If a husband abuses his wife and this cannot be resolved, she should not remain with him. Any woman who finds herself in such a situation should get out of it for her spiritual and material wellbeing.
Domestic violence is abhorrent, yet sadly is not uncommon in today's society. If it persists, a Hindu woman can remarry. We have to realize that we are not living in ancient Vedic society, and thus we have to adjust accordingly. We should not misconstrue details appropriate for that society to be principles that are applicable at all times.
When describing Kali you say she is "the personification of evil who presides over the present age--Kali-yuga." I wasn't aware of this aspect of Mother Kali--that she personifies evil. I was under the impression that her purpose is one of love (maybe you could call it the ultimate "tough love") and that she slaughters the false ego and enables one to find one's true nature so that one may find complete love of God.
Kali spelled with a long 'a' and Kali with a short 'a' are different Sanskrit words indicating different persons. Kali with a long 'a' is the Goddess wife of Shiva, who, as you say, is often worshipped with a view to dissolve one's material ego. Kali spelled with a short 'a' is the personification of the age of quarrel (Kali-yuga). Duryodhana (of Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita fame) is considered to be a partial incarnation of Kali, the personification of this degraded age, and not Goddess Kali.
Can you please explain the role of martial arts in modern society and what their purpose was in the Vedic culture?
Martial arts are primarily for self-defense. Although they have nothing to do with the sadhana of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, if one is interested in such arts, one can practice them without hindering one's spiritual practice. In time, with serious spiritual practice, one's interest in martial arts should dissolve, as is the case with all interests other than those directly concerned with krsnanusilanam, the direct culture of Krsna consciousness.
Light and heat are inseparable, yet are distinguishable from fire. Similarly, we are both identified with and different from God at the same time. This reality transcends logic.
When we look in the world for that which most resembles God, we find it is ourselves. As units of consciousness, we are infinitely superior to all that is inanimate. We experience, while matter is experienced. If matter was important independent of consciousness, who would care about it? Who would know?
However, at the moment we find ourselves overwhelmed by matter, thinking it to be more important than ourselves. This indicates that although we are constitutionally superior to matter, we are subject to its influence. God is not subject to matter's influence. If God were, there would be no meaning to God's supremacy. That is one difference between God and us. There are many other differences as well. Thus we are one with, yet different from God.I was under the impression that everything in scripture is absolute. I worry that if I start to read scripture and scriptural commentaries thinking that all contained therein is not absolute, I will have a tendency to reject things arbitrarily based on my limited and small conceptions of this world, especially at this time after my guru has departed from the world. It is difficult to see everything in the written word as absolute, yet if I do not, the other problem arises.
There is relativity in the scripture, and commentators also differ in their opinions as to the significance and application of different scriptural statements. All of this is difficult to sort out and therefore guidance is recommended at every step. In the absence of your guru it may be wise to seek help from another saint.
However, ultimately spiritual practitioners need to learn to think critically yet spiritually for themselves. The scripture and saints are emphatic on this point, and a qualified siksa (instructing) guru will be able to help you to reach this level of spiritual discrimination--to be a spiritual yet critical thinker.
Scripture represents a body of knowledge in which the supreme goal of life is described along with the means of attaining this goal. However, the scripture also seeks to direct those who are not interested in the ultimate goal of life. To this end it provides relative knowledge of other possible goals that humanity might achieve and how humankind can best attain these lesser goals.
The scripture contains laws that govern the realization of different ideals that arise in the human psyche, and it also offers an objective means of determining the hierarchy of human values. In doing so, it is not dogmatic. It invites the application of reason, leaving each individual to determine what is relevant to him in terms of his particular ideal. Reason is also invited to participate in one's understanding the conclusion of the Vedas, as well as in vindicating the scripture in the face of opposition from those who do not acknowledge its authority. The Vedanta-sutra itself sets this example.
Thus genuine submission to a spiritual authority should ultimately result in this kind of critical spiritual thinking. Unfortunately, many persons either try to do this without actually submitting themselves to a transrational means of knowing or in the name of submission to a spiritual authority, seek to avoid the difficult task of critical spiritual thinking. Please note that while there is considerable crossover, critical spiritual thinking and critical thinking are not the same.
Thakura Bhaktivinoda argues that in one sense scripture itself--and, more so, scriptural commentaries--are derived from the personal realizations of spiritually advanced souls. Thus we cannot neglect our own personal insight entirely and blindly follow scripture in the name of spiritual practice.
Regarding this point Thakura Bhaktivinoda writes:
"Therefore, it is necessary to cultivate knowledge in the light of one's own personal realizations. This is the rule governing scriptural study. Since knowledge born of personal realization is the root of all the scriptures, how can we expect to gain benefit by ignoring it and depending exclusively on the scriptures, which are the branches growing out of it?
"A conditioned soul is advised to study the Veda with the help of the explanations of scriptural commentators. But even with the help of these explanations, he should still examine them in the light of his own self-evident knowledge (or personal realizations), because the authors of these explanatory literatures and commentaries are not always clear in their meaning."
It should also be stressed that the downside of avoiding critical spiritual thinking in the name of following strictly is immense. It involves the withdrawal of one's own intellectual faculty from the service of God, rendering the practitioner less than spiritually or even materially whole. It also serves to turn a vital spiritual tradition into an irrelevant body of religious and cultural baggage, fueling the fire of those who believe that religion and scripture are for those who cannot deal with uncertainty or anything less than that which is black and white.