The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is a worldwide community of devotees practicing bhakti-yoga, the eternal science of loving service to God. The Society was founded in 1966 by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a pure devotee of God representing an unbroken chain of spiritual masters originating with Lord Krsna Himself.
The following eight principles are the basis of the Krsna consciousness movement. We invite all of our readers to consider them with an open mind and then visit one of the ISKCON center to see how they are being applied inevery day life.
1. By sincerely cultivating a bona fide spiritual science, we can be free from anxiety and come to a state of pure, unending, blissful consciousness in this lifetime.
2. We are not our bodies but eternal spirit souls, parts and parcels of God (Krsna). As such, we are all brothers, and Krsna is ultimately our common father.
3. Krsna is the eternal, all-knowing, omnipresent, all-powerful, and all-attractive Personality of Godhead. He is the seed-giving father of all living beings, and He is the sustaining energy of the entire cosmic creation.
4. The Absolute Truth is contained in all the great scriptures of the world. However, the oldest know revealed scriptures in existence are the Vedic literatures, most notably the Bhagavad-gita, which is the literal record of God's actual words.
5. We should learn the Vedic knowledge from a genuine spiritual master—one who has no selfish motives and whose mind is firmly fixed on Krsna.
6. Before we eat, we should offer to the Lord the food that sustains us. Then Krsna becomes the offering and purifies us.
7. We should perform all our actions as offerings to Krsna and do nothing for our own sense gratification.
8. The recommended means for achieving the mature stage of love of God in this age of Kali, or quarrel, is to chant the holy names of the Lord. The easiest method for most people is to chant the Hare Krsna mantra:
It's natural to praise someone who does something wonderful, and God does the most wonderful things of all. He creates the entire cosmic manifestation, orbiting countless planets and stars with astonishing skill and artistry. He gives light to the sun and fragrance to a rose, and He invests life in all that lives. Whatever wealth, wisdom, beauty, strength, fame or renunciation we see in this world is merely a fragment of His opulence. He directs the wanderings of all living beings by expanding Himself into everyone's heart. Indeed, the entire universe is pervaded by His energy.
He gives humanity great scriptures revealing the eternal truth about Himself, which can liberate us from all suffering, and He sends His representatives to teach it. Moreover, He Himself descends into the material world and performs superhuman activities to attract and purify our minds.
He knows everything—past, present and future—and never forgets any service rendered to Him, no matter how small. His glorious qualities are unlimited, and He is known by millions of names, like Krsna and Rama. The Hare Krsna mantra is both a glorification of God and an appeal to be engaged in His service. Find out more in this issue of BACK TO GODHEAD.
Can science create life in the laboratory?
On a morning walk with his disciples, Srila Prabhupada explains why it's not possible to produce life from chemicals, now or in the future.
Srila Prabhupada: The whole world of science and technology is running on the false idea that life is born from matter. We cannot allow this nonsensical theory to go unchallenged. Life does not come from matter. Matter is generated from life. This is not theory; it is fact. Science is based on an incorrect theory; therefore all its calculations and conclusions are wrong, and people are suffering because of this. When all these mistaken modern scientific theories are corrected, people will become happy. So we must challenge the scientists and defeat them. Otherwise they will mislead the entire society.
Matter changes in six phases: birth, growth, maintenance, production of by-products, dwindling and death. But the life within matter, the spirit soul, is eternal; it goes through no such changes. Life appears to be developing and decaying, but actually it is simply passing through each of these six phases until the material body can no longer be maintained. Then the old body dies and the soul enters a new body. When our clothing is old and worn, we change it. Similarly, one day our bodies become old and useless, and we pass on to a new body.
As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.13), dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara/ tatha dehantara-praptir: "As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death." And a little later (2.18): antavanta ime deha nityasyoktah saririnah. This means that only the material body of the indestructible and eternal entity is subject to destruction. This material body is perishable, but the life within the body is nitya, eternal.
According to the Vedas, the measurement of the soul within the body is one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair. This is very small; in fact, it is atomic. Yet because of that atomic spiritual energy, my body is working. Is it so difficult to understand? Suppose a man thinks himself very stout and strong. Why is he stout and strong? Only because within his body is a small spiritual spark. But as soon as the spiritual spark is gone, his body dies and his strength and vigor become void. If scientists say that matter is the cause and origin of life, then let them bring just one dead man back to life by injecting him with chemicals. But this they cannot do.
Dr. Singh: Since scientists cannot see the spirit soul, they say its existence is very doubtful.
Srila Prabhupada: How can they see it? It is too small to see. Where is such seeing power?
Dr. Singh: Still, they want to sense it by some means.
Srila Prabhupada: If you inject just one grain of deadly poison into someone, he immediately dies. No one can see the poison or how it acts. But the poison is acting nevertheless. In the same way, the Vedas say that because the minute particle called the soul is within the body, the whole body is working nicely. If I pinch myself, I immediately feel it because I am conscious all over my skin. But as soon as the soul is absent, which is the case when my body dies, you can take this same skin and cut it and chop it, and no one will protest. Why is this simple thing so hard to understand? Is this not detecting spirit?
Dr. Singh: That is the soul. But what about God?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all let us understand the soul. The soul is a small God. If you understand the sample, then you can understand the whole.
[Srila Prabhupada points at a dead tree with his cane.] Now here is matter. Formerly leaves and twigs were growing from this tree. Why are they not growing now? Can the scientists answer this question?
Karandhara: They would say the chemical composition has changed.
Srila Prabhupada: All right, then if they are so advanced in knowledge of chemistry, they must supply the proper chemicals to make branches and leaves grow again.
Brahmananda Svami: Knowledge means that one must be able to demonstrate his theory. They should be able to show in their laboratories that life is caused by a combination of chemicals.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the scientific method means first observation, then hypothesis and then demonstration. But these scientists cannot demonstrate their hypothesis. They simply observe and then speak nonsense.
Scientists say that the chemicals are the cause of life. But all the chemicals that were there when the tree was living are still present. And life-energy is also there. There are thousands of microbes in the tree, and they are all living entities. No one can claim that life-energy is lacking in the body of this tree.
Dr. Singh: But what about the life-energy of the tree itself?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the difference. The living force is individual, and the particular individual living entity which was the tree has left. This must be the case, since all the chemicals that are necessary to support life are still there, yet the tree is dead.
Here is another example: suppose I am living in an apartment, and then I leave it. I am gone, but many other living entities remain there—ants, spiders and so forth. It is not true that simply because I have left the apartment, it can no longer accommodate life. Other living entities are still living there. It is simply that I—an individual living being—have left. The chemicals in the tree are like the apartment; they are simply the environment for the individual living force—the soul—to act through. Thus the scientists will never be able to produce life in the chemical laboratory.
The so-called scientists say that life begins from chemicals. But the real question is, "Where have the chemicals come from?" The chemicals come from life, and this means that life has mystic power. For example, an orange tree contains many oranges, and each orange contains chemicals-citric acid and others. So where have these chemicals come from? Obviously they have come from the life within the tree. The scientists are missing the origin of the chemicals. They have started their investigation from the chemicals, but they cannot identify the origin of the chemicals. Chemicals come from the Supreme Life—God. Just as the living body of a man produces many chemicals, the Supreme Life (the Supreme Lord is producing all the chemicals found in the atmosphere, in the water, in humans, in animals and in the earth. And that is called mystic power. Unless the mystic power of the Supreme Lord is accepted, there is no solution to the problem of the origin of life.
Dr. Singh: The scientists will reply that they cannot believe in mystic power.
Srila Prabhupada: But they must explain the origin of the chemicals. Anyone can see that an ordinary tree is producing many chemicals; they cannot deny it. But how does it produce them? Since they cannot answer this, they must accept that the living force has mystic power. I cannot explain how my fingernail is growing out of my finger; it is beyond the power of my brain. In other words, it is growing by inconceivable potency, or acintya-sakti. So if acintya-sakti exists in an ordinary being, imagine how much acintya-sakti God possesses.
The difference between God and me is that although I have the same potencies as God, I can produce only a small quantity of chemicals, whereas He can produce enormous quantities. I can produce a little water in the form of perspiration, but God can produce the seas. Analysis of one drop of seawater gives you the qualitative analysis of the sea, without any mistake. Similarly, the ordinary living being is part and parcel of God, so by analyzing the living beings we can begin to understand God. In God there is great mystic potency. God's mystic potency is working swiftly, exactly like an electric machine. Machines operate by certain energy, and they are so nicely made that all the work is done simply by pushing a button. Similarly, God said, "Let there be creation," and there was creation. Considered in this way, the workings of nature are not very difficult to understand. God has such wonderful potencies that the creation, on His order alone, immediately takes place.
Brahmananda Svami: Scientists don't accept God or acintya-sakti.
Srila Prabhupada: That is their rascaldom. God exists, and His acintya-sakti also exists.
Karandhara: Scientists say that life was created biochemically.
Srila Prabhupada: And I say to them: "Why don't you create life? Your biology and chemistry are very advanced, so why don't you create life?"
Karandhara: They say they will create life in the future.
Srila Prabhupada: When in the future? If the scientists know the creative process, why can't they create life now? If life has a biochemical origin, and if biologists and chemists are so advanced, then why can't they create life in their laboratories? When this crucial point is raised, they say, "We shall do it in the future." Why in the future? That is nonsense. Trust no future, however pleasant. What is the meaning of their advancement? They are talking nonsense.
Karandhara: They say that they are right on the verge of creating life.
Srila Prabhupada: But that is also the future in a different way. They must accept that they still do not know the truth about the origin of life. Since they are expecting to be able to create life in the future, presently their knowledge must be imperfect. Their proposal is something like giving someone a post-dated check. Suppose I owe you $10,000 and I say, "Yes, I will pay you the entire sum with this post-dated check. Is that all right?" If you are intelligent, you will reply, "At present, give me at least five dollars in cash so I can see something tangible." Similarly, the scientists cannot produce even a single blade of grass by biochemistry, yet still they claim that life is produced from matter. What is this nonsense? Is no one questioning this? We can prove that life began from life. Here is the proof: When a father begets a child, the father is living and the child is living. But where is the scientist's proof that life comes from matter? We can prove that life begins from life, and we can also prove that the original life is Krsna. But what evidence exists that a child is ever born out of a dead stone? The scientists cannot prove that life comes from matter. They are leaving that aside for the future.
Karandhara: The basis of what the scientists call "scientific integrity" is that they talk only about what they can experience through their senses.
Srila Prabhupada: Then they are suffering from what we call "Doctor Frog's philosophy." There was once a frog who had lived all his life in a well. One day a friend visited him and informed him of the existence of the Atlantic Ocean.
"Oh, what is this Atlantic Ocean?" asked the frog in the well.
"It is a vast body of water," his friend replied.
"How vast? Is it double the size of this well?"
"Oh no, much larger," his friend replied.
"How much larger? Ten times the size?"
In this way the frog went on calculating. But what was the possibility of his ever understanding the depths and far reaches of the great ocean? Our faculties, experience and powers of speculation are always limited. The frog was always thinking in terms relative to his well. He had no power to think otherwise. Similarly, the scientists are estimating the Absolute Truth, the cause of all causes, with their imperfect senses and minds, and thus they are bound to be bewildered. The essential fault of the so-called scientists is that they have adopted the inductive process to arrive at their conclusions. For example, if a scientist wants to determine whether or not man is mortal by the inductive process, he must study every man to try to discover if some or one of them may be immortal. The scientist says, "I cannot accept the proposition that all men are mortal. There may be some men who are immortal. I have not yet seen every man. Therefore how can I accept that man is mortal?" This is called the inductive process. And the deductive process means that your father, your teacher or your guru says that man is mortal, and you accept it.
Dr. Singh: So there is an ascending process of gaining knowledge and a descending process?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The ascending process will never be successful because it relies on information gathered through the senses, and the senses are imperfect. So we accept the descending process.
God cannot be known by the inductive process. Therefore He is called adhoksaja, which means "unknowable by direct perception." The scientists say there is no God because they are trying to understand by direct perception. But He is adhoksaja; therefore the scientists are ignorant of God because they are missing the method of knowing Him. In order to understand transcendental science, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master, hear from him submissively, and render service to him. Lord Krsna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34): tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya.
Dr. Singh: There is a scientific journal called Nature. It contains articles concerning natural products like plants and animals, but it does not mention God—only nature.
Srila Prabhupada: We may correctly observe that plants are being produced by nature, but we must ask, "What has produced nature?" To ask this question is intelligence.
Dr. Singh: The scientists don't think about that.
Srila Prabhupada: So they are fools. As soon as we speak of nature, the next question should be, "Whose nature?" For instance, I speak of my nature, and you speak of your nature. Therefore, as soon as nature is mentioned, the next inquiry should be, "Whose nature?"
Nature means energy, and as soon as you speak of energy, you must accept that there is a source of that energy. For example, the source of electric energy is the electric powerhouse. Electricity is not produced automatically. We must install a powerhouse and a generator. Similarly, in the Vedas it is said that material nature is working under Krsna's direction.
Dr. Singh: So do you mean to say that science has started from an intermediate point—not from the original point?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is it exactly. They are ignorant of the origin. The scientists start from one point—but where does that point come from? That they do not know, in spite of vast research. One has to accept that the original source is God, who is full of all mystic powers and from whom everything emanates. He Himself says in the Bhagavad-gita (10.8): aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate, "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me." Our conclusions are not based on blind faith; they are most scientific. Matter comes from life. In life—in the origin—there are unlimited material resources; that is the great mystery of creation.
Modern scientific research is just like Sankhya philosophy, which analyzes material elements. Sankhya means "to count." We are also Sankhya philosophers to some extent because we count and analyze the material elements; this is land, this is water, this is air, this is sunshine, this is fire. Furthermore, I can count my mind, my intelligence and my ego. Beyond my ego, however, I cannot count. But Krsna says that there is existence beyond the ego, and that existence is the living force—the spirit soul. This is what the scientists do not know. They think that life is merely a combination of material elements, but Krsna denies this in the Bhagavad-gita. Apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param: "Besides this inferior nature there is a superior energy of Mine." (Bg. 7.5) The inferior energy is the material elements, and the superior energy is the living entity,
bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
"Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego—altogether these eight comprise My separated material energies." (Bg. 7.4) Krsna explains here in the Bhagavad-gita that vayu (gas) comes from Him, and that finer than the gases is kha (ether). Finer than ether is the mind, finer than the mind is intelligence, and finer than the intelligence is the soul. But the scientists do not know this. They can perceive only gross things. They mention vayu, but where does the vayu come from? Where does the gas come from?
Dr. Singh: That they cannot answer.
Srila Prabhupada: But we can answer. We have the knowledge that gas comes from kha, or ether, and ether comes from mind, mind comes from intelligence, and intelligence comes from Krsna's superior energy, the spirit soul.
Dr. Singh: Are both inferior and superior energies studied in Sankhya philosophy.
Srila Prabhupada: No. Sankhya philosophers do not know of superior energy. They simply analyze the material elements, just as the scientists do. Neither the scientists nor the Sankhya philosophers know anything of the spirit soul. They are simply analyzing Krsna's material energy.
Dr. Singh: They are analyzing the creative material elements?
Srila Prabhupada: Material elements are not creative! The soul is creative. No one can create life with only matter, and matter cannot create itself. You, a living entity, can mix hydrogen and oxygen to create water. But matter itself has no creative energy. If you place a bottle of hydrogen near a bottle of oxygen, will they automatically combine without your help?
Dr. Singh: No. They must be mixed.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the superior energy—the living entity—is required. Oxygen and hydrogen are inferior energy, but when the superior energy mixes them, then they can become water.
Inferior energy has no power unless superior energy is involved. This sea [indicating the Pacific Ocean] is calm and quiet. But when superior force—air—pushes it, high waves are created. The sea has no power without the superior force. Similarly, there is another force superior to the air, and another and another, until we arrive at Krsna, the most superior force. This is real research. Suppose a railroad train is just starting to move. The engine pushes one car, which pushes another and so on until the entire train is moving. And the whole motion originates with the engineer, a living entity. Similarly, in the cosmic creation, Krsna gives the first push, and then, by means of many successive pushes, the entire cosmic manifestation comes into being. This is explained in Bhagavad-gita: mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram. "This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again." (Bg. 9.10)
And a little later:
"All species of life are made possible by birth in material nature, and I am the seed-giving father." (Bg. 14.4) For example, if we sow a banyan seed, a huge tree eventually grows up and produces millions of new seeds. Each of these seeds, in turn, produces another tree with millions of new seeds, and so on. So Krsna is the original seed-giving father.
Unfortunately, the scientists only observe the immediate cause, they do not perceive the remote cause. There are two causes—the immediate cause and remote cause. Krsna is described in the Vedas as sarva-karana-karanam, "the cause of all causes." If you understand the cause of all causes, then you understand everything. Yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati: "If you know the original cause, the later, subordinate causes are automatically known." Although the scientists are searching after the original cause, when the Vedas, which contain perfect knowledge, give the original cause, they won't accept. They keep to their partial, imperfect knowledge.
by His Holiness Brahmananda Svami.
The story of how the Hare Krsna movement came to Africa starts in 1971 in the United States. I was in Tallahassee, Florida, teaching an experimental course in Krsna consciousness at the state university, when I received a letter from my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, instructing me to go immediately to West Pakistan for preaching work. I had very little money, and I knew the trip to Pakistan would be long and arduous. However, a disciple takes his spiritual master's order as his very life and soul, and I was determined that nothing would stop me.
The first leg of my journey took me to New York City, where a young brahmacari assistant joined me; then the two of us flew to London. From London we went to Paris via hydroplane and rail. In Paris I had a good opportunity to preach at Dauphine University, the Sorbonne, and to some yoga groups. After a few days in Paris, we boarded the Orient Express for a forty-eight-hour train ride to Istanbul, Turkey.
First we crossed the French, Swiss and Italian Alps and then descended onto the broad plains of Italy, with its many grape and olive farms. We saw Genoa, Venice and Trieste pass by our windows and then entered Yugoslavia, with its broad collective farms of peasants. From Belgrade our route took us to Sophia, Bulgaria, then through northern Greece and on into the European side of Turkey, where at last we entered Istanbul.
In my compartment on the train during the entire trip was a Turkish lady who had brought along an ample supply of French bread and cheese. I had prepared some very nice prasada consisting of upma (farina with butter, peppers and spices), various vegetables, fried puris (a type of flat bread), and some delicious sweets. When I offered some to the woman on the first day, she refused, preferring her bread and cheese. But on the second day she accepted some and liked it very much. In fact, she ate sumptuously, and I took the opportunity to talk with her about Krsna consciousness. She was very favorable and said she would pray to God for our success. From this incident I realized how important prasada distribution is in spreading Krsna consciousness. By eating prasada, a person gradually becomes spiritually purified and receptive to the message of Krsna consciousness.
In Istanbul we met two boys—an American and a Canadian—who were both intelligent and spiritually inclined. They were going to India and decided to accompany us to Pakistan. During the two-day train ride to the Turkish hill-town of Erzurum, the next stop on our journey, I talked constantly to the two boys about Krsna consciousness. The Canadian was going to India on a spiritual quest and was writing a journal of his daily thoughts and experiences. He had titled it "A journey to the East," after the famous book by Hermann Hesse, and he was writing into it everything I said about Krsna consciousness. He was also avidly reading our books. By the time we reached Erzurum, he had learned all the prayers for offering prasada and was also chanting the Hare Krsna mantra on japa beads.
The train pulled into Erzurum in the morning, and we all went to a nearby hotel to wait for the bus to Tabriz, Iran, which was scheduled to leave the following morning. Since we had a whole day, we decided to go out on sankirtana (congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. So we took our drums, karatalas (hand cymbals) and some pamphlets, went out into the village square, sat down and started chanting Hare Krsna. A large crowd of several hundred curious villagers quickly formed. Suddenly my chanting was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. When I looked up I saw that we were surrounded by many policemen and plainclothes detectives. They took us to the police station and confiscated our passports. (Only later did I learn that they suspected us of being Christian missionaries. In Turkey, preaching Christianity is against the law.) They also took all our books and pamphlets and sent them off to the university for translation. They wouldn't let us call the American embassy in Ankara, and worst of all, none of our captors spoke English.
After several days in jail, we were finally permitted to live outside in our hotel, although the police kept our passports so we could not leave town. We then placed a telephone call to the American embassy, but after several days of "investigating" our case, we had still heard nothing concerning our release. Finally, we made our way to the university and met a professor there who had studied in America. He was quite friendly toward us when we explained our situation. After he gave a favorable report about us to the police, they decided to let us leave and continue our journey. They still wanted to keep our books, though, and I had to become very forceful with them and demand that the books be returned. At last, seven days behind schedule, we boarded the bus for Tabriz, marveling at how Lord Krsna protects His devotees.
On the bus to Tabriz, the Canadian and American boys decided to go their own way. I explained to them that if they were going to India, they should make it a point to visit Vrndavana. Ninety miles south of Delhi, Vrndavana is the transcendental abode where Krsna appeared five thousand years ago to exhibit His extraordinary pastimes. I later found out that the Canadian boy did indeed go to Vrndavana and stayed with one of our devotees.
We spent one night in Tabriz and then went on to Tehran and Meshed. In Meshed we got our visas for Afghanistan and boarded a bus which took us across the border into the city of Herat. From Herat we rode across the desolate terrain of central Afghanistan until we came to Kandahar. The use of opium and marijuana was very common there, not only among the local population, but also among many American and European hippies. The next town we reached was Kabul, where we made the last connection before entering Pakistan. After riding through the famous Khyber Pass, an incredible masterpiece of nature, we finally descended onto the warm plains of Pakistan. Our bus let us down in Peshawar, and from there we took a train to Lahore.
I had planned to make Lahore my destination because it is the leading university city in Pakistan. First I visited the venerable Punjab University, where I spoke with the chairman of the philosophy and religion department. He thought Krsna consciousness was a sectarian religion. I explained to him that far from being a sectarian religion, Krsna consciousness is the essence of all religion because it is the inseparable quality of every living entity. just as sweetness is the essential quality of sugar (there is no such thing as sugar that is not sweet), similarly, service is the essential quality of every living entity. Everyone is a servant, from the street sweeper on up to the president. The husband serves the wife, the wife serves the children, the businessman serves his customers, and the worker serves his boss. But ultimately everyone is a servant of God, Krsna, the cause of all causes. How to fully realize this fact and always act as a servant of God is the science of Krsna consciousness.
On the Punjab University campus, some students became antagonistic when I spoke with them, telling me that the Koran was the only book. But I showed them that one of our books, The Nectar of Devotion, was written by a devotee who was a high official in the Muslim government. Then they listened intently, and invited me to speak at a philosophy class. However, as the days went by, the number of incidents grew. Students accused us of being spies and called us ill names. Some people once rubbed the tilaka off our foreheads and warned us not to walk on the streets or we'd be stabbed.
Meanwhile the political situation was becoming more and more critical. The Pakistani government was whipping up anti-Indian war fever. Newspapers and radio programs were filled with anti-Indian propaganda. Finally, the local Hindus told us that Pakistan was no place for us to be, so when the fighting broke out over in East Pakistan, we reluctantly took a Swissair flight from Karachi to Bombay, where Srila Prabhupada had just started his Indian preaching program.
Unknown to me, Srila Prabhupada had read a newspaper story reporting that four Hare Krsna missionaries from America had been shot and killed by Pakistani soldiers. (In East Pakistan my brother, Gargamuni Svami, was also preaching with an assistant.)
When I entered Srila Prabhupada's room in Bombay to offer him my humble obeisances, he was relieved to see me well. He rose from his seat, came forward and embraced me. Although I had been traveling and was dirty and sweaty, Srila Prabhupada was so relieved to see me unharmed that he embraced me again and again. From his touch I felt great transcendental ecstasy. I also felt great shame because I was so unclean. I felt too sinful to be worthy of this wonderful benediction.
Soon after I arrived in Bombay, Srila Prabhupada decided that I should go to Africa and preach. None of our men had been there, and he was very pleased to contemplate that if I went to Africa, we would then be preaching on the five major continents of the world.
I did not know what to expect in Africa. A few hunting stories by Ernest Hemingway and some adventure films had led me to believe that Africa was a place of jungles, wild animals and primitive peoples. I naively thought there was no electricity in Africa, so I gave my tape recorder away, gathered together a few essentials-a drum, a pair of karatalas, and a metal box full of Srila Prabhupada's books-and prepared myself for the journey.
Soon after my assistant and I boarded the ship for Africa, the seas became very rough, making the journey difficult. Another problem was that although there was Indian-style vegetarian food available, it was neither very palatable nor cooked under especially clean conditions. I became absorbed in thinking of Srila Prabhupada, who has vividly shown us the meaning of real devotion: to preach Krsna consciousness without concern for one's own well-being. At the advanced age of seventy, he traveled alone aboard a ship from India to America in 1965. 1 wondered at the difficulty he must have endured traveling across the Atlantic Ocean during the September hurricane season. I thought of how he had also traveled with only a metal box full of books, a pair of karatalas and forty rupees (I had a bit more—$20) and of how he would cook his plain meals on a little tin stove the captain's wife had given him. I remembered how he had wanted to get off the ship and return to India, but had remained aboard, and how he had even experienced a stroke during the trip. Who could fail to be inspired by such an example!
Everyone in the world is concerned primarily with his own well-being, but a self-realized soul—a pure devotee of the Lord—is only concerned with fulfilling Krsna's desire. This selflessness is the essence of love. A pure devotee's love for Krsna is just like that of a mother who does not hesitate to run in front of a moving car to save the life of her child. She doesn't think, "if I run in front of this car, I may be killed." No: because of her love for her child, she will risk her own life. Similarly, one who is Krsna conscious also has this mentality of total surrender.
Although the sea journey was scheduled to take eight days, only after a rough voyage of twelve days did the ship finally arrive in the port of Mombasa on the coast of the east African state of Kenya. Unfortunately, no one had told us that a first-class return ticket was needed to enter Kenya, so we failed to meet the immigration requirements. The immigration officials would not let us disembark, and when the ship's authorities began talking about sending us back to India, I became very discouraged. One day passed, and in the evening of the second day a man approached me and struck up a conversation. I explained my predicament to him, and he offered to place a telephone call to our center in Bombay and have them wire me a ticket. I gave him the $20. Another day passed. Finally, on the fourth day, the ticket arrived but our Bombay center had sent a third-class ticket instead of the first-class one we required.
By this time, all the members of the crew as well as the dock workers were talking about "the two Americans dressed as Indian sadhus [saintly persons] who could not get off the ship." People would come to the dock and point to us sitting on the ship's deck. They said we would probably have to go all the way back to India. Finally, the manager of the shipping company agreed to issue us a first-class ticket, for which we could repay him later. This satisfied the immigration officials, and on the afternoon of the fourth day we took our belongings and started walking down the gangplank. Just then the ship's whistle tooted, signaling departure within half an hour.
As we came down the gangplank, many dock workers, officials, and other people crowded around us and started cheering. They were very glad to see that we were successful, and we were very glad to know that Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in everyone's heart, was taking care of us. I was now sure that Krsna wanted me to preach in Africa.
After disembarking, we just stood on the dock for a while, greatly relieved after sixteen days on board the ship. We had no money and didn't know where to go. Soon an Indian man approached me, and we began conversing. He was very favorable toward us and toward Krsna consciousness, and he drove us in his car to a Hindu temple of Lord Siva. Within a few moments we were safely ensconced in a comfortable room with a fan, beds, a veranda overlooking a courtyard, and other conveniences.
Each day people would come to see "the American sadhus." They would offer us fruit, flowers, money and other necessities. We were reminded of Mrgrari, the devotee of Narada Muni who had been a hunter by profession. He had led a very sinful life, but after he became a devotee of Krsna, his life was very peaceful and pleasant. He did not have to hunt animals; people would bring him fruits and flowers and many other things so that he could offer ample prasada to the Lord. Formerly, we had been like Mrgrari—hunters after the illusory pleasures of intoxication, illicit sex, uncontrolled tongue. But now, by the grace of Srila Prabhupada, we had become purified of these things.
During this time, we were preaching exclusively to the Indian nationals in Africa, and we began to appreciate their unique position among the world's people. Because vestiges of the deeply spiritual Vedic culture are still present in India, the Indian people have respect for a sadhu, they are charitable and kind, and they are not as mad after sense gratification as people in the Western countries. They showed us their character by helping us out in many ways during those difficult early days and by being enthusiastic to introduce us to their compatriots. They would take us to various functions, and we would speak on Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada had not given me any specific instructions on how to preach in Africa, and somehow or other I concluded that I should preach mainly to the Indians, just as Prabhupada was doing in India. Remembering the incident in Erzurum, I was reluctant to take Krsna consciousness to the local people—to go out into the streets and chant Hare Krsna—although that was my inclination. I didn't know how the authorities would react.
After a month and a half in Mombasa, I received an invitation from an Indian family to go to Nairobi for Janmastami, Lord Krsna's birthday celebration. Since Nairobi is three hundred miles inland, we had to take a taxi across the broad, flat African plains. We stopped frequently along the way to view the many rhinoceroses, elephants, giraffes and other wildlife. I came to know how really big Africa is. It contains one-fifth of the world's land, being almost as large as Asia and twice as large as South America. The coastline of Africa is as long as the earth's diameter at the equator. It is sealed off from the rest of the world by the foreboding Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains in the north, and its shores are protected by huge sandbars and impenetrable thickets along the coastlines. From the sea, many of its rivers, such as the Congo and the Zambezi, are impassable due to the rapids and other natural barriers. For many years, malaria prevented outsiders from penetrating inland. For these reasons, the distinct lifestyles, languages and cultures of the people of Africa had for the most part remained intact until fairly recently. Due to the vast differences between each tribal group, there are only nineteen people per square mile in Africa. Thus Africa contains few real cities. Whenever food was found wanting, people could easily move to a nearby tract of virgin land that would provide all their needs.
When we arrived in Nairobi, we held a very successful program at a Radha-Krsna temple. People were astonished that Americans had taken to Krsna consciousness, and they appreciated our kirtana and our lectures on Bhagavad-gita very much. Many wanted to help us in our mission.
Shortly thereafter, three American devotees arrived. They were sent by Srila Prabhupada, who by this time had reached London. He had fallen ill there, and having heard that the African climate is very healthful, he desired to come to Africa to recuperate. First Srila Prabhupada came to Nairobi and remained one night at the home of a life member with whom we were staying. (This life member later surrendered at the lotus feet of Srila Prabhupada and became his initiated disciple.) We then arranged for Prabhupada to stay in a nice house in Mombasa, in a location I had once described to him as one of the most wonderful places in the world. When Srila Prabhupada walked into his spacious, airy room overlooking the aquamarine-colored sea and saw the cloudless skies, the pleasant sunshine and the white sandy beach fringed with palm trees, he said, "Yes, Brahmananda, this is one of the most wonderful places in the world." Srila Prabhupada quickly recovered his health with the help of the mild climate, the abundant varieties of fruits and vegetables, and various rich milk-products. Prabhupada then decided to return to Nairobi, the capital of the country, and launch the African preaching campaign from there.
In Nairobi, Srila Prabhupada personally demonstrated how a sannyasi should preach. We would stay at the homes of various Indians, and although they provided very comfortable accommodations for us—nice food and sleeping quarters—Srila Prabhupada would never stay in one home longer than three days. He would travel from home to home, strictly following the Vedic injunction that sannyasis should never stay in one place for more than three days. This rule prevents their becoming attached to bodily comforts as well as inconveniencing their hosts.
At each residence, Srila Prabhupada would hold intimate talks with the gentlemen of the house and give darsana (audience) to the family members and their friends in the afternoons. And in the evenings he would conduct kirtanas and give lectures. In this way, Srila Prabhupada made good friends with many prominent Indian people in Nairobi, and they willingly became life members. Today they continue to take an active interest in the Hare Krsna movement.
Later, I expanded the life member program. I stayed for one and a half months in Lusaka, Zambia, moving to a different residence every three days just as Srila Prabhupada had done. In this way I was able to preach by example. People could see firsthand how we rose before dawn, took a cold bath, performed kirtanas and japa, and refrained from intoxication, illicit sex, meat-eating and gambling. A Vaisnava preaches not only by his words, but also by his actions. This separates us from so many bogus yoga groups, whose members may be expert in speaking some speculative philosophy or presenting yoga in a pleasing way to an audience, but who are not able to practice in their private lives the austerity necessary for spiritual realization.
Srila Prabhupada began encouraging me to preach directly to the African people. "This is our real business in Africa," he said. So we organized a program at the University of Nairobi, placed an ad in the newspaper, printed and displayed some posters, and distributed handbills. The night of Srila Prabhupada's lecture, the auditorium was so crowded with African students that people had to stand outside to look through the doors and windows. At the end of Srila Prabhupada's speech the students cheered. Then we had kirtana, showed a film, and distributed prasada. As a result of this engagement, we received a lot of favorable publicity.
The next program Prabhupada instituted was preaching to he general public. The first event was held in a hall situated in a rather shabby area of town. We went there one evening and just opened the doors and started chanting. Pretty soon the hall filled up with many curiosity seekers right off the street. There was a full house when Srila Prabhupada walked in, effulgent in his bright, silken robes. He quickly passed among the curious people, got up on stage and started chanting Hare Krsna. Then he spoke about the meaning of human life. He said that the real aim of human life is to understand that we are not this body but pure spirit soul, and that our duty is to serve the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna. Most of the people could not understand what Srila Prabhupada said, since they. spoke only Swahili, but they all enjoyed themselves nevertheless. They were all smiles, as they danced, chanted and clapped. A few days later, Prabhupada departed for India, having fully inspired us to carry on the preaching work in Africa.
Soon afterward we organized our first outdoor kirtana performance at Nairobi's Kamakunji Park. We simply stood under the largest tree there and started chanting. Soon a large crowd gathered and immediately began chanting with us. Some were even dancing in a sort of African shuffle step. We had a battery-powered megaphone, and one young man stepped forward and offered to translate our lectures into Swahili. Everyone really enjoyed this. We then distributed a sweet food preparation called bundi that the crowd liked even more. Every weekend we held this program, and soon we became well known.
Soon one young Kenyan joined our movement. This was considered a great event by the local Swahili newspaper. It published his photo with shaven head and tilaka and headlined the story, "When You See These People, Don't Say 'Jambo!' Say 'Hare Krsna!' " (Jambo is the Swahili equivalent of hello.)
By this time we were holding sankirtana processions in the heart of downtown Nairobi and distributing literature. We rented social halls in various housing estates for evening programs. We would show a film of the Ratha-yatra festival in San Francisco, and when the image of Lord Jagannatha appeared on the screen, all the people would clap and cheer. We purchased a vehicle with a distinctive roof carrier for storing our literature and prasada utensils, and we fitted it out as a gaily painted Hare Krsna Safari van, complete with a tape player and a loudspeaker system. As we drove down the city streets playing the tape of Srila Prabhupada chanting Hare Krsna, people would stop and stare at us. Many would start dancing in the streets. The first time we went into the local villages to distribute prasada, we prepared the favorite national food of Kenya—maize, meal and cabbage—but the people were very reluctant to take it. "Don't give us what we already have on our tables," one man called out. "Why don't you give us some of that sweet stuff!" Then all the children would chant, "Sweets! Sweets! Sweets!"
Srila Prabhupada returned to Nairobi in January, 1972, to preside at the World Hare Krsna Festival held at the Nairobi city stadium. The British Broadcasting Company made a film of the festival and also interviewed Srila Prabhupada, who publicly initiated the first Kenyan devotee. This time Srila Prabhupada stayed in our new temple, a spacious house we had purchased in a residential area not far from the downtown commercial section of Nairobi.
Before returning to India, Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to further expand our preaching. Thus we made extensive preaching safaris throughout northern and western Kenya, to neighboring Tanzania and Zambia, and even down into Salisbury, Rhodesia.
In each of the towns and in the surrounding villages, we held a full program of kirtana, film shows, lectures, life-membership enrollments, and literature and prasada distribution. Then we held sankirtana processions down the main street. Finally we called upon prominent citizens to subsidize the cost of complete sets of Srila Prabhupada's books and five-year subscriptions to BACK TO GODHEAD magazine, which we then donated in their names to all the towns' libraries, schools and colleges. These institutions were extremely grateful to receive a gift of books from abroad. Large quantities of magazines were also subsidized, which we then distributed to the people at token cost.
In Lusaka, Zambia, a group of wealthy Indian life members became very enthusiastic about our preaching to the local people. Anxious to participate, they all agreed to come to a program we were holding that night at a social hall in a low-income area of town. In the evening they all arrived at the hall in a caravan of large Mercedes cars. As soon as they entered the hall, a large crowd of children gathered outside. They were excited from the afternoon, when we had driven through the area with our loudspeakers blaring a bouncy Hare Krsna kirtana. Hundreds of kids had run after our truck, and we had thrown leaflets to them announcing the evening program. Now they were singing Hare Krsna outside the hall at the top of their lungs. So we opened the doors and they flooded in—an ecstatic swirling mass of beautiful, black kids. Once they were inside, we started a tumultuous kirtana. The life members had never expected anything like this. They had come wearing their finest clothes and gold jewelry. I invited them to come up and take refuge on the stage, and they did so, sitting down very stiffly and chanting in their usual sedate way while trying not to see what was happening all around them. The kirtana was so ecstatic that I jumped off the stage and danced with the kids until we were all exhausted. Then we showed the Ratha-yatra film and sent them home with prasada. The members later agreed that from then on we could do all the preaching ourselves, and they would just help out with contributions.
When we returned to Nairobi, practically every Kenyan greeted us with "Hare Krsna" or "Hare Rama." Even the shoeshine boys were chanting one of our Hare Krsna tunes. I was reminded of Vrndavana, India, the transcendental village where Lord Krsna appeared on earth, 5,000 years ago. There all the residents chant Hare Krsna and greet each other by vibrating the holy name. Previously I had written a letter to Srila Prabhupada expressing how much I appreciated Vrndavana, and he had replied that this was very good and that I should try to spread the Vrndavana spirit to Africa. Now it appeared to me that, by his grace, Nairobi had become a black Vrndavana.
In this way, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's Hare Krsna movement came to Africa—not by our efforts, but by Srila Prabhupada's. We are simply following what he has told us to do, and what he has done himself.
The editors of BACK TO GODHEAD welcome correspondence pertaining to spiritual enlightenment. All letters will receive personal replies, and correspondence of general interest will he published regularly.
It has been one year since I received my copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is from your mail-order department. Since then I have read it through twice and am almost through it again. It is the kind of book that fascinates me. And to one of my tendencies it speaks a thoroughly understandable message. Strangely, from childhood up I have never felt at home in my own culture. The material things that so fascinate our people leave me cold and always have.
I understand perfectly the purport of the Gita's great discipline, and if I weren't so old (over eighty-one) I could integrate myself quite well with its philosophy. It is so satisfyingly complete—ancient, yet as modern as today. It is an awesome, ageless wonder.
All my reading, for the brief time allotted me, will be from the Gita, be assured. Enclosed is my check for a subscription to your BACK TO GODHEAD magazine. The last issue I received was from some devotees who tarried here for a while in 1973.
Believe me to be faithfully,
Mrs. A. Marguerite Kuersteiner
Dear Mrs. Kuersteiner,
Thank you for your very kind letter. We are most pleased to have you as a subscriber to BACK TO GODHEAD.
By submissively hearing the message of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, you are already integrating yourself with the Gita's philosophy. As Lord Krsna says, "And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation worships me by his intelligence." (Bg. 18.70) The sincere sentiment you so nicely express in your letter proves that age is no barrier to Krsna consciousness.
Let me offer my praise and thanks to you for your efforts in spreading love of God in the Western world. In this age we are all sorely in need of spiritual enlightenment, and we have been greatly served by you.
I have a question that has been troubling me. I can understand the importance you place on the exalted science of bhakti-yoga and on receiving knowledge through an unbroken chain of spiritual masters, but is there no room for other methods, other religions and other gurus ?
Yonkers, New York
Dear Mr. Grange,
Your question reveals a common misunderstanding that many people have about religion: that it is a creation of man and thus subject to many interpretations. Actually, religion is created by God and is, therefore, eternal and unchanging. There may be many faiths in the world—such as Christian, Muslim or Hindu—but the one immutable constant in all of them is the development of love of God through unalloyed service to Him. How to actually achieve this goal of love for God—the essence of all religion—is the science of bhakti-yoga delineated in Bhagavad-gita.
To fully understand the importance of receiving knowledge through disciplic succession—a chain of authentic spiritual masters—one must first understand the importance of the Vedas.
The goal of Vedic knowledge is explained by Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita: vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah. "By all the Vedas am I to be known." (Bg. 15.15) And what is the process for knowing Krsna? In the Eighteenth Chapter, verse 55, He says: bhaktya mam abhijanati. "One can understand Me only by devotional service." The goal of Vedic study is therefore realized by one who practices bhakti-yoga under the direction of a genuine spiritual master.
The method of chanting the holy names of the Lord to achieve spiritual perfection is also supported by Vedic evidence. In the Brhan-naradiya Purana it is said:
harer nama harer nama
"In this age of Kali (quarrel and hypocrisy) the only means of spiritual realization is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way, no other way, no other way."
Over the past eight years, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has established successful farming communities in various parts of the world. As national economies flounder and cities go bankrupt, ISKCON's farms flourish and grow, proving that the Krsna consciousness movement is providing not only potent spiritual knowledge, but a viable alternative lifestyle as well. There's full employment for everyone and natural prosperity when everything's done for Lord Krsna. For more information please visit or write any of the farms listed in opposite column.
ATLANTA (Mulberry, Tennessee)—Last June, ISKCON devotees from Atlanta purchased a 250-acre farm in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of southern Tennessee. Graced with beautiful green hillsides for pasturing the cows, the farm also has verdant forests for shade and lumber, bottomland and hilltops for grain production, and abundant springs of clear, pure water flowing into many ponds.
The first challenge we encountered was erecting adequate dwellings. The two barns on the property were in good shape, but the small, hundred-year-old house was hardly suitable as a temple and living quarters for fifteen devotees. In a short time we completed three cement-block houses, each of which can hold two couples. A large combination temple and kitchen should be finished this winter. In addition, a solid marble temple is scheduled for spring, and the hundred-year-old house has been refurbished and now has a beautiful temple room, fresh outside paint and an insulated dormitory. Thus everyone is comfortably situated for the winter.
We are finding that Krsna's instructions in Bhagavad-gita are not only spiritually purifying but economically sound as well. In the Gita, Krsna says there must be a class of men dedicated to farming and cow protection. Krsna has sent us eight cows to protect, and, as soon as Yamuna (our expectant cow) has her calf, there will be sufficient milk for both the farm and the Atlanta temple (about seventy-five devotees). And by the end of this year we will have harvested literally tons of grains—enough to supply both ourselves and nearby temples with chapatis (whole wheat bread) for the entire year. The garden is flooded with eggplants, tomatoes, zucchini and beans, and this winter we will grow spinach, collards and turnips. With such abundance always at hand, graciously supplied by God, what need is there for hellish slaughterhouses to unnecessarily give pain to innocent animals?
Gradually our village will expand and develop according to the Vedic standard of peace, harmony and spiritual culture. Srila Prabhupada has explained that if our farm projects around the world are successful then modern industry will no longer be necessary. We will not have to make propaganda; people will see our example and automatically reject the artificial way of life. From the farm we can obtain all necessities—milk, fruits, grains, vegetables and fodder—to satisfy both the animals and ourselves materially, and then we can all focus our energies on spiritual development. This is the perfection of Vedic village life: to be self-sufficient and live peacefully and happily in Krsna consciousness.
Independence through Krsna Consciousness
Practical solutions to Africa's economic, political and social problems. An interview with His Holiness Chayavana Svami, Chairman of ISKCON's African Mission.
BTG: What do you regard as the challenge of the ISKCON mission in Africa?
Chayavana Svami: The challenge of the African mission is the same challenge we find everywhere in the world: to go out and present Krsna consciousness as we have been taught it by our spiritual master, and to convince people that Krsna conscious life is the solution to the problems of modern day society by showing our practical example.
BTG: The Christian missionary movement has been very active in Africa for about one hundred years and has played a very important role in the, continent's development. How do your philosophy and practices differ from theirs?
Chayavana Svami: The Christian missionaries have actually done a lot of good work in Africa. They have taught the people that God exists and that one should offer Him respect. But because their philosophy is based on a material conception of human welfare, they are mainly concerned with things like opening hospitals and schools, which can only temporarily alleviate suffering. They do not understand that the individual is actually spiritual—an eternal part of God or Krsna—and that real human welfare is to awaken people to this truth, which can actually liberate them from all material miseries.
BTG: What are the advantages of working here in Africa rather than in America or in Europe?
Chayavana Svami: The main advantage is having a field that is still undeveloped. In one sense we can call Africa a new frontier for Krsna consciousness. The continent is tremendous—it is a vast conglomerate of fifty-four nations—and there are many challenges yet uncovered. Of course, in any part of the world there is opportunity for preaching, but Africa is especially suitable because it's a unique combination of East and West. We find not only large universities and modern cities but simple village life as well. We can preach Krsna consciousness on both levels. There are also many native Indians here, and this gives us an opportunity to make life members, as we do in India. So we have a very broad field for our missionary activities.
BTG: I've heard you're establishing a varnasrama program in Africa. Can you explain what varnasrama is?
Chayavana Svami: Varnasrama is a comprehensive system of social organization designed to uplift everyone to the platform of spiritual understanding. In the varnasrama system there are four spiritual orders and four functional classes. The four functional classes are the brahmanas, the ksatriyas, the vaisyas and the sudras. The brahmanas are the most intelligent members of society. As the spiritual authorities, they give direction to the ksatriyas, who administer the government and protect the citizens. The vaisyas engage in trading, cow protection and farming, and in this way support the other three classes. And the sudras or laborers assist the other three classes. The four spiritual orders are the brahmacaris (single male students), grhasthas (householders following the regulative principles of spiritual life), vanaprasthas (those who are retired from household life), and sannyasis (those who have completely renounced everything for the purpose of self-realization).
BTG: Is the varnasrama system the same as the caste system?
Chayavana Svami: Yes, but it is not the artificial caste system prevalent in India today, which is based on birthright. If I claim to be a brahmana because my father was a brahmana, that is artificial. For example, suppose a qualified doctor has a son. The son is not automatically a doctor. He may become a doctor, but he is not born a doctor. Similarly, the son of a brahmana is not automatically a brahmana. He must actually qualify himself as a brahmana. The system we advocate accepts a brahmana by qualification, not by birth. This is the caste system given by Lord Krsna for the benefit of human society.
BTG: When someone joins your mission, how do you determine his place in the varnasrama system?
Chayavana Svami: We don't force a person into a specific varna or asrama. We simply let him work according to his propensities, and he naturally falls into one of these categories.
BTG: How can the varnasrama system solve the problems of society?
Chayavana Svami: In the varnasrama system, everyone's energies are directed toward serving God. Isavasyam idam sarvam. This means that God is the supreme controller and owner of everything. Thus when everyone cooperates in using everything in His service, He provides all the necessities of life. In this way society becomes peaceful, free from the disturbances created by a godless civilization.
BTG: How are you introducing this program here in Africa?
Chayavana Svami: At present we have a small-scale project in the coastal village of Kilifi, near Mombasa, Kenya. We live among the villagers, teach Krsna consciousness at regular meetings, and apply the varnasrama philosophy. We're getting very good results in Kilifi, and the government has recently promised us another plot of land where we will expand our activities.
BTG: How will the varnasrama system change the present economic structure of Africa?
Chayavana Svami: The basic principle is to go back to the land. For example, here in Mauritius, the European colonists came to exploit. They took the land, which was at one time used for raising the necessities of life, and turned the island into a one-crop economy. In this way people became dependent upon foreign imports for their subsistence. And because they were dependent, the prices could be controlled, and the people were forced into such a degraded position that they could barely get by from day to day. The whole idea of importing and exporting, which came about as a result of colonialism, is simply artificial. If the land is properly used with an aim toward self-sufficiency, then the people will not be dependent for their livelihood upon importing and exporting. We are trying to present the idea of varnasrama on a small scale with an aim toward self-sufficiency. If a man can become self-sufficient in providing food for himself by proper use of the land and by keeping a few cows, then his primary problem is solved. Using the same land and the same simple process, he can also construct a small house and live very peacefully there with his family. Then he can begin to make cloth to provide clothing, and by following this system he will become completely freed from the unwanted things in society that simply cause agitation and disturbance. He will be in an ideal atmosphere for cultivating Krsna consciousness, the real purpose of life.
BTG: You mentioned that trade is artificial. But doesn't it yield the benefit of promoting contact between various peoples? Wouldn't total self-sufficiency lead to indifference and hostility between different people of the world?
Chayavana Svami: No, the only valuable connection between countries—as between individuals—is on the platform of Krsna consciousness. Every individual living entity is part and parcel of Krsna. Therefore, instead of each state becoming the center of activity, if Krsna remains the center of activity, then there is peace and harmony between individuals as well as nations. The present system creates envy between the haves and the have-nots. Under the banner of Krsna consciousness, however, the whole world can be united with God as the center.
BTG: Do you have a food distribution program here like the one in India?
Chayavana Svami: Yes. At our temple in Nairobi we distribute prasada daily, and we also prepare large quantities of prasada for distribution in villages throughout Kenya. The devotees go out every day in trucks and distribute the prasada in the villages. This program has become very popular in Kenya.
However, unlike the mass food distribution program in India—which we may yet develop in the future—our main emphasis has been on teaching self-sufficiency through the establishment of the varnasrama system. Many groups have come to Africa and tried mass food-distribution programs, and although they temporarily relieved some suffering, they did not have the long-range effect that the varnasrama college will have. In the varnasrama college we are educating people to take care of themselves and be independent of handouts from philanthropic organizations. Although we are doing both kinds of work, we find that the real future lies in the varnasrama education, which will instill a sense of pride in the people and give them what they actually want: self-sufficiency and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.
BTG: Have you had any success in making dedicated African devotees?
Chayavana Svami: Yes, a great deal. For example, several months ago two of our men came to see me and indicated that they were very anxious to travel and preach. One of them had just been initiated, and the other had been with us for only six months. I immediately arranged for them to take books and prasada into neighboring Tanzania, where they were to open up a center in Dares Salaam. Unfortunately, they were stopped at the border by immigration officials and forced to return to Nairobi. Although we were disappointed at not being able to successfully establish a center in Tanzania, we were not discouraged because the men had developed the determination to go out on their own and preach. Now we are arranging for them to travel and preach within Kenya. Because this preaching attitude is developing among the local men who have joined us, we are very encouraged. The desire to preach is the most important thing in Krsna consciousness.
BTG: How do you propose to solve the challenge of preaching Krsna consciousness to the people of Africa?
Chayavana Svami: The solution lies in how effectively we are able to present Krsna consciousness as it is. Srila Prabhupada, our spiritual master, has given us the perfect example. When he came to America in 1966, he began preaching, and gradually young men and women came forward and started to take to Krsna consciousness. Professor Stillson Judah of Berkeley University has recently written a book about Krsna consciousness in which he concludes That it has a very good chance of surviving in the Western world because the senior disciples are serious and have remained fixed in Krsna consciousness. The same idea applies in Africa. Now we have nearly thirty Kenyan men and women, and we are very encouraged by their progress. Some of them have been initiated, and they are all taking the process very seriously and becoming Krsna conscious. Therefore, we are confident the movement will spread here in Africa. We are also very encouraged that many foreign devotees—particularly from the United States and Europe—are taking a new interest in the ISKCON mission in Africa. In the past year nearly fifty young men and women from America and Europe have come to Africa, and they are all enthusiastically engaged here. As long as this missionary spirit is present among the members of the Hare Krsna movement, Krsna consciousness is sure to spread in Africa and all over the world.
Chayavana Svami: Yes. In Nairobi, Yogesa dasa adhikari is training to be the president of the Nairobi temple. And in Mombasa a recent initiate named Sarvavit dasa brahmacari is also being trained for the presidency of that city's temple. Within six months to one year these men will be able to take their posts, and they will then become the leaders of the ISKCON mission in Africa. Many others are being trained in Deity worship, cooking, gardening, farming and other aspects of service, according to their capacities. They will eventually take over the work now being done by the foreign students of the Hare Krsna movement.
BTG: What special programs have you instituted in Africa?
Chayavana Svami: One of the most important is the life membership program begun in 1971. We arrived in Africa with very little money and completely dependent on the support of the local people. We do not receive money from overseas, as many other missions do. Therefore our first problem was how to raise funds. At that time Srila Prabhupada had just instituted the program of life membership in India, and we began a similar program among the Indian nationals in Africa. At first we did not even have books. We simply issued a life membership card and promised that in the future we would give them the books and they would receive BACK TO GODHEAD magazine every month for the rest of their lives. To date we have enrolled well over one thousand life members throughout Africa. Most of them are members of the Indian community, and they have given us their financial support. Any endeavor requires organization, labor, land and capital. We have the ability to organize and to provide labor, and from the local population we request capital and land. As we acquire these things, we are then able to apply the philosophy of Krsna consciousness and make it work for the benefit of the local inhabitants.
Our next program was starting Deity worship in the temples. Srila Prabhupada wrote us a letter explaining that for the new men traveling and preaching would be too difficult in the beginning; therefore it would be necessary to establish temples like the ones in the West. So in 1973 we installed the Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Banavihari in our Nairobi temple, and by Krsna's grace it has become the most popular Radha-Krsna temple in that city. On Sunday we have two feast programs, and during the week we receive many guests.
Our third program is the varnasrama college, launched within the past year on an experimental basis. The varnasrama system itself is well-tested and proven—we know it will work. It is simply up to us to become pure and determined enough to practically apply the principles in Africa.
Of course, our traveling sankirtana (preaching) parties are as active as ever. Just a few weeks ago we sent a group of devotees to the ancient city of Addis Ababa, high in the mountains of Ethiopia. We've received reports that they are doing very well there. They've met some very intelligent people who are taking interest in Krsna consciousness. We have high hopes that the mission will continue to expand in this way, although traveling in Africa is certainly not easy. The group that went to Ethiopia spent five days of arduous travel to go about a thousand miles. Spreading Krsna consciousness in Africa is a challenge for anyone, but I am confident we are attracting people who can meet this challenge successfully.
BTG: How have the African people received your movement here?
Chayavana Svami: Very well. We've now established centers in Nairobi, Johannesburg, Mombasa and Mauritius. In the beginning, people were curious, and we found large crowds gathering wherever we held a public event. But now, although we still attract large crowds wherever we go, the movement has matured to the point where we're beginning to interest the intelligentsia—the leaders of society. They are coming forward not only out of curiosity but also out of a genuine desire to learn something.
BTG: What is your role in the ISKCON African mission?
Chayavana Svami: I am trying to practically apply the instructions given to me by my spiritual master. Most of the management and organization work is carried out by the African students. I simply preach and keep them enlivened and fixed in Krsna consciousness.
BTG: What do you feel ISKCON can contribute to the African people?
Chayavana Svami: As I mentioned before, the most important thing we are trying to give them is a simple, peaceful way of life, which is what everyone is looking for. They are fed up with the exploitation of the Europeans, and now the Russians and the Chinese are coming—all simply to exploit the land and the people of Africa. But we have not come here to exploit Africa; we have come to give the African people what they actually want: a peaceful, God-centered way of life. This is our most important contribution to Africa and to the world.
BTG: What advice would you give the leaders of the emerging African nations?
Chayavana Svami: They should approach those who are spiritually enlightened for guidance in governing their nations. Here in Mauritius, for example, we have learned through meeting some of the top ministers in the government that they are trying to develop a perfect state. According to the Vedic literatures, a perfect state must have God at the center. During the Vedic age, such rulers as Maharaja Pariksit and Maharaja Yudhisthira presided over perfectly peaceful and prosperous God-conscious empires. There was no enmity or dissension even among individuals; everyone was both materially and spiritually opulent. If the leaders of society would consult the Vedic literature, they could understand that Krsna consciousness is the practical solution to all the problems of modern life. Then, if the leaders themselves take up the process of Krsna consciousness, they will actually acquire the qualities necessary to govern effectively: mercifulness, cleanliness, austerity, and truthfulness. If these qualities prevail in the leaders of society, then the general populace will soon acquire them, and the sinful, destructive activities of illicit sex, intoxication, gambling and meat-eating will automatically be eliminated. Then the entire human civilization can be saved.
BTG: How is your mission funded?
Chayavana Svami: Our activities are financed primarily through the sale of literature published in America by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Contributions from life members are also an important source of income. As I mentioned before, we have over one thousand life members enrolled in Africa alone. We also have several thousand in India and Europe.
BTG: Are you still seeking help from devotees in other countries?
Chayavana Svami: Yes, we are interested in attracting serious-minded men and women to come to Africa and help us propagate Krsna consciousness. Africa is a great challenge because it is a strange place, and anyone who comes here must be prepared to make certain adjustments. But there is also an urgent need for Krsna consciousness here. Now the people of Africa are looking for development, and they are naturally trying to follow in the footsteps of those nations who appear to be most developed. To the untrained, materialistic eye, the Western world appears to be very advanced, but from the sastras [scriptures] we understand that they have simply created a hellish condition of life. In fact, in the big cities of the West, many people—especially the youth—are becoming so frustrated by so-called advanced technology that they are fleeing to the country. Actually, people all over the world are looking for a peaceful, natural way of life, and we know by our experience within the Krsna consciousness society how to achieve that. We are simply trying to give everyone the opportunity to take advantage of the ideal Vedic way of life.
BTG: What do you see as the future of the ISKCON African mission?
Chayavana Svami: Our goal is to spread Krsna consciousness to the entire continent of Africa. By exploring areas of western and northern Africa and the islands surrounding the continent, we have found an excellent field for spreading Vedic culture. People are actually anxious to take to the Vedic way of life, and we see a very bright future.
We have some very serious men and women now, and they are becoming determined and eager to preach the message of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu to their countrymen. As long as the devotees have this missionary spirit, then Krsna consciousness will be successful in Africa or in any part of the world. The real Vaisnava spirit is not to be satisfied simply remaining alone in a secluded place and attaining salvation, but to go out and preach Krsna consciousness and save all the fallen souls. The great Vaisnava saint Prahlada Maharaja was offered whatever he desired by the Lord, including liberation from all material miseries. But rather than take liberation, Prahlada chose to stay in this world and preach Krsna consciousness so that the unfortunate people could be saved and go back to home, back to Godhead. As long as this attitude prevails in ISKCON, our mission will be successful.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, appeared in India in the fifteenth century. His mission was to freely distribute pure love of God to everyone without considering who was qualified or unqualified. He predicted that the whole world would one day hear the chanting of the Lord's holy names. The first of the following three narratives is excerpted from Srila Prabhupada's introduction to Srimad-Bhagavatam. The final two are taken from his English translation of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, an extensive account of Lord Caitanya's life and teachings.
Delivering the Drunken Brothers
When Lord Caitanya was preaching in the town of Navadvipa, two of His closest associates, Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura, approached a noisy crowd on the main road. They learned from passers-by that two brothers, Jagai and Madhai, were once again causing a disturbance in a drunken condition. These two brothers had been born in a respectable brahmana family, but due to bad association they had become debauchees of the worst type. Not only were they drunkards, but they were also meat-eaters, woman hunters and thieves.
Nityananda Prabhu decided that these two fallen souls must be the first to be delivered by Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement. If they were delivered from their sinful ways, the good name of Lord Caitanya would be still more glorified. Thinking in this way, Nityananda Prabhu and Haridasa Thakura pushed through the crowd and asked the two brothers to chant the holy name of Lord Hari.
This enraged Jagai and Madhai. The two drunks attacked Nityananda and Haridasa with filthy language, and chased them for a considerable distance. Later, when Lord Caitanya heard of the incident, He was glad that Nityananda and Haridasa had tried to deliver such fallen souls.
The next day, Nityananda Prabhu went to see the brothers again. As He approached them, Madhai threw a piece of earthen pot at Him. It struck Nityananda on the forehead, and blood began to flow. But Nityananda Prabhu was so kind that instead of protesting against the heinous act, He said, "it does not matter that you have thrown this pot at Me. I still request you to chant the holy name of Lord Hari." Astonished to see the mercy of Nityananda Prabhu, Jagai at once fell down at His feet and asked Him to pardon his sinful brother. When Madhai again attempted to hurt Nityananda Prabhu, Jagai stopped him and implored him to beg for Nityananda's mercy.
Meanwhile, news of the attack on Nityananda reached Lord Caitanya, who hurried to the spot in a fiery mood. The Lord immediately invoked His Sudarsana cakra (His ultimate weapon, shaped like a wheel) to kill the sinners. But Nityananda Prabhu reminded Him of His mission to deliver the hopelessly fallen souls of the age, of whom Jagai and Madhai were typical examples. Ninety-nine percent of the population of the age resemble these brothers, despite high birth and apparent respectability.
As the Lord raised His Sudarsana cakra and Nityananda Prabhu implored Him to forgive the two brothers, both Jagai and Madhai fell at the lotus feet of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, begging Him to forgive them for their gross behavior. After Nityananda reiterated their plea, the Lord agreed to accept them on one condition: that henceforward they would completely give up all their sinful activities. Both brothers agreed, and the Lord kindly accepted them. He never again referred to their past misdeeds.
This incident illustrates the special kindness of Lord Caitanya. In this age no one can claim to be sinless. Yet Lord Caitanya accepts anyone, no matter how sinful, on the condition that he promise not to indulge in sinful activities after being accepted as a disciple of a bona fide spiritual master.
Initiating the Buddhists
On His extraordinary tour of South India, Lord Caitanya visited many villages, and all the residents became Vaisnavas (devotees of Krsna) by chanting the holy names Hari and Krsna. In this way, many thousands of people were delivered from the miseries of material life.
Sometimes the Lord would establish the supremacy of Krsna consciousness by defeating various opposing philosophies. Once, a very learned Buddhist scholar came before the Lord with his disciples to establish the philosophical conclusions of Buddhism. With great pride, he set forth the nine Buddhist principles, but Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu broke them to pieces with strong logical arguments.
Many people had gathered to hear the debate, and when they all began to laugh, the Buddhists, who were all atheists, became fearful and ashamed. Atheists may be very expert in mental speculation and argument, but they can be defeated by a Vaisnava firmly situated in his conviction and God consciousness. The Buddhists understood that Lord Caitanya was a powerful Vaisnava, and they returned home very unhappy.
Later they began to plot against the Lord. Their plan was to discredit Him by tricking Him into eating untouchable food. The next day the Buddhists brought a plate of contaminated food to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, calling it maha-prasada (spiritual food offered to Krsna). As the food was being offered to the Lord, a very large bird swooped down, grabbed the plate with its beak and flew up into the air with it. All the food fell on the Buddhists and the plate itself fell down on the head of the chief Buddhist teacher, making a great sound. The teacher's head was cut by the edge of the plate, and he immediately fell to the ground unconscious.
At this calamity, all the Buddhist disciples cried aloud and ran to the lotus feet of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu for shelter. They addressed Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, saying, "Sir, please excuse our offense. Please have mercy on us and bring our spiritual master back to life."
The Lord replied, "Chant the names of Krsna and Hari very loudly near the ear of your spiritual master. Then he will regain consciousness."
Following Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's advice; all the Buddhist disciples began to chant the holy names of Krsna, Rama and Hari in unison. Soon the Buddhist scholar regained consciousness and immediately began to chant the holy name of Lord Hari with his disciples, much to the astonishment of all the onlookers. In this way Lord Caitanya initiated the Buddhists into the chanting of the holy name of Krsna, converting them to Vaisnavism by reviving their original Krsna consciousness.
Inspiring the Jungle Animals
Once Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu decided to travel to Vrndavana, the place of Lord Krsna's appearance. A brahmana named Balabhadra Bhattacarya was chosen to assist the Lord, and before sunrise one morning they started their journey.
On the way, they passed through Jharikhanda forest. At this time the Lord was in great ecstasy due to love of Krsna. Packs of tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses and boars approached Him, but the Lord passed right through them unharmed. Balabhadra Bhattacarya was very afraid, but by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's influence all the animals stood to one side.
Then the Lord splashed water on the bodies of some of the elephants, and they began to chant, "Krsna! Krsna!" and dance. Some of the elephants fell to the ground, and some roared in ecstasy. Seeing this, Balabhadra Bhattacarya was completely astonished.
While passing through the jungle, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu chanted very loudly. Hearing His sweet voice, all the does came near Him. A group of tigers then joined the deer and began following the Lord. When He shouted, "Chant Krsna! Krsna!" the tigers and deer began to chant "Krsna!" and dance in ecstasy. Indeed, the tigers and deer embraced each other and kissed! Balabhadra Bhattacarya was struck with wonder at the sight, but Sri Caitanya simply smiled to see all the fun.
In this way the Lord was able to deliver even the animals from the bonds of material existence.