"It's one thing to know it theoretically,
The countryside near Frankfurt, West Germany. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada talks with Professor Karl Friederich Graf Eckfrecht Von Durckheim. Professor Durckheim holds a Ph.D. in analytical psychology and is famed for starting a therapeutic school (in the Black Forest) that incorporates both Western and Eastern approaches to the psychology of consciousness. He is the author of fifteen books.
Prof. Durckheim: May I ask a question, sir, about the meaning of time? I think there are two ways to look at time and to look at eternity.
Srila Prabhupada: Time is eternal—but we calculate time in terms of "past" and "present" and "future," according to our temporary material existence. I am a human being. I live for a hundred years. So my past and present are different from the past and present of the ant, who lives for, say, a few hours. And similarly, living beings on higher planets—their past and present are different, too, because one of their days equals millions and billions of our years. So time is eternal—but according to our condition in time and space, we calculate time in terms of past and present and future.
Prof. Durckheim: Well, now, I question you ... you see ... talking about eternity—there are two meanings or concepts at the same time. It seems one concept is that finite life, as we see it in this finite world, is going on infinitely, infinitely, millions of years—that's one way to think about eternity.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Prof. Durckheim: But there's another way.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Strictly speaking, eternity means both no end and no beginning.
Prof. Durckheim: So isn't this other concept the one where, for instance, Christ says, "Before anything else in this world existed, I am"? This "I am". . . isn't this the kind of eternity that is totally beyond past and future?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Past and future have to do with this body.
Prof. Durckheim: Oh yes, exactly. Past and future have to do with this body and with this ego, which has a before and an after, an up and a down, and ... if you take away this ego, what's left?
Srila Prabhupada: What is left is the pure ego. For instance, now I have got this seventy-eight-year-old Indian body—I have got this false ego that "I am Indian," "I am this body." This is a misconception. Some day this temporary body will vanish, and I'll get another temporary body. Then again will begin my past and present. So therefore, this is called illusion. Time is eternal—it has no beginning and no end—but we transmigrate from one body to another. And so we are miscalculating "past," "present," "future."
Prof. Durckheim: But without this body you couldn't become conscious of what is beyond the body. The pure consciousness has to have a material body—it has to have a background which is not pure consciousness ...
Srila Prabhupada: No. The pure consciousness, the soul, does not need to have a material body. For instance, when you are dreaming, you forget your present body, but still you remain conscious. The soul, the consciousness, is like water: water is pure, but as soon as it comes down from the sky and touches the ground, it becomes muddy.
Prof. Durckheim: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Similarly, we are spirit souls—we are pure. But as soon as we leave the spiritual world and come in contact with these material bodies, our consciousness becomes covered. The consciousness remains pure, but now it is covered by mud—this body. And this is why people are fighting. They are wrongly identifying with the body and thinking, "I am German;" "I am English, "'I am black;" A am white;' "I am this;" "I am that"—so many bodily designations. These bodily designations are impurities. And so we see that sometimes artists make statues that are naked. In France, for example, they regard nakedness as pure art. Similarly, when you come to the "nakedness" of the spirit soul—without these bodily designations—that is purity.
Prof. Durckheim: But to come to our pure consciousness, we have to experience the background of impurity, the suffering of impurity. We cannot become conscious of the pure without having experienced the suffering of the impure ...
Srila Prabhupada: Why'? Right now your health may be covered by a disease, but do you need that covering of disease to experience your natural, healthy state? Similarly, I do not need to think, "I am American," "I am German," "I am this," "I am that"—all these impure, diseased ideas—to experience my pure consciousness: "I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of God."
Prof. Durckheim: But in order to get there, to feel that one is neither "this" nor "that," one must first have suffered by having thought that one is this or that.
Srila Prabhupada: No, suffering is not necessary. To experience your pure spiritual consciousness you do not have to go through suffering. Suffering is just like a bad dream. Let us say you dream that you are being attacked by a tiger—but there is no tiger. So actually there is no suffering, but on account of ignorance you are thinking, "The tiger is eating me." This dreaming experience is simply material—it is not a spiritually enlightening experience. It is an unwanted thing. You do not need it. But this material, dreaming experience will go on continually. As long as we are attached to temporary, material sense pleasures, we will get new material bodies, one after another. Even in this single lifetime—in your childhood you experienced a body that was much different from the body you are experiencing at this time. So as we are getting new material bodies we are getting different experiences, and all of those experiences are photographed within the mind. Sometimes they come out at night and intermix, and we see more dreams, and we experience so many contradictory things. All of this—daytime and nighttime—is simply hovering on the mental plane. This is not the spiritual plane. As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita [3.42],
indriyani parany ahur
"The bodily senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and the soul is even higher than the intelligence." So we have to transcend all our material designations. Then we come to real consciousness—"I am eternal, God is eternal, I am part and parcel of God, my duty is to serve God." Of course, here in the material world I am also serving. I am not free from service. But I am serving under material designations. For example, perhaps during the last war you went to fight, because you might have designated yourself, "I am German." "I must fight, give service to my country" Everybody is thinking, "Let me give service to my community" or "to my family," or if there is nobody else, at least "to my dog." This is going on. So we have to get rid of all these designations and become pure and serve God. In other words,
"If anyone actually wants to get free from all material designations and purify his senses, then he should simply engage all his senses in serving Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses." [Narada-pancaratra] Take Arjuna, for example. Arjuna was in so much anxiety on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Have you read our Bhagavad-gita As It Is?
Prof. Durckheim: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Arjuna was in anxiety because he was thinking in terms of bodily designations. "I belong to this family—on the other side are my cousin-brothers, who belong to the same family—so why shall I fight them? Let them enjoy." Now, from the material point of view, Arjuna seemed to be a very good man, but Krsna condemned him: asocyan anvasocas tvam prajna-vadams ca bhasase—"You are talking very high words, but you are Fool Number One." Arjuna was talking on the platform of this bodily conception of life, but after hearing the Bhagavad-gita, he understood, "I am not this body—I am an eternal servant of Krsna, and my duty is to obey the orders of Krsna " Superficially he remained the same soldier, but in the beginning he had been a soldier under a bodily designation, and now he became a soldier ready to carry out the order of the Supreme. That is the difference. So when you act not to gratify this material body but to carry out the orders of the Supreme, that is self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: There's only one way to world peace—the leaders must attain self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita Everyone should understand, "I am not the enjoyer; nobody but Lord Krsna is the enjoyer." Today most people are trying to be the enjoyers of this world, and that is false. The real enjoyer is the Supreme Lord. We are trying to occupy this land, that land. "This is Germany." "This is France." "This is India." "This is my land, and my land is worshipable." But we should know that no land belongs to us. Everything belongs to God. The land was not created by us; the ocean was not created by us. Why should we claim, "This is the Scandinavian ocean" or "This is the English ocean"? This is all false, imagination. So we have to come to this understanding—that nothing belongs to us. The United Nations—they've been quarreling for the last thirty years, but they are fighting on false ground, because everyone is thinking, "This land is mine; I must protect it:' Because they have no self-realization, there is no peace.
Prof. Durckheim: As soon as two men who are self-realized meet, there can be no war. There's a very wonderful story about when the Emperor of Japan wanted to take over the leadership again after he had been the high priest for many years. The Emperor's spiritual master approached the opposing general, and the general, being a self-realized man himself, said, "Well, all right." In twenty minutes things were all in order. They resolved the matter gently, and without a single shot peace was established, because these two men had a high level of self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: So that is our point—that every one of us must realize, "I am a servant of God, a child of God, and everything belongs to the father." We can use our father's property as much as we require for our maintenance, but not more than that. If you think like this, this is Krsna consciousness, and there will be no more war. Everything will be peaceful.
Prof. Durckheim: In my work I always feel great difficulty, again and again, in understanding that we are all sons of God. It's one thing to know it theoretically, but it's a vastly different thing to feel it and to experience it.
Srila Prabhupada: It is a very simple thing. Suppose you have not seen your father; you are a posthumous child. But you must believe that there is a father. Without your father there is no possibility of your existence. This is something that the Christian people have experienced. They go to church—"O Father, give us our daily bread." So there is a supreme father. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita. Krsna—God—says, "I am the seed-giving father of all living entities in all the various forms of life." So as soon as you speak of a father, that means he must have a son or sons; and as soon as there is a son, he must have a father. So this is a matter of science, not sentiment.
Prof. Durckheim: It's one of the great phrases of the Gospel of Saint John which the church forgot, that Christ always says, "I am the son of God and you are my brothers. You are sons of God, just as I am."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Everyone is the son of the Lord. But they do not agree now. Now, as soon as you say, "Everyone is a son," the so-called Christians say, "No, Christ is the only son." But Christ said, "I am a son, and you are also sons." This is the actual fact. Krsna says,
"It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature and that I am the seed-giving father." [Bg. 14.4]
Prof. Durckheim: Wonderful.
Srila Prabhupada: Material nature is the mother. Material nature gives the body, but the soul is part and parcel of God. God impregnates material nature with the soul, and the soul appears in so many species of life. So self-realization is very easily explained as samah sarvesu bhutesu: giving equal treatment to all living entities, because all of them are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. But because most people have no spiritual knowledge, they think that humanitarian work means to give all facility to the human being and none to the animals. Or they talk of "nationalism:' A "national" is anyone who has taken birth in their land, and yet they are slaughtering the poor animals who have taken birth there. This is their "nationalism." So everything is going wrong on account of this wrong conception of life: "I am this body." But when we understand, "I am not this body—I am the active principle within this body," then our misconceptions will vanish. That is the beginning of spiritual realization, or self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: And this understanding has to be an experience.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, you can experience it. On account of foolishness, people are thinking differently, but everyone really knows, "I am not this body." This is very easy to experience. I am existing. I understand that I have existed in a baby body, I have existed in a child body, and also in a boy body. So I have now existed in so many bodies. Or, for example, you have now dressed yourself in a black coat. The next moment you can dress yourself in a white coat. But you are not that black or white coat; you have simply changed coats. If I call you "Mr. Black Coat," that is my foolishness. Similarly, I have changed bodies, but I am not any of these bodies. This is self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: And yet isn't there a difficulty, in that you may already have understood very well that you are not the body—but as long as you, for instance, still have the fear of death, you didn't understand by experience? As soon as you've understood by experience, you have no fear of death, because you know that you can't die.
Srila Prabhupada: So experience is received from a higher authority, from someone who has higher knowledge. Instead of my trying to experience for years and years that I am not this body, I can take the knowledge from Krsna, the perfect, and then my experience is received.
Prof. Durckheim: Yes, I understand.
Srila Prabhupada: ... Therefore the Vedic instruction is tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet. "In order to get first-class experience of the perfection of life, you must approach a guru. "And who is a guru? Whom should I approach'? I should approach someone who is guru-srotriyam—one who has heard from his guru perfectly—that guru. This is called guru-parampara, disciplic succession. I hear from a perfect person, and I distribute the knowledge the same way, without any change. Lord Krsna gives us knowledge in the Bhagavad-gita—and we are distributing the same knowledge. I am always inexperienced, because my power of understanding is very little; therefore I must get knowledge from a person who has perfect knowledge. Then my knowledge is perfect. For instance, a child may not know what this microphone is. So he asks his father, "What is this, father?" And his father says, "My dear child, it is a microphone:" Now the child knows, "This is a microphone:" Although the child's capacity may be imperfect, still his knowledge is perfect. So this is our process. We are getting knowledge from Krsna, the most perfect. Or you can get knowledge from Jesus Christ; that is also perfect, because the source is perfect. But we have to receive knowledge from the perfect source, not by the ascending process—experiencing, failure, experiencing, failure, experiencing, failure. Not like that. That will take a very long time. But if you actually want to become perfect, just approach the perfect, take knowledge from him, and you will experience perfection.
In The Hills Of West Virginia
by Jagajivana dasa
You won't believe it's in West Virginia," warns one reporter. "You won't believe it's in the United States."
A recent visitor says, "I've never seen such a beautiful place in my life. It looks like heaven."
"In the wooded hills of Marshall County," says the Wheeling News-Register, "off U.S. 250 in Limestone, old farmhouses and barns dot the countryside. Driving along the back roads, one sees acres of woods interspersed with hayfields and herds of cattle.
"But driving around a sharp bend on one of those rutted byways, a traveler may think he is seeing a mirage. For perched on a ridge overlooking miles of farmland and woods is a palace.
"A palace made with gold, silver, marble, onyx, stained glass, and teakwood. A palace with handpainted ceilings modeled after the works of European masters. A palace that has taken six years to build. Srila Prabhupada's Palace, in the Hare Krishna community of New Vrindaban......
Adds the New York Times, "The magnificently opulent black-and-gold-domed palace ... has left many of the visitors gawking. It has Italian marble floors, walls inlaid with Iranian onyx, gold-leafed column caps, stained-glass windows in the shape of peacocks, numerous crystal chandeliers, and downspouts outside in the shape of elephant heads. All this sits atop a ridge overlooking miles of hills, forests, and farmlands in all directions."
Professor George Clark, of Ohio State University's Department of Architecture, says, "This could turn into one of the most important and informative tourist attractions in the country."
And yet as the Pittsburgh Press notes, "Prabhupada's Palace was built entirely by Krishna devotees, most of them unskilled before the project began:"
Strictly speaking," says Hans Keilman, a Dutch architect and industrial designer, "the Palace does not follow the rules of architecture."
And Bhagavatananda dasa, one of the designers, admits, "I haven't the slightest idea whether we broke the rules or not. I don't even know what the rules are."
"This building transcends architectural considerations," explains Keilman. "Ordinarily, a building gets its beauty from two things—the money that goes into it, along with the skill of the architect. But this building's beauty comes from the inspiration of the people who worked on it. They designed it by getting inspired as they went along. They just stayed and worked and became inspired. So you wonder, 'What, exactly, could have inspired them?' "
"This is the great riddle," says Bhagavatananda. "'What made these people do this?'
"It certainly wasn't the money we spent during the years of construction. That came to about $500,000, or just $10 a week per devotee (there are 200 devotees here). And we didn't have, any kind of professionally drawn architectural plan. It's not a matter of what inspired the Palace. It's a matter of who inspired the Palace."
That was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In 1965 Srila Prabhupada left India for America. With him he carried a few copies of his translations of the Vedic literatures plus the order of his spiritual master—to bring to modern man the spiritual peace and fulfillment of the Krsna conscious culture. In 1968, shortly after the New Vrindaban farming community had gotten its start, Prabhupada talked about its significance.
"The Vrindaban conception," he said, "is that of a transcendental village without the botherations of the modern industrial atmosphere. In Krsna's homeland of Vrindaban, the people can fully depend on nature's beauty and the cows, and this New Vrindaban should be such an ideal village—where the residents will have simple living and high thinking."
Srila Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (one of Prabhupada's first American disciples and New Vrindaban's organizer from the very beginning) says that the turning point in the community's life has been the Palace. "We were planning that our first major building effort would be a temple for Krsna," he says. "But after a while I began to think this was not exactly right. The Vedic literatures say that one has to approach Krsna through the spiritual master. So we decided first of all to construct a palace for Prabhupada.
"There is no one in the world who can compare to Prabhupada—what he has done for the whole world by bringing Krsna consciousness to light and making it available to everyone. That Krsna consciousness should spread throughout the world," says Bhaktipada, "was the desire of Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya when He appeared in India five centuries ago. But what Lord Caitanya started was not actually developed and manifest until Prabhupada. He has taken that seed and made it grow into a great tree with much nice fruit in the form of love of God. So the Palace is a means of bringing Prabhupada to the world."
Seeing Technology in a Spiritual Light
This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his students took place on a morning walk in Chicago, in July 1975.
Student: Earlier you were saying that the Western world is spiritually blind and that India is technologically lame, but that if they combine their resources, then both India and the West will benefit.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. If the Western world, the blind man, takes India, the lame man, on its shoulders, then the lame man can point the way spiritually and the blind man can sustain them materially, technologically. If America and India pool their technological and spiritual resources, this combination will bring about perfect peace and prosperity all over the world.
How blind these Americans are. They have attained the human form of life—such an intelligent form of life—and yet they are utilizing it for riding motor boats in the lake. You see? A human being should use every moment for regaining his God consciousness. Not a single moment should be wasted—and these people are simply finding new ways to waste timer
Of course, the Americans are doing things in a very nice way, with great technological advancement, but what they are doing is blind. You may be a very good driver, but if you are blind, then how well will you drive? You'll create disaster. So the American people must open their eyes spiritually, so that their good driving capacity will be properly utilized. Now they're trying to see through microscopes. But as long as they remain blind to their own spiritual identity, what will they see? They may have microscopes or this machine or that machine—but they are blind. That they do not know.
Student: I think most Americans are more interested in raising a family than in self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna consciousness is not hindered by family life, one way or the other. Ahaituky apratihata. God consciousness cannot be checked by anything—if you are sincerer In any circumstances you can be engaged. You can execute Krsna consciousness in four ways: pranair arthair dhiya vaca—by your life, by your money, by your intelligence, and by your words. So if you want to be a family man—if you cannot dedicate twenty-four hours daily—then earn money and use it to spread Krsna consciousness. And if you cannot earn money, then use your intelligence. There is so much intellectual work to do—publication, research, and so on. If you cannot do that, then utilize your words to tell people about Krsna. Wherever you may be, simply explain to someone, "Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just offer your obeisances to Krsna." Finished. So where is the scarcity of opportunities? You can serve Krsna in any capacity, provided you want to serve. But if you want to engage Krsna in your service, that is a blunder. People are going to church—"Krsna, serve us; give us our daily bread."
People manufacture their own problems. Actually, there are no problems. Isavasyam idam sarvam: God has arranged everything. He has made everything perfect and complete. You see so many fruits for the birds—so sumptuously supplied. Purnam idam: Krsna has already supplied everything in sufficient quantity. But these rascals are blind—they do not see this. They are trying to "adjust:" Why do they need to make an "adjustment"? Everything is already sufficient. It is just that people are misusing things. But otherwise, they already have sufficient land, sufficient intelligence—everything is sufficient.
In Africa and Australia they have so much land—and instead of relying on nature's bounty of crops, they are raising cattle to kill them. This is their intelligence. People are growing coffee and tea and tobacco, even though they know these things hurt their health. In some parts of the world people are dying for want of grain, and yet in other parts of the world people are growing tobacco, which will only bring disease and death. This is their intelligence.
The problem is that these rascals do not know that life is meant for understanding God. Ask anyone. Nobody knows. They are such fools. Don't you see how much care they are taking for dogs'? They're blind: they do not know whether they'll be God conscious or "dog conscious." The dog runs on four legs, but people think they have become advanced because they can run by car—on four wheels. They think they have become civilized, but their business is running, that's all.
Student: And the purpose for the running is the same—eating, sleeping, mating, and defending.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. If the purpose is the same as a dog's, then what is the use of running by car? Of course, you can use the car for reaching people with the message of Krsna consciousness. You can use everything for Krsna. That is what we teach. If there is a nice car, why should I condemn it? Utilize it for Krsna: then it is all right. We don't say, "Give it up." Nor When you have produced something by your God-given intelligence, it is all right—if you use it for God. But when you use it for other purposes than Krsna, then it is nonsense.
Take this car—so nicely decorated. If I say, "It is all nonsense," is that very intelligent? Nor "The purpose for which you have created this car—that is nonsense:" So we simply want people to change their consciousness. We don't condemn the things they have produced.
For instance, with a knife you can cut vegetables and fruit, but if you use it for cutting your throat, that is bad. So now people are using the knife of technology for cutting their own throat, for forgetting all about self-realization, Krsna consciousness. This is bad.
Nr-deham adyam sulabham sudurlabham plavam sukalpam: our human body is just like a good boat—with our human intelligence we can cross the ocean of nescience, the ocean of repeated birth and death in this material world. And guru-karnadharam/ mayanukulena nabhasva-teritam puman bhavabdhim na taret sa atma-ha: we have a favorable wind—Krsna's instructions in the Vedic literatures—plus we have a good captain, the bona fide spiritual master, who can guide us and enlighten us. With all these facilities, if we cannot cross the ocean of nescience, then we are cutting our throat. The boat is there, the captain is there, the favorable wind is there, but we are not utilizing them. That means we are killing ourselves.
"As we began to work on Prabhupada's home,
The idea for Prabhupada's Palace came from His Divine Grace Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, one of Prabhupada's first disciples. Under Prabhupada s direction, it was Bhaktipada who started the New Vrindaban Community in 1968. And before passing away, Prabhupada appointed him one of the spiritual masters who would initiate disciples. In his room in New Vrindaban and while riding about in his jeep, supervising the community's work. Bhaktipada answered questions for the readers of BACK TO GODHEAD.
BTG: Could you describe how the idea for Prabhupada's Palace got started'?
Srila Bhaktipada: In 1973 we were getting ready to start a temple for Krsna at the Govindaji site down at Bahulabana [the principal farm at New Vrindaban]. We had already done the preliminary excavation work and dug a little footer.
But I began to think, "This is not very proper. We are making a home for Krsna, but actually in our community there is no home for Srila Prabhupada. "Of course, whenever he came we gave him the best house we had, but still there was no home where we could say, "This is Srila Prabhupada's home." So I thought, "Let us first make a home for Srila Prabhupada, because that is the proper way to approach Krsna:" If we want to render service to Krsna, we first have to render service to His devotee.
So we began. Actually, we laid the cornerstones for both buildings on the same weekend. We were expecting to be able to finish Prabhupada's home rather quickly and get on with the temple. But as we began to work on Prabhupada's home, it began to take on the shape of a palace. This was not the original conception—the original idea was rather modest. The size of the building is still modest, of course, but the intricacy in the work is rather unusual.
So the palace gradually developed, and now we are ready to take up our next task, which is to build a palace for Vrndavanacandra, Lord Krsna.
BTG: Could you explain what Prabhupada's Palace is, what it means?
Srila Bhaktipada: Prabhupada's Palace is to Prabhupada what a beautiful setting is to a diamond. The palace is a means of drawing attention to Srila Prabhupada.
Unfortunately, during Prabhupada's life, and almost up till now, Prabhupada has never become very prominent through the Hare Krsna movement. Of course, he arranged it that way. He could have made it the Bhaktivedanta Swami Movement—but he didn't, because he is a humble Vaisnava, a humble devotee. But as his disciples, we should understand that for the benefit of all humanity, Prabhupada should be as prominent as Jesus Christ. Like the Christians, we accept the philosophy that no one can approach God except through the pure devotee.
BTG: Could you explain that?
Srila Bhaktipada: Can you see God?
Srila Bhaktipada: Then you have to hear from someone who does see God. The spiritual master sees God; therefore he can instruct us.
BTG: People sometimes want to know why a master whose teachings are spiritual should be worshiped with such material opulence.
Srila Bhaktipada: By the same token, they wonder why God should be worshiped with opulence. But what do they want to do with the opulence that God has put everywhere? It's not that they want to neglect it. No. They say, "Let me enjoy the opulence, and let us give God nothing. After all, He is spiritual."
BTG: But that opulence could have been used to feed people or open hospitals.
Srila Bhaktipada: It has cost every devotee in this community ten dollars a week to build this palace. There are so many people who spend ten dollars a week just for cigarettes. Why don't they give up smoking cigarettes and feed the poor? No one would criticize us if we spent that amount on cigarettes and beer. But if we take ten dollars a week and spend it to create a beautiful temple for a pure devotee of the Lord—and then invite everyone to come and see this beautiful palace freely—they sometimes criticize. This is called envy.
There was such an incident in the Bible also. When someone broke open some costly ointment and spread it on Jesus's feet, Judas said, "Why was this not sold and given to the poor?" And the reply was, "It's not that you're interested in the poor, Judas. You wanted to take the money and spend it for yourself."
If people are actually interested in feeding the poor and helping the distressed, there is plenty of money. Let them stop all their own nonsense. Stop spending to kill poor animals. Every person could save at least ten or fifteen dollars a week if they would just stop eating meat. What to speak of all the land that would be saved for growing food if they stopped feeding grain to animals for slaughter. We could sumptuously feed every man, woman, and child on this planet if they would simply stop killing the animals. Why should people criticize us if we build a building to glorify Krsna and His devotee? They are simply envious: "Why wasn't this building built for me?"
BTG: You said that making Prabhupada prominent will benefit all humanity. How is that so? After all, people may never have heard of him, or they think of him as a religious leader of a particular group....
Srila Bhaktipada: No matter how they become acquainted with Srila Prabhupada, they'll want to know more about him. His books have been distributed for the last ten years, but sometimes we wonder how many people are reading them. The books may be sitting on the shelves. But if people come to Prabhupada's Palace and see the beauty of the work and the devotion of those who have worked here, they may take the books down off the shelf and read them. Then Prabhupada can deliver them his mercy.
We have to give people a setting in which they will feel the importance of hearing from Srila Prabhupada. Otherwise they may take him to be ordinary—just some swami, or just some man who started a movement or cult. If they actually see the palace, they will feel, "This is unique." And when someone is in a very opulent position, naturally people will listen, because people are attracted by opulence.
BTG: Might one not argue that this is a contrivance, that you could glorify any ordinary man and people would think him important?
Srila Bhaktipada: The difference is this. Prabhupada always said that you can dress a fool up to look like a king, but when he opens his mouth anyone can understand, "Oh, he is a fool." So if someone is a fool, then there is no use in dressing him up as a king. But if someone is actually a king and you dress him like a king, that is proper. So because Prabhupada actually should be worshiped like this—because he actually deserves this position, because he actually looks right in this position—when he opens his mouth and speaks, it sounds exactly right too. Therefore it is perfect.
BTG: When people visit the palace, what is it you want them to come away with?
Srila Bhaktipada: At the lowest level, they can come away with some appreciation of the building: "Oh, this is a beautiful building." Actually, that is Krsna consciousness also. The building is related to Krsna, so simply by appreciating the building they make advancement in Krsna consciousness. Almost all of them go away with one of Prabhupada's books. Almost all of them say, "We want to come back."
Actually, that is the whole idea—that this will become a place of pilgrimage, where people can come, relax, and make spiritual advancement simply by being here. That is very important. Instead of taking a vacation and going to some useless place, take your vacation and go visit Srila Prabhupada and the Palace, get the world's best prasada [spiritual food], and experience real spiritual life.
BTG: What do you mean by "a place of pilgrimage"? We think of someone trekking to Mecca or Jerusalem....
Srila Bhaktipada: The idea is that we cannot expect everyone to become a fulltime devotee in the sense that he gives up his whole materialistic way of life. But Krsna consciousness says, "All right, if you can't do that, then do this:' At one level, if you are a family man or a businessman but you want to go on vacation, then at least once a year you can elevate your consciousness by visiting such a holy place as Srila Prabhupada's Palace. That is an advantage, because as you grow older you will realize the value of this spiritual consciousness.
According to our Vedic culture, one shouldn't remain in family life up to the very end. Rather, when he's fifty or fifty-five he should retire and take up spiritual life by going and living in a holy place. If one can start this custom—visit a holy place at least once a year, associate with holy persons, taste the nectar of spiritual life—then later in life that spiritual advancement will naturally follow.
BTG: Prabhupada said that this palace is an expression of the love of the disciple for the spiritual master. Could you explain what this love is, what it means?
Srila Bhaktipada: That is the spiritual master's mercy, of course. Whatever his son or his young child does, he accepts in that way. Actually I have no love for Prabhupada—but I wish I did. I am simply praying to Prabhupada that if I continue to worship him he will kindly bless me with a little pure love. But actually I have no real love or appreciation for Prabhupada. I'll always feel that way. I wish I could love Prabhupada. I see so many of my Godbrothers serving Prabhupada day and night, and I am sitting here doing practically nothing.
Certainly these devotees who have built the building have great love for Prabhupada. They have sacrificed so much. They've been working for years now, winter and summer.
BTG: What is the benefit for them?
Srila Bhaktipada: That is the nature of love. When you serve your beloved, your service itself is the benefit. When you speak of a "labor of love," for the lover it is not work. It is all joy. Therefore Prabhupada said, "In Krsna consciousness there is no work." Someone said, "Prabhupada, sometimes a little work." Prabhupada said, "No—no work." Actually that is a fact. In Krsna consciousness there is no work—it is all love. Therefore it is all joy. There is only singing, dancing, and feasting in Krsna consciousness. Whatever a devotee speaks, that is poetry. Whatever a devotee eats, it is a feast, because Krsna has first tasted it. So there is singing, there is feasting, and there is dancing. Simply vibrate the Hare Krsna mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—and you will dance your whole life through.
BTG: Of course, some of the devotees who built the palace are Prabhupada's disciples, and some of them are not—they are your disciples. How do they fit in?
Srila Bhaktipada: If you work for your spiritual master, you are working for the whole parampara, the whole disciplic succession. That is the miracle of parampara. Because I am directing their attention to Prabhupada, everyone feels like they're getting Prabhupada. Prabhupada's disciples feel like they're getting Prabhupada, and therefore they accept my leadership. And my disciples feel they are getting the highest thing, because I am presenting Prabhupada. If we just present Prabhupada, there will be no problems, anywhere. Everyone will be satisfied.
BTG: What is it you most want people to know about Srila Prabhupada?
Srila Bhaktipada: We want people to know that he has presented the same thing that Krsna Himself spoke long ago. Therefore Prabhupada wrote his Bhagavad-gita and entitled it Bhagavad-gita As It Is. He didn't try to present a new Bhagavad-gita, he didn't try to present his interpretation of Bhagavad-gita—he presented Bhagavad-gita as it is, Bhagavad-gita exactly as Lord Krsna spoke it to Arjuna.
Actually, one of the first dreams I ever had about Srila Prabhupada, in 1966, was on this very point. In my dream I saw Lord Krsna speaking Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, and then the dream shifted, and I was fitting at Srila Prabhupada's feet, and he was instructing the same thing to me. And I knew from that instant that this is the real essence of Krsna consciousness: to accept the spiritual master in the same way that Arjuna accepted Krsna. Because we are hearing the same message Arjuna heard, there is actually no difference—our position is as good as Arjuna's. In fact, in one way it is better.
BTG: How is that?
Srila Bhaktipada: Because we can relish the conversation between Krsna and Arjuna, and we also have the relish of Srila Prabhupada. In spiritual life there is perfect, more perfect, and most perfect—full, more full, and most full.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Pope Receives Bhagavad-gita As It Is
Vatican City—Before embarking on his recent pastoral tour of Europe and the United States, His Holiness Pope John Paul II received a copy of Bhagavad-gita AS IT IS, the scripture that sets forth the basic philosophy of the Krsna consciousness movement. Mr. Ramsahai Purohit, an international peace worker from India and a member of the movement, gave the Pope the book during a personal audience at St. Peter's Basilica.
Bhagavad-gita, the scripture most widely known and revered in India, was written in Sanskrit long before the birth of Christ. Bhagavad-gita As It Is is a translation and commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. More than four million copies are now in print, in fourteen languages.
Hare Krsna Festival Draws Millions
Calcutta—"People from all walks of life joined the celebration," reported the Amrita Bazar Patrika. "A big chariot, with all pomp and grandeur, was brought out in central Calcutta by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). It was possibly the tallest chariot ever in Calcutta." Approximately two million Calcutta residents turned out to see the annual Ratha-yatra, or Chariot Festival, honoring Jagannatha—Krsna, the Lord of the Universe—and organized by the "sahib-Vaisnavas," or Western devotees of Lord Krsna. Heading up this year's festival committee in Calcutta was Srila Jaya Pataka Swami Acaryapada, coordinator of ISKCON's activities in Bengal and Orissa. Srila Jaya Pataka Swami, who came to India nine years ago from the United States, is one of the few Westerners to have received citizenship from the Government of India.
When the chariot parade began (in front of the ISKCON temple in Calcutta), 300,000 people were gathered.
Traditionally the parade is led by musical groups who chant prayers to Jagannatha and play drums and cymbals. This year twenty such sankirtana parties from villages all over Bengal arrived and lined up for a mile in front of the chariot, around which hundreds of people crowded to get a chance to pull it with long ropes.
The journey lasted several hours, and at nightfall the procession was still underway. The Calcutta police said it was the biggest procession they had ever seen, even bigger than those honoring heads of state. At the end of the parade, hundreds of thousands were waiting for lectures, chanting, and prasada (sanctified food offered to Krsna with love and devotion). Eight successive evenings saw similar programs, each attended by 50,000 people. In fluent Bengali, Srila Jaya Pataka Swami spoke about Krsna consciousness, and children from the ISKCON school in Mayapur, West Bengal, performed well-received dramas.
By Popular Demand: "Hare Krishna Road"
Bangalore, India—Race Course Road, long one of the major thoroughfares in this capital city of Karnataka state, is also the home of the local Hare Krsna center. Now, at the request of Bangalore's citizens, the state government has changed the name to "Hare Krishna Road."
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
In the early summer of 1966, Srila Prabhupada was sharing a Bowery loft with a young American friend. But when the boy went crazy on drugs and drove him out, suddenly Prabhupada found himself in the street, homeless and alone.
Srila Prabhupada decided to phone Carl Yeargens and ask him to help. Hearing Prabhupada's voice on the phone—it was an emergency!—Carl at once agreed that the Swami could move in with him and his wife, Eva. Their place was close by, on Center Street, five blocks west of Bowery near Chinatown. Carl would be right over. After Carl found Prabhupada, they didn't stop by Prabhupada's loft, but went straight to Carl's place, an A.I.R. loft also, but smaller—about eighty-five feet by thirty. The main living area was large and open, with areas for the kitchen and bedroom partitioned off. There were decorative indoor plants and a profusion of throw pillows placed all around. Carl's loft was much brighter than the dingy, factory like space in the loft on the Bowery. The floor was painted bright orange—Carl used to say it looked like the deck of a ship. The walls and ceiling were white, and light from seven skylights filled the room. Carl and Eva settled the Swami in one corner.
Prabhupada had left his belongings at David's loft and didn't want to go back, so Carl went over to pick up a few of them. Prabhupada asked him to leave most of his things, including his books, suitcases, and reel-to-reel tape recorder, where they were.
Although by this time David had come down from the intense effects of the LSD, he remained rather crazy. When Carl arrived at the loft, the door was locked and David was inside—afraid to let anyone come in, although finally he relented. He had shut and locked all the windows, making the loft oppressively hot and stuffy. Bill Epstein, who also came by that day, analyzed David as having had "a drug-induced nervous breakdown, a narcopsychosis." And although David was sorry he had exploded at the Swami, neither Bill nor Carl thought Prabhupada should live with David again. Apparently Prabhupada's chances of making the loft into a Radha-Krsna temple were finished. Carl and Bill gathered up a few of Prabhupada's belongings, and David stayed behind in the loft. He wanted to be alone.
Carl Yeargens knew Srila Prabhupada's living habits well and wanted to accommodate him with a suitable place to live and work. In a small alcove at one end of his loft, Carl had a small study, which he allocated for the Swami. Carl also set up a cushioned dais and arranged the living room around it so that guests could sit on the floor in a semicircle. Carl's wife, who didn't really like the idea of a swami moving in, agreed to cover a few cushions with Indian madras material for him anyway.
Things went smoothly for a while. Prabhupada continued his morning and evening classes, and many of the Bowery hip crowd came by. Three of his regular callers lived right in the same building, and a few others, including Carl's brother, were just around the block. Michael Grant, James Greene—even David Allen came once.
I was at Carl's loft, and the Swami comes strolling in one day (relates Don Natheson, a painter). So I already knew he was on the scene, from David's. Mostly musicians were coming. They were enjoying that private morning session with him. And that's really strange in itself, because these people were up almost all night and he used to do it at six in the morning, for one hour. He would lead them in chanting with his hand cymbals—dot-dot-dah, dot-dot-dah. It was strange, because that crowd was heavy into drugs and they were well read. But for a short period they used to go every morning, nine or ten of them, and they felt very good about it. They felt very good that they did that in the morning. The Swami was talking, and I remember sitting with him. He was sitting around eating with us.
According to Carl, the creative group who came to see the Swami in his studio were all quick to enter into the mood of the kirtana, the chanting, but they were "using it in their own ways, to supplement their own private visions and ecstasies," with no real intention of adopting the disciplines or the undivided worship of Lord Krsna. Prabhupada was their first real contact with a spiritual person, and yet even without trying to understand, they became absorbed in his kirtanas and in what he had to say. Carl would invite them: "Hey, come on. This is genuine. This is real. You'll like it. It's music. It's dance. It's celebration," Carl saw that "people just felt good being in the Swami's presence and meditating on the chanting and eating the Swami's cooking. It was unlike anything they had experienced before, except maybe for their moments of creative insight."
Yet for Carl and Eva, Srila Prabhupada's simple presence created difficulty. Never before during his whole stay in America had Prabhupada been a more inconvenient or unwanted guest. Carl's studio was arranged for him and his wife to live in alone, using the bedroom, kitchen, and living room any way they liked. If they wanted to smoke marijuana or eat meat or whatever, that was their prerogative. This was Mr. Carl's home; he lived here with his wife Eva and their dogs and cats. But now they had to share it with the Swami.
Almost at once, the situation became intolerable for Eva. She resented Prabhupada's presence in her home. She was a feminist, a liberated white woman with a black husband and a good job. She didn't like the Swami's views on women. She hadn't read his books or attended his classes, but she had heard that he was opposed to sexual intercourse except for conceiving children, and that in his view women were supposed to be shy and chaste and help their husbands in spiritual life. She knew about the Swami's four rules—no meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, or gambling—and she definitely did not want Carl's Swami trying to change their ways to suit him. And he had better not expect her to wait on him as his servant. She sensed the Swami objecting to almost everything she did. If she were to seek his advice, he would probably ask her to stop taking drugs, get rid of the cats and dogs, stop drinking, and stop contraceptive sex. If the Swami had his way, they would probably eat only at certain times and only certain foods. Eva was a heavy smoker, so the Swami probably wouldn't like being around her. She was ready for a confrontation.
But Srila Prabhupada was not one to make intolerant demands while living in another's home. He made no demands or criticisms, but kept to his allotted corner of the loft. Hadn't he seen his hosts in Butler eating meat and only remarked, "Think nothing of it"? Nevertheless, his imposing spiritual presence made Eva sorry Carl had ever met him. To Eva, the Swami was an inimical force—and she, being candid and independent, let him know. As soon as he asked whether she could bring him something, she replied, "Get it yourself."
Carol Bekar saw the situation as being extremely uncomfortable and tense—"Eva was quite resentful." Eva complained to Carol: here she was paying rent for the loft, working hard, and this man was trying to change their way of life.
She couldn't handle his teaching (Carol Bekar relates), and she couldn't handle his influence over Carl. She didn't feel so constrained, but she felt that Swamiji was making Carl feel constrained. And I think she was right.
This was Eva's main objection—the Swami was influencing Carl. Her relationship with Carl had only recently begun, and Carl was aware that she needed much of his time. He agreed with his wife, yet he couldn't refuse the Swami. He was interested in Indian music, poetry, and religions, and here was a living authority, vastly knowledgeable in all facets of Indian culture, right in his home. Prabhupada would cook his meals in their kitchen, and right away Carl would be there, eager to learn the art of Indian cuisine. Carl also wanted the Swami to show him how to play the drum. They would have long talks together.
Carl was trying to be something he really wasn't (Carol Bekar relates), but he would never have suggested that the Swami had to leave. Swami, I am sure, was astute enough to pick up on this tension. As soon as he could, he tried to move to another place.
Gradually, Carl reached an impasse in his relationship with the Swami. He couldn't share his life with both his wife and the Swami, and ultimately he was more inclined towards his wife.
I couldn't see my loft becoming a temple (Carl relates). We saw our loft as ours. I have to put it on myself as much as anyone. I could understand and absorb India through an impersonal agency like a book or a record, but here was the living representative of Godhead, and to me it was as difficult as anything I've ever had to do before or since.
Prabhupada was not insensitive to the distress his presence occasioned. He didn't want to inconvenience anyone, and of course, he could have avoided all inconvenience, both for himself and for people like Eva, if he had never come to America. But he wasn't concerned with convenience or inconvenience, with pleasing Eva or displeasing her. He wanted to teach Krsna consciousness.
Prabhupada had a mission, and Carl's loft didn't seem to be the right base for it. Prabhupada's friends all agreed: he should move more into the center of things. The Bowery and Chinatown were too far out of the way. They would find him a new place.
Forced by conditions that he accepted as Krsna's mercy, Prabhupada sat patiently, trying not to disturb anyone, yet speaking about Krsna consciousness from day to night. Carl assured him that with half a dozen people checking out the Lower East Side, it wouldn't take long to find a new place, and they would all chip in together and help him with the rent.
* * *
A week passed, and no one had found a suitable place for the Swami. One day Prabhupada suggested that he and Carl take a walk up to Michael Grant's place and ask him to help....
I was awakened one morning very early (Michael Grant relates), and Carl was on the phone saying, "Swamiji and I were just taking a walk, and we thought we'd come up and see you. "I said, 'But it's too early in the morning." And he said, "Well, Swamiji wants to see you." They were very near by, just down the street, so I had to quickly get dressed, and by the time I got to the door they were there.
I was totally unprepared, but invited them up. The television set had been on from the previous night, and there were some cartoons on. The Swami sat between Carl and me on the couch. We began to talk, but Swamiji glanced over at the cartoons on the television set and said, "This is nonsense." Suddenly I realized that the television was on and that it was nonsense, and I got up very quickly saying, "Why yes, it is nonsense," and turned it off.
As Srila Prabhupada talked, he tried to impress on Mike how difficult it was for him to live with Carl and Eva, and Mike listened. But was the Swami so sure he couldn't go back to the Bowery loft and live with David Allen? Except for that one incident, it had been a nice set-up, hadn't it? Prabhupada explained that David had become a madman from too much LSD. He was dangerous. Mike gave Prabhupada a half-incredulous look—David Allen, dangerous? But as Prabhupada spoke, Mike began to feel transparent, with the Swami's knowing glance probing into him. Yes, David was dangerous. Mike didn't ask for any more details.
Mike could see that Swamiji was appealing to him for help, and as they all sat together on the couch, Mike and Carl quietly nodded in agreement. Prabhupada was looking at Mike, and Mike was trying to think.
"So how can we help, Swamiji?" Carl interjected.
Mike felt uneasy. He explained that he was a pianist and he had to practice every day. He had two pianos, two sets of drums, a vibraphone, and other instruments right there in his apartment. Musicians were always coming over to practice, and they all played their instruments for hours. Also, he was living with a girl, and there was a cat in the apartment. But Mike promised that he would help find the Swami a new place. Prabhupada thanked him and, along with Carl, stood to leave.
Mike felt obligated. He was good at getting things done, and he wanted to do this for the Swami. So the next day he went to the Village Voice, got the first newspaper off the press, looked through the classified ads until he found a suitable prospect, and phoned the landlord. It was a storefront on Second Avenue, and an agent, a Mr. Gardiner, agreed to meet Mike there. Carl and Srila Prabhupada also agreed to come.
Mr. Gardiner and Mike were the first to arrive. Mike noted the unusual hand-painted sign—"MATCHLESS GIFTS" above the front window. It was a holdover, Mr. Gardiner explained, from when the place had been a nostalgic gift shop. Mike proceeded to describe the Swami as a spiritual leader from India, an important author, and a Sanskrit scholar. The rental agent seemed receptive. As soon as Prabhupada and Carl arrived and everyone had been congenially introduced, Mr. Gardiner showed them the small storefront. Prabhupada, Carl, and Mike carefully considered its possibilities. It was empty, plain, and dark—the electricity had not been turned on—and it needed repainting. It would be good for meetings, but not for the Swami's residence. But at $170 a month it seemed promising. Then Mr. Gardiner revealed a small, second-floor apartment just across the rear courtyard, directly behind the storefront. Another $100 a month and the Swami could live there, although first Mr. Gardiner would have to repaint it. The total rent would come to $270, and Carl, Mike, and the others would pitch in.
Prabhupada had the idea of making Mr. Gardiner the first official trustee of his fledgling Krsna consciousness society. During their conversation he presented Mr. Gardiner with a three-volume set of his Srimad-Bhagavatam, and inside the front cover he wrote a personal dedication and then signed it, "A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami." Mr. Gardiner felt flattered and honored to receive these books from their author himself. He agreed to become a trustee of the new society for Krsna consciousness and so pay the society $20 a month (which he would simply deduct from the rent).
Mr. Gardiner took a week to paint the apartment. Meanwhile, Mike arranged for the electricity and water to be turned on and had a phone installed, and he and Carl raised the first month's rent among their friends. When everything was ready, Mike gave Prabhupada a call at Carl's.
Now it was time to move the Swami into his new place. A few friends who were on hand accompanied Prabhupada over to the Bowery loft. Maybe they weren't prepared to become his surrendered disciples, but contributing toward the first month's rent and volunteering a few hours of work to help set up his place were exactly the kinds of things they could do very willingly. At the loft, all of them gathered up portions of the Swami's belongings, and then they started out on foot up the Bowery. It was like a safari, a caravan of half a dozen men loaded with Prabhupada's things. Mike carried the heavy Roberts reel-to-reel, and even the Swami carried two suitcases. They did everything so quickly that it wasn't until they were walking up the Bowery and Mike's arm began to ache that he realized: "Why didn't we bring a car?"
It was the end of June, and a hazy summer sun poured its heat down into the Bowery jungle. Starting and stopping, the strange safari, stretching for over a block, slowly trekked along. Prabhupada struggled with his suitcases up the Bowery, past the seemingly unending row of restaurant supply shops and lamp stores between Grand, Broome, and Spring streets. Sometimes he paused and rested, setting his suitcases down. He was finally moving from the Bowery. His electrician friend on Seventy-second Street would have been relieved, although perhaps he would have disapproved of the Second Avenue address also. At least the Swami was finished residing on Skid Row. He walked on, past the homeless men outside the Salvation Army shelter, past the open-door taverns, stopping at streetlights, standing alongside total strangers, keeping an eye on the progress of his procession of friends who struggled along behind him.
The Bowery artists and musicians saw him as "highly evolved." They felt that the spirit was moving him, and they were eager to help him set up his own place so that he could do his valuable spiritual thing and spread it to others. He was depending on them for help, yet they knew he was "on a higher level"; he was his own protector, or, as he said, he was protected by God.
Prabhupada and his young friends reached the corner of Houston and Bowery Streets, turned right, and proceeded west. Gazing steadily ahead as he walked. Prabhupada saw the southern end of Second Avenue, one block away. At Second Avenue he would turn left, walk just one block north across First Street, and arrive at his new home. Precisely as he passed the IND Subway entrance. the storefront came into view—"MATCHLESS GIFTS." He gripped his suitcases and moved ahead. At Second Avenue and Houston he hurried through a break in the rapid traffic. He could see green trees holding their heads above the high courtyard wall, reaching up like overgrown weeds in the space between the front and rear buildings of his new address. The streetside building housed his meeting hall, the rear building the apartment where he would live and translate. Adjoining the storefront building on its north side was a massive nine-story warehouse. The storefront structure was only five stories and seemed appended to the larger building like its diminutive child. On its southern side, Prabhupada's new temple showed a surface of plain cement and was free of any adjoining structure; there was only the spacious lot of the busy Mobil service station that bordered on First Street. As Srila Prabhupada approached the storefront, he could see two small, lanterns decorating the narrow doorway.
There was no certainty of what awaited him here. But already there had been good signs that these American young people, mad though they sometimes were, could actually take part in Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement. Perhaps this new address would be the place where he could actually get a footing with his International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Centuries of political experiments have not
by Mathuresa Dasa
Throughout recorded history, in every society on the face of the earth, we find different classes of men or divisions of society. Despite all varieties of political, social, economic, and religious climates, classes exist. Even modern democratic and communistic ideals of equality have failed to abolish class divisions. Classes continue to exist, and we can therefore conclude that they are permanent. They are inherent in human society itself, just as our head, arms, stomach, and legs are inherent in our bodily structure.
The Vedic scriptures, the oldest scriptures known to man, describe four principal classes. These are (1) an intelligent class (brahmanas), (2) a martial or administrative class (ksatriyas), (3) a mercantile class (vaisyas), and (4) a laborer class (sudras). The qualities by which these different classes work and by which they can be recognized are given in the Eighteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita:
"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.
"Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the ksatriyas.
"Farming, cow protection, and trade are the qualities of work for the vaisyas, and for the sudras there is labor and service to others." (Bg. 18.42-44)
These different classes of men, recognized by their respective tendencies for work, are always present, and the system of social organization based on these divisions is called varnasrama. Varna indicates the four social divisions we have already listed, and asrama indicates progressive spiritual stages. The asramas are (1) student life, (2) married life, (3) retired life, and (4) renounced life, and they are meant to train each man to perform his duties for the satisfaction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna.
These divisions exist in human society because human life is different from the life of animals. A human being has the ability to inquire about spiritual life: "Who am I? Why am I suffering? What is God? What is my relationship with Him?" These are questions that can be posed by human beings, and not by animals. Human life, therefore, offers us the unique opportunity to reestablish our lost relationship with the Supreme Person. The Vedas enjoin, athato brahma-jijnasa: "Now, in the human form of life, is the time to inquire into the Absolute Truth:" A human being who does not make this inquiry the central purpose of his life is loitering on the animal platform. Animals can eat, sleep, mate, and defend without caring for higher goals, but a human being who does so is wasting his valuable life. The value of a thing is judged by what one can attain with it. With five thousand dollars, for instance. you can purchase a nice car. But if someone convinces you to spend the same amount for an ordinary bicycle, then he is a cheater, and you have been tricked into wasting your money. Similarly, if we spend our human life properly, under the guidance of the ancient wisdom of the Vedas, we can attain an eternal, joyful life full of knowledge; and if we spend it for animal pleasures, we have been cheated.
The varnasrama institution, described in the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, is a system of social organization designed solely for this purpose—to order society in such a way that every human being, no matter what his position, may peacefully cultivate God consciousness and by that spiritual education make a complete success of his life. By varnasrama we achieve the equality which is only advertised by other social systems. By being educated in the science of Krsna, God, everyone can have an equal opportunity to put an end to all the miseries of material life by ultimately returning to the kingdom of God.
In the Fourth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna describes the varnasrama system:
catur-varnyam maya srstam
"According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable:" (Bg. 4.13)
Why do the four divisions exist? Krsna says, maya srstam—"because they were created by Me." We can understand that any organized structure, such as a house or a bridge, implies a creator. We look at a sturdy house and question, "Who has built this house?" Similarly, we must ask, "Who is the creator?" And Krsna says, "I am that creator." It is because God created the divisions of society that they exist permanently. Social or political structures created by man and imposed upon human society do not last, because they are concocted and artificial. But these four divisions of human society—the intellectual, martial, mercantile, and laborer classes—were created by God when He created human society itself. The divisions are not imposed or artificial. They are inherent by the divine will. Rather than try to abolish them, we should learn how to use them as they were originally intended to be used by their creator.
The divisions in society are like the divisions in our body. Although the body has different parts, they all must cooperate for the body to survive. This is also true of the social body. The social body must have a head to direct it, arms to protect it, a stomach to feed it, and legs to support it. The intelligent class must give direction to society, based on the authority of the Vedas, so that every man may realize his eternal relationship with God. This is real intelligence. Next, the administrative class must protect society by upholding religious principles and thus putting the general population in a receptive mood toward the guidance of the brahmanas. The vaisyas, the mercantile class, are not meant to open factories to mass produce useless items and thus enslave millions of men for the profit of an elite few. As explained in the Bhagavad-gita, the vaisyas should produce abundant grains by farming and should protect cows. In this way, there will never be a scarcity of the two most essential foods for the human being—grains and milk. And the sudras, the laborer class, can render service to the other three classes of society and thus have all their necessities supplied to them. From the example of the social body, we can understand that no part of society is less important than any other part. Do we consider our legs less important than our arms? Would we want to neglect our stomach? Of course not. If you stub your toe, then immediately the attention of the head and the working power of the arms are focused on the injured area. Divisions of the social body are meant for cooperation—not for competition or exploitation. This is the purpose for which they were created.
After explaining that He is the creator of the divisions of society, Krsna explains how to identify these classes. This is explained in the words guna-karma-vibhagasah. Guna means quality, and karma means activity. According to Lord Krsna, the author of varnasrama, we must judge a man impartially by his qualifications and work. In other words, family heritage, nationality, race, color, and creed are not the criteria for the divisions of society. The actual varnasrama system cannot be accused of discrimination or of limiting the individual's opportunity to follow his inclinations and aspirations. The caste system of India, although using the terminology of varnasrama (brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra), is not actually varnasrama, because it is based on heredity. The Indian caste system has deteriorated and failed for just this reason. Someone born into a family of brahmanas, the priestly or intellectual class, would claim to be a brahmana automatically, whether or not he had the qualifications, and even if his activities were most degenerate. This is not at all sensible, nor is it supported by the Gita. For example, the son of a high-court judge may receive the opportunity, by inspiration and instruction, to become a high-court judge himself. But he still requires training and education before he seeks an appointment to that post. He cannot claim to be qualified for such a position merely on the strength of his high parentage. Similarly, the son of a doctor may naturally desire to practice medicine and may take advantage of his father's experience. But he, too, requires long years of training in medical school. So the argument that birth qualifies one for a certain post in society contradicts common sense and is not supported by the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita. Anyone is free to take any position in society, provided he develops the qualifications. Varnasrama cannot be accused of rigidity or of restricting social mobility. The actual varnasrama system trains and educates the individual in the duties and occupation for which he is already inclined. Lord Krsna gives directions for that training in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures. Any other system of training, whether caste, communist, or democratic, necessarily misguides society and spoils the mission of human life.
tasya kartaram api mam
Krsna next explains that although He created the varnasrama system, He is transcendental to it. Varnasrama serves to elevate the human being from the animal consciousness of eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing to the level of pure love of God. Without this there is no meaning to varnasrama. Since Krsna is Himself the Personality of Godhead, there is no need for Him to take part in varnasrama. When He appears in human society, however, He does participate in varnasrama just to set an example for human society. The principles of religion are His enacted laws, and He therefore takes care to see that they are maintained. When Krsna appeared in human society five thousand years ago, He followed all the prescribed duties for a ksatriya (warrior-prince) and family man. Although He is above all such requirements, He accepted them in order to set an example, just as a father behaves in an exemplary manner to teach his children. Krsna is like the governor of a state who visits the penitentiary to see that things run smoothly and that the prisoners make progress toward again becoming law-abiding citizens. The governor is not a prisoner, even while in the prison. He can come and go as he likes. His position is that of an overseer. Similarly, when Krsna descends to the material world, He does so to establish religious principles, and He is not subject to the laws of material nature. Simply by understanding this, we become qualified to return to the eternal spiritual world beyond the material sky—Krsna's abode, the kingdom of God.
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)
Krsna is transcendental to varnasrama. Since each class and order of society engages a man in the service of God, each participant in varnasrama understands that his particular designation as a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, or sudra is temporary, and that his permanent position is that of a transcendental servant of Krsna. Thus, even if one remains in one class or occupation his entire life, there is no question of stigma or restriction, because everyone's actual position is that he is a servant of God. Lord Caitanya, the incarnation of Krsna who appeared five hundred years ago in Bengal, taught this very principle:
naham vipro na ca nara-patir ...
"I am neither a brahmana, nor a ksatriya... The only designation that I wish to accept is that of a servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna."
We are, first of all, servants of the Supreme Person, and the different divisions of society are meant to best engage our respective qualities in His service. When one becomes completely purified by that service, he no longer relies on any designation, but simply thinks himself a humble servant of God, Krsna. Lord Caitanya therefore taught that it is the prime duty of everyone to chant the holy names of God. Lord Caitanya especially recommended the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra simply means, "O my Lord, please engage me in Your loving service."
Gurukula, "the school of the guru," has no equivalent in Western education. It is all at once a place of spiritual formation, character development, academics, and vocational training. A student enters usually at age five and stays as long as his or her aptitudes permit. On gaining minimum proficiency, a child may either go on to higher studies or take up apprenticeship in a career suited to his or her character. The purpose of gurukula is to assist children in living a God-centered life. Bhurijana dasa joined the Krsna consciousness movement in 1968, taught in Hong Kong for four years, and for the past three years has been headmaster of the gurukula at the Krsna farm near Port Royal, Pennsylvania. Here freelance writer Kurt Ald poses some often asked questions:
Mr. Ald: Isn't gurukula training rather isolating? How much do the children learn of the world around them?
Bhurijana dasa: Gurukula is not isolating; but is insulating. Parents and teachers have a duty to safeguard children from disturbing influences.
Mr. Ald: But then, one could argue that it's a cold cruel world out there, and children have to take care of themselves.
Bhurijana dasa: First of all, how could any six-year-old or even ten-year-old take care of himself? Children must be protected. Later, after proper training, they'll have their exposure to the cold cruel world. If someone has been trained intelligently, with a view to his or her God consciousness, that child will handle living in the material world better than any child trained in a secular or public school. Most people know that just plain exposure really isn't good. If it were, then they'd educate their children by sending them out into the streets. No, people want their children to be properly trained first. As far as exposure for gurukula children is concerned, it is selective. For example, we have a current events class, but not a television.
Mr. Ald: But how will the children become acquainted with the conditions of the larger society? How do you decide just what is insulating and what is isolating? Do gurukula children get to interact with other children?
Bhurijana dasa: Sure. They're constantly in touch with the people who come to see our temples and farms, and they visit relatives. We take field trips, also. Their environment is not "closed." At the same time, we are not shy about saying that Lord Krsna is the goal of life. The goal of our educational system is to become conscious of Krsna, specifically. So we can make certain value judgments, because we have a standard. The children don't usually see movies or commercial theater, because there is little or no spiritual benefit in such activities.
Mr. Ald: Moving on from gurukula could really be tough if they've known only a devotional environment.
Bhurijana dasa: If a child has been trained in gurukula, his mind will be very sharp. If education centers upon helping the child understand the existence of the soul and the soul's relationship with Krsna, or God, then the child gets a clear idea of how to handle everyday life situations.
Mr. Ald: Let's be specific. How will these children earn their living? .
Bhurijana dasa: In the traditional Vedic system, vocational training starts early; according to the aptitudes of the student.
Mr. Ald: Don't gurukula children have a rather narrow frame of reference for choosing a vocation?
Bhurijana dasa: We know we can't force someone who doesn't have brahminical (or priestly) inclination, but still the training is based on spiritual elevation. Whatever a gurukula graduate does in life, whatever occupation or livelihood he takes, this character training will never be lost. It is not that a child must be inclined to the priesthood in order to become Krsna conscious. According to his tendencies or disposition, the child might not wish to take up spiritual teaching as his life's work. Krsna consciousness has to do with the child's realization—whatever his activities may be—that God is the supreme controller, the supreme enjoyer, and our greatest friend. With that philosophical understanding, devotees engage in a wide variety of services.
Mr. Ald: So you're saying that your Krsna society is a world within a world; there won't be any necessity for these children to confront the ordinary world.
Bhurijana dasa: No. Why do you say that? Why do you think they won't have the practical experience? Working knowledge of the material world is a skill like any other skill. It has to be developed. If someone has a certain talent, then why shouldn't he develop it? If you're going to see a printer or negotiate some business, of course you won't take a seven-year-old with you, but an older child who has that tendency could dress up in a suit and tie. "Here's my protege."
Mr. Ald: Would a girl with administrative ability and intelligence be allowed to develop her skills?
Bhurijana dasa: Certainly, as much as anyone else, to the level of his or her competence. But we don't follow the Peter Principle, where you rise to your level of incompetence—and sometimes far, far beyond it. In gurukula it doesn't matter whether one is a boy or girl. The teachers and administrators are looking to encourage the students to develop spiritually, first and foremost. Then, whatever their life's work, they can learn it. But the motivation never becomes promotion- or success-oriented. The motivation is always, "How can I serve Krsna purely?"
Mr. Ald: Does gurukula cover areas like health, hygiene?
Bhurijana dasa: All gurukula children receive training in these areas. Naturally, a devotee has to know how to take care of the material body—cleanliness, first aid ...
Mr. Ald: If a gurukula student were sick, would you bring him to a Western doctor?
Bhurijana dasa: We're always concerned with practicality first. If the medicine works, that's fine. Unfortunately, so much of Western medicine is guesswork; but we don't have anything against it per se. Do you?
Mr. Ald: I want to know—does gurukula make children feel that the world is a bad place and that therefore they should stay away from it?
Bhurijana dasa: The whole foundation of gurukula training is learning how to relate with the world and other people. Gurukula children learn not to see ordinary people in a malicious way, but rather to see them as souls and to look compassionately on them. A devotee sees that the spiritual self, or soul, is different from the material body, totally free of its miseries—but that people who are absorbed in a bodily concept of themselves are forced to identify with the miseries of old age, disease, and death. Everything the children learn is geared to this spiritual, compassionate, nonsectarian way of looking at life. We don't have any desire to isolate our students. Rather, they get exposure, but at the same time they learn how to interpret their experiences. That's what education means: learning how to view the experiences of life with spiritual insight.
Mr. Ald: Sounds like brainwashing.
Bhurijana dasa: Then every educational system in the world is also brainwashing. In the U.S., the students are taught to look at the Communist nations in a particular way. The Communists are taught to look at Americans in a particular way. It's inevitable. Every educational system has its own angle of vision.
Mr. Ald: Aren't there schools that advocate open classrooms, total freedom of choice for the students?
Bhurijana dasa: Claiming not to have a viewpoint is also a viewpoint. The children will learn that same viewpoint. We're not going to hold anything back. We say that Krsna is God, that we are part and parcel of Him and are meant to serve Him with love and devotion. And more, we say that if people don't serve God but look only for temporary, body-based pleasures, then they can't find the lasting, spiritual peace and happiness that lie within. This is not a unique point of view. Everyone knows we come into this world with nothing and go out with nothing, but very few people take it seriously. Nobody thinks about the final experience—death—because nobody has received any real spiritual training. That is the most brainwashed position—to live without awareness of life's ultimate realities, like death. So gurukula education wakes children up to this awareness of the precariousness of a life without God consciousness. We don't want the children to reject the world; we want them to see it properly.
Flying to India. I am going to do research for the biography of Srila Prabhupada. My head is groggy from sitting fifteen hours in the plane seat. Suddenly the plane starts jerking up and down. A little bell rings, and the "Fasten Seat Belt" sign lights up. "Meal service will be delayed," the stewardess says. "We are experiencing slight turbulence." The slight turbulence increases, and the cups of juice fall from her tray. The steward grabs her arm, and both of them brace themselves, with rigid hands and feet.
At any moment, by too much shaking, or from one good poke, the life can run out of this vessel, the body. And when it runs out, we go to another body. We may take birth in a horrible species, where life is stunted—as an insect, or a clump of grass—and in all forms of life there is suffering. Only the spiritual world is free of anxiety.
The air turbulence passes, but it's just a matter of time before each of us faces his last hour.
My own mortal anxiety: when it comes, will I pass the test? Will I think of Krsna at the time of death and pass over to the side of freedom?
* * *
We arrive at 1:00 A.M. in New Delhi. Half a dozen devotees meet us, with garlands and a big chanting session. A crowd gathers as we sing with drums and hand cymbals. Only in India can this happen; no official will think of stopping us from chanting Hare Krsna. It is two in the morning, but no one is disturbed. They stand around watching the chanting and dancing, and listen when Lokanatha Swami gives a little speech.
It is still dark night as our car heads out for the two-hour drive to our destination: Vrndavana, the town where Lord Krsna performed His pastimes five thousand years ago, the town where Srila Prabhupada lived as a sannyasi before coming to America in 1965. As we pull out of Delhi, I see groups of homeless humans asleep on the cement walkways of a bridge. Our car lights wake three blinking calves lying in the middle of the road. Trucks approach us head-on. We veer to the left, almost off the road, and thus pass each oncoming truck. But tonight there are not many trucks. We see dozens of them lined up by the roadside (there is a national shortage of diesel fuel, Lokanatha Swami tells us—they have to wait sometimes two days in line). At least in that respect, it's hardly different here from the United States.
* * *
It is 6:00 A.M., and we are sitting at the base of the red sandstone tower of Madana-mohana temple in Vrndavana. We have just paid our respects at the bhajana-kutira of Sanatana Gosvami, who five hundred years ago wrote philosophical devotional works based on the Vedas and confirming the conclusions of Krsna consciousness. Old men who live here watch us peacefully; one is pulling the rope to a well that Krsna was supposed to have used to draw water for His devotee Sanatana when Sanatana had grown invalid. Peacocks abound in Vrndavana; their often-heard sound is a beep and a loud, catlike meow. The dawn is growing lighter. Now in the sky, a faint red smudge appears, like a fire burning through an opaque wall—soon the sun will be bright and hot.
Vrndavana appears rundown; the five-hundred-year-old temples are falling down in disrepair. There are few modern amenities here, but the Western style of lawless violence, the constant sex lure, the TV demand, the "necessity" to work for more and more material enjoyment, or to steal, to take drugs, to always read newspapers—these are not much developed here. The average man is poor by Western standards, but he wears Vaisnava markings and chants "Jaya Radhe" and Hare Krsna. Years ago the Moghuls took the jewels away from the temples, and what they didn't take, the British took later. But they could not take away the people's bhakti, their devotion to Lord Krsna. "But"—my mind suddenly challenges—"what is the purpose of this town? Why Vrndavana?" The purpose first and last is remembering God. If you do not think this is a reason for a town to exist, then you will not be able to understand Vrndavana.
Vrndavana is real. The other day we saw a human corpse. Vrndavana is not like a fantasy land where pretty, sex-indulgent youth is falsely glorified, or where the people still believe in unlimited human progress through technology, or in finding happiness in godless leisure. We have much to learn from a peaceful, bhakti-saturated town like Vrndavana.
* * *
In The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada has quoted a statement about living in Vrndavana by Srila Rupa Gosvami:
"I remember Lord Krsna standing by the banks of the Yamuna River, so beautiful amidst the kadamba trees, where many birds are chirping in the gardens. And these impressions are always giving me transcendental bliss." "This feeling," Srila Prabhupada comments, "can actually be felt even by nondevotees. The places in the eighty-four-square-mile district of Mathura are so beautifully situated on the banks of the River Yamuna that anyone who goes there will never want to return to this material world. These statements by Rupa Gosvami are factually realized descriptions of Vrndavana. All these qualities prove that Vrndavana is situated transcendentally. Otherwise, there would be no possiblity of invoking our transcendental sentiments in these places. Such transcendental feelings are aroused immediately and without fail after one arrives in Vrndavana:"
* * *
We are finding out about Srila Prabhupada's activities here. He renounced his family life in 1954 and came to Vrndavana and lived in a room in a Kesi-ghata temple. For ten years he remained in Vrndavana, a lone figure. He had very few visitors to his room. All witnesses say, "He was always typing," or sometimes reading, or singing and chanting about Krsna. He was writing his first books—books that have now been distributed by the millions all over the world. Few realized then that he was preparing himself and making a decision (in his seventh decade) to come to America and attempt to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world, as he had been ordered by his spiritual master. Most people of Vrndavana didn't understand his great broad scope, although now they acknowledge him and have named the main road "Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg." But most people of the world outside Vrndavana do not understand him even today. Already, through his writings and his disciples, he has delivered Krsna's message—liberation from birth and death by means of chanting Hare Krsna—to almost every town and village in the world, but the value of that message is not yet appreciated. To help the world appreciate Srila Prabhupada and to purify ourselves and increase our attachment to this great soul, we are trying to find the places of his activities in Vrndavana from 1955 to 1965. We hope our research will help us all remember him.—SDG
Delicious, traditional Vedic cuisine was part of the legacy Krsna consciousness brought to Western shores. Eating, like everything else for Krsna devotees, is a part of the complete spiritual experience of life, and not a day goes by at Krsna temples without dozens of carefully prepared dishes being served to devotees and guests alike.
Sunday sees the doors swing wide open and hundreds of friends—regulars as well as newcomers—sharing hearty plates of savories, vegetable extravaganzas, sweets, and nectar drinks from the world's oldest culinary tradition.
How can so many different tastes be created without using any meat, fish, eggs, garlic, onions, canned foods, or liquor? The unexpectedly simple answer lies in the artful selection of spices, age-old cooking techniques, and the essential ingredient—devotion to Lord Krsna. The devotees would like nothing better than to let you in on the secrets. Come by, Sunday or any day, and experience the taste of another world.