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Hinduism and Vaisnavism

Questions about KRSNa
What is hinduism?
Hinduism
Vedic traditions
VaiSNavism - historical and philosophical roots
Universal religion of bhakti
Who is a VaiSNava?

Questions about KRSNa

Q: What do you mean by KRSNa, Supreme Personality Godhead?

A: Out of three aspects of Godhead - Brahman (impersonal 'Great Light'), Paramatma (localized form of Godhead in the hearts of all living beings) and BhagavAn (KRSNa in the spiritual world) - BhagavAn is the highest. That is the verdict of the ZrImad BhAgavatam (BhAgavata PurANa) 1.2.11.

KRSNa is the avatArI, the source of all forms of Godhead (avatAras). He is defined as such in the scriptures, most notably in the ZrImad BhAgavatam 1.3.28 (kRSNas tu bhagavAn svayam).

According to the great sage ParAzara Muni BhagavAn is one who possesses in full these six perfections: strength, beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. There is only one such person - KRSNa who excels everyone.

How does He look? Read Rupa cintamani.

Q: You teach that KRSNa is the original and highest form of God. Why is then KRSNa often considered an avatAra of ViSNu?

A: That KRSNa is God's original form and highest form from the point of view of rasa is the teaching of NimbArka, Vallabha and Gaudiya sampradAyas. RAmAnuja and Madhva sampradAyas consider ViSNu the original form of God. This is based mainly on Vishnu PurANa.
BhAgavata PurANa (ZrImad BhAgavatam) 1.3.28 is the main pramana (evidence) used by JIva GosvAmI in his Sat-sandarbhas. In his KRSNa-sandarbha he argues for the supremacy of KRSNa even over ViSNu.

Related:
Tattva Sandarbha (establishing ZrImad BhAgavatam as the topmost pramana)
Bhagavata Sandarbha

Other four Sandarbhas are not online.

VaiSNavas don't argue among themselves if KRSNa or ViSNu is the Supreme. They consider it a matter of one's relationship with the Lord. Someone has a relationship with ViSNu, someone with RAma, someone with KRSNna, etc. as per rasa theology. In Caitanya Caritamrita 2.9.108 and further on Shri Caitanya talks about this in a joking mood with Venkatta Bhatta from RAmAnuja sampradAya.

Why others dispute it - they may not know the evidence or they don't want to accept it, for whatever reason.

In some PurANas Shiva, Durga, Ganesha, etc. are described as supreme. These PurANas are classified in Padma and Garuda PurANa as rajasic and tamasic (for people under the influence of rajas and tamas). VaiSNavas give priority to sattvic PurANas as per Tattva Sandarbha.

Q: Why is KRSNa blue?

A: This is quite a common question. ;) Since KRSNa is the Supreme Lord, no one can force Him in any way so we can only assume that He likes blue color; just as He likes to play with His cowherd-boy friends, herd the cows, play the flute, mimic the animals etc. This is His lila (pastime), His sweet will, experienced and recorded by His intimate devotees. It's not a matter of imagination, etc.

Acarya Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has pointed out that according to authorized statements of Vedic literature the Lord's transcendental form is understood to be brahmamaya, or completely spiritual, with no trace of material contamination. Therefore, in such statements as nilotpala-dala-syamam, "the Lord's form is beautifully manifest with the hue of dark blue lotus petals," it is understood that a transcendental dark blue color is being described. This color is an essence of all colors. KRSNa is blue because He is all-attractive. (The sky is said to be blue because it reflects KRSNa's blue color in the spiritual sky.)

Raghava Pandita in his Sri KRSNa-bhakti-ratna-prakasa 3.18 states: "At this point some may ask: 'Why is it that the form of the Personality of Godhead, which He manifests only by His own wish, and which is made of the sweetness of transcendental pastimes, is famous everywhere for its dark complexion?' Part of the answer to this question may be found in the statement of the sruti-sastra: 'No one can understand even a drop of the Lord's transcendental form.' Aside from this it is also said: 'He eternally manifests the color syama, within which all colors rest. His complexion is not the material color black."

Other bluish personalities are ViSNu, some of His avatAras like Dhanvantari, Ziva (also has other forms with different colors), sages VyAsa (ViSNu avatAra) and Zuka (expansion of Ziva), etc. I heard that Jewish mysticism (Kabbala) described God as a blue boy but never saw the reference.

Regarding the blue color itself, it has a long history. Historian of religion Bhakti Ananda Goswami researched it and here are some of his findings.

The Blue-ness of God in Biblical tradition

The omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent Father-God of the entire ancient world was most commonly depicted as blue. Thus Jupiter, Zeus, Osiris, Heru and Ammon-Ra (Heru) and Aapa / Nhr (Nilus) were all depicted as blue. The Buddhist Lokesvara is commonly blue in both his two and thousand armed forms. Of course KRSNa-ViSNu is blue or blackish, and Rama and Shiva were also sometimes depicted as blue. Even the solar Corn-Boy of the American Hopis was blue with an eyed feather, and he was depicted in his golden sun-circle with eagle feathers protruding from it! Iconographically this has astounding similarities with Egyptian and Near Eastern traditions. When they tried to outlaw the impersonation of God / Zeus in the Greco-Roman world, they forbid the dying of one's skin and tatooing of auspicious marks on one's body / hands and feet! They forbid allowing one's hair to grow long and shaving one's face. They outlawed the wearing of certain gold cloth, a gold crown or the sacred plumes of Shu or Helios. They forbade anyone except the anointed Soter / Savior King to present himself in such a way, or to wear gold armour, ride a white horse, or carry a discus for a weapon! All these things were forbidden, so what did the Supreme Father God in His Basileos sacred king form look like?

long hair (kouros age was before the hair was cut) / eternal youth
no beard / eternal youth
blue skin
auspicious marks
gold crown
sacred feathers
gold armour
riding white horse
carrying discus

= Vasudeva KRSNa (Sri KRSNa as the Sacred King)

There is some mention of this outlawing the impersonation of Zeus in Robert Graves's multi-volume collection of the Greek myths. A side note to this is the fact that when Zeus was worshiped in his ammonite shila form as Zeus-Petros, and Jupiter was worshiped in His related lapis form, both of these were blue or blue-gray stones. The Sacred King form of the Biblical Supreme Father God was called the Basileos or Rex (regent). Basileos is related to Greek bazodeo and on Bactrian Greek coins, Bazodeo on one side is translated as Vasudeva on the other. (see famous Bactrian era coin, the stater of Vasudeva.) Obviously a rex or regent is a raja (and regina, the feminine 'queen' is rajani or rani) so the Mediterranean incarnation kings were identified with Vasudeva or Sri KRSNa as Raja Raja or the King of kings. In fact in the original Greek of the New Testament, Jesus is called Basileos basileos, the 'King of kings' ...Vasudeva of the vasudevas (ViSNu of the vasu-devas, or class of good 'gods'). In South Egypt, all of the expansions of the Supreme Deity Wasu Theo were depicted with a 'was' scepter indicating that they were forms of Wasu Deo. In Judaism Wasu Deo was called Toba-Yahu, which is Vasu-deva reversed. Hebrew toba and Sanskrit deva both mean good and beneficent. The English name Tobias is derived from Toba-Yahu.

Secular scholars of religion claim that the commonly blue color of the Supreme Father God was because He was always associated by the ancients with the sky or heavens, in the pair of Father-Heaven and Mother-Earth. Thus usually He was light sky or cloud blue, but sometimes black or very dark blue with His body covered with stars, as in the black and star-covered-bodied forms of Kala Purusha. As Lord of the universe, Lord Jagannatha's body is black, and His dress sometimes covered with a star-like design. In Egypt and the East, Osiris and Kala Purusha were often depicted with black bodies. Of course, when the Sanskrit words for black and blue are confounded, and the icon of the Lord is created according to scriptural descriptions, it may be said that the scriptures describe Him as either blackish or blue-ish. Then the result may be either a black or blue-ish murti (image/icon). The fact that VaiSNavas depict Him either way, without fighting about it, is analogous to the many parallel traditions existing without conflict within Catholicism.

In some Alexandrian Egypto-Jewish and Catholic icons, Jesus and sometimes even Mary is depicted as blue. As God, not man, Jesus was depicted (like Heru, Helios, Osiris, Zeus, Jupiter etc.) as blue. Catholic art historians have explained blue images of Christ as related to the ancient practice of depicting 'Supreme Father Gods' as blue for the sky and heavenly purity. The heavenly or sky Father, consort of Mother Earth, was commonly depicted as blue in the ancient world (see African and New World tribal traditions too). I have viewed hundreds of Catholic icons of Mary, spanning the globe and over 1000 years and I would say that over 90 % of the time in Her colored icons, She has a red or pink inner dress and a blue outer mantle. Of course, Mary's highest most 'intimate' form in relationship to 'Bridal Mysticism' is known by Her mysterious name Rhoda... the Mystical Rose. Her six-pointed star (hexad) is associated with Her symbol as Rhoda but She also has a five-pointed star. In India red is associated with Radha, an internal energy (Shakti), and blue with Durga. A blue (Sanskrit 'nila') flower is associated with Shakti as Durga or external energy. The hexad is associated with Sri Laksmi and the five-pointed star with Durga. In Pure Land Buddhism these two stars also exist and Tara's secret form is symbolized by a red or pink flower.

Q: Since KRSNa had so many wives (16 108 queens in Dvaraka), is it not immoral on His part? How He can be called a Yogiraj?

A: In total KRSNa has innumerables saktis and these wives are just some of them. Moreover, KRSNa is above human morality (part of dharma) in this material as well as in the spiritual world, just like a king visiting prison doesn't become prisoner.

This is elaborated on in the ZrImad BhAgavatam purports by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, esp. in SB 1.11.31p.

Q: Why is sometimes the first "i" left out of Krishna, spelling it Krshna?

A: There are many ways of pronunciation (Krishan, Krishnan, even Krishta...) and all are accepted. Kr(i)shna knows when we mean Him.

Q: "Sometimes God appears in this world just to show the people His original, eternal form. Sometimes He appears in other forms according to the requirements of His pastimes. More than 5,100 years ago, KRSNa appeared in His original, transcendental form just to please His devotees, annihilate the miscreants, and reestablish the principles of religion."

What date was KRSNa born? Is there information on the details of KRSNa's life when He took form on Earth? Did He have an occupation? Why was He manifest on Earth at that time? Did He have a purpose besides the ones listed above? How did He die?

A: The date of KRSNa's birth is traditionally given as 5201 of Bhadra KRSNa Astami, or 3226 BC (or 3227 BC, depends if we consider the year 0 or not). "Bhadra" is the name of a month (corresponds roughly to July-August; Vedic calendar is luni-solar), "KRSNa" here specifically denotes the dark part of a month (wanning moon) and "astami" means "8th day". If you download and calculate the Vedic calendar for your location you can see when Janmastami ("KRSNa's birth day" janma - birth, astami - 8th day) occurs so that you can take part in its celebration with us in one of our centers. The peak of the celebration is midnight when KRSNa appeared.

Swami Bon Maharaja has calculated that Lord KRSNa passed away from this world on the Amavasya of Pausa of 5076 i.e. 3101 BC or 3179 before Saka era and that was the beginning of Kali-yuga.

Lord KRSNa's life is elaborately described in the BhAgavata PurANa (ZrImad BhAgavatam, esp. cantos 1,10,11), Brahma PurANa (ch. 180-212), Brahma-vaivarta PurANa and other PurANas as well as in the Mahabharata (whose essence is the Bhagavad-gita). He played a part of a cowherd boy in Vrindavan and after His 16th year that of a prince in Mathura and Dvaraka - His "occupation" was that of a ksatriya, or a warrior and a ruler.

The reasons of His appearance are listed in your quote above. He likes to perform such pastimes, or divine play (lila) with His devotees. That is the first and foremost reason of His appearance. He Himself would not have to appear to do those things, He could send someone else (His devotees) to act on His behalf.

He didn't "die" as a human being but disappeared in a supernatural way as described in the ZrImad BhAgavatam, canto 11. Everything KRSNa does is transcendental to this material world.

Q: Some Christians are inquiring whether KRSNa is a historical personage like Buddha, Mahavira, and Jesus, or just a character in a epic. I looked in the FAQ [at former iskcon.org] and it said only that KRSNa lived here 5,100 years ago. Can you tell me how His historicity compares with those others'?

A: From my experience majority of Christians is concerned only with the Jesus of faith...

The VaiSNavas understand the Vedic scriptures to be revealed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, KRSNa, establishing Him as the Supreme Lord. So the God cannot be just a character in an epic...

This question is essentially about the veracity of the Vedas. The Vedic scriptures were transmitted orally from the time immemorial and written down (according to the descriptions given in them) cca 5100 years ago, approximately in time when KRSNa appeared on this earth. They were preserved through the history thanks to the sampradAyas (schools) of their followers. Unfortunately many of them were destroyed by foreign invaders. In recent history the Nazis and Russians before and during the WWII sent their scientific teams to India to find the Dhanurveda portions which deal with the advanced military knowledge including the high-tech weapons technology. As far as I know they were not returned back to India.

The authenticity of the Vedas is confirmed by various scientific methods, like an astronomy and archeology. Two examples:

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I will quote here from the book "Age of Bharata War," which describes the calculations of the time of the Battle of Kuruksetra. Different scholars present different figures. The one which made most sense to me (because it is purely based on the text of the Mahabharata itself) is the following (page 150):

"Prof. Srinivas Raghavan of Sri Aurobindo Study Circle, Madras, approached the subject wholly on astronomical basis and while explaining his own paper and of Sri Sampat Iyengar observed that the Mahabharata itself is teeming with a number of astronomical data, which were all consistent. The Rajasuya Yajna was performed on the Jyestha Mula Amavasya day (Sabha Parva, ch. 36) i.e. with the sun at 2400 of the Govt. of India Zodiac. 15 years later, the Amavasya was with the sun at 224.75 Jyestha as described by Veda Vyasa in Udyoga Parva, ch. 14. Three lunations later on Magha Sukla Astami day (Bhisma Nirvana day), the sun was at 318.0. The previous day the sun was at 316.5. Veda Vyasa clearly states that it was Rohini Naksatra on Bhisma Nirvana (Anusasana Parva, ch. 237, 273, Santi Parva, ch. 46). Therefore, in the year of the Mahabharata War, the vernal equinox was at 46.5. Now in 1975 A.D. it is at 23.4: hence it has moved by 69.9 at an average rate of 72.5 years per degree. Therefore, the age of the Mahabharata War was 69.9 x 72.5 = 3190 B.C."

Swami Bon Maharaja (quoted in the same book) has calculated as follows: Lord Shri KRSNa passed away from this world on the Amavasya of Pausa of 5076 i.e. 3101 B.C. or 3179 before Saka era and that was the beginning of Kali-yuga.

Lord Shri KRSNa was born 125 years (SB 11.6.25) and 4 months before this date i.e. 5201 of Bhadra KRSNa Astami or 3226 B.C.

The War of the Mahabharata started 36 years before Lord KRSNa left this world i.e. on Amavasya day of Pausa of 5112 i.e 3136 Pausa Amavasya B.C. (February).

Other scholars who made similar astronomical calculations (but basing them on other historical dates) came to slightly different conclusions, ranging from 3140 to 3100 B.C.

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KRSNa's Dwarka may not be a myth

By Gautam Mehta

The Times of India News Service

AHMEDABAD: The mythical city of Dwarka, founded by Lord Krishna, may have actually existed as underwater remains of a township and a settlement near Bet Dwarka indicate, according to marine archaeologist S.R. Rao.

Mr Rao, who heads the Dwarka underwater excavation project, is a consultant to the Marine Archaeology Centre of the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa.

"The first settlement of the Yadavas and Lord Krishna was Bet Dwarka nearly 3,600 years ago and later at Dwarka. The underwater township and the signs of settlement near Bet Dwarka, three temples and the remains of another township on the seashore near today's Dwarka compare well with what has been described in the Mahabharata and Harivansh," he said.

The submergence of Dwarka in the sea provided a clear indication that in the last 3,600 years, the sea level along the Gujarat coast had risen by as much as 30 feet and that it was continuing to rise, he pointed out.

At the present pace of the rise of sea level, archaeologists and scientists of the National Institute of Oceanography estimate that the present ports and temples on the state sea coast may be submerged in the sea in about 1,000 years.

Mr Rao said: "In the first phase of excavation by a 15-member team, three temples and the evidence of a township were found on the seashore near the present Dwarka temple. Later, another major township was found nearly 30 km away at a depth of 30 feet near Bet Dwarka during underwater excavation. It was spread over a four-km area. Many interesting pottery, vessels, equipment and other remains were found at this site."

He pointed out that excavation at the ancient sites of Mahabharata had not yielded convincing evidence because of the extremely limited excavation carried out at Hastinapur and Mathura. However, the excavation at the temple of Dwarkadhish in 1979-80 showed that it had been built over three temples, one below the other.

Further digging yielded first habitation and debris sediment brought in by a storm wave attested to the destruction of a town by the sea. This evidence acted as a spur to undertake excavation in the sea to locate the submerged town of Dwarka, he said.

According to Mr Rao, Bet Dwarka was identified with Kusasthali where the first town named Dvaraka was built under Krishna's leadership as described in the Mahabharat. The present town of Dwarka, on the mainland at the mouth of Gomati river, stands where Dvaraka or Dvaravati once was. According to the epic, Krishna was said to have reclaimed land from the sea at the mouth of the Gomati on the mainland to build a port town. Thus came into existence the second Dwarka, Mr Rao said.

The second phase of underwater excavation would begin in December this year.

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For the VaiSNavas there is no question of KRSNa's non-existence. When KRSNa wants He can reveal Himself to His devotees. There are many such incidents in the VaiSNava history and presence.

Q: Kindly define word 'Godhead' as used by you. Does it occur in your scriptures? Please quote related Vedic text if there is any.

A: The word "Godhead" is one of the typical words used by ISKCON's founder-acarya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his books, translations and commentaries of Vedic scriptures. He used it in collocation "Supreme Personality of Godhead", i.e. "God, the Supreme Person". The Sanskrit word for "Supreme Person" is "PuruSottama", one of the names of ViSNu. He said: "So Godhead means all viSNu-tattva." (780717rc.ny) It refers to an unlimited number of ViSNus in the spiritual world of Vaikuntha and the supreme of them is KRSNa.

He used to give very simple proof of God's existence: there are many persons of various stature and the supreme one is called God.

Srila Prabhupada in his lecture on Bhagavad-gita 3.21-25 on May 30, 1965 in New York, says: "Supreme Personality of Godhead means He is full with opulence, all opulence." The same he also says in his commentary on ZrImad BhAgavatam (BhAgavata PurANa) 1.11.31. "Opulence" is his translation of the Sanskrit word "bhaga". And the possessor of opulences, or bhagas (there are six traditionally listed) is called BhagavAn, another name of ViSNu.

From your name and domain I guess you are Muslim. And Muslims usually do have problems with personhood of God. Airavata dasa, a VaiSNava with Muslim background, wrote an elaborate study called "The Hidden Treasure of Al Qur'an" showing the personhood of Allah. In Chapter 8 he quotes the Qur'an 47.38: Wallahul Ganiyu: "Allah is Rich." This is BhagavAn. And in Chapter 12 he quotes the Qur'an 57.3: Huwa az-zahir wa huwa al-batin: "He is the Outward and He is the Inward." This means Allah is omnipresent, all-pervading. The word "ViSNu" means exactly that (vizvam vyapnoti iti viSNu). I know it is hard to imagine how a person can be all-pervading but this is described in detail in VaiSNava philosophy. God has both personal and impersonal aspect.

There are so many verses with names of PuruSottama, BhagavAn or ViSNu that I don't know where to start with listing them. You may try yourself by checking for example Bhagavad-gita.

Related:
What is exactly KRSNa the god of?
Visnu and KRSNa
KRSNa and Radha, Goloka

What is hinduism?

A Christian, visiting India from the West, would surely think it strange if he or she was told by an Indian, "You are a follower of Jordanism."

Christianity, along with Judaism and Islam, hails from the region of the Jordan river. But it is unlikely that Christians, Jews and Muslims would like their faiths being lumped together under such an artificial, unscriptural category as "Jordanism."

Yet just this sort of thing was done to the followers of the indigenous religions of India. The word "Hinduism" is derived from the name of a river in present-day Pakistan, the Sindhu (also known as the Indus). Beginning around 1000 AD, invading armies from the Middle East called the place beyond the Sindhu "Hindustan" and the people who lived there the "Hindus" - due to the invaders' language, the "s" was changed to "h". In the centuries that followed, the term "Hindu" became acceptable even to the Indians themselves as a general designation for their different religious traditions. But since the word Hindu is not found in the scriptures upon which these traditions are based, it is quite inappropriate. The proper term is "Vedic dharma" or "sanatana dharma".

Hare Krishna movement is a part of Vedic VaiSNava tradition and presents teachings of the Vedas in its original, pure form, which was preserved due to a succession of masters and disciples (parampara). This teaching has therefore proved and proves that it can change lives of thousands in positive way.

Q: Isn't preaching and conversion contrary to Hindu ideals?

A: This idea comes from the ancient times when vaidika, or sanatana dharma was present almost around the whole world. Thus there was no preaching necessary. Buddhism, which is derived from the Vedic tradition, was the first tradition spread by preaching. A kind of Vedic renaissance followed, brought about by preaching of Adi Sankara, RAmAnuja, Madhva, and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

A: (Brahma das): The greatest Hindus of all times both preached and converted. Those remembered as noteworthy in Hinduism or any of the other religions are the preachers. They are the great thinkers and saints of conviction who shake up the social dynamic and move people from religious complacency into theistic action, social revolution and personal change.

In Hindu mysticism Tukarama, Mirabai, Tulsidas etc. were preachers who inspired people to social and spiritual change. Tukarama preached his version of Hinduism based on KRSNa kirtana while lashing out against brahminical tyranny, Mirabai became a legend by rejecting her dharma as a princess and preaching love of KRSNa through songs and poems. Later Rammohan Roy, Swami Dayananda, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Gandhi were a few of the preachers that affected social and spiritual change. In modern times Prabhupada and a host of others Swamis came to the west and shook up the social paradigm by preaching and converting people to Hinduism.

The great Vedanta acharyas were all preachers who converted people. Adi Sankaracharya was a preacher who converted half of India from Buddhism to his conception of Vedic non-dualism. RAmAnuja was a preacher who converted much of South India from strict non-dualism to his version of qualified non-dualism. Madhva was a preacher who converted people from both other philosophies to his version of theistic dualism and Caitanya MahAprabhu amalgamated dualism and non-dualism with his conception of achintya bhedabeda and preached the inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference between God and man. Did all these people act “contrary to Hindu ideals”?

Related:
What was Srila Prabhupada's Position: The Hare Krishna Movement and Hinduism
Hinduism article on Wikipedia
Hinduism section at iskcon.org

Hinduism

[The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance group's website www.religioustolerance.com has a nice article on Hinduism. This is a comment on it.]

Dear friends,

Please accept my regards. Thanks for updating the ISKCON links on your Hare Krishna page.

I have read many of your articles and found them very helpful. Here I'd like to offer some comments on your Hinduism article.

Re the Aryan invasion: this view comes from the first Indologists but recently it is becoming more and more doubted in the academic circles. It's also not supported by the tradition itself (the scriptures).

To the two main divisions of Hinduism one could add Shaktism, the worship of goddess Durga.

Samsara has a meaning - to make us understand the omnipresence of suffering in this world so we start the search for liberation. I'd skip the word "meaningless."

Puja means worship through ceremonial offering of various articles (lamp, water, incense etc.) to the Deity (image). The particular god/goddess is called into the image during its installation ceremony. "Ceremonial dinner" is offered to the Deity before puja. When the Deity accepts the food it becomes spiritualized (prasadam, lit. "mercy").

Definition of Hinduism was accepted by the Supreme Court of India:

"Acceptance of the Vedas with reverence; recognition of the fact that the means or ways to salvation are diverse; and the realisation of the truth that the number of Gods to be worshipped is large, that indeed is the distinguishing feature of the Hindu religion." B.G. Tilak's definition of what makes one a basic Hindu, as quoted by India's Supreme Court. On July 2, 1995, the Court referred to it as an "adequate and satisfactory formula." (from Hinduism Today)

On these three points one can illustrate the difference between Hinduism and VaiSNavism: VaiSNavas accept the Vedas but accept "many paths" only partially - different scriptural paths are means leading to the end (liberation) but the path of devotion and service (bhakti) is both the means and the end. It continues forever, even after liberation. There is no merging into the brahmajyoti (light of Brahman). Rather, ViSNu/KRSNa is the ultimate source of brahmajyoti. Therefore He is the one to be worshiped, and "many gods" are to be revered as His empowered representatives only, not to be worshiped as independent of Him. This is taught by the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic scriptures. There could be other points added but in general the article is pretty good.

Hope this helps. Keep up the good work.

Vedic traditions

There are four main groups or practices in Vedic tradition: VaiSNavism, Smartaism, Shaivism, Shaktism

1. VaiSNavism (the main topic of this website)

OM Namo NArAyaNAya, Hare KRSNa

Worship of ViSNu, RAma and KRSNa and His various avatAras in a profoundly devotional form is the basis of VaiSNavism. Intense devotion to a personal Supreme God, ViSNu through bhakti yoga is the path to perfection. There are four main VaiSNava traditions - ViziSTadvaita, Dvaita (includes Acintya-bheda-abheda), Suddha- advaita, and Dvaitadvaita. VaiSNavism is followed by a majority of people in India.

2. Smartaism

OM NamaH ZivAya

Smartaism is an ancient brahminical tradition reformed by Adi Shankara. The word smarta means one who follows the smriti or dharma sastras. Smartas follow the smriti literature, particularly dharma shastra, PurANas and the Itihasas. They worship five forms of God and also revere the Vedas and the Agamas. They worship Shiva, ViSNu, Ganapati, Surya and Shakti and this system is called pancayatana (pancopasana). Kumara was further added by Shankara's reform. Today they are synonymous with Adi Shankara's monistic, meditative and philosophical theories. The five group system of smartas is there because each deity can be chosen as one's own personal and preferred deity (ishta devata). Smartas believe in attainment of salvation mainly through jnana yoga. However other yogas like bhakti yoga, karma yoga and raja yoga are recognized as leading to enlightenment. Jnana yoga involves the study of scriptures (shravana), reflection (manana) and sustained meditation (dhyana).

3. Shaiva

OM Namah ZivAya

There are six main sub-groups of Shaivism:

Zaiva siddhAnta

Pazupata

Kashmir Shaiva or Trika (tantric)

VIra Zaiva or LiGgAyata

Siddha Zaiva

Ziva Advaita

Sometimes LakulIza Zaivism is also added.

A system of temple mysticism and an enlightened view of man's place in the universe as well as siddha yoga form the basis of Shaivism. The final goal of Shaivism is realizing one's identity with Shiva in perfect union and non-differentiation (monism, kevaladvaita) based on advaita philosophy.

The path for Shaivites is divided into four progressive stages of belief and practice called Charya, Kriya, Yoga and Jnana. Union with Shiva comes through the grace of the satguru and culminates in the soul's maturity in the state of jnana, or wisdom. Shaivism values both bhakti and yoga sadhana.

4. Shakta

OM CandikAyai NamaH

The worship of Mother Goddess in her fierce or gentle form is the basis of Shaktism. Shaktas use mantra, tantra, yantra, yoga and pUja to invoke cosmic forces and awaken the kuNDalini power. They consider the Goddess a manifested form of the deity whose worship leads to the masculine unmanifested form or Ziva, thus attaining salvation.

There are four different expressions:

Devotional

Shamanic

Yogic

Universalist

The devotional Shaktas make pUja rites to invoke Sri Cakra Yantra to establish intimacy with the Goddess. The shamanic Shaktas - usually with the help of a medium - use magic, tantra and trance as well as fire walking and animal sacrifice for healing, fertility and power. The Shakta yogis seek to awaken the sleeping Goddess KuNDalini and unite her with Lord Ziva in their sahasrAra cakra. The universalists follow the reformed Vedantic teachings and traditions.

Related:
Tantra and Veda relationship

VaiSNavism - historical and philosophical roots

Vedic civilization is recognized by scholars from all over the world as one of the most important periods of human history. It left a cultural heritage of unlimited physical, metaphysical and spiritual value in form of science, art and religion.

This civilization has been from its beginning based on spiritual wisdom, delivered personally by God, KRSNa, at the creation of the universe, to the first created being and secondary creator, Brahma. He gave this wisdom to his son Narada and this celebrated sage turned it over - among other of his disciples - to Vyasadeva living in a holy place of Badrinath, high up in the Himalayas.

From the creation of the universe until the beginning of Kali-yuga, the present age, lasting already about 5,000 years, this science of spiritual realization and development of God (KRSNa) consciousness, was a public property of the whole humanity and it was transferred only orally.

Before the advent of Kali-yuga the great sage Vyasadeva had a divine vision of catastrophic future of humankind in the coming age of hypocrisy and strife. To save and preserve this transcendental knowledge he therefore, for the first time in history, put it into a written form. This knowledge is still transferred from a teacher to a disciple within the four main VaiSNava lineages bearing the names of their originators: Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya sampradAya, Lakshmi or Sri sampradAya, Rudra sampradAya and Sanaka Kumara sampradAya. Teachings of these schools follow about three hundred fifty millions of adherents, all of whom worship God as Lord ViSNu or KRSNa by their devotional service (bhakti).

In accordance with scriptures and testimony of unlimited sages and liberated persons, the Supreme Lord in this age of Kali descends to the material world in the form of KRSNa's pure devotee named Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu, the son of mother Sacidevi. He influenced the then society in an unique way by rejecting the rigid, artificially created caste system and enabling everyone an access, in a supremely easy and effective way, to the pure love for KRSNa. In this way he inaugurated a new, golden age of the next ten thousand years, exceptionally suitable for the spiritual advancement of the whole planet, which will be known as Caitanya Era.

Movement of Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu in sixteenth century crowned the renaissance of bhakti started by Sri RAmAnujacarya of Sri sampradAya in twelfth century. Sri Caitanya stressed the importance of glorification of God by singing of His holy names, especially the congregational one, so-called sankirtana. His influence spread around India, mainly in its North and North-East, and His followers, especially Six Gosvamis of Vrndavan, established the majority of temples and pilgrimage sites in the Mathura-Vrndavan area.

Philosophy of Sri Caitanya MahAprabhu and His first disciples says that everything in this world is different from God and at the same time identical with Him, which enables the inconceivable (acintya) power of God. It allows Him to be at the same time immanent (all-pervading) and transcendent (remaining outside of this world). This philosophy is therefore called acintya-bheda-abheda-tattva. Sri KRSNa, together with His amorous partner Radha, is glorified as Divine Lover, surrounded by confidential friends, unlimited number of devotees who all together eternally enjoy in the spiritual world, immersed in mutual love.

Related:
Sri V. N. Gopala Desikan - A Dialog on Hinduism (on Sri sampradAya, .pdf)
Caitanya Charan das - History of GauDIya VaiSNavism (5-part seminar, .mp3)

Universal religion of bhakti

As individual living beings, who are actually eternal spiritual sparks of God, we are now incased in the material power of KRSNa, which consists of the gross material energy and the subtle material energy - the psychic energy, which consists of mind, intelligence, and false ego. This material energy of God comprises this universe including the minds of the individual living beings, who try to exploit the universe. The material world - the power of God's energy - is a place of suffering and it is temporary. The fact that everything is temporary terminates whatever pleasure we might feel in this world.

Beyond God's material energy - which is like a prison house for the conditioned living beings, who have come here to enjoy separately from KRSNa, trying to imitate Him as the central enjoyer - we find His spiritual energy, in which all living beings serve God in eternity, knowledge and bliss. God's material power is in direct contrast to His spiritual power.

Whereas KRSNa's material power consists of non-endurance, ignorance and misery, His spiritual power consists of eternity, knowledge and bliss. Since we as living beings - spiritual sparks of consciousness - belong to KRSNa's spiritual power of sat-chit-ananda - eternity, awareness and bliss - we can actually only find satisfaction in KRSNa's spiritual power. Under the influence of the material power, as we are now, we will always end up miserable and frustrated, for whatever pleasure or enjoyment we might contact through our bodies and minds is going to be replaced by suffering when it ends.

Thus the Vedas state that the bottom line of this world is that it is a temporary place full of suffering.

According to the Vedas, which is the most original, vast and comprehensive body of knowledge on the planet, KRSNa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Original Source of everything. KRSNa promises us that by chanting His name, in the form of the Hare KRSNa mantra, we can break free of our illusory attachment to the material world and experience a higher pleasure, by being reinstated in our original spiritual positions of never-ending total blissful awareness.

As for other ways of seeing KRSNa, we consider other religions and all other deities of different cultures as manifestations of KRSNa's teachings to the human society. Hence, according to cultural distinctions, God may be known by various names, and reveal Himself through various prophets, and may thus be conceived of in various ways by the different people of the world.

But the Vedas distinguish between the eternal religion of man and his temporary religion, that he may adopt according to the particular civilization in which he is raised. The temporary religion may change, like one may change from Christian to Muslim or convert to Hinduism, or call oneself a Buddhist or a democrat or whatever, but the eternal religion of the living entity, which is service to God, can never change.

Thus it is stated that the eternal occupation of the living entity is to serve KRSNa. All other occupations are temporary and can therefore not satisfy us fully. Of course you can serve God in whichever religion He manifests through, but very few religions teach pure unmotivated service to God, as many of them are selfishly motivated.

What ISKCON offers is to become connected with a bonafide disciplic succession, which teaches detailed knowledge of God, and how to develop love for Him. And this love is what everyone is looking for.

Now we search for love in the material world, but there is no love here, and even if there were, it turns to sorrow when our loved ones leave us. Therefore the Vedas tell us to not search for love in the material world, for it is a waste of time, but to search love for KRSNa. When we develop that love, by the purificatory process of KRSNa consciousness, we will finally be fully satisfied.

Who is a VaiSNava?

Brahmavaivarta PurANa 4.1.44-65:

44 A person who is attracted to topics of Lord KRSNa, whose heart is plunged in remembering them, whose bodily hairs stand erect and who sheds tears to hear them, is said to be a devotee by the wise.
45 A person who with his heart, mind and words knows that his wife, children and everything are all the property of Lord Hari is said to be a devotee by the wise.
46 A person who is kind to all living entities and who knows that Lord KRSNa is present everywhere in this world, is very wise. He is a devotee. He is the best of devotees.
47 Those happy persons who, alone in a secluded holy place, meditate on Lord Hari’s lotus feet, are also great devotees.
48 They who always sing the Lord’s holy names, chant mantras describing His glories, and hear and sing songs describing Him, are very great devotees.
49 A person who obtains sweet candies and is very happy at heart to offer them to Lord Hari, is a devotee. He is the best of the wise.
50 A person who, day and night, and even in his dreams, thinks of Lord Hari’s lotus feet, has used up all his past karma. He is a devotee.
51 The wise say that a person into whose ear a Visnu-mantra has entered from his guru’s mouth, is a very pure devotee.
52 A devotee delivers his family. He delivers seven generations before and seven generations after, seven generations of grandparents, children, grandchildren, and other relatives.
53 A devotee always delivers his wife, daughter, friend, disciple, granddaughter, servant, maidservant and son.
54 The devotee always desire to visit holy pilgrimage places. By the devotee’s touch and glance the sins sinners leave there are at once destroyed.
55 A place where a devotee stays for as long as it takes to milk a cow becomes a holy place. All the holy places on the surface of the earth are present in that place.
56-57 As if he were plunged in the Ganga of transcendental knowledge, as if he were rapt in the thought of Lord KRSNa, as if he were in a forest of tulasi trees, a KRSNa-temple, Vrndavana, Haridvara, or other holy places, a sinner who dies there attains the abode of Lord Hari.
58 When a sinner bathes in a holy place his sins flee. His sins are destroyed by a breeze that has touched a devotee.
59 As dry straw in a blazing fire, these sins cannot survive.
60 Seven lifetimes of sins are destroyed for whoever sees they who travel on the path of devotional service.
61 The pious credits earned in a hundred births are at once destroyed for they who blaspheme Lord KRSNa or His saintly devotee.
62 They are cooked in the terrible hell called Kumbhipaka. They are eaten by worms for as long as the sun and moon exist.
63 Simply by seeing such a blasphemer all one’s piety is destroyed. If he sees him, a wise man bathes in the Ganga or glances at the sun, and in that way becomes purified.
64 Simply by a devotee’s touch a sinner becomes liberated. His sins are destroyed. Lord KRSNa stays in his heart.
65 O brahmana, in this way I have described the glories of Lord Visnu and His devotees. Now please listen and I will tell you of Lord Hari’s birth.

kama krodha vihina ye hinsa dambha vivarjitah
lobha moha vihinas ca jneyas te vaisnava janah

Those who are free from lust, anger, violence, arogance, greed, illusion, they are said to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.83)

dharma upadesinas caiva dharma acara paras tatha
guru susrusinas caiva vijneyas te ca vaisnavah

Those who are preaching the transcendental message given by the Supreme Lord, follow it as a way of life and worship their own spiritual master are VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya Yogasara 2.85)

ekadasi vratam te ca bhakti bhavena kurvate
gayanti mama namani jneyas te vaisnava janah

Those who observe Ekadasi with full devotion and sing My holy names are VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.28 ?)

tulasi mula mrdbhis ca tilakani nayanti ye
tulasi kastha pankais ca jneyas te vaisnava janah

Those who put tilaka marks on their forehead with the mud taken from the root of Tulasi or those who put tilaka out of the paste of Tulasi wood are said to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.92)

salagrama sila yesam grhe vasati sarvada
sastram bhagavatam caiva jneyas te vaisnava janah

In whose house ZAlagram zila and ZrImad BhAgavatam are found, they are said to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.94)

mat pada salilair yesam siktani mastakani ca
mama naivedyam asnanti jneyaste vaisnava janah
ksut trt prapiditebhyas ca ye yacchanty anna ambu ca
kuryur ye yoga susrusam jneyas te bhagavata janah

Whoever's head is washed with the water from washing My two lotus feet and whoever eats food offered to Me are said to be VaiSNavas. Those who distribute food grains and water to needy people suffering from hunger and thirst and who follow the yoga of devotional service are said to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.98,99)

bahuna 'tra kim uktena bhasitena punah punah
mama 'rca ye ca kurvanti vijneyas te ca vaisnava

What is the use of saying more and more? Those people who actually worship are said to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Kriya YogasAra 2.107)

tilakani dvadasadha nityam vai dharayed budhah
dharma adharmam tu janati yah sa vaisnava ucyate

Any intelligent person who daily wears twelve tilaka marks on his body. If he knows what is dharma and what is adharma he is said to be a VaiSNava. (Padma PurANa, Uttara Khanda 68.7)

vipra bhakti rata ye ca parastrisu napunsakah
ekadasi vrata rata vijneyas te ca vaisnavah
gayanti hari namani tulasi malya dharakah
hary anghri salilaih sikta vijneyas te ca vaisnavah

Those people who are devoted to dvijas, are indifferent to another's wife, very attached to fasting on Ekadasi, sing the holy name of Lord Hari, wear the Tulasi garland necklace and and sprinkle the water emanated from the lotus feet of Lord Hari on their head should be understood as VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Brahma Khanda 1.23,24)

srnvanti visnu caritam vijneya vaisnava narah
yasya grhe supratisthec chalagrama sila'pi ca

One who hears the transcendental narrations of Lord ViSNu, should be understood to be a VaiSNava. Any house where there is a Salagram Sila being worshipped, is understood to belong to a VaiSNava. (Padma PurANa, Brahma Khanda 1.28)

veda sastra anurakta ye tulasi vana palakah
radhastami vrata rata vijneyas te ca vaisnavah
sri krsna purato ye ca dipam yacchanti sraddhaya
para nindam na kurvanti vijneyas te ca vaisnavah

Those who are attached to studying Vedic literatures, protect Tulasi forests, fast on Radhastami day, offer a lamp to Lord Sri KRSNa with good faith and who do not criticize others are understood to be VaiSNavas. (Padma PurANa, Brahma Khanda 1.31,32)

sAGgaM sa-mudraM sa-nyAsaM
sa-RSi-cchanda-daivatam
sa-dIkSA-vidhi sa-dhyAnaM
sa-yantraM dvAdazAkSaram
aSTAkSaram athAnyaM vA
ye mantraM samupAsate
jJeyAs te vaiSNavA lokA
viSNv-arcana-ratAH sadA

VaiSNavas should be understood to be those who regularly worship Lord ViSNu and chant either the twelve-syllable viSNu-mantra, the eight-syllable mantra, or some other mantra of His. They should have properly received the mantra through initiation and, along with the mantra, should have been instructed in the secondary rituals and the hand gestures and bodily markings pertaining to the mantra. Such VaiSNavas should know about the meter in which the mantra is recited, the sage who transmitted the mantra, the Deity the mantra worships, the method of preliminary meditation on the mantra, and the symbol by which the mantra is visually represented. (Padma PurANa, Svarga-khaNDa 31.112–113)

pUrvaM kRtvA tu sammAnam
avajJAM kurute tu yaH
vaiSNavAnAM mahI-pAla
sAnvayo yAti saGkSayam

"O ruler of the world, one who first respects a VaiSNava and then later insults him is vanquished along with his family." (Skanda PurANa)

When asked for a definition of a VaiSNava, Lord Caitanya replied, asat saGga tyAga: a VaiSNava is one who avoids the association of the nondevotees. (CC Madhya 22.87)

"The simple definition of VaiSNava is given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: a person who immediately reminds one of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, KRSNa, is a VaiSNava." (SB 4.21.37 purport)

A: (Bhakti Ananda Goswami) Please read our Acaryas' definition of "VaiSNava" from their book "VaiSNavism and Nam Bhajan". I have exactly quoted it in my letter to the French Association of VaiSNavas.

We might, however, wish to limit the stricter definition of VaiSNava to those who pursue the path of suddha-bhakti, not knowingly mixing their theology with karma and jnana.

The following definitions of a VaiSNava are given by Sri Jiva Gosvami in his Bhakti-sandarbha:

The original verse (Anuccheda 202) is as follows:
ete hi vaiSNavAH santo mahattvena san-mAtratvena ca vibhidya nirdiSTAH
san-mAtra-bhede tAratamyaM cAtra yad aviviktaM tad-bhakti-bheda-nirUpaNe purato vivecanIyam
anye tu sva-goSThy-apekSayA vaiSNavAH tatra karmiSu tad-apekSayA

Earlier the greatness of different categories of VaiSNavas was related. Now different kinds of bhakti which were previously described together are discriminated between and compared with each other. Now various classes of VaiSNavas are considered along with fruitive workers.

Then Jiva Gosvami proceeds to cite three verses in defining a VaiSNava.

yathA skAnde mArkaNDeya-bhagIratha-saMvAde-
dharmArthaM jIvitaM yeSAM santAnArthaM ca maithunam
pacanaM vipramukhyArthaM jJeyAs te vaiSNavA narAH. ity Adi

In the Skanda PurANa, Markandeya instructs Bhagiratha: "Those people for whom the purpose of life is religion, for whom the purpose of sexual intercourse are children, and for whom the purpose of cooking is to serve the brahmins, they are VaiSNavas."

atra zrI-viSNor AjJA-buddhyaiva tat tat kriyata iti vaiSNava-padena gamyate

"Thus they who act in awareness of the orders of ViSNu are understood as VaiSNavas."

He continues:

zrI-visNu-purANe ca - na calati nija-varNa-dharmato yaH sama-matir Atma-suhRd-vipakSa-pakSe
na harati na hanti kiJcid uccaiH sthita-manasaM tam avehi viSNu-bhaktam [ViP 3.7.20] iti
tad-arpaNe tu sutarAm eva vaiSNavatvam

In the Vishnu PurANa: "He who does not abandon his specific varna-dharma, who is equiposed, who is a well-wisher to his enemies, who does not steal, who does not injure anyone, and who is steady in his mind, he is understood as a ViSNu-bhakta." Thus a simple definition of being a VaiSNava is presented.

yathA pAtAla-khaNDe vaizAkha-mAhAtmye-
jIvitaM yasya dharmArthaM dharmo hary-artham eva ca
aho-rAtrANi puNyArthaM taM manye vaiSNavaM bhuvi [PadmaP 5.94.8] iti

In the Patala-Khanda, Vaisakha-mahatmya: "Those who in this world live for the purpose of dharma, and for whom the purpose of dharma is Hari, and who act for the purpose of piety day and night, are known as VaiSNavas.

Thus the concept of Sri Jiva Gosvami is given. Perhaps even more significantly, the Hari Bhakti Vilasa (1.55) states:

gRhIta-viSNu-dIkSAko viSNu-pUjA-paro naraH
vaiSNavo 'bhihito 'bhijJair itaro 'smAd avaiSNavaH

"That person who has taken diksa of ViSNu and who does the puja of ViSNu, he is known as a VaiSNava and all others are non-VaiSNavas."

kRSNa mantro dvija mukhAd yasya karNaM prayAti ca taM vaiSNavaM jagat pUtaM pravadanti purA vidaH
mantra grahaNa mAtreNa naro nArAyanAtmakaH punAti lIlA mAtreNa puruSANAM zatAm zatAm

The knowers of spiritual science call that person a VaiSNava, a purifier of the entire world, who has received a KRSNa mantra from the mouth of a twice-born spiritual master. As soon as a person receives a KRSNa mantra, he becomes situated on the same platform as Lord Narayana Himself and easily delivers one hundred generations of his family. (NArada PaJcarAtra 1.9.21-22)

21. atha vaiSNava-cihNa-dhRtiH, yathA pAdme—
ye kaSTha-lagna-tulasI-nalinAkSA-mAlA ye
bAhu-mUla-paricihNita-zaGkha-cakrAH
ye vA lalATa-phalake lasad-Urdhva-puNDrAs te
vaiSNavA bhuvanam Azu pavitrayanti

Here are VaiSNava symptoms as described in Padma Purana: (having) tulasi mala (on one's neck), arms signed with conch and cakra and forehead with brilliant urdhva pundra tilaka, VaiSNavas purify the Earth. (BhaktirasAmRtasindhu 1.2.122)

Please consider the following words of the great GauDIya VaiSNava Acaryas Srila Thakur Bhaktivinode and Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Thakur from their Book "VaiSNavism and Nam-Bhajan". On pages two and three, these two illustrious Caitanya VaiSNava saints give the following astounding definition of "VaiSNava".

VaiSNaVA

Real VaiSNavism: The word 'VaiSNavism' indicates the normal, eternal and natural condition, functions and devotional characteristics of all individua-souls in relation to ViSNu, the Supreme, the All-pervading Soul. But an unnatural, unpleasant and regrettable sense has been attributed to the word making one understand by the word, VaiSNava (literally a pure and self-less worshipper of ViSNu) a human form with twelve peculiar signs(Tilak) and dress on, worshipping many gods under the garb of a particular God and hating any other human form who marks himself with different signs, puts on a different dress and worships a different God in a different way and designated by the words 'Saiva', 'Sakta', 'Ganapatya', 'Jaina', 'Buddhist', 'Mahomedan', 'Christian' etc.

This is the most unnatural, unpleasant and regrettable sense of the word, 'VaiSNava', which literally and naturally means one who worships ViSNu out of pure love expecting nothing from Him in return.

ViSNu, the Supreme, All-pervading Soul, gives life and meaning to all that is. He is the highest unchallengeable Truth devoid of illusion everywhere and existing through eternity. He is Sat, ever existing, Chit, all-knowing, Ananda, ever-blissful and fully free. He is in jivas and jivas are in Him, as are the rays in the glowing sun and the particles of water in the vast rolling ocean. As nothing but heat and light of the sun, and coldness and liquidity etc. of the sea is found in the constituents of the rays and the particles of water respectively, so nothing but Sat, Chit or free will and Ananda is found in the jiva. The ingredients and attributes of the whole must remain in the part in a smaller degree. So the part it identical with the whole when taken qualitatively and different when taken quantitatively. This is the true and eternal relation between jiva and ViSNu. So He always prevails over jiva who is ever subject to Him. As the service of the master is the fundamental functi on of the servant, so the service of ViSNu is natural and inherent in jiva and it is called VaiSNavata or VaiSNavism and every jiva is a VaiSNava. As a person possessing immense riches is called a miser if he does not display and make proper use of them, so jivas when they do not display VaiSNavata are called Non-VaiSNavas or A-VaiSNavas though in reality they are so."

and from "THE BHAGAVATA" we read on page 18:

"The superiority of BhagavAn consists in the uniting of all sorts of theistical worship into one excellent principle in human nature which passes by the name bhakti. This word has no equivalent in the English Language. Piety, devotion, resignation, and spiritual love unalloyed with any sort of petition except in the way of repentance, compose the highest principle of Bhakti. The BhAgavata tells us to worship God in that great and invaluable principle which is infinitely superior to human knowledge and the principle of yoga.

Our short compass will not admit of an explanation of the principle of bhakti beautifully rising from its first stage of application in the form of brahmic worship in the shape of admiration which is styled the shanta-rasa, to the fifth or the highest stage of absolute union in Love with God, sweetly styled the madhurya-rasa of prema-bhakti. A full explanation will take a big volume which is not our objective here to compose. Suffice it to say that the principle of bhakti passes five distinct stages in the course of its development into its highest and purest form. Then again when it reaches the last form, it is susceptible of further progress from the stage of prema (Love) to that of mahabhava which is in fact a complete transition into the spiritual universe where God alone is the Bridegroom of our soul."

and on page 32:

"The BhAgavata, therefore, allows us to call VyAsa and NArada as zaktyaveza avatAras of the infinite energy of God, and the spirit of the text goes far to honour all great reformers and teachers who lived and will live in other countries. The VaiSNava is ready to honour all great men without distinction of caste, because they are filled with the energy of God. See how universal is the religion of the BhAgavata. It is not intended for a certain class of Hindus alone, but it is a gift to man at large, in whatever country he is born and in whatever society he is bred. In short, VaiSNavism is the Absolute Love binding all men together into the infinite unconditioned and absolute God. May it, peace, reign forever in the whole universe in the continual development of its purity by the exertion of the future heroes, who will be blessed according to the promise of the BhAgavata with powers from the Almighty Father, the Creator, Preserver and the Annihilator of all things in Heaven and Earth."

Srila Bhaktivinode, born in 1838, also said (page 32): "Plato looked at the peak of the Spiritual question from the West and Vyasa made the observation from the East."

Regarding divisive sectarianism or the 'party spirit' he also wrote in "THE BHAGAVATA":

"The true critic is a generous judge, void of prejudices and party spirit. One who is at heart the follower of Mohammed will certainly find the doctrines of the New Testament to be a forgery by the fallen angel. A Trinitarian Christian, on the other hand, will denounce the precepts of Mohammed as those of an ambitious reformer. The reason is simply that the critic should be of the same disposition of mind as the author whose merits he is required to judge. Thoughts have different ways. One who is trained up in the thoughts of the Unitarian Society or of the Vedanta of the Benares school, will scarcely find any piety in the faith of the VaiSNavas. An ignorant VaiSNava, on the other hand, whose business it is to beg from door to door in the name of Nityananda, will find no piety in the Christians. This is because the VaiSNava does not think in the way in which the Christian thinks of his own religion. It may be that both the Christian and the VaiSNava will utter the same sentiment, b ut they will never stop their fight with each other only because they have arrived at their common conclusion by different ways of thought. Thus it is that a great deal of ungenerousness enters into the arguments of the pious Christians when they pass their imperfect opinion on the religion of the VaiSNavas."

and finally Srila Bhaktivinode has lamented...

"Oh! What a trouble it is to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!"

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, VaiSNava Seva, Sajjana Tosani 6.1:

Q. Who is a VaiSNava, madhyama VaiSNava and uttama VaiSNava?

A. Till the time namaparadha is present in one's chanting, the real name does not actually manifest. The result of namabhasa is that the sinful reactions are finished. When the sins are finished, the mind and heart become pure. When the mind and heart become pure, at that time there is no chance for commiting namaparadha. Thus someone comes to stage of chanting the name regularly without aparadha, he is to be called a 'VaiSNava'. In the same if the chanting of name without aparadha becomes continuous then he comes to the stage of 'madhyama VaiSNava'. And when there is the manifestation of hladini-sakti in the heart of the devotee due to chanting he is to be considered the 'uttama VaiSNava'.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, commentary on Manah Siksha, Mantra 10:

Q.What is the speciality of the definition of these three kinds of VaiSNavas given in Sri Caitanya-caritamrita?

A: The VaiSNava who is suddha nama-parayana (taken shelter of chanting the pure name without offenses is actually famous as a 'VaiSNava'. The regular culivator of the holy name without offenses is known as a 'VaiSNava'. The constant cultivator of the holy name without offenses is the madhyama VaiSNava. And simply by whose presence, the pure name manifests in one's mouth is the topmost VaiSNava. Constant association with such devotees is the prime duty of every living entity.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sadhu-ninda, ch. 4, Hari-nama-cintamani:

Q. To what one is a VaiSNava?

A. To the amount one has developed rati (attraction) for chanting of Krsna-nama, to that extent one is a VaiSNava.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Caitanya-sikshamrita 6.4:

Q. Who is actually qualified to engage in nama-bhajana?

A. A madhyama VaiSNava is actually qualified to engage in nama-bhajana.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sadhu-ninda, ch. 4, Hari-nama-cintamani:

vaisnavabhasa, prakrtavaisnava, vaisnavapraya o kanistha-vaisnava- ei sakala ekai kotha

VaiSNavabhasa, prakrta-VaiSNava, VaiSNava-praya and kanistha-VaiSNava are different names for the neophyte devotee.

sadhu-sevahina arcca loukika sraddhaya
prakrta vaisnava haya vaisnavera praya

The neophyte devotee (kanistha VaiSNava) displays a faith that is formal and worldly. He worships the Deity but has no service attitude towards the devotees of the Lord.

vaisnava-abhasa sei, nohe ta' vaisnava
kemane paibe sadhusangera vaibhava

He is almost a VaiSNava (VaiSNava-praya), but is not a real VaiSNava yet; hence, he is not able to take full advantage and understand the glories of sadhu-sanga.

ataeva kanistha madhyete ta're gani
ta're krpa koribena vaisnava apani

Such a neophyte will have to receive the blessings of a real VaiSNava to advance further.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Jaiva-dharma, chapter 8:

Young Nityananda dasa asked, "Saintly babaji, what kind of VaiSNava am I? Am I a neophyte VaiSNava or an intermediate VaiSNava? An advanced VaiSNava I certainly am not."

Saintly Hari dasa Babaji smiled and said, "Can a person who accepts the name Nityananda dasa not be an advanced VaiSNava? Our Nityananda is very merciful. Even when He is beaten, He gives love in return. How can words properly glorify a person who chants Lord Nityananda's name and becomes His servant.

Nityananda dasa: I would like to know truthfully what my position is.

Hari dasa: Son, tell me all about yourself. If Lord Nityananda gives me the power to say, I will tell you.

Nityananda dasa: I was born in a lowly family in a village on the bank of the Padmavati. I was married at a young age. I did not learn how to be wicked. When my wife died, thoughts of renunciation came to my mind. In Baragachi I saw many VaiSNavas who had renounced family life. Everyone was respectful to them. Desiring to be honored like that, and inspired by the temporary feeling of renunciation my wife's death brought, I accepted the garments of a VaiSNava renunciant. After some days wickedness came into my mind. My VaiSNava friend was a very good person. Now he stays in Vraja. He gave me good advice, protected me with his good association, and kept my mind pure. Now my mind no longer wants to leave the right path. It likes to chant a hundred thousand holy names every day. I understand that the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His holy name are not different. Both are perfectly spiritual. I observe ekadasi according to the scriptures and I water tulasi. When the VaiSNavas sing the holy names together, I jn in the singing. I drink the nectar water that has washed the VaiSNava's feet. I read Sri Caitanya-mangala. I do not desire opulent food and clothing. I do not like to hear gossip. When I see how the VaiSNavas are filled with ecstatic love, I also become ecstatic and I roll in the dust that has touched their feet. In spite of all this, to a certain extent I still desire fame. Now please tell me: To what class of VaiSNava do I belong? How should I behave?

Showing a little smile, Hari dasa Babaji said to VaiSNava dasa, "You say. To what class of VaiSNava does Nityananda dasa belong?"

VaiSNava dasa: From what I have heard he has left the neophyte stage and become an intermediate devotee.

Hari dasa: I also think that.

Nityananda dasa: Good. From the mouth of a great soul I now know my true position. Please give your mercy to me so I may gradually become an advanced devotee.

Hari dasa: When you first accepted the garments of a sannyasi, you desired material fame. That inappropriate desire meant that you were still fallen.

In spite of that, the mercy of the VaiSNavas brought auspiciousness to you.

Nityananda dasa: I still have a slight desire for fame. In my mind I think, "Bewildered by the tears in my eyes and many other symptoms of ecstatic love, the people will worship me."

Hari dasa: You should struggle to renounce those thoughts. Don't keep thoughts like those. There is the danger they will diminish your devotional service. If you allow them to diminish your devotion, you will again become a neophyte devotee. Even after lust, anger, and other vices have left, the desire for fame may stubbornly stay with a VaiSNava. It does not go away very easily. A single drop of sincere love for the Lord is better than an elaborate pretense of that love.

Touching the dust of Hari dasa Babaji's feet, Nityananda dasa Babaji said, "Please have mercy on me." Hari dasa at once embraced him and made him sit down. How wonderful is the result attained by a VaiSNava's touch! Tears streamed from Nityananda's dasa's eyes. Taking a blade of grass between his teeth, he said, "I am very fallen and lowly. I am very fallen." Hari dasa Babaji embraced him and wept. How wonderful it all was! Nityananda dasa had attained the true goal of life. After a short time, when all the symptoms of ecstatic love had subsided, in his heart Nityananda dasa accepted Sri Hari dasa as his spiritual master. Then Nityananda dasa asked a question.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Jaiva-dharma, chapter 8:

"The second of these qualities is that one is friendly to the devotees, who are surrendered to the Supreme Lord. Any person in whom pure devotional service is manifested is considered a devotee surrendered to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. NEOPHYTE DEVOTEES ARE NEITHER PURE DEVOTEES NOR ARE THEY SURRENDERED TO THE LORD. THEIR TENDENCY IS TO DISRESPECT THE TRUE PURE DEVOTEES. THEREFORE ONE SHOULD MAKE FRIENDSHIP WITH INTERMEDIATE AND ADVANCED DEVOTEES ONLY. In answering a Kulina-grama devotee's question, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu described the neophyte, intermediate, and advanced devotees. He explained that the intermediate and advanced devotees are counted among the true VaiSNavas, whereas the neophyte devotees, who do not know anything beyond worshipping the Deity, are not yet true VaiSNavas. The true holy name of Lord does not appear on the mouths of such worshippers of the Deity. The name that appears on their mouths is only the shadow of Lord Krsna's holy name (chaya-namabhasa). Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu ordered the intermediate (madhyama) householder devotees to serve all three classes of devotees, the three classes being: 1. a person on whose mouth the holy name of Lord is heard even only once, 2.a person on whose mouth the holy name of Lord Krsna is heard always, and 3. a person the sight of whom inspires one to chant the holy name of Lord Krsna. One should serve a VaiSNava who chants only a shadow of Lord Krsna's holy name. One should serve only a VaiSNava who takes shelter of the pure holy name of Lord Krsna. As there are different kinds of VaiSNava, so there are different kinds of service to VaiSNavas. The "making friendship" includes associating with VaiSNavas, conversing with them, and serving them. The moment one sees a pure VaiSNava one should greet him, honor him, and offered both a sitting place and conversation. One must serve him in all these ways. One should never hate, envy, or insult him. One should not disrespect him if his body is ugly or if he suffers from some disease.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Jaiva-dharma, chapter 25:

Vijaya-kumara: Please explain what benefit namabhasa brings and what benefit it does not bring?

Babaji: Sense pleasures (bhukti), liberation (mukti) and the eighteen yogic perfections are included among the benefits namabhasa brings. However, pure love for Lord Krsna (krsna-prema) which is the highest goal of life, is not granted by namabhasa. If a person whose chanting is on the level of namabhasa associates with a pure devotee (suddha-bhakta), then the chanter can come to the level of a madhyama VaiSNava (intermediate devotee). From that status he can become further elevated, attain pure devotion, chant the holy name purely, and finally attain pure love for Lord Krsna (krsna-prema).

Conclusion:

VaiSNava-praya: Kanishtha-VaiSNava who chants in namabhasa without much faith in the name and sadhu-sanga.

VaiSNava: Between kanishtha and madhyama VaiSNava, who regularly chants the name without offenses.

Madhyama: Intermediate stage when one constantly chants the name without offenses.

Uttama: Perfected stage when one chants the pure name in love of God and simply by whose presence others start chanting the pure name. Very rare.

Chanting a holy name once (with faith) makes one a VaiSNava

prabhu kahe,—"yanra mukhe suni eka-bara
krsna-nama, sei pujya,—srestha sabakara

Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu replied, "Whoever chants the holy name of KRSNa just once is worshipable and is the topmost human being."

purport: Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says that a person who simply chants the holy name of KRSNa once becomes perfect and should be regarded as a VaiSNava. This is confirmed by Srila Rupa Gosvami in his Upadesamrta (5): krsneti yasya giri tam manasadriyeta. With such faith in the holy name one may begin a life of KRSNa consciousness. But an ordinary person cannot chant the holy name of KRSNa with such faith. One should accept the holy name of KRSNa to be identical with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Transcendence Himself. As the Padma PurANa states, "The holy name of KRSNa is identical with KRSNa and is like a cintamani gem, a touchstone. That name is KRSNa personified in sound and is therefore perfectly transcendental and eternally liberated from material contamination." Thus one should understand that the name "KRSNa" and KRSNa Himself are identical. Having such faith, one must continue to chant the holy name. ... (CC 2.15.106, p.)

ataeva yanra mukhe eka krsna-nama
sei ta’ vaisnava, kariha tanhara sammana

One who even once chants KRSNa’s name is described as a VaiSNava; therefore you should offer all respects to him. (CC 2.15.111)

"Whoever says the holy name even once is considered a VaiSNava, and the householder should be careful to respect such a person. But one who is constantly chanting the holy name of KRSNa is even a better VaiSNava, being endowed with all good qualities. And one who, by his very presence can make others chant the name in devotion, is the highest VaiSNava. Now describe to Me exactly all the ways that the living entities take up this name of KRSNa." (Harinama Cintamani ch. 2)

"It is concluded that one who is solely devoted to KRSNa and sings His name is known as a sadhu. Other than the devotees of KRSNa, no one else is considered to be a sadhu. One who considers himself a sadhu is filled with material pride. But one who thinks himself to be the lowest rascal, humbly takes shelter of KRSNa and sings KRSNa's name, is the real sadhu. Knowing himself to be less than a blade of grass, considering himself like a tree of tolerance, not expecting honor for himself and giving honor to all other living entities, he chants the name and attains attraction for KRSNa.
"If a person of the above qualities chants the holy name even once, he is considered a VaiSNava, and should be respected. The VaiSNava is the friend and spiritual leader of the universe; he is an ocean of mercy to all living entities. Whoever criticizes such a VaiSNava goes to hell birth after birth; for there is no path for real liberation other than bhakti, and bhakti is obtained only by the mercy of the VaiSNavas." (Harinama Cintamani ch. 4)

"This/that is not VaiSNava" phrase in Vedabase

Search for the above phrases in Vedabase turned up these quotes (actually few more but they were of the same content):

If you have taken a wife for grhastha life, why are you neglecting? That is not VaiSNava. VaiSNava means he is very much responsible, and if he is householder, then he must be responsible. I cannot give sannyasa to any devotee who has not proven himself to be responsible in all respects. Better you prove yourself first by being ideal householder and forget all this nonsense. (letter to Mahatma, London, July 16, 1972)

So I have given you the guiding principles, it is not that I must be consulted with every small detail, that is the business of the in-charge, but if no one is there who can manage in the right way, what can I do? Now if you have got the right idea how to do it, you may go there again and take some responsible post for correcting the situation, that will be your real duty, not that there is some disagreement and I go away disgusted, no. That is not VaiSNava standard. Standard should be that, never mind there is some difficulty, my spiritual master has ordered me to do like this, now let me do it, that's all. (letter to Bhanutanya, Hyderabad, November 18, 1972)

One devotee, he requested Caitanya Mahaprabhu, "My Lord, You have come. Please liberate all the people of this universe. And if they are sinful, so all their sins, I may take but they may be delivered." This is VaiSNava philosophy. "Others may be delivered by the grace of the Lord. I may rot in the hell. That doesn't matter." Not that, "First of all I go to the heaven, and others will rot." This is not VaiSNava philosophy. VaiSNava philosophy is, "I may rot in hell, but others may be delivered." Patitanam pavanebhyo vaisnavebhyo namo namah. (SB lecture 1.2.16, Vrndavana, October 27, 1972)

Sarve sukhino bhavantu. VaiSNava desire is not exploitation. VaiSNava desire is that "How others will be happy, how they will understand KRSNa, how they will get happiness in this life and next life." This is VaiSNava. Satisfied, in any condition. Not that "I must have all these things; then I'll be satisfied. Otherwise, I'm going from the temple." (laughter.) No, this is not VaiSNava qualification. You must live with the devotees, even if you are not satisfied. Any condition, you should be satisfied. Because as soon as you leave the company, you become again rogues, again demons. (SB lecture 2.3.13-14, Los Angeles, May 30, 1972)

Visnur aradhana means one must become a VaiSNava, and VaiSNava means regulated life, not destroyed everything, finished, to become hogs. That is not VaiSNava. VaiSNava means regulated, end—to, how to satisfy Visnu. (BG lecture 1.43, London, July 30, 1973)

So we should have firm faith, niscaya. Niscayat..., utsahad dhairyat niscayat. But niscayat; at the same time, you should not sit idly. You should work according to the direction of the spiritual master. Tat-tat-karma-pravartanat. "Now KRSNa has given me assurance. Now let me sleep. Everything will come automatically." No. Tat-tat-karma-pravartanat. The spiritual master says, "You must do this. You must do that." That is called tat-tat-karma-pravartanat. Not that "Now I am initiated and..." That is going on in so many places. The guru says, "You think of me. Everything will be all right." I do not wish to name, but a very big ashram, they simply sit idly, and the guru has advised that "Think of me," that's all. This is not VaiSNava principle. VaiSNava principle is you must act according to the order of spiritual master. That is also an order. But the VaiSNava spiritual master orders according to the sastra. Sadhu-sastra-guru- vakya. Guru-mukha-padma-vakya, cittete koriya aikya, ar na koriho mane asa. This is the instruction of our acarya. (SB lecture 3.26.30, Bombay, January 7, 1975)

So actually, all the VaiSNava acaryas, Madhvacarya, RAmAnujacarya, NimbArka, and ViSNu SvAmI, there is no difference of opinion, but they have explained the Absolute Truth more vividly in their own angle of vision. Otherwise there is no difference. They never say that God and the living being are one. They will never say that. That is not VaiSNava philosophy. That is Mayavada philosophy. (lecture of Science of KRSNa, Hyderabad, April 14, 1975)

VaiSNava does not approach KRSNa directly. That is not VaiSNava. This is impudency. You cannot approach KRSNa. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has taught us, gopi-bhartuh pada-kamalayor dasa-dasa- dasanudasah [Cc. Madhya 13.80]. This is the process. (SB lecture 7.9.28, Mayapur, March 6, 1976)

VaiSNava is always humble, meek and humble. That is VaiSNava. VaiSNava is powerful, but still he is very meek and humble. So here is the sign. Prahlada Maharaja is so qualified that immediately Lord Nrsimhadeva put His hand on the head: "My dear child, you have suffered so much. Now be pacified." This is Prahlada Maharaja's position—immediately accepted by the Lord. But he's thinking, "I am so lowborn in the family of passionate family." Ugra-jateh. He's not proud that "Now Nrsimhadeva has touched my head. Ah. Who is like me? I am the greatest personality." This is not VaiSNava. (SB lecture 7.9.8, Mayapur, February 28, 1977)

"Actually," Prabhupada said, "this is a fact. One has to be blessed by a devotee to become a devotee. And he who is the servant of the servant of the servant—one hundred times removed—is not worse than one who directly serves the guru. If one thinks, 'Because I am direct servant, I am better than others,' then he is not a VaiSNava. To offer one's respects to Guru and not to his disciples, this is wrong. This is not VaiSNava. One has to be humble and try to serve all VaiSNavas—not some and not others." (Hari Sauri Dasa, A Transcendental Diary 1 - November 1975 - April 1976. TD 1-9: Sri Dhama Mayapur. January 28th, 1976.)

After being thus worshiped along with His entourage, the Lord accepted a seat of honor. Then He noticed that Romaharshana, Vyasadeva's disciple, had remained seated. (SB 10.78.22)

Summary:

VaiSNava is not characterized by

- material irresponsibility (neglecting duties of one's asrama)

- spiritual irresponsibility (giving up one's service in difficulties)

- selfishness (thinking only of one's own liberation)

- materialism (wishing for material happiness outside VaiSNava sanga)

- unregulated life

- passivity (not acting according to the order of spiritual master)

- attachment to Mayavada

- trying to approach KRSNa directly, not through His devotees

- considering oneself the greatest after receiving the mercy of the Lord

- making differences among VaiSNavas based on their physical proximity to the guru; respecting guru but not his disciples [the ritvik premise]

- even the (Adi) guru's entourage, what to speak of disciples, is to be worshiped

Related:
Opponents, 2.3
VaiSNava tattva (Sri Gaudiya Kanthahara, ch. 3)

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