No, you didn't miss the April First issue of Back to Godhead. We did. There's a long story involved, but suffice it to say that we're very sorry to have done so. We'll certainly print that edition, and put it into circulation, as soon as possible. It contains Part II of Hayagriva Das's "Krishna Consciousness in American Poetry," dealing with Henry David Thoreau and Emily Dickinson, and so we know it will be especially valued by our readers.
The pictures in this issue are of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the founder of the Sankirtan movement, in the ecstasy of chanting the lord's Names. They are the work of our prolific art directress, Jadurani Devi Dasi (Judy Koslofsky). Incidentally, we are very happy to announce the arrival of two new devotees, from our San Francisco temple, who have joined the art department. They are Gaurasundara Das Adhikary and his wife, Govinda Devi Dasi (Gary and Bonnie McElroy.)
Since the Swami's return to New York on April 9, we've had two initiation ceremonies on Second Avenue, adding five devotees to our ranks. They are Damodara Das Adhikary (Dan Clark), Maha-Purusa Das Brahmacary (Mark Babbitt), Dwarkadish Das (Donald Dogherty), Madhusudana Das (Michael Blumert), Purusottam Das (Paul Auerback), and, from the Montreal center, Pradyumna Das (Paul Sherbow.)
The Swami's arrival at Kennedy Airport, by the way, was a grand event. More than two hundred well-wishers were on hand, and we had kirtan for more than two hours. To all who were present, we offer our thanks for your inspiring enthusiasm.
Now that Summer is at hand, the New York temple will resume its Sunday afternoon Kirtan program at Tompkins Square Park on Seventh Street and Avenue A, from 3 to 6 P.M. We also plan to have a giant love feast late in the same month, with poet Allen Ginsberg in attendance. More on this as things develop.
On July 9, both the San Francisco and the New York centers will hold the great Chariot Festival, which includes a parade to the edge of the sea, the distribution of a vast quantity of blessed food along the way, plenty of chanting, and the introduction, in that dramatic fashion, of the worshipable Lord Jagannatha Swami—of Whom we'll have much to say in future issues.
Incidentally, Swami Bhaktivedanta will be at Lewison Lounge in City College, to hold kirtan and deliver a brief lecture at noon on May 4. If you are free, why not come and join us?
Next issue, our magazine will have a new cover, mathead, and the first of a series of somewhat different layouts. But the price, the name, and our earnest endeavors will be unchanged.
Until then, Hare Krishna.
(Questions asked by congregation and devotees and answered by Swami A.C Bhaktivedanta, New York, Sept-Dec.1966)
Q: What is the relationship between Christ and Krishna?
Q: He is also God.
Q: Then they are the same?
Q: No, but according to the Catholic position they are One. It's inexplicable.
Q: You say Arjuna was a soldier and he didn't want to fight, but Krishna was there and He told him to fight. Arjuna had Krishna to tell him to fight, but who can we listen to today?
Q: But who do we have for authorities today?
Q: What is the difference between karma yoga and bhakti yoga?
Q: Is Lord Jesus Christ mentioned as an avatar in Vedic literatures?
Q: Can a man believe Krishna is dead?
Q: Can they say it and actually believe it?
Q: Nietzche can say, "God is dead" but yet "Krishna lives." Is this because Krishna is consciousness?
Q: But some men call God wrong things.
Q: A person can say God is dead, but can he act that way in fact?
Q: You mentioned the two different worlds. What relationship the two different worlds?
Q: If the reflection of the Original is valueless, isn't revelation valueless since it is maya?
Q: You say the reflection itself has no value—but its value is in the spiritual world?
Q: Is the attainment of love of Krishna without knowing Him possible?
Q: Can you reach love through understanding?
By Swami A.C Bhaktivedanta
Actually all the Vedic literature directs the human being toward the perfect stage of devotion. The path of fruitive activities, speculation, knowledge and meditation do not actually lead one to the perfectional stage, but the Lord actually becomes approachable by the process of devotional service; therefore one is recommended throughout all the Vedic literature to accept the process of devotional service. Lord Chaitanya quotes in this connection a verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam, 11th Canto, 14th Chapter, in which the Lord says, "My dear Uddhava, neither philosophical speculation no yoga achievements, nor penances can give Him such pleasure as can devotional service practiced by the living entities. He can be achieved alone by devotional service, and He is dear only to the devotees. If a person born in the lower or lowest family of humanity is a devotee, then he becomes freed from all contamination. Devotional service is the only path to achieve the Supreme Personality of God."
This is also the only perfection accepted in all Vedic literature. As a poor man, upon receiving some treasure, becomes at once happy, similarly when one attains devotional service, automatically the pains of material existence are vanquished. As one advances in devotional service, one attains love of Godhead, and as he advances in the love for the Supreme he becomes free from all material bondage. Disappearance of poverty and liberation from bondage are not, however, the end results of love of Krishna. Actually, the love of Krishna or love of God exists in relishing the reciprocation of loving service. In all Vedic literature one will find that attainment of this loving relationship of the Supreme Lord by the living entities is the function of devotional service. Our actual functin is devotional service, and our ultimate goal of achievement is love of Godhead. Therefore in all Vedic literature Krishna is the ultimate center. By knowledge of Krishna, all problems of life are solved.
The Lord said that according to Padma Purana, there are different Puranas for worshipping different types of demigods, but such indications for worship only bewilder persons into thinking that the demigods are Supreme. And yet if the Puranas are scrutinized and studied it will be found that Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the only object of worship. For example, in the Markandeya Purana, there is mention of Devi worship, worship of the goddess Durga or Kali. But in that same Chandika it is also stated that all these demigds—whether in the shape of Durga or Kali—are different energies of Vishnu. Therefore, even the study of the Puranas will reveal Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to be the only object of worship. The conclusion is that directly or indirectly all types of worship are more or less indicating a worship of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita it is confirmed that anyone who worships other demigods is in fact only worshipping Krishna because the demigods are different parts of the body of Vishnu or Krishna. That such worship of demigods is really irregular is clearly stated in the Bhagavad Gita: Abidhipurvakam. Srimad Bhagavatam confirms this also by the question: What is the object of worshipping different types of demigods?
In Vedic literature there are three divisions of ritualistic activities; one is called karma-kanda, or purely ritualistic activities; another is called upasana, or speculating on the Supreme Absolute Truth. What then is the purpose of the ritualistic sections of Vedic literature, and what is the purpose of different mantras or hymns indicating the worship of different types of demigods? And what is the purpose of philosophical speculation on the subject of the Absolute Truth? The Srimad Bhagavatam replies that all these different methods defined in Vedic literatures indicate the worship of the Supreme Lord, Vishnu. They are all indirect ways of worshipping the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Sacrifices contained in the ritualistic portion of the literatures are to satisfy the Supreme Lord Vishnu because yajna is specifically meant to satisfy Vishnu. Vishnu's Name is also Yogesvara, or Lord of the Yogis. The neophytes are not all on the transcendental level; therefore according to their situations in the different modes of material nature they are recommended to worship different types of demigods so that gradually they may rise to the transcendental plane and be engaged in devotional service of Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For example, it may be said that some of the neophytes are attached to flesh eating, and for them, the Puranas prescribe that they can eat flesh after offering it to the deity Kali.
The philosophical sections of the Vedic hymns are meant to enable one to distinguish the Supreme Personality of Godhead from Maya. After indicating the position of Maya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is approached in pure devotional service. That is the purpose of philosophical speculation. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad Gita in the 7th Chapter, Bahunam janmanam ante... "The philosophical speculators and empiric philosophers, after speculating for many, many births, ultimately come unto the Supreme Lord Krishna, and accept that Vasudeva is everything." Therefore all Vedic rituals and different types of worship or philosophical speculation are all ultimately aiming at Krishna.
The Lord then told Sanatana Goswami about Krishna's multiforms and His unlimited opulence; he also described the nature of the spiritual manifestation, the material manifestation, and the manifestation of the living entity. He also informed Sanatana Goswami that the planets in the Spiritual Sky, known as Vaikunthas, and the universes of the material manifestation are to be known as different types of universes, for they are creative manifestations of the two different types of energies, namely the material energy and the spiritual energy. Therefore as Krishna Himself is concerned, He is directly situated in His spiritual energy, or specifically in His internal potency. To help us understand the difference between the manifestation of the spiritual energy and the material energy, there is a clear analysis in the Second Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam of the two manifestations. Also, Sukadeva Goswami, by commenting of verse one of the Tenth Canto, makes a clear analytical study as follows. Lord Chaitanya accepts Sukadeva Goswami as an authorized commentator on the Srimad Bhagavatam. Therefore He quotes his writing in this connection, and He explains that in the Tenth Canto of the Bhagavatam the life and activities of Krishna are described because Krishna is the shelter of all other manifestations. Therefore Sukadeva Goswami worshipped and offered his obeisance unto Krishna, the Shelter of everything.
This purport maintains that in this world there are two different principles; the one principle is the origin, or the shelter of everything, and the other principle is the deduction from the original principle. The principle on which everything rests, as it is confirmed in the Srimad Bhagavatam, begins Janmadyasya, and in the Vedanta Sutra the same aphorism appears, janmadyasya—the Supreme Truth is the shelter of all manifestations. That Supreme Truth is called Asraya. All other principles which remain under the control of the Asraya-tattva, or the Absolute Truth, are called Asrita, or subordinate corollaries and reactions. The purpose of the material manifestation is to give the conditioned soul a chance to become liberated and return to the Asraya-tattva, or the Absolute Truth. So everything that is created in the cosmic creation is dependent on the Asrita-tattva, or the Supreme Absolute Truth. As such, in the creative manifestation or the Vishnu manifestation, and in different types of demigods and manifestations of energy, the living entities, the material elements—everything, is dependent on Krishna, the Supreme Truth. In the Srimad Bhagavatam everything, directly and indirectly, is indicated to have Krishna as the Supreme Shelter. Therefore the analytical study of Krishna is the perfect knowledge, as it is confirmed in the Bhagavad Gita.
Lord Chaitanya described the different features of Lord Krishna in the following manner, and asked Sanatana Goswami to hear attentively: He said that Krishna originally is the Son of Nanda Maharaja and He is the Absolute Supreme Truth. He is the cause of all causes, Lord and He is the origin of all emanations and all incarnations, but there in the Vraja or Goloka Vrindavan He is just like a young boy. His form is eternal, full of bliss and full of knowledge Absolute. He is the shelter of everything, and He is the Proprietor or Master of everything. In this connection Lord Chaitanya gives evidence from Brahma Samhita, fifth chapter, first verse, which states that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His Body is full of knowledge, eternal and blissful. He is the original Person known as Govinda and He is the Cause of all causes. Therefore, Krishna is the Original Personality of Godhead; He is full of all six opulences and His abode is known as Goloka Vrindavan, the highest planetary system in the Spiritual Sky. Lord Chaitanya also quotes a verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam, the First Canto, third chapter, in which it is stated clearly that all the incarnations described in that particular verse are either direct expansions of Krishna or are indirectly expansions of the expansions of Krishna. But the Krishna Name mentioned there is the Original Personality of Godhead, and He appears on this earth, in this universe or in any other universe when there is a disturbance created by the demons, who are always trying to disrupt the administration by the demigods.
To understand Krishna, there are different processes: the process of empiric philosophical speculation, the process of meditation in the mystic yoga system, and the process of Krishna Consciousness, or devotional service. Accordingly, in these different process, 1) by empiric philosophical speculation, the feature of impersonal Brahma or Krishna is understood; 2)by the process of meditation of yogi mysticism, the feature of the Supersoul all-pervading expansion of Krishna is understood; and 3) by devotional service in full Krishna Consciousness, the Original Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is realized. In this connection Lord Chaitanya quotes first from the Srimad Bhagavatam, First Canto, 2nd chapter, which states that those who are knowers of the Absolute Truth describe the Absolute Truth in three features: some describe the Absolute as impersonal brahma, and some describe the Absolute Truth as the localized all-pervading Supersoul, and some know that the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. In other words, Brahma, the impersonal manifestation, and Paramatma, the localized manifestation, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead are One and the same, but according to the different processes adopted He is realized in different features known as Brahma, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Impersonal Brahma realization is simple realization of the effulgence emanating from the transcendental body of Krishna. We compare this effulgence of the transcendental body of Krishna to the sunshine—just as the sun disc is there, the sun planet is there, and the sun god is there, and the sunshine is the shining effulgence of that original sun god, similarly, brahmajyoti, the spiritual effulgence or impersonal Brahma, is nothing but the personal effulgence of Krishna.
To support this version Lord Chaitanya quotes one important verse from Brahma-Samhita where Lord Brahma says, "I worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Govinda, by Whose Personal effulgence there is the unlimited manifestation of the Brahmajyoti, and in that Brahmajyoti (the impersonal manifestation of Krishna's Bodily effulgence) there are innumerable universes, each full of innumerable planets." Lord Chaitanya further describes that the Paramatma all-pervading feature situated in everyone's body is but a partial manifestation or expansion of Krishna, but because Krishna is the Soul of the soul, there He is called Paramatma, or the origin of Paramatma. In this connection Lord Chaitanya quotes one verse from Srimad Bhagavatam concerning the talks of Maharaja Pariksit, while hearing about the transcendental Pastimes of Krishna in Vrindavan, inquired from his spiritual master Sukadeva Goswami as to why the inhabitants of Vrindavan were so much attached to Krishna. To this question Sukadeva Goswami answered that Krishna should be known as the Soul of all souls; he is the Soul of all individual souls and He is also the soul of the localized Paramatma. He was present in Vrindavan for the benefit of all human beings and therefore He was acting just like a human being to attract persons to Him and to show that He is not formless. He is also as good as other human beings, but He is the Supreme and other living beings are all subordinate to Him. All living beings therefore can enjoy spiritual bliss, eternal life and full knowledge in His association. Lord Chaitanya quotes also a verse from Bhagavad Gita in which the Supreme Lord speaks to Arjuna about His different kinds of opulences, saying that He Himself enters into this universe by one of His plenary portions, just like Garbohodaksayee Vishnu, and He also enters in each universe as the Ksirodaksayee Vishnu and then expands Himself as Supersoul in everyone's heart. Therefore, He says, if anyone wants to understand the Supreme Absolute Truth in perfection, he must take to the process of devotional service in full Krishna Consciousness. Then it will be possible for him to understand the last word of the Absolute Truth.
(PART IV OF LORD CHAITANYA'S TEACHING WILL APPEAR IN NEXT ISSUE)
This mandarin child waits for hidden dragon
That's right, look at me,
Don't be afraid, I won't hurt you.
Is it so very strange for a lover
I hope I am disturbing you
Now you are all hearing
So, sing with me.
Here I am rattling Krishna's spinal cord in this cloth bag,
—Brahmananda Das Brahmacary
By Hayagriva Das Brahmacary
Part III: Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself."
O joyous seer!
Aside from Shakespeare, more books have been written about Walt Whitman than any other American or British writer. The interest generated by Whitman testifies to his universal appeal and to the complexity of his thought, poetry, and personality. In high schools in American today many of his poems are required reading and hardly a college student of American literature has not read his "Song of Myself." There are many varying interpretations of him, naturally, but undoubtedly he emerges most strongly as a mystical, intensely spiritual man, for his poetry and life reveal him as such. Living in 19th century America (1819-92), he was influenced by the transcendentalists (especially Emerson), witnessed the Civil War as a stretcher-bearer in the Washington hospitals, and lived to see and abhor the encroaching materialism that he feared was undermining the young nation's spirituality. But in addition, as a poet, seer and sage, he experienced much more—for he was a mahatma in the true sense, and was even adept at cosmic travel. He know well that the "great Camerado" is there, and his "Song of Myself" is something of an American Song of the Lord, though it is not accepted as authorized Scripture.
Whether or not Whitman possessed certain unusual spiritual powers is beside the point. His sense of cosmic consciousness seems as highly developed as Christ's and Buddha's—at least his Leaves of Grass testify as strongly in his case as the Evangelists and the Sutras do for Christ and Buddha. Actually, all men are eternal, but the point is they don't know it. as Whitman writes: "I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself, (They do not know how immortal, but I know.)" (SofM,7) "Song of Myself" reveals Whitman to be fully aware of both his divinity and immortality, and indicates that he was at a highly advanced state of God consciousness. This state seems to have been precipitated by a revelation (or illumination) that occurred at the age of about 36, when the Supreme Lord touched him one June morning in the woods, and was sustained throughout his life to greater and lesser degrees. This initial illumination gave birth to America's greatest poetic outburst—"Song of Myself," a hymn of joy celebrating the Creator, the creation, and the immortality of the soul. Other poems in Leaves of Grass shed additional light on his philosophy and science of God, but only his first major poem, the "Song of Myself" of 1855, is considered here. It is this poem that provoked Emerson's unconditional praise ("I greet you at the beginning of a great career") and brought Thoreau to Whitman's Brooklyn printshop with lists of Hindu writings.
In the poem's opening lines. Whitman strikes the theme of the unity of the creation, the "song of me rising from bed and meeting the sun," proclaiming the creation to be non-different from the Creator.
I celebrate myself, and sing myself
The "Self" speaking here is Bhagavan, using the poet as a mouthpiece, Paramatma speaking through jivatman. This cosmic "I" is non-different from His creation, for He permeates every atom, and every atom belongs to Him—yet He is also beyond this creation which He spins as a spider spins its web. "and these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them...And of these one and all I weave the song of Myself." (Sec.15)
The vision of the unity of the creation, the insight that the creation rests in the Creator, is communicated to the jivatman, Walt Whitman, by Bhagavan in an overwhelming mystical experience. In this experience, Bhagavan functions in the rasa of lover, and Whitman the beloved, in what is an early climax in the poem and one of the greatest statements in our literature of the exquisite beauty and wonder of the entire creation, from the grand pervading Spirit of God to the seemingly insignificant "mossy scabs" and "pokeweed."
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
Throughout this creation, the Self functions unattached. The dates, wars, sicknesses, etc. "come to me days and nights and go from me again,/ But they are not the Me myself." (4) The finite Whitman is ofter jolted and bruised in the game, the leela or play of the Lord, but his true Self is always the untouched and unattached Witness within:
Apart from the pulling and hauling astands what I am,
This Supreme Self is not a part of the material creation, though the material creation is His song. "I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth." (7) This Self, in which Whitman has seen his own jiva to be integrally one, is totally full and self-sufficient in itself.
I exist as I am, that is enough,
For Whitman, the individual body and soul are no less wonderful and worshipful than the Supreme. As part and parcel of the Supreme, he sees himself as good as the Supreme, as eternal and as divine. "Walt Whitman, a kosmos, of Manhattan the son," he described himself, then goes on to delight in the miracle of himself, which is the miracle of any man, and, indeed, of life itself. "Seeing, hearing, feeling, are miracles, and each part and tag of me is a miracle." (24) He sees his individual soul as journeying in eternity through countless cosmic changes, traveling from the infinity of the past to the present.
Immense have been the preparations for me,
It is his soul that ascends "dazzling and tremendous as the sun," and that laughs "at what you call dissolution," and that looks at the crowded heavens and questions, "When we become the enfolders of those orbs, and the pleasure and knowledge of everything in them, shall we be filled and satisfied then?" and answers, "No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond." (46) for it is his soul that is "tenon'd and mortis'd" in the granite of eternity. With a clean sweep of his hand, he absorbs previous incarnations, "outbidding" them and bestowing equal divinity on the average, common man:
Magnifiying and applying come I,
The surety of this conviction results from his perception of the omnipresence of the Supreme Lord. He sees the creation "lav'd" all over by the Creator, as a fish by the water of the ocean.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
The Supreme Lord, for such a devotee, is common, actually cheap. He is the one Great Commodity that can be purchased without money, for it is love alone that finds and binds him. "I or you pocketless of a dime may purchase the pick of the earth." The Lord is eager for His creation to love Him, and He gives Himself freely.
What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me,
Yet Whitman intimates that the Creator has His own Superior Abode, where He "waits" for all in eternity.
My rendezvous is appointed, it is certain,
Interestingly enough, Whitman envisions a purification process by which his individual soul can return to God "on perfect terms." The soul leaves the body, as Krishna says, "As the wind carries away the scents from their places." (Gita 15.8) but before he can go to Krishna, he must qualify. Krishna is the "steady and central," the "lover true," "the Great Camerado" Who satisfies completely. In His ocean of bliss, Whitman's individual soul debouches.
I ascend from moon, I ascend from the night,
A quotation from "Passage to India," a later poem, should throw considerable light on the relationship between jivatman (the individual soul) and Paramatma, the Supreme Soul:
Bear me indeed as through God regions infinite,
For Whitman, the soul, after death, retains its individual identity and becomes a great fish swimming in God's ocean of bliss. For him, faith in the Supreme Lord means faith in his individual soul. Bathing in the light of God, the individual soul itself takes on the divine properties of creator, launching "superior universes." But this is never through any separate, individual or derived power—it simply results from God's using the living entity as an agent, as a powerhouse of electricity uses an electric bulb to diffuse its light. The lightbulb sheds the light, but it is dependent on the "pulse," the "motive of the stars, suns, systems," which is the Supreme Lord.
It is apparent that this God consciousness is also synonymous with "cosmic consciousness," for the universe figures prominently in "Song of Myself," and though it is considered wonderful, it is not considered as wonderful as the eternal soul. The universe is created, maintained for a while, and then destroyed.
I open my scuttle at night and see the far-sprinkled systems,
Through all the cosmic changes, the soul remains the same forever. Whitman exhorts men and women to maintain their placidity through all these cosmic changes, for their souls remain untouched by them.
There is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel'd universe,
Whitman himself is not frightened by the cosmic leela, in fact he is delighted by it, and seems to have had an ability for "astral traveling," like Narada Muni, the Eternal Spaceman.
To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
As far as the methods of God consciousness are concerned, Whitman was too much of an individualist to have anything to do with institutionalized religion. Like Thoreau and many other transcendentalists, he was strictly secular. Fulfilling Emerson's image of the free man independent of the past and of the past's institutions, Whitman declares, "No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,/ I have no chair, no church, no philosophy..." (46) By surrendering everything to God, he takes on responsibilities and actions but relinquishes fruits and results. He holds "creeds and schools in abeyance," and permits to speak "Nature without check with original energy." (1) It is this social independence that has made orthodox religionists wary of him.
Why should I pray? Why should I venerate and be ceremonious?
This attitude is not due to irreverence or irreligiosity, but is the logical outgrowth of his enlightenment. Krishna Himself says, "To the enlightened Brahmin all the Vedas are of as much use as a pond when there is everywhere a flood." (Gita, 2.46) Having reached shore, Whitman simply discards his raft. Consequently he has been criticized by religionists who profess godliness but whose hearts are in the wrong place due to ignorance and entanglement. Such hypocrites disgust Whitman.
I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self-contained...
For him it is not the outward show that is important—rather, by their fruits ye shall know them, and the fruits of the soul are joy and bliss, not lamentation. "What have I to do with lamentation?" He makes it clear, however, that he is not anti-church or anti-religion.
I do not despise you priests, all time, the world over,
Like many true devotees, Whitman considered it a great virtue "to argue not concerning God," knowing Him to be beyond words and theosophies. "Knowing the perfect fitness and equanimity of things, while they discuss I am silent, and go bathe and admire myself." (3) It was possibly the vain discussions about God that drove him out the churches into the open fields and lonely night-time beaches of Long Island. "Logic and sermons never convince,/ The damp of the night drives deeper into my soul." (30) And least of all does he advocate discussions with atheists and non-believers.
Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
Whitman has been accused of a childish, "unrealistic" optimism and of a total disregard of evil forces in the universe. He was well aware of evil forces—he did not stay in a closet, but was active in the Civil War. The evil forces were there, but in actuality he was transcendental to them. Since the Supreme Lord is in control, evil also has its place. One of Whitman's greatest assets is his ability to absorb evil without being tainted by it. "I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also." (22) Like the Supreme Himself, as a poet he purifies what was previously indecent, revealing the divine function behind the guise.
Through me forbidden voices,
Seeing himself in all creatures, seeing the perfect unity of the creation as a "song of myself," he does not criticize the mysterious ways of God, nor does he judge men heavily. Whenever he sees a man falling prey to a vice, he sees himself doing the same. This divine quality of tolerance and forgiveness possibly turned him away from the hypocrites of religion who are prone to criticize and condemn others for the faults that are in themselves. Whitman does not believe in criticizing and condemning (knowing this is not in man's jurisdiction), but in helping—or as Christ said, "I came not in of the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Me might be saved." Good and evil exist within the modes of Prakriti (Nature) and Whitman knows his real Self to be beyond the modes.
What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
This echoes Christ's "Judge not that ye be not judged, for wherein ye judge another thou condemn'st thyself." Whitman was a mahatma who believed in a merciful God who wants men to love Him, not in a God Who created a world just to condemn it. Whitman does not condemn or lament. With open eyes he regards the demoniac and atheistic and considers with wonder that such absurdities and incongruities can be.
What behaved well in the past or behaves well today is not such a wonder,
Throughout "Song of Myself," Whitman discourages man in looking for signs and wonders. It is the sage who seeks the Divine and miraculous in all things. His method or Krishna Consciousness involves seeing God every second in the most commonplace and generally accepted things. He stresses the great miracle of the commonplace, of daily life. "A...clod, a stone, and gold are the same." (Gita, Vishnu/8) to him because he sees all things reflecting the Divine.
The bull and the bug never worshipp'd half enough,
He chooses the most commonplace, most handy phenomena as the great symbol to bind the creation—the grass, which grows among all people irrespective of color, caste, or creed. Grass is the Great Democrat of the vegetation, and as Whitman's Leaves of Grass, it accepts and welcomes all.
This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
Like Emerson, Whitman saw the haunting past as one of man's greatest enemies. The past is completed and the future uncertain, so these only serve to divert man's mind and energy from the overwhelming importance of the eternally exfoliating present. "This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,/ There is no better than it and now." (22) Whitman declared that the man in Krishna Consciousness must be aware of the constant miracle and wonder of the present, and not allow his mind to wander over the past or things to come. Death comes now, birth comes now, liberation comes now, the vision of God comes now, or, as Christ said, "The kingdom of God is at hand." "The clock indicates the moment, but what does eternity indicate?" Whitman asks, and the answer is now. Guru Whitman instructs the neophyte:
Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Being at "one" with the creation necessitates acceptance of the moment as being the best possible; happiness lies in the delight of suddenly awakening to find yourself here after so many trillions of years. The is eternal, and we are eternal. Only appearance change.
I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,
Whitman also believes in the transmigration of the soul, from lower forms of life and from body to body. "And as to your Life I reckon you are the fore." (49) When he sees animals, he is reminded that he was doubtless one himself in the past. The animals "bring me tokens of myself...I wonder where they get those tokens,/ Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?" (32) In fact, he sees his body and his spirit as integral with all the forms of the creation, that he incorporates the lower forms then "distances" them in his evolution toward the Godhead.
I find I incorporate gneiss, coal, long-threaded moss, fruits, grains, esculent roots,
As for the future, he does not put returning to earth again out of the question. "Believing I shall come again upon the earth after five thousand years...(43)
As for death, Whitman, the courage teacher, welcomes it as joyfully as anything else. In fact, he is called the poet of "death and lilacs" because of his frequent and beautiful treatments of death throughout Leaves of Grass. ("What is finally beautiful but love and death?) "I know I am deathless," he proclaims. (20) The Supreme Lord Himself accompanies the soul through the passage of birth and death, so why fear? Rather, there is cause for welcome.
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
The Lord witnesses the passing of the individual soul through various dresses (bodies) and knows its history of rebirths, as Krishna affirms in the Gita, "Many a birth have I passed through, O Arjuna, and so have you. I know them all, but you know them not." (Gita, 4.5) Even in this lifetime, Whitman was well acquainted with death, witnessing innumerable deaths of soldiers in the Washington hospitals. In fact, he muses that the leaves of grass may even transpire from the breasts of young men. This is not morbid; life and death are one, inextricably woven.
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
Life is an omnipresent force, and death simply a transition to another form of material existence or, possibly, liberation and union with the Great Camerado.
And as to you Death, and you bitter hug of mortality, it is idle to try to alarm me.
At the conclusion of the poem, Whitman magnificently describes the parting of the soul from the body. "I depart as air," he begins, then finally concludes, "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If his bodily remains to Nature, his spirit returns to the eternal abode. His concluding lines remind one of Krishna's "Abandon all dharmas and come to me alone for shelter." (Gita, 18.66):
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
It is the ultimate promise of the Supreme—an eternal abode of peace, knowledge and bliss—that Whitman is indicating. He was aware that Krishna is waiting there for all His children to return to Him. By Krishna's grace, he was communicated this knowledge to write for an American audience—and world audience—in an age of materialistic chaos and anti-spiritualism. In such a difficult age, Krishna sends His blessings in many ways, and it is by His grace that we find joyful Walt loafing along the American roadside like a polite old mendicant, offering his Leaves of Grass to the dizzy and wearied Twentieth Century traveler, offering indeed a "matchless gift" and promise:
Do you see O brothers and sisters?
(Next Issue: Krishna Consciousness In American Poetry, Part Iv: Hart Crane's The Bridge and the 20th Century.)
You too found Him all attractive,
Those leaves of grass for you
I first found them ten years ago
And today, in Golden Gate Park,
And looking at the grass,
Just when I feared everything would pop,
How lucky I am, camerado,
—Hayagriva Das Brahmacary