Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Bhaktivedanta Manor, European headquarters for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is a model community that exemplifies the principle of plain living and high thinking. Krsna consciousness, or God consciousness, is the center of all activity at Bhaktivedanta Manor. Despite its tranquility, however, the Manor is a challenge to the destructive thrust of modern civilization, for it offers a spiritual vantage point from which to see clearly the inconsistencies of modern human society.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada often speaks of the imbalance caused by today's artificial civilization. He writes in his Srimad-Bhagavatam purports, "It is understood that in the past people depended on nature's gifts of fruits and flowers without industrial enterprises promoting filthy slums for residential quarters. Advancement of civilization is not established on the growth of mills and factories to deteriorate the finer instincts of the human being; it rests on developing the potent spiritual instincts of humanity."
Bhaktivedanta Manor is dedicated to this essential spiritual development. Our beautiful estate, with its Tudor buildings, fertile gardens and orchards, dairy cows, lakes, paths, footbridges and greenhouses, could provide an ideal home or business opportunity for a materialist. But our spiritual master, following the Vedic injunction that everything in truth belongs to God, has sanctified the Manor- Krsna-ized it-by dedicating it to the service of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. By pleasing Krsna, one can bring pleasure to the entire world. Therefore every square inch of Bhaktivedanta Manor is dedicated to the service of Krsna.
At Bhaktivedanta Manor, therefore, and in centers around the world, the Krsna conscious devotees are living spiritually purified lives, guided by the ideas presented here in Back to Godhead. We therefore take great pleasure in offering you this transcendental journal of Krsna conscious philosophy and inviting you to our international centers to see how this philosophy actually works.
Conversations about spiritual life between Bob Cohen, a young Peace Corps worker in India, and His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Recorded at the ISKCON International Center at Lord Caitanya's Birthplace, Mayapur, India
"God." "Spiritual life." These were such vague terms to me before I met Prabhupada. I have always been interested in religion, but before I met the devotees, I did not have the intelligence or proper perspective needed to inquire fruitfully about spiritual life. I had been to Hebrew School and had studied Oriental philosophy, but I could never get satisfying answers to my questions.
After graduating college with a B.S. in Chemistry, I joined the Peace Corps and went to India as a science teacher. In India I inquired about the Hare Krsna movement. I was curious about its authenticity. Attracted by the chanting and intrigued by the philosophy, I had visited the Radha-Krsna temple in New York several times before going to India, but I did not consider the seemingly austere life of a devotee for myself.
In India I first met the Krsna conscious devotees in Calcutta during October of 1972. The devotees could clearly explain to me the purpose of yoga and the need to inquire about spiritual life. I began to feel that the rituals and ceremonies they practiced were not dull, sentimental obligations, but a real, sensible way of life.
At first, however, it was very difficult for me to understand the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. In so many subtle ways, my Western upbringing prevented me from seeing things that were as plain as the nose on my face! Fortunately, the devotees convinced me of the need to practice some few basic austerities, and thus I was able to gain the intelligence and desire to understand spiritual life. I can now recall how distant and tenuous my concepts of spiritual and transcendental existence were. I met Prabhupada briefly at this time, and shortly thereafter I decided to become a vegetarian. (I was proud of being a vegetarian, but later Prabhupada reminded me that even pigeons are vegetarians.)
In February I met some devotees in Calcutta, and they invited me to a festival in Mayapur (a holy island ninety miles north of Calcutta) in honor of the appearance day of Lord Caitanya, who is considered an incarnation of Krsna Himself. I left for Mayapur planning to stay two days at the most, but ended up staying a week. There I met Prabhupada again. I was the only Western nondevotee on the island, and since I was living with the devotees on their land, this was a unique opportunity to learn intimately about Krsna consciousness. When I met Prabhupada, he asked me how I was and if I had any questions. The devotees had explained to me that Prabhupada could answer any questions about spiritual life because he represents a disciplic succession of spiritual masters. I thought that Prabhupada might really know what is going on in the world. After all, his devotees claimed this, and I admired and respected his devotees. So with this in mind I began to ask my question. Inadvertently, I had approached a spiritual master (guru) in the proper manner, submissively asking questions about spiritual matters.
Prabhupada was pleased, and over the next several days he answered my questions. I asked them mostly from an academic point of view, but Prabhupada always gave me personal answers so that I would take to spiritual life. Prabhupada was patiently trying to help me understand that Krsna (God) is the supreme enjoyer, supreme friend and supreme proprietor. I put forward many impediments to accepting the obvious: that I would have to become serious about God consciousness to understand God. But Prabhupada relentlessly yet kindly urged me on.
Now I am back in the United States working for my master's degree in geology at Rutgers, sponsoring Krsna conscious activities on the campus, chanting Hare Krsna myself every day, and associating with the devotees at the temple in New York. Gradually, am overcoming material impediments. Due to the kindness of Srila Prabhupada, I have realized the importance of inquiring about spiritual life from a genuinely self-realized person. Spiritual life has thus become more real to me and less sentimental.
Srila Prabhupada: This movement is especially meant to enable a human being to reach the real goal of life.
Bob: The real goal—?
Srila Prabhupada: The real goal of life.
Bob: Is the real goal of life to know God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. To go back home, back to Godhead. That is the real goal of life. Just like the water that comes from the sea—it forms clouds, the clouds fall down as rain, and the actual goal is to flow down the river and again enter the sea. So, we have come from God, and now we are embarrassed by this material life. Therefore, our aim should be to get out of this embarrassing situation and go back home, back to Godhead. This is the real goal of life.
mam upetya punar janma
["After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogi's in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection. (Bg. 8.15)] That is the version of Bhagavad-gita. If anyone comes to Me—mam upetya—he does not come back again. Where? To this place—duhkhalayam asasvatam. This place is the abode of miseries. Everyone knows, but they have been fooled, befooled by so-called leaders. This is miserable life, material life. Krsna says, God says, that this place is duhkhalayam—it is a place of miseries. And it is also asasvatam, temporary. You cannot make a compromise: "All right, let it be miserable. I shall remain here as an American or Indian." No! That also you cannot do. You cannot remain an American. You may think that, having been born in America, you are very happy. But you cannot remain an American for long. You will have to be kicked out of that place. And your next life you do not know! Therefore, it is duhkhalayam asasvatam—miserable and temporary. That is our philosophy.
Bob: But when you have some knowledge of God, then life is not so miserable?
Srila Prabhupada: No! Some knowledge will not do. You must have perfect knowledge.
janma karma ca me divyam
Tattvatah means "perfectly." Perfect knowledge is being taught in Bhagavad-gita. So, we are giving human society a chance to learn Bhagavad-gita as it is and make their lives perfect. That is the Krsna consciousness movement.
The Science of the Soul
Srila Prabhupada: What does your science say about the transmigration of the soul?
Bob: I think...that science...cannot deny or affirm it. Science does not know it.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore I say that science is imperfect.
Bob: Science may, though, say something. It is said in science that energy is never destroyed; it is just changed.
Srila Prabhupada: That's all right. But how the energy is working in the future-that science does not know. How is the energy diverted? How, by different manipulations, is the energy working differently? For instance, electrical energy. By different handling it is operating the heater, and it is operating the refrigerator. They are just the opposite, but the electrical energy is the same. Similarly, this energy-living energy-how is it being directed? Which way is it going? How is it fructifying in the next life? That they do not know. But in Bhagavad-gita it is very simply stated.
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
You are covered by a dress, by a shirt. When this shirt is unusable, you change it. Similarly, this body is just like a shirt and coat. When it is no longer workable, we have to change it.
Bob: What is the "we" that has to change? What is constant?
Srila Prabhupada: That is the soul.
Bob: From one life to the next?
Srila Prabhupada: That is the soul-I. What "you" is speaking? You! What "I" is speaking? Identity: atma, or soul.
Bob: My soul is different from your soul?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. You are an individual soul, I am an individual soul.
Bob: You have removed yourself from karmic influences. If I was to remove myself from karmic influences, would our souls be the same or different?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is of the same quality in all. You are under a certain conception of life at the present moment, and these countrymen of yours [the Krsna consciousness devotees] were under a certain conception of life, but by training they have taken to another conception of life. So the ultimate training is how to become Krsna conscious. That is perfection.
Bob: If two people are Krsna conscious, is their soul the same?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is always the same.
Bob: In each person? In each person is it the same?
Srila Prabhupada: Ah, yes.
Bob [pointing to two devotees]: If these two are Krsna conscious, are their souls the same?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is the same but always individual, even if they are not Krsna conscious. For instance, you are a human being, and I am a human being. Even if I am not a Christian, even if you are not a Hindu, still we are human beings. Similarly, the soul may not be Krsna conscious, or he may be Krsna conscious—it doesn't matter. But the soul is the soul.
Bob: Can you tell me more about this?
Srila Prabhupada: Soul—as pure spirit, all souls are equal. Even in an animal. Therefore it is said [Bg. 5.18 panditah sama-darsinah: those who are actually learned do not see the outward covering, either in a human being or in an animal.
Feeling God Inside
Bob: If I may ask another question on this?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: I have considered the soul somewhat as part of God. At times I think I feel God. I'm here, and you may say God is here. So if the soul is inside me, then should I be able to feel God inside me? Not all of God, I mean, but a...
Srila Prabhupada: Part of God.
Bob: But I don't feel God in me, but God may be here, separate-separate from me. But should I be able to feel God inside me, since my soul is part of God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. God is inside also. God is everywhere. God is inside and outside also. This is to be known.
Bob: How do you feel God inside you?
Srila Prabhupada: Not in the beginning, but you have to know from the sastras [scriptures], by the Vedic information. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita it is said, isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati: God is there in every one's heart. [Bg. 18.61] Paramanu-cayantara-stham [Brahma-samhita, 5.35]: God is also within every atom. So this is the first information. And then, by the yogic process, you have to realize it.
Bob: Yogic process?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: Is chanting Hare Krsna such a yogic process?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is also a yogic process.
Bob: What kind of yogic process must I do to find out-to feel this information-to feel the soul inside?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many different yogic processes, but for this age this process is very nice.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: Through this 1 can feel not only God outside but God inside?
Srila Prabhupada: You'll understand everything of God-how God is inside, how God is outside, how God is working. Everything will be revealed. By this attitude of service, God will reveal Himself. You cannot understand God by your endeavor. Only if God reveals Himself. Just like—when the sun is out of your sight at night, you cannot see it by your torchlight, or any light. But in the morning you can see the sun automatically, without any torchlight. Similarly, you have to create a situation—you have to put yourself in a situation-in which God will be revealed. It is not that by some method you can ask God, "Please come. I will see You." No, God is not your order carrier.
Bob: You must please God for Him to reveal Himself. Is that correct?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Finding A Spiritual Master
Syamasundara [Srila Prabhupada's secretary]: How do we know when we are pleasing God?
Srila Prabhupada: When we see Him. Then you will understand. Just as, when you eat, you do not require to ask anyone whether you are feeling strength or your hunger is satisfied, if you eat, you understand that you are feeling energy. You don't need to inquire from anyone. Similarly, if you actually serve God, then you will understand, "God is dictating to me. God is there. I am seeing God." A devotee: Or God's representative.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Devotee: It comes easier.
Srila Prabhupada: You have to go through God's representative.
yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah
"By the mercy of the spiritual master one is benedicted by the mercy of Krsna." [Sri Gurv-astakam] If you please God's representative, then automatically God becomes pleased, and thus you can directly see Him. An Indian gentleman: How to please God's representative?
Srila Prabhupada: You have to carry out his orders, that's all. God's representative is the guru. He asks you to do this, to do that-if you do that, that is pleasing.
yasyaprasadan na gatih kuto 'pi
"Without the grace of the spiritual master one cannot make any advancement." if you displease him, then you are nowhere. Therefore we worship the guru.
["The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord because of his being the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged by all revealed scriptures and is followed by all authorities. Therefore I offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of such a spiritual master, who is a bona fide representative of Lord Krsna." (Sri Gurv-astakam)] The guru should be accepted as God. That is the injunction of all sastra.
Bob: The guru should be accepted as a representative of God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the guru is God's representative. The guru is the external manifestation of Krsna.
Bob: But different from the incarnations of Krsna that come?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: In what way is the external manifestation of the guru different from the external manifestation of, let us say, Krsna or Caitanya when They come to earth?
Srila Prabhupada: The guru is the representative of Krsna. So there are symptoms of who is a guru. The general symptoms are described in the Vedas.
tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
A guru must come in a disciplic succession, and he must have heard thoroughly about the Vedas from his spiritual master. Generally a guru's symptom is that he is a perfect devotee, that's all. And he serves Krsna by preaching His message.
Bob: Lord Caitanya—He was a different type of guru than you are?
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Gurus cannot be of different types. All gurus are of one type.
Bob: But He was-was He also an incarnation at the same time?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, He is Krsna Himself, but He is representing the guru.
Bob: I. . . I see.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: And then. . .
Srila Prabhupada: Because Krsna was God, He demanded:
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." [Bg. 18.66] But people misunderstood Him. Therefore Krsna again came as a guru and taught people how to surrender to Krsna.
Syamasundara: Doesn't He say in Bhagavad-gita, "I am the spiritual master"?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, He is the original spiritual master because He was accepted as spiritual master by Arjuna. So what is the difficulty? Sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvamh prapannam. Arjuna told the Lord, "I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me." [Bg. 2.7] So unless He is a spiritual master, how does Arjuna become His disciple? He is the original guru. Tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye: "It is He only who first imparted Vedic knowledge unto the heart of Brahma, the first created being." [Bhag. 1.1.1] Therefore He is the original guru.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. He is the original guru. Then His disciple Brahma is a guru, then his disciple Narada is a guru, then his disciple Vyasa is a guru- in this way there is a guru-parampara [disciplic succession of gurus}. Evam parampara-praptam. [Bg. 4.2] The transcendental knowledge is received through the disciplic succession.
Receiving Knowledge From Krsna
Bob: So a guru receives his knowledge through the disciplic succession, not directly from Krsna? Do you recieve some knowledge directly from Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Krsna's direct instruction is there: Bhagavad-gita!
Bob: I see, but. . .
Srila Prabhupada: But you have to learn it through the disciplic succession, otherwise you will misunderstand it.
Bob: But presently you do not receive information directly from Krsna? It comes through the disciplic succession from the books?
Srila Prabhupada: There is no difference. Suppose I say that this is a pencil. If you say to him, "This is a pencil," and if he says to another man, "This is a pencil," then what is the difference between his instruction and my instruction?
Bob: Krsna's mercy allows you to know this now?
Srila Prabhupada: You can take Krsna's mercy also, provided it is delivered as it is. Just as we are teaching Bhagavad-gita. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says:
"Just give up all other forms of religion and simply surrender unto Me." [Bg. 18.66] Now we are saying that you should give up everything and surrender to Krsna. Therefore, there is no difference between Krsna's instruction and our instruction. There is no deviation. So if you receive knowledge in that perfect way, that is as good as receiving instruction directly from Krsna. But we don't change anything.
Bob: When I pray reverently, faithfully, does Krsna hear me?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Bob: From me to Him?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because He is within your heart He is always hearing you—whether you are praying or not praying. When you are doing some nonsense, He is also hearing you. And when you pray, that is very good—welcome.
Bob: To Krsna's ear, is praying louder than nonsense?
Srila Prabhupada: No. He is all-perfect. He can hear everything. Even if you don't speak, even if you simply think, "I shall do it," then He hears you. sarvasya caham hrdi sannivistah: Krsna is seated in everyone's heart. [Bg. 15.15]
Bob: But one should pray—is that so?
Srila Prabhupada: That is his business—praying.
Bob: Whose business?
Srila Prabhupada: Every living entity's. That is the only business. Eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman [Katha Upanisad, 2.2.13]. That is the statement of the Vedas.
Bob: What does that mean?
Srila Prabhupada: He supplies everything to everyone. He is supplying food to everyone. So He is the Father. So why should you not pray, "Father, give me this"? Just as in the Christian Bible there is, "Father, give us our daily bread." That is good—they are accepting the Supreme Father. But grown-up children should not ask from the father; rather, they should be prepared to serve the father. That is bhakti [devotion].
Bob: My questions you solve so nicely.
[Everyone laughs with affection.)
Srila Prabhupada: Thank you very much.
Bob: So, should I ask you another question now?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Yes!
Sex and Liberation
Bob: I've asked devotees about how they feel towards sex in their relations, and I see the way they feel, but I can't see myself acting the same way. See, I'll be getting married at the end of this summer.
Srila Prabhupada: Hmm?
Bob: I'll be getting married at the end of this summer, in September or August when I return to America. And the devotees say that the householders only have sex to conceive a child, and 1 cannot picture myself at all in such a position, and-um-what kind of sex life can one lead, living in the material world?
Srila Prabhupada: The Vedic principle is that one should avoid sex life altogether. The whole Vedic principle is to get liberation from material bondage. There are different attachments for material enjoyment, of which sex life is the topmost enjoyment. The Bhagavatam says that this material world. . .
pumsah striya mithunibhavam etam
Man is attached to women, and woman is attached to man. Not only in human society—in animal society also. That attachment is the basic principle of material life. So, a woman is hankering or seeking after the association of a man, and a man is hankering or seeking for the association of a woman. All the fiction novels, dramas, cinema and even ordinary advertisements that you see simply depict the attachment between man and woman. Even in the tailor's shop you will find in the window some woman and some man.
pravrttir esam bhutanam nivrttis tu mahaphalam [Manu-samhita]
So this attachment is already there.
Bob: Attachment between man and woman?
Srila Prabhupada: Man and woman. So if you want to get liberation from this material world, then that attachment should be reduced to nil. Otherwise, simply further attachment—you will have to take rebirth, either as a human being or as a demigod or as an animal, as a serpent, as a bird, as a beast. You will have to take birth. So, this basic principle of increasing attachment is not our business, although it is the general tendency. Grha, ksetra, suta [home, land, sons]. But if one can reduce and stop it, that is first class. Therefore our Vedic system is to first of all train a boy as a brahmacari—no sex life. The Vedic principle is to reduce attachment, not to increase it. Therefore the whole system is called varnasrama-dharma. The Indian system calls for varna and asrama—four social orders and four spiritual orders. Brahmacarya [celibate student life], grhastha [married life], vanaprastha [retired life] and sannyasa [renounced life]—these are the spiritual orders. And the social orders include brahmanas [intellectuals], ksatriyas [administrators], vaisyas [merchants and farmers] and sudras [ordinary workers]. So under this system, the regulative principles are so nice that even if one has the tendency to enjoy material life, he is so nicely molded that at last he achieves liberation and goes back home, back to Godhead. This is the process. So sex life is not required, but because we are attached to it, therefore there are some regulative principles under which it is maintained.
The Bodily Conception of Life
Srila Prabhupada: It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam that—
pumsah striya mithuni-bhavam etam
This sex life is the basic principle of material life—attachment for man or woman. And when they are united, when a man and woman are united, that attachment becomes increased, and that increased attachment will induce one to accumulate grha (a home), ksetra (land), suta (children), apta (friendship or society) and vitta. Vitta means money. In this way—grha-ksetra-sutapta-vittaih—he becomes entangled. Janasya moho 'yam: this is the illusion. And by this illusion he thinks, aham mameti: "I am this body, and anything in relationship with this body is mine."
Bob: What is that again?
Srila Prabhupada: This attachment increases. The material attachment involves thinking, "I am this body, and because I have this body in a particular place, that is my country." And that is going on: "I am American, I am Indian, I am German, I am this, I am that-this body. This is my country. I shall sacrifice everything for my country and society." So in this way, the illusion increases. And under this illusion, when he dies he gets another body. That may be a superior body or inferior body, according to his karma. So if he gets a superior body, then that is also an entanglement, even if he goes to the heavenly planets. But if he becomes a cat or dog, then his life is lost. Or a tree—there is every chance of it. So this science is not known in the world-how the soul is transmigrating from one body to another, and how he is being entrapped in different types of bodies. This science is unknown. Therefore when Arjuna was speaking—"If I kill my brother, if I kill my grandfather on the other side. . . "—he was simply thinking on the basis of the bodily concept of life. But when his problems could not be solved, he surrendered to Krsna and accepted Him as spiritual master. And when Krsna became his spiritual master, He chastised Arjuna in the beginning:
asocyan anvasocas tvam
"You are talking like a learned man, but you are fool number one because you are talking about the bodily concept of life." So this sex life increases the bodily concept of life. Therefore, the whole process is to reduce it to nil.
Bob: To reduce it over the stages of your life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Reduce it. Just as a boy is trained up as a student up to twenty-five years, restricting sex life. Brahmacari. So, some of the boys remain naisthika-brahmacari [celibate for life]. Because they are given education and they become fully conversant with spiritual knowledge, they don't want to marry. But one who has no such restraint is allowed to marry. That is also restricted—he cannot have sex life without being married. Therefore in human society there is marriage, not in animal society.
Spiritual Culture in a Degraded Society
Srila Prabhupada: But people are gradually descending from human society to animal society. They are forgetting marriage. That is also predicted in the sastras. Dam-patye 'bhirucir hetuh: In the Kali-yuga [the present age of quarrel], eventually there will be no marriage performances; the boy and the girl will simply agree to live together, and their relationship will exist on sexual power. If the man or the woman is deficient in sex life, then there is divorce. So, for this philosophy there are many Western philosophers like Freud and others who have written so many books. But according to Vedic culture, we are interested in sex only for begetting children, that's all. Not to study the psychology of sex life. There is already natural psychology for that. Even if one does not read any philosophy, he is sexually inclined. Nobody is taught it in the schools and colleges. Everyone already knows how to do it. [He laughs.] That is the general tendency. But education should be given to stop it. That is real education.
[There is a long pause, filled with the sound of bicycle horns, children playing, and throngs of people calling to one another.]
Bob: Presently, in America, that's a radical concept.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, in America there are so many things that require reformation, and this Krsna consciousness movement will bring that. I went to your country and saw that the boys and girls were living like friends, so I said to my students, "You cannot live together as friends; you must get yourselves married."
Bob: Many people see that even marriage is not sacred, so they find no desire to marry. Because people get married, and if things are not proper, they get a divorce so very easily. . .
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that also.
Bob: . . . that some people feel that to get married is not meaningful.
Srila Prabhupada: No, their idea is that marriage is for legalized prostitution. They think like that, but that is not marriage. Even that Christian paper—what is that? Watch—?
Srila Prabhupada: Watchtower. It has criticized that one priest has allowed a marriage between two men—homosexuality. So these things are all going on. They take it purely for prostitution, that's all. So therefore people are thinking, "What is the use of keeping a regular prostitute at such heavy expenditure? Better not to have this."
Syamasundara: You use that example of the cow and the market.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—when the milk is available in the marketplace, what is the use of keeping a cow? [Everyone laughs.] It is a very abominable condition in the Western countries—I have seen it. Here also in India, gradually it is coming. Therefore we have started this Krsna consciousness movement to educate people in the essential principles of spiritual life. It is not a sectarian religious movement. It is an essential cultural movement for everyone's benefit.
A brief look at the worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Festivals Of Krsna Consciousness
THE DEVOTEES of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are preparing for a number of important upcoming festivals that are celebrated every year. These festivals are great transcendental opportunities because they afford one the chance to hear about, chant about and remember Krsna, in the association of pure devotees of Krsna. The Krsna conscious devotees invite everyone to join in the bliss of these celebrations. For further details, please write or call the ISKCON center nearest you.
THE FIRST CELEBRATION is Rathayatra, which occurs this year on June 21. (Krsna conscious festivals occur on a different day every year, according to our Western solar calendar, because their appearance is calculated by the Vedic calendar, which is lunar.) The Rathayatra festival, which has been observed in India's holy city of Jagannatha Puri for thousands of years, glorifies Lord Krsna in His form as Lord Jagannatha, which means "the Lord of the universe."
Because the Deity is omnipotent, He can appear in fully spiritual incarnations apparently made of wood. Lord Jagannatha is such an incarnation of the Lord. On the Rathayatra day, the devotees bring the Jagannatha Deity on a parade of many miles in a huge cart. Chanting and dancing jubilantly, the thousands of people who gather for the festival pull the cart through the streets with long ropes. The celebration concludes with a sumptuous feast of Krsna-prasada, food first offered to Lord Jagannatha. In London and in San Francisco, the first city in the West where the Rathayatra Festival was held, thousands of people participate in celebrating Rathayatra.
THE NEXT FESTIVAL, Janmastami, marks the Appearance Day of Lord Krsna. This is what we might naturally call His "birthday" except that Krsna does not take birth like an ordinary human being. His so-called birth is a transcendental pastime He performs through His mystic potency. In the Bhavisya Purana it is said, "My Lord Krsna, please let us know the date when Your mother, Devaki-devi, gave birth to You. If You kindly inform us about this, we shall observe a great celebration on this date. We are souls one hundred percent surrendered unto Your lotus feet, and we wish only to please You with our ceremonies." Krsna conscious devotees, therefore, hold great celebrations on the Appearance Day of Lord Krsna, especially in Vrndavana, India, where the Lord appeared on earth, and in New Vrndavana, a Krsna conscious community in the hills of West Vriginia that is a transcendental replica of Krsna's original abode. This year, Janmastami occurs on the 11th of August.
THE NEXT FESTIVAL, Vyasa-puja, celebrates the Appearance Day of the spiritual master. According to all the revealed Vedic scriptures, one should honor the spiritual master as much as one honors the Supreme Lord because he is a confidential representative of the Lord. The Appearance Day of our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is the day after Janmastami. Thus the devotees observe Janmastami, as Vedic scriptures enjoin, by fasting all day and hearing and chanting Lord Krsna's glories; then on the next day, Vyasa-puja, the devotees glorify the spiritual master by offering prayers, flowers and ceremonies in his honor, and then an opulent feast. Since the service of the spiritual master is the life and soul of a sincere disciple, all the members of the Krsna consciousness movement observe Vyasa-puja with great devotion. In New Vrndavana, almost one thousand people gather annually for celebrations of Janmastami and Vyasa-puja that extend for an entire week. The many advanced devotees who attend give special discourses about bhakti-yoga, and, except on Janmastami, there is opulent feasting daily throughout the week of the festival.
FINALLY, Radhastami, the Appearance Day of Srimati Radharani, takes place after the Appearance Day of Lord Krsna, on September 23. Radharani is Krsna's pleasure potency, and She appears as His eternal consort. She is the symbol of devotional service in the highest degree. Because Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is very difficult to approach Him. But devotees take advantage of His compassionate nature, represented by Radharani, by always praying to Radharani for Krsna's compassion. Again, devotees celebrate this festival by chanting and feasting in great ecstasy.
by his holiness Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami
Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami, the Editor of Back to Godhead, is currently traveling with His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada, serving as his personal secretary.
EVERYONE WILL AGREE that a human being needs some kind of education. Some teachers stress preparing oneself for an occupation, while others assert that the quest for knowledge itself sufficiently justifies an education. But unless one's vocational education or search for knowledge can reveal to him his own identity, the purpose of life, his relationship with God and the universe, and the path of freedom from material miseries, whatever else he learns is but a waste of time.
The well-known incident of the unduly proud scholar and the boatman illustrates this point. A scholar once engaged a ferryboat man to row him across a river. Observing that his boatman was quite uneducated, the scholar began to show off his own learning and simultaneously criticize the boatman.
"My good boatman," the scholar said, "just see how the first stars are appearing in the sky. We may observe the juxtapositions of planets and stars to a degree that is marvelous. Tell me, do you know the science of astronomy?"
"No sir," the boatman replied, adding that he knew little beyond rowing.
"You don't know astronomy?" the scholar said. "Poor fellow! Then your life is twenty-five percent wasted."
Some time passed, and the scholar began commenting upon the various land formations around them, boasting that he was also a master of geology. "Do you knew the science of geology?" he asked. When the boatman said he did not, the scholar declared, "Oh, then fifty percent of your life is wasted." Then the scholar next launched into a dissertation on psychology, and when the boatman admitted he knew nothing about it, the scholar announced, "Indeed, seventy-five percent of your life is wasted!"
Suddenly black clouds began pouring rain, and a squall rocked the little ferryboat. Within minutes the storm became so serious that waves broke over the ferry's, sides, and the ferryman, seeing they would have to abandon the boat, turned to the scholar and said, "Sir; I'm afraid this boat is lost. We'll have to swim for it. Do you know the art of swimming?"
But the scholar replied, "I don't know how to swim."
"Oh, sir," said the boatman, "then one hundred percent of your life is wasted!" He then dove into the river and began swimming, while the educated scholar drowned.
Thus although a man may pretend to be educated, his education is useless if he does not learn how to save himself from the miseries of life and ultimately from death itself. The Vedic literature refers to a human being who does not use his human birth to solve life's perplexities as a krpana, or miser. The Garga Upanisad states; "He is a miserly man who does not solve the problems of life and who thus quits this world like the cats and dogs, without understanding the science of self-realization." The real wealth of human life lies in becoming enlightened and solving the problems of life. Education that misses or ignores this must be considered subhuman.
Facing the Problems
What, then, are the problems of existence? First, there are the fourfold miseries birth, death, disease and old age. There are miseries caused by other living entities, such as biting bugs and human enemies; there are miseries caused by the very nature of our bodies, such as mental anxiety, indigestion and broken limbs, and there are miseries inflicted on us by natural calamities beyond human control, such as earthquakes, droughts and floods. For our education to be fruitful, it should help us find a solution these problems.
One might object to our assumption that human life should yield freedom from miseries. Some people think misery the natural human condition. They say we are meant-to suffer. Nevertheless, living entities of all species want to be happy and avoid suffering; no one takes suffering naturally. Misery may seem inevitable, yet philosophers, humanitarians and politicians ever seek its remedies. Not only does a human being try to avoid suffering; even an ant resists being killed. Ask anyone if he is eager to deteriorate with old age. To answer honestly, one would have to say no. What about disease or death? Would anyone like to die right now? "No thanks." Sometimes people try to block out suffering with sensual pleasure. For example, one might temporarily forget one's anxieties through drugs or liquor. But after the high wears off, the anxieties return.
One's claim to be happy and content is a deception if one has not conquered the miseries of birth, death, old age and disease. For example, say we were to visit a friend in the hospital and find that his leg was in traction, he was unable to pass urine unless a nurse brought a bedpan, he had to receive shots regularly, and he could not eat solid food. If we asked our friend how he was feeling and he replied, "I'm all right," we might ask, "What is that 'I'm all right'?" With so many miseries, how could he consider himself all right?
Such illusions of well-being and satisfaction are common among lower animals. Cattle and chickens, for instance, eat their grass and grains in contentment, although their master feeds them simply to kill them. A human being, however, won't stand for being miserable. He protests, or he seeks a solution.
Hedonists, of course, say that the only solution is to go on enjoying the pleasures of the senses and not dwell on miseries, but unfortunately life's miseries curb their pleasure at every step. One might have palatable food to eat, but if someone were to mix sand into it, no one would be able to enjoy it, for although its taste would still be there, the sand would grit against one's teeth and nullify the enjoyment. The pains of material life similarly nullify all the enjoyments of the material world. But if despite all sufferings, one is determined to enjoy material life- to eat sweet food mixed with sand-still one cannot. No one is allowed to stay here. We may want to make our home here and enjoy, but death kicks us out. There are no exceptions. Everyone is forced to leave.
Therefore, with the facilities of human life, one should seek an ultimate solution to misery. Still one might object that to stop suffering is impossible, The painter Van Gogh once wrote in a letter, "Misery is eternal," But the solution is at hand, as we shall describe herein, if only one approaches the problem seriously and receives the proper education.
The Giants Who Fail Us
We should think that if we scrutinized the works of great writers, scientists and artists, they would help us conquer these miseries. But as we consult our great thinkers, we find they do not have the solution. Socrates, Shakespeare, Freud or the latest Nobel Prize winning scientists may be giants in their fields, but reading their works cannot free one from death or old age, Scientists, of course, are well-known for what they supposedly will do in the future. Those called gerontologists even profess to be on the verge of discovering how to stop aging and death. But according to a recent report in Newsweek, "they have not reached anything even resembling an elixir of youth." In any case, aside from hopes that some heroic scientist may rescue us from our problems, the miseries of birth, death, old age and disease have no solution. No one wants them, but no one is free from them,
Even humanity's greatest scientists and philosophers cannot solve the problems of life because everyone born into the material world is conditioned by four basic imperfections. First, we are prone to make mistakes-"to err is human." In India, for instance, Mahatma Gandhi was supposed to have been a very great person, but he too committed mistakes. Five minutes before he came to the meeting at which he was killed, his confidential associates warned him not to go, but nevertheless he persisted. Another imperfection is that we fall into illusion, mistaking one thing for another. We are also imperfect in that we are prone to cheat. For example, I must admit that I sometimes make mistakes and sometimes fall into illusion. But if nevertheless I write a book claiming to be the truth, is that not cheating? How can one subject to so many imperfections claim to be a teacher? And another imperfection is that we have limited senses. With our limited ears we can hear only a certain range of sounds, and with our eyes we observe the huge sun in the sky to be no bigger than a half dollar. These conditions of material nature, imposed upon one and all, limit man in his knowledge.
The Perfect Intelligence
But perfect knowledge to free us from suffering is available-from the perfect source. Unlike knowledge spoken by imperfect, conditioned living entities, that spoken by God is perfect, free of defect. There is a supremely intelligent being, and His intentions toward mankind are loving. As the supreme creator, He can give the knowledge for supreme freedom from misery.
Atheists argue that there is no Supreme God, but they cannot explain how the huge cosmic manifestation of universes, planets and living beings has come about. The pious accept that God is the creator, but atheists speculate that everything has arisen automatically through spontaneous combustion, chance chemical and Sexual combinations, blind evolution, and so on. These explanations identify only intermediate causes; none of them disproves the existence of a Supreme Lord who is the cause of all causes.
The universe displays wonderful management, engineering and artistry, and behind all these huge affairs of nature is a gigantic brain or intelligence. If a child sees a spacecraft orbiting in the sky, he may think it is doing so by chance, without control, but a mature person knows that teams of intelligent scientists and technicians are controlling its flight. Why, then, should we assume, like ignorant children, that these huge spacecraft called planets are flying in exact, grand orbits through space automatically, with no intelligence behind them? Our scientists may observe the workings of the universe and describe how the law of gravity holds the planets in orbit, but simply to observe the phenomenon and label it "the law of gravity" does not really explain or in any way duplicate the inconceivable mystic potency that enables the planets to float and sail through space. Indeed, to observe laws in the universe is to admit that there must be a lawmaker behind them. Thus begins a conviction in the existence of a supreme intelligence, a supreme controller-God-who alone can give man the ultimate knowledge of how to become free from suffering.
The transcendental nature of God is revealed in Scripture, which is His spoken word. The original scripture is called the Veda (veda means "knowledge"). For the benefit of all living beings, God revealed information on how to become free from the suffering of material life, and a disciplic succession of spiritual masters has conveyed it to us. Such knowledge is called apauruseya, which means that it originates not from imperfect men within this world, but, without defect, from God. In Vedic literature the supreme controller, the intelligent being from whom everything emanates, is called Krsna, which means "All-attractive." The Supreme Lord, Krsna, has given authoritative literature to men in different lands, and His words appear to differ according to the times and places they were delivered, and the understanding of the people in those places; thus we have the Bible, Koran and Bhagavad-gita. Yet the teaching of the Supreme is one, for its conclusion is always the same: obedience to God will end all suffering.
Education Beyond the Body
To take the first step in transcendental knowledge, one should understand that he is not his body but a spiritual soul. Nevertheless, most big scholars, philosophers and political leaders have not taken even this first step. They have not mastered even the ABC's of real education. Rather, thinking they are their bodies, they identify themselves with their families, races, nations and so on. A person in bodily consciousness thinks, "I am John Thompson," "I am a white man," "I am an American," "I am black," "I am Christian," "I am Communist," "I am human," and so on. Yet within a few years the demise of the body vanquishes all such designations.
According to Vedic literature, the real self, as an eternal soul who exists in a loving relation to God, the complete whole, does not die when the body dies, nor does he grow old when the body grows old. He cannot be cut; nor can he be killed. He is joyful always. If one understands this, he can disentangle himself from his long history of suffering. But if one does not undertake this study, whatever else he does in his bodily identity is defeated at the time of death.
Human education, then, must not merely instruct us how to prepare for a job or how to speculate upon the imperfect views of great thinkers. Rather, it must enable us to solve the problems of life. A human being should be dissatisfied as long as he cannot extricate himself from the prison called the material world, where everyone is subject to the strict punishments of old age, death and disease. To be gainfully employed within the prison, to try to enjoy prison life to the utmost, or to give up all hope of ever getting out of prison and simply to sit down to read and write books for amusement is not the real nature of a freedom-loving being. Each of us, by our original nature, is meant to be free of the sufferings material nature imposes upon us.
Although our confinement in the material world is under the jurisdiction of the supreme controller, Krsna, He is not to blame for our suffering. We ourselves have brought it about by our ignorance. Lacking education in what is what, thinking we belong to the material world, we have forgotten our spiritual nature. But because Krsna has not forgotten us-even though we have absorbed ourselves in temporary activities and thus forgotten Him-He sends His personal representative, the spiritual master, to offer us the path by which to return home, back to Godhead, to teach us by precept and example the life of God consciousness, a life of eternity, bliss and knowledge.
By Gopijana-Vallabha Dasa
Gopijana-vallabha dasa earned his BA in economics and philosophy from Cornell University in 1969 and shortly thereafter joined the Krsna consciousness movement. He is the President of ISKCON's New York City center, which sponsors an especially enthusiastic sankirtana program.
OF THE MANY transcendental activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, foremost is the sankirtana program. Sankirtana is the congregational chanting of the name, fame and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. As part of sankirtana, devotees chant and dance in the streets, distribute books about Krsna and distribute prasada (food offered to Krsna)-all to glorify Krsna, the Supreme Lord.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the father of sankirtana, is actually Krsna Himself, but in the disguise of a devotee of Krsna. He appeared five hundred years ago to revive the original pure God consciousness of all living entities. Only by reviving this consciousness within oneself can one achieve steady, unwavering peace and happiness. Understanding this to be the real need of everyone, Sri Krsna, who is not only omniscient but omnipresent, being seated within the heart of every living entity, appeared as Lord Caitanya.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
In spreading the sankirtana movement, Lord Caitanya set the perfect example for anyone who aspires to become a devotee of Krsna and thus attain an eternal life of bliss and knowledge. Caitanya Mahaprabhu was not concerned with acquiring self-esteem, many followers, or a great reputation, but wherever He went He always chanted the holy name of Krsna: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Even though He is in fact the Supreme Person, He presented Himself with a meek and humble attitude. Thus He gained the respect of everyone He met and convinced everyone to join Him in sankirtana.
The present-day International Society for Krishna Consciousness is working to fulfill Lord Caitanya's prophecy that in this Kali-yuga (the Age of Quarrel) the holy name of Krsna will be heard in every city, village and town. It is to execute such an ambitious mission that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada left his homeland, India, at the advanced age of seventy and sailed to the United States to found the Krsna consciousness movement. Following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, Srila Prabhupada performed sankirtana, alone but with undeterred spirit, for over a year, until a few young men, attracted by his sincere presentation, became his disciples. In the seven years since then, more than seventy Krsna consciousness temples have sprung up all over the globe, with thousands of devotees taking up Lord Caitanya's sankirtana banner.
One may ask how so much interest and activity could be generated in so short a time. It is the plan of the Supreme Lord, Krsna, without whose sanction not even a blade of grass can move. Krsna explains in Bhagavad-gita:
yada yada hi dharmasya
"Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself." (Bg. 4.7)
Lord Krsna comes in the form of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to distribute the real process of self-realization for this age-sankirtana, the congregational chanting of Krsna's holy names. Many forms of self-realization and yoga are popular today, but to achieve the quickest and most perfect result, one should take direction from Krsna Himself, the Supreme Lord. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, the cream of all the Vedic literatures, Vyasadeva, who is the literary incarnation of Krsna, predicts the appearance of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He declares:
"In this Age of Kali, people who are endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the golden incarnation of the Lord [Caitanya Mahaprabhu], who is accompanied by His associates, by performing sankirtana. (Bhag. 11.5.32)
Anyone desiring freedom from the anxiety and disappointment of material life can seriously take up the chanting of Hare Krsna and thus realize the goal of life. The human form of life is not meant simply for eating, sleeping, mating and defending like animals; it is meant for self-realization. The Vedanta-sutra states, athato brahma-jijnasa: human life is meant for understanding the Absolute Truth. And what is that Absolute Truth? Krsna states in Bhagavad-gita:
mattah parataram nanyat
"O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread." (Bg. 7.7)
aham sarvasya prabhavo
"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts." (Bg. 10.8)
Thus by taking perfect information from the perfect source, Krsna, one achieves the perfect result-devotional service to Krsna. Chanting and hearing are the recommended means of achieving devotional service. Since Krsna is all-powerful, He is present as His name, qualities, form, pastimes and paraphernalia. Therefore simply by chanting and hearing Krsna's name, one associates with Krsna directly. Thus one is liberated from the influence of the material energy and comes under the influence of Krsna's spiritual potency. This is the perfection of life.
by Visakha-devi dasi
Visakha-devi dasi, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, is a professional photographer and an expert on photomicrography, in which small objects are reproduced as magnified images. She first joined ISKCON while doing freelance work in India. She and her husband, also a professional photographer, are currently traveling around the world making documentary films about the Krsna consciousness movement.
"JUST AS ONE cannot separate the body from the soul while in the conditioned state, so the disciple cannot separate the spiritual master's order from his very life."-Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (a great spiritual master in the Krsna conscious line of disciplic succession).
Many years ago, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja instructed His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, his disciple, to spread the science of Krsna consciousness to the English-speaking people of the world. Srila Prabhupada has never forgotten his spiritual master's request; indeed, he has made it the very center of his life, and, assisted by his disciples, he has now organized an ambitious publishing and book distribution program that every year sees hundreds of thousands of copies of Krsna conscious books distributed around the world.
Daily, in the early morning hours, Srila Prabhupada translates and explains original Sanskrit and Bengali scriptures in the English language on a dictaphone. The tapes are sent to ISKCON Press in New York, where they are typed out, composed, and edited by Srila Prabhupada's students. The duty of a surrendered soul is to make the desire of his spiritual master his own desire. For this reason the devotees at ISKCON Press enthusiastically accept the responsibility for publishing Prabhupada's words. The artists at the press make "windows to the spiritual sky" with their illustrations for the books, and the photographers have complete facilities to portray the activities of the Lord's servants here on earth.
All the press operations, including shooting with a copy camera, designing, spotting, stripping, printing, cutting and binding, are carried out by the disciples, with the intention of pleasing the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada.
The books that ISKCON Press publishes are the foundation of the Hare Krsna movement because, as Prabhupada says, "These books present the perfect peace formula, beyond sectarian and national limitations. Simply by engaging in the process of self-realization described in such transcendental literature, one can transcend material consciousness and thus subdue all the problems of life." In the major cities of more than twenty countries around the world, devotees, with all humility and respect, offer everyone the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, in book form.
The editors of Back to Godhead welcome correspondence pertaining to the subject matter of Krsna consciousness. All letters will receive a personal reply, and correspondence of special interest will be published regularly.
A Reader Objects To Back To Godhead's Exclusivity
Perhaps I misunderstand you, but I feel saddened when it appears to me that you espouse Krsna consciousness as the only path to the realization of God and, moreso, when you denounce as less worthy other philosophies which in fact differ only in aspect and reach the same ultimate goal.
"This platform of personal relationship is certainly higher than the impersonal platform or the platform of Supersoul or Paramatma realization." Back to Godhead No. 54
I gather here that one of the impersonal philosophies referred to is Vedanta, which is nondualistic, with "many and no" personified God.
May I quote from the Gita as translated by Swami P-—:
"Some whose hearts are purified realize the atma within themselves through contemplation. Some realize the atma philosophically. . .Others follow the yoga of right action. Others who do not know these paths, worship God as their teachers taught them. If these faithfully practice what they have learned, they will pass beyond death's power."
And again, "Others worship Me, knowing Brahman in all things. Some see Me as one with themselves, or separate. Some bow to the countless gods that are only My million faces."
Each man has his own "inclination." Hence the four yogas-raja, jnana, bhakti and karma. I see no indication in the Gita or Upanisads that one path is inherently superior to another (assuming that either of the yogas or a combination of them is practiced with Truth, according to the scriptures.)
At any rate, it is also possible to adhere to the "platform of personal relationship" with another of God's faces (the Holy Mother or Buddha, for example) and realize "Krsna" consciousness simply under a different name, say Christ consciousness.
Again from the Gita:
"When goodness grows weak,
Perhaps Krsna is the Supreme Godhead-but if worshiped in the same manner, does it matter what we call Him? Or is it fair to discredit worshiping in a manner closer to our own inclination to reach the ultimate Truth ("all paths lead to me. . .")?
"Impersonalists cannot think along these terms [i.e., tendency towards pleasure"], for they deny the pleasure potency; therefore the impersonalist philosophy is incomplete and inferior." Back to Godhead No. 54. This is an inadequate and unfair value judgment of Vedanta. Unfortunate in that whether or not one views the Gita as concerned with Krsna the individual and His aspect as Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, or Krsna the Supreme Godhead, the message is the same. Inadequate in that it does not acknowledge or relate the joy and peace that Vedanta has to impart to those of us who find it easier to worship God as the atman/paramatman.
The methods may be different, and yet we travel the same road, leading to the same place. Only our vehicles differ. This should not act as a wedge between us but should bring joy in the knowledge that we-all of us right Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Hindus-are travelers on the same road, honoring each other's way, seeing harmony, not disorder, and that we can respect and acknowledge the unity in our endeavor.
"Truth is One: sages call it by various names." Rg Veda. Om.
New York, New York
Dear Ms. Prince,
We have not expounded Krsna consciousness as the superior philosophy of God realization to sadden you; it is our duty to present Krsna consciousness as superior because as far as Bhagavad-gita and the Upanisads speak for themselves, this presentation is perfectly correct.
The Rg Veda's statement that the Truth is one although called variously is certainly valid, but this does not mean that everything is the truth. The Upanisads clearly reject this idea. One must discriminate between Truth and illusion. The Isopanisad says:
anyad evahuh sambhavdd
"It is said that one result is obtained by worshiping the supreme cause of all causes and that another is obtained by worshiping what is not supreme. All this was heard from the undisturbed authorities who clearly explained it." (Isopanisad, Mantra 13)
Since nothing exists outside of Krsna, certainly all paths lead to Him in one or another of His manifestations. But this does not mean that all paths lead to His highest manifestation. Some paths lead up, others down. Indeed, in that part of the "All paths lead to Me" verse which you did not quote, the Lord affirms, "I reward everyone differently according to the nature of his surrender." (Bg. 4.11)
Different kinds of transcendentalists get different rewards. Not everyone achieves the same ultimate goal. If all paths led to the same goal, Krsna would not bother to speak Bhagavad-gita. Lord Krsna speaks the Gita for our benefit, to point out the most suitable path to the highest realization.
If you have not seen indications in the Gita or Upanisads that one path is inherently superior to another, I suggest you look more closely. True, in Bhagavad-gita Krsna explains different systems of yoga, but you will find that the Lord concludes:
yoginam api sarvesam
"Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all." (Bg. 6.47) Here the Lord clearly indicates that bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional service, is the topmost yoga system, surpassing all others. All other yogas are but means to elevate oneself to bhakti.
You have mentioned that some people bow to the gods who are but the million faces of Krsna. But you should understand this verse clearly. The faces of the many demigods are Krsna's faces because Krsna is their Supreme Lord, just as the faces of a king's agents are faces of the king they represent. But this does not mean that all the demigods are equal to Krsna. Bhagavad-gita clearly rejects this idea. If you look only eight verses past the one you quoted in this connection, you will find that Lord Krsna says:
ye 'py anya-devata-bhakta
"Whatever a man may sacrifice to other gods, O son of Kunti, is really meant for Me alone, but it is offered without true understanding." (Bg. 9.23)
In the next verse the Lord emphasizes the same point:
aham hi sarva-yajnanam
"I am the only enjoyer and the only object of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down." (Bg. 9.24)
In the Gita Lord Krsna refers to the devotees who chant His glories as mahatmas, great souls (Bg. 9.13-14), but He refers to the worshipers of the demigods as "unintelligent" (Bg. 7.23) and declares that their minds are "distorted by material desires." (Bg. 7.20) How then can you say that both classes of worshipers are equal?
Nor do the devotees of the demigods achieve the same goal as Lord Krsna's devotees. Those who worship the demigods, Lord Krsna says, achieve limited and temporary enjoyment on the planets of the demigods, but His devotees ultimately reach His supreme planet (Bg. 7.23). Elsewhere in the Gita Lord Krsna declares:
yanti deva-vrata devan
"Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me." (Bg. 9.25)
Commenting on this verse, our spiritual master writes: "Nowhere in authentic scriptures is it said that whatever you do and whatever you worship you will ultimately reach the same goal. Such foolish theories are offered by self-made masters who have no connection with the bona fide system of disciplic succession. The bona fide spiritual master cannot say that everyone's own mode of worship-be it worship of the demigods or of the Supreme-leads to the same goal. For a common man it is very easy to understand that a person starting by train from Bombay can reach the destination for which he has purchased his ticket, and nowhere else. A person who has purchased a ticket for Calcutta can reach Calcutta. But contemporary so-called masters say that whatever spiritual ticket you may purchase will take you to the supreme goal. Such mundane and compromising offers attract many foolish creatures to become puffed up with their manufactured methods of spiritual realization, but the Vedic instruction does not uphold them. Unless one has received knowledge from the bona fide spiritual master, one cannot have the real thing as it is." It is not unlikely that your mistaken ideas about Bhagavad-gita have come from the books you have read. For a translation of Bhagavad-gita by a bona fide spiritual master, I strongly recommend Bhagavad-gita As It Is by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
God has many faces, for He appears in many incarnations, such as Visnu and Rama. This does not mean, however, that all faces are as good as God's. Not everyone who has a face is God. Richard Nixon has a face. You have a face. I have a face. Even cats and dogs have faces. Does this mean that Mr. Nixon, you, I and all the cats and dogs are as good as God? Of course not. One must learn from authorities who God is. Then one can know His face from the faces of His many sons.
You have mentioned worship of the "holy mother," by which I assume you mean the goddess Kali, or Durga. But, as the Brahma-samhita confirms (Bs. 5.44), Durga is the goddess who personifies the Lord's material energy-in other words, she is may a (illusion) personified. How can worship of illusion be the same as worship of the Absolute Truth? Again, God has many names, but this does not mean that all names are as good as His. The Kali-santarana Upanisad states: "The only means to counteract the evil effects of Kali-yuga [the present age of quarrel and anxiety] is these sixteen names of the Lord: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
You indicate that there is no difference whether one is concerned with Krsna's Brahman (impersonal) aspect or with His feature as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But Lord Krsna devotees an entire chapter of the Gita—Chapter Twelve—to rejecting this idea. There Arjuna asks:
evam satata-yukta ye
"Which is considered to be more perfect: those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?" (Bg. 12.1) The Lord emphatically replies:
mayy avesya mano ye mam
"He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect." (Bg. 12.2) Thus it is clear that Krsna does not consider the two paths the same. He considers one path superior-bhakti, devotion to Him in His personal feature.
You cite the joy that Vedanta has brought you, but unless you understand Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, you don't even know what Vedanta is. Without Krsna, there is no meaning even to the word "vedanta." Veda means "knowledge" and anta means "the ultimate." What is the ultimate knowledge of the Vedas? Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah: "By all the Vedas, I am to be known." (Bg. 15.15) Krsna is the author and knower of the Vedas. Unless you understand Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, all your so-called Vedanta is useless. The purpose of studying the Vedanta literature is to understand the Absolute Truth. And what is that Absolute Truth? The Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: "The Absolute Truth is the source of everything." And what is that source? Lord Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita:
aham sarvasya prabhavo
"I am the source of everything. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts." (Bg. 10.8)
You say, "Perhaps Krsna is the Supreme Godhead. But if worshiped in the same manner, does it matter what we call Him? Or is it fair to discredit worshiping in a manner closer to our own inclination?" Obviously it does matter, at least to Lord Krsna Himself. Otherwise He wouldn't have specified in Bhagavad-gita how one should act. After expounding the science of yoga before Arjuna, Lord Krsna indeed says: "Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do." (Bg. 18.63) But then the Lord clearly reiterates the central message of all the Gita's confidential teachings:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
"Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend." (Bg. 18.65) Why should we try to dream up excuses for doing anything else? If Krsna is indeed the Supreme Godhead, why don't you do what He says?
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear."(Bg. 18.66)
I must indeed respect and honor you for your endeavor to know the Truth. But to cheat you by saying that all paths lead to the same goal would not be at all respectful. As the Upanisads say, "The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult." There are many wrong turns and dead ends. Therefore one should be careful to follow, with the help of a bona fide spiritual master, the authorized directions that the Lord Himself, in the Gita, maps out.
One who understands Bhagavad-gita should promptly come to the conclusion of Bhagavad-gita by surrendering unto Krsna and engaging in His devotional service. One who follows this supreme path of yoga has indeed understood the Gita in truth.
An excerpt from "Prayers of King Kulasekhara"
An unpublished manuscript by
mukunda murdhna pranipatya yace bhavantam ekantam iyantam artham
O my Lord Mukunda! I bow my head down before Your Lordship's lotus feet and respect fully ask for the fulfillment of my only desire. Throughout my repeated births may I never forget but always remember You by Your Lordship's mercy.
PURPORT: Despite all difficulties, a pure devotee has nothing to ask from the Lord. The world in which we live is a miserable place. It is, so to speak, a prisonhouse for the ever joyful spirit soul. A prisoner cannot move or enjoy life freely, and similarly the living entities who have been conditioned by the laws of material nature are doomed. Indeed, they are bound by the four principal miseries-namely birth, death, old age and disease. These miseries are imposed upon the living entities by the laws of external nature (maya). Maya punishes the forgetful living entities who are busy making plans for lasting happiness despite all material distresses. By the mercy of the Lord, the pure devotee knows this very well. Philosophy means understanding this truth, and advanced knowledge means understanding the naked truth of this world and not being deluded by the temporary beauty of this illusory show. Material nature is not at all beautiful; it is like an imitation peacock. We must have the sense to understand that a real peacock is a different thing altogether. Those who are mad after enjoying or capturing the imitation peacock, as well as those who have only a pessimistic view of the imitation peacock and no positive information about the real peacock, are illusioned by the modes of material nature. Those who are after the imitation peacock are called fruitive workers, and those who simply condemn the imitation peacock and are ignorant of the real one are called empiric philosophers. Disgusted by following a mirage, these empiric philosophers seek to merge into a void.
A pure devotee, however, cannot be classified among such bewildered people. He does not aspire to enjoy the imitation peacock, nor does he condemn it out of disgust like the baffled empiricist. Rather, he seeks the reality. He is superior to all the servants of material nature because he prefers to serve the Lord, the master of all. He seeks the substance and does not want to give it up. The lotus feet of Mukunda (Sri Krsna, the giver of liberation) are the substance, and being a most intelligent devotee, King Kulasekhara prays to obtain this substance without a shadow. A devotee of Narayana (Krsna) is not at all afraid of any circumstance that may befall him. He is neither afraid to visit the kingdom of Pluto nor anxious to enter the kingdom of heaven. For him both these kingdoms are of equal value; they are but castles in the air. He does not aspire to attain either of them, nor does he condemn them. What he ultimately desires is very nicely expressed in the words of King Kulasekhara.
A pure devotee of the Lord like King Kulasekhara does not pray to God for material wealth, followers, beautiful women or imitation peacocks because he knows the real value of such illusory shows, if he is circumstantially placed amidst such illusory things, he does not artificially try to extricate himself or condemn such illusions. For instance, Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, a great associate of Lord Caitanya and a rich man's son with a beautiful wife and other paraphernalia, met Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu at Panihati, a village about forty miles from Calcutta. He asked the Lord's permission to accompany Him and leave his material connections. The Lord refused this proposal and instructed Srila Raghunatha dasa that it is useless to leave worldly connections out of sentiment or out of artificial renunciation. Rather, one should have a complete knowledge of the physical world, and, while behaving outwardly as a worldly man, he must inwardly cultivate his faith in spiritual life. This will help one progress in spiritual life. No one can cross a large ocean by jumping. What was possible for Hanuman by the grace of Rama is not possible for everyone. * [*As related in the epic Ramayana. Hanuman leaped across the Indian Ocean to reach Lanka from India on a mission for Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Personality of Godhead.] To cross the ocean, one must wait and see by what means one can gradually reach the other side.
Although a pure devotee does not bother himself with what is going to happen next in the material world, he is nonetheless constantly alert, and he does not forget his ultimate aim. Therefore King Kulasekhara prays to remember the lotus feet of the Lord. Forgetting one's relationship with the Lord and thus remaining in the ocean of material hankering is most abominable. In the lower animal species, the living entity completely forgets his relationship with the Lord, and consequently he is constantly busy eating, sleeping, fearing and attempting to gratify his senses. Such a life of forgetfulness is the aim of modern civilization, which seeks to attain such an animalistic life by improved economics. There is regular and specific propagandizing by agents of the external energy to root out the very seed of divine consciousness. This is an impossible attempt, because the divine consciousness of a living being cannot be killed, although it may be temporarily choked by circumstances.
In his original identity, the living entity and his original spiritual qualities are indestructible. One can kill neither the spirit soul nor its spiritual qualities. Remembering the Lord and desiring to serve Him are the spiritual qualities of the soul. One may artificially attempt to suppress the spiritual qualities, but these qualities will be reflected in a perverted way on the mirror of material existence. The spiritual desire to serve the Lord out of transcendental love is reflected in a perverted way in the material desire for wine, women, wealth and so on. The so-called love of material things-even for country, community, religion and family-is but a perverted reflection of the love of Godhead dormant in every soul. King Kulasekhara position is that of a liberated soul; he does not wish to pollute his genuine love of God by love of material things.
The words bhave bhave, meaning "throughout repeated births," are very significant here. A pure devotee is never afraid of repeated birth. This is not true of the jnani (mental speculator) who aspires to merge into the Absolute and thereby stop the process of repeated birth. In Bhagavad-gita it is stated that the birth and deeds of the Personality of Godhead are divya, or transcendental. In Bhagavad-gita the Lord tells Arjuna: "Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!" (Bg. 4.5) For the Lord there is no history of past, present and future, but for the living being there is such a history due to his forgetfulness of the past. However, a living entity who is a constant companion of the Lord is also transcendentally situated. His birth and death are one and the same. They are but ephemeral flashes, and they do not in any way affect the spiritual existence of a devotee.
To cite a crude example, a cat captures both her offspring and her prey, the rat, in her mouth. In the eyes of the layman, both capturing processes may appear the same, but in fact there is a vast difference. While being carried in the cat's mouth, the rat and the cat's offspring see things differently. For the rat, his capture is death, whereas for the offspring, it is but a pleasurable touch. The passing away of a devotee from the active scene of material existence may appear to be death, but it is different from the death of an ordinary man. The death of an ordinary being grows from his good and evil deeds, and his next birth is awarded according to his past deeds. It is different for a devotee, however. Even if a devotee fails, he is guaranteed birth in a good family-that of a learned and devoted brahmana or of a rich mercantile vaisya. Thus the devotee who fails in his spiritual attempts has a better chance to improve his spiritual condition and devotional service by taking birth in a well-to-do family. Unfortunately in this iron age the members of well-to-do families misuse their prosperity in various ways and instead of improving their spiritual life simply degrade themselves by bad association. King Kulasekhara therefore prays not to forget the lotus feet of the Lord throughout his repeated births.
A devotee who has attained perfect success in devotional service returns to Godhead without a doubt. For him there is no question of repeated birth and death. But if a devotee does not attain complete perfection, he is guaranteed birth in a learned and well-to-do family, and even if he is not given birth in a good family, he is blessed by being able to remember the lotus feet of the Lord. Such a benediction is greater than any number of material assets. Constant remembrance of the Lord's name, fame and qualities automatically counteracts the reactions of all vices and extends the blessings of goodness. Constantly remembering the lotus feet of the Lord is the same as rendering active service to the Lord.
Therefore a pure devotee does not ask the Lord for material wealth, manpower, followers or beautiful women. Rather, he simply prays for unalloyed faith in the Lord's service. This should be the prayer and life motto of all prospective students in devotional service.
A Back to Godhead Analysis
The Cheaters and the Cheated
"There's a sucker born every minute," P.T. Barnum is alleged to have said. And whether he said it or not, it's certainly true. And when we add all those newborn suckers to the old fools already here, we really wind up with a population problem. Sucker: "a person easily cheated or deceived." And who is that? We'd hate to say the majority of the American people-the most educated, sophisticated and highfalutin people in the world. But, then, someone elected Richard Nixon.
If Nixon had been a rotten king, no one but Nixon would have been to blame for the way he's run things. But the American people freely elected him to the presidency. Now they have no one to blame but themselves. The trouble is that like it or not we are suckers. And to make matters worse, we can be relied upon to fall for the same tricks again and again.
Certainly we all must acknowledge that the chief executive post of the world's leading democracy calls for a man of great integrity, sobriety and intelligence who will act in the best interests of the citizens. Only a man whose intelligence can rule his senses can be entrusted with such important responsibilities.
But who will select such a chief executive? In 1972 the American people overwhelmingly endorsed Richard M. Nixon. Now they're beginning to see what they voted for-a man of questionable character who apparently cheated his country for the sake of his own bank balance and political ambitions, a man whose intelligence and sense of duty seem too weak to control his desires.
Who elected such a leader? Fools! The same fools who smoke fire to keep "kool" and who think Coke to be "the real thing." The same fools who ventured into the New Frontier to find a Great Society and found instead the Vietnam war. The same fools who thrilled and cheered as man set off to conquer space and who woke up a few billion dollars later with nothing but heaps of "moon rocks."
"Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest show on earth-democracy! Government of the people! By the people! For the people!" But when the people are easily manipulated by false propaganda financed by self-interested businessmen and politicians, democracy is little more than a farce. In such a perverted democracy, ignorant voters elect useless leaders. Thus the blind lead the blind, and the entire society falls into a ditch.
If the democratic form of government is to be at all meaningful, the voters must be qualified voters who know how to discriminate between a Madison Avenue illusion and a genuinely substantial political leader.
From many points of view, Mr. Nixon was an excellent choice for the presidency. He was a widely experienced administrator whose shrewdness in foreign policy is almost undeniable. His defect, however, was his personal character.
How can we insure that the man we elect will be a man of integrity? The Vedic literature declares:
yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana
"One who has unflinching devotion for the Personality of Godhead has all good qualities. But one who is riot a devotee of the Lord has only material qualifications that are of little value. This is because he is hovering on the mental plane and is certain to be attracted by the lure of materialism." (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)
Thus if we want our leaders to be men we can trust, they must be not only materially qualified but also God conscious, or Krsna conscious. Otherwise we will simply remain a society of cheaters and the cheated.
A Krsna conscious person can actually be entrusted with the leadership of a great nation because he is above material desires. He knows that there is no greater gain in life than the service of Krsna. Therefore the vested interests cannot buy and sell him like ordinary mundane politicians. He performs his duty conscientiously as a service to the Supreme Lord, and because he is serving the Supreme, he diligently serves all his citizens, whom he sees as being parts and parcels of the Supreme. If one waters the root of a tree, one automatically serves all the leaves and branches. Similarly, only a leader who serves Krsna can properly serve his citizens.
Therefore, the American people- and the people of the entire world-must be educated to demand of their leaders that they be Krsna conscious, God conscious. America's motto, "In God We Trust," indicates the proper direction in which the people of America and the world must turn. One who does not put his trust in God must ultimately place his trust in the illusions of this material world-and thus become entangled in an endless network of perplexity. Illusioned voters thus entangled will repeatedly elect illusioned leaders to continue a bewildered society for backwards progress. To have a truly progressive society, we must place our confidence in leaders who are Krsna conscious. If one puts his trust in a servant of illusion rather than a servant of God, illusion will make him a sucker indeed-again and again and again.