17th December, 2015. Gurgaon.
So many times one come across apparent contradictions in scriptures. Yesterday I read a beautiful explanation of inconceivable nature of Krishna by HH Romapada maharaj in reply to a question at http://www.dandavats.com. It is so nice to hear explanations on such topics from a self realised soul, suddenly inconceivable becomes conceivable.
Question: I have a question regarding a statement I heard in the past and remembered recently: Seeming paradoxes are found in various places in scripture. For instance, in one scripture it may be said “all the forms of the Lord are equal,” while in another it may be said, “no other form of the Lord is as complete as Krishna.” While he didn’t use this particular example, I have heard from an advanced Vaishnava that such “contradictions” force us as readers to stop and contemplate instead of speeding along thinking that we understand things. I’m wondering if this understanding is correct and if you can elaborate to provide clearer understanding?
HH Romapada Swami: As you have hinted within your question, what ‘appears’ to be paradoxes or contradictions within scripture are only seemingly so; factually, there is no real contradiction.
In some instances, scriptures are deliberately filled with apparent double-talk. A typical example is the language of the Upanishads: e.g., “The Supreme Lord walks and does not walk. He is far away, but He is very near as well. He is within everything, and yet He is outside of everything.” (Isopanishad Mantra 5) Such contradictory statements are provided to indicate His inconceivable, transcendental nature. He walks, but His walking is nothing like the walking within this mundane realm. So, thanks to these paradoxes, we are induced to reconsider and reform the deep-rooted material conceptions in our mind when contemplating the Supreme Absolute Truth.
It is not necessarily that all such contradictions are purposefully presented by the scriptures in order to get us to contemplate. It is just the nature of Absolute Truth, which appears to us to be contradictory when we try to capture it within the limited vocabulary of language or within the limited framework of our material mind and intelligence. But by patient and repeated aural reception of the whole message, and by receiving clarification from a realized soul, such contradictions become resolved. The Bhaktivedanta Purports explicitly serve this purpose!
Some of these apparent contradictions, which often become topics of debate among inter-faith discussions, are resolved by understanding the example of higher and lower level mathematics. One may learn in a simple way in elementary math that it is not possible to subtract a bigger number from a smaller one, but as one progressively learns the concepts of negative numbers, rational and irrational numbers, imaginary numbers and so on, instead of seeing contradictions, one’s understanding becomes wider and deeper.
Are they really contradictions?
Often, what appears as contradiction is due to our own lack of understanding or preconceptions about what God or spiritual life must look like. Sometimes it is seen that even when Reality is presented in a very simple and straightforward manner, people find it hard to reconcile. A common example is in understanding how Krishna favors His devotees like the Pandavas. God is supposed to be impartial and yet He gives different rewards to different living entities and He particularly seems to favor and take the side of His devotees. This is not a contradiction, but appears to be so because of not understanding that He EQUALLY reciprocates with everyone as they approach Him. As one’s spiritual understanding and realization matures, such things cease to be contradictions but rather become another impetus for deeply appreciating the qualities of Krishna.
Another way to understand the same thing is that all contradictions are reconciled in the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. That is to say, He is simultaneously equal and yet different from all of His other expansions, He is simultaneously impartial and yet partial to His devotees, He is simultaneously present everywhere and yet never leaves His abode in Vrindavan and so on.
Another fundamental reason for seeing contradictions is often due to not understanding Krishna’s Personal nature; Krishna is a Person and He has desires, likes and dislikes, and freedom. Behind all the variegated arrangements one can experience within the material creation, and behind all His dealings with different living entities — is Krishna’s very personal, loving, compassionate nature and inimitable capacity in reciprocating with His different parts and parcels. How He acts and why He does certain things may not always follow a set pattern or formula. Thus, His will is said to be “inscrutable”.
The common tendency amongst those educated in the modern school of rationalism is to try to subject everything, including spiritual topics, to analysis and rationalization and reductionism — but these tools fail us miserably in trying to understand Spirit. You are likely to be familiar with the famous example of the five blind men — each of them came up with completely contradictory pictures of the elephant, while in fact none of them were close to whole truth. Our approach to scripture is often like those blind men, and thus we run into many “contradictions”. Therefore, in order to learn the truth, it is indispensable to approach a seeing man, i.e. a self-realized soul. Under the guidance of such a spiritual master, one can systematically learn to reconcile all contradictions and see the Whole Truth.
By reading the above wonderful article by HH Romapada maharaj I learnt that there are no contradictions in scriptures, it is our limited understanding, by trying to see everything through our material intelligence and rationale, lack of realisations (as opposed to mere information) and above all not knowing the personality of Krishna. The solution is to take shelter of a bonafide spiritual master and by patiently AND regularly reading Bhaktivedanta purports. I will share my own experience of ‘repeated’ hearing in a future blog.
All glories to HH Romapada Maharaj.
All glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada.