The International Society/or 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 our readers to consider them with an open mind and then visit one of the ISKCON centers to see how they are being applied in everyday 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 known 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:
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare
God has an unlimited variety of names. Some of them—Jehovah, Adonai, Buddha, and Allah—are familiar to us, while the names Krsna and Rama may be less so. However, whatever name of God we may accept, all scriptures enjoin us to chant it for spiritual purification.
Muhammad counseled, "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.
Every day the number of people interested in practicing yoga and meditation increases by the thousands. Unfortunately, a person looking for a suitable teacher is likely to encounter a bewildering array of "gurus, "mystics, and self-made gods. In an interview with the London Times, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains how a sincere seeker can tell the difference between a cheater and a genuine teacher.
Reporter: Your Grace, it seems that more people than ever are seeking some kind of spiritual life. I wonder if you could tell me why this is so.
Srila Prabhupada: The desire for spiritual life is an absolutely natural hankering. Because we are spirit souls, we cannot be happy in the material atmosphere. If you take a fish out of the water, it cannot be happy on land. Similarly, if we are without spiritual consciousness, we can never be happy. Today, so many people are after scientific advancement and economic development, but they are not happy because these are not the actual goals of life. Many young people are realizing this, and they are rejecting materialistic life and are trying to search for spiritual life. Actually, this is the proper search. Krsna consciousness is the proper goal of life. Unless you take to Krsna consciousness, you cannot be happy. That is a fact. Therefore, we invite everyone to study and understand this great movement.
Reporter: What frankly worries me is that since the arrival in Britain some time ago of an Indian yogi, who was the first "guru" that most people ever heard of, a lot of "gurus" have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that all of them are not as genuine as they ought to be. Would it be right to warn people who are thinking of taking up spiritual life that they should make sure that they have a genuine guru to teach them?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, to search out a guru is very nice, but if you want a cheap guru, or if you want to be cheated, then you will find many cheating gurus. But if you are sincere, you will find a sincere guru. Because people want everything very cheaply, they are cheated. We ask our students to refrain from illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, and intoxication. People think that this is all very difficult—a botheration. But if someone else says, "You may do whatever nonsense you like, simply take my mantra," then people will like him. The point is that people want to be cheated, and therefore cheaters come. No one wants to undergo any austerity. Human life is meant for austerity, but no one is prepared to undergo austerity. Consequently, cheaters come and say, "No austerity. Whatever you like, you do. Simply pay me and I'll give you some mantra and you'll become God in six months." All this is going on. If you want to be cheated like this, the cheaters will come.
Reporter: What about the person who seriously wants to find spiritual life, but who happens to finish up with the wrong guru?
Srila Prabhupada: If you simply want an ordinary education, you have to devote so much time, labor, and understanding to it. Similarly, if you are going to take to spiritual life, you must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras, someone can become God in six months? Why do people want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.
Reporter: How can a person tell he has a genuine guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Can any of my students answer this question?
A disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, "How will I know who is the genuine guru?" And you answered, "Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krsna. He is genuine."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The genuine guru is God's representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life. He is after God, and God only. That is one of the tests of a genuine guru: brahma-nistham. He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth. In the Mundaka Upanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham. "The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman." He should know what Brahman [spirit] is and how to become situated in Brahman. These signs are given in the Vedic literature. As I said before, the real guru is God's representative. He represents the Supreme Lord, just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a mantra and tell you that you will become God in six months. This is not a guru's business. A guru's business is to canvass everyone to become devotees of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru's business. Indeed, he has no other business. He tells whomever he sees, "Please become God conscious." If he canvasses somehow or other on behalf of God and tries to get everyone to become a devotee of God, he is a genuine guru.
Reporter: What about a Christian priest?
Srila Prabhupada: Christian, Muhammadan, Hindu—it doesn't matter. If he is simply speaking on behalf of God, he is a guru. Lord Jesus Christ, for instance. He canvassed people, saying, "Just try to love God." Anyone—it doesn't matter who—be he Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to love God. That is the test. The guru never says, "I am God," or "I will make you God." The real guru says, "I am a servant of God, and I will make you a servant of God also." It doesn't matter how the guru is dressed. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, "Whoever can impart knowledge about Krsna is a spiritual master." A genuine spiritual master simply tries to get people to become devotees of Krsna, or God. He has no other business.
Reporter: But the bad gurus—
Srila Prabhupada: And what is a "bad" guru?
Reporter: A bad guru just wants some money or some fame.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, if he is bad, how can be become a guru? [Laughter.] How can iron become gold? Actually, a guru cannot be bad, for if someone is bad, he cannot be a guru. You cannot say "bad guru." That is a contradiction. What you have to do is simply try to understand what a genuine guru is. The definition of a genuine guru is that he is simply talking about God—that's all. If he's talking about some other nonsense, then he is not a guru. A guru cannot be bad. There is no question of a bad guru, any more than a red guru or a white guru. Guru means "genuine guru." All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God's devotees. If he does this, he is genuine.
Reporter: If I wanted to be initiated into your society, what would I have to do?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, you'd have to give up illicit sex life.
Reporter: Does that include all sex life? What is illicit sex life?
Srila Prabhupada: Illicit sex is sex outside of marriage. Animals have sex with no restrictions, but in human society there are restrictions. In every country and in every religion, there is some system of restricting sex life. You would also have to give up all intoxicants, including tea, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana—anything that intoxicates.
Reporter: Anything else?
Srila Prabhupada: You'd also have to give up eating meat, eggs, and fish. And you'd have to give up gambling as well. Unless you give up these four sinful activities, you could not be initiated.
Reporter: How many followers do you have throughout the world?
Srila Prabhupada: For anything genuine, the followers may be very few. For something rubbish, the followers may be many. Still, we have about five thousand initiated disciples.
Reporter: Is the Krsna consciousness movement growing all the time?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is growing—but slowly. This is because we have so many restrictions. People do not like restrictions.
Reporter: Where is your following the greatest?
Srila Prabhupada: In the United States, Europe, South America, and Australia. And, of course, in India there are millions who practice Krsna consciousness.
Reporter: Could you tell me what the goal of your movement is?
Srila Prabhupada: The purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement is to awaken man's original consciousness. At the present moment our consciousness is designated. Someone is thinking, "I am an Englishman," and another is thinking, "I am an American." Actually, we do not belong to any of these designations. We are all part and parcel of God; that is our real identification. If everyone simply comes to that consciousness, all the problems of the world will be solved. Then we shall come to know that we are one—the same quality of spirit soul. The same quality of spirit soul is within everyone, although it may be in a different dress. This is the explanation given in Bhagavad-gita.
Krsna consciousness is actually a purificatory process (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam). Its purpose is to make people free from all designations (tat-paratvena nirmalam). When our consciousness becomes purified of all designations, the activities we carry out with our purified senses make us perfect. Eventually, we reach the ideal perfection of human life. Krsna consciousness is also a very simple process. It is not necessary to become a great philosopher, scientist, or whatever. We need only chant the holy name of the Lord, understanding that His personality, His name, and His qualities are all absolute.
Krsna consciousness is a great science. Unfortunately, in the universities there is no department for this science. Therefore we invite all serious men who are interested in the welfare of human society to understand this great movement and, if possible, take part in it and cooperate with us. The problems of the world will be solved. This is also the verdict of the Bhagavad-gita, the most important and authoritative book of spiritual knowledge. Many of you have heard of the Bhagavad-gita. Our movement is based on it. Our movement is approved by all great acaryas in India. Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Lord Caitanya, and so many others. You are all representatives of newspapers, so I ask you to try to understand this movement as far as possible for the good of all human society.
Reporter: Do you think your movement is the only way to know God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Reporter: How are you assured of that?
Srila Prabhupada: From the authorities and from God, Krsna. Krsna says:
"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear." [Bhagavad-gita 18.66].
Reporter: Does "surrender" mean that someone would have to leave his family?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: But suppose I were to become an initiate. Wouldn't I have to come and live in the temple?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily.
Reporter: I can stay at home?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Reporter: What about work? Would I have to give up my job?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you'd simply have to give up your bad habits and chant the Hare Krsna mantra on these beads—that's all.
Reporter: Would I have to give any financial support?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is your voluntary wish. If you give, that's all right. And if you don't, we don't mind. We do not depend on anyone's financial contribution. We depend on Krsna.
Reporter: I wouldn't have to give any money at all?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: Is this one of the main things that distinguishes the genuine guru from the fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a genuine guru is not a businessman. He is a representative of God. Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.
Reporter: But would you expect to find a real guru, say, traveling in a Rolls Royce and staying in a penthouse suite in a classy hotel?
Srila Prabhupada: Sometimes people provide us with a room in a first-class hotel, but we generally stay in our own temples. We have some one hundred temples around the world, so we don't require to go to any hotels.
Reporter: I wasn't trying to make any accusations. I was merely trying to illustrate that I think your warning is a valid one. There are so many people interested in finding a spiritual life, and at the same time there are a lot of people interested in cashing in on the "guru business."
Srila Prabhupada: Are you under the impression that spiritual life means voluntarily accepting poverty?
Reporter: Well, I don't know.
Srila Prabhupada: A poverty-stricken man may be materialistic, and a wealthy man may be very spiritual. Spiritual life does not depend on either poverty or wealth. Spiritual life is transcendental. Consider Arjuna, for instance. Arjuna was a member of a royal family, yet he was a pure devotee of God. And in the Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna says, evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: "This supreme science was received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way" [Bg. 4.2]. In the past, all kings who were saintly understood spiritual science. Therefore, spiritual life does not depend on one's material condition. Whatever a person's material condition may be—he may be a king or a pauper—he can still understand spiritual life. Generally people do not know what spiritual life is, and therefore, they unnecessarily criticize us. If I asked you what spiritual life is, how would you answer?
Reporter: Well, I'm not sure.
Srila Prabhupada: Although you do not know what spiritual life is, you still say, "It is this," or "It is that." But first you should know what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins when you understand that you are not your body. This is the real beginning of spiritual life. By seeing the difference between your self and your body, you come to understand that you are a spirit soul (aham brahmasmi).
Reporter: Do you think this knowledge should be a part of everyone's education?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. People should first be taught what they are. Are they their bodies, or something else? That is the beginning of education. Now everyone is educated to think he is his body. Because someone accidentally gets an American body, he thinks, "I am an American." This is just like thinking, "I am a red shirt," just because you are wearing a red shirt. You are not a red shirt; you are a human being. Similarly, this body is like a shirt or coat over the real person—the spirit soul. If we recognize ourselves simply by our bodily "shirt" or "coat," then we have no spiritual education.
Reporter: Do you think that such education should be given in schools?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—in schools, colleges, and universities. There is an immense literature on this subject—an immense fund of knowledge. What is actually required is that the leaders of society come forward to understand this movement.
Reporter: Have you ever had people come to you who had previously been involved with a fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.
Reporter: Were their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?
Srila Prabhupada: No, they were genuinely seeking something spiritual, and that was their qualification. God is within everyone's heart, and as soon as someone genuinely seeks Him, He helps that person find a genuine guru.
Reporter: Have the real gurus like yourself ever tried to put a stop to the false gurus—that is, put pressure on them to put them out of business, so to speak.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is not my purpose. I started my movement simply by chanting Hare Krsna. I chanted in New York in a place called Tompkins Square Park, and soon people began to come to me. In this way, the Krsna consciousness movement gradually developed. Many accepted, and many did not accept. Those who are fortunate have accepted.
Reporter: Don't you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with fake gurus? If you went to a quack dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another dentist.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Naturally, if you are cheated, you become suspicious. But this does not mean that if you are cheated once, you will always be cheated. You should find out someone genuine. But to come to Krsna consciousness, you must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science. From the Bhagavad-gita we understand that the genuine seekers are very few: manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye. Out of many millions of people, there may be only one who is interested in spiritual life. Generally, people are interested in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. So how can we expect to find many followers? It is not difficult to notice that people have lost their spiritual interest. And almost all those who are actually interested are being cheated by so-called spiritualists. You cannot judge a movement simply by the number of its followers. If one man is genuine, then the movement is successful. It is not a question of quantity, but quality.
Reporter: I wondered how many people you think might have been taken in by fake gurus.
Srila Prabhupada: Practically everyone. [Laughter.] There is no question of counting. Everyone.
Reporter: This would mean thousands of people, wouldn't it?
Srila Prabhupada: Millions. Millions have been cheated, because they want to be cheated. God is omniscient. He can understand your desires. He is within your heart, and if you want to be cheated. God sends you a cheater.
Reporter: Is it possible for everyone to attain the perfectional stage you spoke of previously?
Srila Prabhupada: Within a second. Anyone can attain perfection within a second—providing he is willing. The difficulty is that no one is willing. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Simply surrender unto Me" [Bg. 18.66]. But who is going to surrender to God? Everyone says, "Oh, why should I surrender to God? I will be independent." If you simply surrender, it is a second's business. That's all. But no one is willing, and that is the difficulty.
Reporter: When you say that lots of people want to be cheated, do you mean that lots of people want to carry on with their worldly pleasures and at the same time, by chanting a mantra or by holding a flower, achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is like a patient thinking, "I shall continue with my disease, and at the same time I shall become healthy." It is contradictory. The first requirement is that one become educated in spiritual life. Spiritual life is not something one can understand by a few minutes' talk. There are many philosophy and theology books, but people are not interested in them. That is the difficulty. For instance, Srimad-Bhagavatam is a very long work, and if you try to read this book, it may take many days just to understand one line of it. The Bhagavatam describes God, the Absolute Truth, but people are not interested. And if, by chance, someone becomes a little interested in spiritual life, he wants something immediate and cheap. Therefore, he is cheated. Actually, human life is meant for austerity and penance. That is the way of Vedic civilization. In Vedic times they would train boys up as brahmacaris; no sex life was allowed at all up to the age of twenty-five. Where is that education now? A brahmacari is a student who lives a life of complete celibacy and obeys the commands of his guru at the guru-kula [school of the spiritual master] . Now schools and colleges are teaching sex from the very beginning, and twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys and girls are having sex. How can they have a spiritual life? Spiritual life means voluntarily accepting some austerities for the sake of God realization. That is why we insist on no illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, or intoxication for our initiated students. Without these restrictions, any "yoga meditation" or so-called spiritual discipline cannot be genuine. It is simply a business deal between the cheaters and the cheated.
Reporter: Thank you very much.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krsna!
A Tribute to Srila Prabhupada
My Gurudeva, light of this dark universe,
From the eternal abode of the Lord
Your words, your glances,
Fulfilling Lord Gauranga's wish,
Who could imagine?
In talking about spiritual life with college students, BACK TO GODHEAD contributor Jayadvaita dasa often explains why a person who wants genuine spiritual life needs a genuine spiritual master.
I remember that, before I met my spiritual master eight years ago, I had always hoped I would meet someone who could guide me to a higher truth. It wasn't a clearly formulated idea—more like a secret wish. I would read books by people I thought had some higher understanding, and I would take some ideas from this author, some from that. But there wasn't anyone I could respect as really knowing. No doubt, they had their insights, ideas that seemed fresh and brilliant. But there wasn't anyone about whom I could say, "This man truly has knowledge. Let me approach him and ask him to be my teacher."
Then, in 1968, I met my spiritual master—His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. And after I had studied and tested his teachings, and after my doubts (my protectors!) were satisfied, I decided to become his disciple. Now, as a student of Srila Prabhupada, I travel to colleges throughout the central United States, speaking with people about Krsna consciousness and trying to answer their questions according to what my spiritual master has taught me. Many of the students I talk to want answers to the same questions I once struggled with—questions like, "To live a spiritual life, is it necessary to accept a spiritual master?" "Is there only one spiritual master, or can there be more than one?" "Where does the spiritual master get his knowledge?" and "How can I find my spiritual master?"
A student at a university in Michigan recently asked me, "If I'm a spiritual person, why can't I find spiritual truth on my own? Why go to someone else? Why can't I just reach the truth by my own experience?" The image is familiar: a sincere seeker, gleaning clues to the truth wherever he can find them, putting the pieces together by his own intuition and sensitivity until finally he solves the puzzle of life. Noble, is it not?
Yes, but how naive! When I want knowledge about any material subject (be it chemistry, physics, mathematics, geography, grammar, or even how to make a wristwatch), the quickest, surest, easiest way is simply to find someone who knows and ask him. Imagine yourself in a big city you've never been in before. Suppose you want to find the post office. How would you do it? Would you start walking around and try to guess which way to go? You might. But if you were really serious about mailing your package, you'd approach a policeman or postman, get yourself a clear set of directions, and then go straight to your destination.
Spiritual life is like trying to find a post office in a strange city. We can waste our time speculating, trying to follow our hearts, or we can get serious and admit that we don't know where we're going, and that we need to follow someone who knows what's what. This is the first step in factual spiritual life.
Question: "But if I'm sincere, why can't I become self-realized just on the strength of my sincerity?" You can, but only by sincerely following the right process. Suppose you sincerely want to become a doctor. That sincerity is the first thing you need. But if you're genuinely sincere, you won't try to become a doctor by buying some medical textbooks in the college bookstore and studying at home. No. You'll go to medical school, study under qualified experts, and in this way gradually become a qualified doctor yourself. In the same way, if you're sincere about becoming self-realized, you should sincerely try to find a bona fide spiritual master and study under him.
Question: "But isn't it higher to find the truth on your own, to struggle for it and finally achieve realization?" You have to decide which you'd rather be—noble or self-realized. If you're serious about self-realization, you should welcome all the help you can get. To put off finding the truth just to enjoy the romance of being a "perpetual seeker" would be ludicrous.
Question: "But I've read the Bhagavad-gita, among other spiritual books, and it seems to me that I can understand them and practice spiritual life on my own." Then you haven't understood the Bhagavad-gita, because near the end of the Fourth Chapter Lord Krsna clearly says, "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth" (Bg. 4.34). ** (tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah)
For what reason should I accept a spiritual master?
You shouldn't accept a spiritual master merely as a matter of fashion—because all the big rock stars have spiritual masters, or because yoga and meditation are "in." Nor should you approach a spiritual master to find out how to get better grades, how to relax, or how to improve your sex life. These things have nothing to do with self-realization, the goal of real spiritual life. Of course, if you want something else, there are many so-called yogis and gurus who, for a modest fee, will be happy to oblige you. That may be big business, but spiritual life is another thing entirely.
The age-old Vedic literature of India tells us clearly how to enter into spiritual life: "One must approach a spiritual master if he desires spiritual realization" (Mundaka Up.. 1.2.12). ** (tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet) Also, "The aspirant should surrender to a spiritual master if he is genuinely inquisitive about the highest goal of life" (Bhag. 11.3.21). ** (tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh sreya-uttamam) And in the Puranas, a more recent part of the Vedic literature, it is said, "There are many so-called gurus who are very expert in plundering the money of their disciples, but rarely can one find a spiritual master who can free his disciples from all material anxieties."
The highest goal of life, self-realization, puts you beyond the happiness and distress, the pleasure and pain, of this material world. Life in this material world is full of perplexities, and a person who sincerely wants to find a solution to the perplexities of life should search out a genuine spiritual master.
In approaching the genuine spiritual master, a person should show the same submissiveness as Arjuna did in the Bhagavad-gita, where he said to Lord Krsna, "Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me" (Bg. 2.7). ** (karpanya-dosopahata-svabhavah prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam)
Who is the spiritual master?
No one can have greater knowledge than God in any subject matter—spiritual or mundane—because He knows everything. Therefore, the original spiritual master is Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But if we are seeking to revive our spiritual consciousness, or God consciousness, we must now be out of touch with God. So how can we take direction from God? The great spiritual master Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami answers this question:
"The conditioned soul [a person who is not self-realized] cannot revive his Krsna consciousness by his own effort. But out of his causeless mercy. Lord Krsna compiled the Vedic literature and its supplements, the Puranas" (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 20.122). ** (maya-mugdha jivera nahi svatah krsna-jnana jivere krpaya kaila krsna veda-purana) Thus, by hearing the Vedic literature with great faith and attention, we can actually take spiritual direction from God.
When we talk about the Vedic literature, we're talking about the oldest, most comprehensive, most scientific spiritual literature in the world. The Vedic literature includes the Upanisads, the Vedanta-sutra, the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and (most importantly) the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad-gita. Where do these great books of wisdom come from? Not from imperfect thinkers of this world. They come from the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna; He spoke the Vedic knowledge to the first created being, lord Brahma. Lord Brahma then passed down this same knowledge to his sons and disciples, who did the same for their own followers. Then, five thousand years ago. Lord Krsna Himself again appeared in this disciplic succession as His literary incarnation, Vyasadeva, and wrote down that same Vedic knowledge.
Now, the main idea is this: to know whether someone is a bona fide spiritual master, we have to check the Vedic literature, because the characteristics of the bona fide spiritual master are specifically described there. For thousands upon thousands of years, seekers have reached perfection by following the Vedic directions on the path of perfection.
Question: "But what if I want to follow the Bible instead of the Vedic literature?" There's no use arguing the merits of the Bible over the Vedic literature. Both the Bible and the Vedic literature are scripture, and therefore they are in agreement, not opposition. The only difference is that the Vedic literature contains much more specific information about God than you'll find in the Bible. They're like dictionaries. The small desk dictionary and Webster's Third International are both valid authorities, and they are in agreement. Yet the big dictionary has more information. The Vedic literature is like the big dictionary.
Question: "What if I don't accept the Vedic literature?" Then you're unfortunate, because you won't be able to take advantage of the knowledge it contains. For example, if you want to know who your father is, you have to find out from your mother. She's the authority. If you don't want to take her word for it, that's your privilege. But then you'll never know for sure. In the same way, if you don't accept the Vedic literature, you'll never grasp the time-tested spiritual wisdom it contains.
Question: "But can't someone meet a genuine spiritual master without having studied anything?" Certainly. A fortunate person might meet a perfectly bona fide spiritual master just by the will of providence. But then again, that fortunate person might not be you. You might meet a cheater instead. How will you know? Suppose you're looking for a good mechanic. Even if you don't know anything about cars or mechanics, you still might be lucky enough to find a mechanic who's expert and honest. But if you know the qualifications of the man you're looking for, your chances are much better. The same goes for finding a spiritual master. Knowledge is reliable; luck isn't. And surrendering to a spiritual master is too important a decision to leave to luck. You have to surrender to the spiritual master, but not blindly or sentimentally. First you should study him carefully to find out whether he has the qualifications spelled out in the Vedic literature.
What are the qualifications of the spiritual master?
The qualifications of the bona fide spiritual master can be summed up in two words: srotriyam and brahma-nistham. The word srotriyam means that the spiritual master must have received the revealed Vedic knowledge from his spiritual master, who in turn received it from his, and so on in a line of spiritual masters extending back to the original spiritual master, Krsna Himself. This is called the disciplic succession. To be bona fide, a spiritual master has to belong to this disciplic succession coming from the Lord.
The bona fide spiritual master does not invent anything new. He's a messenger, not an inventor. His duty is to transmit the Vedic knowledge as the Lord originally spoke it and as the disciplic succession has handed it down. Just as a postman delivers your letters without subtracting anything or adding anything of his own, so the spiritual master delivers the spiritual message of Vedic knowledge as it is, without adding or subtracting anything.
How can you tell whether the spiritual master meets this qualification? Very easily. The words of Krsna are recorded in the Bhagavad-gita, and you merely have to compare. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says, "Always think of Me and surrender to Me" (Bg. 9.34). ** (man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru) So the bona fide spiritual master instructs his disciples to think always of Krsna and surrender to Krsna. If a so-called guru advises his disciples to think of something impersonal or void instead of Krsna, or to surrender to someone other than Krsna, how can he be bona fide? We should immediately reject him as worthless.
Nor can the spiritual master advertise that he himself is God. The bona fide spiritual master always presents himself as a humble servant of God, never as God Himself. Any so-called guru who claims to be God, or who tells his disciples that they can become God, is a charlatan. The bona fide spiritual master acts as a humble servant of the Lord and instructs his disciples to do likewise.
Now we come to the genuine spiritual master's second qualification: brahma-nistham. The word brahma-nistham means that the spiritual master has full faith in the Supreme (in Krsna) and is always absorbed in Krsna consciousness. The spiritual master must be free from all material attachments. He must be the master of his senses, not their servant. For instance, if someone is addicted to liquor, women, or cigarettes, there is no question of his being a guru. There are so many examples of so-called gurus and swamis who advertise themselves as being on the platform of eternity, bliss, and knowledge, but who fall down from their yoga practice to have sex with their disciples. Thus, they fail to meet the standard of brahma-nistham.
To be truly brahma-nistham, the spiritual master must be a devotee of Krsna. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, "Always think of Me. Become My devotee. Worship Me and offer homage to Me" (Bg. 9.34). So the bona fide spiritual master always thinks of Krsna, he is a devotee of Krsna, and he always worships and glorifies Krsna. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that no one is dearer to Him than one who preaches His glories. Therefore, another qualification of the bona fide spiritual master is that he glorifies Lord Krsna all over the world. Such a spiritual master is directly empowered by Lord Krsna Himself. Even other devotees and transcendentalists offer respect to such an exalted personality and honor him with the title "prabhupada," meaning "one at whose feet sit many masters."
How can I find a bona fide spiritual master?
First, let's see why so many seekers fail to find a bona fide spiritual master. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says, "I am in everyone's heart, and from Me come knowledge, remembrance, and forgetfulness" (Bg. 15.15). ** (sarvasya caham hrdi sannivisto mattah smrtir jnanam apohanam ca) In other words, as long as we want to forget Krsna, He will help us forget Him. We can easily see how so many imitation gurus can cheat their disciples. Because most people want material sense pleasure instead of genuine spiritual life, Krsna sends them to a cheater. But as soon as we sincerely desire to revive our eternal loving relationship with Krsna, Krsna will send us to a bona fide spiritual master.
If I find a bona fide spiritual master, what should I do?
Surrender to him. The Bhagavad-gita advises, "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth" (Bg. 4.34). If you find a qualified spiritual master, in whom you have full confidence, you should surrender to him wholeheartedly and render service to him. If you approach the spiritual master with a submissive attitude and ask him sincere questions about spiritual life, he will certainly bless you with enlightenment.
How does the spiritual master give knowledge?
Sometimes we hear folk tales in which a spiritual master enlightens his disciple by touching him, by transferring his power through some kind of electric shock. There are others who supposedly impart enlightenment by their twinkling glances, by talking in riddles, or by whispering secret mantras into the disciple's ear. None of these methods has anything to do with the genuine Vedic process of spiritual enlightenment.
The Vedic method is simply this: The spiritual master is a self-realized soul, and by hearing and following the spiritual master's instructions, the disciple can also become self-realized. No secret mantras. No magic mushrooms or cactus buttons. No mystical hocus-pocus. The spiritual master simply imparts to his disciple the instructions he has heard from his own spiritual master, and the disciple becomes self-realized by hearing these instructions in a humble mood.
The disciple places his sincere questions before the spiritual master, and the spiritual master answers these questions authoritatively (with reference to the authorized scriptures and his predecessors in the disciplic succession).
What does it mean to be a servant of the spiritual master?
The disciple should think of himself as a menial servant of his spiritual master. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great spiritual master of the late nineteenth century, prayed to his guru: "O pure devotee, O spiritual master, please accept me as your dog." ** (vaisnava thakura, tomara kukkura baliya janaha more) (8) A dog always depends on his master's mercy and stays ready to carry out his master's order. In the same way, a bona fide disciple places himself in the position of a dog before his spiritual master and tries to satisfy him by carrying out his orders. In fact, the bona fide disciple respects his spiritual master as much as God Himself.
Question: "But why do I have to treat the spiritual master like God? Didn't you say he's a humble servant of God?" Exactly. The spiritual master is a humble servant of God, and he tries to bring everyone back to the humble service of God. But there is no way to become Krsna's servant directly. You have to become a servant of the servant of Krsna. The guru serves Krsna by acting as His representative in this material world. Therefore, as we have said, the guru is as good as God.
The spiritual master doesn't accept our service on his own behalf, any more than the President's representative (such as the Secretary of State) accepts service on his own behalf. Rather, the spiritual master thinks, "Because I have accepted the responsibility of acting as Krsna's representative, it is my duty to accept service from my disciples and to offer that service to Krsna." In this way, through the genuine Vedic system of spiritual discipline, the spiritual master revives our natural spiritual consciousness by training us to act as eternal servants of the Supreme Lord.
Question: "Still, it all sounds so dry and austere." Spiritual life requires a little austerity. But it's not dry austerity. The spiritual master's orders are called "the regulative principles of freedom." In other words, although we may feel (especially at first) that the spiritual master's instructions are just giving us trouble, by following these instructions we wash away material contaminations and enjoy transcendental bliss from within—and not just in some afterlife, but here and now.
In this age especially, the sacrifices that the disciple must undergo are very simple. In previous ages, the disciple had to perform rigorous physical exercises and adhere to strict vows of renunciation. But in this age the most important "austerity" is simply to chant and hear the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The Puranas confirm, "Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, there is no other way, no other way, no other way to achieve self-realization" (Brhan-naradiya Purana) ** (harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha) This chanting of Hare Krsna is easy and enjoyable, and it can make your life sublime.
The science of devotional service is full of transcendental potency, and we can realize this potency if we hear from a bona fide spiritual master and render service to him in a humble, submissive mood. Then we are sure to receive spiritual understanding and to advance on the path that leads out of material perplexity and back to home, back to Godhead. (References on next page.)
A brief look at the worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Srila Prabhupada Begins Tour
At 9:00 p.m. on June 1, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada stepped from a plane at Los Angeles International Airport and began his summer tour of the United States. Greeting him were hundreds of his disciples from the many West Coast Krsna conscious communities. Srila Prabhupada stayed ten days at the Los Angeles Radha-Krsna temple (the most populous of the more than eighty centers throughout the world) and then flew on to centers in Toronto, Pittsburgh, New Vrndavana (West Virginia), Washington, and New York.
While in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada explained his broad vision of the Krsna consciousness movement to reporter Richard Dalrymple, religion writer for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner: "Just as in my body there are different parts, but the most important part is the brain, so the important section of society is made up of those who are fully God conscious. You can cut off my hands or my legs and I shall live. But if you cut off my head, 1 must die. At the present moment there are big scientists and skilled technologists; they are society's hands and legs. But there is no brain. Therefore, in one sense it is a dead society. So we are trying to bring America back to life by supplying the brain. If America takes Krsna consciousness seriously, other nations will follow. Make a 'United Nations' for God consciousness and all people will be benefited."
New Temple Under Way in Fiji
On May 9, Srila Prabhupada laid the cornerstone for a majestic temple in Lautoka, Fiji. The new facility will be known as the Krsna-Kaliya temple, in commemoration of Lord Krsna's pastime of punishing the great serpent Kaliya, during His advent five thousand years ago.
Before the ceremony, ISKCON devotees chanted Hare Krsna and danced in a large procession through Lautoka's main street.
At the stone-laying ceremony, hundreds of leading Fijians (including Lautoka's Mayor Hari Punja) listened attentively as Srila Prabhupada explained what principles the Krsna consciousness movement upholds, and how it is working to propagate those principles throughout the world.
Psychologists Praise Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Publications
There's one science that nearly all of us want to know about: the science of the self. The Eastern counterpart of what Westerners call psychology is yoga, the science of linking the self with the Supreme Self—a treasure long "locked away" in the Sanskrit language of ancient India's Vedic literatures. No wonder, then, that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's word-for-word translations and clear-cut explanations of the Vedic literatures have won the acclaim of psychologists.
Dr. James N. Mosel, Emeritus Professor and Chairman of the Department of Psychology at the George Washington University, says this about Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is: "To the psychologist, the Bhagavad-gita is of great interest because it is perhaps the most ancient account on record of a remarkable psychotherapeutic session, administered to a 'patient' suffering from what today some would call 'ontological anxiety.' Swami Bhaktivedanta's translation is most useful in gaining an understanding of the psychological doctrine involved. . . . The translation affords the reader a rare and most welcome balance between the document's literal psychological content and its philosophic import."
Garry Gelade, Professor of Psychology at England's Oxford University, makes this appraisal of Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam: "This is a book to be treasured.... The clarity and precision of his commentaries on the text can rarely have been equalled. No one of whatever faith or philosophical persuasion who reads this book with an open mind can fail to be both moved and impressed."
In India, people have worshiped the Lord's form for centuries,
by Visakha-devi dasi
When Krsna the Supreme Lord appeared five thousand years ago to enact His pastimes, good people rejoiced to be in His presence, to live on the same earth with Him. Yet, when Lord Krsna no longer visibly walked the earth, how did these people, His devotees, react? We'd expect that they were unbearably lonely. But for thousands of years devotees in India have known that we can personally see and serve the Lord in His Deity form. Now, to the Western mind this idea may seem unfamiliar, but it's easy to understand. For instance, the post office may be far from our homes, so the postal officials install authorized mail boxes around the city for our convenience. Those boxes are as good as the post office itself. Similarly, the authorized form of the Lord is as good as the Lord Himself, and the Lord, in His form as the Deity, accepts the service we offer Him. Although the average person might suppose that the Deity only represents the Lord, the mature devotee understands that the Deity is the Supreme Lord Himself. For that reason, he worships the Deity with respect and love.
Since 1966, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has started more than eighty temples worldwide to share the open secret of Deity worship. The Deities pictured at right stand on the altar of the temple at ISKCON's Los Angeles community, New Dvaraka. (Dvaraka is a city in India where the Lord performed many heroic activities during His advent on earth five thousand years ago.) The Deity on the left is Dvarakadhisa, "The Lord of Dvaraka." Just like royalty, Lord Dvarakadhisa and His queen, Srimati Rukmini-devi, enjoy the best of everything: a gorgeous room, an elaborate wardrobe of morning, evening, and nighttime clothes, and all kinds of personal service. Every morning at 4:15 A.M., Labangalatika-devi dasi gently places on the marble altar a silver plate laden with milk sweets and slices of fruit. Then she offers the food to the Lord by reciting prayers. (The devotees make seven such offerings throughout the day.) "It's not that God becomes hungry," Labangalatika explains. "Krsna is complete in Himself. He doesn't require anything from us. But if we serve the Lord in some way, if we please Him, then by His grace we can understand Him."
From 8:45 to 11:00 A.M., the doors to the Deities' room remain open so that anyone can come, offer respects, and perhaps offer some fruit or flowers for the Lord's pleasure. By 11:00 A.M., the largest offering of the day is ready. Generally, this offering consists of twenty-five dishes (including succulent vegetables, thick creams, breads, sweets, rice, soup, and cheese), and on special days there may be as many as three hundred savory items. After the noontime offering, the Lord "rests" until 3:45 P.M., when the devotees greet Him with prayers and incense and frosted cakes, cakes floating in milk, rice pudding, nectar drinks, cheese pies, cookies, honey, and other things. Preparing all this food requires a team of ten devotees working nearly 'round the clock, seven days a week. Seven full offerings a day also means a lot of dishwashing, and Racitambara-devi dasi and her family help out. "When I first came to the temple, Deity worship didn't attract me," she says, "but now it's my favorite work. Sometimes nondevotees argue with me, 'God is everywhere. Why must I come to the temple to worship Him?' I explain that God is everywhere—the entire creation is His energy—but it's very difficult to see God everywhere, and it's impossible to serve Him like that. Therefore, the Lord kindly appears as the Deity, so that we can serve Him with our body, mind, and words." "After decorating the Deities with store-bought jewelry for two years," says Lal Krsna dasa, "I got an inspiration and a desire to personally handcraft Their jewelry. I didn't have any experience; so I got a book and some basic tools, and Krsna provided the intelligence." At first a part-time experiment, Lal Krsna's jewelry-making soon turned into a full-time engagement.
One necklace takes three or four days of designing and crafting, and a whole set of jewelry (including crowns, necklaces, chokers, bracelets, foot-bells, and earrings) might take a month. But Lal Krsna's determination and devotion are unswerving. "High-class people have everything custom-made," he reasons, "and Krsna's the highest-class person of all."
Along with a few other devotees, Tungabhadra-devi dasi spends her whole day making the Deities' beautiful clothing. The elaborate outfits of silk, satin, velvet, and chiffon reveal expert designing and exquisite hand-tailoring. Even so, the seamstresses never feel complacent. "Spiritual life is never stagnant or static," Tungabhadra explains. "We're always trying to improve the quality of our service."
Flowers add a fragrant dimension to Deity worship. The devotees use artistic combinations of mums, roses, gardenias, and carnations to decorate the altar and garland the Deities. Dinesvara-devi dasi, a newly initiated devotee from Paris, spends her afternoons polishing the vases, arranging the flowers, and making the Deities' garlands. "Since I started doing things for the Deities," she says, "It's easy for me to understand that God is not a threatening, foreign force—He's a person." Arati is a celebration of welcoming the Lord. Just as we would help a guest feel at home by offering him gifts and refreshment, so the devotees offer the Lord incense, camphor, clarified butter, water, a napkin, a flower, and cooling fans. As the arati ceremony begins, a pujari, or priest, steps to the edge of the Deity room and sounds a conchshell heralding the celebration. Then he offers the incense sticks, the lamps of flaming camphor and butter, the water (in a conchshell), the napkin, the flower, the peacock fan, and the yak-tail whisk, in that order. The pujari presents the first five items to the Deities with graceful, circular hand motions. Then he sends pleasant breezes over Their Lordships with the fan and whisk. In the Los Angeles temple the devotees make seven such offerings at regular times each day.
In contrast with the quietly reverent pujari, the devotees in the temple room are exuberant. As the half-hour arati starts, the lead singer chants prayers and the congregation joins in responsively, all to the accompaniment of rhythmically ringing hand cymbals and pulsating mrdangas (oblong clay drums struck from both ends). At first the group simply sways from side to side, in time with the singing. But soon the pace quickens, and some people start dancing as the music moves them. In a moment others have caught up the mood. The joy is contagious. Even a newcomer watching the bright-faced devotees (as they laugh, clap, jump, and whirl with arms upraised) can see that here is another dimension, where Krsna is the heart of everything and transcendental bliss prevails.
Adapted from KRSNA,
Five thousand years ago, the people of the earth were suffering under many demoniac rulers, especially the wicked king Kamsa. At last the rulers became so oppressive that Lord Brahma, the chief of the universal demigods, appealed to the Supreme Lord, Visnu [Krsna], for help. As Lord Brahma sat in meditation, Lord Visnu transmitted a message to him which Lord Brahma then relayed to the other demigods: "Very soon Lord Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will appear on earth along with His supreme potencies. All of you demigods should immediately take birth in families of the Yadu dynasty. When, in due course of time, the Lord Himself appears in the Yadu dynasty, you should assist Him in His mission of annihilating the demons and establishing the devotees."
Some time later, a great wedding took place in what is now known as India. King Devaka gave his daughter, Devaki, to Vasudeva in marriage. Vasudeva was the son of King Surasena, the leader of the Yadu dynasty, in which Lord Krsna was to appear. Being very affectionate toward his daughter, King Devaka gave a magnificent dowry to his new son-in-law: four hundred elephants decorated with golden garlands, fifteen thousand decorated horses, and eighteen hundred chariots. Following an ancient Indian custom, Devaki's brother Kamsa voluntarily took the reins of the chariot and drove the bride and bridegroom to their new home. As they drove in the chariot along the road to Mathura, Vasudeva's home and the Yadus' capital city, musicians played melodiously on conchshells, bugles, drums, and kettledrums.
The procession was passing very pleasingly when a voice suddenly vibrated from the sky: "Kamsa! You are such a fool! You are driving the chariot of your sister and your brother-in-law, but you do not know that their eighth child will kill you!"
Kamsa immediately caught hold of Devaki's hair and drew his sword to kill her. But before he could strike her Vasudeva interjected, "My dear brother-in-law! You are the most famous king of the Bhoja dynasty. And everyone knows that you are the greatest of warriors."
Though shocked at Kamsa's behavior, Vasudeva was able to stay the sword of Kamsa with this flattery. Vasudeva continued, "Are you so infuriated that you are prepared to kill a woman—indeed, your own sister—just at the auspicious time of her marriage?" Kamsa was well known as the most demoniac of all the kings in the Bhoja dynasty. In fact, he was one of the demons whom Lord Visnu intended to annihilate. Nonetheless, Vasudeva was aghast that Kamsa could kill his own sister.
As Kamsa reflected for a moment, Vasudeva spoke on a more philosophical plane. "Why should you be so afraid of death? Death is born along with you right at the moment of your birth. From the very day you took your birth, you began to die. And when you die, your present body will stop functioning; you will take another body. Therefore, I beg you not to be overwhelmed by the fear of death, nor to bear malice toward your sister. You are safe for the present. Also, Devaki and I might not even have sons in the future. And if we do have sons, I promise that I shall present all of them to you for the necessary action."
Kamsa knew the value of Vasudeva's word of honor, and he was convinced by his argument. So he desisted from the heinous attempt to kill Devaki. Greatly pleased, Vasudeva praised Kamsa's decision, and the party continued to Mathura.
In due course of time, when Devaki bore a son, Vasudeva kept his word and brought the child to Kamsa. Vasudeva felt great anguish when he handed over the newborn child, and Kamsa took pity on his brother-in-law. "My dear Vasudeva, you need not present this child to me. I am not in danger from this child. The voice said that the eighth child would kill me. Why should I harm this child unnecessarily? You can take him back."
However, at that time the great sage Narada came to talk with Kamsa. Being very anxious to accelerate the descent of Lord Krsna, Narada informed Kamsa that in Mathura the members of the Yadu dynasty were preparing for the advent of Lord Visnu. Demigods were taking birth as Yadus, and in the village of Gokula, just across the Yamuna River, the cowherd families headed by King Nanda were also getting ready for the Lord's appearance. Narada warned Kamsa to be on his guard.
Kamsa now understood that it was Lord Visnu who would kill him, and that the Lord was coming soon. So he at once arrested Vasudeva and Devaki and put them behind prison bars.
Within the prison, shackled in iron chains, Vasudeva and Devaki gave birth to sons year after year; and, thinking each baby to be the incarnation of Visnu, Kamsa murdered them, one after another. Then he captured and imprisoned his own father, Ugrasena, who was the leading king of the land. Thereupon, Kamsa declared himself the leading king, and after making alliances with many other demoniac rulers, he did indeed become the most powerful king in all of India.
During the years when Kamsa murdered the first six babies of Devaki and Vasudeva, many of Kamsa's friends and relatives approached him and begged him to stop his atrocities. But instead of complying, by the force of his personality Kamsa moved these supplicants to bow down and worship him.
Then, when Devaki became pregnant for the seventh time, a plenary expansion of Lord Krsna known as Ananta appeared within her womb. Devaki was overwhelmed with both jubilation and lamentation. She was happy that the Lord had taken shelter in her womb, but at the same time she was afraid that as soon as she gave birth, Kamsa would kill the child.
At that time Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, ordered His internal potency (Yogamaya) to descend to the earth. Yogamaya cast a spell over Devaki and another wife of Vasudeva's, Rohini, who was across the Yamuna River living with King Nanda and Queen Yasoda in the village of Gokula. Frightened away by Kamsa's atrocities, Rohini and many others from the Yadu dynasty were living outside Mathura.
When Yogamaya had cast her influence over Devaki and Rohini, Lord Krsna transferred His primary expansion from Devaki's womb to Rohini's womb. Thus, people thought that Devaki's seventh pregnancy was a miscarriage. But actually the baby, a boy, was born to Rohini in Gokula. He was to be known as Balarama, the brother and constant companion of Lord Krsna.
Now the time had arrived for the birth of the fateful eighth child of Vasudeva and Devaki. From the spiritual world, Lord Krsna entered by His mystic power into the heart of Vasudeva, who thus appeared just like the glowing sun. Then Lord Krsna passed from the heart of Vasudeva into the heart of Devaki, exactly as the setting sun's rays transfer to the full moon rising in the east. The Lord did not appear within Devaki by seminal discharge; rather. He appeared independently, by His own energy.
In this way, Devaki became the residence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is one without a second and the cause of all creation. Because she was within the prison walls of Kamsa's palace, no one but Kamsa could see her transcendental beauty, which appeared like fire contained within a pot. When Kamsa saw his sister's extraordinary beauty, he at once understood that God had indeed taken shelter in her womb, and he became distraught. At first he decided to kill Devaki, but then he changed his mind, fearing public outrage at the murder of a pregnant woman.
As the days went by, an ocean of animosity against the Lord swelled in Kamsa's heart. He patiently awaited the child's birth, expecting to kill him as he had killed Devaki's other sons. He was obsessed with the thought of Krsna twenty-four hours a day. While sleeping, eating, working, sitting, or walking, all he could see around him was Krsna.
As the time drew near for the appearance of the Lord, auspicious constellations and stars moved to influential positions in the heavens. In all directions, peace and prosperity spread over the earth. Rivers flowed full of water, and lakes were decorated beautifully with lotus flowers. Peacocks and other beautiful birds in the forest danced with their consorts and sang with sweet voices. The wind blew pleasantly, carrying the aroma of many flowers, and the sensation of bodily touch was very pleasing. At the seashore, the mild sound of lapping waves mingled with the gentle thunder of the clouds above. On the heavenly planets, angels and their wives danced, Gandharvas and Kinnaras sang, and the Caranas offered prayers to the Personality of Godhead. The great sages and demigods showered flowers down upon the earth.
Then, in the darkness of night, as a thunderstorm brought heavy rains to Mathura, the Lord appeared before Vasudeva and Devaki within the jail of Kamsa. Vasudeva was struck with wonder when he saw the newborn child. The baby had four arms, and He held a conchshell, a club, a disc, and a lotus flower in His hands. He was decorated with the special mark of Srivatsa on His chest, and around His throat hung the jeweled necklace of kaustubha stone. He was dressed in yellow silk, and he wore valuable bracelets, earrings, and other ornaments all over His body. On His head, which was abundantly covered with hair. He wore a helmet bedecked with a vaidurya stone. Shedding His effulgence within the room, the child appeared as dazzling as a bright, blackish cloud.
Convinced that the newborn child was the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva bowed down with folded hands and began to offer Him prayers: "My dear Lord, I can understand who You are. You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Supersoul of all living entities and the Absolute Truth. I can understand that You have appeared before us in Your own eternal form just to deliver us from our fear of Kamsa. You have appeared to kill the uncivilized Kamsa and his followers. But, knowing that You were coming to kill him, he has already murdered six of Your elder brothers, and now he is simply awaiting the news of Your birth. As soon as he hears of it, he will immediately come here with all kinds of weapons to kill You."
Then Devaki offered her prayers. "My dear Lord, all Your eternal forms in Your millions of incarnations are original forms, because They are outside the material world and existed before the creation of this cosmos. They are eternal, all-pervading, self-effulgent, changeless, and uncontaminated by material qualities. Your eternal forms are ever-cognizant and situated in transcendental goodness, and They always perform blissful pastimes. They are also self-sufficient, and 1 can thus understand that You are the Supreme Lord.
"But I am afraid for You because of my brother Kamsa. My Lord, Kamsa may already know that You are born. Therefore, I request You to conceal Your four-armed form holding the conchshell, disc, club, and lotus flower."
On hearing their prayers, the Lord replied, "I have appeared in this Visnu form just to convince you that I am the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I could have appeared as an ordinary child, but then you wouldn't have believed that I am the Supreme Lord. My dear mother and father, you have accepted Me as your child with great affection, and I am very pleased with you. You shall go back to home, back to Godhead, because you have perfected your mission. Now I order you to take Me immediately to Gokula and exchange Me for the daughter who has just been born to Yasoda." Having spoken thus, the Lord transformed Himself into an ordinary child and remained silent.
Exactly at that time, a daughter was born to King Nanda and Queen Yasoda, in Gokula. She was Yogamaya, who had previously cast her spell so that Balarama could transfer to the womb of Rohini. Now, even as she lay as a newborn baby beside Yasoda in Gokula, she spread her influence to Mathura. All the people in Kamsa's palace, including the doorkeepers, fell asleep. And the palace doors automatically opened, although they had been barred and shackled with iron chains. When the door of the jail opened, Vasudeva lifted up baby Krsna and walked outside. Severe rain was falling and the night was very dark, but by Krsna's influence Vasudeva could see as clearly as if the sun were shining. The plenary expansion of Krsna known as Lord Ananta appeared in the shape of a serpent, and He spread His hoods over Vasudeva's head to protect him from the downpour.
On arriving at the bank of the Yamuna, Vasudeva saw that the river was roaring with waves and that the whole span was full of foam. Still, in that furious feature, the river gave passage to Vasudeva, just as the Indian Ocean once made a path for Lord Rama when he was bridging the gulf to Lanka.
On the other side, Vasudeva went to the house of Nanda in Gokula. All the cowherd men were fast asleep, and Vasudeva took the opportunity to slip into Yasoda's room. Without difficulty he exchanged the two babies. Then he returned to Mathura, went back into the prison, and silently placed the girl on the lap of Devaki. So that Kamsa would not know that anything had happened, Vasudeva then adjusted all the doors and gates and again clamped the shackles on himself.
The gatekeepers awoke to the newborn child's crying and rushed into Kamsa's bedroom to tell him the news. Kamsa jumped out of bed and exclaimed, "Now the cruel death of my life is born!" So perplexed that his hair stood on end, Kamsa proceeded to the jail.
On seeing her brother approaching, Devaki prayed to him meekly, "My dear brother, please do not kill this female child. I promise she will be your son's wife. Don't kill her. You are not to be killed by a girl. That was not the omen. You are to be killed by a male child. So please, do not kill her. My dear brother, even though you have killed so many of my newborn children, that was not your fault. You were advised by demoniac friends. But now I beg you to excuse this girl. Let her live as my daughter."
However, Kamsa was so cruel that he did not listen to the beautiful prayers of his sister. He forcibly grabbed the newborn child, raised her over his head, and attempted to dash her mercilessly on the stone floor. But the child slipped from his hands and flew up into the sky! Hovering there, she revealed herself as the goddess Durga, decorated with a fine dress, flower garlands, and ornaments. In her eight hands she held a bow, a lancet, arrows, a bell, a conchshell, a disc, a club, and a shield. Demigods prayed to her and offered her gifts. She looked down at Kamsa and addressed him, "You rascal, how can you kill me? The child who will one day kill you has already been born, and is elsewhere. Don't be so cruel to your poor sister." Then Durga departed.
Overwhelmed with fear after hearing Durga's words, Kamsa released Vasudeva and Devaki from their shackles. Addressing them politely, he said, "My dear sister and brother-in-law, completely neglecting our intimate relationship, I have acted just like a demon in killing my own nephews. I don't know what will be the results of these acts of mine. Probably I shall be sent to the hell where brahmana-killers go.
"My dear sister Devaki, you are so gentle and kind. Please forgive me. Don't be aggrieved by your children's death, which I have caused. Actually, they were not killed by me at all. Their death was predestined. Everyone has to act according to destiny, even unwillingly. Please forgive the atrocities I have committed against you. I am very poor-hearted, and you are so greathearted, so take compassion on me and forgive me." With tears flowing from his eyes, Kamsa fell down at their feet.
When Devaki saw her brother's repentance, she was pacified and forgave all his atrocious activities. Vasudeva also forgave all past incidents and, smiling, addressed Kamsa, "My dear fortunate brother-in-law, every living entity is born ignorant, thinking that this material body is his self. And on the basis of this ignorant conception, we create enmity and friendship. Lamentation, jubilation, tearfulness, envy, greed, illusion, and madness are different features of our material concept of life. When these things influence us, we engage in acts inimical to others and forget our eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
When Vasudeva spoke to Kamsa in such an illuminating way, Kamsa became very pleased, and his guilt for killing his nephews subsided. With the permission of his sister and brother-in-law, he then returned home in great relief.
Meanwhile, across the river in Gokula, Yasoda was fast asleep. Because she was exhausted by the labor of childbirth, she could not remember whether she had given birth to a boy or a girl.
The next day, King Nanda declared that Yasoda had given birth to a male child, and Nanda celebrated the birth of his son very joyfully. He called for learned astrologers and brahmanas to perform the birth ceremony according to Vedic custom. Wearing fine dress, ornaments, and garlands, Nanda and his relatives sat down in front of what they thought was Krsna's birthplace. The brahmanas then chanted auspicious mantras, and astrologers read a horoscope of the child's future. Everyone worshiped Lord Visnu and the demigods and also the forefathers of the family. Finally, King Nanda distributed to the brahmanas both hills of grain and 200,000 well-ornamented cows.
As Nanda worshiped Lord Visnu, he desired only that his newborn child would be happy. He prayed to Visnu to protect the child, not knowing that his son Krsna was Himself the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the origin of Visnu and the origin of all material and spiritual worlds. In this way, Lord Krsna began His earthly pastimes, in which He would annihilate the demons and deliver His devotees back to His own abode, Goloka Vrndavana.