How Moses and the Virgin Mary brought me to Krishna


Regular readers will know that, in addition to worshipping God through recitation of His holy names, devotees also worship the form of the Lord manifested in elements such as metal, wood, stone, fire, or a painted image. All religious traditions have such sacred images – of one kind or another – according to the reasoning of their particular theology.

Many years ago, when I was a questioning Christian, I was very attracted to the Old Testament story of Moses and the Burning Bush. Moses was the soon-to-be leader of the Hebrew slaves and was to be used by God as an instrument to take his people out of slavery. Moses was quite reluctant to pit himself against the might of Egypt and so the Lord had to show Moses a special sign to let him know that he was being chosen for the service.

One day, Moses was tending his goats and saw a strange light. When he went to see what it was he saw that a bush in flames was not being consumed. A voice then told him to take off his shoes for he was standing on holy ground. He came towards the flames and was given instructions by God.

Since I heard that story, maybe when I was six or seven, I was convinced of a few things:

1. That God can do anything, and can appear anywhere He likes, to whomever He likes.

2. That if God wants to appear in a fire, and talk to us from a fire, He can.

3. That being in God’s presence means that you are standing on holy ground and that means you have to take your shoes off.

4. My local Methodist chapel Sunday school teachers did not explain to me if God still appeared in fire these days, or why we didn’t take our shoes off when we entered the chapel. So I figured that God also speaks to other people who do know about these things, and that one day I might meet them.

I must have been about nine when I read a story of a poor street entertainer who had fallen on hard times. He became a monk and one day, noticed that the Virgin Mary in the Notre Dame Cathedral appeared to be sad. So wanting to offer something to her, he waited until no-one was around and began juggling before her. He juggled and he juggled until he reached the point of exhaustion. Just then the Abbot came in and was about to scold him for such an offense, but then they both noticed that the face of the Virgin was smiling. The offering had been accepted.

Now, I was a little Methodist boy in Cornwall, and didn’t know any Catholics. All I knew was they were ‘mostly foreigners’ and that the religion was followed by ‘a lot of Italians.’ As such, it really wasn’t something for us. But I really liked that story. Like the story of the Burning Bush, it made a deep impression on me, and I have remembered it all these years.

So when I first met the devotees of Krishna, and learned that they ‘bowed down before idols’ – I was initially resistant. I didn’t see the need for image worship in addition to the very atttractive practise of chanting the maha-mantra. I thought of images as something cultural, ‘Indian,’ and therefore superfluous to the essence of spiritual life. Then one thoughtful day, as I was struggling with it all, I remembered those two stories I’d heard as a little boy. As I processed those stories I somehow felt that the God I’d prayed to long ago was quietly helping me understand a higher truth. The God who I’d asked, on my knees at bedtime, to ‘please bless Mummy and Daddy’  – the God of the Bible who didn’t like ‘graven images’ – was gently prompting me to accept that, really, it was alright.

That was the day when the God of Moses, the Father of Jesus, and the Beautiful Speaker of the Gita became One for me. And the fact that this one Supreme Person could appear in a statue of stone, wood, metal, a burning bush or a quiet heart, or indeed, anywhere at all, seemed to make the most sense of anything I’d ever learned.

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4 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Religion

4 responses to “How Moses and the Virgin Mary brought me to Krishna

  1. Pancha Tattva dasa

    What a great article. It touched my heart.

    Your servant,

    Pancha Tattva dasa

  2. Vasudeva Das wrote a very interesting personal story, as follows. Thank you, Vasudeva prabhu:

    Comment by Vasudeva das (the French film maker) Mayapur.

    While I was reading your Christmas message, dear Krpamoya prabhu, I immediately thought of sending you mine, which you or anyone may wish to read below.

    Today is Christmas. I went to the Catholic cathedral in the nearby town of Krishnanagar. I went clad in my traditional Krishna devotee outfit and was fortunate to run into the vicar, clad in his own traditional robes. Father Luciano, a 65-year-old Italian missionary living in India’s back country for over 5o years, gave me a warm welcome and we had a cordial chat for about an hour. Most of it was spent comparing the many similarities between our respective faiths. Perhaps the most obvious one is that we both worship a personal God, which stands out for both of us as the most basic and essential ingredient for a spiritual relationship. On the other hand, a conspicuous difference stood out: according to Father Luciano, God, unlike Jesus, Mary, the angels, and all the souls after resurrection, does not have a form. I then ventured to quote him a Vedic verse defining God:

    īśvarah paramah krsnah, sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahah
    anādir ādir govindah, sarva-kārana-kāranam

    Krsna is the name given to He who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has an eternal spiritual body full of knowledge and bliss, is the origin of all, and the prime cause of all causes.

    This important verse form the Brahma Samhita reminds me every year why I, thirty one years ago, turned from Catholic Christian to Vaishnava Hindu. “Though never rejecting any of Jesus’ sacred teachings, nor my worship of him as the true son of God (in Sanskrit Christ means Son of Krishna),” I confessed to Father Luciano, “I can’t begin to tell you what a crucial understanding, what a blessed addition to my spiritual life, has been the knowledge that God had an eternal and fascinatingly beautiful face and figure. This, indeed, is the ontological difference between Krsna consciousness and the more generic God consciousness.
    Yet, father Luciano insisted that,“This figure of a venerable elder representing God on the cathedral’s bas-relief artwork is merely symbolic”. While agreeing with him, I added that Krishna’s ever-youthful face and handsome figure is never symbolic to His devotees. Krishna’s body is as real as His spirit, and so is ours to our eternal spirit souls. Incidentally, doesn’t the New Testament itself confirm the above in Jesus’s own words -“I will be sitting at the right hand of my father” ? If this is not indicative that both God-the-father and God-the-son, are endowed with spiritual forms and limbs, what is? And isn’t the phrase, “My father and I are one” – albeit too often quoted to make a case for Jesus being God Himself – also suggestive that whatever feature the son possesses is naturally found in the father. That would include a ‘glorified’ body, the like of which Christ is said to have risen to heaven after crucifixion.
    Finally, the aphorism “as above, so below”, comes to mind. Next time I hear the suggestion that being “made in the image of God” has to be accepted as a mere figure of speech, or some symbolic representation, I shall ask the question, “and why exactly shall we reject the more literal -and logical- meaning that material bodies are temporary reflections of divine form, as opposed to reflections of formlessness? The Vedas compare this material manifestation to the reflection of a tree standing on the bank of a lake. Just as the broken-up reflection, although unreal, is diametrically similar to the real tree, our bodies are said to be perverted images of our souls while in a state of bondage to matter.
    I don’t know about you, but my own natural curiosity was what set me on this path of life thirty years ago. I long to wake up one blessed morning and gaze at my spiritual image in the mirror of my soul. Already, after such a flash of time that 3 decades represent in eternity, I am sure to have perceived faint, yet definite glimpses of the spiritual world. The vision is awesome enough to keep me going with great enthusiasm each day and strive for human perfection. Such a goal, rather than to see God face to face, is in fact more about acting in such a way that God may wish to look down and see me. I realize how ‘Christian’ this must sound. Is Christmas’s spell over me once again…or is it Chrsna’s?

    Well, it seems what was meant as a simple Christmas message turned out to be more of a theological sharing. I hope your benevolent spirit may then extend my way on this occasion. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a happy year-ending and I look forward to seeing you in 2010 for a new year rich with possibilities.

    Hare Krsna!

  3. Chaitanya

    Hare Krsna,

    what an inspiring and sweet story. I love hearing things like this about what similarities our Krsna Consciousness shares with other faiths. I find it interesting, and it helps me when I am trying to explain aspects of Krsna Consciousness to nondevotees.

    Jai Sri Krsna!

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