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Beyond Christianity


In the following conversation, Srila Sridhar Maharaj compares theistic beliefs with some Christian students from America.

Christian: Can you explain the Vaisnava viewpoint of Christianity?

Sridhar Maharaj: Christianity is incomplete Vaisnavism—not full-fledged, but the basis of devotional theism. We find the principle of "Die to live" there to a certain extent, at least physically. The Christians say that the ideal shown by Jesus is self-sacrifice. In our consideration, however, that is not full-fledged theism, but only the basis. It is an unclear, vague conception of Godhead: "We are for Him." But how much? And in what shape, in what attitude? All these things are unexplained and unclear in Christianity. Everything is hazy, as if seen from far off. It does not take any proper shape. The cover is not fully removed, allowing us to come face to face with the object of our service. The conception of service to God is there, and a strong impetus to attain that, so the foundation is good, but the structure over the foundation is unclear, vague, and imperfect.

Christian: Christians like the ideas of surrender, service, and giving everything to God.

Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, that is common. But surrender to whom?

Christian: Christians say that Jesus is the only way.

Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, and his way is "Die to live," but what for? What is our positive attainment? What is our positive engagement in the Lord's service? We must not only submit in gratefulness to the highest authority, but we must have a direct connection with Him, and cent percent engagement in His service. Simply going on in our own way, praying, "Oh God, give us our bread," going to the church once a week is not sufficient. Twenty-four hour engagement is possible in full-fledged theism. God can engage us twenty-four hours a day—we must attain that position: full engagement with Him. Everything else is subordinate to that position.




Christian: There are some Christian traditions that are very similar to Krishna consciousness.

Sridhar Maharaj: They are very akin in their foundation. We agree that we must sacrifice everything for God. But who is He? And who am I? And what is our relationship? Christianity gives us only a hazy conception.

In the Christian conception, when Adam and Eve were surrendered, they had no problems in life. But then they tasted the fruit of the tree of knowledge, calculation of self-interest, and they fell, and were forced to live a life of labor. Only a general idea of our relationship with God is given there, but when we have to define in detail the characteristics of God, and in which relationships to approach Him, Christianity gives us only a hazy idea.

Once some Christian priests told our guru maharaj that madhurya rasa (conjugal relationship with God) is also found within Christianity. In the middle ages, there was a fashion amongst the Christians to consider Christ as a bridegroom, and some parable is also given where Lord Jesus Christ is considered as a bridegroom. So, they said that madhurya rasa, the consort relationship, is also found within Christianity. Prabhupad told them, "That is with His Son, with His devotee; not with God." Son means guru, the deliverer.




Their conception of God is the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Ghost. The Ghost is perhaps considered to have the highest position. If it is so, then Christianity ends in brahmavada nirvisesa. Do you follow?

Christian: Yes. I think you explained before that Brahman means the impersonal aspect of God's existence.

Sridhar Maharaj: God the Father means God the creator. God the Son is guru. And God as Ghost perhaps holds the supreme position in Christianity: over the Father conception, and over the Son conception. If that is the case, then their understanding goes to impersonal Brahman.

I was told that once in a drama in Germany, they had to show the figure of God, so in some high position in a balcony they put a figure of grave nature with a gray beard, commanding from there. God the Father was shown like that. That is their idea: the Fatherhood of Godhead, a gray-bearded, old man as God. But from the consideration of rasa and ananda, ecstasy, God should be the center of all different relationships, including sonhood, and consorthood.

To conceive of God as our Father is an incomplete understanding, for parents are also servitors. He must be in the center; not in any extremity of the whole. He is not simply watching over the whole; the conception of Krishna is that of God in the center. Of all approaches to God, the approach for a loving relationship is supreme. The intensity of that relationship is to be considered, and God must be at the center of all loving relationships. Anandam brahmano vidvan. Ananda is the most precious thing ever discovered. And the full representation of the highest ananda should be considered as the highest absolute which can attract everyone: not by power, not by force, but by charm. The center of all attraction is Krishna. His attraction is by beauty, by charm, and by love—and not by coercion and force. That is the Krishna conception of Godhead.

Christian: Christians are afraid to go beyond Jesus, because Jesus has warned us about cheaters.

Sridhar Maharaj: I am not speaking about the Christians; I am speaking about Jesus, who has given the ideals of Christianity. I am speaking about the principles of Jesus. He has given some understanding by installments, but not full knowledge. We agree about the strong foundation of theism. Jesus was crucified because he said, "Everything belongs to my Father. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, and render unto God that which is His." So, the foundation is very good; it is laudable, but that is only the first installment of the theistic conception.

Who is my Lord? What is His nature? Who am I? What is my inner self, and what is my connection with Him? How can I live continuously in His memory and service? The conception that we are meant for Him, designed and destined for Him, is laudable, but it must be clarified. We must attain the highest position. All these things are absent in Christianity. Only sacrifice for the Lord is given, and that is all right, it is the basic necessity of the soul. But after that, what is to be achieved? They are silent.




Christian: They are afraid to go beyond Jesus.

Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, but there is so much grace, so much love in divinity that God can sit on our lap and embrace us. A much more intimate connection is unfolded in Vaisnavism. But if we are afraid to cross the fundamental advice of Jesus, then we become sahajiyas (imitationists). We must risk everything for our Lord and make our position firm in His service. We must die to live. And what is living? We have to analyze what real life is. And if without dying, we want to drag God into our fleshy play, then we become sahajiyas, imitationists.

We must cross the threshold given by Jesus. He has declared, "Die to live." The Lord's company is so valuable to us that we must risk everything for Him. This material achievement is nothing; it is all poison. We must have no attraction for it. We must be ready to leave everything, all our material prospects and aspirations, including our body, for Him. God is great. But what is His greatness? What is my position? How can I engage myself in His service twenty-four hours a day? Here, Jesus is silent.

We receive no specific program from the Christians at this stage, so Vaisnavism comes to our heart's relief, to satisfy our inner necessity, whatever it may be. Our inner thirst will be quenched there. You may be conscious or unconscious of the many demands within you, but they will reach full satisfaction in its most beautiful form there alone. It is not only that from far off we shall show God some reverential salute, but we can have Him in a very intimate way. The ideal of an intimate loving connection with God has been given by Vaisnavism, especially by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, by Srimad-Bhagavatam, and in Vrndavana, the land of Krishna.

The feeling of possessing anything here in the material world cannot be real; it is a perverted reflection, but that feeling must be present in the original world, otherwise what is its origin? From where do the different feelings of necessity within us come? They must be present in the causal world, for everything is emanating from Krishna. So, the hankering of every atom of our body, mind, and soul will receive its greatest fulfillment there. This understanding is given by Vaisnavism, by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, by Srimad-Bhagavatam, and by Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.




Christian: I've heard of the Bhagavad-gita. What is the history of its origin?

Sridhar Maharaj: In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, "What I am saying to you now is not a new thing. I have already told this to Surya, the sun-god, and he delivered it to Manu, the father of man. In this way, this knowledge descended in disciplic succession, and by the influence of time it was finished. Again, I am repeating that ancient knowledge to you."

This refers to karma-yoga: "Don't care about the result, good or bad; go on with your duty. Then you can have general peace of mind."

Christian: What is the message of the Bhagavad-gita?

Sridhar Maharaj: There are different stages of education imparted in Bhagavad-gita: bhakti-yoga, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, astanga-yoga, so many different layers of theism, but pure devotional theism begins where Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya "Give up your affinity to all other activities, whether religious or nonreligious, and wholly surrender to Me. Don't try to push your demands on Me, but ask Me what will be most beneficial for you. And what shall I do on your behalf? Fully surrender to Me, and I will give Myself to you."

"All these other methods and their prospects are more or less effective and valuable, but don't aspire after anything but Me. That will be your highest prospect; to want Me, to have Me, to live in Me, to do what I say, to enter into My own personal family in my private life. That will be your highest attainment. Don't aspire for anything else from Me. The comparative study of all religious aspirations will show that the highest inner necessity may be satisfied by entrance into My personal private dealings."

Christian: Christians think that if we are to be sincere, we should follow the Bible. We take very literally the word of Christ.

Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, according to one's capacity he may be enlisted in a particular class. Some will go to Christianity, and after finishing that, if their hankering is still unsatisfied, they will seek somewhere else, thinking, "What is God? I want to know more perfectly."

In this regard, I can give one example: there was a Professor Nixon in England. He went to fight against Germany in the First World War, on the French side. As he was flying over the German lines, his airplane was hit, and began to fall. He saw that the plane would fall on the German lines. When I met him here in India, he told me, "At that time, I prayed, 'If there is any God, let Him save me, and I promise that if I do not die in this plane crash, I will go to search after Him. I will devote my whole life in search of Him."'

The plane crashed, and when Professor Nixon regained consciousness, he found that he was behind the French lines, in a hospital in France. At that time, He thought to himself, "There is God! He has heard my last prayer." When his wounds were healed, he went straight to England to see some churchmen. He told them, "I want to search after God, and engage myself twenty-four hours a day in the cause of His service. I want to see Him face to face."




He saw many clergymen and even some bishops, and they ultimately advised him, "If you want to see God face to face, then go to India. We cannot recommend such a process to you. But we have heard that in India there are yogis who internally connect with the Lord in the heart. You may try your fortune there." So, he came here to India, where he met the Vice-Chancellor of Lucknow University. In talking with him, Professor Nixon met the Vice-Chancellor's wife, who was a Gaudiya Vaisnava, a devotee of Mahaprabhu. He was so much charmed by her advice that he accepted her as his guru. Finally he took sannyas (the renounced order of life), and his name became Swami Krishna Prema. He established a temple here in India, and preached about bhagavata-dharma, and Mahaprabhu.

He made a comparative study of all religions, beginning from Christianity, and gradually came to Vaisnavism, attracted by Mahaprabhu's gift. One German scholar also said, "In all the religious conceptions of the world, the conception of twenty-four hour engagement with God (astakaliya-lila) has never been given. I have studied all religious theologies, but none could even conceive of twenty-four hour service to the Supreme Lord. It is only given in Srimad-Bhagavatam."

Rupa Goswami has given the scientific representation of Krishna: akhila-rasamrta-murtih. He is the reservoir of all possible pleasures. All possible tendencies for satisfaction that we may feel, and even those that we may not feel are present in Krishna and have their ideal, purest satisfaction with Him alone. He is all-accommodating and all-comprehensive. Whatever satisfaction our inner heart demands can be fulfilled only by Him.

Christian:Some Christians are so much afraid to go beyond the Bible that they will not make a study of other theistic beliefs.

Sridhar Maharaj: According to one's capacity, he will purchase in the market (sve sve 'dhikare ya nistha sa gunah parikirtitah). In the market, there may be valuable things, but the buyer must have some capacity to purchase them. The rsis, the tradesmen of knowledge have also gone so far as to say, "This is the highest. Go no further." Similarly, Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (3.35), svadharme nid-hanam sreyah para-dharmo bhayavahah: "Don't go ahead— you'll be doomed. Take your stand here; go no further."

Why is such a great warning given to us? Generally our teachers advise us, "Pay full attention here. Only then will you understand everything completely, and your march to the end-point will be sincere and satisfactory. Otherwise, sahajiyaism, imitationism will enter your heart. Do you think that in one leap you can capture the summit of a hill? Impossible. You must march, but your march must be sincere. You must make real progress, not imitative progress." This warning is given at every stage of life. "This is the highest for you. Give your whole attention to this. Don't be absent-minded and haphazard in your study. Engage yourself fully in this lesson, and the next higher stage will come to you automatically."

As a matter of policy, we are told that our present stage of instruction is the highest. When a professor comes to teach a child, he will accept the mentality of the child. He will say, "Only go so far, and no further. This is the final stage; give your whole attention to understanding this point, and when that is finished, then go further." In this way, by gradual installments, knowledge is revealed.

Christian: So, there are different stages for different persons?

Sridhar Maharaj: Bhaktivinoda Thakur has given his decision, in his Tattva-sutra, that although when Bhagavad-gita was spoken to Arjuna, he engaged himself in fighting, had it been Uddhava in place of Arjuna, after hearing the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita where Krishna says, "Give up everything and surrender to Me," Uddhava would have accepted this and gone away from the warfield. Upon hearing the same advice, Arjuna acted in one way, but Uddhava would have acted in another. After hearing the first installment of Krishna's instructions Arjuna tells Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita (3.1-2):

jyayasi cet karmanas te
mata buddhir janardana
tat kim karmani ghore mam
niyojayasi kesava

vyamisreneva vakyena
buddhim mohayasiva me
tad ekam vada niscitya
yena sreyo 'ham apnuyam

"You say that jnana, knowledge, is better than karma, work. Why then do you want to engage me in this dreadful karma of fighting?" Then Krishna said, "You have your capacity in karma: finish your career, and then you can aspire to come to the level of jnana, inquiry into knowledge. It is not a cheap thing to transcend all activity and attain naiskarmya, freedom from karma. First finish the course of your karma; then you will become free from karma, and gradually you will develop transcendental knowledge and devotion. So, I say, 'Engage yourself in this present fight.' Fighting is not recommended for everyone, but for you, and men of your section."

Christian: In your opinion, what stage of God realization should people be advised to follow?

Sridhar Maharaj: Krishna consciousness should be preached in a general way; and people will come according to their inner response. Some may even come to attack us. The communists will say, "No religious preaching is allowed here. It is all theoretical; you neglect the concrete world, and take the abstract to be everything. By hearing this, the people will suffer, so we won't allow it." That is one stage. Beginning from there, there are so many stages. If you preach to a crowd, those who find a response within their inner hearts will come to you according to the degree of their realization. Their inner demand will bring them in contact with an agent of truth.

Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj went to the West and preached, and so many converted to Krishna consciousness. How was it possible? They were not Gaudiya Vaisnavas, but they felt some inner affinity. While wandering in this world, everyone is gathering some new experience, some new taste. According to the degree of his awakenment, one will respond to a preacher in his own layer. He will find, "Oh! After so long, I see that there is the possibility of an outlet for the urge I found in my heart. There is a plane that can satisfy that aspiration of mine. I must connect with him and inquire of that land of my dreams." In this way, they will come to seek the association of devotees. "Birds of a feather flock together." According to their inner taste, they will come together and go on with their duties in that plane, at that pace, until from there they can go further, to a higher position. Sometimes in the same life one may change his creed and go higher, and sometimes one may wait until his next birth.

Christian: If the quality of preaching is too high, people may be discouraged.

Sridhar Maharaj: It may be too high for one and too near for another. It is not too high for all, for if it was, then how would conversion be possible? So many people are becoming Mohammedans, Christians, and Hindus. All Christians were not born Christians. How were people first attracted to become Christians? There arose in their hearts the hankering for Christianity.

When Acyutananda Swami, the first disciple of Bhaktivedanta Swami Maharaj, went to my birthplace here in Bengal, a headmaster asked him, "We are so near and we cannot appreciate the teachings of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu; how is it that from such a far off country, you have come to sacrifice your life for the service of Sri Chaitanyadeva?"

Acyutananda Swami answered, "Brahmanda bhrah-mite kona bhagyavan jiva. We have to acquire this capacity during the course of our wanderings in different positions throughout the creation."

We are wandering from this land to that land, from this species to that species, and in the course of that, we gather some sukrti, pious credits. Ajnata-sukrti means that unknowingly and unconsciously our energy is spent in the service of the Lord, and the reaction comes in the form of some pious credits. And when sukrti is more developed, it becomes jnata-sukrti, or pious activities knowingly performed. Then, sraddha, faith, our inner attraction for the universal truth comes to the surface. In this way it may develop from any stage. Even a beast may feel the tendency to serve Krishna. In Vrndavana, so many living beings; trees, beasts, and even the water have acquired their position by consciously desiring it. Although they have accepted an apparently material pose, they eternally hold that position in the service of Krishna.




Christian: There is one book called The Way of The Pilgrim, about a Christian who chants the name of Jesus on beads.

Sridhar Maharaj: Yes, the Catholics also use beads. Some Christians may chant the name of Christ.

Christian: This man was chanting the name of Jesus, his heart was growing soft, and he was feeling ecstasy, great love for Jesus.

Sridhar Maharaj: Then he may attain the position of Jesus, at most. It may be that in his attempt for perfection, his growth is finished there, in the eternal paraphernalia of Jesus. He may remain there. If he has found his fullest satisfaction, he is fated to be there.

By the will of God, and by the powerful will of an exalted devotee, even from the impersonal Brahman effulgence one may be roused from his slumber and moved to action in devotional service. Generally, they pass long ages there in the nondifferentiated plane, satisfied with their spiritual attainment; however, in the consideration of infinite time, nothing is very great or spacious. They may remain holding that position for a long time, so many dissolutions and creations may come and go, but the possibility remains that their slumber may be broken at any time. Since time immemorial, this created world has been in existence, and so many souls are ascending to the Brahman effulgence and again descending. So, even in the midst of the infinite Brahman effulgence, some souls are coming out. It is a question of infinity, so the position of Jesus may be considered as eternal, and the time may come when Jesus himself may be converted into Vaisnavism. It is not impossible.




Christian: Do you think that Jesus had awareness of Krishna as the Personality of Godhead?

Sridhar Maharaj: When his inner attainment is most closely detected, then we are bound to say that in the course of his eternal life, there is some possibility of his achieving Krishna.

Christian: I don't understand.

Sridhar Maharaj: Is Jesus stagnant or progressive? Where he has reached, is that finished forever, or is he dynamic?

Christian: Christians will say that he has full knowledge.

Sridhar Maharaj: So, is he stagnant there, finally fixed? Is that Jesus' position? Do the bishops say that his position is final? Does he have a progressive life? Or is Jesus alone barred from making further progress? Is he a member of the dynamic world? Or the stagnant world?

So, this is the nature of the infinite. Being finite, we are going to deal with the infinite? That is our ludicrous tendency. It is ludicrous for us to deal with the infinite.

Why is Krishna considered to be the Absolute Truth? This you should inquire about in a scientific way, step by step. As I have recommended, you should go on reading about that in the Sri Krishna Samhita, and the Brhad Bhagavatamrta. You should try to follow very minutely the dynamic development of theism as it is presented there.




Christian: As I understand it, reincarnation means that a soul may regress into a lower species by performing sinful acts. But how does it benefit a soul to be punished by taking birth in the animal species if later he has no recollection of this?

Sridhar Maharaj: Sometimes it is necessary for doctors to make a patient unconscious. Sometimes a dacoit is imprisoned and put under chains. When his movements will be detrimental to society, he is confined in a cell and chained.So, sometimes it is necessary to take away one's independence, his voluntary action. By suffering the reactions to his previous karma, one may be relieved; then again he may be given voluntary action. When by his voluntary will a soul has done so many misdeeds and acquired so many reactions, it is necessary that his freewill be stopped temporarily. He will be allowed to suffer the reactions of his previous sins, and then again some freedom will be given to him so that he may take the proper course which is useful for him. As long as a drunkard is a drunkard, when he is expected to do some mischief to the environment, he should be confined. And when the madness of drinking is gone, then he will be released and allowed to move freely.




Christian: Christians generally don't accept that animals have souls.

Sridhar Maharaj: Jesus did not care to bring his followers within that conception. He saw that they were accustomed to eating animals and fish, so he did not want to embarrass them with all these questions. He thought they should begin theistic life, and when again they are able to consider these points, at that time they may be given this installment.

Life is also present within the nonhuman species, and it is no less qualified than the human position, but in the course of the evolutionary movement of the soul, it is thrown into such a condition as the result of karma. Wherever life is present, the soul is there within. It is a common thing, but Jesus thought it would be impossible for them to adjust their understanding of the environment to such a degree. He thought to let them begin with the culture of theism, and then gradually such instruction could be given.

He told them, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." That is also good. But not only is the soul present there; God is also there, and everywhere. The lower species are also feeling pain and pleasure. In animals it is quite clear that when they are killed, they feel pain. So, there is life. The vibration of pain is there, consciousness is there, and the soul is a unit of pure consciousness. But the persons to whom Jesus preached were not so qualified as to extend their knowledge that far. They are not prepared for such a great amount of sacrifice in their practices. So, for those who are not prepared to sacrifice themselves to such an extent, Christianity has been given by Jesus.

Still, everything has been ordained from the same common center. Christianity has its necessity, Islam also has its necessity. There is room for such creeds in the universe. They are not unnecessary, but they hold a relative position.

Then what is the position of the Absolute Truth? When we have to inquire deeply about this, then we come to India. There it has been dealt with very extensively, with all possible conceptions of religion. So many variegated theological conceptions are found in India that a fraction of that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But ultimately, Srimad-Bhagavatam was given as the highest conception. How? That we have to understand and follow very minutely. You should study the Brhad Bhagavatamrta and its more modern form, Sri Krishna Samhita by Bhakti Vinoda Thakur.

Christian: I have read that.

Sridhar Maharaj: But you must read it more closely, and more scrutinizingly. You must read that again and again, until you find satisfaction, and answers to all your inquiries. There, the gradation of our relationship with God is shown, explaining how from a particular stage of theism, one is forced to progress to a higher level of attainment.





Krishna Consciousness: Love and Beauty
Saints, Scriptures, and Gurus
Fossilism vs. Subjective Evolution
Origin of the Soul
Knowledge above Mortality
Six Philosophies of India
Beyond Christianity
Levels of God Realization
The Krishna Conception
The Hare Krishna Mantra
Service of the Holy Name
Nectar of the Holy Name
Reality the Beautiful
Explanation of Math Logo