The International Society of 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
Visakha-devi dasi (right): "When I frist met the devotees, I had no interest in spiritual life. But my work as a writer forced me to talk and argue with them. Eventually I met rila Prabhupada, the spiritual master of the Hare Krsna movement, and read his books. My faith and understanding slowly grew, despite myself. The scriptures and the saints and spiritual masters through the ages all say that chanting the Lord's holy names is the best way to make spiritual advancement in this idfficult time. Besides, it's practical; it works. Materially and spiritually, my life has changed for the better since I've been chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra."
Turiyasangitananda (Alice Coltrane) musician (left): "When you're chanting the maha-mantra, your soul responds, because the soul knows these names. The soul relates to them, the soul is enlivened, the soul is lifted up upon hearing the names of the Lord. It's something people whould open their hearts to and experience. They don't have to be any certain age—they can even be children. And they don't even have to understand the meaning of the words. Whether they understand or not, the hearing of that chanting is going to produce their spiritual good."
Satyasena dasa, book distributor (above): "Each day when I go to distribute my spiritual master's books, I see that everyone is looking for happiness from sensual satisfaction. My job is to let them know they can get a higher pleasure from chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Since God is absolute, He is personally present in His name—Krsna which means 'the all-attractive.' So chanting Hare Krsna is the most satisfying, beautiful experience, because it puts you directly in touch with the most satisfying, beautiful person."
In Gainesville (home of the University of Florida) there's one fraternity that's quite differemt from the others. At the Radha-Krsna temple (pictured left) everyone chants the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. So they anturally relate to one another (and to everyone else) as kindred souls—fully happy and satisfied in their relationship with the Supreme Friend, Krsna.
Find out more about Krsna consciousness in this issue of BACK TO GODHEAD.
German pessimist philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) thought that nirvana, (freedom from suffering) means becoming desireless—putting an end to our will. But His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada disagrees....
Hayagriva dasa: Arthur Schopenhauer was a nineteenth-century German philosopher who took some of his ideas from the Indian Vedic literature. For Schopenhauer, happiness meant inactive satisfaction—nirvana. Since he thought that the will to enjoy the material world is the irrational urge that brings about all suffering, he advocated the extinction of the will. In his main book, The World as Will and Idea, he wrote, "The Indian Vedas and Puranas have no better simile than a dream for the actual [material] world, which they call 'the web of maya,' and they use none more frequently." From this Schopenhauer concluded, "Life is a long dream... What is this world of perception but my idea?" He goes on to conclude that life is a projection of the will.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, material life is a projection of the material will, or material desire. And nirvana means that material desires are finished. But the living entity cannot be desireless, because he is an eternal spiritual being. Thus, even when he finishes his material desires, he still has spiritual desires. In the materially conditioned state, these spiritual desires are covered by material desires, but in any case desire is the constant companion of the soul, or living entity.
The soul transmigrates in this material world from one body to another, and he creates desires according to the type of body he gets. God's supreme will affords the living entity various bodies so that he can fulfill his minute will, which is made up of material desires. In other words, the living entity wills something, and the supreme will (God, or Krsna), understanding the finite will of the living entity, gives him facilities to fulfill his particular desire. In this way, the will of the living entities is the cause of this material existence.
However, Schopenhauer was wrong in thinking that you can become happy by extinguishing your will. Since you are a living being, you must always have desires. If your desires are stopped, you become like a stone. So instead of trying to put an end to all desire, you should try to cleanse the diseased form of desire (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam). That cleansing process is Krsna consciousness (bhakti). Presently our desires are desires of the body. When the living entity acquires the body of an American, a European, a Chinaman, or whatever, he desires like a human being. When he changes his body to that of a dog, he spends his time barking. According to his desires he has received a particular type of body. But these desires are temporary, and thus the living entity moves from one body to another. Because he is materially covered, he considers the temporary world to be reality; but because it is constantly changing, it is not. Therefore, in one sense, this material world is all a dream.
Hayagriva dasa: And trying to enjoy this dream is the source of frustration?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because it is a fact that we cannot fulfill our material desires, which come and go like dreams. All material activities, subtle or gross, are manifestations of various dreamlike desires. Therefore the impersonalist Mayavadi philosophers say brahma satyam, jagan mithya:
"The dreamer is a fact, but the dream is false." Our Vaisnava philosophy agrees that the dreamer is the factual living entity; but we say that the dream of this material world is not false—but temporary. Therefore the dreamer has to come to the real, eternal spiritual platform so that his flickering material dreams can be extinguished. As explained in the Narada-pancaratra,
"Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects: he becomes free from all false material designations, and his senses become purified." When one abandons the dream and awakens to reality, that is Krsna consciousness, or bhakti.
Hayagriva dasa: Then will, or desire, can never be annihilated?
Srila Prabhupada: No, not even for a second. It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita [3.5] that we cannot live for a second without desires. Because we are living, we must will and desire.
Hayagriva dasa: What about the Buddhists? They advocate a state of desirelessness.
Srila Prabhupada: They believe that if you dismantle this material body, there will no longer be will, desire, or suffering. But this is not a fact. The fact is that you are an eternal spirit soul; you do not die after the destruction of the body. Consequently, thinking, feeling, and willing are actually carried from this body to another body in the process of transmigration. When the body dies, the living entity's will carries him away, and according to the quality of his will, he receives another body. That body may be the body of a demigod, a dog, a human, or whatever. In any case, will or desire is the carrier.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer was greatly influenced by some of the Vedic writings. He wrote, "Every keen pleasure is an error and an illusion, for no attained wish can give lasting satisfaction.... All pain rests on the absence or passing away of such illusory pleasure. Thus both pain and pleasure arise from defective knowledge. The wise man, therefore, holds himself equally aloof from joy and sorrow, and no event disturbs his composure."
Srila Prabhupada: In this material world people say, "This is good, and that is bad." But actually there is no question of good and bad, because everything material is on the temporary platform. Also, the Bhagavad-gita states that the pains and pleasures experienced in the material world do not touch the spirit soul. When a spirit soul is under the illusion that he is his material body, he becomes concerned with the body's pains and pleasures—because he thinks that those pains and pleasures are his. But this is not a fact. Therefore Krsna advises,
matra-sparsas tu kaunteya
"O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O descendant of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed" [Bg. 2.14]. Since pleasures and pains come and go in due course, they are not the reality. So why bother about them? If I feel pain, let me tolerate it and go about my business of serving Krsna.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer saw happiness in the world as at best a negative state—simply a momentary suspension of suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is explained by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Sometimes when a man is to be punished, he is held under water to the point of suffocation. Then he is let up, and when he can finally breathe, he thinks, "Ah! Happiness at last!" But he is then immersed in the water for another period of suffering. So the point is that real happiness means to be relieved of suffering permanently, not for just a few moments.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer felt that the greatest crime of man was that he was ever born.
Srila Prabhupada: That's all right, but when you understand that there is a crime, you must understand that there is someone to punish you for that crime. If you suffer because of that crime, you must understand that there is someone who has judged you to be a criminal.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer would disagree. He wrote, "Human life must be some kind of mistake." And because he thought the world mad or irrational, he concluded that it could not possibly have an author. He believed that if there were a God, He would have set the world in order.
Srila Prabhupada: We have certainly experienced that there are madmen in the world, but there are also hospitals where such men can be treated. The world may be mad, but God is providing hospitalization and treatment—the process of Krsna consciousness. Unfortunately, Schopenhauer had no knowledge of the hospital or the treatment. He speaks of sinful life, but he does not accept the judge who gives the punishment for sinful life. He sees that the world is mad, but he does not know the treatment for madmen.
Hayagriva dasa: In The World as Will and Idea, Schopenhauer wrote, "If we narrowly analyze the reality of our body and its actions... we find nothing in it except the will; with this the body's reality is exhausted." He goes on to state that "the genitals are the focus of the will."
Srila Prabhupada: As I said before, one wills in accordance with his body. We should understand that we have nothing to do with this material world, which is the production of the material will. We are spiritual, and when we will spiritually, we are Krsna conscious. When we will materially, we get different types of material bodies. It is true that the basis of material life is sex. Yan maithunadi-grhamedhi-sukham hi tuccham: "The basic principle of those who are addicted to the material world is maithuna, sexual intercourse." This strong desire for sex will continue as long as we are in material existence, because sex is the center of all material pleasure. However, when we get a taste of spiritual pleasure—pleasure in Krsna consciousness—we can give up sex. Param drstva nivartate: by experiencing a superior pleasure, we can give up an inferior one.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer considered sex to be selfishness, whereas real love means sympathy.
Srila Prabhupada: Sex is animalistic. It is not love but lust. Sex simply means the mutual satisfaction of the material senses, and that is lust. All this lust is taking place under the name of love, and out of illusion people mistake this lust for love. One who has real love—love for Krsna and for all living entities—thinks, "People are suffering from a lack of Krsna consciousness. Let me do something for them so that they can understand the value of life."
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer considered that immoral acts result from a sense of egoism.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is so. To be immoral means to avoid surrendering to the will of Krsna. Immoral people think, "Why should I surrender to Krsna? Krsna is a person, and I also am a person." Such thinking is demonic. Rascals cannot understand that by surrendering unto the supreme will and satisfying the supreme will, they can attain salvation.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer felt that it is possible to crush egoism and desire by love.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—but we must direct that love toward Krsna. If I do not love Krsna, I cannot surrender to Him, and if I do not surrender to Krsna, my false egoism will continue. So the more you love Krsna, the more your surrender is perfect. But when there is a lack of love, the mentality by which you can surrender will not develop. For instance, if you have some love for me, you will carry out my orders. There is no question of forcing you to surrender. Or take the example of a child: a small child naturally surrenders to his parents because there is love for the parents. In the same way, the living entity is free to love Krsna or to reject Him. Without freedom, there cannot be love. Therefore Krsna consciousness means learning to love Krsna.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer looked on love as compassionate sympathy for one who is suffering. Through this compassionate love we can lose our selfish desire.
Srila Prabhupada: Why should we love those who are suffering but not those who are enjoying?
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer saw everyone as suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we agree to this. Everyone within material nature is suffering. Therefore Krsna descends and speaks the Bhagavad-gita to deliver all fallen souls. Similarly, a Vaisnava [a devotee of Visnu (Krsna)] takes sannyasa, the renounced order, out of compassion for others—because a sannyasi's only duty is to preach the message of Krsna consciousness. People in this world are suffering because of ignorance. They think, "Oh, now I have a nice car, an apartment, and a girl friend; therefore I am happy." Actually, this is not happiness but suffering. Because the Vaisnava loves Krsna and understands that he is part and parcel of Krsna, he realizes that the conditioned living entities are suffering for want of Krsna consciousness. Therefore, out of compassion the Vaisnava takes sannyasa and goes forth to preach.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer saw the pleasures of this world as ultimately frustrating.
Srila Prabhupada: If he had taken his frustration seriously, it might have made him successful. I receive many letters from frustrated students who understand that frustration is hell. Eventually they come to understand that they should seek the real shelter—Krsna consciousness. So frustration is really not so bad. If you are put into a dangerous position and you know how to save yourself from it, that very danger can become a source of pleasure for you.
Hayagriva dasa: In The World as Will and Idea, Schopenhauer wrote, "Eternal becoming, endless flux, characterizes the inner nature of will. Finally, the same thing shows itself in human endeavors and desires, which always delude us by presenting their satisfaction as the final end of will. As soon as we attain our desired objects, they no longer appear the same; therefore, they soon grow stale or forgotten, and we throw them aside as vanished illusions."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, all this is going on, and therefore the living entity acquires one body after another.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer saw everyone going through a constant transition from desire to satisfaction, and from satisfaction to a new desire. For Schopenhauer, it is this flux from desire to satisfaction that characterizes the will's activities in the phenomenal world. Outside this flux, he thought, there is only nirvana, extinction of the will.
Srila Prabhupada: That is not a fact. One has to understand that behind the will and its satisfaction is a person who is willing. Schopenhauer did not take that person into consideration; he considered only the will and its satisfaction. It is the individual soul who is willing. If the soul succeeds in stopping this flickering willing, what next? Even the stopping of the will is temporary. You may stop one kind of willing, but you will adopt another kind of willing and another kind of satisfaction. We must understand that behind the whimsical will is the spirit soul. When that spirit soul understands his real identification as the eternal servant of Krsna, his will is purified. One should not be satisfied by simply annihilating the whimsical will. One should understand the real will of the real person. That is the beginning of spiritual life.
It will not help simply to negate the temporary material will. One has to will in reality, and that is his eternal willing—that is Krsna consciousness. In the material world, the living entity directs his will toward sense satisfaction, because he has forgotten the spiritual field of willing. When the same will is directed towards satisfying the senses of the Supreme—Krsna—that is the eternal willing of the living entity. Jivera 'svarupa' haya krsnera 'nitya dasa': "When one comes to the platform of real knowledge, he understands that he is the eternal servant of God." When we concentrate our will on how to serve God, we attain our real position of eternality, bliss, and knowledge.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer apparently believed in life after death. He wrote, "If a man fears death as his annihilation, it is just as if he were to think that the sun cries out at evening, 'Woe is me! For I go down to eternal night....'"
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because the will is eternal, death is not the stoppage of life. One simply gets another body. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, tatha dehantara-praptih: "When the body dies, the soul transmigrates to another body." This is proof that the life of the person is eternal. And because the person is eternal, his desire and will are also eternal. But Schopenhauer did not know what that eternal willing is. The eternal will of every living entity is to serve Krsna always.
Hayagriva dasa: Schopenhauer looked on Indian philosophy as a philosophy of the denial of the will...
Srila Prabhupada: But he did not study Vedic philosophy and religion perfectly. He simply had some idea of some portions of the impersonalist and Buddhistic philosophies. Evidently he did not know about Vaisnavism. Although he touched the Bhagavad-gita, he did not study it thoroughly. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna tells Arjuna that if he simply tries to attain knowledge of God—Krsna—his will and his life will be purified, and he will return back to Godhead upon giving up his body. In the fourth chapter Krsna says,
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna" [Bg. 4.9].
Either Schopenhauer did not study the Bhagavad-gita very thoroughly, or he could not understand it for want of a real spiritual master. According to the Gita itself, one should go to a bona fide guru who has actually seen the truth. Schopenhauer simply speculated on the basis of his own experience, and consequently, although everything is there in the Bhagavad-gita, he could not see it.
Hayagriva dasa: According to Schopenhauer, the man of knowledge is imperturbable in any condition. He wrote, "Such a man would regard death as a false illusion, an impudent specter which frightens the weak but has no power over him who knows that he is himself the will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, and that therefore he is always certain of life...."
Srila Prabhupada: This is contradictory. On the one side Schopenhauer has a desire for the certainty of life, and on the other he says that nirvana, annihilation, is the only answer. Which does he want? He simply tried to adjust things to fit his theory. But he couldn't understand the philosophy behind purification of the will.
Hayagriva dasa: Apparently he had no other solution than the suppression of the will.
Srila Prabhupada: But that is not possible. In order to be happy, you must change the quality of your willing through purification. The purification process is bhakti—chanting and hearing the pastimes of the Lord (sravanam kirtanam visnoh). That purifies the will. Schopenhauer missed the point. Although he accepted the fact that life is eternal, he thought that its purpose is nirvana, putting an end to the will. Unfortunately, he did not know what nirvana is. Nirvana means putting an end to the whimsical will and coming to the platform of willing in Krsna consciousness.
Hayagriva dasa: For Schopenhauer, there were three means of salvation—aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Through aesthetic salvation—contemplation of the Platonic ideals—we rise above passion through poetry, music, and art. Through the contemplation of these higher ideals, we reach a plane of desirelessness.
Srila Prabhupada: This is not a new idea; it is mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita: param drstva nivartate. The students of this Krsna consciousness movement have abandoned their abominable living habits because they have received a better life—with superior thoughts, philosophy, food, song, poetry, and art. When the mind is filled with Krsna consciousness, there is no chance of its engaging in the contemplation of nonsense.
Hayagriva dasa: For Schopenhauer, aesthetic salvation is a temporary experience. For instance, when one looks at a beautiful painting, he transcends the lower levels of consciousness and for a few moments becomes "will-less," or desireless.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we admit that this may be the case, but we wish to remain in that higher consciousness continuously—not momentarily. This is possible if we practice. By practice a child learns to read and write, and thus he becomes educated. It is not a momentary thing. If we practice Krsna consciousness daily, lower consciousness will automatically vanish. For instance, we worship the Deities in the temple-thai is actual aesthetic salvation. But unless you apply the aesthetic sense with reverence and respect, you cannot derive benefit from worshiping the Deities.
Hayagriva dasa: According to Schopenhauer, you achieve ethical salvation by attempting to satisfy your will. When you satisfy your will, no new desires can arise, and you experience happiness.
Srila Prabhupada: Apart from the individual will, there is the supreme will. If we satisfy the supreme will, we are happy. But we cannot know the supreme will directly, and therefore we must approach a spiritual master. Our philosophy is that by satisfying the spiritual master, the representative of God, we satisfy the supreme will (yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah).
Hayagriva dasa: For Schopenhauer, the third and most effective type of salvation is religious salvation. He felt that by denying the will through asceticism, you can attain the state of nirvana, nothingness.
Srila Prabhupada: But Schopenhauer did not know that since the soul is eternal, willing is also eternal—although the will may be suppressed for some time. For instance, after death, when a living entity enters a mother's womb, he spends nine months developing his next body, and there is a temporary suspension of the will. But when he emerges from his mother's womb, he resumes the willing process. Death simply means a suspension of the will for a few months—that's all. If you fail to train your willing process properly you have to suffer, life after life, but if you train your will properly—to serve Krsna's supreme will—you can go to Krsna's supreme planet immediately after death.
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
India's greatest gift to civilization is her highly advanced spiritual culture, based on the eternal truths of the Vedic literatures. Sometimes, however, we hear the strange idea that this culture is not meant to be shared with others. I have heard more than one Western professor of Indian religion say, "The idea of preaching about God in a missionary spirit is not part of India's religion. That's something the Christians introduced into India a few hundred years ago." And self-styled yogis sometimes say to me, "People should be left alone to realize God in their own way, in their own time. You can't go out and preach about inner life." I have also heard seemingly devout Hindus say, "Why are you teaching of Krsna in America? To follow the Vedas you have to be born in India." Is Krsna's message, then, just for a few?
No. Both the Vedic literatures themselves and the living examples of India's greatest saints disprove that idea. Moreover, such disdain for preaching Vedic truths reveals a sad lack of compassion for fallen humanity.
In fact, the Vedic literatures (the world's most time-honored scriptures) fully support the idea of preaching the gospel of Krsna consciousness. In the five-thousand-year-old Srimad-Bhagavatam, the self-realized sages who compiled the Vedas at the beginning of creation offer their prayers to Lord Krsna, the Personality of Godhead: "All glories unto You! O Lord, You can deliver all suffering conditioned souls from the clutches of maya [illusion]. O Lord, we fervently pray that You do so. As the personifications of Vedic knowledge, we always try to help the conditioned souls understand You" (Bhag. 10.87.14).
Unless devotees of God broadcast His message, the ignorant living entities can never know that the ultimate purpose of life is liberation from material bondage. Thus, in mad pursuit of sense gratification, they will commit sinful acts and have to suffer the painful reactions, according to the law of karma. They will have to transmigrate from one body to another, repeatedly suffering the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. Since surrender to the will of the Lord is the only way to nullify karma and stop the process of transmigration, the merciful devotees of the Lord always preach His glories widely. And the Supreme Lord Himself regularly visits the earth to reclaim the fallen souls. As Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (4.8), "In order to deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants, as well as to establish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium." And in the Srimad-Bhagavatam we find that the sage Vyasadeva, who compiled the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures, also felt the same compassion for the suffering souls: "The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service, but the mass of people do not know this. And therefore the learned Vyasadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth" (Bhag. 1.7.6). Thus, thousands of years before Christianity appeared in the world, the Vedic literature stated emphatically that souls suffering in darkness should be helped by the torchlight of Krsna consciousness. From the historical perspective, then, the Christians could not have introduced the preaching spirit to India.
Another misconception is that one should cultivate spiritual knowledge only by private meditation and should not "bother" those who are spiritually ignorant. But the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja rejects this view in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.44): "My dear Lord, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore, I wish to bring them back to the shelter of Your lotus feet."
Thus, while there undoubtedly is a kind of yogi who neglects others' welfare, he is hardly of the highest standard. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that the highest yogi is His devotee—and that His dearmost devotee is he who takes all risks to approach others and give them the same liberation and bliss he has found in Krsna consciousness.
Finally, we must also take issue with the sectarian notion that Vedic knowledge is meant only for people born in India. This idea finds support neither in any scriptural statement nor in the heart of any intelligent and compassionate person. As the Srimad-Bhagavatam states, "If someone is ignorant and addicted to the path of samsara [birth and death], how can one who is actually learned, merciful, and spiritually advanced engage him in material activity, and thus further entangle him in material existence? If a blind man is walking down the wrong path, how can a gentleman allow him to continue on his way to danger? No wise man can allow this."
The greatest of India's saints—Ramanuja, Madhva, Bhaktisiddhanta—toured as widely as possible to broadcast Krsna's message. (Outside India, spiritual teachers like Jesus Christ and Hajrat Muhammad displayed the same preaching spirit). And the most enthusiastic preacher of all was Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krsna who appeared in India five hundred yeras ago to spread Krsna consciousness in the form of the chanting of God's holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Lord Caitanya taught that chanting the Hare Krsna mantra is the best form of God consciousness for the present fallen age, and He predicted, "The names of God shall be chanted in every town and village in the world." Thus, Krsna consciousness, the science of God, is universal; it is meant not just for Indians but for every living soul in creation.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acarya of the Krsna consciousness movement, came to America in 1965, impelled by the very same desire that moved Vyasadeva, Prahlada, Madhva, Lord Caitanya, and other great saints of the past. Srila Prabhupada wanted to rescue the unfortunate souls who are blindly trying to enjoy material pleasure in this life, oblivious of the suffering they will inevitably experience in their next life. Despite great personal inconvenience, Srila Prabhupada came here at the advanced age of seventy to fulfill the order of his spiritual master. He introduced the same message that Lord Krsna taught in the Bhagavad-gita and that Lord Caitanya practically demonstrated through His sankirtana* movement. [*Sankirtana is the congregational chanting of the maha-mantra.]
What Srila Prabhupada has taught is the sum and substance of India's spiritual message—to glorify the name, fame, and pastimes of the Supreme Lord, Krsna—and Srila Prabhupada has delivered this message without adulteration. Thousands of young Westerners who had never heard of Krsna, and who certainly had no plans to give up sinful life, have taken up devotional service to Krsna and are now becoming purified.
So we can see that an essential part of the Vedic teachings is that one should first perfect his own life, and then try to teach others how to perfect their lives. In that way one most quickly attains Krsna's recognition, and he performs the greatest welfare work for humanity. Teaching people to become devotees of God is far more beneficial than any mundane altruism in the form of food, Shelter, hospital care, or materialistic education. Why? Because if a person overcomes the disease of his soul, he attains the Supreme Lord's eternal abode and never has to come back again to this miserable material world.
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare
In India saints and ordinary people alike have long known about these holy names of God—the maha-mantra, or great chanting for deliverance. In 1965 His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a pure devotee of the Lord, brought the chanting to the West.
Hare is an address to God's energy, Krsna means "God, the all-attractive," and Rama is another of God's names, meaning "the highest pleasure." Chanting these names frees the mind from anxiety and illusion and revives our eternal loving relationship with Krsna.
Five hundred years ago Lord Caitanya (the incarnation of Krsna in the mood of a devotee) began spreading the chanting of the maha-mantra. He stressed its benefits for the people of this materialistic age and predicted that out of compassion, devotees would take the chanting to every town and village in the world. And now Srila Prabhupada's disciples—the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—are fulfilling that prediction.
"In this age of Kali, the holy name of the Lord, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, is the incarnation of Lord Krsna. Simply by chanting the holy name, one associates with the Lord directly. Anyone who does this is certainly delivered" (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 17.22).
"In the age of Kali (Quarrel and Hypocrisy) the chanting of the holy name is the best means of God-realization. There is no other alternative, no other alternative, no other alternative" (Brhan-naradiya Purana).
"Glory to the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death.... It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious" (Sri-Sri-Siksastaka).
by Amala-bhakta dasa (as told to Dravida dasa)
The path from the hatha-yoga ashram to the Radha-Krsna temple is a well-worn one. Many people who are now ISKCON devotees had in the past performed various stretchings, contortions, breathing exercises, headstands, and silent meditations—before they learned of the higher yoga of Krsna consciousness. But Amala-bhakta's case is extraordinary: not only was he an expert hatha-yogi when he came to the Los Angeles temple in February of 1976, but he was also in the most respected order of spiritual life sannyasa), and he had been running a major yoga center in New York for almost thirteen years. Here is his account of why he took up hatha-yoga—and then left it and his teacher for Krsna consciousness.
In 1957 my life was pretty much up in the air. I had dropped out of New York University at twenty-five and had gone to Los Angeles to "find myself." I was working at odd jobs and reading a lot of philosophy when, in July of that year, I began to read a book on yoga. This book set off a volcanic eruption in my life. I suddenly realized—very starkly, very pointedly—that all of us fear death. We may not know we fear death, but our every step, our every glance, our every gesture, our every word betrays this fear. And I realized that I certainly feared death. I also saw that no one, myself included, was really happy, and that I could achieve happiness only by giving myself to God and His work—in other words, by realizing Him. I felt that since God is eternal and transcendental to the world's miseries, I could conquer fear and gain happiness by becoming God conscious.
With this idea burning in my mind, I hitchhiked back to my parents' country home in New Jersey and started practicing hatha-yoga and meditation. But soon it became clear that I needed some personal instruction. One day, after some searching, I stopped into a book shop in downtown Manhattan and saw an ad for a yoga teacher. Soon I began studying under him. My teacher showed me hatha-yoga, which included a lot of stretching and bending exercises, and also breath control and meditation. He didn't instruct me in bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotion to God. But before coming to him I had read about some of the techniques of bhakti-yoga, and I had felt impressed and charmed by them. Since my basic desire was to realize God, meditation on God's form, or on His holy names, appealed to me more than meditation on silence or light, which was what my teacher showed me. So I began incorporating some of the bhakti techniques into my own program.
In 1963, after five years in the United States, my teacher went back to India. At that time he asked me to take charge of the yoga ashram he had begun in a Manhattan hotel. The same classes I had been studying in I was now teaching. Now it was my responsibility to carry on my teacher's lecture program and classes in hatha-yoga and meditation, and to talk with people who felt they wanted guidance.
During the first few years I headed the ashram, I gradually added more of the devotional practices of bhakti-yoga. I considered them enjoyable and effortless ways to concentrate the mind. Then, in 1967, I started noticing the Hare Krsna devotees on Fifth Avenue. (Srila Prabhupada had founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness a year earlier on Manhattan's Lower East Side.) The place where they chanted every day was close to my ashram. And although I looked upon them as an odd bunch and thought they were too far-out to succeed in the West, I was nonetheless fascinated by their cymbal and drum playing and chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. So I thought the best thing to do would be simply to adopt some of ISKCON's practices in my own program and see if I could interest my own students in devotional yoga.
I began giving over a portion of each evening—from about 7:00 to 9:30—to congregational chanting of God's holy names. At that time I was also deeply immersed in editing an English translation of the Ramayana (the story of Lord Ramacandra, an incarnation of God who lived millions of years ago). I was becoming enraptured by the pastimes of Lord Rama and His consort, Sita. So, in imitation of the Hare Krsna devotees I had seen on Fifth Avenue, I would chant "Sita Rama, Sita Rama ..." several times, my students would answer, and we would go on like that for some time, in call-and-response fashion.
Also, on Sunday nights, I would read to my students from an abridged version of the Ramayana. Some time previously I had also read the story of Krsna, and I knew that He and Rama were actually the same divine person. So another thing I did to increase my devotion was to mount beautiful posters of Krsna and Rama on the walls of the classroom where I taught hatha-yoga.
Unfortunately, my teacher had not taught me how to devote myself to a personal God. He wasn't a bhakta, a devotee; basically he was an impersonalist. He neither wrote, talked, nor acted in the mood of a devotee. Rather, he acted like a cool businessman. So I began feeling more and more that the devotion I had cultivated by reading Lord Ramacandra's pastimes and chanting His holy names needed a new outlet.
Then, in June of 1975, someone sent me a back to godhead magazine. I carefully read an article by Srila Prabhupada, entitled "What is a Guru?" After studying the Vedic principles Srila Prabhupada revealed there, I concluded that my teacher was a cheater, a charlatan—he was exploiting gullible seekers, squeezing money out of them under the pretense of spirituality. I further understood that Srila Prabhupada was not using such deceitful methods. He was giving the Vedic philosophy straight—speaking boldly yet compassionately, without caring what anyone thought. Srila Prabhupada was trusting completely that the Lord's mercy would sustain the big projects he had started. He was sincere, and he was attracting the sincere.
Just after I read that back to godhead, something happened that quickened my coming to Krsna consciousness. One day a man came to me for a consultation. He was contemplating suicide. (He was out of money and out of work and had about six kids to take care of.) He had known of my fifteen-dollar-for-fifteen-minutes consultation fee—a policy set up by my teacher—but he had been too embarrassed to ask for a "pay later" appointment. Finally, after two weeks, he had been able to scrape up the money. When I saw him he cried like a baby for a long time. Finally, he told me how desperate he was to talk to me because he considered me his spiritual advisor. He said that if he had had to wait another day, he just might have finished himself off. I then told him that from then on, he could see me whether he could pay or not. I decided this was simply what I had to do. I no longer cared about the rules or the regulations or the principles or the policies.
This incident really stung my conscience. I realized that this consultation-fee policy could have killed a man! And I also thought, "How can I inspire this man to love God if my love for him is conditional?" I knew beyond a doubt that I could not produce a change in his heart unless I gave freely of my understanding and knowledge. At the same time, I was well aware that the Krsna devotees would never think of charging anything for consultation and guidance. The contrast with my own teacher's policy had a very powerful effect on me.
That wasn't my teacher's only shortcoming. For one thing, he would offer initiation only to people who could pay him $191.00. You didn't have to take any vows, follow any principles, or serve him before initiation, nor did you have to serve him even afterward. The whole thing seemed like an assembly line: it took just five or ten minutes to turn out each new disciple, and then my teacher would call the next candidate into his room.
On the other hand, the initiation that Srila Prabhupada gives is free, but generally one must serve faithfully for six months. At Srila Prabhupada's initiation ceremony the disciple vows to abstain from meat, fish, eggs, and intoxicants, as well as gambling and illicit sex. He also promises to chant sixteen rounds of japa (1,728 repetitions of the Hare Krsna mantra) each day. There is a beautiful fire ceremony, along with a lecture on the real meaning of initiation and the eternal obligations of the disciple toward the spiritual master.
Another thing that disturbed me was that whenever my teacher visited the United States, he would stay at a first-class Manhattan hotel. Once he stayed there for six months at seventeen hundred dollars a month, when he could have stayed at our ashram at no expense. On the other hand, I noted that Srila Prabhupada always stayed with his devotees at the temples. He wanted all available money to be used for educating people in the science of bhakti-yoga, which would alleviate their suffering.
Finally, for one thousand dollars my teacher would sell a "mystic amulet" to disciples who lived outside our ashram. He claimed they could "get more benediction and protection from God" if they wore this amulet. In other words, the name of God that they had received through initiation wasn't powerful enough—the amulet had a little something extra going for it! God's name needed help from an amulet? This was totally illogical to me.
Srila Prabhupada, however, emphasized that if you sincerely chanted the holy names and steadily performed devotional service, that was all you needed to receive the mercy of God. Srila Prabhupada did not deprecate God's name by saying that some cheap charm could enhance its power.
So all these contrasts had a huge effect upon my life. It became obvious that my so-called teacher was not really interested in spreading the science of yoga. Rather, he was interested in spreading out his pocket, filling it up, and carrying away the cash.
Somehow, before 1976 I had never actually visited an ISKCON temple. (I had gathered all my information from some fellow disciples who would visit temples and report back to me.) By this time I had been in the sannyasa order, the senior order of spiritual life, for three years. Consequently, I had vowed to follow my teacher's instructions as if they were God's, and I did not want to break my vow by visiting another yoga center. But as I watched my teacher's crookedness come to light, I began to think seriously of leaving.
Finally, I paid a visit to the New York Krsna temple, on 55th Street. I had a four-hour discussion with Kapindra dasa, the receptionist, and after talking with him I no longer had any question in my mind: I would leave my cheating "guru" and take up Krsna consciousness. So, at four the next morning I packed a couple of bags and left the quarters of the yoga society I had been part of for eighteen years. Glad to be out of this intolerably depressing environment, I checked into a hotel near the New York temple.
That night I attended the arati ceremony, in which the devotees lavishly worship the Deities of Radha and Krsna. What a beautiful experience! As I watched the devotees singing and dancing for the Deities, I felt enthralled.
The next day I attended the morning program, which began with an arati at 4:30 a.m. and continued with an inspiring talk by Hrdayananda Gosvami. The wealth of Vedic philosophy he expounded greatly impressed me—and cleared up any lingering doubts I might have had that Krsna consciousness was really what I wanted. The next day I left for Los Angeles to visit my mother, who had moved there from New York. And two days later I moved into the Los Angeles Radha-Krsna temple.
As the weeks flew by, I discovered the world of Krsna consciousness—especially in Srila Prabhupada's books. It was then that the full magnitude of my former teacher's cheating became clear to me. This so-called "guru" had taught that everyone was God, though each of us had "forgotten" his divinity. Supposedly, when our impurities dissolved we would regain our true, divine position. As he had explained it, God realization meant realizing "I am God" and merging with the "infinite light."
Now, in view of what I had learned from reading Srila Prabhupada's books, nothing seemed more absurd than the idea that the Absolute Truth—who controls the entire universe—could become deluded and forget His divinity. Had God forgotten His divinity just to undergo the pain of birth and death? Could He be fond of suffering? No, the whole idea that the individual soul and God are identical was patently ridiculous.
Actually, the living entity is an infinitesimal particle of spirit. As such, he is never equal to God, the Supreme Spirit. So to equate the living entity with God is nonsense; it's just a disguised form of atheism. The real reason why someone poses himself as God is so that he won't have to worship anyone but himself. This is generally what people like, especially in the present degraded age of Kali. People don't want to serve God; they want to be God. They want to be served, adored, and glorified—like my teacher in that lavish hotel suite.
But the whole idea is absurd. The part can never be equal to the whole, any more than the hand can be equal to the entire body. Nor can we enjoy like the Lord—although we try to, and this is our downfall. Our real enjoyment is to give enjoyment to the Lord, just as the hand's enjoyment is to give enjoyment to the whole body.
Suppose your hand had a will of its own, and that it tried to directly enjoy your food—instead of placing it in your mouth and letting it go to your stomach. Could the hand enjoy the food that way? No, of course not, and if it persisted it would simply wither away from lack of nourishment. Similarly, people today are withering away from a lack of spiritual pleasure—because instead of giving whatever they have to God, they're trying to hoard it for themselves.
How different Krsna consciousness is. I am now directly experiencing that the more I serve Krsna through Srila Prabhupada, the more blissful I become. Every day I'm learning more about my personal relationship with Krsna. (That's what makes the relationship with Him so beautiful' it's personal.) I'm reading about Krsna every day, and the more I learn about the way Krsna looks and talks and acts, the more I realize that serving Krsna is infinitely more pleasurable than the best of this world's pleasures. Everything here is limited and temporary, but our relationship with Krsna is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge.
We have to realize that our relationship with Krsna is the only thing that will last, and that hearing about Him, chanting about Him, remembering Him, serving Him, worshiping Him, offering prayers to Him, carrying out His orders, establishing friendship with Him, and surrendering everything to Him are the only activities that can make our lives full.
Now my goal is to serve Srila Prabhupada purely—realizing that the little drop of gratitude I offer him can never compare with the ocean of mercy he has given me. May I always remember how fortunate he has made me, and more, may I always remember to tell other people about Krsna, so that they may one day become just as fortunate.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
ISKCON Goes on the Air in Memphis
Every Tuesday night in Memphis, Tennessee, the transcendental sounds of a two-and-a-half-hour Hare Krsna radio show fill the Southern airwaves, courtesy of station WEVL, 90.3-FM. The program, aired live, includes a variety of guest interviews, comedy/satire, and music—all centered on the dynamic philosophy of Krsna consciousness.
Station manager Dennis Badson explains that the community-owned station seeks out unusual programs not normally broadcast on commercial radio. Not long ago Brahma dasa, the president of ISKCON's Memphis center, offered to do a show called "The Cheaters and the Cheated." He told the station's board members that the show would expose the shortcomings of modern society and present the alternative society—one based on God consciousness, "simple living and high thinking." Program director Bart Lipman liked the idea and asked to hear more.
Brahma dasa took the opportunity to explain, "We want to show how the big leaders have systematically conditioned ordinary people to search for happiness under a completely false conception of life. They have directed people toward acquiring useless paraphernalia that only drives them deeper into the realm of hopelessness. The leaders are misguiding everyone into thinking that advancement means concrete, steel, money, and the selfish pursuit of pleasure. As a result, everyone feels constantly driven and repeatedly frustrated by an unending network of artificial desires. And, of course, that mentality simply results in crime, poverty, and social unrest. Then the masses—and even the so-called leaders—try to shelter themselves from despair with alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, pornography, and so forth. We should rise to a higher state of consciousness and happiness. Unless we realize that the real goal of life is God consciousness, we will never achieve any real advancement—only a shadow advancement that leads to chaos and destruction."
The Summer of the Chariots
This summer, for the eleventh-straight year, the chariots of Lord Jagannatha (the Lord of the Universe) rolled down the avenues of American and Canadian cities. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness was restaging a festival held since time immemorial in the city of Puri, India. Hundreds of thousands of amazed and delighted people witnessed Ratha-yatra—the Festival of the Chariots.
This year's festival in New York City was as memorable as ever. Three huge, bright-canopied, hand-drawn wooden chariots left Central Park and journeyed down Fifth Avenue to Washington Square Park. Harvard University religion professor Harvey Cox rode on one of the carts and later spoke to the crowd on the importance of the Hare Krsna movement. "I'm here to pay tribute to a movement which has meant a lot to me, spiritually and intellectually," said Dr. Cox. He went on to condemn the attacks of "deprogrammers": "They are trying to deprive the devotees of the most valuable possession in life—faith in the Supreme Lord."
For a full week the chariots stayed in Washington Square Park, until at last devotees and well-wishers drew them back along Sixth Avenue to the temple. The week of festivities peaked at the day's free feast and festival in Central Park. Musician-composer Alice Coltrane delighted the crowd with her Gospel-flavored renderings of traditional Krsna chants. And VEDA (ISKCON's new Vedic Ensemble of the Dramatic Arts) presented an enchanting original dance performance based on the ancient Indian epic Ramayana.
Similar festivals took place in Honolulu, Toronto, and Atlanta; at Philadelphia's historic Independence Mall; in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, where Ratha-yatra in the West began; and along Venice Beach in Los Angeles, where police estimated the crowd at 200,000.
Scientific Conference: "Life Comes from Life"
From October 14 to 16, in the historic and holy city of Vrndavana, India, ISKCON's Bhaktivedanta Institute will hold an international scientific conference titled "Life Comes from Life." Scientists from around the world will gather to discuss the central theme—that life arises not from material but from spiritual causes—in light of both modern theories and the ancient Vedic literatures.
The Bhaktivedanta Institute, the academic division of ISKCON, comprises professional scientists and scholars who are also devotees of Krsna. These men study the Vedic information on nature, the self, consciousness, and God, and they present their gleanings to the world academic community. For further details, please contact Svarupa Damodara dasa Brahmacari (Thoudam Damodar Singh, Ph.D.), Director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, at 70 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02116. Phone: (617) 266-8369.
Parliament Member Praises the Srimad-Bhagavatam
We recently received the following warm appreciation for Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam from Sri R. Subrahmanyam, Deputy Director of Research at the Lok Sabha Secretariat, Indian National Parliament (New Delhi).
"For the welfare and happiness of mankind, His Divine Grace Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder- acarya of the ISKCON movement, has taken upon himself the stupendous task of translating the Srimad-Bhagavatam from Sanskrit into English in about sixty volumes. It is really astonishing how he is able to do this single-handedly, considering the enormity of the task itself as well as Srila Prabhupada's ceaseless travels and other multifarious activities in the service of the Lord.
"So far twenty-eight volumes of this most beautiful literature on God have been brought out by ISKCON, and the rest are under preparation. The publishers have seen to it that the printing, format, and pictures are of the highest quality, so that they serve as an ornament to the divine contents of the books.
"The people and leaders of every country, race, and community in the world now have a rare opportunity to understand the glorious science of God and follow it for their own perfection. I would say that this encyclopedia of spiritual knowledge is more important and fundamental than the encyclopedia of any other branch of knowledge. It should, therefore, find its rightful place not only in the libraries of educational institutions but also in every household, and above all, in the hearts and minds of every man and woman."
Krsna Conscious Fete for Walter Reuther's Daughter
Everyone who attended had the highest praise for the Vedic wedding of Lekhasravanti dasi (Elisabeth Luise Reuther, daughter of the late labor leader Walter Reuther) and Bhusaya dasa (Bruce Dickmeyer) at ISKCON's fifty-five-room Detroit center, the former Lawrence P. Fisher mansion. Best man was Ambarisa dasa (Alfred Brush Ford, the great-grandson of automobile magnate Henry Ford).
The ceremony featured a Vedic fire sacrifice and chanting of ancient hymns and mantras. In addition, each of the two hundred guests received a garland of Hawaiian flowers, and at the end of the ceremony fragrant flower petals showered the newlyweds.
Bhusaya and Lekhasravanti plan to stay active in the Detroit center's preaching programs, and they spoke briefly about the wedding and their involvement in the Krsna consciousness movement. Bhusaya noted that fewer and fewer of today's young people regard marriage as a sacred obligation. Then he said, "We would like to show that if you put Krsna (God) at the center of your married life, you'll have a harmonious, lasting family situation that grows in meaning. Lekhasravanti and I decided that we could help each other advance in Krsna consciousness and also help others see how a married couple can cooperate for spiritual progress."
"My father was always talking about human dignity," Lekhasravanti observed. "So in one sense Bhusaya and I are working for the same goal: awakening people to a higher awareness of themselves. But we want people to know that they're really spiritual beings." Explaining the wedding's opulence, Lekhasravanti said, "We don't try to attract attention to ourselves—we do everything nicely, just to please Krsna."
One Christian's Comment: "ISKCON Is of God."
In recent years there has been an abundance of controversy concerning "cults." Jesus forewarned about false prophets and religions that would appear in this last age. The Bible clarifies this issue of which "cults" are of God and which aren't. Sad to say, in this Age of Quarrel people would rather create a disturbance than look to God's word for the answers.
In the Biblical book of Acts (5:38-39), we find the case of Peter and other Apostles before the Jewish council. A respected teacher of the law named Gamaliel gives sound instruction to the council: "And so in this present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if their plan or action should be of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God."
Presently there are many false cults that only pretend to be "of God," but I assure you the International Society for Krishna Consciousness is not one of them. I strongly believe this, because Jesus said (in Matthew 7:18), "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree produce good fruit," and (in Matthew 7:20) "So then, you will know them by their fruits."
In Galatians (5:19-23) we learn how to "know them by their fruits": "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, carousings, and things like these, of which I forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law." It should be evident to anyone with even a little impartial vision that the fruits of the spirit and not of the flesh predominate in ISKCON.
Jesus gave the commandment that we love one another (Galatians 5:14): "For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this statement, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' " And the devotees of Lord Krsna are laying down their lives daily to perform the highest welfare activities for the suffering people of this world—spreading God consciousness. They suffer insults, mockery, trials, and tribulations because of their love of God and mankind, and though they seek no reward, they will not go unrewarded.
So I feel sure that after impartially examining the facts, all will conclude that ISKCON is of and for God, and God is for ISKCON. Hare Krsna.
On Absolute Authority
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and one of his disciples took place in Bhuvanesvara, India.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, one criticism against our Krsna consciousness movement is that we are following absolute authority. People are critical because we rigidly adhere to your authority and to the authority of the scriptures. They say this is not a healthy psychology.
Srila Prabhupada; Their criticism is a contradiction. If they say authority is not good, then why are they criticizing us? They are trying to impose their own authority on us.
Devotee [in the role of an antagonist]: I don't say you have to accept me as an authority.
Srila Prabhupada: Then you are talking nonsense. You are like a merchant selling his wares, but telling the customer, "You don't have to buy from me." What is the use of his selling? And what is the use of your instruction, if I don't have to accept you as an authority?
Devotee: Well, everyone has his own life to live, so each person should take the best from many authorities. I might accept some ideas from your philosophy and some from various other philosophies as well. I can take whatever I think is best for me.
Srila Prabhupada: But if you find the best of everything all in one place, then why should you run here and there?
Devotee: Well, history teaches us that whenever there is absolute authority, it isn't healthy—like Hitler's Germany, for example.
Srila Prabhupada: Absolute authority is bad when the authority is wrong. But if the authority is right, then it is good—because you can submit to one authority and receive all knowledge. It's like going to a supermarket; we can get everything there in one place.
Devotee: But people often confuse our allegiance to scriptural authority with totalitarianism. One professor told me that if the Krsna consciousness movement ever became powerful, we would probably be intolerant towards all other religions.
Srila Prabhupada: That means he does not understand us.
Devotee: Suppose someone didn't want to be a devotee in a society with a Krsna-conscious king or president. What would happen to him?
Srila Prabhupada: The king must chastise him—he has that power. For example, if a child says, "Father, I don't believe in education; let me play," the father will never allow it. The king's duty is to guide the citizens like that.
Devotee: But if someone wanted to be a Christian in a society governed by a Krsna-conscious leader, would that person be chastised?
Srila Prabhupada: The father does not chastise always, but only when his son does something wrong. To practice the Christian religion means to believe in God and abide by His orders. A faithful Christian would not be persecuted in a society with Krsna-conscious leadership.
Devotee: So the Christians would be allowed to follow the Bible?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. To follow the Bible is certainly religion. But the Christians today do not follow their scripture. The Bible says, "Thou shall not kill," but they are killing millions of cows and eating their flesh. What kind of Christianity is that?
Devotee: So they should be chastised.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they should be punished. That is the duty of the king. You may follow any bona fide religion and receive all protection by the Krsna-conscious government. But if you don't follow your own religion faithfully, then you must be corrected. That is the king's duty. A king cannot dictate that you must follow one particular religious faith, but he can order that you follow some religion. If you have no religion, then you're an animal, and you must be chastised. Religion means the instruction given by God (dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam). And to be religious means to obey God and to love Him. So it doesn't matter through what religious process you have understood God. The important thing is that you love God and abide by His orders. Then you are religious. But if you do not know God—or if you have some imaginary god-then you must learn who God actually is. And if you refuse to learn, then you must be punished.
Devotee: If someone says, "I know God," what is the test to see if he really does?
Srila Prabhupada: The test is that he must be able to explain about God to others. Ask him, "Can you say what God is?"
Devotee: "God is the force moving the universe."
Srila Prabhupada: So that means you do not know God. Who is behind the force? Whenever there is force, there must be a person who is forceful—who is forcing. Who is that?
Devotee: I don't have such vision.
Srila Prabhupada: Then learn about God from me. And if you refuse, then you must be punished. You see, the king has to see that the citizens are God conscious. That is his duty.
Devotee: Then a Krsna-conscious leader has to be like a father.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That quality was personally exhibited by Lord Ramacandra. He treated His subjects like His own sons, and they treated Lord Rama as their father. The relationship between the king and the citizens should be like that between a father and his sons.
Devotee: The chastisement that the king gives...
Srila Prabhupada: That is out of love, not enviousness. Chastisement means correction. If a citizen is acting wrongly, he has to be corrected. This is actually Krsna's business in human society: to chastise the miscreants, to give protection to the godly persons, and to establish the true principles of religion. This is the mission of the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the world, and we have to execute His mission. Gradually Krsna-conscious devotees have to take the posts of leadership and correct the whole human society.
Life in the Womb Begins at Conception
by Amarendra dasa
One of today's most disturbing, confusing, and hotly debated issues is whether abortion is right or wrong. Feelings run deep, and both sides offer complex arguments. But at the heart of the controversy lies one crucial question: When does life begin within the womb? Ironically, despite so much progress in economics, education, technology, and so on, even our leaders are still unable to answer this basic question.
Take, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1973 the Court ruled that women could legally have an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. Although they lacked any relevant evidence whatsoever, the justices decided that the element of life does not enter the fetus until after the third month. In effect, the justices turned their court into a pseudoscientific laboratory and legalized an act that had been virtually outlawed throughout the United States. The result? A staggering increase in the number of known abortions—from several thousand in 1973 to over one million in 1976.
However, in a 6-to-3 decision handed down a few months ago, the Supreme Court appeared to be back-tracking from its previous pro-abortion stand. Now, in an obvious reaction to grass-roots anti-abortion pressure, he Court has ruled that state and local governments can refuse to finance abortions for needy women. Although lot outlawing abortions altogether, the Court's latest ruling has made them exceedingly more difficult to obtain—and has proved beyond a doubt that even the highest judges in the land are more concerned with public opinion than with scientific fact.
After all, if the justices had had some scientific basis or their first ruling—that the fetus is not really "alive" until after the third month of pregnancy—then why should hey now reverse themselves and make abortions during he first three months more difficult to obtain? What would be the harm in getting rid of a "lifeless lump of flesh" to protect the welfare of an unwed mother, for example? On the other hand, if some new scientific evidence has recently come to light proving that life in the womb begins at the point of conception, then why won't he Supreme Court outlaw abortions altogether? Why should they continue to condone mass infanticide? Clearly, the Supreme Court has shown its ineptitude at solving the abortion issue.
So we are left still facing our basic question: When does life begin within the womb? In searching for answers to this question, we must first understand hat we are not dealing with something gross—something we can measure in a laboratory. The life principle is the subtlest substance in existence. We can't see it with the most powerful microscope or weigh it on the most sensitive scale. In fact, the Vedic Upanisads explain that the dimension of the soul, or life force, is one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair. This is even smaller than the atom! Therefore, if we want to understand this life force, we must approach authorities who are beyond the limitations that our imperfect mind and senses place upon us. In other words, the Supreme Court won't do; we must approach a transcendental source of knowledge—the revealed Vedic scriptures.
At this point the reader may object that our method of acquiring knowledge is dogmatic and blind. But think for a moment: Is there really any other way to find out about something as subtle as the soul? Suppose you want to know the identity of your father, but you've never seen him before? Can you perform some experiment to find out? No: there's only one way to know for sure who your father is—ask your mother. Only she can authoritatively say, "That man is your father."
Similarly, if we want to know about the soul—which is beyond our sensory experience, beyond our experimental knowledge—then we must accept the Vedic authority. Veda means "knowledge," and the Vedic knowledge comes from Lord Krsna, or God, and is therefore infallible. If we accept the words of the Vedic literature we can truly understand the nature of life, and when it begins in the womb. Then we can finally resolve the abortion issue.
Now, according to modern scientific theory, various chemical reactions in the body of the developing fetus produce the life force, or consciousness. Until those chemical reactions occur, the scientists say, no life is present. From this point it is easy to take our logic one step further and conclude that up to a certain age—say, three months—the child within the mother's womb is not alive, but is simply a lump of dead matter. The final grisly conclusion is that since the body of the developing child is like a tumor, what is the harm if a surgeon removes the tumor and throws it away?
In contradiction to this distorted idea, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the essence of all Vedic knowledge, declares, "Under the supervision of the Supreme Lord, and according to the result of his previous work, the living entity (the soul), dwelling within the male sperm cell, enters a woman's womb to assume a particular type of body" (Srimad-Bhag. 3.31.1). This authoritative statement resolves the crucial question of when life begins in the womb. Most emphatically, life begins from the point of conception—the point at which the sperm, carrying the soul, enters the ovum.
Another important point to note is that the right to life is determined by divine law, not by our whimsical decisions. It is the law of karma, working under the supervision of the Supreme Lord, that determines when an individual spirit soul will enter a human womb. (A common-sense proof of this is that conception often occurs despite the most extensive contraceptive measures. Also, a previously sterile woman or impotent man may sometimes conceive a child.) So if, through violent abortion, we try to deny a soul a human birth due him by the laws of karma, we defy God's will in a most heinous fashion.
By that same law of karma, anyone who destroys a developing fetus must suffer severe punishment after death. "As you sow, so shall you reap," declares the Bible, and the Vedic literatures confirm that both the person performing the abortion and those sanctioning it are forced at the time of death to enter wombs where they themselves become victims of the same vicious act. Abortion is a grave transgression of the laws of nature and of God. So those who are anxious to enjoy sexual pleasure, yet wish to avoid the responsibility of rearing children, should soberly consider abortion's severe consequences. Unlike the edicts of the Supreme Court, the laws of nature and of God are always strictly enforced.
The Real Problem... and the Solution
A Comment from the BTG Staff
Behind the abortion crisis we'll find an even deeper problem: the recent vast increase in the number of unwanted pregnancies. This is another crisis—a crisis so severe that millions of Americans are resorting to murder of unborn infants as the only apparent solution. "Without legal and affordable abortion," wrote Lance Morrow in a recent Time editorial, "many lives in progress are hopelessly ruined; the unwanted children very often grow up unloved, battered... and criminal." We certainly agree that we must rectify these social conditions. But what sane person, understanding that the fetus is fully alive from the moment of conception, would then consider abortion a valid solution to unwanted pregnancy?
We seem to be caught on the horns of a cruel dilemma: the horror of abortion, or the misery of broken lives, broken homes, and masses of unwanted children. But the truth is that the crises of abortion and unwanted pregnancy, as well as those of veneral disease, child abuse, and divorce, have arisen from the same basic cause—unrestricted illicit sex life. The Vedic scriptures allow sex for only one purpose—to produce God-conscious children. Therefore sex only for pleasure is a violation of God's law, and a society of sex mongers must suffer punishment in the form of the abortion, pornography, and VD plagues, widespread child abuse, and so on.
American society is feeling the agonizing reaction to its own godlessness, and discussions about whether states should or should not help pay for abortions are like so much aimless chatter aboard a sinking ship. By ignoring the scriptural rules governing sex, we have descended to the level of animals. What good is "reasoned discussion" among the beasts? By killing more than one million unborn babies every year, Americans are committing the largest mass murder in recent history—and now they're trying to decide how to do it fairly and morally!
No. The only moral issue here is how to stop illicit sex. Everyone, from the nation's leaders on down, must understand God's purpose for sex—to produce God-conscious children. Furthermore, all government leaders must strictly adhere to this principle in their own lives and vigorously propagate it throughout society.
Unfortunately, our so-called leaders do not have the moral strength to live by God's laws. Therefore they do not care to enforce God's laws within society. The laws God presents in the revealed scriptures are meant to insure peace and prosperity, and ultimately to guide the citizens toward God consciousness. But our demonic leaders' nefarious business is to perpetrate the philosophy of unrestricted sense pleasure—especially sex pleasure. As the Bhagavad-gita explains, "The demons believe that to gratify the senses up to the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety."
Abortion, divorce, child abuse—the list of anxieties will simply increase unless we stop illicit sex. And the only way to do this is to replace the present leaders with trained Krsna-conscious leaders, who will have the spiritual strength to control their own senses and turn society back from its hell-bent course.
Why—and What to Do?
by Balavanta dasa
During last winter's big freeze, all our slick technology couldn't heat the nation's factories or keep traffic moving. Now, in the middle of one of the worst droughts ever, our scientists are resorting to "cloud seeding"—but they can't find any worthwhile clouds to seed.... Could it be that amid all their attempts to control nature, the scientists are forgetting the Supreme Controller?
At present the entire world is experiencing severe irregularities in the natural weather pattern. For example, whereas fifty years ago India had two monsoon seasons every year, now she has only one, and her food production has significantly decreased. In fact, just ten years ago a drought in India brought starvation to millions, and to this day parts of South India have yet to receive sufficient rain for even subsistence agriculture. In Africa the Sahara Desert is rapidly spreading southward, which is creating an acute food problem for many. Russia's Ukraine once was known as Europe's breadbasket, but for the last three years insufficient rain has forced the U.S.S.R. to import millions of tons of grain from the United States. Earthquakes have devastated large cities in China, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. And in Western Europe, especially in England, last summer's drought drastically reduced food production.
Although still the most economically prosperous nation in the world, the United States is also experiencing its share of problems. In the South this year, portions of both Georgia and Florida have been declared disaster areas because of severe drought. The West is now sizzling from the worst drought on record—one in which even the usual solution of irrigation is proving futile. And last year in the North, one of the worst winters in history killed hundreds of men and animals, tortured thousands more, and cost millions of dollars in damage. Without a doubt, irregular and uncontrollable weather has become a critical problem all over the world. Without sufficient rain, moderate temperatures, and a stable earth, how can we survive—what to speak of living happily and peacefully?
Of course, anyone can point out the problems, but real intelligence means finding a workable solution. Should we, then, look to our so-called brain trust of advanced science and technology? Certainly not. The scientists are scurrying to produce theories and answers, but by their own admission they are becoming hopeless. They are being forced to admit that whatever progress they have made toward "weather control" is at best experimental and theoretical. Last winter, with much of the United States in the grip of sub-freezing weather and with snow piled up everywhere, our scientists' slick technology was powerless to heat the nation's factories and keep traffic moving. Now the scientists are trying to seed the clouds—but they can't find any worthwhile clouds to seed! Time and again modern science has proved helpless in the face of nature's fury. So instead of presenting yet another pseudoscientific pipe dream, I offer here a practical solution to our modern weather dilemma—the time-tested program of the ancient Vedic civilization.
Literatures such as the Bhagavad-gita (the Song of God) and the Srimad-Bhagavatam (the Beautiful Story of the Personality of Godhead) form the basis of the Vedic culture—the culture that prevailed throughout the world millions of years ago. These great literatures declare that the purpose of human life is not simply to enjoy sense gratification. Nor are we meant to exploit nature, vainly trying to conquer her through technological advancement. Rather, following the process outlined in the Vedic literatures, we should live simply and use our advanced human intelligence to revive our original God consciousness. Becoming God conscious means living in harmony with God's plan for universal management. When we live in this way, then we are automatically in harmony with nature, and the Lord bestows bounteous natural gifts upon us. Otherwise—if we avoid surrendering to God and foolishly try to conquer nature—then as we see today, nature's stringent laws will put us into difficulty, just as the state puts a criminal into difficulty.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells how in Vedic times the people's high level of God consciousness resulted in benevolent weather conditions everywhere. There was plenty of rainfall—but only during the night, while the people were asleep—and the climate was neither too hot nor too cold. Consequently, all the fruit trees, vegetables, grains, and grasses grew profusely. The lush pastures enabled large herds of cows to eat their fill—any time they liked. Cow slaughter was unknown in those days, so the cows were always very happy. In fact, because of their jolly dispositions, they produced so much milk that it would often leak out of their milk bags and muddy the pastures. (Modern "beef cows" are so miserable that they can't produce enough milk to feed even their own calves!) Because there was plenty of milk, butter, cream, yogurt, fruit, grain, vegetables, herbs, minerals, jewels, and so on, the people were peaceful and happy in all respects. Even if someone were to leave a valuable object in a public place, he could always find it when he returned, because everyone was so satisfied by nature's opulences that they had no inclination to steal.
"What happened to the Vedic culture?" you may ask. "If it actually existed, and if it really had such a workable solution to the world's problems, then why did it disappear?" Even a young, healthy person gradually becomes old and diseased. And in the same way, although the Vedic civilization was perfectly constituted (according to the Bhagavad-gita, God Himself provided the guidelines), gradually it degraded. In fact, Srila Vyasadeva, the author of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, foresaw our present troubles over five thousand years ago. He wrote that the present age (the Age of Kali) would be characterized by increasing Godlessness, which would cause severe conflicts and hypocrisy. Srila Vyasadeva also foresaw that because of the lack of God consciousness, natural disturbances (especially drought) would harass the people more and more.
Then are we doomed to worsening weather conditions? No. Vyasadeva also pointed out that although the present age would be full of faults, it would have one very good quality. In this age we can very easily satisfy the Lord—and everyone can thus live very happily and peacefully—simply by coming together and chanting the Lord's holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If people perform this sacrifice, which is called sankirtana, they will counteract all the Godlessness and ill effects of the Kali Age.
Does this seem too simple a solution to the myriad problems we face? Actually, it is a very logical and scientific one. Consider: weather conditions are part of nature, but nature cannot exist or function independently. As soon as we speak of nature, we must ask, "Whose nature is it?" As soon as we say "mother nature," we must ask, "Who is the father?" The father—and the controller of nature—is God, the Supreme Personality, Sri Krsna. This fact is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krsna says, mayadhyaksena prakrti: "Nature works under My direction." Nature cannot produce the millions and millions of living organisms without the help of the supreme father (God) any more than a mother can produce children without the help of her husband. If mother nature exists, and if the "children" (the living entities) exist, then on what grounds can we deny the existence of the father. God?
The orderly management we see in nature is proof of God's existence. Without the controlling intelligence of God, how could things be going on as they are? When a child sees a light bulb, he may think that it is producing light automatically. But we know that behind the light bulb is the arrangement of the electric company, the power generators, and ultimately the government. Similarly, behind the sun, behind the rain, behind all the forces of nature is the Supreme Lord. Less intelligent people argue that since they cannot see God, He must not exist. But we can't always see the power station or the president, either. Does that mean they don't exist? Wherever we see complex organization, we know that there is intelligent management going on behind the scenes. For example, if a large city is to have order, it must also have elaborate management—otherwise, there will be chaos. Also, everyone has experienced that if a building or farm has no management, it quickly deteriorates to weeds and cobwebs. And, in every case, management means that there is a manager. How, then, can we imagine that the universe—with its regularly changing seasons, its orbiting planets, its extraordinarily intricate biological and ecological systems—is working automatically, without a supreme manager? This is simply a childish idea.
So God exists, and He controls nature in every galactic and atomic detail. Actually, God has two "natures"—the material and the spiritual. In the Bhagavad-gita the Sanskrit term for nature is prakrti, "that which is controlled." Now, material nature is made of inert, dead matter and is called apara prakrti, or inferior energy, and spiritual nature is composed of the conscious living entities and is called para prakrti, or superior energy. Both the material and spiritual energies are controlled by God. But the living entities are designated as superior energy because they are conscious and because they try to exploit material nature. Material nature, being unconscious, cannot move itself, any more than a car can move itself. We may not see the car's driver, but we know that he must always be there. In the same way, we may not see God, but we should know for certain that He is "driving" or controlling the whole universe.
The Vedic literatures tell us, therefore, to stop foolishly denying God and start learning to work cooperatively with Him. As we have seen, prosperity depends not on our work but on the background arrangement of the Supreme Lord. He supplies all our necessities—food, water, heat, light, air, soil—none of which we can manufacture. Even manufacturing enterprises require raw materials like iron, sulfur, manganese, mercury, and so on. Obviously, we cannot live except by the grace of the Lord. And how do we achieve His grace? By performing sacrifices to please Him. But one who will not do that will soon find himself in scarcity, as we are seeing so plainly today.
Performing sacrifice simply means that we reciprocate the Lord's kindness. This is only natural. A father gives everything to his son, and when the son offers him a gift in return, the father gladly accepts it and they both enjoy the loving exchange—though the father actually doesn't need anything from the son. In the same way, we should offer something to the Lord in sacrifice—to express our appreciation for His gifts and to reciprocate His love. God doesn't actually need anything from us, but if we aren't grateful enough to try to please Him in some way—and, indeed, if we are so foolish as to deny His very existence—why should He continue to supply us with rain and other necessities?
So, once again: if we want to live happily and prosperously, we have to perform sacrifice to the Supreme Lord. If we satisfy Him, He will bestow all wonderful and bounteous things upon us; but if we ignore Him, what can our puny material science and technology do? This world exists just so that we can have a chance to learn the spiritual science of devotional service, the science of satisfying Krsna (God). This is the eternal occupation of the self, or soul, but now we have forgotten it. So out of kindness Krsna provides us with all the necessities of life simply so that we can use them to revive our consciousness of Him. But if we keep ignoring the purpose of life and simply take everything from the Lord for our own sense gratification, we're thieves—and we have to suffer punishment under the laws of material nature.
Such is the state of the world now. We have become a civilization of gross materialistic thieves, and we have forgotten everything about sacrifice to the Lord. But the situation isn't hopeless. As previously mentioned, just for our degraded society the Lord has given the very easy process of sacrifice called sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In fact, all the Vedic literatures recommend this sacrifice for the present age. (Of course, chanting any genuine name of God will help, but the Vedic literatures say that in the Kali Age the Hare Krsna mantra is the most effective.)
Clearly, we should give up our elaborate arrangements for conquering nature and enjoying sense gratification. Instead, we should live simply and meet together as often as possible to chant the holy names of God. If we offer the Lord this sacrifice, surely He will be pleased with us and provide all the natural resources we need to live comfortably and become God-conscious.
On the national level, government leaders should arrange for large-scale performances of sankirtana. They should discontinue their stop-gap efforts to alter or control the weather, which are all destined to fail because they ignore God. The Srimad-Bhagavatam affirms that government leaders are responsible for everything that happens within their jurisdiction—including weather conditions. So all of us should immediately demand that our leaders arrange to satisfy the Lord through sankirtana—which will bring an end to all the natural disturbances that now plague us.
The purpose of the Krsna consciousness movement is to spread sankirtana as widely as possible. At present people all over the world are suffering, but if they will just take the Krsna consciousness movement seriously, give up their sinful activities, and chant the Hare Krsna mantra, they will solve all their problems without difficulty and become supremely peaceful and happy.
With the whole universe as his realm, King Bali gladly promised to give the little brahmana boy just three steps of land... . No one could have foreseen how colossal those steps would be—or how colossal the king's truthfulness and generosity would be.
From Srimad-Bhagavatam, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. (Adapted by Drutakarma dasa.)
Indrapuri, the capital of Indra, the king of heaven, overflowed with pleasing orchards and gardens where graceful, gliding swans played in ponds full of lotus flowers. The city was shaded by canopies decorated with pearls, and the domes of the palaces had flags embroidered with gold and precious gems. All through the city there were sitting places made of diamond and coral, and breezes bore the fragrance of the flowers falling from the hair of the demigods' wives, who were everlastingly beautiful and youthful. For protection the city was surrounded both by trenches full of Ganges water and by a high wall the color of fire. Yet even in the carefree 'capital of King Indra there is sometimes cause for fear....
Desiring to conquer Indrapuri, the powerful king of the demons Bali Maharaja once performed the visvajit sacrifice. Because Bali had served his guru faithfully, he achieved success, and from the sacrificial fire appeared a celestial chariot of gold, powerful yellow horses, a flag emblazoned with a lion, a gilded bow, two quivers of infallible arrows, and a suit of invincible armor. Thus equipped for war, Bali assembled his vast army and set out for Indrapuri.
When Bali Maharaja and his countless soldiers reached Indra's abode, they furiously attacked it from all directions. Overwhelmed, the demigods fled the heavenly kingdom in great haste and scattered here and there, assuming different forms to escape detection. Then the victorious King Bali entered Indrapuri and brought the three worlds under his control.
Lord Vamanadeva Appears
Aditi, the mother of the demigods, began to lament the fate of her sons, who had been forced to leave the heavenly planets. She pleaded with her husband, the great sage Kasyapa, saying, "O best of sages, please bestow upon my sons a benediction by which they can regain what they have lost."
Kasyapa, who was also a great devotee of the Lord, replied to his wife, "Only Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, can bestow such a benediction. You should engage in His devotional service, and He will surely fulfill your desire."
So with full and undiverted attention, Aditi began to meditate on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this way she subdued her mind and senses, which were as strong as strong horses.
At last the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared before her in His original Visnu form. He wore yellow garments and bore a conchshell, disc, club, and lotus in His four hands, and His eyes looked like the petals of a blooming lotus. On seeing the Lord, Aditi was overwhelmed with transcendental bliss and stood silently with tears in her eyes.
"You have prayed to Me and properly worshiped Me," the Supreme Lord said, "Therefore I shall agree to become your son, and in this way I shall act to help your other sons regain their rightful positions."
So on the twelfth day of the bright fortnight in the month of Bhadra, when the moon came into the lunar mansion Sravana, at the auspicious moment of Abhijit, Lord Visnu appeared in this universe as the son of Kasyapa and Aditi. Then, in the presence of His supremely fortunate parents, the Lord assumed the form of Vamana, a dwarf brahmacari (spiritual student). Just as an actor may play different roles, but remains the same man, so the Lord assumes many thousands and millions of forms—and yet these forms are not different from one another.
When the great sages saw the Lord in the role of a dwarf brahmacari, they were very pleased. They held many auspicious ceremonies and initiated Him as a brahmana (spiritual teacher of society). According to the Vedic culture a brahmacari goes out to beg alms to learn the spiritual qualities of humility and pridelessness. And Lord Vamanadeva determined that He would follow this custom, even though He was actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the proprietor of all the universes.
Lord Vamanadeva Begs Charity From Bali Maharaja
Meanwhile Bali Maharaja, the conqueror of the three worlds, was performing a huge sacrifice in the field known as Bhrgukaccha, on the northern bank of the Narmada River. When Lord Vamanadeva heard this, he immediately went there to show His mercy to Bali.
Bali Maharaja was jubilant on seeing the beautiful form of Lord Vamana. With great satisfaction he offered Him a seat and washed His lotus feet. Then Bali said, "O brahmana, I offer You my hearty welcome and my respectful obeisances. Please let us know what we may do for You. It appears that You have come here to ask me for something. Therefore, whatever You want You may take from me."
Apparently, Bali Maharaja did not know that the dwarf brahmana was actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But since the Vedic custom prescribes that a king give lavishly in charity—especially to the brahmanas—Bali offered Lord Vamanadeva whatever He might desire. Then the Lord made what seemed to be an insignificant request.
"O King of the demons, from Your majesty I ask only three paces of land, to the measurement of my footsteps."
Bali Maharaja replied, "My dear brahmana boy. You don't know what is in your own best interest. I could give you a whole planet, for I have conquered the entire universe. But you are asking me for only three paces of land. You are not very intelligent, I can see. O small boy, you should take this opportunity to ask me for as much as you want. That way you will never have to ask for anything more from anybody, ever."
Lord Vamanadeva replied just like a perfect brahmana. "If I were not satisfied with three paces of land, then surely I would not be satisfied even with possessing a whole planet. If I possessed one planet, I would hope to get others. One should be content with whatever comes his way by providence, for discontent can never bring happiness.
"Therefore, O King, from you I ask only three paces of land. By such a gift I shall be very pleased."
When the Supreme Personality of Godhead had thus spoken to Bali Maharaja, Bali smiled and told Him, "All right. Take whatever you like."
But Sukracarya, the family priest of Bali Maharaja, could understand that the dwarf brahmana Vamana was none other than the Supreme Lord Himself, so he spoke quickly to dissuade his patron.
"O King," he said very earnestly, "you have promised to give Him three steps of land in charity, but when you give it He will occupy the three worlds. You are a rascal! You do not know what a miserable mistake you have made. After He takes everything from you, how shall you live?"
Actually, Sukracarya was more concerned over how he himself would live. As a non-Krsna-conscious, professional spiritual master, he was completely dependent on his disciple for his upkeep. Bali Maharaja remained silent for some time, deliberating on the words of his greedy guru, and then he replied.
"How can I withdraw my promise out of greed when I have already said that I shall give this land? How can I behave like an ordinary cheater, especially toward a saintly brahmana? There is nothing more sinful than untruthfulness. In any case, if Vamana is the Supreme Lord, then what choice do I have but to offer Him the tract of land He has requested—even if He is coming as my enemy? He is all-powerful."
On hearing this, Sukracarya angrily cursed Bali Maharaja. "Although you have no knowledge, you pretend to be learned, and therefore you dare disobey my order. You are very impudent. Because of your disobedience, you shall very soon lose all your opulence."
But even after being cursed in this way by his so-called spiritual master, Bali Maharaja never deviated from his decision to offer charity to the young brahmacari who had appeared before him. Thus, according to custom, he first offered water to Vamanadeva and then gave Him the gift of land he had promised. At that time the residents of the higher planetary system—namely the demigods, Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, Siddhas, and Caranas—all became so pleased by Bali's simple and sincere action that they praised his character and showered millions of flowers upon him.
Then, as Bali Maharaja and the members of the assembly watched stunned in amazement, Vamana began increasing in size—until everything in the universe was within His body, including the earth, planetary systems, sky, oceans, birds, beasts, human beings, demigods, and great saints. Now the Lord stood before Bali Maharaja in His universal form—holding a conchshell, sword, shield, flaming discus, arrow, bow, lotus flower, and club in His eight arms. Bali Maharaja saw the surface of the globe on the Lord's feet; on the surface of His calves, all the mountains; on His bosom, all the clusters of stars and also the goddess of fortune; and on the Lord's hair Bali saw the clouds. The Lord wore a yellow garment covered by a jeweled belt, and He was decorated with a flower garland surrounded by bees. Manifesting Himself in this way, the Supreme Personality of Godhead covered the entire surface of the earth with one footstep, the sky with His body, and all directions with His arms.
As the Lord took His second step, He covered the heavenly planets—and not even a spot remained for His third step. With His second step the Lord actually kicked a hole in the covering of the universe, and through that hole the water of the sacred Ganges River descended to the material world.
Then Lord Vamanadeva reduced Himself to His original form, and all the predominating deities of the various planetary systems began to worship Him by offering fragrant flowers, water, sandalwood pulp, incense, grain, and fruits.
When the demonic followers of Bali Maharaja saw that their master had lost all his possessions to Vamanadeva, they were very angry, and without the approval of Bali Maharaja, they pushed forward to kill Lord Vamanadeva.
When the associates of the Lord, who were each as powerful as ten thousand elephants, saw the demons coming forward so violently, they smiled. Then they took up their own weapons and began to kill them. When Bali Maharaja saw that his soldiers were all being killed, he remembered the curse of Sukracarya and forbade his soldiers to continue fighting.
"O demons, please hear my words! Don't fight! Stop immediately, for the present time is not favorable. When we conquered the heavenly kingdom, providence was in our favor, but now that same providence is against us."
In accordance with the order of their master, all the chiefs of the demons and their followers entered the lower regions of the universe. Then suddenly Garuda, the huge bird-carrier of Lord Visnu, arrested Bali Maharaja with the ropes of Varuna [the demigod in charge of the seas]. Vamanadeva then spoke to the captive Bali.
"O King of the demons, as far as the sun, the moon, and the stars shine, and as far as the clouds pour rain—to that extent all the land throughout the universe was in your possession. Now, with my first two steps I have taken all this. But you promised me three steps of land. Where shall I place my third step? You have broken your promise, so now you must descend for a few years to a hellish condition of life."
King Bali Surrenders Everything
Bali Maharaja understood why the Lord was acting so mischievously, and he said, "Your Lordship, You have disguised Yourself to cheat me, saying you wanted only three steps of land. But now You have expanded Your body and taken my whole kingdom with just two steps. Because You have done this on behalf of Your devotees, the demigods, You do not regard this as cheating. And since You came to beg from me, I will keep my promise to You—I do not want to cheat You. You have taken my wealth, but I still have my body. Therefore, please put your third step upon my head, for the possessor is even more valuable than what he possesses.
"Only by providence have I been forcibly brought under Your lotus feet and deprived of all my opulence. Because of the illusion created by temporary opulence, people in general, who live under material conditions, facing accidental death at every moment, do not understand that this life is temporary. Only by providence have I been saved from that condition. It is to bring me to the right platform of eternal life that You have put me into these circumstances."
In other words, Bali Maharaja could see that although the Lord was apparently acting as an enemy. He was actually acting for Bali's own best welfare. In this instance the Lord was a better friend to the demon than to the demigods. The demigods worship the Lord for temporary material benefit, and thus they are not pure devotees. But because the Lord took away all his possessions, Bali Maharaja rose to the platform of pure devotion—which is very rare.
Just then Prahlada Maharaja, Bali's illustrious grandfather, a most dear devotee of the Lord, appeared there, like a moon rising in the nighttime. Standing tall and elegant, he was dressed in yellow garments, and his beautiful eyes resembled lotus petals."
My Lord," said Prahlada Maharaja, "it is Your Lordship alone who gave Bali his heavenly opulence, and now, today, it is You who have taken it all away. Because his exalted position as king of heaven was putting him in the darkness of ignorance, You have done him a very merciful favor. Wealth, women, followers, and prestige are so bewildering that they make even a learned, self-controlled man forget to search for the shelter of Your lotus feet."
Bound tight by the ropes of Varuna, Bali Maharaja could simply bow his head respectfully. His eyes filled with tears of shame.
Then Lord Brahma, the chief demigod in charge of creation, spoke. "My dear Lord Vamana, please consider that those who sincerely offer even a little water, some newly grown grass, or a few flower buds at Your lotus feet achieve the most exalted position in the spiritual world. This Bali Maharaja has now offered You everything that exists within the three worlds, including his own body. How, then, can he deserve to suffer arrest like this?"
Lord Vamanadeva said, "My dear Lord Brahma, in truth Bali Maharaja has satisfied Me greatly. First I took away his kingdom, and then My soldiers defeated him and arrested him with the ropes of Varuna. His spiritual master has cursed him, and his friends and relatives have rejected him. And in spite of all this, he has kept his promise to Me. Therefore not only shall I release him, but I shall also give him a position not attainable even by the demigods themselves. He will again become king of the heavenly planets in a future age. Until that time he will live on a special planet called Sutala, which is hundreds of times more opulent than heaven."
Then, turning to Bali Maharaja, Lord Vamanadeva said, "There you will live peacefully with all your friends and relatives, including your grandfather Prahlada Maharaja, and all good fortune will come to you. O great hero, I shall always be with you and give you protection in all respects."
When the ancient and eternal Supreme Personality of Godhead had spoken, Bali Maharaja—his eyes filled with tears, his hands folded, and his voice faltering in devotional ecstasy—responded by saying, "O my Lord, the causeless mercy You have shown me, a fallen demon, has never been achieved by the pious demigods."
After Lord Vamanadeva had released him from the ropes of Varuna, Bali Maharaja entered the planet Sutala in full satisfaction. Then the Lord returned all the lands He had taken from Bali Maharaja to their original owners—Indra and the demigods. Now that He had fulfilled Aditi's desire, the Supreme Personality of Godhead continued to rule the affairs of the universe, protecting the devotees and reforming the demons, as always.