Tuesday, March 31, 2009


I came across the concept of "atonement" when reading one of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavatam translations. These days, unless you are cautious and check the edition you are reading, you can't be sure if you are reading Prabhupada's words or those of an attention-deficit disordered disciple who compulsively edits his divine grace's translations and purports, to "improve" on Srila Prabhupada's transcendental ecstasies.

Well, i prefer to read the books "as they were," when Prabhupada dictated them late at nite sitting alone in his room. I prefer his language and his emotions to a neophyte's. And most of the changes are so minor they are irrelevant. What justifies altering your spiritual master's life work? Changing Prabhupada's syntax for no better reason than your own ego's satisfaction is hardly justifiable. You can be sure that if Prabhupada were physically here, these editors would be too meek to change even a comma.

The word atonement caught my eye in one of Prabhupada's translations, as we hear the term commonly used in Judeo-Christian culture and religion. It always irks me that the best words in the English language have been co-opted by western religions, thus giving them a spin that renders these words judgmental, aggressive or sectarian to my ears. So i researched the etymology of "atonement" to find its origins and various meanings.

Atonement is influenced by the Latin, adunamentum, meaning unity or reconciliation, especially between man and God. An even earlier root is onement, from an obsolete verb, one, to unite. So the concept of atonement is based on uniting with the divine by reviving one's original consciousness. At-One-Ment.

In popular usage, atonement has come to mean: to make amends for a wrong or injury; to repay or compensate for a wrongdoing or a mistake. It is closely linked to the word, expiate ("to expiate one's sins"), which in turn is connected with the word, appease, meaning to pacify or satisfy. Peace is thus directly related to piety.

Here is where Srila Prabhupada's devotional genius shines a light on the concept of atonement. He writes in SB 6.1.11, that "even though one may superficially seem pious, he will undoubtedly be prone to act impiously." (Sound familiar?) "Therefore real atonement is enlightenment in perfect knowledge, Vedanta, the Absolute Truth."

Another synonym of atonement is the verb, to propitiate. Propitiation is the act of placating and overcoming distrust, to win over and regain someone's favor by doing something that pleases them. To make them favorable to us. So atonement is not an abstract, impersonal activity, but one that is very much connected to reciprocation in a Relationship.

Atonement is an understanding and bonding between persons. That person with whom we most need to understand and bond with is Vasudeva, the knower of Vedanta, the source of everything, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we make ourselves favorable to him, our long history of suffering will cease.

Interesting confirmation of this is that the antonym or opposite of atonement is separation. The opposite of making amends and becoming enlightened with perfect knowledge of Vasudeva is to experience the angst of existential separation: maya, illusion, ignorance, the false ego, fear, death. The root of our sense of separation is our damaged relationship with God.

Which brings me to the most concise and compelling definition of atonement i found. It is in the Wiktionary, a new online dictionary related to the Wikipedia. There, atonement is defined as "a repair done for the sake of a damaged relationship."

So there it is: real atonement is to act in such a way as to repair our damaged (bahir mukta, misdirected) relationship with Bhagavan Sri Krishna. The process of atonement is hearing (sravanam) and chanting (kirtanam) about him, developing perfect knowledge of him (smaranam), culminating in taste (rati), spiritual emotions (bhava) and pure love (prema bhakti, complete Krishna consciousness).

Atonement is not Group Think. It is not a competition, a corporate career or ecclesiasticism, church practice.

What is called atonement in mundane circles --pious acts, rituals, austerities, vows and decrees-- is not substantial enough to move the soul out of its sleeping condition. These things only cheat the soul by keeping it attached to matter. According to Srila Prabhupada, real atonement is soul work -- the activity of the soul proper. Detachment from matter.

When the soul practices real atonement, he or she learns to act in full harmony and in perfect knowledge of God. He becomes a yogi of the highest order, a swan who swims in the peaceful lake of At-One-Ment. Diving beneath the surface of popular concerns, the soul learns to play in the tangled stems of the lotus of Sri Krishna's feet. This was the message and the example that Srila Prabhupada taught. Don't accept anything less. Om tat sat.


Unknown said...

Please read my letter called "Why I am leaving ISKCON"


Your servant,
Caitanya dasa

Atmavidya Das said...

Quote: "It always irks me that the best words in the English language have been co-opted by western religions, thus giving them a spin that renders these words judgmental, aggressive or sectarian to my ears."

This is the case in German language as well. Making translation work of Vaishnava literature much more difficult than it could be. Just one example, the proper German term for "chaste" is practically unusable without further explanations.
Anyhow, your research and thoughts on the subject of Atonement are very enlightening. I love the word "at-one-ment".

jauvana said...

The words in the original Bengali or Sanskrit don't carry the baggage of the guilt and judgment of melechhas. I think the way to overcome this problem (of the language being abused by mundane religionists) is to search out the origins of the words, as i tried to do with atonement. It really helps to understand and explain the ideas behind the words. Ideas or understanding is what language is meant for, and when language is obscured by conditioning, the translator or interpreter needs to trace it back to the source where the meaning is more clear. And even then, it is very difficult to describe a spiritual concept with material words.

Atmavidya Das said...

very good advice (...to search out the origins of the words...). I will take more time now and make good use of a complete German reference set of books which a recently invested in. Also, it kind of makes you bulletproof when being challenged on a particular expression. I always love it, when Srila Prabhupad splits a sanskrit word down into the syllables and explains the root meaning of each.

jauvana said...

Those reference books sound great. Many words can be traced back to Latin, Greek or Sanskrit.

mv said...

You write that there is nothing more than ego involved in those editing Prabhupada's books. I think that any thoughtful person who reads Jayadvaita Swami's explanation of why and to what extent this editing has taken place would conclude otherwise. In the very least he seems to be a sincere disciple serving in a capcity that he did in Prabhupada's presence with a well formed opinion that differs from yours. And of the two opinions I would assign more weight to his because he was Prabhupada's editor. You have attacked not his judgement, but his motive, which seems quite pompous on your part.

Furthermore, you have credited Prabhupada with genius for he use of words in the English language. In this particular case you have chosen one word (atonement) as an example, a word you needed to look up in detail to understadn all of its implications. Do you really think that Prabhupada knew English that well? Or did he just spiritually know the perfect English word to use in your mind? The fact is that English was not his first language and he has often not used the best words to express his ideas, at least not without the help of his editors.

jauvana said...

First off, who are you? Why do you hide behind intials rather than allow readers to know your name? Second, i'm sure that Jaiadwaita Swami appreciates your support, but what do you know of this history? Hayagriva was Prabhupada's English editor for Bhagavad Gita and the other books had copy editors, checking only for grammar and spelling errors, on Srila Prabhupada's direct orders. On top of that, Srila Prabhupada approved the editions of his books. How can he do that now when he is in Samadhi? Before he left this world, he told his disciples: no more changes! How is Jaiadwaita following that critical order of his spiritual master?
Finally, and most importantly, your lack of respect and appreciation for the unique literary genius of Srila Prabhupada, by saying that "he didn't know English that well" and could not write well "without the help of his editors," demonstrates your own enormous ignorance, spiritual ineptitude and false ego. You are the pompous one. Without understanding the purity and depth of Srila Prabhupada's language, you will be reading books for many lifetimes without much benefit.

mv said...

Let me add that your point in the blog is that Prabhupada has shown literary genius by using the word atonement to mean enlightenment. You, however, have misunderstood how he used the word in 6.1.11. In this verse he is using the word to refer to janna marg, not bhakti marg as you have asserted. The verse is not about bhakti and establishing a relationship with Krsna. It is about cultivating knowledge as opposed to doing pious works as a means of atonement.

I think that you have made an interesting point about the word atonement and how it could be used to speak of establishing a relationship with Krishna, but this is not how Prabhupada has used it in the verse you cited, nor to my knowledge has he used it this way anywhere in his books.

Lastly, although your insight about the word is interesting, it also sounds a bit like you think that we once were in a spiritual relationship with Krishna and we have now broken that relationship and need to mend or repair it. I would disagree with that understanding. But then again this may not be what you think at all.

jauvana said...

From the introduction to the First Canto, Srimad Bhagavatam, written by Srila Prabhupada, without the help of any American disciples, in Vrindavan, 1962:

I must admit my frailties in presenting the First Part but still I am hopeful of its good reception by the thinkers and leaders of the Society, on the strength of the following statement of Srimad Bhagwatam.

(verse in Devanagari:)
Tad baga visarga janata agha viplavbo
Yasmin pratislokam abaddha vatyapi
Namani anantasya jasho ankitani yat
Srinnwanti gayanti grinanti sadhabah

"On the other hand the literature which is full with description of transcendental.glories of the Name, Fame, Form, Pastime of the Unlimited Supreme Lord, -is a different creation of transcendental vocabulary all meant
for bringing about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization of the world. Such transcendental literatures even though irregularly composed, is heard, sung and accepted by the purified men who are
thoroughly honest."

And from the same volume, one of the verses from Chapter One, again written without any editorial staff:

And because you are submissive your spiritual masters have endowed you with all the favours, of the spiritual masters, for gentle disciples. As
such you can let us know all that you learnt from them scientifically.

The secret of success in the spiritual advancement of knowledge is to satisfy the spiritual master and thereby to get his sincere blessings. Srila Viswanath Chakravarty Thakur has sung in his famous eight stanzas on the spiritual master as follows:—"I do offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of
spiritual master whose satisfaction alone can please the—Personality of Godhead and whose dissatisfaction alone can play a havoc on the path of spiritual realisation." It is essential, therefore, that a disciple must be very
much obedient and submissive to the bonafide spiritual master. Srila Suta Goswami fulfilled all these conditions in the relation of a disciple and the spiritual master and, therefore, he was endowed with all the favours of the
learned and self realised spiritual masters like Srila Vyasdeva and others. The sages of the Naimisharanya were confident about the qualities of Srila SutaGoswami and, therefore, they were anxious to hear from him.

mv said...

I know the entire history and I have read the reasoning that Jayadvaita Swami has given for the changes and I agree with it. Have you read it? If you have and you do not agree with it, that is one thing. But to then attack the motive of Jayadvaita Swami is another. It is pompous. One could just as easily say that your position is motivated only by your false ego, which has to see Prabhupada as the highest guru over all others because he's your guru. But I am not saying that.

However, your fanaticism does show up clearly in what you consider more important. You accuse me of lacking appreciation for Prabhupada's literary genius. While I appreciate Prabhupada's spiritual genius, he was not a literary genius in the English language. Just read his original unedited Bhagavatam volumes and it is clear as a bell that he sorely needed an English editor and he would be the first to admit it. Even with editing his books are not written that well in terms of the English language. There will be no pulitzer prize for his English writing and literary genius. Just by listening to him speak the language any objective person fluent in English will immediately understand that English is at best his second language.

Of course these facts don not make him any less spiritually perfect, venerable, etc. But the fundamentalism you express is problematic. And I bet you thought you were really open and broad minded.

And the attack on who I am hiding behind initials is childish. Do I also have to tell you who my guru is, when I joined, etc. The subtle implication of your indignation is that you are senior devotee and I must be some upstart not worthy of listening to despite whatever good points I make. The fact, however, is that you are proud as a peacock. Should I ask you what your service is and what you are doing to spread Krishna consciousness, as Prabhupada so much wanted his disciples to do? That would tell us more about who you are.

MV (Madhuvani)

mv said...

Here are some other examples of Prabhupada's unedited English found in his Bhagavatam.

*When the intrigue of the battlefield of Kurukshetra was going on she was not in favour fighting with the Pandavas rather she blamed Dhritarastra her husband for intriguing such fratricidal war.

*...Incarnation of the success potency of the Lord. (referring to Kunti)

*By the grace of the sun she again turned to become a virgin girl but being afraid of her parents she quited the newly born child Karna.

*But expansion of the Javashakti the category of the ordinary living beings are not at all equal quantitatively save and except that the same living beings are only qualitateively equal with the Supreme Lord.

*How they can select a proper man who are themselves fallen in the standard of life.

*It is also stated in the Bhagwat Geeta (B.G. 12/5) that persons stuck up by the impersonal step undergoes more sufferings than achievment of reality.

*Had not had Arjuna taken up with an illusion of family affaction...

This is not Rabindranath Tagore writing, a universally acknowledged literary genius, but it is the writing of a prema bhakta.

Why try to artificially make Prabhupada out to be what he is not? Why is it not enough for you that he is a pure devote of Krishna? And why do you have to try to scare devotees who dare to tell the truth with your fear mongering about not respecting the pure devotee?

I am not against you, but I am against your false ego, which should be fair play on this blog if I read it correctly.

jauvana said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, MV.
I never said that Srila Prabhupada's English was linguistically perfect or that he should win a Nobel Prize for literature (although i cannot think of a modern author, including Ragindranath Tagore, who has had a more profound impact on humanity than Srila Prabhupada). But what i am saying is that for me, Prabhupada's English is saturated with his bhakti and is more charming and more direct and more purifying than any wordsmith's language can be.
The books were Prabhupada's most important service to his spiritual master he told us. Don't you think that, as the author, he would have left specific instructions if his intention was that they be re-edited after his departure? He did leave instructions: don't change anything!
You are creating straw man arguments against me and then attacking me based on the fictional straw men you create. I have no idea what your agenda is. Perhaps you got badly burned by previous contact with devotees and now you want to defeat anyone who disagrees with your opinions by calling them an arrogant fundamentalists and fear mongers.
My agenda here is to call out fundamentalism and corruption as i see it being practiced by today's devotees. I also try to share my realizations based on experiences of almost 40 years of engaging in the preliminaries of bhakti yoga. my personal association with Srila Prabhupada, and participation with my godbrothers in Iskcon for some of those years.
My false ego is fair game but i am wondering what exactly is your agenda? What is your purpose in putting words in my mouth on my own blog?
If you make further comments that i consider offensive to Prabhupada, i will trash them. That is my right as the moderator here. I don't like censorship but i prefer it to hearing your so-called rational poison.
Write your own blog if you wish to broadcast your prejudices about my spiritual master.

Carlo Aananda said...

Well said Navajauvana. The fact is that Prabhupada stated that nothing should be changed. He did not authorize anyone to edit his books after his departure.

mv said...

What is my point? You have stated that those who see fit to edit Prabhupada's books after his departure do so out of nothing more than false ego. As I said, it is one thing to disagree with their opinion and quite another to question their motive.

I am no fan of Jayadvaita Swami, but I agree with his position on the editing. So in effect you have said that persons like myself take such a stand based on our egos. I think that you assume far more here than that which is within your capacity to know. No straw man argument here.

Secondly you say that Prabhupada is a literary genius in his use of the English language. I disagree and I have pointed out why I do. I have explained what a literary genius is in order to underscore my point. No straw man argument here either. So now you have given your own definition of what you meant by literary genius to wiggle out of a loosing argument. Why not just admit it instead of making the straw man argument that I am making straw man arguments?

The discussion has continued only because you pushed the point and took offense, telling me I was disrespectful to Prabhupada, quoting his unedited Bhagavatam translations as if to say the were examples of literary genius, etc. I found the ideas that I was disrespectful to Prabhupada and that Prabhupada's translations were fine without editing to be absurd and called you on it.

I also find that (more or less) pushing the offense button as you have with your warnings to be a form of fear mongering. Let's be honest here. I have said nothing offensive about Srila Prabhupada, because as you have admitted finally, he is not a literary genius in the English language. So we agree. No offense here. But still you go on to characterize me as offensive with this statement, "I don't like censorship but i prefer it to hearing your so-called rational poison. Write your own blog if you wish to broadcast your prejudices about my spiritual master."

Your spiritual master is also my spiritual master and I have ben serving him for 39 years. Rational poison? I think it is important to think rationally as well as spiritually about our guru. After all, religion without philosophy is merely sentiment (By the way Prabhupada's quote on this comes from Tagore). So it is important to use our heads and in fact that is what you are trying to do on this blog. I just think you have a blind spot on this issue.

So I have also stated that you display somewhat of a fundamentalist disposition with regard to your position on Prabhupada's books. I am just waiting for someone to post about the 10,000 years law books conception. But that may be a stretch for you and I certainly hope so.

I also pointed out how you misunderstood how Prabhupda was use of the word atonement in 6.1.11. No straw me here either and I think this was an important point to bring out.

Anyway, I will go away if that is what you want. But I was looking for rational spiritual discussion. Perhaps I could have made that more clear to begin with.

jauvana said...

Yes, my dear godbrother, you of the perfect logic. Please start your own blog. Send me a link when you do and i will read it. In the meantime, haribol. p.s. and you never addressed my most basic point in this entire "debate": that Srila Prabhupada, requested that no more changes be made to his books. I don't have the exact quote on his books, but i have heard him say that we westerners like to change everything constantly. With the books, he is both the author and our guru. What rationalization can be made to justify overturning that? Even mundane authors' books remain untouched by editors after their death.

mv said...

I agree that you have an argument concerning the editing of the books, but I also think there is a counter argument that is well motivated and thus far I have sided with it. I see no point in discussing this at length here. I merely wanted to address the charge against one party's motivation.

Perhaps the argument in favor of editing has been used partly as an excuse not to write books on the part of devotees who are not really qualified to do so anyway, books that address issues that need to be addressed, issues in Prabhupada's books, contemporary issues, etc. Prabhupada's books are great in their won right, but new books are also needed.

Anyway there is plenty of confusion out there. No doubt about that. Sorry for the confusion :) and thanks for the compliment! Blogon.