Frequently asked questions on Pushtimarga
The below Q/A is taken from the book "A SIP OF ELIXIR" which is based on the answers given by Goswami Sri Shyam Manohar (Kishangarh - Parla).
Question: In today's era of science and technology, is it possible to practice or follow the principles revealed by Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya (Mahāprabhujī) and his guidelines on ācāra - vicāra (the ethics or manners of purity)?
Answer: If we have to talk about science, then today, many things about science are such that..., if I say, on the one hand, our ethics or manners of purity (ācāra - vicāra) can be very easily endorsed by science and on the other hand the same thing will start hounding us if we strictly follow the idea presented by science! Let me give a very recent example. We used to say that one should not eat food in cutlery already used by others without cleaning. The elders in the house often used to get angry at those who ate in the hotel. Now, If you read about America in the newspapers, you will find that AIDS is widely spreading there. It means that their immune system has deteriorated. One of the reasons for such diseases is that if others eat on a deceased person's plate, they will also pick that disease, as AIDS is contagious. It is scientifically proven, and people must take utmost care to avoid it.
Let me talk about the practices (ācāra - vicāra) followed in our Puṣṭimārga. It is common advice to use water from wells, as tap water is considered impure. But I use tap water in my house because there is no well nearby. A few days ago, I read that chlorine mixed in tap water can cause cancer in the body. At least there is no chlorine in the water of the well.
As a matter of fact, scientific support statements can be given to many such ancient ethics and systems. But I am not interested in such justifications because I firmly believe that I do not want to take support of science to prove our ethics. Modern science is just developing; to date, it is not fully developed. If someone thinks that it is developed, he does not understand science. The very basis of science is to go on experimenting and observing. Science is a progressing subject and is yet to attain perfection. Today it will establish a theory, and tomorrow may contradict the same. You may not be aware, but in the olden days, a big question was raised by scientists about how light reaches our eye from a bulb or distant stars?' It was about 60 to 70 years ago. They started thinking that there should be a medium through which light travels. They named this probable matter 'Ether'. It means that Ether exists in the space between the planets, stars and galaxies, and light is reaching us through this Ether. In our scriptures, space (ākāśa) is considered one of the five basic elements (Pañcamahābhūta). In the beginning, so-called modern scientists of that time used to disprove this theory. They used to say that space is not an element and this is just a useless thing created by Indian philosophers. When scientists concluded the existence of Ether, the conservative people of India started celebrating. They started saying, "See, we were saying from the beginning that ākāśa (space) is one of the five elements. Science has only come to know about it now. But in our scriptures, it was mentioned thousands of years back." But in the following years, after due experimentation and observation, scientists concluded that there is nothing like Ether in space. As a matter of fact, light has the behaviour of a particle and a wave. With this, the theory of space being an element was thrown into the dustbin. Now, what would you do? How would you say Aakash (space) is an independent element? Hence, we should not get confused by science. Today scientists will propose one theory, and tomorrow they will propose a counter- theory.
Once, an incident happened to me. I read in the newspaper that there is a matter known as Chlorophyll which is responsible for keeping the plants green and Cinthol soap had it. I thought, why should we not use Cinthol? We shall also remain always fresh. After using it for a few days, it so happened that if I did not use that soap even for a day, my skin used to get dried, and I always used to feel itchy. I consulted my family doctor, but he also got puzzled. The situation remained as it was for a few years. After some time, I read in Science-Today that in America, they have banned this substance as it was damaging the brain cells of the doctors. Having read this, I was so afraid that I never used Cinthol soap after that. I do not remember when my itching vanished. Scientific developments are only like that. Today they will say something, and tomorrow they will counter it with another argument. We cannot establish any eternal principle based on this. We can start using Cinthol based on science and leave also based on science again. Today Chlorophyll is helpful to keep the leaves of the tree green, and tomorrow it can damage your brain tissues. Such is the finding of science. I cannot understand why we should try to establish principles of our scriptures from the point of view of science. I am certainly not of that opinion. In this era of science, a few things can be proven, and few cannot. If you are religious, you should not be worried about such things. At least, I am not worried because whatever is proved today may be refuted tomorrow. Even scientists do not know for sure. Every day something new comes up, and the old is thrown into the dustbin.
You might have read that there is a substantial increase in the pollution level of river Ganga. Just two years ago, scientists believed that Ganga water could digest any amount of pollution; maybe because of the presence of herbs or whatever may be the reason. Hearing this, conservative people started celebrating and saying, "See, we were saying the same thing: Ganga's water is pious." After some time, I am not sure about the scientist's name, but after experimenting, he proved that the pollution level in Ganga water is the highest worldwide.
Therefore, I do not get impressed by science which changes its opinion daily. I do not want to justify the eternal principles of my scriptures based on science. You might be thinking that in this era of science from where this Baba of the stone age has come! But what I fail to understand is - how you can depend on such a science that changes its opinion with time.
Today, one scientist says that marriage in the same caste reduces your genetic capacity. Therefore, inter-caste marriage is much better. For this reason, they have established a Sperm-Bank which preserves the sperm of Nobel Prize winners. On one side, to get a better breed of horse or cow, they will take utmost care to avoid cross-breeding. In that circumstance, they don't believe in inter-caste. Who knows what is false and what is truth or if both are false or true?
I read somewhere that business people perform experiments to prove that competitors' material is harmful to reduce their sales. They also publish data on the material's ill effects on your body. As a matter of fact, we are human beings, and scientists and businessmen are also human beings. So, we can see that science can be used to prove things based on our desire. Therefore, It does not matter whether it is the scientific or the non-scientific era. I have no faith in proving spirituality based on scientific evidence. I would prefer to do it based on scripture guidelines rather than scientific guidelines.
Please understand that Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya has not shown any new ethics or manners of purity. Whatever traditions already existed at that time, he advised us to follow those and do the service to Kṛṣṇa. The beliefs which were already existing were shattered due to invaders, whoever is opposing those ethics, it is because they just want to satisfy their ego. Once, all the Gosvāmīs of our cast assembled at a place. Everybody said, "We cannot follow the old traditions. Therefore, we should get some exemptions”. One youngster said, "There is a tradition of wearing dhotī-baṇḍī for Gosvāmīs. There should be some alternative for this also. Humans have reached the moon and we are still living in the Stone Age." The older generation used to say, "You will look like a clerk if you wear pants and a shirt. You will lose your self- identity." The middle generation said, "it looks like both are extreme. The time has gone for wearing Dhoti. We also understand that we should not wear pant-shirts, but we should at least get permission to wear kūrtā ." Hearing this, I replied, "The people who had gone to the moon were neither wearing dhotī-baṇḍī nor paint-shirt! Therefore, if you have to go to the moon, you should wear pants, but living in India, Dhoti is a better option. I am surprised that kūrtā has been suggested! That means that everyone wants to decide on their choice. No one wants to follow the scriptures. Due to some of your personal reasons, you are not able to follow traditions, which is why you are doing whatever your mind wants you to do. That cannot be termed 'Dharma'. The downfall of society happens only due to this mismanagement of desires”.
Someone suggested we should change according to the social changes. I remember one incident. When I went to college, one of the teachers was so furious after looking at me that he said, ”Maharaj, please change a little bit. the world is moving forward.'' I really became nervous after hearing him. But I decided to do some drama. I asked him, "Sir, I am unable to understand you.'' He said, "The world has moved forward. You should at least wear something.'' I showed my Dhoti and Uparna (stole) and asked him, ”Is it not clothing?'' He said, ''Yes, these are clothes. Still, your body is visible in these clothes.” Hearing this, I was so happy that now our discussion was on track I wanted it to be. I said, "Sir, according to some new fashion, the hippies roam around completely nude. I don't want to be that nude. Thus I prefer to be half nude. Your high neck coat itself is quite an old- fashioned. Now, if you ask me to become modern like hippies, then I will not wear anything.” He blush fully replied, "No, I didn't mean it.'' So it's difficult to move according to how the world moves. Are we ready to become that forward? If you are not prepared, then be there where you are. Therefore, I don't trust the new world. I firmly believe that whatever we can do according to the scriptures; we should try to do it. If we are unable to do it, then we should at least feel sorry about it due to our inability to do so. So, if I start moving forward, I might have to become like a hippie one day! Whatever principles of purity Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya had suggested already existed in Shruti, Smriti and Puraan five hundred years ago. He never revealed anything new. Whatever already existed, he elaborated on that. Similarly, on the ethics of our sect, he suggested that whatever you can follow, you should follow. Do not try to break it because your ego says, ”we can follow it. Still, we will break it because the world has moved forward!” Such hypocritical behaviour should not be adopted against the scriptures. Whatever you can follow, follow it with humility. Whatever you cannot follow, accept it as your incapability. Every human being understands what can be followed and what cannot be. As far as possible follow it. We could not understand the above concept. Hence, we are seeing all the ill results. I have been studying all the scriptures written by Shri Mahāprabhujī since the sixties and till today not even a single day had gone when I was not in touch with these scriptures. To date, I have not seen a single line written by him suggesting that seva cannot be done without water from the well. Mahāprabhujī himself considered water from the well as impure. Mahāprabhujī understood that you cannot bring Yamuna or Ganga to every village. Therefore, if you have a well in your village, you are permitted to use water from the well. Whatever liberty is given, we have considered it as a rule! If I permit you to sit here and after that, I go to Mumbai and you continue to sit here because Maharajshri has given orders! There is a difference between permission and order. We must understand this. We will submerge seva in the well, but we will not do seva without a well. How surprising!! In which scripture Mahāprabhujī has said this?
If you ask me, "I have been initiated in Puṣṭimārga, then which side of the road should I drive my vehicle?” To this, what should be my reply? if you are in India, drive on the left side; if you are in America, drive it on the right. I won't tell you all this. In whichever country you are in, follow the rules and regulations of that country. How much tax do you have to deposit and how much do you have to save? How can I tell you all this? You have to decide all this based on the situation.
The kind of respect we have for our elders, Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya has similar respect for our scriptures. That is why Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya has not refuted the ethics of our scriptures. He has not said, "Whatever is written in the scriptures is all false, All old customs are useless, throw it in a dustbin.” We thought that Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya made this system of ethics and manners to make us understand; and since he has made these custom, we will throw seva, if the need arises, instead of ethics or manners of purification!
I usually say that it is a common behaviour of human being that if something is falling on his head, he raises his arm to save the head. Why is it so? Because he considers that the head is more valuable than the arm. Even if his arm gets hurt, he will try to save his head. Will anybody put his head to save his arm? Nobody will do it, But we are trying to do such things. To save our arm of ethics or manners of purity, we put our head of seva in front. No matter even if seva gets hurt, our ethics should not get hurt.
Our ethics are just like our hands. Life without them can make us handicapped, but please try to understand that if you try to save an arm in place of the head, then along with the head, the arm will also be damaged. We, in the illusion of complex ethics, are leaving our seva. As a matter of fact, the system of Aachaar-Vichaar (manners) has been broken since the time of Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya, maybe even before him.
Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya appeared in this world much later to assure us not to worry. Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya promoted the path of grace (Pushtimarg) to assure us that there is nothing to worry about. Although everything that was there for your upliftment has been corrupted, still, if your devotion towards Kṛṣṇa is not corrupted, then nothing can stop you from your upliftment. Take utmost care to save this sole devotion towards him because the ethics or manners of purity (Aachaar-Vichaar) are for devotion towards Kṛṣṇa. If there is any use for these ethics, it is for the seva of Kṛṣṇa. Any ethics which make you leave Kṛṣṇa-seva is not ethical but unethical. Try to understand very clearly that, as per Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya's philosophy, that is not a good thought.
Many things can be done and many things cannot be done. By Listening to one discourse, you cannot decide what can be done and what cannot be done. One should ask oneself by keeping his hand on his heart, "what is possible for me to do?''. It should be clear in your mind that what can be done, must be done. And how to do the things which cannot be done? You should ask someone the right way to do it. Seek advice from your Guru" You are asking me to do this, but I am unable to do it. What should I do?” No fixed principle can be derived on what should be done and what should not be.
Question: What are the basic principles of Śrīmad Vallabhāchārya's Puṣṭimārga?
Answer: Science says that matter is three-dimensional, that is, length, breadth and depth. Similarly, the human being has three dimensions - action, understanding and emotions. For example, a fan can rotate but cannot understand that it is rotating. A few more examples; A computer, which runs and also understands. When it is automatically switched off, it gives us an alarm and understands when it is running and when it is not. But it doesn't have emotions. It cannot express that it has to run. It runs based on certain programming. But we human beings have all three dimensions. We act, we understand that we are doing some action and have certain emotions towards our action, such as whether we like or dislike that particular action.
Keeping in view these three dimensions, Mahāprabhujī proposed three aspects of his principles. The first one is understanding. For the 'understanding' aspect, Mahāprabhujī proposed his principle of śuddhādvaita (a.k.a. Brahmavāda). Brahmavāda has a straightforward meaning. Everything is Brahman. The entire world and universe is a part of Brahman. There is nothing outside Brahman. For example, gold and its ornaments are not two different things. Gold only has been transformed to make ornaments. Similarly, Jagadīśa (God) and Jagat (the creation), Brahman(Ultimate reality) and the soul are not two things.
Some people think that whatever looks like 'two or another' (Dvaita) is an illusion when it is one. Some people believe in the existence of ONE Supreme power. When they do so, they also believe that whatever is visible as dvaita (duality) is an illusion or māyā. Mahāprabhujī has not proposed such a closed-minded thought of Oneness. For instance, the palm is one. It is one because you have counted it as a palm, but it has five fingers. So 1=5 is a possibility, and 5=1 also is a possibility. Mathematics can never explain this phenomenon, but we all know that in the case of the palm, 1=5 is possible. If we counted lines in place of fingers, it would have become infinite! That means one can be equal to infinite. Same thing Upanishad explains - That 'One' tatva (element) has transformed itself into many. So this is a sort of a stylish act of Brahman in front of Brahman. It is a līlā that 'one' has become 'many'. Mahāprabhujī explains that we should be clear in our mind that whatever is happening, Whatever was there, whatever is there, whatever would be there, everything is because of His wish. You should convince your intellect or understanding according to this fact. According to Mahāprabhujī, therefore, there is no need for competition in various sects because all the sects are inspired only by Him. If there is another force such as the devil, then only he will give the inspiration to create a different sect!
The Pope ordered some pastors to preach Christianity in India about 400 to 500 years ago. All the pastors came here with a lot of enthusiasm. But one of the disciples of Jesus, Saint Thomas, had already come to India during Jesus' time. His mausoleum is still there in Chennai. He had already propagated Christianity about 1500 years before the arrival of new pastors. Those pastors had come to India to preach to us (according to them, 'the tribal people') the divine message of Jesus. But Saint Thomas had already given it much before. Having seen this, they became very nervous. They wrote a letter to the Bishop that you had sent us to preach Christianity, but it has already been disseminated by a devil here. They later learned that it was not the devil but Saint Thomas.
So, when a man becomes egoistic, he thinks that "I will convert people”, then some devil appears and preaches in advance. When there is no ego and we understand that God is one, then whichever religion is propagated, it is by God's will. The question is, which religion would you like to follow? When Kṛṣṇa went to Duryodhana carrying the message of Pandavas, Duryodhana said, "Tie him up. He is talking too much.” On this, Kṛṣṇa said, "Go ahead, and tie me up”. And He appeared in several forms and stood beside each pillar of that Palace and said, "Go ahead, tie me up if you can! How many forms of mine can you tie?” There were not enough chains to tie so many of his forms. Human beings can't match the number of religions inspired by God. The question is not about tying all the forms, but which of his forms you can understand. Kṛṣṇa had shown infinite faces and infinite hands to Arjun in Mahabharata. Having seen this, Arjun said - "Please show me your original form because I can understand and talk only to that.” So, with two hands, you cannot catch somebody who has infinite hands.
There was a philosopher named Xenophon in Greece. The religion of Greece was also as prosperous as ours, and they used to worship beautiful idols. Xenophon was quite an intelligent person. He ridiculed the idea of idol worshipping and said, "Man only created the idols of God as human beings. This is because he knew the art of making sculptures. if a horse knew how to make a sculpture, he would have made it like a horse.” After listening to this, many people in India started refuting idol worship without understanding the sincerity of Indian philosophy. As per Indian philosophy, God has also taken a form of a horse, that is Hayagrīva, and the form of a lion as well, that is Narasiṃha. He has taken a form of a fish as Matsya avatāra. He has taken the form of a tortoise and also the form of a human being. We have accepted God in every form. Whichever form you can think of, it is taken only by God. By taking many Avatars in various forms, He is time and again assuring us about this philosophy. Xenophon cannot create fear in us. For us, a horse doesn't need to create God's image in the form of a horse because even being human, we have created God in the form of a horse, in the form of an elephant as Ganesh. We can create all His forms because we appreciate all His forms as He is Omnipresent. We do not consider that He is sitting in seventh heaven with all his divine powers, which cannot be explained in words. Can He take the form of stone? We say, "Yes! God has taken the form of a stone as śāligrāma, He has taken the form of an idol, He has taken the form of a metal, He is everything.
But the question is, which one of His forms would you like to choose? You cannot choose all the forms. That is your limitation. The human being does not have so much power in his actions, in his understanding, in his emotions that even after having understood all His forms, he can make all of those forms intimate to himself and worship. For example, I understand that you are one of the forms of God, but if you start quarreling with me, I will not be able to treat you as God.
One Svāmijī made an Aashram after taking renunciation. Since it was an Aashram, many of his disciples started living there. So, they had to bear the expenditure of such a big infrastructure. Somebody donated agricultural land to him so that the income from the eld could be used for the Aashram's expenditure. But renunciation has a rule that you cannot beat or scold anybody. You have to take the oath to make people fearless. As soon as the farmers came to know that even if they didn't pay taxes on the agricultural production to Svāmijī, he would not take any action. As a result, the money stopped coming to the Aashram, and it was difficult to meet the expenses. Svāmijī expressed this problem to the Donor. He suggested, "You cannot give punishment to anybody but can't you give knowledge of Brahman to all?” On this, Svāmijī said, "Yes, that I can give.”. The donor immediately suggested, "Please make a wooden slipper for you. With that, start beating the farmers who do not pay taxes and tell them it is a sort of Brahman-Gyan.” Svāmijī started following this. After this, all the farmers understood that if they did not pay the tax, they would get Brahman-Gyan in return, so they started paying taxes.
So, even if we consider this Jagat (world) as a myth, then also in this mythical Jagat (world), to run an Aashram, you will have to give Brahmajñāna ! Without Brahmajñāna, nothing will work. Jagat has its limitations, and principles have their own. Whatever man can understand, he is not able to do even that. Mutual behaviour has its limitations and affection has its limitations. The scriptures have given one sermon keeping in mind the aspect of 'action' in humans.
Once one śāstrījī was performing śrāddhakarma in his house; so, he asked his wife to make khīra for the invited Brahmins. When the khīra was ready, then the wife thought of tasting it. She thought, “why should I not taste it because, in the end, khīra is one form of Brahman, I am also one form of Brahman and the invited Brahmins are also Brahman. Scriptures say there is no difference in any form of Brahman, so I can pretty well take it.” In the meantime, śāstrījī brought all the Brahmins to his house. He saw his wife tasting the khīra. He shouted, ”What have you done? the khīra was meant for Brahmins and you have already tasted it?” The wife replied, "śāstrījī, You have only made me understand that - "I am Brahman, khīra is Brahman and invited Brahmins are also Brahman. So, how does it make a difference whether they consume or I consume?" Hearing this, śāstrījī started thinking about how come Brahman appeared suddenly in all the places. He immediately picked up the burning wood and started beating his wife with it. The wife cried, "Please don't do this, I am getting a burn”. śāstrījī said, "This piece of wood is Brahman, you are also Brahman.'!
It is very easy to say that everything is Brahman, but we like khīra in the form of Brahman and do not like burning wood on our skin in the form of Brahman. Although, both are forms of Brahman but man is really very smart. He understands all the principles but uses only those principles which are suitable to him. It is very easy to consider khīra or a friend or the bearded Maharaj as Brahman, but firewood or a biting street dog cannot be understood as Brahman. It's not very easy.
The principle of understanding cannot be proved wrong by actions because behind every action, our understanding works. For example, the bulb in the torch gives light, but a battery gives power to this bulb. Similarly, the bulb of our action will get light from the behaviour according to the tenets of the scriptures. We cannot decide what we should do and should not by understanding "everything is Brahman”. We will have to decide all our actions based on the directions given by the scriptures. However, there is a battery power of Brahmavāda behind this. Our understanding will work as a battery in our torch, and the scriptures' tenets will guide our light. Gita will give guidance to Hindus, Quran will guide Muslims, Bible will guide Christians, and ṣoḍaśa granthas will guide us Puṣṭimārgīya on the matters of what we can do and cannot do. Until and unless you have conquered your attachments and hatred within you, you will not get the guidance of your actions by simply understanding that 'everything is Brahman'. From the scriptures, you will get directions about your actions and understanding that "everything is Brahman' and this understanding will work as a battery. Even after understanding that 'everything is Brahman', your actions should be based on the expectations of the scriptures. For example, you cannot drive on the wrong side of the road by understanding that everything is Brahman. As the Transport Department sets rules and regulations for driving your vehicle, similarly, scriptures have given guidelines for our actions. Therefore, for our understanding, Mahāprabhujī has given the principle of Brahmavāda but scriptures will give guidance for our actions.
First, you must understand 'who you are?' before deciding on your actions. If you are a father, then raising your son is your duty. If you are a student, then studying is your duty. If you have a family, taking care of your family is your first duty. Whatever has been explained so far is about Varnashrama. if you are a Shaiv, then devotion towards Shiv is your duty. If you are a Vaishnava, Vishnu Pujan is your duty. If you are a Muslim, Namaz is your duty. If you are a Puṣṭimārgīya, your duties will be decided based on ṣoḍaśa-Granth written by Shri Mahāprabhujī. 'Everything is Brahman' will not decide your duties. Also, you cannot decide your duties by simultaneously following Shaivism, Quran, Bible etc. Your duties will be decided based on 'who are you?' and which scripture you follow. Can you become so broad-minded that your actions become out of focus? The broadness of the mind doesn't mean that your actions also become broad! For example, the injection can only be given by a qualified doctor. You cannot expect a fire brigade man to give you an injection. If everybody starts taking all the actions in society, then that society itself will get dilapidated.
To decide on the emotional aspects of human-being, Mahāprabhujī says that our devotion or affection should only be with Kṛṣṇa. It is a limitation of our sect Puṣṭimārga. If somebody is Shaiv, he should have affection towards Shiv. If somebody is a Muslim, his affection should be with Allah. This is the basic principle of Shri Mahāprabhujī. First, please understand yourself. Only then you will come to know what you have to do or what your action should be and towards whom your devotion should be. 'Everything is Brahman', but Your devotion cannot be towards all.
One of my college friends used to say, "All the Gujarati girls are like Maniben. Even if they come for a picnic, they don't dance but continue to sit. They don't get mixed up with us.” I thought that he was a very broad-minded person. After completion of his study, one day, he came to invite me for his marriage. I asked him, ``Who are you getting married to?” He said, "There is a Gujarati girl”. I again asked, "Why to get married to Maniben?” He said, "In college life, you need a modern girl, but in the family, you need only Maniben.'' That means you want both sides of a coin together. For family life, you need Maniben, and in college, you get angry with such types of girls. That means there is a problem with the foundation of your emotions. So you must rst understand yourself. If you are a Mani Bhai, Maniben will only be suitable for you, but if you are not, Maniben is not suitable. Therefore, Mahāprabhujī is not giving this advice to all, but whoever has taken initiation of Aṣṭākṣara and Brahmasambandha, it is for those people only.
As per the principles of Shri Mahāprabhujī, there is no snatching of disciples or forcible conversion of people, but the prime requirement is - to devote yourself to one form of Brahman because the human being has the limitation. For Brahman, it is otherwise. He is omnipresent, but we cannot have relations with all his forms even after understanding His omnipresence. After duly knowing the limitations of our actions, understanding, and emotions, we should face Brahman. Whichever form of God you feel is dear to you, offer him everything, with whatever you have, without exerting unnecessary pressure on yourself and with whatever your soul gets pleasure in. Brahman has come to your house to accept your offerings. if you have laḍḍūs in your house, offer those. If you have a gram In your house, offer that. In one of the vārtā, it is mentioned that on a particular day, the Vaishnava did not have anything. So, he offered only water to Kṛṣṇa. Whatever is easily available In your house, the Kṛṣṇa will only accept that. This is the basic principle of Shri Mahāprabhujī.