearing this challenge, the Pathana soldiers became hesitant. Then suddenly Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu regained consciousness. Coming to His senses, the Lord very loudly began chanting the holy name, "Hari! Hari!" The Lord raised His arms upward and began to dance in ecstatic love. When the Lord shouted very loudly in ecstatic love, it appeared to the Muslim soldiers that their hearts were struck by thunderbolts. Seized by fear, all the Pathana soldiers immediately released the four persons. Thus Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu did not see His personal associates arrested. At that time, Balabhadra Bhattacarya went to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and made Him sit down. Seeing the Muslim soldiers, the Lord regained His normal senses.

All the Muslim soldiers then came before the Lord, worshiped His lotus feet and said, "Here are four rogues. "These rogues have made You take dhutura. Having made You mad, they have taken all Your possessions."

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "These are not rogues. They are My associates. Being a sannyasi beggar, I do not possess anything. Due to epilepsy, I sometimes fall unconscious. Out of their mercy, these four men maintain Me."

Among the Muslims was a grave person who was wearing a black dress. People called him a saintly person. The heart of that saintly person softened upon seeing Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He wanted to talk to Him and establish impersonal Brahman on the basis of his own scripture, the Koran. When that person tried to establish the impersonal Brahman conception of the Absolute Truth on the basis of the Koran, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu refuted his argument. Whatever arguments he put forward, the Lord refuted them all. Finally the person became stunned and could not speak.

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "The Koran certainly establishes impersonalism, but at the end it refutes that impersonalism and establishes the personal God. The Koran accepts the fact that ultimately there is only one God. He is full of opulence, and His bodily complexion is blackish. According to the Koran, the Lord has a supreme, blissful, transcendental body. He is the Absolute Truth, the all-pervading, omniscient and eternal being. He is the origin of everything. Creation, maintenance and dissolution come from Him. He is the original shelter of all gross and subtle cosmic manifestations."

"The Lord is the Supreme Truth, worshipable by everyone. He is the cause of all causes. By engaging in His devotional service, the living entity is relieved from material existence. No conditioned soul can get out of material bondage without serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Love at His lotus feet is the ultimate goal of life. The happiness of liberation, whereby one merges into the Lord's existence, cannot even be compared to a fragment of the transcendental bliss obtained by service unto the Lord's lotus feet.

"In the Koran there are descriptions of fruitive activity, speculative knowledge, mystic power and union with the Supreme, but ultimately all this is refuted and the Lord's personal feature established, along with His devotional service. The scholars of the Koran are not very advanced in knowledge. Although there are many methods prescribed, they do not know that the ultimate conclusion should be considered the most powerful. Seeing your own Koran and deliberating over what is written there, what is your conclusion?"

The saintly Muslim replied, "All that You have said is true. This has certainly been written in the Koran, but our scholars can neither understand nor accept it. Usually they describe the Lord's impersonal aspect, but they hardly know that the Lord's personal feature is worshipable. They are undoubtedly lacking this knowledge. Since You are that very same Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, please be merciful upon me. I am fallen and unfit. I have studied the Muslim scripture very extensively, but from it I cannot conclusively decide what the ultimate goal of life is or how I can approach it. Now that I have seen You, my tongue is chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. The false prestige I felt from being a learned scholar is now gone."

Saying this, the saintly Muslim fell at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and requested Him to speak of life's ultimate goal and the process by which it could be obtained. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "Please get up. You have chanted the holy name of Krishna; therefore the sinful reactions you have accrued for many millions of lives are now gone. You are now pure." Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu then told all the Muslims there, "Chant the holy name of Krishna! Chant the holy name of Krishna!" As they all began to chant, they were overwhelmed by ecstatic love. In this way Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu directly initiated the saintly Muslim by advising him to chant the holy name of Krishna.

The Muslim's name was changed to Ramadasa. Another Pathana Muslim present there was named Vijuli Khan. Vijuli Khan was very young, and he was the son of the king. All the other Muslims, or Pathanas, headed by Ramadasa, were his servants. Vijuli Khan also fell down at the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and the Lord placed His foot on his head. After bestowing His mercy upon them in this way, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu left. All those Pathana Muslims then became mendicants. Later these very Pathanas became celebrated as the Pathana Vaishnavas. They toured all over the country and chanted the glorious activities of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Vijuli Khan became a greatly advanced devotee, and his importance was celebrated at every holy place of pilgrimage.

Prabhupada, A.C. Bhaktivedanta. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. (Online) Ch. 18, Verses 155 - 212. 4 Jul 2004. Bhaktivedanta VedaBase Network. 12 August 2005. <>

Most notable in this encounter is Mahaprabhu's debate with the moulana. In the debate, the moulana tried to establish what is called the brahman feature of the Absolute Truth. Brahman is said to be existence, and consciousness of that existence. In this feature of the absolute the Lord is impersonal, all pervasive, and not in possession of any personality. At least as it is understood by scholars and followers of Mohammed, Islam can be said to be an impersonal religion. That they are forbidden to portray in pictures anyone they recognize as a prophet is a manifestation of this impersonalist tendency.

From a Vaishnava theological perspective, it is the impersonalist idea of God that results in a materialistic religion. The reason is simple: if God is impersonal, then He has no desires. Of course, Islam, like other religions, say that God has desires because He asks something of us, but because the idea of God is ultimately impersonal, beyond paying your "religion tax" by doing some namaz and killing some infidels, the center of satisfaction becomes the self. Persons have desires, non-persons do not. By most religious standards in the world's main religions, the reward of being able to enjoy 70-plus virgins for dying in jihad is quite paltry. In fact, any material reward is quite paltry, because being finite beings we have our limitations. And again, the emphasis of the reward is a carnal and selfish pleasure quite detached from any involvement with God at all in Paradise.

Indeed, we can say that the Islamic conception of Paradise is the kingdom of God without God; what does God do in His own abode that is of any significance? Surely it would involve non-interference with the post-martyrdom jihadist's enjoyment of 70-plus virgins. Clearly, the Islamic conception of religion is self-centered, not God centered, because pious life is motivated by sensual pleasure. This is not to say that many people throughout all of religious history have not performed religious acts for materialistic purposes, or have performed materialistic and violent acts in the name of religion. But when the core doctrines are defined by materialism and promoted by topmost religious authorities, then you have a necessary ingredient for the creation of a civilization wherein violence and envy are elevated to the level of virtue.

So Mahaprabhu's refutation of the moulana's exposition is significant in that Mahaprabhu proposed a higher conception of the Absolute Truth in which the pursuit of selfish-pleasure could never be considered a virtue. The personalist conception, wherein God is a person, presupposes a relationship between the servant and God, and pleasure itself is derived from selfless service. To the degree that the service is motivated for personal gain, there is no pleasure. And because all other living entities, including animals and plants, have a personal relationship with God, just as we have, violence against them becomes anathema since that would constitute envy of something else that is dear to God. Essentially, what Mahaprabhu in his exchange with the Pathans did was reestablish God, the person, in a Godless conception of Paradise.

What is important in this exchange between Mahaprabhu and the Pathans is the role theology and philosophy can play in changing people. A secondary role is etiquette, and a tertiary but not unimportant role is knowledge of the other's scripture. The Pathans could listen to Mahaprabhu's refutution of their ideas because they were respectful to Him, and it was also important that Mahaprabhu argued theology on the basis of the Koran. In developing a strategy to deal with the Question of Islam, theology and philosophy must play a significant role. The true conquest is cultural, and it will ultimately be the kind of religion and culture the descendants of Mohammed (and for that matter, ourselves) adopt in the future that will decide whether or not we live in a world without terror.


Blogger Kharageous said...

can you please tell me which aayat in quran says that god is blackish in complexion and has a blissful body.

7:33 AM, May 14, 2009  
Blogger the said...

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11:25 PM, September 04, 2009  
Blogger krishna said...

Sibgatallah wa man 'ah - sanu minallahi sibgah: "(We take our) color from Allah and who is better than Allah at coloring?" (2.138)

4:28 AM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger Kharageous said...

It doesnt mean God is blackish in complexion...It simply says that God coloured everything and also us...

8:39 AM, September 03, 2011  
Blogger Bhaskarkumar Sarkar said...

Everything / aspect is manifestation of God and selfless attachment is the supreme bliss.

7:19 AM, February 11, 2016  

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