Atishaya Bazaar
Site Search
Site Map

Chapter One


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, according to Jewish understanding, is there ultimately any difference between the soul of a person born in a Jewish family and the soul of someone who is not? Do Jews have any advantage over non-Jews in their ability to realize and love God?

RABBI: After close examination, I've concluded that the general principles of the soul, the creation, God, and His manifestations are surprisingly similar in all spiritual traditions. Furthermore, full realization of God can be achieved by anyone regardless of his race, religion or nationality. Here is a verse that confirms this point: `Elijah said, "I bring heaven and earth to bear witness that any human being, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, freeman or slave, according to his deeds, can become worthy of Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit, the transcendental experience." [Tana DeBei Eliahu Rabba 9] [Bahir II: 94]

DEVOTEE: The Vedic philosophy propounds a similar principle that proves we all have an equal opportunity to realize and love God and to achieve His eternal abode. According to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, "To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come back to Me." [Bg. 10.10] The Bhagavad-gita also teaches that we are spiritually equal and that our spiritual identity is far more important than any external considerations. There it is said, "Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent [the material body] there is no endurance and of the eternal [the soul] there is no change. This they have concluded by studying the nature of both". [Bg. 2.16] Therefore, our real identity is spirit soul. Temporarily identifying ourselves as man or woman, Jew or Hindu, rich man or poor man ultimately has no bearing on our ability to realize God. God is eternal and we are eternally His servants regardless of how we identify ourselves at the present moment.

RABBI: Now of course many people identify themselves as Jews, others as Hindus, Muslims, or Christians. Frequently, religious followers are taught to think that they are on the right path and that everyone else is wrong. Yet, if we are to accept that we all have an equal chance to achieve love of God, then we must also accept that there is some underlying thread that ties all religions together in spite of their different scriptures, rituals, and culture. Considering the Vedic emphasis that we are spiritual by nature, how do the Vedas explain the essence of religion? DEVOTEE: In his introduction to, The Bhagavad-gita As It Is, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that point very nicely. "The English word religion is a little different from the Vedic word, sanatana-dharma, the essence of religion. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another, but sanatana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity." What is that eternal function of the soul? It is service. Every living entity serves someone. Even the trees serve others by supplying fruits, flowers, firewood, or shade. The essence of religion is devotional service to God; we may momentarily identify ourselves as Jews, Hindus, Christians etc. Love of God means unending and uninterrupted service to Him, and that principle is found in all religious traditions.

Chapter Two


DEVOTEE: According to Jewish understanding, what is the soul's purpose for being in the material world?

RABBI: Eleazar put the following question to R. Simeon. "Since it is known to God that men will die, why does He send souls down into this world?" He answered, "This question has been discussed many times by the teachers, and they have answered it thus. God sends souls to this world to declare His glory and takes them back afterwards..." [The Zohar II 235a][ Prov. V,15]

DEVOTEE: According to the Vedic understanding, the Lord does not actually put us here to declare His glories. Rather, we have fallen into this world because of our envy of the Supreme Lord. However, now that we are here, we may return to the Lord by purifying our consciousness by glorifying the Lord's names, fame, pastimes, paraphernalia, and devotees. There are also a few special souls who are sent here by the Lord to preach His glories for the benefit of mankind. Those devotees are very confidential servants of the Lord and cannot be compared to the ordinary sinful living entities that are forced to suffer in this world. By the influence of those great souls, many others become inspired to glorify the Lord, serve Him, and thus elevate themselves to the transcendental platform.

The material world serves two functions. The first function is to give those souls who want to enjoy their lives separately from the Lord a stage on which they can attempt to act out their fantasies. The second function of this world is to give the souls who have become frustrated with material enjoyment the opportunity to engage in devotional service to God and thus elevate themselves back to the Lord's eternal abode.

RABBI: Many people do not readily obey the laws of God unless they are fearful of the consequences of disobeying those laws. Therefore, the Jewish scriptures emphasize serving God out of fear. Unfortunately, people who resent this approach may reject our religion. What mood of worship do the Vedas embrace?

DEVOTEE: The Vedas also warn us of the severe consequences of disobeying the laws of God. But they also offer a very practical approach, which attracts almost everyone. the Karma Kanda section of the Vedas deal with offering materialists the means by which they can satisfy their material dreams without further binding themselves to this world. By striving for material enjoyment according to Vedic karma-kanda (fruitive) rituals, a person can gradually elevate himself to the pure platform. Ultimately, the real purpose of the Vedas is to elevate a person back to Godhead. The Bhagavad-gita says, "All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them." [Bg.2.46] All Vedic rituals are meant to lead us to the path of pure devotion. We are safe as long as we do not forget that the ultimate purpose of those rituals is to help us surrender to the Lord.

Chapter Three


DEVOTEE: In Vedic culture, spiritual knowledge is passed from the guru to his disciples. How is Jewish knowledge preserved and disseminated?

RABBI: In Judaism, knowledge is also passed from the rabbi to his students, but not everyone is qualified to become a student. "As a matter of law, the sages state that these mysteries 'cannot even be taught to a single individual, unless he is wise enough to understand with his own knowledge.' Even in such a case, the complete tradition was only given over to the head of the group, and he would then only instruct those whom he saw fit. Only individuals possessing the highest qualities of scholarship and piety would be admitted to the circle of initiates." [Introduction to the Bahir, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan]

DEVOTEE: In Vedic culture, although a guru would speak to whoever wanted to learn the Vedic science, he was traditionally very selective whom he would initiate as his disciple. He would only accept those persons who qualified themselves by humble submission and service. Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master, inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." [Bg. 4:34]

RABBI: It is also stated that "One who reaches the highest level cannot reveal it to anyone. All he can do is give over the keys, so that the enlightened individual can open the gates which are sealed to exclude the unworthy." [Meditation and Kabbalah, p 79]

DEVOTEE: In Vedic culture, the self-realized guru would distribute the process of devotional service which was so powerful that under his able guidance anyone could purify himself and perfect his life. Still, the ultimate success of the student depended upon his own willingness to follow the process given by the guru.

Introduction Chapters 4 to 6