Mrs. Sally Rawley, merchandiser: "When I'm nervous I find chanting very calming. I don't get shaken up at little things."
Bruce Kleinberg, executive secretary: "Chanting helps you see things in perspective. My outlook is a lot brighter."
June Lahner, jewelry designer, with son Jason: "Chanting makes me more perceptive, more in harmony with everything and everyone around me."
Dr. Donald R. Tuck, associate professor, Western Kentucky University: "I've noticed that as chanted progress from level to deeper level, they become more realistic, more tolerant."
Paul Bleier, printing executive: "When there's pressure, I chant. It's the one thing that charges my batteries. It clears my mind and brings me back in focus."
Mrs. Grace Acqulstapace, housewife: "I'm more openminded. Chanting has opened my eyes to things I never noticed. It's like beautiful music—a very peaceful feeling, very stisfying."
Stephen Farmer, health food store owner: "If I start my day on a spiritual note by chanting Hare Krishna, I can make it through the day in a pleasant mood."
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
Anyone can chant the Hare Krsna (Huh-ray Krish-na) mantra, anytime, anywhere. The main thing is to listen closely to the sound. Whether you sing it or say it, alone or with others, the Hare Krsna chant brings about joyful spiritual awareness.
Chanting can work for everyone, and there's no fee or initiation. If you'd like to meet other people who chant, visit any of the people who chant, visit any of the more than 120 centers worldwide (like the one in Melbourne, Australia, pictured at left). See last page for addresses.
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The founder and original editor of Back to Godhead is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In September, 1965, Srila Prabhupada arrived in the United States. In July, 1966, in a storefront in New York City, he began the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. And from those beginning days, Back to Godhead has been an integral part of ISKCON.
In fact, since 1944, when he started writing, editing, printing, and istributing Back to Godhead, Srila Prabhupada has often called it "the backbone of the Krishna consciousness movement." Althgouh over the years it has changed in come ways, Back to Godhead remains, in Srila Prabhupada's words, "an instrument for training the mind and educating human nature to rise up to the plane of the soul spirit."
On matter and spirit...
Everything that exists is a product of matter and spirit. Spirit is the basic field of creation, and matter is created by spirit.
On the nature of the soul ...
The individual particle of spirit soul is a spiritual atom smaller than the material atoms, and such atoms are innumerable. This very small spiritual spark is the basic principle of the material body, and the influence of such a spiritual spark is spread all over the body as the influence of the active principle of some medicine spreads throughout the body. This current of the spirit soul is felt all over the body as consciousness, and that is the proof of the presence of the soul.
On matter, spirit, and transmigration of the soul...
There is no endurance of the changing body. That the body is changing every moment by the actions and reactions of the different cells is admitted by modern medical science; and thus growth and old age are taking place in the body. But the spirit soul exists permanently, remaining the same despite all changes of the body and the mind. That is the difference between matter and spirit.
This individual soul finally leaves the body at death and transmigrates to another body... The living being is eternal by nature, but due to his bondage in the material existence he has to change his body from one to another. This process is called transmigration of the soul.
The basic principle of self-realization is knowledge that the living entity is not this material body but that he is different from it and that his happiness is in eternal life, bliss, and knowledge.
On regaining our spiritual identity ...
One should always remember that as long as he has a material body, he must face the miseries of repeated birth, death, old age, and disease. There is no use in making plans to get rid of these miseries of the material body. The best thing is to find out the means by which one may regain his spiritual identity.
On the soul's need for freedom ...
The self [soul] is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with emolument of the body and mind. The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul's needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself.
The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead. ...The hankering soul must be satisfied by the perfect scientific process of perfect devotional service.
On diseased life vs. healthy life ...
Material existence of the living being is a diseased condition of actual life. Actual life is spiritual existence, or brahma-bhuta existence, where life is eternal, blissful, and full of knowledge. Material existence is temporary, illusory, and full of miseries. There is no happiness at all. There is just the futile attempt to get rid of the miseries, and temporary cessation of misery is falsely called happiness. Therefore, the path of progressive material enjoyment, which is temporary, miserable, and illusory, is inferior. But devotional service of the Supreme Lord, which leads one to eternal, blissful, and all-cognizant life, is called the superior quality of occupation.
On breaking the chains of karma...
Since time immemorial each living entity has accumulated the various reactions of his good and bad work. As such, he is continuously ignorant of his real constitutional position. One's ignorance can be removed by the instruction of the Bhagavad-gita, which teaches one to surrender unto Lord Sri Krsna in all respects and become liberated from the chained victimization of action, birth after birth.
On the purpose of human life ...
Human life is especially meant for self-realization. That is to say, man should come to know what he is, what the world is, and what the Supreme Truth is.
On overcoming ignorance and attaining peace ...
Ignorance is the cause of our bondage, and knowledge is the cause of our liberation. This knowledge is the mature fruit of devotional service, and when one is situated in transcendental knowledge, he need not search for peace elsewhere, for he enjoys peace within himself.
On the need for a bona fide spiritual master. .
The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession, The Lord is the original spiritual master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to the disciple... Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. [And] inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding...
The result of receiving knowledge from a self-realized soul, or one who knows things as they are, is learning that all living beings are parts and parcels of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna... The living entities, as separate parts and parcels of the Supreme, have a purpose to fulfill. Having forgotten that purpose since time immemorial they are situated in different bodies as men, animals, demigods, etc. Such bodily differences arise from forgetfulness of the transcendental service of the Lord. But when one is engaged in transcendental service through Krsna consciousness, one becomes at once liberated from this illusion.
On the futility of material life—and the way out...
Owing to ignorance, one does not know that this material world is a miserable place where there are dangers at every step. Out of ignorance only, less intelligent persons try to adjust to the situation by fruitive activities, thinking that resultant actions will make them happy. They do not know that no kind of material body anywhere within the universe can give life without miseries. The miseries of life—namely birth, death, old age, and diseases—are present everywhere within the material world. But one who understands his real constitutional position as the eternal servitor of the Lord, and thus knows the position of the Personality of Godhead, engages himself in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Consequently, he becomes qualified to enter into the Vaikuntha planets, where there is neither material, miserable life, nor the influence of time and death.
On getting out of the material entanglement—permanently ...
The living being is in the state of forgetfulness of his relationship with God due to his being overly attracted to material sense gratification from time immemorial. His struggle for existence in the material world is perpetual, and it is not possible for him to get out of it by making plans. If he at all wants to conquer this perpetual struggle for existence, he must reestablish his eternal relation with God. And one who wants to adopt such remedial measures must take shelter of literature such as the Vedas and the Puranas... Srimad-Bhagavatam is the spotless Purana, and it is especially meant for those who are desirous to get out of the material entanglement permanently.
On the power of God's name ...
The name of Krsna is as powerful as Lord Krsna Himself. There is no difference at all. Anyone, therefore, can take advantage of the holy names of Lord Sri Krsna even in the midst of greatest dangers. The transcendental name of Krsna, even though uttered unconsciously or by force of circumstances, can help one attain freedom from the hurdle of birth and death.
On making our life complete ...
The completeness of human life can be realized only when the human form of life is engaged in the service of the complete whole... Krsna is the complete whole, and everything else is his part and parcel. The relation is one of the servant and the served, and it is transcendental and is completely distinguished from our experience in material existence. This relation of servant and the served is the most congenial form of intimacy. One can realize it as devotional service progresses. Everyone should engage himself in that transcendental loving service of the Lord, even in the present conditional state of material existence. That will gradually give one the clue to actual life and please him to complete satisfaction.
On faith and knowledge ...
Men without faith in God and His revealed word find no good in this world, nor in the next. For them there is no happiness whatsoever. One should therefore follow the principles of revealed scriptures with faith and thereby be raised to the platform of knowledge. Only this knowledge will help one become promoted to the transcendental platform of spiritual understanding.
On the state of the world...
In this age, men are not only victims of different political creeds and parties, but also of many different types of sense-gratificatory diversions, namely cinemas, sports, gambling, clubs, mundane libraries, bad associations, smoking, drinking, cheating, pilfering, bickerings, and so on. Their minds are always disturbed and full of anxieties due to so many different engagements. In this age, many unscrupulous men manufacture their own religious faiths, which are not based on any revealed scriptures, and very often people who are addicted to sense gratification are attracted by such institutions. Consequently, in the name of religion so many sinful acts are being carried on, and the people in general have neither peace of mind nor health of body.
On waking up to our relationship with the Supreme...
By pouring water on the root of a tree, all the parts of the tree are automatically nourished. Only those branches and leaves which are detached cannot be so satisfied. Detached branches and leaves dry up gradually, despite all watering attempts. Similarly, human society, when it is detached from the Personality of Godhead like detached branches and leaves, is not capable of being improved, and one attempting to do so is simply wasting his energy and resources.
The modern materialistic society is detached from its relation with the Supreme Lord. And all its plans which are being made by atheistic leaders are sure to be baffled in every step. Yet they do not wake up to this. In this age, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord is the prescribed method for waking up.
On spiritual education ...
Modern civilization is a patchwork of activities meant to cover the perpetual miseries of material existence. Such activities are targeted toward sense gratification, but above the senses there is the mind, and above the mind there is the intelligence, and above the intelligence there is the soul. Therefore, the aim of education should be self-realization, realization of the spiritual values of the soul.
On the dangerous age we live in ...
The age of Kali is very dangerous for the human being. Human life is simply meant for self-realization, but due to this dangerous age, men have completely forgotten the aim of life... Out of madness they frankly say that there is no need for self-realization because they do not realize that this brief life is but a moment on our great journey toward self-realization. The whole system of education is geared toward sense gratification, and if a learned man thinks it over, he sees that the children of this age are being intentionally sent to the slaughterhouses of so-called education.
On the responsibility of the world's leaders...
Human life is meant for cultivation of spiritual knowledge, in eternal relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the executive heads of all states and all planets are obliged to impart this lesson to the citizens by education, culture, and devotion. In other words, the executive heads of all states are intended to spread the science of Krsna consciousness so that the people may take advantage of this great science and pursue a successful path, utilizing the opportunity of the human form of life.
On a simple way to bring about world peace and friendship ...
"Who is there, desiring deliverance from the vices of the Age of Kali [the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy], who is not willing to hear the glories of the Lord?" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.16)
The leaders of the people are very much anxious to live in peace and friendship, but they have no information of the simple method of hearing the glories of the Lord. On the contrary, such leaders are opposed to the propagation of the glories of the Lord. In the name of a secular state, such leaders are enacting various plans every year. But by the insurmountable intricacies of the material nature of the Lord, all these plans for progress are being constantly frustrated. They have no eyes to see that their attempts at peace and friendship are failing. But here is the hint to get over the hurdle. If we want actual peace, we must open the road to understand the Supreme Lord Krsna and glorify Him for His virtuous activities as they are depicted in the pages of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
On finding the center of enjoyment ...
Here in the material world there is always a clash between different individual beings, because here the center of enjoyment is missed. The center of enjoyment is the Supreme Lord, who is the center of the sublime and spiritual rasa dance. We are all meant for joining him, for enjoying life with one transcendental interest and without any clash. That is the high platform of spiritual interest, and as soon as such a perfect form of oneness is realized, there can be no question of illusion or lamentation.
On perfecting the human condition...
The Supreme Personality of Godhead expanded himself into many for His ever-increasing spiritual bliss, and the living entities are parts and parcels of this spiritual bliss. They also have partial independence, but by misuse of their independence, when the service attitude is transformed into the propensity for sense enjoyment, they come under the sway of lust...
Lust is only the perverted reflection of the love of God which is natural for every living entity. But if one is educated in Krsna consciousness from the very beginning, that natural love of God cannot deteriorate into lust. When love of God deteriorates into lust, it is very difficult to return to the normal condition. Nonetheless, Krsna consciousness is so powerful that even a late beginner can become a lover of God by following the regulative principles of devotional service.
So, from any stage of life, or from the time of understanding its urgency, one can begin regulating the senses in Krsna consciousness, devotional service of the Lord, and turn the lust into love of Godhead—the highest perfectional stage of human life.
On attaining universal love ...
The basic principle of the living condition is that we have a general propensity to love someone. No one can live without loving someone else. This propensity is present in every living being. Even an animal like a tiger has this loving propensity, at least in a dormant stage, and it is certainly present in the human beings. The missing point, however, is where to repose our love so that everyone can become happy.
At the present moment the human society teaches one to love his country or family or his personal self, but there is no information where to repose the loving propensity so that everyone can become happy. That missing point is Krsna, and the practice of Krsna consciousness teaches us how to stimulate our original love for Krsna and how to be situated in that position where we can enjoy our blissful life.
In the primary stage a child loves his parents, then his brothers and sisters, and as he daily grows up he begins to love his family, society, community, country, nation, or even the whole human society. But the loving propensity is not satisfied even by loving all human society; that loving propensity remains imperfectly fulfilled until we know who is the Supreme Beloved. Our love can be fully satisfied only when it is reposed in Krsna. This theme is the sum and substance of Krsna consciousness, which teaches us how to love Krsna in five different transcendental mellows.
Our loving propensity expands just as a vibration of light or air expands, but we do not know where it ends. Krsna consciousness is the science of loving everyone of the living entities perfectly by the easy method of loving Krsna. We have failed to create peace and harmony in human society, even by such great attempts as the United Nations, because we do not know the right method. The method is very simple, but one has to understand it with a cool head. Krsna consciousness teaches all men how to perform the simple and natural method of loving Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we learn how to love Krsna, then it is very easy to immediately and simultaneously love every living being.
It is like pouring water on the root of a tree or supplying food to one's stomach. The method of pouring water on the root of a tree or supplying foodstuffs to the stomach is universally scientific and practical, as every one of us has experienced. Everyone knows well that when we eat something, or in other words when we put foodstuffs in the stomach, the energy created by such action is immediately distributed throughout the whole body. Similarly, when we pour water on the root, the energy thus created is immediately distributed throughout the entirety of even the largest tree. It is not possible to water the tree part by part, nor is it possible to feed the various parts of the body separately. Krsna consciousness will teach us how to turn the one switch that will immediately brighten everything, everywhere. One who does not know this method is missing the point of life.
"Why have you come here?" they asked him. "Your America is so wealthy—why have you come here?" Yes, why had twenty-five-year-old Tracy Ladd adopted an ancient Indian life-style and ventured to the Southern Indian city of Hyderabad?
Says Ladd, "When people would come up to me on the street and ask me what I was doing here, why I'd left my rich country, I'd try to explain that I felt their country was rich in another way—rich in spiritual heritage. But still I felt a lot of people didn't understand. They wanted so much to take after the American culture—they couldn't understand why an American would want to take after their culture."
One Hyderabad resident who could understand was G. Pulla Reddy, whose confectionery business had given him occasion to travel and see the West's spiritual bankruptcy for himself. When Ladd (Srikara dasa) and some other Krsna-conscious devotees told Mr. Reddy that they had come to build a temple and help the people remember their spiritual culture, he offered them a piece of choice land right in the heart of the city.
"So," Ladd says, "we started organizing the project right away. Mr. G.V. Reddy, the Minister of Town Planning, did the design for the building, and many other people offered their skills, too. Ornamental craftsmen came all the way from Madras to do detailed work on the columns, archways, domes, and so forth. Even the little children helped out. Some of them served out lunch [from the temple's temporary kitchen] to the hundreds of people who came each day."
When the temple opened last summer, J. Vengal Rao, Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh (India's fifth-largest state), and seven other state ministers gave deep thanks to the American devotees and their spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. (The center continues to offer daily seminars on the Vedic literatures and to distribute prasada, spiritual food, to all who come. And at nearby colleges, factories, and business centers, the devotees hold seminars on practical spiritual living, including mantra meditation.) Chief Minister Rao remarked, "History is in reverse. Once, Indians tried to follow Western ways, but now the people of these countries are looking to India for spiritual direction. Thank you for reminding us of our culture."
To make clear what was happening, Srila Prabhupada told the State Ministers a little story. "Once there were two men," he said. "One was blind, and the other was lame. What could either one do alone? Both were useless. But when they combined together, everything was all right. The blind man could walk, so he took the lame man on his back. And the lame man could see, so he gave the blind man directions—'Go this way...' In that way both men got their work done very nicely.
"Now, I say that India is lame—it has no wealth—and America is blind—it has no spiritual culture. Let us combine together. Then we can give benefit to the whole human society."
by Howard Wheeler (Hayagriva dasa)
When I first met my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I felt that there was never a time when I did not know him. I never tire of telling of my first meeting with him on the streets of Lower East Side New York. At the time, I was hurrying from my Mott Street apartment, which had become a refuge for psychedeliacs, to a much quieter apartment on Fifth Street where I hoped to get some peace. I was walking down Houston Street and across Bowery, past the rushing traffic and stumbling derelicts, and after crossing Bowery, just before Second Avenue, I saw His Divine Grace jauntily strolling down the sidewalk, his head high in the air, his hand in a beadbag. He struck me like a famous actor in a very familiar movie. He seemed ageless, though later I found out that he was seventy years old. He was wearing the traditional saffron-colored robes of a sannyasi, the renounced order, and quaint white shoes with points. Coming down Houston Street, he looked like the genie that popped out of Aladdin's lamp. I was fresh from a trip to India, and His Divine Grace reminded me of the many holy men I had recently seen walking the dirt roads of Hardwar and Hrishikesh and bathing in the Ganges. I had gone to India to look for a guru but had returned disappointed. It was on this bright July morning, when I was least expecting it, that Sri Krsna, out of His infinite mercy, sent guru to me. The old Vedic adage—by the grace of Krsna you get guru, and by the grace of guru you get Krsna—was justified. Afterwards, Srila Prabhupada (as we were later to call him) often told me, "If you are sincere, you don't have to search out your guru. Krsna will send him." So amid the hot clang and clamor of Houston and Bowery, guru had found me out.
We stopped simultaneously, and I asked the first question that popped into my mind—"Are you from India?"—and he smiled cordially. "Oh, yes, and you?" I told him no, but that I had just returned from India and that I was very interested in his country and Hindu philosophy. He then told me that he had come from Calcutta and had been in New York almost ten months. His eyes were as fresh and as cordial as a child's, and even standing before the trucks that roared and bumbled their way down Houston Street, he emanated a cool tranquility that was unshakably established in something far beyond the great metropolis that roared around us. He answered all my questions readily, as though speaking a dialogue he was well acquainted with. I told him about my India trip briefly, and he asked me if I had been to Vrndavana. "I didn't get a chance to," I told him. "I got sick on the food and had to leave."
He then informed me that he had a place around the corner where he was planning to hold some classes and that he had been wondering whether or not it was suitable. I walked around the corner with him, and he pointed out a small storefront building between First and Second Streets, next door to a Mobil filling station. It had been a curiosity shop, and someone had painted the words "Matchless Gifts" over the window. At the time I didn't realize how prophetic the words were. "This is a good area?" he asked me. I told him that I thought it was. I had no idea what he was going to offer in his "classes," but I knew that all my friends would be glad that an Indian swami was moving into the neighborhood. For the past two or three years, like so many downtown New Yorkers in their twenties, we had been reading books on Eastern philosophy and religion, burning lots of candles and incense and taking ganja, peyote and LSD as aids to meditation. Actually it was more intoxication than meditation; meditation was a euphemism that somehow connected our highs with our readings. "I would like to hear your lectures," I told him, after reassuring him that the storefront was suitable. I noticed a placard in the window that read: "Lectures on Bhagavad-gita. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. Mon. Wed. Fri. 7-9."
"You will bring your friends?" he asked.
"Yes," I promised. "Monday evening."
I forget the rest of the conversation, but I do remember afterwards telling everyone I knew about the guru who had inexplicably appeared in our midst.
I attended the first meeting in the little storefront with two of my friends who were later to be initiated as Kirtanananda and Umapati. I was surprised to see half a dozen people there. The storefront was narrow and squalid. There was no rug on the wooden floors and no decorations save one painting in the window of Lord Caitanya dancing with His disciples. Years later I was to find out that this was painted by an artist who had been given a small picture by Srila Prabhupada to use as a model for a larger canvas.
The only additions to the plain storefront were little straw mats for sitting. At the rear were two windows, a bathroom door and an unattractive sink. In the middle of the room a bare light bulb hung from a cord. Umapati, Kirtanananda and I sat in the middle of the room and looked around at a half dozen other young men who, like us, didn't know what to expect. We sat quietly and waited for about five minutes. Then the door opened and out came His Divine Grace. He deftly slid the white pointed shoes off his feet, sat down on one of the straw mats and looked out at his new audience. When he saw me he smiled. "You have brought your friends?" I said, "Yes." "Very good," he said and took out a pair of cymbals. He started to play them and sing, " Vande 'ham" and then Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He indicated that we were to answer the chanting of Hare Krsna, and slowly, awkwardly at first, we tried to follow. There were no other instruments—only the clanging of three pairs of cymbals. Eventually we started clapping, but no one got up to dance. I noticed that about a dozen people had gathered outside the window to watch. Srila Prabhupada finally brought the chanting to a close and recited a prayer. Nobody bowed. Nobody knew what to do. We all simply sat in anticipation.
Then he began his lecture, using Bhagavad-gita. I recall that in those early lectures he spoke mainly in terms of Absolute Truth to better communicate with us. No one had the slightest idea what "Krsna" meant. I had read Gita before, and so had my friends, but to us Krsna, at most, was just a literary personification of the Divine, a characterization of Sankaracarya's Self. At that first meeting I had some difficulty understanding what Srila Prabhupada said, but his words nonetheless moved me, and I was interested to hear more. I noticed that my friends were also listening attentively, and most of the others seemed to show respect. Then, incredibly, midway through the lecture, an old white-haired begrizzled Bowery bum entered the storefront and walked right through the middle of the room, past all of us who sat in shocked silence, and on up towards Srila Prabhupada, who sat beneath the back windows. I didn't know what he was about to do, but I noticed that he was carrying a package of paper hand-towels and a couple of rolls of toilet paper. He didn't say a word, but walked right past Srila Prabhupada and carefully placed the hand-towels by the sink and the toilet paper on the floor under the sink. Then, clearing his throat and saying something incoherent, he turned around and walked out. No one knew what to say and no one knew whether or not Srila Prabhupada had been insulted.
"Just see," Srila Prabhupada suddenly said. "He has just begun his devotional service. That is the process. Whatever we have—it doesn't matter what—we must offer it for Krsna's service."
He then concluded his lecture and led another chanting of Hare Krsna. The first chanting lasted forty-five minutes, his lecture lasted at least an hour, and the second chanting lasted around thirty minutes. A couple of people left after the lecture. Americans are simply not accustomed to sitting on the floor for over two hours. After the second kirtana, Srila Prabhupada sliced up an apple and passed it to us on a plate. While this was being distributed, he went out the side door and returned to his apartment in the rear building. I noticed a basket on the front mat in which some people had put a little money. I contributed fifty cents, and then my friends and I left. On our way out one of the boys told us that the next meeting would be Wednesday at seven o'clock but that Srila Prabhupada would also welcome people in his rear apartment during the day.
We attended the next meeting Wednesday night. It followed the same format as the first. After the last kirtana, I went up to Srila Prabhupada and began to question him.
"Have you ever heard of LSD?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"It's a psychedelic drug that comes like a pill, and if you take it you can get religious ecstasies. Do you think that that can help my spiritual life?"
"You don't need to take anything for your spiritual life," he told me. "Your spiritual life is already here."
I agreed with him immediately, although I would have never agreed with anyone else who would have said such a thing. I agreed mainly because he seemed so absolutely positive that there was no question of not agreeing. "Yes, my spiritual life is here," I thought to myself. I knew that he was in a state of exalted consciousness, and I was hoping that somehow he could teach the process to me.
The next morning I went around to his apartment to see him alone. He welcomed me in and told me that he needed help in spreading this philosophy. I noticed that he was typing, and I asked if I could be of any help there. I was a very good typist, and not knowing any other way to help, offered my services. He handed me the first chapter of the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam and asked if I could type it out. I set up a typewriter in his room and began to work.
I typed most of the morning and then told him that if there was any more typing he needed done, to let me know, that I would be glad to take it home. "Oh, I. have lots more," he said, opening his closet door and pulling out two huge bundles of paper tied with saffron cloth. There were thousands of pages in the bundles. I was astounded. It looked like a lifetime of typing.
Early Morning Meetings
The next week, which was the first week in a sultry New York August, a time when the air hangs so hot and heavy that it obscures the tops of buildings with a yellow mist, Srila Prabhupada received a box of handbills which had been donated by a friend. There must have been five thousand of them, and they read: "Practice the transcendental sound vibration Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This chanting will cleanse the dust from the mirror of the mind." Then Srila Prabhupada's name was given and the name of the International Society for Krishna. Consciousness, 26 Second Avenue, and the times of the meetings—7:00 A.M. daily and 7:00 P.M. Monday, Wednesday and Friday. At the bottom of the sheet was the invitation: "You are cordially invited to come and bring your friends." "There they are," Srila Prabhupada told us. "Now you simply have to distribute." I took a handful of the bills. "You think they're all right?" he asked me. I told him I thought they were fine. "We will call our society ISKCON," he then told us, smiling.
"What's that?" I asked. "I-S-K-C-O-N," he spelled the letters out.
"ISKCON—International Society for Krishna Consciousness." Then he laughed. He was obviously having fun. It was also in early August that we began attending the early morning meetings. None of us had ever gotten up before ten or eleven in the morning, but the magnetism of Srila Prabhupada drew us out of our dark Mott Street dens at 6:30 and down from fifth floor apartments into deserted Lower East Side streets. I would walk briskly over to Srila Prabhupada's, chanting Hare Krsna and feeling better than ever before. Miraculously the Lower East Side no longer looked drab. The sidewalks and buildings seemed to sparkle, and in the early morning, before the smog set in, the sky was red and golden. I would sing all the way to his front foyer then ring the buzzer marked A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, and the door would buzz and open, and I would go through the hallway on through the small patio between the back apartment and the storefront and up to his small second floor apartment, tip-toeing quietly in order not to awaken the neighbors.
Those early morning meetings were the most beautiful and most intimate. "Softly," he would say, just lightly touching the cymbals together, and we would barely touch our hands to clap. He would chant "samsara-davanala-lidha-loka" with his eyes closed and sit in the rays of sun that streamed through the windows in the early morning. We would listen, entranced, then join in response to Hare Krsna. Afterwards he would give a copy of Bhagavad-gita to one of us and would have us read the Sanskrit transliterations, correcting our mispronunciations, and then the text. Then he would begin to explain each verse thoroughly. There were only six or eight of us at these meetings, so we had ample opportunity to discuss the philosophy with him. Actually, by Krsna's mercy, I had nothing else to do. I had returned from India with practically no money, and though I hadn't worked for over a year, I wasn't even interested in looking for a job. I did have a feeling, however, that the Bhagavad-gita was a key to a larger consciousness of which I could somehow partake. I desperately wanted a teacher to lead me into a world which I knew existed and which I felt was very near to me, yet somehow could not reach.
Shortly after we distributed the handbills, Srila Prabhupada informed us that he would like to go out into one of the parks to chant. This surprised us all, and after conferring we decided that Washington Square was the best place. It was on a Sunday, when Washington Square is most crowded, that we followed Srila Prabhupada down the side streets of the Lower East Side to the park. There must have been about ten of us then, and I remember the stares Srila Prabhupada's saffron robe, beadbag and pointed white shoes received. It was almost like following a Martian down the street. Somehow he floated through it all, seemingly unaware of the stares, comments and general sensation he was creating.
We walked through the Sunday crowds of Washington Square, and finally Srila Prabhupada chose a place to sit down on the grass next to teenagers who were kissing and playing bongo drums. There was a sign that said "Keep Off the Grass," but everyone ignored it. Srila Prabhupada pulled up his robes and sat comfortably and solidly upon the ground, and we followed suit self-consciously. He played a pair of cymbals and led us chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By that time one of us had acquired a small drum and managed to follow Srila Prabhupada's rhythm. We chanted about three minutes and immediately a crowd gathered around us. I remember one sailor who listened for a few seconds then threw his cigarette to the ground and huffed, "What the hell is this?" Very quickly the police swooped down on us, and one of the policemen asked who was in charge of our group. We could only indicate Srila Prabhupada. The policeman turned to him and said, "Don't you see the sign?" Srila Prabhupada looked again at the "Keep Off the Grass" sign, then smiled charmingly and walked down onto the asphalt. We followed him and asked if he wanted someone to run back to the temple to get a rug, but he said "No," and once more sat down firmly, this time on the hot asphalt, and we sat in a circle around him. We chanted Hare Krsna for about thirty minutes, and the crowd thickened. No one joined in the chant. They were all perplexed. It was the first time that sankirtana had been held before the public in America. After the chanting, Srila Prabhupada told me to read his preface to Srimad-Bhagavatam to the people who had assembled. I remember reading the passage:
"Disparity in the human society is due to the basic principle of a godless civilization. There is God or the Almighty One from whom everything emanates and by whom everything is merged to rest. The material scientist is trying to find out the ultimate source of creation very insufficiently, but it is a fact that there is one ultimate source of everything that be. This ultimate source is explained rationally and authoritatively in the beautiful Bhagavatam or Srimad-Bhagavatam."
When reading this passage, I did not recognize my own voice, for it seemed to me that a larger voice was speaking through me. The kirtana, which was the first that any of us had ever attended in public, had a strangely exhilarating effect on us all. We felt divinely intoxicated, and I marveled at the unusual power of the mantra when chanted publicly. Actually Lord Caitanya specifically recommended sankirtana, or the public chanting of Hare Krsna amidst many people, for this age of chaos (Kali).
After the kirtana, we asked Srila Prabhupada whether he thought our public performance successful. He was so happy with it that he requested that we go out every afternoon and chant in the streets and parks. Following his request, about six or eight of us would walk around the Village in the afternoon and even up and down the narrow streets of Chinatown, playing a bongo drum and cymbals and chanting the magic mantra. We must have looked pretty ragged, and I'm sure we didn't make much of an impression, but there was lots of spirit. Despite our bumbling selves, Srila Prabhupada had launched Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement in the Western world.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
India's "Nightingale" Sings for Krsna
Lata Mangeshkar, the world's most prolific recording artist (with more than twenty thousand songs to her credit), recently went on a rare concert tour of North America.
Known as "the nightingale of India," the humble Miss Mangeshkar has won the Padma Bushan, India's highest national award, and so many "Filmfare" awards (her country's equivalent of the Oscar) that she's had to declare herself ineligible for more. Time magazine called her "the indisputable and indispensable queen of India's playback singers."
When she went on stage last January 30 at Los Angeles' Shrine Auditorium, Miss Mangeshkar told her audience, "I'm giving this concert as a benefit program for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The proceeds are going to a cultural theater they're building in Bombay." She then captivated her fans with a three-hour concert beginning with the Bhagavad-gita and going on to the popular songs that have made her India's most famous vocalist.
"I began singing at age five," she said after the concert. "My father taught me our classical music—ragas from the Vedas. When I was a child, I learned to sing only for God." And why the benefit concert? "My whole family are members of the Hare Krsna society... When I sing for Lord Krsna; everything is complete."
Devotees Delight Indian Villagers
During the last few weeks the residents of over forty villages along the holy Yamuna and Ganges Rivers have been startled—and delighted—by an unusual sight: a lively group of ISKCON devotees riding into town in a bullock cart. Dressed in flowing saffron robes and loudly playing drums and small cymbals, the devotees quickly draw a crowd with their enthusiastic chanting of Hare Krsna and then liberally distribute free, sanctified food (prasada) and Krsna-conscious literature written in the local language.
Srila Prabhupada recently requested a few of his disciples to begin this ancient, Vedic method of sankirtana (spreading the glories of the Lord), and under the guidance of His Holiness Lokanatha Swami the program is meeting with great success in the simple villages of rural India.
Alice Coltrane: A New Album
Just arrived in the stores is a new release by Alice Coltrane; wife of the late master saxophonist John Coltrane. The current Warner LP, Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana ("singing the names of Radha and Krsna"), features Arjuna John Coltrane, Jr., on drums and Alice (Turiyasangitananda) on keyboards and harp. "The Hare Krsna mantra," she says about one cut, "is the Maha-mantra—Maha: great—of all the mantras... It is a liberating mantra because it contains three of the most powerful names of the Supreme."
Religion Professor Praises ISKCON
Is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness a pseudo-religious "cult" or a genuine religious culture? Here's what Dr. George Bond, Assistant Professor of Religion at Chicago's Northwestern University, said recently about ISKCON:
"The Krishna Society represents a Western outgrowth of a living religious movement in India which goes back over two thousand years. Since my field of study is Eastern religions, I have been interested to observe many of the Eastern religious movements which have arisen in the U.S. and to compare them with the beliefs and practices of the religions of Asia, If you make this comparison; you will find that in every respect the Krishna Society reflects the authentic teachings of Hinduism. Their religion centers around the ideas of one of the main Indian holy books, Bhagavad-gita, the book which Mahatma Gandhi read daily as his chief inspiration. They follow a peaceful philosophy stressing the unity of all beings and God's love for humanity. They have brought this religion, which is followed by millions of Indians, and established it in the West as an alternative and a complement to Western religions.
"Their books represent translations of some of the most important Hindu scriptures as well as commentaries upon Indian philosophy. These books exemplify the highest ideals of Indian thought. To quote but one opinion of these books, Dr. John L. Mish, head of the Oriental Division of the New York Public Library, has said, '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 founder of the Krishna Society, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, stands in the best tradition of Indian religion. Describing this man's writings, Professor J. Bruce Long of Cornell University has said, 'A.C. Bhaktivedanta has combined a healthy mixture of the devotion and aesthetic sensitivity of a believer, and the intellectual rigor of a textual scholar.' "
Why is meditation becoming so popular these days? What does a person feel while meditating that is so enjoyable? To answer these questions, psychologist Lawrence Le Shan interviewed many meditators. To Le Shan, the comment that best summed up the meditational experience was, "It's like coming home."
"Home," of course, is a secure and happy place where we feel that we belong and are loved for being our real selves. Home is filled with relatives and friends who support us. Home protects us from the world's dangers, while allowing us to learn of that very same world's opportunities for our happiness. But today, unfortunately, the feeling of being "at home" is an increasingly rare one.
Philosophers, psychologists, and politicians describe our times with words like "anxiety," "despair," "conflict," "hot war," "cold war," and "future shock." Social commentators tell us that our society is growing more and more mechanical, impersonal, and unsympathetic to human needs. Even in wealthy and relatively secure countries like the United States, families incessantly move from one neighborhood or apartment to another, and if by chance one has physical security, there still remains a pervasive feeling of psychological homelessness. People don't know where, amid society's constant change and crass commercialism, to put their allegiance, where to rest their hearts. Finally, even the simplest life functions (drinking water, eating, and breathing) can now cause us anxiety because of the threat of pollution.
It's natural for us to want to feel at home. Yet, as we see, our uptight, breakneck-speed civilization fails to give us that homey feeling. In fact, modern civilization often frightens us, sends our blood pressure soaring, makes our adrenalin flow, and forces us to seek strong relief. Some people fight their fear with drink, drugs, and/or television. Still, this type of relief is temporary, superficial, and hardly pleasing. Dulling the awareness of a problem doesn't solve it.
In seeking a more permanent and satisfactory solution to these problems, many people (including doctors and psychologists) have now turned towards meditation and have gotten impressive results. Dr. Daniel Goleman reports that "the ability to handle stress increases with practice in meditation." Scientists are discovering that meditation can significantly improve a person's physical and mental health. Dr. Le Shan notes "a greater efficiency and enthusiasm in the everyday life [of meditators]." And meditation achieves all this without any harmful side effects.
What's more, when we read time-tested manuals of meditation (the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, for instance), we. find that peace of mind and relief from stress are only pleasant by-products associated with the meditator's attainment of an even higher goal.
For one thing, as the Bhagavad-gita explains, meditation clears away a person's ignorance and unhealthy habits naturally, without harmful repressions, by, allowing him to experience a higher pleasure. For example, people smoke cigarettes and indulge in alcohol and drugs because they derive a certain pleasure from them. However, during the practice of meditation, the meditator gradually experiences greater and greater degrees of an internal pleasure that supplants his desire for unhealthy substances. This same principle works to remedy harmful psychological reactions like anxiety, stress, or unwarranted anger. Meditation permits the individual to contact the healthy psychological tendencies already existing within himself. This experience of health is so intrinsically rewarding that the meditator naturally begins to gravitate towards these healthy tendencies in everyday life.
The source of this higher pleasure experienced in meditation is an unfettered and enlightened self. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that this enlightened state "is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self." The Gita also explains that when a meditator links his individual consciousness in a loving, reciprocal relationship with the Supreme Being (God, or Krsna), the experience of enlightenment develops to its highest potential and becomes permanent. "Being situated in such a position,'' says the Gita, "one is never shaken, even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries..."
While moving towards this goal, the meditator literally has the feeling of "going back home," as His Divine Grace A. C, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes it. "Home," in this context, means that the individual realizes his true identity and is able to act on it. Meditation, then, not only relieves distress, but also promotes the fullest possible expression of the human spirit.
Or, as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. The best way to defend ourselves from stress, alienation, and the feeling of homelessness, is to adopt a practice that will move us in the positive direction of going "back home," back to our real selves and a loving relationship with Krsna, or God.
The Technique Of Meditation
As Geraldine Coster says in Yoga and Western Psychology, "Modern religion does not stress the search for self-awareness sufficiently to appeal to the scientific or even to the critically intelligent mind." Coster feels that meditation does appeal to this type of person, because meditation is a practical technique whose beneficial results he meditator experiences for himself.
To achieve the beneficial effects of meditation doesn't require any mental or intellectual adjustments, as, for instance, the prior acceptance of a set of beliefs. The very practice of meditation enlightens consciousness to the point where the individual experiences truth, experiences reality, by direct perception. In other words, meditation embodies the scientific and nonsectarian spirit that so attracts modern people.
The question now arises, What meditational technique is best suited for our times? The amazing proliferation of "consciousness-raising" techniques has confused many people; but if we again consult classical authorities on the subject, we find reassuring unanimity: both respected teachers and books strongly recommend oral mantra meditation as the best means of experiencing self-realization and higher pleasure in this day and age. And modern psychologists like Dr. John Heider (in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology) are quick to agree. Meditation and mantras are, in Heider's words, "as necessary to a life of growth as regular brushing is to dental hygiene."
Dr. Abraham Maslow explains that a person can know whether or not a process is working for him if "...it feels better subjectively than any other alternative. The new experience validates' itself... It is self-justifying, self-validating." The practice of mantra meditation quickly proves itself to be the kind of self-justifying, self-validating experience that Maslow is talking about here.
Oral mantra meditation is easy to learn and pleasant to practice. After you read the following instructions, you can immediately start to practice meditation in your own home, without incurring costly initiation fees.
Five hundred years ago, in India, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ushered in the modern age of mantra meditation by freely initiating everyone—regardless of race, religion, or social-status—into the chanting of the most effective mantra of all, the once-secret Hare Krsna ["Huh-ray Krish-na"] Mahamantra.
Maha means "great," man means "mind,"' and tra means "release." Mahamantra, then, means "the great sound vibration to release the mind from undesirable conditions." In the Psychology of Consciousness Dr. Robert E. Ornstein says, "Actually, the 'magic' lies in the sound of the words, which are designed to have a certain effect on consciousness." By simply hearing the sound of a mantra, a person clears his mind of unfavorable psychological qualities and simultaneously cultivates favorable qualities.
There is no need for a private mantra. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu democratized meditation by making the Hare Krsna mantra available on the most liberal terms to everyone. He taught, "There are no hard and fast rules, for chanting... A person can chant the Hare Krsna mantra anywhere, at any time, either to relieve distress or to advance in self-realization. However, the early morning is an especially favorable time for meditating. Also, the practice of Hare Krsna mantra meditation proceeds more smoothly when you set aside a specific amount of time per day for meditating. Set aside a convenient amount of time that fits into your schedule, and, if possible, gradually increase your practice up to an hour or more. You can arrange your practice in two or more sessions during the day or evening.
To chant the Hare Krsna mantra, assume any comfortable position, except a slouching or reclining one (you'll just become drowsy). You can chant while sitting, while standing, or while walking. You can keep your eyes open or closed, or you can alternate between open and closed eyes. Repeat the mantra (Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) audibly to yourself for as long a time as you intend to meditate. (Make sure that you move your lips and jaw as in pronouncing ordinary words.) You can chant as loudly or as softly as you like. You can vary your pitch and inflection too. Remember, "There are no hard and fast rules." Meditation is a personal science, and people aren't machines. There's no mechanical way to develop your potential. If a meditational technique is to succeed, then it has to be as natural, free, and expressive as you yourself are. Rather, than stifling your personal, self-expressive tendencies, the Hare Krsna technique works with these tendencies to stimulate natural, flowing meditation.
While you're chanting, simply fix your mind on hearing the sound of the mantra. When you talk, it's natural for you to listen to your voice, During meditation, direct this natural attentiveness to hearing the mantra. The quality of your meditation will depend on how well you do this.
It's true that in the course of a meditation your mind may wander or daydream. When this happens, don't fight it, just bring your attention back to hearing the mantra. As Sri Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (6.26), "From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self." Srila Prabhupada explains, "The mind is naturally restless... but it can rest in the sound vibration of Krsna." The mind is seeking knowledge and pleasure, and be cause the mind find' these things in the sound of the Hare Krsna mantra, it becomes peaceful and satisfied.
The words of the Hare Krsna mantra come from the ancient Sanskrit language. Hare means "one who takes away all mental disturbances" and "one who awakens all healthy qualities." Hare also means "the energy or pleasure potency of God." Krsna and Rama are personal names for God. Krsna means "all-attractive." Rama means "reservoir of pleasure." When a meditator repeats these sounds, the mantra gradually unfolds its meaning to him and enhances his personal development.
You now have everything that you need to start practicing meditation in your own home. Simply repeat the Hare Krsna mantra and listen to the sound. Progress will follow automatically. One last hint—your rate of progress will also depend on the sincerity of your feeling while you chant. Again, meditation is a personal science.
If you encounter any difficulties or have any questions about Hare Krsna mantra meditation or about meditation in general, get in touch with your nearest Krsna center (listed on page 28) or write me, Daniel Maziarz, care of BACK To GODHEAD magazine. And have a gentle, pleasant journey ''back home."
If it's been some years since you last visited an art exhibit, you may be in for a surprise. Far from a Da Vinci or Michelangelo rendering of a pastoral scene or the Pieta, you're likely to see an oversized ceramic cigarette butt, or maybe a 7,200-meter line (drawn on paper and rolled into a chrome-plated can for display), or perhaps a couple of realistic vinyl eyeballs, or an empty canvas, or... nothing at all—the artist's statement may be to lock you out of the gallery.
Art critic and lecturer Peter Hawkins says, "One New York artist did his piece de resistance by going into the Museum of Modern Art and spraying Picasso's Guernica with dayglow paint. They put him in jail, but he got reviews in all the art magazines. Now his work is in great demand." Says Hawkins, an associate of London's Royal College of Art, "What's been happening is that people have been using art to sell their products, and now art itself has become just another product. For an artist in a money-oriented society, the most important thing is selling. His bread and butter depends on whether someone's going to buy his painting. So if he's going to survive as an artist, he's forced to come up with the unusual, the bizarre. He ends up literally battling with other artists for recognition. He has to sacrifice something—his integrity—to attract attention to himself."
According to Hawkins, artists haven't always been in such a plight. "If we look back into our history as far as we can see," he says, "art was an expression of an inner vision, it was a kind of sacrifice to the divine. The ancient Greeks worshiped and honored Athena in their artwork. The early Christian artists, up to the Renaissance, painted exclusively about Christ. When people came to see their work painted on a church wall, they became enthralled with devotion. Even during the Renaissance, when artists like Da Vinci became scientists, they used their discoveries of new techniques to evoke a sense of devotion in their viewers. As soon as the Florentine artists discovered perspective in painting, they used it to depict the life of Christ more realistically. Techniques were never ends in themselves. Wherever you look before the Renaissance, you'll find that artists were painting with devotion. Instead of attracting attention to themselves, they attracted attention to God."
Nathan Zakheim, art consultant for the University of California and the city of San Francisco, claims that the devotional spirit in art is still alive. "We have an Athens here," says an enthusiastic Zakheim about the art academy he directs in a palm-lined section of West Los Angeles. "We're trying to have that open forum where our work flows naturally from our purpose in living. All the artists here paint from a spirit of devotion that's continually expanding."
Zakheim (Nara-narayana dasa) agrees with critic Hawkins that traditionally, art was mystical and austere. "But gradually," he says, "artists started flattering and catering to their patrons. Fine art lost its devotional and mystical quality when artists started trying just to satisfy their wealthy patrons. So in terms of art history, our academy is harking back to that original concept—painting to express a higher reality and to bring out the natural sense of devotion in the person who sees it."
The academy Zakheim directs began in the late sixties, when His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada came to America to introduce ancient India's Vedic culture—the wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita and the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. While still in India preparing for his task, Srila Prabhupada had called for "a cultural presentation for the re-spiritualization of the entire human society... There is a need," he wrote, "for a spiritual atmosphere... a clue as to how humanity can become one in peace, friendship and prosperity with a common cause."
"Srila Prabhupada founded the art academy," says Zakheim, "upon that spirit of a 'common cause.' What's unique here is that all of us who paint see our work as part of a greater art—practicing the yoga of devotion. We paint from a desire to understand our higher selves, our spiritual selves, and to relate to others on that higher level. So our artwork stays free from the kind of nihilistic imagery that assaults you when you walk into a gallery today. We're trying to produce an art that is positive, creative, and inspirational."
Five hundred years ago, Michelangelo expressed a similar thought. "True artistic inspiration," he said, "is not derived from the material world. The visible world has value only in reflecting the divine idea."
The artists at the academy are currently painting passages from an ancient 18,000-verse epic called Srimad-Bhagavatam (The Beautiful Story of the Personality of Godhead). Written in Sanskrit and translated into English by Srila Prabhupada, the Bhagavatam is India's greatest spiritual classic. It describes the all-attractive personal nature of the absolute, Sri Krsna, and the highly evolved spiritual life-styles that attraction for Krsna inspired in people. "If you're sensitive to the sublime personal relationships found in the Bhagavatam," Zakheim says, "you'll expand your own awareness thousands of times. As artists, we're trying to paint these historical personalities in a way that's as authentic as possible. By illustrating their spotless character and way of living, we're trying to show them some respect. That in itself will be sufficiently evocative."
Whether the academy's paintings create a significant impact in the art world remains to be seen. Already, however, a few critics have spoken highly of them. After viewing some of the paintings, Professor John La Plante of Stanford University termed them "works of art of a higher visual order. They have," he said, "a remarkable sense of realism. They're not painted in the symbolic manner that's common in Indian paintings; rather, they contain a visual precision which is amazing. The images are so convincing that they quit being symbols and become reality."
Mr. Burton Frederickson, the curator of California's J. Paul Getty Museum, found the academy's paintings "fascinating. I am impressed that the artists are reviving traditional techniques similar to those used by classical artists. The traditional aspects of the craft are pretty much forgotten today, and the academy's efforts to revive them are very commendable."
Royal College associate Peter Hawkins observes that the paintings are "saturated with devotion. The quality of devotion seems to vibrate in them." Hawkins compares them with the works of Fra Angelico, whose frescos depicting the life of Christ are world-renowned. For Hawkins, the academy's paintings "need to be felt within the heart rather than directly perceived with the eye. I feel that I'm looking into a purely spiritual space. With each viewing I'm learning something new."
With techniques that have been all but forgotten, and imagery that is startlingly new to Western viewers, the academy's art promises to create quite a stir. "Some will say we're turning the clock back a hundred years," says Zakheim, "while others will call it the most progressive art movement of the day. That's not so important to us. We're not trying to make popular images. What we are trying to do is get a kind of introspection and inspiration from God, who we hope will guide us to a clearer and clearer understanding of how to paint. If somehow we have that inspiration, naturally people who see our work will also become inspired. They'll see that all over the world we need a spiritual standard of living to free us from our malaise. And when that happens, there will be a Renaissance to end all renaissances!"
Navayauvana: What is your background as an artist?
Jayarama: I can say that my painting started off with music, because as a child I studied music more than I studied art. I spent most of my time practicing and playing the piano. When I reached sixteen or seventeen I started to become more interested in visual arts, and I began drawing quite a bit. Then I went to study drawing at Washington University, In St. Louis, at the school of fine arts there. I studied under one teacher for two years, and in my third year I was majoring in painting. A lot of problems came up, because my idea of painting and the idea of the teachers was entirely different. They were into very contemporary trends, and I guess they thought of me as a reactionary, because all my paintings were full of detail and mostly visionary. They thought my work was too insubstantial; it wasn't outrageous enough. So I spent my whole third year in college fighting it out with these teachers. Finally I just left, about six weeks before the end of that year, and I went to Europe to see the museums and all the great paintings that I'd been studying for years. Then I came back and kept painting. I went to live in an isolated little spot in Arkansas for awhile so that I could paint in a more peaceful atmosphere. Then I went back to St. Louis, where I started finding out about Krsna consciousness—going to the temple now and then, and learning about Krsna. I was always looking for beauty in art, truth in art, and I always appreciated art that pointed in a high direction. I was looking for beautiful form, and when I started to hear about Krsna, His form was something I naturally became interested in. So I read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and got to know a few devotees. It was all very attractive. It made a lot of sense to me, and I turned toward Krsna consciousness for inspiration in my art work.
Navayauvana: Previous to this, were there any influences in your art work?
Jayarama: I've always been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo's work—the more I study it, the more real it become to me. His landscapes are so endlessly deep and mysterious. They're full of a vital, creative energy that's always pulling upwards. Also, Fra Angelico, as far as devotional painters go—to me he's the greatest. He said that before he would even pick up a paintbrush he'd pray, and as he was painting the face of Christ he would be crying. For him Christ was a very real experience. That devotion he felt for Christ can be seen in his compositions. Everything he painted was glowing with devotion and simplicity. It's the sort of simplicity that reflects higher truths, right in the line and right in the color. Also, I've always like Indian sculpture, because it's the finest example of perfect form and ideal beauty. The, too, there's always the symmetry of a leaf, or the color of sky.... All these things influence me as an artist.
Navayauvana: Now that you're painting for Krsna, do you find any difference in your role as an artist?
Jayarama: I've always felt a kind of need to glorify God in my work, because painting is something He's given me. And now I have that desire even more. I'm mostly interested in trying to show how beautiful Krsna is. He's great and H's beautiful; He's kind and He's compassionate. I just want to try to remind people that God is actually a very beautiful and kind. Person. Whether it takes me ten years to do a painting or ten days, I have to glorify Krsna the best I can. Anything less than that I consider very unsatisfactory and very frustrating.
Navayauvana: Did you ever want to become a great artist?
Jayarama: I don't care if I'm a 'great artist' or not. I just want my art to point toward the mysteries and the beauties of the truth, that's all. Whether it comes into the context of being great or famous, that doesn't matter so much If I feel that it evokes the desire to understand something higher and to appreciate a higher beauty, that's what I care about—because that's the experience I have with it, and that's the experience I would like to share. And if it becomes 'great,' fine; if it doesn't, fine. That doesn't matter, as long as I can somehow point toward that higher direction.
Navayauvana: How has chanting Hare Krsna affected your work?
Jayarama: Well, I can just follow my own progression. My conception of form, my standards of beauty—they've all become so much higher since I've taken chanting seriously.
Navayauvana: Specifically, I'd like to know how the chanting affects your creativity.
Jayarama: I guess a lot of people think that it limits individuality and kind of groups everyone together, right? Because everyone's chanting in the same place, doing the same thing, externally it seems very uninteresting. But, internally, I know if you take it seriously... I mean, I don't take chanting nearly as seriously as I should... but when I do take it seriously, there's nothing but very positive results. Chanting is a link with God, and we're eternally individual parts of God—whole, complete parts. When you chant, your completeness, your individuality, becomes more manifest. And as your individual personality begins to come out, your higher perceptions begin to open up. It's a spiritual vibration, so naturally spiritual vibrations are going to open up all those higher channels of consciousness. And chanting can also manifest itself in form. Not that I've experienced this directly myself, but indirectly I've experienced it within my work—a spiritual sense of beauty, color, and form. Chanting opens a new spiritual dimension.
Navayauvana: In other words, rather than restricting your creativity, chanting does just the opposite.
Jayarama: Oh, definitely. Anyone who can think that chanting is restricting creativity doesn't know anything about chanting.
Navayauvana: So overall, creativity seems to have an important role in your devotional life.
Jayarama: I think creativity should be there in all aspects of life. Why be uncreative? Krsna is the most creative person, and we all come from Him. So why not be creative? We can create beautiful things and give them back to Krsna.
Navayauvana: In what ways do you think Krsna-conscious art is unique?
Jayarama: It's unique in that it's presenting a clear understanding of what truth is, a clear understanding of the original person, Krsna-what He looks like, what He does, how He relates to people... When we talk about truth, until we talk about Krsna we're missing so much. Even if Krsna is not mentioned, there are still high forms of art. But art remains incomplete until it contains an awareness of Krsna. Then art can express the highest aspects of truth.
Navayauvana: Do you have any personal goals as an artist?
Jayarama: Oh, yes. I just want to become more honest and sincere in my work. Hopefully, that will give some pleasure to my spiritual master and anyone else who sees it.
Though a mass of gray was moving in across the northwest sky, the sun was still shining. As he ambled down the shrubby slope to the beachfront below, the man felt a chilly breeze coming through the trees. He turned up his collar and made his way more quickly to the little boat dock, with its slats of soggy old wood.
"Boatman! Take me across!"
Professor Perkins wasn't what you'd call an old man—graying, to be sure; but still sprightly, even athletic-looking. In the subcontinent's academic circles, he had long been a man to watch. There was perhaps no one who could match his fertile wit, his sweeping command and instant recall in practically every field of higher learning.
The boatman had seen better days (not that they'd really been much better, of course). His body bent from thousands of hours' paddling in the sun, he was carrying on to keep his family fed and a roof over their heads. As the scholar leaped lithely onto the deck and sat himself down beneath the hooped ,cabin roof, the boatman bowed from the waist. He recalled an old adage: a king is respected in his own realm, but a learned man is respected all over the world.
"Boatman," ,the scholar opened, "the water is becoming rather choppy. While you're out here have you ever thought about the relationship between total torque and crosscurrent impact?"
"No, sir, I can't say that I have."
"For one thing, a more streamlined apparatus should likely yield a greater mechanical advantage. But then, I don't suppose you've studied much about physics, have you?"
"None at all, sir. I just row this boat across the bay."
"Mmmm. Boatman, it appears that you've wasted twenty-five percent of your life."
A little later, the scholar asked, "Boatman, have you ever looked into statistics and probability?—I'm thinking here of Gaussian or possibly Poisson distribution. With all these dark clouds coming in over us; do you have any idea what a graph of storm probability would look like?"
"No sir, I never have studied whatever it is you're talking about. I don't know what you mean."
"You mean you've never studied advanced mathematics? Ah, then, my dear fellow; you should know that you've surely wasted fifty percent of your life."
"You're probably right, sir. I just row this boat across the bay. By the way, there seems to be a big storm coming."
As the boat began to heave and the sky took on a dark glow, the scholar said, "Tell me, boatman, do you know anything about gauging deviations from the STP—standard temperature and pressure—to forecast wind velocity in a storm center?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I really don't."
"You're a bit dense, boatman, aren't you? Are you telling me that you've never learned anything about meteorology?"
"I guess I haven't, sir."
"Well, then, you've wasted a full seventy-five percent of your life! What do you have to say for yourself?!"
"I just row this boat across the bay—say, hold on tight! It's really raining and blowing hard!"
Just then the boat capsized. While the boatman floated and readied himself to finish the crossing, the scholar flailed out from within his waterlogged suitcoat, as if to hook the sky with his umbrella handle.
"Sir! We'll have to swim the rest of the way!"
"But...I can't swim!"
"Then it looks as though you've wasted a hundred percent of your life!
Whatever else we may learn in our life's voyage, there's one thing we all need to know: how—when death "capsizes" our material body—to, cross safely to the spiritual world. So, while the West's technological science can make our voyage more comfortable, we need the East's spiritual science to make it successful.