Bhagavad-Gita at CCSF

Jason - April 5, 2005 7:52 pm

Hare Krsna!


For what it's worth, I wanted to post something of interest to me (and possibly others). I'm currently taking a Philosophy of World Religion class at City College here in San Francisco (CCSF). My spring break is over and today (in a few hours), I will be back in class picking up where we left off. We've covered Judaism, Christianity and Islam thus far, and tonight we start with Hinduism.


Interestingly, the text for this segment of the class is the "Bhagavad-Gita: Krishna's Counsel in Time of War", translated by Barbara Stoler Miller. It's a very small translation, though not the worst! It's written like poetry with no purports. There is a small glossary in the back which was assigned as a way to get ready for the Sanskrit terms the class will now need to learn.


I thought it would be interesting, unless there is opposition, to try and post a little bit about what we cover in class as a means to show the type of understanding that some college teachers have in regards to the teachings of ancient India.


My professor, Steve Georgiou, is an author with 2 masters and a Ph.D. from Berkeley Theological. He is most likely coming from the Christian perspective, though he stresses a nice mood and interest in the early Christian mysitcs. He's definately not your run-of-the-mill, fundamentalist, and his ideas on the religion of India may prove to be interesting. Impersonalist leanings are there, as he's trying to push the idea that all these religions are the same (to a large extent).


We've talked outside of class several times and he knows that I am a devotee. He's recommended that I read certain literatures (to see how many Christian theologians studied Vedanta), and often calls on me in class to draw some corolation between an idea/concept found in Christianity and it's parallel in "Hinduism". He used me several times to show how the idea of the Trinity has some origin in the idea of Bhagavan, Paramatma and Brahman


I will post some of my notes after my classes and perhaps we could talk a bit about it here on the forum.


I'm very much into religious studies, but at the same time, I find myself sitting in class thinking about the ideas being discussed and how they fit into our understanding of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. There's Judaism...and then the Jewish mysics. There's Christianity....and then the Christian mystics. There's Islam....and then Sufism (the more esoteric, slightly more devotional conception of Islam). Now we're venturing into this thing called "Hinduism" which I know is sort of an obsolete term, but it will be interesting to see where he goes with this from his educational knowledge.


Would this be appropriate to post here? We would be bringing a Krsna Conscious understanding to how the academic world views the Bhagavad-Gita within their concept of Hinduism.


Off to class,






P.S. Yes, I would like to get a copy of Tripurari Swami's Bhagavad-Gita for my professor/the dept. It would've really been nice to have arranged for Maharaja to come and speak with my class. Many in the class are quite interested.

Nanda-tanuja Dasa - April 5, 2005 11:34 pm
It would've really been nice to have arranged for Maharaja to come and speak with my class.

Please inform us if something like that can happen and if outsiders (not CCSF students) can attend.

Vrindaranya Dasi - April 6, 2005 1:43 pm

Yes. Please do post here. It would be interesting and fruitful to discuss.




Jason - April 6, 2005 4:47 pm



OK, so as I was sitting in class, and listening to the presentation last night, I was realizing that there are some huge misconceptions! Then I started to wonder, "OK, I'm seeing things from the vantage point of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and that apparently differs greatly from this brand of Hinduism that is being presented in schools. So, there must be schools of thought in India who see things the way it's being presented here in class."


Instead of getting all puffed up and raising my objections, when Steve (the professor) called on me for specification, I didn't want to challenge his authority in front of the class.


I opted for this approach: I said that from my limited knowledge, the ideas that he was presenting as "hinduism" was in line with the teachings of Sankaracarya, which does have a huge place in Indian theology. He was familiar with that and agreed. I mentioned that Gaudiya Vaisnavism comes from a slightly different angle; one that stresses a personal relationship with God as being the topmost realization.


He was presenting the "All is One and we merge with Brahman" idea. I'm sure you all get the gist of what he was presenting.


However, there were some interesting things I noted; some observations of classmates as well as questions presented, that the professor didn't really address properly (again, in terms of Vaisnavism), and I realized how the class (in general) went from not really liking religion as presented in the 3 big western religions, to being utterly confused when we started discussing the east.


Shannon, a girl next to me mentioned that she didn't even understand the intro to Bhagavad-Gita that was assigned reading. She was stumbling over Sanskrit terms (so was the professor!) and couldn't really follow the concepts.


I realized how confusing "Hinduism" appears to persons who have no interest in studying it, or even a basic understanding for that matter. Proper presentation is so very important. I thought of how nice it would have been if Tripurari Swami could have been there to shed light on the subject; how people would have grasped things a little more.


A few persons mentioned how the ideas of karma and reincarnation, as foreign as they were to them, seemed to make more sense. Many heads nodded at the idea that the soul is eternal and the body is just a vehicle.


This class was just the initial overview and terms like moksha, maya, lila stunned the class. Some students take yoga, so had some working knowledge of asanas and pantanjali's yoga sutras.


When he outlined the basic types of yoga, Bhakti was in there as devotional practices. Steve did mention that the conclusion of Bhagavad-Gita rests on Bhakti/love as the highest principle. He described and compared the life and preaching of Jesus to the pastimes of Krsna as a way to define "lila". He did mention that the word hinduism was a misnomer and defined the religion of India as sanatana-dharma. He specified how dharma is hard to translate into an inclusive English word. I mentioned that there are 2 types of dharma, nitya-dharma and Naimittika-dharma, and that Krsna specifies nitya-dharma as the eternal duty of the living entity (is this right???).


He was under the impression that if one attains liberations and merges with the Brahman, the living entity could in fact return to the material world. I tried my best on this one.....I said, in regards to the teachings of Sankaracarya, this merging would be the topmost liberation, whereas in Gaudiya Vaisnavism it would not be. From our perspective, a jiva can fall from the Brahman effulgence because he/she is still prone to maya. However, when the jiva reaches the topmost spiritual realm and is engaged in their eternal service with Krsna, we don't believe there is the chance to fall from this position. Similarly, in Buddhism, since they are essentially merging with Brahman, great mahatmas/boddhisattvas do often achieve liberation and then come back to the material world. I said that from the Gaudiya Vaisnava perspective, often times Krsna or His representative will come from the spiritual world for specific purposes, but that we should never view those persons at any point as under the influence of maya.


How'd I do on that one????


The class started to turn to me with questions, and I felt odd; like I was making the professor uncomfortable, so I shut up for a while.


I will post some more information from the class a bit later.


I swear the differences between the religions of the west are striking. It make me so reassured to know that Vaisnavism contains all the teachings of Christ, the Jewish and Christian mysitic, the Sufis...and then SO, SO, SO much more. The conceptions never cease to blow me away. I can point out similarities, but I'm reminded of how they are still miles apart.


Hope this is of some interest.





Jason - April 6, 2005 5:04 pm

As a side note, based on my interest in pursuing a degree in religious studies, my professor was talking with me about UC Berkeley and the GTU where he received his degrees. He mentioned some some persons I should speak with in the deptartment, and also mentioned that he remembers a devotee from school at the GTU who went on to Oxford in the U.K. I believe this was Krsna Ksetra prabhu (who recently did some more advanced coursework). He also has heard of Dr. Howard Resnick (Hridayananda Goswami).


I just thought that was cool! He said they would wear their tilak to school and often got comments. He remembers them both as very sincere and dedicated students.


He mentioned the Hare Krsna mantra in class too and how the two above talked with him about chanting. He asked me what the "Hare" meant and I could only say that I believed it was a linguistic derivative of "Hara" which could imply the feminine aspect or energy of Krsna....thus Srimati Radharani. I said that just as we worship Radha & Krsna, so too Radha is included when chanting the maha mantra.



Jason - April 7, 2005 5:41 am

Does anyone know why it is that when colleges started to offer classes on Indian theology, they opted for this impersonal approach as the fundamental basis? Sure, there must be thousands and thousands of Hindus who subscribe to the impersonal conception, but likewise there are thousands and thousands of Vaisnavas.


I wonder why the school of Sankaracarya was chosen? Especially considering that the majority of westerners come from Christian backgrounds where there is more of a personal conception (with Christ as a manifestation of the Divine in nara-lila).


Any ideas?



Shyam Gopal Das - April 7, 2005 2:44 pm

Just speculation on my side, Jason, but maybe Christian missionaries defined hinduism as we know it in the west. In this way, the indian people could be portrayed as heathen and required conversion to christianity. A personal God would be too much like the Christian God...

Bhrigu - April 7, 2005 4:44 pm

I'm not sure whether there is such a fundamental basis as you say, Jason. Most of the more recent publications on Hinduism for a general audience do very clearly say that Advaita has a quite small part of popular Hinduism today. But Advaita got a good start in Europe with Vivekananda, and Shankara is a very good writer. His Sanskrit is very enjoyable to read, compared with for example Ramanuja.


As for individual lecturers, their approaches will naturally vary a lot. Many are not so knowledgeable about Vedanta and so on, and will appreciate if their students can add something -- especially if they can do so without harming the authority of the teacher...


I just started a short lecture course on Hinduism today, and I promise that I will mention Swami as a "prominent Western exponent of Gaudiya Vedanta" or something like that. So then at least one lecturer gets it right! :blink:

Jason - April 13, 2005 7:09 am



Class tonight was really nice, in the sense that there were many questions and the professor directed several questions to me to try and answer. I appreciated that and made sure to not step on any toes in the process. In addition, I decided to bring prasadam for my class. I rushed home from a mid-afternoon class so that I could pick up a few things. I kept it simple; a basic basmati rice with peas and cashews and cinnamon-apple-raisin halava. I managed to serve the prasadam still warm from the oven to an eager class of about 25 students. They loved it, and I just kept thinking how merciful Krsna is that he arranges so that the jiva can make some advancement by simply taking prasadam. I explained quickly the significance of offering bhoga to Krsna, and they were quite receptive.


Class started with a basic overview and then we moved to discuss the assigned reading (pretty much the entire book; this edition is quite small). Steve (the professor), again stressed the "unity of oneness" (whatever that is), but this time we got to talk more about Krsna in His position on the battlefield. Steve attempted to set the scene on the battlefield, mentioning the allegorical approach; i.e. the battlefield represents the body and the persons present in the armies are our material attachments/desires. He started to explain jnana-yoga, karma-yoga AND did point out that devotion was superior to everything else.


I started to drift and think about how all these people in class are saying, "So, Krsna...this", and "Krsna says....that". Krsna's name was being said over and over by people who didn't even understand the implications of that. From our perspective, so much advancement can be made by just speaking Krsna's name. I wondered if anyone would have any desire to know more even from this basic overview of a class?


Crystal rose her hand and mentioned that she didn't think she would have understood much without the introduction in the book. What's more, after the first lecture, she could understand a little more. How much more she could understand if the philosophy was being spoken by a devotee? She said that there was a lot of repetition of ideas in the books and wondered why. Steve mentioned that the dialogue was that of a student and a teacher and sometimes the teacher has to express things over and over so that the student can understand. I mentioned that from the Gaudiya Vaisnava perspective, we recognize Arjuna as a pure devotee who is well aware of Krsna's position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. However, under the spell of yoga maya, he becomes bewildered so that Krsna can speak on the nature of the self for the benefit of generations and generations to come.


Steve: So Krsna is taking the position as a teacher, a guru even though He's God?


Gillian: Can't one learn about God/Krsna without a guru? Couldn't one learn by reading?


Me: Sure...but only to a point. We're all here because we have some interest in the subject, and realized that we could stand to benefit from hearing from a more advanced source. Steve is that person. Similarly, in spiritual life, we make the most continuous progress when we seek out a teacher who has realized his relationship with Krsna and can guide us.


Steve: Have you heard of the idea of 'anamesis'. It's a greek idea from Plato who suggested that we are completely full of knowledge, and in essence, our "learning" is actually just "remembering"


(I've never heard of this idea?)


Later, Steve mentioned something about the jiva and then....that turned into "we are all God". ????


I offered up the idea of two birds in a tree; atma and Paramatma, and how Paramatma is a manifestation of Krsna in the heart of every living entity. Steve appreciated that and mentioned that the "two birds" are often depicted in Indian art.


Steve (perhaps many professors) haven't heard of this idea that each individual has a distinct, personal relationship with Krsna in the spiritual world. The personal aspect is lost to them.


I will have to write more later.


I did want to mention, that if there will be a Bhagavad-Gita class soon in Santa Rosa, several classmates would like to come and visit. One of our final projects is a paper on our observances at a religious class/ceremony that is not our particular faith.


I suggest that they come with me to Santa Rosa to hear from Tripurari Maharaja?


Any suggestions?





Babhru Das - April 13, 2005 6:18 pm

Time is short. When is the end of the term, and what is the due date for the paper?

Citta Hari Dasa - April 13, 2005 9:36 pm

Wow, I didn't know there was a technical term for 'remembering what we already know', but apparently 'anamesis' is it. Regardless of what it's called, though, this is a basic Advaitin idea. In this view the jiva exists only due to maya; it is in fact fully identical with Brahman, which as we know is sat-cid-ananda, the cit aspect being full of knowledge. Thus the jiva does not need to learn anything new, it only needs to 'remember' that it is God! (And how, exactly, can God be bewildered by maya? But I digress.)


It occurs to me as I write this that the logical and philosophical shortcomings of Sankara's advaita vedanta would make a great discussion for another thread, Every sadhaka would benefit greatly by understanding Jiva Goswami's arguments against this philosophy thoroughly. Who is interested?

Gauravani Dasa - April 13, 2005 9:59 pm

I am interested. I would also enjoy comparing the details of other schools of vedanta.

Citta Hari Dasa - April 14, 2005 2:01 am

Good! Anybody else?

Nanda-tanuja Dasa - April 14, 2005 3:45 am

I'm interested as well. I'm also highly interested in comparing the details of different Vaishnava sampradayas (Shri, Madhva, Vallabha, etc).

Jason - April 14, 2005 5:53 am

I'm intersted, so that I can understand why in the classroom, only the impersonalist approach is taught; where it is that the professors are getting their ideas. I don't know the origins of the other approaches to Vedanta....that would be cool to understand.

Jason - April 15, 2005 3:47 pm

I just remembered that Steve, my professor, mentioned that quite a few years before Srila Prabhupada came to the west, there was an Indian devotee who attended the Parliament of World Religions (I want to say in the 30's or 40's). Steve mentioned that he was the follower of a 16th century saint who was said to be Krsna. I said, "Sri Caitanya", and he lit up with a "Yes!"


Who was this person who visited the states before Prabhupada?





Swami - April 16, 2005 1:38 am

He's talking about Vivekananda, who was not a Vaisnava. His famous statement at the Parliment was "You are all looking for God, but you do not know that you yourselves are God."

Jason - April 16, 2005 5:03 am



I know that Vivekananda wasn't a Vaisnava, but he (my professor) seemed to be sure that this person was coming from our sampradaya who recognized Sri Caitanya as Krsna Himself....could there have been someone else? Didn't Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur send a few devotees to try to preach in the west before Srila Prabhupada came in the 60's?


I've heard about that statement made at the World Religion Conference by Vivekananda, it never made sense to me!

Radhanama Dasa - April 16, 2005 5:24 am

perhaps your professor is refering to Bon Maharaja, i believe he was in London in the 30's, but i don't know much more about him.

Bhrigu - April 16, 2005 9:37 am

Your professor was referring to Mahanambrata Brahmacari, a disciple of Mahendranath, the first disciple of Prabhu Jagadbandhu, and the founder of the Mahanama Sampradaya. Mahanambrata Brahmacari visited the states in the mid thirties, and wrote his thesis ("Vaishnava Vedanta") on Jiva Goswami's philosophy at Chicago University. He also tried to preach Vaishnavism. He wrote a small booklet about his stay in the USA with the title "Lord's Grace on my Race" and many other books in English and Bengali. An American author wrote about him in the fifties, I think, but I forget his name or the name of the short story. My aunt and the Swami, or something like that.


The Mahanama Sampradaya is what we would call an apa-sampradaya of Gaudiya Vaishnavism. They call themself neo-Gaudiyas. They consider Jagadbandhu to be the most excellent of all avataras, combining Radha-Krishna, Gaura-Nitai and everyone within himself. Jagadbandhu is considered to sleep in a mystic slumber in his samadhi in Krishnanagar, from which he will awaken one day and liberate the world. They have their own mantra and a philosophy that in some details differ from orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnavism, but when Mahanambrata Brahmacari became the leader of this group (he was so until a few years ago when he passed away), he tried to draw them closer to the philosophy of the Goswamins. They sing very beautiful kirtanas.


These group is quite numerous in Bangladesh, and they have temples in every Gaudiya Vaishnava dhama. In America, they have a small group of them iat least in New York.

Shyam Gopal Das - April 16, 2005 11:22 am


Jason - April 16, 2005 4:07 pm



Thanks so much! That's what it was that I think he was speaking of. I had no idea that this occured. I have no idea who Jagadbhandu is/was? Do they recognize Lord Caitanya in any way? Was this person (who visited the states) influential in any real way? Was this the first time that westerners heard of vaisnavism? That's really interesting.


Thank you.



Bhrigu - April 16, 2005 5:51 pm
I have no idea who Jagadbhandu is/was? Do they recognize Lord Caitanya in any way? Was this person (who visited the states) influential in any real way? Was this the first time that westerners heard of vaisnavism?


If your interested, you can read more about him at




Yes, they do recognize Lord Caitanya, but since they consider Jagadbandhu to be his second rebirth (Srinivas Acharya as the first) he kind of falls into the background. I would consider these people (very!) un-orthodox Gaudiya Vaishnavas. From what I have read, it seems that Jagadbandhu started out as a fairly standard albeit extremely charismatic Gaudiya Vaishnava preacher, but he then became more and more eccentric. In ISKCON lingo, he was a "far out" person! Finally, locked himself up in a small hut for 16 or so years, at the end emerging as a totally transformed person, behaving like a small boy. Rather frightening, actually. To me, the most intriguing part of this sect is that they really believe that he will any day rise from his grave and save the world. Sounds familiar? :huh:


But no, his follower Mahanambrata Brahmacari wasn't the first GV preacher. Bon Maharaja & co came a little earlier, but the first was one Baba Premananda Bharati, a person apparently loosely affiliated with another unorthodox GV group (the "bhaja nitai gaur radhe syam..." people). He came to the states around the previous turn of the century, opened an ashrama, wrote a few books and made some disciples.


These persons are interesting to us, since they are (somehow) connected with our traditions. But to others, they were utterly insignificant Hindu preachers that left little or no impact. It really was Prabhupada who brought GV to the West in a substantial way.


I can't resist the following picture of Mahanambrata Brahmacari in America. Its quite grainy, but you can see that he wasn't "mental" about appearances! He even carried with him a Tulasi from India. ;)


Citta Hari Dasa - April 16, 2005 6:39 pm

That's interesting; I didn't know Bon Maharaja actually made it to America. I thought England was as far West as he went.

Jason - April 16, 2005 7:54 pm

Thanks for the details. I'm actually going to print this and show it to my professor. He actually just called me to politely decline the invite I extended to visit the San Jose temple for Lord Ramacandra's festivities. I'm sure he will appreciate the bit of Vaisnava history!



Bhrigu - April 17, 2005 7:33 am
I didn't know Bon Maharaja actually made it to America. I thought England was as far West as he went.


I actually meant to "the West" in general above, but Bon Maharaja actually did make it (on his own) to America in late 1939. He took a steamer from Calcutta via Yokohama and Vancouver to Seattle, then train to Chicago. He gave a few lectures there, after which he continued on to New York. He stayed there for approximately a year at the address 650 West 116th Street (perhaps someone could find out where that is and post a picture here?). The visit was arranged by Columbia University, so he gave talks there, as well as in churches etc on the east coast. He doesn't seem to have had any great success, and returned via Japan and Hong Kong to Calcutta just before Pearl Harbour.

Nanda-tanuja Dasa - June 3, 2005 4:49 pm
He's talking about Vivekananda, who was not a Vaisnava. His famous statement at the Parliment was  "You are all looking for God, but you do not know that you yourselves are God."

By the way, I've found his speech at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 on the net:

Swami Vivekanand's Speech of 1893 - Part I (22:27)

Swami Vivekanand's Speech of 1893 - Part II (16:11)

Jason - June 3, 2005 5:17 pm



I finished the paper and got an "A", but after visiting Audarya and hearing Maharaja speak, I would really like to refine the paper even more and perhaps include Bhaktivinode Thakur's life and contribution.