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:
God has an unlimited variety of names. Some of them—Jehovah, Adonai, Buddha and Allah—are familiar to us, while the names us Krsna and Rama may be less so. However, whatever name of God we may accept, all scriptures ajoin us to chant it spiritual purification.
Muhammad counsled, "Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high" (Koran 87.2). Saint Paul said, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved" (Romans 10:13). Lord Buddha declared, "All who sincerely call upon my name will come to me after death, and I will take them to Paradise" (Vows of Amida Buddha 18). King David preached, "From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised" (Psalms 113:3). And the world's oldest scriptures, the Vedas of India, emphatically state, "Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to attain spiritual enlightenment" (Brhan-naradiya Purana).
The special design of the Hare Krsna chant makes it easy to repeat and pleasant to hear. Spoken or sung, by yourself or in a group, Hare Krsna invariably produces a joyful state of spiritual awareness—Krsna consciousness.
Find out more about Krsna consciousness in this issue of BACK TO GODHEAD magazine.
Two hundred years ago, Americans fought the War of Independence to assure life, liberty, and happiness in a fledgling nation. In a conversation with the BACK TO GODHEAD staff, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that Americans can actually achieve these things only by maintaining a God conscious society, with God conscious leaders.
BTG: Thomas Jefferson put the basic philosophy of the American Revolution into the Declaration of Independence. The important men of the day who signed this document agreed that there are certain very obvious or self-evident truths; the first of which is that all men are created equal. By this they meant that all men are equal before the law and have an equal opportunity to be protected by the law.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in that sense men are, as you say, created equal.
BTG: Another point in the Declaration of Independence is that all men are endowed by God with certain natural rights that cannot be taken away from them. These are the rights of life, liberty, and—
Srila Prabhupada: But animals also have the right to life. Why don't animals also have the right to live? The rabbits, for instance, are living in their own way in the forest. Why does the government allow hunters to go and shoot them?
BTG: They were simply talking about human beings.
Srila Prabhupada: Then they have no real philosophy. The narrow idea that my family or my brother is good, and that I can kill others, is criminal. Suppose that for my family's sake I kill your father. Is that philosophy? Real philosophy is suhrdam sarva-bhutanam: friendly to all living entities. Certainly this applies to human beings, but even if you unnecessarily kill one animal, I shall immediately protest, "What nonsense are you doing?"
BTG: The founders of America said that another natural right is the right to liberty, or freedom. Freedom in the sense that the government doesn't have the right to tell you what kind of job you have to do.
Srila Prabhupada: If the government is not perfect, it should not be allowed to tell people what to do. But if the government is perfect, then it can.
BTG: The third natural right they mentioned was that every human being has the right to pursue happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. But your standard of happiness may be different from my standard. You may like to eat meat; I hate it. How can your standard of happiness be equal to mine?
BTG: So should everyone be free to try to achieve whatever standard of happiness he wants?
Srila Prabhupada: No, the standard of happiness should be prescribed according to the qualities of the person. You must divide the whole society into four groups: those with brahmana qualities, those with ksatriya qualities, those with vaisya qualities, and those with sudra qualities. Everyone should have good facility to work according to his natural qualities.
You cannot engage a bull in the business of a horse, nor can you engage a horse in the business of a bull. Today practically everyone is getting a college education. But what is taught at these colleges? Mostly technical knowledge, which is sudra education. Real higher education means learning Vedic wisdom. This is meant for the brahmanas. Alone, sudra education leads to a chaotic condition. Everyone should be tested to find out which education he is suited for. Some sudras may be given technical education, but most sudras should work on the farms. Because everyone is coming to the cities to get an education, thinking, "We can get more money," the agriculture is being neglected. Now there is scarcity because no one is engaged in producing nice foodstuffs. All these anomalies have been caused by bad government. It is the duty of the government to see that everyone is engaged according to his natural qualities. Then people will be happy.
BTG: So if the government artificially puts all men into one class, then there can't be happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is unnatural and will cause chaos.
BTG: America's founding fathers didn't like classes because they'd had such bad experience with them. Before the revolution, Americans had been ruled by monarchs, but the monarchs would always become tyrannical and unjust.
Srila Prabhupada: Because they weren't trained to be saintly monarchs. In Vedic civilization, boys were trained from the very beginning of life as first class brahmacaris [celibate students]. They went to the guru-kula, the school of the spiritual master, and learned self-control, cleanliness, truthfulness, and many other saintly qualities. The best of them were later fit to rule the country.
The American Revolution has no special significance. The point is that when people become unhappy, they revolt. That was done in America, that was done in France, and that was done in Russia.
BTG: The American revolutionaries said that if a government fails to rule the people properly, then the people have the right to dissolve that government.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Just as in Nixon's case: they pulled him down. But if they replace Nixon with another Nixon, then what is the value? They must know how to replace Nixon with a saintly leader. Because people do not have that training and that culture, they will go on electing one Nixon after another and never become happy. People can be happy. The formula for happiness is there in the Bhagavad-gita. The first thing they must know is that the land belongs to God. Why do Americans claim that the land belongs to them? When the first settlers went to America, they said, "This land belongs to God, therefore we have a right to live here." So why are they now not allowing others to settle on the land? What is their philosophy? There are so many overpopulated countries. The American government should let the people go to America and should give them facility to cultivate the land and produce grains. Why are they not doing that? They have taken others' property by force, and by force they are checking others from going there. What is the philosophy behind this?
BTG: There is no philosophy.
Srila Prabhupada: Rogueism is their philosophy. They take the property by force, and then they make a law that no one can take another's property by force. So they are thieves. They cannot restrict God's property from being occupied by God's sons. America and the other countries in the United Nations should agree that wherever there is enough land, it may be utilized by the human society for producing food. The government can say, "All right, you are overpopulated. Your people can come here. We will give them lands and they can produce food'." We would see a wonderful result. But will they do that? No. Then what is their philosophy? Rogueism. "I will take the land by force, and then I won't allow others to come here."
BTG: One American motto is, "One nation under God."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is Krsna consciousness. There should be one nation under God, and one world government under God as well. Everything belongs to God, and we are all His sons. That philosophy is wanted.
BTG: But in America people are very much afraid of a central government, because they think that whenever there's a strong government there will always be tyranny.
Srila Prabhupada: If the leaders are properly trained, there cannot be tyranny.
BTG: But one of the premises of the American system of government is that if a leader has too much power, he will inevitably become corrupt.
Srila Prabhupada: You have train him in such a way that he cannot become corrupt!
BTG: What is that training process?
Srila Prabhupada: That training is the varnasrama-dharma. Divide the society according to quality and train people in the principle that everything belongs to God and should be used in the service of God. Then there really can be "one nation under God."
BTG: But if society is divided into different groups, won't there be envy?
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Just as in my body there are different parts that work together, so the society can have different parts working for the same goal. My hand is different from my leg. But when I tell the hand. "Bring a glass of water," the leg will help. The leg is required, and the hand is required.
BTG: But in the Western world we have a working class and a capitalist class, and there is always warfare going on between the two.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The capitalist class is required, and the working class is also required.
BTG: But they are fighting.
Srila Prabhupada: Because they are not trained up, they have no common cause. The hand and the leg work differently, but the common cause is to maintain the body. So if you find out the common cause for both the capitalists and the workers, then there will be no fighting. But if you do not know the common cause, then there will always be fighting.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
BTG: Then the most important thing is to find the common cause that people can unite on?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, just like in our Krsna conscious society you come to consult me about every activity because I can give you the common cause. Otherwise, there will be fighting. The government should be very expert to know the aim of life—the common cause—and they should train the people to work for the common cause. Then they will be happy and peaceful. But if people simply elect rascals like Nixon, they will never find a common cause. Any rascal can secure votes by some arrangement, and then he becomes the head of the government. The candidates are bribing, they are cheating, they are making propaganda to win votes. Somehow or other they get votes and capture the prime post. This system is bad.
BTG: So if we don't choose our leaders by popular election, how will society be governed?
Srila Prabhupada: You require brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras. Just as when you want to construct a building, you require engineers. You don't want sweepers. Isn't that so? What will the sweeper do? No, there must be engineers. So if you follow the division of varnasrama, only ksatriyas are allowed to govern. And for the legislative assembly—the senators—only qualified brahmanas. Now the butcher is in the legislative assembly. What does he know about making laws? He is a butcher, but by winning votes he becomes a senator. At the present moment, by the principle of vox populi, a butcher goes to the legislature. So everything depends on training. In our Krsna conscious society, we're actually doing that, but in the case of politics, they forget it. There cannot be just one class. That is foolishness, because we have to engage different classes of men in different activities. If we do not know the art, then we will fail, because unless there is a division of work, there will be havoc. We have discussed all the responsibilities of the king in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The different classes in society should cooperate exactly as the different parts of the body do. Although each part is meant for a different purpose, they all work for one cause: to maintain the body properly.
BTG: What is the actual duty of the government?
Srila Prabhupada: To understand what God wants, and to see that society works toward that aim. Then people will be happy. But if the people work in the wrong direction, how can they be happy? The government's duty is to see that they are working in the right direction. The right direction is to know God and to act according to His instructions. But if the leaders themselves do not believe in the supremacy of God, and if they do not know what God wants to do, or what He wants us to do, then how can there be good government? The leaders are misled, and they are misleading others. That is the chaotic condition in the world today.
BTG: In the United States there has traditionally been the separation of church and state.
Srila Prabhupada: I am not talking about the church. Church or no church—that is not the point. The main thing is that the leaders have to accept that there is a supreme controller. How can they deny it? Everything in nature is going on under the Supreme Lord's control. The leaders cannot control nature, so why don't they accept a supreme controller? That is the defect in society. In every respect, the leaders are feeling that there must be a supreme controller, and yet they are still denying Him.
BTG: But suppose the government is atheistic...
Srila Prabhupada: Then there cannot be good government. The Americans say they trust in God. But without the science of God, that trust is simply fictitious. First take the science of God very seriously, then put your trust in Him. They do not know what God is, but we do. We actually trust in God.
They're manufacturing their own way of governing. And that is their defect. They will never be successful. They are imperfect, and if they go on manufacturing their own ways and means, they will remain imperfect. There will always be revolutions—one after another. There will be no peace.
BTG: Who determines the regulative principles of religion that people should follow?
Srila Prabhupada: God. God is perfect. He does that. According to the Vedic version, God is the leader of all living entities (nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam). We are different from Him because He is all-perfect, and we are not. We are very small. We have the qualities of God, but in very small quantity. Therefore we have only a little knowledge—that's all. With a little knowledge you can manufacture a 747 airplane, but you cannot manufacture a mosquito. God has created the mosquito's body, which is also an "airplane." And that is the difference between God and us: we have knowledge, but it is not as perfect as God's. So the leaders of the government have to consult God; then they will rule perfectly.
BTG: Has God also devised the most perfect government?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. The ksatriyas ruled the government in Vedic times. When there was a war, the king was the first to fight. Just like your George Washington: he fought when there was a war. But what kind of president is ruling now? When there is a war, he sits very securely and telephones orders. He's not fit to be president. When there is war, the president should be the first to come forward and lead the battle.
BTG: But if man is small and imperfect, how can he execute God's perfect orders for a perfect government?
Srila Prabhupada: Although you may be imperfect, because you are carrying out my order, you're becoming perfect. You have accepted me as your leader, and I accept God as my leader. In this way society can be governed perfectly.
BTG: So good government means first of all to accept the supreme being as the real ruler of the government?
Srila Prabhupada: You cannot directly accept the supreme being. You must accept the servants of the supreme being—the brahmanas or Vaisnavas [devotees of the Lord]—as your guides. The government men are the ksatriyas—the second class. The ksatriyas should take advice from the brahmanas or Vaisnavas and make laws accordingly. The vaisyas should carry out the ksatriyas' orders in practice. And the sudras should work under these three orders. Then society will be perfect.
by Dharmadhyaksa dasa
"The cause of it [the world's malady] is spiritual. We are suffering from having sold our souls to the pursuit of an objective which is both spiritually wrong and practically unobtainable. We have to reconsider our objective and change it. And until we do this, we shall not have peace, either amongst ourselves or within each of us. "
The reason for Mr. Toynbee's remark is that, at present, governmental plans for social development around the world rely solely on economics, technology, science, and material education. His disapproval of one-sided, materialistic culture finds confirmation in sociologist Pitirim Sorokin's statistical analysis of the past twenty-five hundred years of human history. Dr. Sorokin writes, "We are living in the most scientific, most technological, and most schooled century; and the same century happens to be the bloodiest of all the preceding recorded twenty-five centuries."
Obviously, then, the materialistic plans for social development are failing. Paradoxically, the materially advanced nations are just as frustrated as the developing nations, if not more so. The people in the few areas where materialism has produced the greatest wealth suffer from the greatest psychological distress and highest crime rates. If both the rich man and the poor man are suffering, then clearly their problem is not material, but must stem from the need for something other than material. Historian Theodore Roszak defines that need as follows: "Technological achievements are... meaningless in the absence of a transcendent correspondence. They leave ungratified that dimension of the self which reaches out into the world for enduring purpose, undying value." Psychologist Abraham Maslow shows how a sole reliance on materialistic theories actually inhibits all human progress: "...the major motivation theories by which most men live can lead him only to depression and cynicism."
The alternative to this bleak scene is a spiritually conscious society. This proposal, however, usually provokes two objections: one, that religion is always dogmatic and inevitably leads to "holy wars", two, that a spiritual society is impractical.
Those aware of only Western religious history would readily agree with the first objection. However, the history of the Vedic civilization of India proves that people in a genuine spiritual society live in the greatest mood of tolerance. Even today, the followers of Vedic culture respect all views, be they Christian, Buddhist, Muhammadan, or whatever. The other objection (that a spiritual society is impractical) also withers before Vedic history. In fact, the oldest civilization in the world (the Vedic civilization) is also the most spiritual. Dr. Sorokin's study of history shows that organizations based on a materialistic ideology, whether they be businesses, nations, or any other, have a maximum life span of only a few hundred years. On the other hand, he has this to say about spiritual organizations: "The longest existing organizations are the great ethical-religious organizations—Taoism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Muhammadanism, and the like. They have already lived more than one or two or three millennia." Longevity (which means practicality and strength) results from the satisfaction of people's basic spiritual needs.
At present the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, is approaching our pressing social problems with a spiritual solution. Based on the world's largest operational body of spiritual knowledge, the Vedas, ISKCON maintains over one hundred microcosmic spiritual communities throughout the world. Social scientists and government officials, including the former prime minister of India, Sri Lal Bahudar Shastri, have praised ISKCON's practical efforts to improve the human condition. Dr. John B. Orr, Director of the School of Religion at the University of Southern California, appraised ISKCON's social implications in this way: "Perhaps your movement is the revolution we've all been waiting for."
Why did Dr. Orr call the Krsna consciousness society revolutionary? Perhaps because Krsna consciousness strikes at the heart of humanity's problems, our forgotten relationship with the Supreme Being. Specifically, awareness of our relationship with God generates knowledge of the natural laws that govern the successful organization of society. Therefore, although Krsna consciousness is primarily a system for rectifying our spiritual predicament, it solves our material problems as well.
Science attempts to discover general patterns that rule its object of study. By applying the scientific laws of social development found in the Vedas, ISKCON is proving that patterns for harmonious living do exist. Rather than vainly treating symptoms of the social disease, now the world's governments can observe Krsna conscious communities and learn how to treat the real cause of their troubles (the spiritual void in people's lives) by following the laws of nature and of God.
The First Step
To comprehend how a spiritual society works, we must first understand, at least theoretically, man's spiritual identity and his spiritual needs. Then the feasibilities, desirabilities, and actualities of a spiritual society will become readily apparent.
The Vedic literature describes man as a marginal being who lives on two planes simultaneously. First, we dwell in material energy, gross and subtle, that comprises our physical body and environment. The material energies include solid matter, liquids, radiant energy, gas, space, mind, intelligence, and material ego. Our four "animal" needs—food, rest, sex, and defense (including shelter)—spring from this plane. The material energies are mechanical, unconscious entities governed by the laws of cause and effect. Like an automobile, which requires a conscious driver to operate it, the inert material energies require a conscious person to activate them. Even the highly esteemed human brain is simply a masterful computer that still requires a qualitatively different energy, a conscious energy, to work it.
The material energies are inferior to the second plane of man's existence, his consciousness, or spiritual energy. A primary characteristic of spiritual energy is continuity, or permanence. In the Vedic handbook of self-knowledge, the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna emphasizes this point: "As the embodied soul [consciousness] continually passes, in this body, from boyhood, to youth, to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death" (Bg. 2.13).
To grasp the truth of Lord Krsna's statement, we may reflect on the nature and functions of our bodies, mental processes, and consciousness. A helpful analogy is what commonly happens in a movie theater. Suppose the movie is a biography, showing a great man's birth, trials, achievements, and passing. During the movie, thousands upon thousands of images flash upon the screen. Yet, when the movie is over and the curtain closes, the screen that permitted us to see the movie remains unchanged, exactly as it was before the movie began. Consciousness (our soul) is like the movie screen, and the movie itself is like the sensations and thoughts we experience throughout our lifetime. And after the "movie" of one lifetime is over, our consciousness remains intact and immediately enters another body to experience a new set of thoughts and sense impressions.
Material scientists have tried arduously to disprove this view. They realize that the continuity of identity within the ever-changing body and mind defies one ironclad law of material energy, namely, that matter is endlessly changing. If every living being has a permanent identity, this would offer the strongest evidence for the existence of a nonmaterial, or spiritual, energy, something material scientists are reluctant to admit. Until recently many scientists had pinned their hopes on finding some physical substance in the brain, which they hypothetically termed the memory trace, or engram. Supposedly, the engram would have accounted for our continuous sense of identity during the life of the body, but it would die along with the body. The engram would then have relegated identity to the temporary status of a material thing. The December, 1975, issue of Harper's magazine reports on the complete bankruptcy of the search for the engram. Science could not find the memory trace, and one of its most ardent advocates, Dr. Karl Lashley, who had spent thirty years searching, "ended by laughing cynically at his own foolishness in thinking that it existed."
To put it simply, material science is simply baffled by consciousness. Why? Because, as Dr. Oliver Sacks (of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York) noted in the same issue of Harper's, "Consciousness does not yield to dissection or analysis." The best Dr. Sacks and other scientists can do is to "suggest its nature by metaphors and images."
But by thoughtful observation, we can understand the qualitative differences between the spiritual and the material energies, and thereby directly perceive consciousness. First, examine the gross material elements—solid matter, liquids, radiant energy, gases, and space—from which all chemical compounds and bodies originate. They are ignorant, insentient, lifeless. They remain inert unless acted upon by a living, conscious being. Next, we can think of our bodies and how they are animated by consciousness. We can examine our own consciousness (our feelings, thoughts, and aspirations) and consider our free will (our ability to move and make choices) and our capacity to inquire into our identity, our origin, our destiny.
As we can see, there certainly is a gulf of difference between the material body and the conscious person. We live in two worlds: the outer world of matter, which gives us a material body and a field of activities, and the inner world of consciousness, which provides us with our very life energy. It follows that a perfect society should satisfy both these aspects of man's nature.
Spiritual realization dramatically changes the focus of human effort. The materialistic conception of life multiplies material desires, which lead to the over-development of industry and technology, and to a ravenous, urban-consumer economy. Social scientists are nearly unanimous in warning us that the continuation of this trend will lead to ecological and social disaster. Therefore, the return to a simpler life style (one in harmony with nature's laws) has emerged as the highest priority. A spiritual society automatically achieves this end by offering people higher and more enduring satisfactions. Hence, the motto of Vedic civilization is "Simple living and high thinking."
ISKCON's more than thirty centers in the United States practically demonstrate the guideline of simple living and high thinking. Most of the members come from middle- to upper-class families with average annual incomes of $17,000. These very same people are now members of families that average $4,000 a year. (The income of ISKCON's farm-project families is considerably less.) Despite this substantial drop in income, however, ISKCON devotees attest to being happier and more satisfied with their lives. How is this possible? The simple explanation is that by reducing their material aspirations, the devotees have increased the time and energy available to advance in the truly meaningful and pleasurable occupation of life, namely, the development of self-realization and spiritual culture.
The example of a fish out of water is appropriate here. If you take a fish out of the ocean and put it on land, it will flop around in great anguish until you throw it back in. Similarly, when human beings are out of their natural spiritual environment, they also feel a deep-rooted anxiety that they can relieve only by returning to the life-sustaining atmosphere of a spiritual society.
The following verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam (the source book on spiritual civilization, translated from the Sanskrit by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) differentiates the spiritual from the material conception of society. "The city of Dvaraka Puri was filled with the opulences of all seasons. Everywhere were hermitages, orchards, flower gardens, parks, and reservoirs of water breeding lotus flowers." This well-constructed city had regular planned roads, streets, and lanes. The city was full of residential homes, assembly houses, and temples, all displaying varieties of architectural beauty.
In commenting on Dvaraka, Srila Prabhupada further mentions that all the people depended on nature's gifts of fruits and flowers, without industrial enterprises promoting filthy huts and slums for residential quarters. Advancement of civilization is estimated not on the growth of mills and factories to deteriorate the finer instincts of the human being, but it rests on developing the potent spiritual instincts of human beings and giving them a chance to go back to Godhead...Human energy should be properly utilized in developing the finer senses for spiritual understanding, in which lies the solution of life. Fruits, flowers, beautiful gardens, parks, reservoirs of waters with ducks and swans playing in the midst of lotus flowers, and cows giving sufficient milk and butter are essential for developing the finer tissues of the human body.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic literatures explain that there is a complete arrangement in nature for our maintenance. However. when we exploit nature for excessive material enjoyment, we disturb that natural arrangement, and scarcities and unfair distribution of wealth result. The individual can enjoy life only by dovetailing his desires and activities for the benefit of the complete whole, just as our hand is normal and useful only as long as it is attached to the complete body and serves the needs of the complete body. If the hand were severed from the body, it might still appear like a hand, but it would have none of the potencies of an actual hand. Similarly, we are parts and parcels of the complete whole (God, or Krsna), but if we detach ourselves from the interests of the complete whole, social chaos results.
The Vedic literature prescribes the varnasrama system as the means to integrate the parts of human society with the complete whole. Varnasrama is a comprehensive social organization designed to raise everyone to the platform of spiritual understanding. First, to satisfy material needs, society has four main groups, or varnas: highly learned intellectuals, administrators and military men, farmers and merchants, and the assistants to the other three groups. "Such divisions are in terms of educational qualifications, not birth," writes today's foremost Vedic authority, Srila Prabhupada.
Intellectuals, scholars, and teachers make up the first group, called brahmanas. Providing the overall direction and education for the other three groups, the brahmanas are like the brain of the social body. As Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (3.21), "Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues." Naturally, corruption of the brahmanas leads to corruption and chaos throughout the society. To counteract this possibility, the varnasrama system prescribes that the brahmanas live simply, without even taking a salary. The other varnas freely provide the brahmanas with the basic necessities of life. Thus relieved from material complexities, the brahmanas are free to devote themselves to studying the standard books of Vedic knowledge. This literature fully describes how to organize society for the common good and how to elevate everyone to spiritual consciousness, Krsna consciousness. The brahmanas distribute this knowledge without charge to the people in general, and to the government leaders in particular. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.42) Lord Krsna describes how the brahmanas conduct themselves: "Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work." Because of the brahmanas' virtue and disinterest in personal advantage, the other varnas respect and follow them. This mutual trust frees Vedic society from the class exploitations and struggles that so mar our modern world.
"Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas" (Bg. 18.43). The ksatriyas are the administrative and military men. Their responsibility is to execute the brahmanas' instructions, enforce the codes of standard ethics, and protect all living entities (including animals and plants) from danger. Thus, the ksatriyas are like the arms of the social body.
The name for the chief executive of Vedic government is rajarsi. Raja means "political head," and rsi means "sage." Besides knowing the science of government, the rajarsi must also be learned in spiritual matters: He provides the perfect example of the ideal citizen, thus inspiring all the other citizens to be unselfish and cooperative in their dealings with each other. A healthy society shuns idleness. Therefore, one major function of the rajarsi is to see that each citizen is gainfully employed in one of the four groups.
"Farming, cow protection, and business are the qualities of work for the vaisyas...(Bg. 18.44). The vaisyas, or the productive group, provide the economic base for society through dairy farming, business, and agriculture. Because the vaisyas produce the material necessities of life, they are like the stomach of the social body.
Business includes trade and manufacturing. Although we may maintain certain technological advances, we should significantly reduce the scale of industrialization. Mechanized industry causes unemployment, bad working and living conditions, and pollution. Srila Prabhupada gives this explanation of the inherent difficulties of mechanization: When one machine works for a hundred men, the hundred men become unemployed, and one technician gets all the salaries. The expert computer technician makes a $30,000 salary, and others go unemployed. Many people think this is advancement of civilization. But does advancement of civilization mean to become happy by exploiting others? Let everyone be happy. This is Vedic civilization.
A Krsna conscious society guarantees full employment by returning to a decentralized economy stressing cottage industries and hand craftsmanship. A spiritual society utilizes certain modern advancements like electricity and printing, but because the general population returns to a materially simple life, the amount of industry retained presents no environmental problems.
"For the sudras there is labor and service to others" (Bg. 18.44). The sudras assist the other varnas in performing their duties. Thus the sudras are like the legs of the social body. Since the leaders are spiritually conscious, they organize the society's work and distribute its wealth for the benefit of the entire social body. Because they are satisfied, the sudras do not resort to strikes, riots, and revolutions.
Just like a human body, a social body requires a brain, arms, a stomach, and legs to function. No single part should artificially dominate and exploit the other parts. Rather, by working together, all the parts can maintain the body's health.
To achieve cooperation in human society, we have essentially this choice: the gun or the tongue. By violence a tyrant can force people to cooperate. However, as Dr. Sorokin pointed out, this method succeeds only briefly and precipitates further violence. On the other hand, "the tongue" (or spiritual education) awakens the loving social cooperation characteristic of ISKCON communities. The message of the Krsna consciousness movement, that we are all parts and parcels of the complete whole (Krsna, or God), evokes the noblest responses from the human heart. Krsna consciousness melts material selfishness, the one roadblock on our path from present-day chaos to perfect social order.
As we have seen, the varna aspect of the varnasrama system furthers the material well-being of society. As we shall see, the asrama aspect of the varnasrama system furthers society's spiritual well-being. Asrama refers to a spiritual order of life, and the varnasrama system has four such orders: student life, householder life, retired life, and devotional life. Space permits us to touch only on student life.
Primarily, Vedic education aims to develop young people's total potential. Students cultivate sense and mind control, spiritual intelligence, and love for Krsna (God). The Krsna conscious school, called a guru-kula (home of the spiritual teacher), teaches students an occupational skill, but makes character-building the first order of business. Mr. Randy Gribbin, a sixth-grade teacher in an advanced school in northern Texas, studied the ISKCON Gurukula in Dallas. When asked, "What do you observe as the effect of this spiritual discipline?" Mr. Gribbin replied,
I see strong children who'll be able to live anywhere, under any conditions. They're not lazy. They're healthy and bright. If anyone goes to a recognized public school and then comes to Gurukula, he'll immediately see the difference. The children at Gurukula are all wide-eyed and alert, and they concentrate on their studies. Most public-school kids are busy dressing up to attract the opposite sex, passing notes, and smoking marijuana.
Every school administrator recognizes the need for discipline and hard work. Indeed, all countries want to instill these virtues in their youth. In this most important respect, how can ISKCON's humble schools surpass multibillion-dollar education programs? Again, the answer lies not in technology or buildings, but in approach. ISKCON's instructors practice their spiritual teachings in full-time association with the students. Thus, the students see not just theory but practical example. Although they receive no salaries, the Gurukula teachers are enthusiastic and dedicated, their motive being love. Srila Prabhupada describes Gurukula's basic philosophy in this way:
Everything should be done on the basis of love. Strictness is not very good. The students should act automatically out of love. Superficially, strictness may be necessary—some material laws or basic principles—and if they don't follow, they'll be reprimanded. But they should develop the idea of love.
Great leaders (such as Lord Jesus in the West and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the East) have organized millions of people through spiritual love. Spiritual love unifies people most effectively, because it transforms people into ideal human beings. As taught in ISKCON's schools, spiritual love has no material substitute. Uniquely potent to stimulate social cooperation, spiritual love derives from nonsectarian spiritual life (Krsna consciousness).
The varnasrama system provides for perfect social organization by fulfilling both the material and the spiritual needs of human society. Our modern world confirms the Vedic conclusion that without such a system, anomie and disorder reign supreme. Therefore, ISKCON is presenting varnasrama—as a preliminary stage to establish the proper social atmosphere for spiritual realization, the actual goal of human life.
The Right to Distribute the American Dream
by Jagajivana dasa
In 1776, when the American Dream was very new, you could expect to find out about the latest inspiration of Tom Paine, Sam Adams, or Alexander Hamilton when you walked along Main Street, stepped into the town square, or answered your doorbell.
Not that you would take wisdom for granted, but you could expect to find out about it. The first American settlers had come to get away from political and religious oppression; to search out a new land rich in freedom and God consciousness. As far back as the early 1600's, John Winthrop and the other settlers of Jamestown and New Salem had cherished the right to dream of a free and God-conscious country and to share their dream with their neighbors:
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck and to provide for our posterity is...to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end...we must hold each other in brotherly affection; we must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality [Winthrop's "A Model of Christian Charity," 1630].
To Americans it had always been natural to take in the day's news together with "the good news," whether from the pulpit, the pamphlet, the town crier, or the Gospel flier (or the newspaper or magazine). In his tract A Christian at His Calling (Boston, 1701), Cotton Mather had sounded a theme that Americans of every denomination and persuasion have often heard, namely, that "the good life" and the good news of God consciousness go together:
...Thus, thou art careful to do the business that must be done for the relief of thy bodily wants. It is well; do it, do it. But, thy soul, thy soul, the salvation of thy soul...this is the one thing that is needful...Wherefore, be your business never so much, yet use prayer with meditation on the Word of God, every day, both by yourselves and with your families, and this both morning and evening...And be assured, all your business will go on the better, all the day, for your being thus faithful to God.
Since Americans had long been accustomed to distributing and receiving God-conscious ideas through tracts and talks, through leaflets and lectures, naturally they continued the tradition during their hour of crisis. Thus, if you had been living in almost any town in Pennsylvania late in December of 1776, you would have seen a copy of Tom Paine's "The American Crisis":
... Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it... Throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by good works," that God may bless you...
Yes, from the very first, the American Dream had been God-conscious; the Lord had been in the ideas that Americans spoke and heard, distributed and received, And in that "depth of winter," when the American cause seemed to be faltering, "The American Crisis" so stirred General Washington that he ordered it read to his troops.
After the American victory in the Revolutionary War, the First Congress of the United States, in its first session, passed ten constitutional amendments that Americans have come to call their Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights' very first article presented something that, the founding fathers seem to have felt, was of first importance in keeping the American Dream alive:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press...
In 1866, the Thirty-ninth Congress passed the Fourteenth Amendment to insure that the States would uphold the First Amendment:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States ... nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
In recent years, although a different enemy has taunted America and the rest of the world with the tag line "God is dead," the United States Supreme Court has confirmed the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Although some Americans may at first have been disgruntled, the Court has upheld the God-conscious American Dream, In Murdock v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1943), Justice William O. Douglas affirmed that "hand distribution of religious tracts is an age-old form of 'missionary evangelism," and that "the mere fact that the religious literature is 'sold' by itinerant preachers rather than 'donated' does not transform evangelism into a commercial enterprise...It should be remembered that the pamphlets of Thomas Paine were not distributed free of charge."
In Martin v. City of Struthers, Ohio (1943), Justice Black delivered the Supreme Court's ruling:
The right of freedom of speech and press has broad scope. The authors of the First Amendment knew that novel and unconventional ideas might disturb the complacent, but they chose to encourage a freedom which they believed essential if vigorous enlightenment was ever to triumph over slothful ignorance. This freedom embraces the right to distribute literature and necessarily protects the right to receive it...
In concurring, Justice Murray made a further statement; in which Justice Rutledge and Justice Douglas joined:
I believe that nothing enjoys a higher estate in our society than the right given by the First and Fourteenth Amendments freely to practice and proclaim one's religious convictions...Distribution of such circulars on the streets cannot be prohibited...
Thanks to these rulings, we can still expect to receive inspiration about the God-conscious American Dream on Main Street (or at the airport), in the town square (or in a local park or a school auditorium), or at the door (of our home or our car). In the last ten years, if you've walked along Broadway in New York or San Francisco, or passed through Los Angeles International Airport or O'Hare International Airport, or taken a course in sociology or psychology, you may have seen a copy of Srimad-Bhagavatam, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:
Human society, at the present moment, is not in the darkness of oblivion. It has made rapid progress in the field of material comforts, education, and economic development throughout the entire world. But there is a pinprick somewhere in the social body at large, and therefore there are large-scale quarrels, even over less important issues. There is need of a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship, and prosperity with a common cause. Srimad-Bhagavatam will fill this need, for it is a cultural presentation for the respiritualization of the entire human society...
Perhaps now we can understand why Justice Murray ended his statement on Martin v. City of Struthers with these words: "Freedom of religion has a higher dignity than municipal or personal convenience. In these days free men have no loftier responsibility than the preservation of that freedom. A nation dedicated to that ideal will not suffer but will prosper in its observance."
A brief look at the worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
ISKCON—Ten Years of Spreading Krsna Consciousness
July 6, 1976, marks the tenth anniversary of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In only a decade, ISKCON has grown into a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities.
Early in 1966, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada rented a small storefront at 26 Second Avenue, in New York City. A few young students joined him, and with their help Srila Prabhupada formally incorporated ISKCON in July of that year. In this first Radha-Krsna temple in the United States, Srila Prabhupada lectured from the Bhagavad-gita, distributed prasada (food offered to Krsna), and led his tiny group of disciples in chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. After training these first disciples to maintain both the temple and the chanting, Srila Prabhupada flew from New York to San Francisco. There he again attracted a few serious followers and started his second temple. Soon the devotees started temples in Montreal, Boston, Buffalo, and other large cities throughout America and Canada.
In 1968 Srila Prabhupada sent three married couples to London. They chanted on the streets, in clubs, and in private homes, and soon they established a permanent center two blocks from the British Museum. Later they made a record of the Hare Krsna mantra that became the country's number one song. Srila Prabhupada then sent other disciples to Germany and France, and before long the Hare Krsna movement was flourishing all over Europe. Today the movement extends to Africa, Australia, South America, Indonesia, and Japan as well.
Also in 1968, Srila Prabhupada founded New Vrindaban, an experimental Vedic community in the hills of West Virginia. Inspired by thriving New Vrindaban (now spread over more than one thousand acres), his students have since founded several similar communities in the United States and abroad.
In 1972 His Divine Grace introduced the Vedic system of primary and secondary education into the West by founding the Gurukula (school of the spiritual master) in Dallas, Texas. Though it began with three children in 1972, the Gurukula now has an enrollment of several hundred. In addition to the original school in Dallas, there are now teaching facilities in Vancouver, British Columbia; Los Angeles, California; Port Royal, Pennsylvania; Indre, France; and Sridhama Mayapur, India.
Also, Srila Prabhupada has seen to the construction of a large international center at Sridhama Mayapur, in West Bengal, India. (This is to be the nucleus of a Vedic village.) In 1975, Srila Prabhupada opened the magnificent Krsna-Balarama temple and international guest house in Vrndavana, India. At these centers Westerners can live comfortably and gain firsthand experience of Vedic culture.
Yet Srila Prabhupada considers his most significant contribution over the years to be his books on the science of Krsna consciousness. Since 1966, he has written more than fifty hard-bound and over a dozen soft-bound volumes. Highly regarded by the academic community for their authenticity, depth, and clarity, they have become standard textbooks in numerous college courses. Further, through translation, Srila Prabhupada's writings now appear in eleven languages. As a result, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (established in 1972 to publish the works of His Divine Grace) has become the world's largest publisher of books in the field of Indian religion and philosophy.
Intellectual leaders have affirmed that Srila Prabhupada's books are both authentic and appropriate for the modern world. Dr. John L. Mish, Chief of the New York Public Library's Oriental Division, had this to say: "The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust editions of famous religious classics of India, with new translations and commentaries, are an important addition to our expanding knowledge of spiritual India. The new edition of the Srimad-Bhagavatam is particularly welcome."
Dr. Samuel Atkins, Professor of Sanskrit at Princeton University, commented, "I am most impressed with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's scholarly and authoritative edition of Bhagavad-gita. It is a most valuable work for the scholar as well as the layman and is of great utility as a reference book as well as a textbook. I promptly recommend this edition to my students. It is a beautifully done book."
You see them in almost every big city in the United States: devotees of Krsna singing the holy names of God (Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare). In India, the chanting of Hare Krsna has been going on for thousands upon thousands of years. During the American Bicentennial celebration this summer, there will be another cause for celebration: in the Western world, the chanting of Hare Krsna has now been going on for ten years. And, two days after the two hundredth anniversary of the United States of America on the Fourth of July, the devotees will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness: "One nation under God"; yes, and one world under God. In ten years of service, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has seen the chanting of Hare Krsna spread all over the earth. In harmony with the teachings found in every faith throughout the world, these dedicated chanters feel that the spiritual sound of God's names will purify the atmosphere and refresh all the world's people. Students, workers, and businessmen talk with devotees and hear the devotees talk about Krsna consciousness. Like the other communities within the city, the devotional community has an important task to perform. "Krsna means 'the all-attractive one'; He is the most beloved friend of everyone," say the devotees. "We'd like to introduce you to Krsna." Most people take a keen interest in hearing about the beautiful Lord and about our unbreakable link with Him. The devotees' spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has helped them to see that all people are devotees of the Lord; the only difference is that some are not remembering their identity and some are remembering their identity. That simple difference, in turn, means the difference between hatred and harmony, between distress and delight, throughout the world. Just as the whole tree enjoys health when we water its root, so the whole world will flourish when we all serve the Lord. By introducing (actually, reintroducing) people to Krsna (in airports, classrooms, business districts—almost anywhere) the devotees help to ease the pangs of material life and to bring their countrymen lasting happiness. Nor is the devotees' task a matter of sentimentality or wishful thinking. Srila Prabhupada emphasizes that "books are the basis" of this nonsectarian movement to spread God consciousness. Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Caitanya-caritamrta come to us from the Vedic literatures, the most time-honored books in the human heritage. The subject matter: the science of linking ourselves with the original self, Krsna. In thirty-two cities within the United States and in forty-two other cities around the world, devotional communities flourish. Friendship, the arts, and spiritual growth contribute to the appeal of Krsna conscious life for the thousands who've taken it up. Of course, the special joy of this life is to be conscious of Krsna, to feel the Lord's presence at every moment, in every activity. "Before my disciples took to Krsna consciousness," Srila Prabhupada recalls, "the pangs of material life made them gloomy. But now people say that they are bright-faced. Therefore, chant Hare Krsna. You'll be happy, and you'll make everyone happy." Guests are welcome at any time during the week. Yet the best time for visiting an ISKCON community is Sunday afternoon. Every Sunday the devotees have their traditional Love Feast, with vegetarian food, plays, movies, and good company (and, of course, chanting Hare Krsna). ISKCON country villages have sprung up at eleven farm sites worldwide. One of these self-sufficient communities, the Society's world headquarters in Mayapur, India, is slated to grow into a mini-city of sixty thousand residents, with its own airport. The local government sees it as a big help to that area's economy. Elsewhere, as at these farms in West Virginia, Mississippi, and British Columbia, prize herds and fertile gardens yield food for both farm-working and city-dwelling devotees. Whether they live in the city, in the country, or in traveling buses, devotees of Krsna look forward to a world filled with God consciousness.
by Bibhavati-devi dasi
Adapted from Srimad-Bhagavatam, translation and commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
With recent disgrace of an American president still fresh in our minds, it is interesting to read of a similar case in ancient times. Five thousand years ago, a blind king named Dhrtarastra dishonored his high post and caused the death of millions. His story is of special importance, even today, because he found an antidote to the crimes of a lifetime, and in his old age became self-realized.
King Dhrtarastra was the acting monarch of Hastinapura, the capital of the Vedic kingdom of Bharata, which five thousand years ago (according to the Vedic literature) spread over most of the planet. Hastinapura was on the banks of the Yamuna River, at the site of present-day Delhi. As its name indicates (hasti means "elephant"), it was a city full of opulently decorated elephants. Noblemen rode elaborate chariots past marble palaces inlaid with glittering jewels. The sweet smell of incense drifted out of latticed windows. Trees bearing fruits and flowers lined the wide streets, which were sprinkled with scented water. There was no hint of poverty or distress. Hastinapura was the crown jewel of the abundant Vedic civilization.
From the beginning, Dhrtarastra's position as king was never legal, for he was blind, and Vedic law ruled that a blind man could not be king. Thus the throne went to his younger brother Pandu. But when Pandu died in his young manhood, Dhrtarastra began ruling on behalf of Pandu's five sons, who were still children. In an age of great and honorable kings, Dhrtarastra was an exception. Swayed by his eldest son Duryodhana's ruthless lust for power, Dhrtarastra began to abuse the guardianship of the Pandavas by closing his already-blind eyes to the planned and purposeful efforts of Duryodhana to destroy the boys.
As the descendant of a great royal dynasty, Dhrtarastra had the lineage and rearing of a proper monarch. But it seemed that he was as blind spiritually as he was physically. Although he admired and even loved the five fatherless princes, he began to contemplate taking away their kingdom and even their lives.
Yet Dhrtarastra was not simply a ruthless monster preying on defenseless youths. There were great paradoxes in his nature. On the one hand, he appreciated the good counsel of his saintly younger brother, Mahatma Vidura. On the other hand, he was weak enough to be swayed by his attachment to a son whom he knew to be dishonorable. Like many of us, though he knew right from wrong he felt powerless to stem the relentless tide of events—events that were to sweep him across the border between good and evil into a disastrous war.
Full of envy, the young Duryodhana and his brothers (the Kuru princes) watched their five cousins growing day by day into energetic, effulgent personalities loved by everyone. Yudhisthira, the eldest, was heir to the throne, and as he approached manhood, Duryodhana decided to murder him, his four brothers, and their mother, Queen Kunti. Boyish rivalry had developed into a struggle for survival.
We do not know what doubts and guilts were in the mind of the old blind king when he heard the treacherous suggestions of his eldest son and his cunning ministers. But he liked something of what he heard. He himself wanted to seize the throne. So Dhrtarastra asked the Pandavas and their mother, Queen Kunti, to visit a nearby city named Varanavata. There the conspirators planned to finish them off.
In the very presence of sympathetic figures like Vidura and Bhisma, the innocents were beset by a peril they could neither foretell nor fight against. Only the power of a few telling words from Mahatma Vidura startled them into a realization of Dhrtarastra's treachery. As the five heroic youths were leaving Hastinapura with their beautiful and noble mother, Queen Kunti, Vidura spoke some enigmatic words that eluded the rest of the royal family. His words were meant only for the ears of Yudhisthira.
"A weapon not made of steel or any other material element can be more than sharp enough to kill an enemy," Vidura said. "He who knows this is never disturbed. Fire cannot extinguish the soul; it can merely annihilate the material body." Although Mahatma Vidura habitually lectured the royal family about spiritual matters, Queen Kunti was puzzled by these words. "What did he mean?" she later asked Yudhisthira, and he explained to her precisely what Vidura had meant. The fine residential palace at Varanavata was to be their funeral pyre. They did in fact find that the walls of the new palace were made of combustible materials and shellac. Fire would be the weapon lurking in the walls of their new home.
When you are young and strong, no future seems altogether bleak. The Pandavas lived hopefully in the palace of shellac for almost a year. Then, one night, Vidura came to them in disguise and informed them that the housekeeper was going to set fire to the house on the fourteenth night of the waning moon. Dhrtarastra had been biding his time, but now the Pandavas remembered with a jolt that he really intended to assassinate them.
In an intricately plotted escape, the Pandavas entered a tunnel under the house, and as the house burned down they fled into the forest.
When Dhrtarastra heard of the supposed death of his five nephews and their mother, he performed the funeral rites with great cheerfulness. The only other cheerful face was that of Vidura, who knew the facts.
While Dhrtarastra and Vidura smiled and the relatives mourned, the Pandavas wandered in the forest, wondering how they had come to this predicament. Bhima used his strong body to protect his mother, Kunti, and his brothers from all sorts of calamities. They took to begging for food and eventually disguised themselves as brahmans. The simple white dress of brahmans, however, could not cover the hearts of these warriors. When the Pandavas heard of the marriage contest for the Pancala princess, Draupadi, they were determined to see this wonderful event.
Draupadi had wanted to marry Arjuna, the most skillful bowman among the Pandavas, and her father had therefore contrived a test so difficult that only someone of Arjuna's greatness could pass it. The target was a fish hanging near the high ceiling of the palace. Just under it hung a wheel. The aspiring archer had to pierce the fish's eye through the spokes of the protecting wheel. Moreover, he'd have to do this without looking at the target! On the ground was a water pot in which the fish and the wheel were reflected. The contestant had to fix his aim on the target by looking at the trembling water in the pot. Everyone was astonished when Arjuna, in the dress of a poor brahman, pierced the target. The contending princes offered stiff resistance to Arjuna, but he fought them off and gained the hand of Draupadi.
Arjuna took his new bride home to the humble but where he stayed with his mother and brothers. On arriving, he called out joyfully for them to come and see his prize. Kunti, thinking that Arjuna had obtained something to eat on his begging rounds, did not come out, but said, "Whatever you have, you must share it equally with your brothers." In this unusual way, Draupadi became the wife of not one but all five of the young princes.
The hard days of living in a bamboo hut now passed away like a dream. All at once the Pandavas' fortunes changed with the startling speed of an arrow winging to its target. They took Draupadi, who was a wealthy and powerful princess, back with them to Hastinapura and set up residence at Indraprastha, a nearby city. Then they built a glittering palace with a mysterious defense system designed to bewilder enemies. The people of the kingdom worshiped the young princes as heroes, and they soon had amassed so much wealth and subordinated so many lesser princes that Yudhisthira decided to hold a Rajasuya sacrifice.
This sacrifice was a battle cry of sorts, since it required that all lesser kings and princes pay taxes to support the cost of the elaborate ceremony. King Yudhisthira (who was known as aja-satru, or one who has no enemies) fortunately had only one dissenting king, Jarasandha, to deal with before he could declare himself qualified to hold the sacrifice and in effect become the emperor of the world.
If Yudhisthira was to be the most powerful king in the world, it was not for his own sake that he wanted to proclaim it. His real motive was to invite Lord Krsna and please Him by offering Him the worship reserved for the most exalted person in the assembly.
King Yudhisthira, who was honor personified, invited all the elders: his teacher Dronacarya, Bhisma (the grandfather of the Kurus), Mahatma Vidura, and Dhrtarastra. He also invited Duryodhana and all the other sons of Dhrtarastra. Kings came from all over the world, and the ordinary citizens also visited the ceremony. In that setting the Pandavas openly declared to everyone that Lord Krsna was the Supreme Lord, and they offered Him their worship. However, a trace of viciousness marred the luxuriant sacrifice. When Duryodhana saw that Yudhisthira had become overwhelmingly more famous and opulent than he, he began to burn with jealousy. He allowed his pride to poison everything he saw in connection with the Pandavas. Even the artful construction of Yudhisthira's new palace only kindled his rage. The defense system outside the castle consisted of moats so designed that it was impossible to tell water from dry land. Duryodhana approached some water, thinking it to be land, and fell in. Krsna's queens laughed at him, but Duryodhana did not take it as a joke. His hair standing on end in anger, Duryodhana immediately left the palace in silence, with his head bowed. King Yudhisthira felt sorry, for he knew that inevitably this incident would increase the enmity between the two wings of the Kuru dynasty.
Soon afterward, Dhrtarastra sent Yudhisthira an invitation to a gambling match. Yudhisthira well knew that this gambling match was meant to destroy him. Unhappily, he accepted the challenge; as a prince he could not honorably refuse. Duryodhana had asked Sakuni, a notorious cheater, to play dice with Yudhisthira. Very early in the game, Yudhisthira realized that Sakuni was cheating. His moral integrity, however, forced him to continue the game until Sakuni had won everything—including Yudhisthira's wealth, his kingdom, and even his wife, Draupadi. In a painful scene, Duryodhana's brother Duhsasana tried to strip Draupadi naked in front of the assembled warriors. We cannot imagine how shocking this act was to the chaste queen and her chivalrous husbands. Helplessly, Draupadi called on the Supreme Person, Lord Krsna. By His mystic power, Krsna lengthened her sari without limit, so that Duhsasana was unable to fully humiliate her. This tense scene was a seed that grew in time into the catastrophic Battle of Kuruksetra.
As a result of the gambling match, Duryodhana banished the Pandavas to the forest for twelve years. He promised them that if they could spend the thirteenth year incognito, without being discovered by anyone, he would give back their kingdom. That feeble promise from their dangerous enemy was a shaky claim to the throne. But they had no other recourse. So, empty-handed, they walked out of Hastinapura into the shadow of exile. For twelve years they lived in the forest with Draupadi, and they also managed to survive the thirteenth without being discovered. Then they went to Hastinapura and reminded Dhrtarastra of his son's promise to return their kingdom. Dhrtarastra, whose character wavered between candor and mean trickery, tried to deny that promise. Finally, the Pandavas asked for only five villages to rule, one for each of them. According to the Vedic code of behavior for a warrior, they could not accept employment or go into business, but had to be rulers of some kind. Then, with no objection from Dhrtarastra, Duryodhana said that he would not give them enough land to push a pin into. With that flippant remark, Duryodhana created a deadlock. The Pandavas had no kingdom. But Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, wanted the pious Pandavas to be more powerful than Dhrtarastra and his sons. So now they had no recourse but to fight.
According to Vedic sources, the resulting battle—the famous Battle of Kuruksetra—lasted for 18 days and took 640 million lives. Such a massacre as a result of a vendetta between two parts of one family may seem impossible. Yet the ancient records describe in considerable detail atomic weapons that could decimate entire armies. This great battle, although it took place five thousand years ago, involved weapons more subtle and more deadly than those that modern scientists have developed. Although the contending warriors rode in chariots drawn by horses, they could shoot (by mantra) arrows that could find a specific target. Huge elephants fell down like cut trees before air, water, and fire weapons unknown today.
When the storm of destruction finally abated, Dhrtarastra was left with nothing but his burning conscience and his good wife, Gandhari. They had lost all their sons and grandsons. All the principal soldiers killed in the battle were related in some way or another; therefore the family members mourned together. Maharaja Yudhisthira, far from acting like a conqueror, felt great remorse. He was very conscious of his duty toward Dhrtarastra and Gandhari, and he took care of them both in royal style.
An indication of King Yudhisthira's glorious character is that he felt the battle of Kuruksetra to be his fault, even though the errors of Dhrtarastra were colossal. For his part, Dhrtarastra settled into the role of the honorable royal uncle, somehow resigning his conscience to the fact that because of his decision, millions of people had died within a few days.
Fortunately, while Dhrtarastra was grasping at a life of skin-deep respectability, Vidura, his younger brother, returned to the palace after some years of pilgrimage. When he saw Dhrtarastra living comfortably in the palace of Yudhisthira and callously forgetting his former acts of aggression, Vidura's saintly attitude turned hard as steel. Sadhu ("saint") means "one who cuts." So, with words, the sadhu Vidura began to cut away the false sense of security which Dhrtarastra felt as he sat in the gorgeous palace of his nephew. Vidura saw that Dhrtarastra was accepting the hospitality of Yudhisthira because he did not know what else to do. As his life passed imperceptibly away, Dhrtarastra spent his old age in casual ease, surrounded by what was left of his family. To Vidura this looked like a crisis, and he compassionately began to talk to him: "My dear king, please get out of here immediately. Do not delay. The Personality of Godhead in the form of time is approaching us all. Under the influence of time you must surrender your life, what to speak of other things, such as wealth, honor, children, land, and home." Vidura wanted to point out to Dhrtarastra that the human form of life is meant for seeking the shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So he spoke abrasively, trying to bring him to his senses. "You have been blind from your very birth, and recently you have become hard of hearing. Your memory is shortened, and your intelligence is disturbed. Your teeth are loose, your liver is defective, and you are coughing up mucus." He encouraged the aging king, who had become addicted to the rarefied atmosphere of the Pandava palace, to leave home without anxiety. "A first-class man wakes up and realizes the falsity and misery of this material world. He thus leaves home and depends fully on the Supreme Personality of Godhead within his heart. Please, therefore, leave for the North immediately without letting your relatives know."
The time had come for Dhrtarastra to take his stand. Was he going to go on wasting his life, refusing to admit that his position at court was morally untenable? Or was he going to polish up his tarnished values during the last days of his life? The common practice in Vedic civilization was for a man to set aside the last part of his life for the sole purpose of self-realization and the attainment of salvation. Therefore, Vidura's good advice carried more weight than it would today.
Because Vidura was genuinely compassionate toward Dhrtarastra, his words illuminated the consciousness that had been haunted by darkness for so many years. Dhrtarastra clearly saw the truth in what Vidura was saying, and in an extraordinary display of resoluteness, left the palace without fanfare to set out on his lonely path. Gandhari followed her husband as an expression of her loyalty, although he did not ask her to do so.
They went to a place called Saptasrota, on the southern side of the Himalayan mountains, where the waters of the Ganges divide into seven parts. There Dhrtarastra practiced mystic yoga, bathing three times daily, performing a fire sacrifice, and drinking only water. In this way he was able to control his mind and free it from thoughts of family life. He was able to lock up the Pandora's box of material desires and throw away the key, and he thus finally freed himself of the desire to play God with the lives of others.
Long before, when he had declined to cooperate with the Supreme Lord Krsna, Dhrtarastra had simply increased the false egotism covering his real spiritual identity. Now, through the yogic process, he learned to concentrate all his senses on the Supreme and to understand himself as the Lord's eternal servitor. Thus he got free from the material propensities of hankering for power and wealth and attained his spiritual identity by the grace of his brother Vidura. Krsna had shown his mercy upon Dhrtarastra by sending Vidura, and when the old king was actually practicing the instructions of Vidura, the Lord directly helped him to attain the highest perfectional stage.
After some time, Dhrtarastra quit his body by his developed mystic power, and the body burned to ashes. In this way, the king who could not live with honor died with honor. By the mercy of Lord Krsna's devotee, he was able to make his life a success.
Krsna is kind to everyone, everywhere. So the leaders of today's society can also benefit from His mercy, as much as the blind king did. The modern Vidura is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and the modern yoga process is chanting the names of God. They both stand ready to help our modern Dhrtarastras come to Krsna consciousness—either in retirement, or better yet in youth, to be able to lead others to the transcendental goal.