Is Krishna Consciousness a Religious Faith?
By Sankirtana dasa
From experience I have come to recognize that many Chinese devotees think of Krishna consciousness as the best of all religious faiths. They feel inspired by the example of devotees like Srila Prabhupada who make efforts to ‘preach’. Also are they well aware of the Bhagavad-gétä’s conclusive statement to “… abandon all types of other religions …” and hence they follow this instruction sincerely.
In China, unlike in India where the open practice of religious faith is commonplace, this particular approach to the teaching certainly has its downside. The problem lies not alone in that they face resentment from their fellow citizens. More worrisome is a superficial understanding of what the teachings of Bhagavad-gétä are about. Then what is a more profound understanding? If the practice of Krishna consciousness is not a religious faith, then how is it better defined?
In this article I’d like to show why devotees should reconsider the idea that Krishna consciousness is a religion. I will elaborate on how this is done by exploring the meaning of dharma.
The Bhagavad-gétä’s principal theme is centered on dharma. Summarizing his instructions, Lord Krishna refers to the conversation between him and Arjuna as dharmyaà saàvädam (18.70. Throughout their conversation Krishna and Arjuna used the word dharma 57 times. Arjuna for example, expressed his bewilderment about dharma (dharma-sammüòha-cetäù 2.7) and he calls Krishna the maintainer of dharma (çäçvata-dharma-goptä 11.18). Lord Krishna had already assured him that he appeared for the reestablishment of dharma (dharma-saàsthäpanärthäya 4.8) and later Krishna explains how under the influence of the mode of ignorance, people confuse adharma as dharma (adharmaà dharmam 18.32) And of course, as mentioned above, Lord Krishna finally instructs Arjuna to abandon all kinds of dharma (sarva-dharmän parityajya 18.66).
《博伽梵歌》最重要的主题集中在达尔玛之上。主奎师那在总结他的教导时提到他与阿尔诸那的对话是dharmyaà saàvädam (18.70) 奎师那和阿尔诸那在整个对话中使用了达尔玛这个词57次。比如阿尔诸那表达了他对达尔玛的困惑 (dharma-sammüòha-cetäù 2.7) ，并且他称呼奎师那为达尔玛的维系者 (çäçvata-dharma-goptä 11.18)。主奎师那已经使他确信他显现是为了重建达尔玛(dharma-saàsthäpanärthäya 4.8) ，后来奎师那解释了在愚昧属性的影响下的人们如何混淆阿达尔玛和达尔玛。当然，如上所提到的，主奎师那最后指示阿尔诸那放弃一切种类的达尔玛(sarva-dharmän parityajya 18.66)。
If by this apparent paradox of Krishna’s establishing dharma only to later declare to abandon dharma, I have aroused your curiosity to want to understand what precisely is meant by dharma, then please read on.
Dharma as a concept is no doubt difficult to actually understand for the modern mind. There is neither a direct nor an adequate translation for the word in any of the world’s other languages. That’s why, in his writings, Srila Prabhupada often translates dharma simply as ‘religion.’ He made it clear however that he uses this particular translation for the purpose of convenience and for want of a better single English term. He regularly expressed that dharma does not match the contemporary concept of religion: “Although the word dharma is often translated as ‘religion’ and religion is generally defined as a kind of faith, dharma is not in fact a kind of faith.” On the contrary, many of the current faith-based religious practices are opposed to dharma; they contain many elements from the realm of adharma.
The word dharma stems from the Sanskrit root dhr, which means to ‘hold, have or maintain.’ Dharma incorporates the ideas of ‘truth’, ‘duty’, ‘ethics’, ‘law’ and even ‘natural law’. The prefix ‘a’ before the word dharma as in adharma renders the opposite meaning, ‘untruth’, ‘unlawful’ etc. Arjuna, concerned about being involved with adharma, says that one consequence of him partaking in the war will be the rise of adharma, bound to result in unwanted population (1.40). Note that Arjuna is not concerned here about population increase but rather about the increase of people devoid of loyalty to the principles of dharma, of low quality mindset and consciousness.
Less ambiguous than the translation of the word dharma, ‘religion’, is the translation ‘religious principles’ or ‘the principles of religion.’ Srila Prabhupada uses this translation of dharma frequently. This slightly expanded translation has in it the word religion but now in the sense of principles that are unchanging, that are intrinsic to human level of existence. These are principles that uphold the universe, regardless of our faith. They exist whether we have discovered them or not, whether we accept them or not, whether we live by them or not. For example, the force of gravity existed before Newton discovered it and gave it a name. The ultimate principle is called sanätana dharma, or ‘eternal principle.’ It rules everywhere and forever, even if we happen to forget about it.
The various specific meanings of dharma, which emerge through different contexts in which the word is found, reveal the richness of the concept. For example, in the introduction to his translation of and commentary on the Gétä, Srila Prabhupada cautions the reader that his use of the word dharma when translated as "religion" is intended to mean sanätana-dharma, truly spiritual religion that applies to everyone, at all times, everywhere.
In this regard, some devotees recount a revealing interchange in the early seventies when Prabhupäda just finished an arrival press conference at J.F. Kennedy Airport (New York, USA). He was heading down a long concourse toward the exit, when a tardy television reporter came running up frantically, a huffing cameraman in tow. Thrusting a microphone in Prabhupäda’s face, the reporter gasped out: “How does your group differ from other Buddhists?” Looking the reporter in the eye, Prabhupäda said, “We have nothing to do with this Hinduism or Buddhism. We are teaching the truth, and if you are truthful, you will accept it.” Prabhupäda did not operate on the mental level in which the word ‘religion’ refers to a collection of particular historical faiths – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam etc. These denominations were of no relevance. To Prabhupäda, ‘religion’ was dharma, not some transitory faith.
Commenting on another frequent way of translating dharma as ‘occupation,’ Srila Prabhupada says that he purposely translates it like this because the word religion is misunderstood: "So here the translation, dharma, I have purposefully given, "occupation." Actually dharma is generally translated by the English word "religion." But religion is misunderstood. It is taken as a faith. Faith I may believe, faith, or may not believe. But actually, dharma does not mean. Dharma means occupation, which you cannot change.”
Dharma, or ‘occupational duty,’ as Srila Prabhupada elsewhere translates, can best be understood in the context of varëäçrama dharma, which is the organization of the various types of human services for the ultimate aim of perfecting that service propensity. One accomplishes this by sticking to the particular responsibilities of his own occupation, called sva-dharma (2.31), which is determined according to a person’s particular psychophysical condition (svabhäva 18.41) and by harmoniously accommodating it into the total scheme of a God-centered society.
达尔玛或“职责“，如圣帕布帕德在别的地方翻译的，能最好地在varëäçrama dharma的语境中被理解。varëäçrama dharma是为了使人类的服务倾向达到完美的终极目标而设的各种服务类型的体制。一个人通过坚持履行他自己的职业中的特定责任并使其和谐地适应于在以神为中心的社会来达到这个目标。一个人自己的职责被称为sva-dharma (2.31)，是根据一个人的特定的心理状况而定的(svabhäva 18.41)。
Certainly, Arjuna’s varëäçrama-dharma practice differs from the present caste system found in India, where a person's varëa and äçrama is decided solely by his birth. Even if a person born into a family of working class people exhibits the qualities of a learned brähmaëa, still, according to the present caste system, he must remain a laborer. A person's varëa should however be determined by his actual qualities. Otherwise one commits adharma. Furthermore, the occupational activities of every section of society should be executed as an offering to Krishna (mad-arpaëam 9.27), something that few people in India at present do. Most people act for their personal interest.
当然，阿尔诸那的varëäçrama-dharma实践不同于我们现在在印度发现的种姓制度。在印度一个人的varëa和 äçrama只是由出身而定。即便一个出生在劳工阶层家庭的人展现出了一个博学的brähmaëa的品质，依据当前的种姓制度，他还是必须做一名劳工。然而一个人的varëa 应当由他的实际品质所决定。否则一个人就犯了阿达尔玛。此外，社会的每个部门的职业活动应当作为给奎师那的供奉来被实行(mad-arpaëam 9.27)。目前在印度很少人这样做。多数人为了他们的个人利益而行事。
History has shown that no society can long sustain itself without proper application of varëäçrama-dharma. Dharma, symbolized as a bull, is the father of economic progress, sensory fulfillment, liberation, and ultimately pure love of God. When dharma is neglected, troubles begin. The bull and cow stand symbolic for dharma and the earth respectively. At the same time, both play a significant role for human society to live in a sustainable manner. For example, a farmer has the duty to grow food and make sure the soil does not deplete as he has to hand over the plot of land in a good condition to the next generation (18.44). For this purpose he uses the bull to plough and the manure to fertilize. Food is grown locally and also consumed locally. The milk of the cow provides additional nutrition. In this way, the basic needs of humans are effortlessly covered. If the motive is elevated from the plain utilitarian to a desire to attain eternal existence, the work becomes karma-yoga and leads to spiritual perfection (18.45-46).
In modern society cows and bulls are mostly raised for meat. Tractors are used instead of bulls. People live in big cities and food has to be transported at great expense and endeavor. The energy needed to make this all work comes from fossil fuels. Any expectations that an ever-increasing supply of energy will meet demand in the coming years are destined to be disappointed. Instead, recurring shortages, rising prices, and mounting discontent are the conditions of the globe’s energy supply. Furthermore, an increase in the use of such fuel enhances climate change, since they emit carbon dioxide. All of this vividly illustrates that deviating from dharma (adharma) brings about destruction. Mother Earth, depicted as a cow, has been bruised and beaten and her children are in a biosphere about to collapse.
One can envision occupational duties or the unchanging principles (dharma) as the foundation of a building. Only when the foundation is solid, is it safe for the next phase, the next floor to be constructed. Pursuing the metaphor of a building where dharma is the first building block that ensures a sustainable mode of living, we now look at the next floor where attempts to transcend the material world take place. There we find a variety of processes described throughout the Bhagavad-gétä: karma-yoga, jïäna-yoga, añöäìga-yoga and buddhi-yoga. Each brings about equilibrium to the mind enabling one to overcome the binding forces of the three modes of nature. The forces of the lower modes drag pure consciousness down to selfish motives (käma (3. 37), impeding the execution of occupational duties. Arjuna is encouraged to perform his occupational duty of fighting but is pressed to raise his level of motivation from the lowest, namely fame and selfish enjoyment (2.32-37) to pure devotion (18.65).
我们可以把职责或不变的原则（dharma）想象为一座建筑物的基础。只有基础坚固，下一个阶段，下一层建起来才是安全的。我们把确保可持续的生存方式的达尔玛比作建筑物的第一层。我们现在来看第二层。那里是我们试图超越物质世界的地方。我们在那里发现了在《博伽梵歌》里自始至终被描述的一系列方法： karma-yoga, jïäna-yoga, añöäìga-yoga 和 buddhi-yoga。每种方法都致使心意平静，使人得以征服三种自然属性的束缚力。低等属性的力量把纯净的意识向下拽入自私的动机 (käma (3. 37)，阻碍职责的履行。阿尔诸那被鼓励履行他作战的职责，但被迫将他的动机层面从最低的名声和自私的享乐(2.32-37)提升到纯粹的奉爱(18.65)。
Inaction is not an option, as Srila Prabhupada writes, because “…the nature of the soul is to be always active.” (3.5 purport) But the motive for action, or occupations, can be reformed through yoga so that one attains ultimately the third floor of the building, which is the liberated state where selfless service to the Supreme Lord takes place (18.54). This attainment is the perfection of all the yoga systems. Krishna recommends karma-yoga over jïäna-yoga as the better choice for attaining this perfection (3.7, 5.2). However, throughout the Gétä Lord Krishna offers hints to show that to act for his pleasure is even better. When the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna takes most intimate turns, Krishna directly demands devotional service, bhakti, as the perfection of his dharma (3.30, 8.7, 9.34, 10.8-11). Stating that dharma means the ‘inherent characteristic of a particular thing’ is often used in the context that every soul is active and has the inherent capacity to love and serve God.
不活动不是一个选择，如圣帕布帕德所写的，因为“......灵魂的本性是永远活跃。” (3.5要旨) 但是活动或职业的动机可以通过瑜伽来改变，以便人最终达到建筑物的第三层，也就是解脱的境界。在那里对至尊主的无私服务发生了(18.54)。此成就是一切瑜伽体系的完美境界。奎师那推荐卡尔玛瑜伽超过格亚纳瑜伽。前者是达到此完美的更好选择 (3.7, 5.2)。然而，主奎师在《博伽梵歌》里自始至终都给予暗示以表明为了他的快乐而行事更好。当奎师那和阿尔诸那之间的对话到了极亲密时，奎师那直接要求奉献服务，巴克提，作为他的达尔玛的完美(3.30, 8.7, 9.34, 10.8-11)。陈述达尔玛的意思是“特定事物的固有特征”常常被用在每个灵魂都是活跃的并且有爱和服务神的固有能力的语境中。5
Srila Prabhupada points out that the word ekam (18.66), meaning ‘one,’ shows that our ultimate duty is the same. All varieties of services find their unity in bhakti – the full realization and perfection of dharma. Bhakti is a purer stage of performing occupational duties compared to simply executing the obligations of varëäçrama for temporary gain. All along, while speaking about the conditions of the first floor or about yoga, sense control and the realization of our spiritual identity, Krishna points to the ideal of eventual culmination in devotional service.
圣帕布帕德指出意思是“一”的 ekam (18.66)这个词表明我们最高的责任是一样的。一切种类的服务都在巴克提中达成了一致。巴克提是完全的觉悟和达尔玛的完美。比起为了短暂的所得而履行varëäçrama的义务，巴克提是履行职责的更纯粹的阶段。自始至终，奎师那在说到第一层的状况或者瑜伽，感官控制和对我们的灵性身份的觉悟时，他都指出了在奉爱服务中的最后的顶峰的理想。
Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that only God or his representatives can be recipient of this topmost level of dharma. The acceptance of this level of dharma, also known as bhägavata-dharma has an important implication: it doesn’t denote some specialized activity partitioned off from one’s life. It cannot rightly mean precisely what it has come to mean in modern times, namely an extra appendage to our ordinary activities. Bhägavata-dharma allows no separation between our so-called religion and our day-to-day life-style. It demands far more commitment and rewards consequently much more spiritual satisfaction.
Clearly, Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukñetra is not confused about what some perceive as a religion; he is concerned about his duty. Critics accuse 圣帕布帕德for misconstruing the message of the Gétä, thinking that he ‘preaches’ religion, particularly blaming him of overdoing it with the term ‘Krishna Consciousness’ throughout his purports. However, a careful reading of the philosophy, structure and meaning of the Gétä reveals that he simply guides the reader towards Krishna’s intent: to encourage everyone to first-hand experience the happiness that comes from living bhägavata-dharma (dharmyaà su-sukhaà 9.3).
My answer to the question whether Krishna Consciousness is a religious faith is a clear ‘no’. Furthermore, inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s example as Guru and Äcärya, devotees perform the duty of teaching to share with others the happiness that comes from following the sublime teachings of the Bhagavad-gétä. They therefore arrange for many activities that give people an opportunity to engage in bhakti-yoga, by holding festivals like Ratha-yäträs, performing Harinäms and opening centers that offer people the place to perform devotional activities. Such activities have the potency to purify the absent-minded souls and reawaken their dormant love for Krishna. Engaging people in bhakti is what some perceive as ‘preaching’ – in fact, it is the application of the teachings.
Teachings of Queen Kunté, Chapter 16 (BBT)