One truth ties all world religions together
A lecture by
The Lord says that the purpose of all Vedic instruction is to achieve the highest goal of life, to go back to Godhead. The aim of any scripture of any country—not only the Bhagavad-gita, but any scripture—is simply to get us back to Godhead. That is the purpose. Take for example any of the great religious reformers, or acaryas, of any country. In your country, Lord Jesus Christ—or Lord Buddha. Of course, Lord Buddha advented himself in India, but later on his philosophy was broadcast all over Asia. Then Srila Vyasadeva, Muhammad—take any great representative of the Lord—none of them will tell you to make your best plans to live peacefully in this material world. That is a common factor. There may be some little differences in the scriptural injunctions according to the country, climate, and situation, but the main principle is that we are not meant to remain in this material world.
We have our real home in the spiritual world. That is accepted by everyone. Therefore Lord Krsna says, yogi param sthanam upaiti cadyam. For the yogi the chief aim of life is to get into the spiritual kingdom. That is the highest ambition of the yogi, of the transcendentalist.
In the beginning of the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, the Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is speaking: sri-bhagavan uvaca. I have several times described what this word bhagavan means. Bhaga means "opulence, and van means "one who possesses." Bhagavan. Everything has its definition. So in the Vedic scriptures we'll find the definition of God. We have got some conception of God. But in the Vedic literatures we'll find the definite description of what is meant by God. What we mean by God is described in one word: bhagavan, or "one who possesses opulence."
What are the opulences? The Vedic literatures say,
Bhaga: these are the opulences. Aisvaryasya means "wealth." Viryasya means "strength." Yasasah means "fame." Sriyah means "beauty." Jnana means "knowledge." And vairagya means "renunciation:" When you find these six opulences presented in a personality in full, He is God. He is God. That is the description of God.
You have many rich men here in your New York City, but nobody can claim that he is the richest of all, that he has got all the riches of the world. Nobody can claim that. But if you find somebody who actually owns all of the riches of the world or the universe, He's God. He is God.
In the Bhagavad-gita you'll find:
Bhoktaram yajna-tapasam: Lord Krsna says that He is the supreme enjoyer of all kinds of activities. Sarva-loka-mahesvaram: He is the proprietor of all planets. Loka means "planets:" We are the proprietor of a certain extent of land here, and we are very much proud. But God says, "I am the proprietor of all the planets:" And suhrdam sarva-bhutanam: He is the friend of all living entities. Jnatva mam santim rcchati: when a person understands that God is the proprietor of everything, that God is the friend of everyone, and that God is the enjoyer of everything—by knowing these three things, one becomes very peaceful. That is the peace formula.
You cannot become peaceful as long as you think, "I am the proprietor." You are not actually the proprietor. You cannot claim proprietorship. Take, for example, this land of America. Say about four hundred years ago, the red Indians were the proprietors of this country. Now you are the proprietors. And after four hundred years, or a thousand years, somebody else will come. They'll become the proprietors. So actually we are not the proprietors. The land is here, we come here, and we claim falsely, "I am the proprietor." Therefore, the Isopanisad states, Isavasyam idam sarvam: "Everything belongs to God:" Everything belongs to God. Nothing belongs to me. Actually, this is the fact. Therefore God is the richest person.
Nowadays you'll find, especially in India, that there are dozens of "incarnations of God." But if you ask one of them, "Are you the proprietor of everything?" oh, that is very difficult to answer. These are the checks—how you can understand who is God. God must be the proprietor of everything. And He must be more powerful than anyone. When Krsna was present on this earth, nobody could conquer Him. There is not a single instance in which Krsna was defeated. He belonged to the ksatriya family; He identified Himself as a ksatriya. The ksatriyas are meant for giving protection to the poor, to the weak. So He belonged to the royal family. He fought so many adversaries while He remained on this earth, but in no fight was He defeated. Therefore He was the most powerful. As far as His opulence is concerned, from Bhagavatam we find that He married 16,108 wives, and every wife had a different palace. He expanded Himself into 16,108 to live with each of His wives. These facts are recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Therefore all the great acaryas, the great scholars of India, have accepted this fact—that Krsna is God, Bhagavan.
The Bhagavad-gita was written by Srila Vyasadeva, after being spoken by Lord Krsna. What did the Lord say?
idam tu te guhyatamam
"My dear Arjuna, now I shall impart to you the topmost knowledge:" idam tu te guhyatamam. Guhytamam means "most confidential:" There are different grades of knowledge. But here the Lord says, "Just now I'm going to explain that which is the most confidential part of knowledge."
Pravaksyamy anasuyave. Anasuvave: this very word is used. Anasuvave means "one who does not envy." Does not envy. For instance, when the Lord says, "I am the proprietor of all planets," somebody may say, "Oh, Krsna is claiming the proprietorship of everything. How is that?" This is because in the material world we are always envious. If somebody is in some way greater than us, we are envious. "Oh, how has he progressed so much?" This is the disease of the material world—envy. So we are envious of God, also. When God says, "I am the proprietor," we disbelieve it. That is why this word is used—anasuyave. Arjuna is hearing from Lord Krsna without any enviousness. He's accepting exactly what Krsna says. This is the way of understanding. We cannot understand who God is by our mental speculation. We simply have to hear from authoritative sources and accept. Otherwise, there is no way to understand God. So God says, "Because you are not envious, I shall speak to you about the most confidential part of knowledge:" Jnanam vijnana-sahitam. Vijnana-sahitam means this knowledge is not theoretical, but is scientific. We should not think that whatever knowledge we get from Bhagavad-gita is sentimentalism or fanaticism. No; it is all vijnana, science. Yaj jnatva: if you become well versed in this most confidential part of the knowledge, then the result will be moksyase 'subhat. Asubha means "inauspicious:" Our existence in this material world is asubha—inauspicious, always miserable. But moksyase: you shall be liberated from this miserable life of material existence if you understand this knowledge.
So let us carefully understand what the Lord says to Arjuna about this knowledge. He says,
"This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed." [Bg. 9.2] This process of knowledge and purified activity which we are trying to propagate is Krsna consciousness. "Topmost knowledge" means Krsna consciousness, according to Bhagavad-gita, because in the Bhagavad-gita you'll find that the symptom of a person who is learned—who is actually in knowledge—will be that he has surrendered unto God. As long as we go on speculating about God but do not surrender, we will not achieve the perfection of knowledge.
The perfection of knowledge is jnanavan mam prapadyate: after many, many births of mental and philosophical speculation, when one actually understands God's position, one at once surrenders. As long as we do not surrender, we cannot understand God in truth. Bahunam janmanam ante: the Lord says that one achieves real knowledge only after many, many births. Not all of a sudden. Of course, if we accept "God is great; let me surrender," then we can come to the platform of knowledge in a second. But our present position is to become envious of God. "Why shall I surrender unto God? I am independent. I shall work independently." Therefore, to rectify these misgivings we have to spend many lifetimes.
If there is any perfect name of God, that is "Krsna." Why?
krsir bhu-vacakah sabdo
Krs means "repetition of birth;" and na means "one who ends." The one who ends our repetition of birth is called Krsna. Our repetition of birth can be ended only by God. Otherwise it is not possible. Harim vina naiva srtim taranti: one cannot stop one's repetition of birth and death without having the causeless mercy of God. Therefore, Krsna is a scientific name of God. Of course, God has many names. For example, Vasudeva means "all-pervading:" So vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah: if after many, many births, one understands that Vasudeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is everything, he has reached the perfection of knowledge, and at that time he surrenders. The whole Bhagavad-gita teaches this science.
Pratyaksavagamam dharmyam. Dharmyam means the religious principles. Susukham kartum avyayam Susukham means that it is very joyful to execute. The devotional service you perform will never cease to exist. It is permanent. We do many things which have no permanent effect. For instance, suppose we work in this material world for some perfection in education or perfection in business. We may amass a vast amount of money, but that is not avyayam, eternal. As soon as your body is finished, everything is finished—your education is finished, your M.A. degree is finished, your bank balance is finished, your family is finished. Everything is finished. Now begin a new life. Vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya: "As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones." [Bg. 2.22] Therefore, whatever you are doing in this material world is not avyayam, not eternal. It is all temporary. But transcendental knowledge is not like that.
Svalpam apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat. Krsna conscious knowledge is so perfect that even if you learn one percent of it, then it can help to protect you from the greatest danger. Suppose in this life I perform work in Krsna consciousness, say, twenty-five percent of the time—I am not perfect. Then in my next life I will begin from the twenty-sixth point. So whatever realization I have acquired in this life is not lost. These are the formulas we get from authoritative scripture. But because material achievement pertains to this body, this temporary designation, it is finished with the finish of this designation.
In this body we're thinking, "I am American," "I am Indian." All of these are simply our designations. Yet the designation will finish, and there is no certainty what sort of body we will have in our next life. But devotional service to the Lord—knowledge and action in Krsna consciousness—will be permanent, whatever you do. If you can do it perfectly in this very life, then you get entrance into the kingdom of God. But even if you are not able to execute it perfectly, whatever you do will go with you, because you are a spirit soul. So your spiritual activities will be with you. But because the material body will remain in this material world, any work or assessment of this material body will also remain in this material world. This is natural.
Now we can actually understand how Krsna consciousness, devotional service, is joyfully performed. Take, for example, what we are doing here. We are singing, we are dancing, we are taking nice prasada [spiritual food offered to Krsna with love and devotion], and we are discussing the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita. These are the processes. We are not meant for any artificial austerities or gymnastics or breath control—so many things that are now being advertised and performed by so many different yoga societies. Here it is very easily and happily done. Everyone wants to dance, everyone wants to sing, everyone wants to eat nice foodstuffs. Through this formula—dancing, singing, eating Krsna prasada, and hearing philosophical discussion (transcendental topics from Bhagavad-gita)—don't you think it is very joyful? And whatever knowledge you acquire, that is permanent. That is not going to be finished with the finish of your body.
Krsna consciousness is such a nice thing; therefore we are trying to impart this philosophy in your country, and we invite your cooperation. Vijnanam: it is scientific. It is not sentimentality or fanaticism. It is scientific. So try to understand this philosophy of Krsna consciousness from Bhagavad-gita, and help yourself, help your countrymen, help the world. Then there will be peace and prosperity.
Good nutrition, a balanced budget,
by Rupanuga Dasa
Rupanuga Dasa is a chaplain at the University of Maryland and director of Iskcon's affairs in the Washington D.C. area.
When Lord Krsna speaks in the Bhagavad-gita, He clarifies the ultimate purpose of vegetarianism: "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." (Bg. 9.26) In itself, vegetarianism basically means nonviolence, protecting the animals—but offering vegetarian foods to Krsna and later accepting them as his mercy (prasada) means a lot more: bhakti-yoga, or becoming conscious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When combined with the chanting of the Supreme Lord's holy names—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna. Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama. Rama Rama, Hare Hare—strict vegetarianism becomes more than a mere ethical principle or rational, humane way of life; it becomes the simplest, most pleasant means in the world for spiritual realization.
Krsna consciousness, the spiritual reason for vegetarianism, includes all the other reasons—ethical, aesthetic, nutritional, economic, medical—in the same way that a five-hundred-dollar bill includes all the potencies of a hundred-dollar bill or a twenty-dollar bill or a ten- or five- or one-dollar bill. Only the freshest most succulent, most nutritious, and most aesthetically pleasing kinds of foods are prepared and offered to Krsna. Still, because we are scientifically minded, we should carefully analyze the many advantages of eating Krsna prasada—of being a strict, spiritually-minded vegetarian. We will also examine some of the more important objections to vegetarianism. We can define a "strict vegetarian" as someone who totally abstains from meat, fish, and eggs. Some vegetarians, called "vegans," abstain not only from meat but also from milk, because they fear pesticides and cholesterol. However, fruits, grains, and vegetables contain no cholesterol, so a vegetarian could drink a quart of milk and eat a few ounces of cheese every day without topping the maximum recommended allowance of cholesterol. Without taking milk, one is doomed to consume piles of algae, seaweed, sesame seeds, or pills to obtain essential vitamin B-12 and calcium. As for pesticides, practically everything we eat has some, because of widespread use of chemical fertilizers. The so-called ovo-vegetarians cannot be accepted as strict vegetarians, because they eat eggs, which are, after all, simply calcium-covered flesh, artificially mass-produced under conditions not justifiable in view of the numerous other sources of protein. But the term lacto (milk-drinking) vegetarian is acceptable. Taking milk of cows that may later be slaughtered does not in any way condone cow-killing, and if we had the opportunity, we would close the slaughterhouses immediately.
Objections by Nonvegetarians
One of the strongest objections nonvegetarians raise against vegetarianism is that vegetarians still have to kill plants, and that this is also violence. But it is nonsensical to equate fully sentient animals like cows with lowly vegetables. Besides, we really have to eat plants, fruits, grains, and so on, because the "vitamins and minerals found only in these vegetarian foods are essential to keep body and soul together. Certainly, plants are as alive as cows; modern experiments prove that plants have feelings, ** (Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird, The Secret Life of Plants (New York: Avon Books, 1974), p. 86.) and the Bhagavad-gita, the essence of all Vedic teachings, confirms that all life forms contain spirit souls qualitatively equal to one another. But still, we have to eat something, and the Vedas also say, jivo jivasya jivanam: one living entity is food for another in the struggle for existence. So from a humane standpoint, the problem in choosing a diet is not how to avoid killing altogether—an impossible proposal—but how to cause the least suffering while meeting the nutritional needs of the body. A well-balanced diet of fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products meets these criteria, and this diet is recommended in such scriptures as the Bhagavad-gita as most truly human.
Another common objection to vegetarianism is, "Jesus Christ ate meat, so why shouldn't we?" But vegetarian Christians point out that the ancient Greek, from which the New Testament was translated, does not support the contention that Christ ate meat. ** (Rev. V.A. Homes-Gore, Was the Master a Vegetarian? (London: The British Vegetarian Society), p. 8.) For example, Greek words like brosimos, prosphagion, and trophe, all of which mean simply "food, or "nourishment," were loosely translated as "meat. (except in the New English Bible). And, vegetarian Christians assert, where the Bible states that Christ was offered fish and a honeycomb and accepted "it (singular), it means the honeycomb. In the Old Testament a verse predicts this of the youthful Christ: "He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil and to choose the good." (Isaiah 7:15) The purport would seem to be that to behave otherwise would lead to a brutish mentality, which cannot be accepted in the character of Christ.
When we look for the reasons behind widespread meat-eating, we find that many people have been conditioned to it from childhood ("Finish your plate, dear; there are people starving in India.), and they feel guilty if they don't indulge. In addition, myths about the necessity of flesh-eating persist, even in the face of volumes of scientific evidence to the contrary. Even the National Live Stock and Meat Board admits that a vegetarian diet can provide adequate nutrition. ** (Meat and Vegetarian Concept, National Live Stock and Meat Board (Chicago, 1977). p. 19.)
Protein Percentages Compared
Meat-eaters argue, "But meat is a perfect, complete protein, while I'd have to spend hours purchasing, cooking, and combining the right vegetables to get enough protein every day."
First of all, meat is not "pure" or "perfect" protein, but at best 25-30% protein. Its net protein utilization (NPU, the amount actually digested and absorbed by the body) is 67%, compared to 82% for milk, 70% for cheese, 67% for mung beans, and 60% for whole wheat. ** (Francis Moore Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet (New York: Ballantine Books, 1975), pp. 96-117.) By weight the above foodstuffs may have less protein than meat, but because their NPU is high, simply by eating more of them or combining them one can easily meet one's protein RDA (minimum recommended daily allowance). For example, milk is only 4 to 5% protein, but two cups give about 40% of the average usable protein RDA of 43.1 grams. A two-inch cube of cheese yields about 30%. And the objection that vegetarianism is too time-consuming is ridiculous. Complementarity, the right combination of foods, is as common-sense and natural as bread and butter, and it easily avoids dietary deficiencies. Furthermore, complementarity increases the food value of the combined foods (see chart below). For example, the NPU of rice alone (60%) and beans alone (40%) increases by 43% when they are eaten together, and pairing milk with whole-wheat bread increases their combined NPU by 13%.
Besides, protein isn't everything. Essential nutrients like iron, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as essential vitamins like C, A, riboflavin, niacin, and the B complex, are almost entirely absent in flesh foods. So vegetarian foods are absolutely necessary to maintain good health. What, then, is the reason for killing animals for food (besides habit, or a cultivated blood-lust), especially in American and European countries, which are rich in vegetarian foodstuffs? Even if some few insist upon eating cow carcasses, they need only wait for the animals to die naturally. Connoisseurs, who might object that such flesh would be too tough, should remember that slaughtered cow carcasses are far from fresh, since they are aged up to two weeks to dissipate and soften rigor mortis. Such purely aesthetic reasoning often produces vegetarians.
Many people are vegetarians for ethical reasons, believing that it is not at all possible to condone as "man's dominion" the slaughter of four billion animals each year. ** (Agricultural Statistics, United States Dept. of Agriculture (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Off., 1976), pp. 354, 405.) Many others would no doubt take up vegetarianism if they visited a slaughterhouse, or if they themselves had to kill the animals they ate. Euphemisms like "sirloin," "brisket," or "cutlets" would then no longer hide the horror of cow butchery, and the visiting shoppers would no longer agree to put the limbs or innards of cow bodies into their mouths. Such visits should be compulsory for all meat-eaters. Some may think, "So what? Who will punish me? The government makes no arrests for cow-killing." But they are mistaken: they will be punished, as we shall now see.
Instant Karma, Insane Waste
The meat-rich American diet has been scientifically proven to cause disease. A few examples: Researchers have found that frying meat produces carcinogens, cancer-causing agents. ** (Alex Hershaft, "Hazards in Meat? Here's Why," The Washington Star (June 1, 1978), p. A10.) The breast milk of nonvegetarian women contains ten times as much pesticide as that of vegetarians. Many Americans, especially among the more well-to-do, eat almost twice as much protein as they need, and this often tends to leach calcium out of the bones into the bloodstream. This process can produce bone loss and brittleness around the age of forty. Evidence linking the American diet with cancer and other diseases prompted the U.S. Senate to call for an increase in vegetarian foodstuffs in the national diet. ** ("Diet Related to Killer Diseases," Dietary Goals for the United States, the U.S. Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Govt. Printing Off., Feb. 1977), p. 13.) Sodium nitrate, hormones, and antibiotics, given to animals in huge amounts to fatten and calm them, are passed on to the consumer and are thought by many researchers to be prime causes of disease.
Yet all these factors are not the original causes of disease, but are themselves manifestations of subtler causes—violations of the laws of nature. Humans are meant to eat vegetarian foods, but when their uncontrollable appetites drive them to eat flesh, they must suffer karmic reactions, which are shared equally by all those who participate in the slaughter—from cattlemen to butchers to shoppers to cooks to consumers. This is the real connection between diet and disease: instant karma! It may manifest immediately, as in the case of botulism, an often deadly poisoning, or later on, as in the case of bone loss; it may strike individually, as in the personal hell of cancer, or collectively, as in the mass slaughterhouse of the Bubonic Plague. But in any case, there is no escaping karmic reactions. We reap what we sow, in this life and the next, for nature has her justice above the state's.
The Bhagavad-gita reveals how strict vegetarianism, when integrated with bhakti yoga, can counteract karma: "Devotees are freed from karmic reactions because they first offer their food to the Lord, whereas others, who prepare food only for their personal sense gratification, eat only sin." (Bg. 3.13) In other words, anyone who dovetails his eating with the principles of bhakti-yoga becomes transcendental to all karmic reactions, while one who neglects to do so incurs bad karma. Moreover, one who acts without karma can dovetail his consciousness with God's and become aware of His personal presence at every step. This is the true benefit of prasada.
Economically, the nonvegetarian diet has produced a tragedy. From 1950 to 1970, the grain output in the U.S. increased 50%. ** (F. M. Lappe, op. cit., p. 8.) But how was the grain distributed? Presently, livestock are given 85% of the edible corn, barley, oats, sorghum, and unexported soybeans produced in the U.S. In addition, Americans feed almost half as much wheat to animals as they eat themselves. A large portion of the U.S. continental land surface is used for the grazing of beef cattle—valuable land that might be used to cultivate grain. Most people would agree that wasting food is a sin, yet all this effort and energy produces only about one pound of meat protein for sixteen pounds of grain; the waste alone could cover 90% of the yearly protein deficit of the entire world.
On the other hand, for every pound of grain a cow eats, she produces one pint of milk, from which wholesome cheese, butter, and yogurt can be made. These foods will supply all essential nutrients for the human diet when intelligently combined with grains, fruits, and vegetables. There are at least forty kinds of vegetables, nine kinds of grains, twenty kinds of fruit, twenty kinds of beans and peas, and twelve kinds of nuts available in the market, in addition to the cow's contribution. What, then, is the need for all the violence and disobedience to the higher laws of humankind, nature, and God? Let us chant Hare Krsna, live as strict vegetarians, and be happy in this life and the next!
By Jayadvaita Swami
Today our Book Trust offices in New York received delivery of a new typesetting system to be used for publishing Back to Godhead and other Krsna conscious literature. It's a sophisticated computerized arrangement with a video terminal, 32,000 bytes of electronic memory, on-line interfaces, and other wonders of modern microchip technology.
It will seem a little strange, perhaps, to see young American women in saris and shaved-headed men in orange robes sitting at the keyboard of such a device, absorbed in entering data or updating computer files. It may seem incongruous, unspiritual.
Yet we don't think it's strange at all, nor incongruous, nor unspiritual even in the least. In fact, we think it's delightful.
The man was here all day installing the thing—measuring electronic pulses, soldering wires, running diagnostics, and all the while nearly climbing the walls because the Hare Krsna people don't let you smoke cigarettes in their building.
Now it's late in the evening, the man has gone home, the machine, we hope, is ready for action, the devotees in the building are retiring for the night. I have been unwinding a little, savoring the late-evening peacefulness by quietly chanting Hare Krsna on my beads.
My thoughts are on my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. I have been planning to write a brief article about Srila Bhaktisiddhanta for Back to Godhead, but it has been difficult to decide just what to say. My ideas seem inadequate, my inspiration weak, my intellect just slightly too foggy and dull.
But the world of spiritual tradition and the world of technology seem to have touched one another just at the right moment, in a fortunate, enlightening way, for the computerization of our publishing offices makes sense to us only by the grace of this simple, austere, and scholarly spiritual teacher, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
Up until the time of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, devotees of Krsna in India generally avoided having anything to do with the mechanized contrivances introduced under the British raj. Better to live simply and not divert one's mind from meditation on Krsna, the supreme Absolute Truth. After all, what would ultimately be the benefit of modern gadgets and conveniences? Would they really make life happier or better? Life is meant for spiritual realization—why let one's attention be distracted?
But Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had a different idea, and a higher understanding of spirituality. He was a teacher in the line of Srila Rupa Gosvami, the great devotee and scholar who had written in medieval times,
"One is perfectly detached from all materialistic, worldly entanglements not when one gives up everything but when one employs everything properly for the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. This is understood to be perfect renunciation in yoga."
If everything is God's energy, why should anything be given up? If God is good, then His energy is also good. If God is real, then this world and the things it contains are also real. It is only our misunderstanding and misuse of them that are false. Materialistic perplexities entangle us because we draw false lines of ownership and claim God's property as ours. We mistakenly believe that the things of this world are meant for our enjoyment, not understanding that if they are God's property, we should use them only in the service of God. Puffed up by false egos, we think ourselves masters of all we survey, not appreciating our true nature as loving servants of God.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, therefore, taught that devotees should willingly accept whatever will be of use in Krsna's service. This is another principle of Krsna consciousness—that one should accept whatever is favorable for the service of the Lord and reject whatever is unfavorable for that service. For example, devotees give up intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sex, and gambling, because although these too are part of the world, they are obstacles to progress in devotional service. But anything that enhances devotional service one should accept.
According to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the best way to serve Krsna is to spread Krsna consciousness for the benefit of others. This is also stated by Krsna Himself in Bhagavad-gita. Everyone is a part of Krsna, the supreme Ultimate Reality, and therefore everyone should know the science of how to connect oneself with Krsna in a natural, perfectly harmonious relationship of devotional love. Because we have forgotten this relationship, we are perplexed and suffering in this material world; by reviving it, we can be freed from illusion and misery and resume our natural life of eternal knowledge and bliss. Because Krsna is the father of all living beings, He earnestly desires that we come to our senses and resume our loving relationship with Him and become happy.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta therefore taught that devotees should be eager to use everything possible for one central purpose: to broadcast the glories of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Simply by hearing about Krsna or anything related to Krsna, one gradually becomes enlightened. And this enlightenment can bring the highest welfare to all.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta especially emphasized the importance of the printing press, which he called "the big mrdanga." The mrdanga is a clay drum used to accompany kirtana, or congregational chanting of the maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But although the mrdanga may be heard for a long distance, the scientific knowledge in the Krsna conscious literature produced by the "big mrdanga " can enlighten people all over the world.
Our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the author of more than seventy books of spiritual realization, was expert in playing this "big mrdanga." Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura had personally advised him to publish books about the science of Krsna, and this was advice that Srila Prabhupada diligently followed. Following in the footsteps of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada gladly used everything—printing presses, dictaphones, microphones, whatever—to broadcast the glories of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
So the day ends with meditation on Srila Prabhupada and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who taught not only how to live amid modern technology but how to employ that technology perfectly, for the highest purpose, by offering it at the lotus feet of Lord Krsna.
Hare Krishna! I am writing to you to express my deep appreciation for the good work you and all the ISKCON devotees are doing, especially in India. About five years ago, I began casually visiting the Bombay Radha-Rasabihari Temple. At first I was only impressed by the temple's cleanliness and tasteful floral decorations, but gradually the joyous yet peaceful atmosphere overcame me, and my feelings for the centre deepened. I began to regularly attend morning arati, and within a few years I became certain that ISKCON devotees were genuinely propagating our own Vedic dharma. In 1977 I requested the devotees to allow me to become a Life Member of ISKCON.
I was born into a strictly vegetarian, God conscious Hindu family, but I was not satisfied with many of the so-called exponents of our religion. Searching for a deeper understanding of things brought me into contact with many renowned swamis and teachers, but all of them failed to satisfy my inquisitive nature. In fact, most of the religious institutions I visited throughout India were steeped in pretentiousness and pettiness, and they appeared to be nothing more than places where simple God-fearing people are exploited by imitation "Gods." I shall narrate a few incidents from my own experiences which will clarify my statements.
In 1963 I visited a swami at his Rishikesh ashram, and I was most appalled by his rude behaviour. He personally would not allow me to stay in his ashram unless I could part with an exorbitant sum. Later, during a visit to Poona, I witnessed that the ashram of a so-called "Bhagavan" only caters to the needs of either wealthy Indians or foreigners searching for sensual enjoyment. This was another rude shock, since the disciples there pose as sannyasis, the order of life reserved for the most disciplined and ascetic Vedic monks. At an ashram in Ganeshpuri, I was amazed to see that a big fat elephant was stuffed with pounds of sweets, puris, and halava. Feeding an elephant with sweets while so many of our countrymen go to bed hungry each night seems like an empty show. I prefer the programme at Hare Krishna Land, where spiritual food (prasada) is freely and abundantly fed to the poor.
Such swamis as I have mentioned above may attract lots of cheap disciples, but to me they are just cheats or hypocrites disguised as holy men. In our Ramayana we have the example of Ravana dressing up as a sannyasi to abduct Sita, the wife of Lord Rama, and today the same phenomenon is plaguing India. Naturally, due to my past distasteful experiences I had my doubts or even suspicions about the Hare Krishna movement at first. Now, after many years of intimate friendship with devotees, I can say with pride that ISKCON devotees are genuine and disciplined followers of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. ISKCON is an authentic Vaishnava society, and my family and I have benefited so much from your association.
Reading Srila Prabhupada's books, especially Bhagavad-gita As It Is, has opened new dimensions for me. I now understand that Bhagavad-gita is intended for the most intelligent men. Although the average man may not be able to properly understand the Gita, he can easily learn to comprehend Krishna's teachings through chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra and by receiving instructions from a bona fide spiritual master.
A case in point. My wife was greatly depressed several years ago, and even expensive regular visits to a psychiatrist proved to be of no value. Her actual problem was a lack of enthusiasm for cultivating material comfort. What she wanted was spiritual life, and simply by regularly attending the temple programme at Hare Krishna Land and by chanting Hare Krishna, she has become more enthusiastic and more happy about life than ever. This has been to me a stirring example of the absolute potency of Krishna consciousness. Whereas other swamis and gurus struck me as egotists mad after worship and money, the Krishna consciousness movement, unasked, has actually done a real service for my family and me. From talking with the other residents of Juhu, I have learned that everyone here appreciates Hare Krishna Land as a complete Vedic cultural centre.
We regularly visit the temple, the Vedic library, and the Sunday programme. My daughter is learning Bharata Natyam classical dancing at Bhakti Kala Kshetra, Hare Krishna Land's artistic wing. We of Juhu all extend our gratitude to Srila Prabhupada and the devotees of ISKCON, who have given us an opportunity to be in touch with our religious heritage.
May Lord Krishna sustain the devotees' efforts to spread Krishna consciousness to the whole world. Hare Krishna.
N. D. Makker
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Now that Srila Prabhupada's young friends had rented him a Lower East Side storefront (America's first Hare Krsna temple), he started giving his lectures there. But the situation was anything but serene.
Now today we shall begin the Fourth Chapter—what Lord Krsna says to Arjuna.
His lecture is very basic and yet (for restless youth) heavily philosophical. Some can't take it, and they rise to leave. Some, upon hearing his first words, have already risen rudely, put on their shoes at the front door, and returned to the street. Others left as soon as they saw the singing was over. Still, this is his best group yet. A few of the Bowery congregation are present. The boys from Mott Street are here, and they're specifically looking for a guru. Many in the group have already read Bhagavad-gita—and they're not too proud to hear and admit that they didn't understand it.
It's another hot and noisy July evening outside his door. Children are on summer vacation, and they stay out on the street until dark. Nearby, a big dog is barking—"RAU! RAU! RAU!" The traffic creates constant rumbling, just outside the window little girls are shrieking, and all this makes lecturing difficult. Yet despite the distraction of children, traffic, and dogs, he wants the door open. If it is closed he says, "Why is it closed? People may come in." He continues undaunted, quoting Sanskrit, holding his audience, and developing his urgent message, while the relentless cacophony rivals his every word....
"RAU'. RAU! RAU!"
"EEE EEE EEEK! YAA AAA AAAA!" Shrieking like little witches, the girls disturb the whole block. In the distance, a man shouts from his window: "Get outta here! Get outta here!"
Prabhupada: Ask them not to make noise.
Roy (one of the boys in the temple): The man is chasing the kids now.
Prabhupada: Yes, yes, these children are making a disturbance. Ask them ...
Roy: Yes, that's what . . . the man's chasing them right now.
The man chases the children away, but they'll be back. You can't chase the children off the street—they live there. And the big dog never stops barking. And who can stop the cars? The cars are always there. Prabhupada uses the cars to give an example. When a car momentarily comes into our vision on Second Avenue, we certainly don't think that it had no existence before we saw it or that it ceases to exist once it has passed from view; similarly, when Krsna goes from this planet to another, it doesn't mean He no longer exists, although it may appear that way. Actually, He has only left our sight. Krsna and His incarnations constantly appear and disappear on innumerable planets throughout the innumerable universes of the material creation.
The cars are always passing, roaring and rumbling through every word Prabhupada speaks. The door is open, and he is poised at the edge of a river of carbon monoxide, asphalt, rumbling tires, and constant waves of traffic. He has come a long way from the banks of his Yamuna and Vrndavana, where great saints and sages have gathered through the ages to discuss Krsna consciousness. But his audience lives here amidst this scene, so he has come here, beside Second Avenue's river of traffic, to speak loudly the ageless message.
He is still stressing the same point: Whatever you do in Krsna consciousness, however little it may be, is eternally good for you. Yet now, more than uptown or on the Bowery, he is calling his hearers to take to Krsna consciousness fully and become devotees. But he encourages them....
Anyone can become a devotee and friend of Krsna like Arjuna. You will be surprised that Lord Caitanya's principal disciples were all so-called fallen in society. He appointed Haridasa Thakura to the highest position in His spiritual mission, although he happened to take birth in a Muhammadan family. So there is no bar for anyone. Everyone can become spiritual master, provided he knows the science of Krsna. This is the science of Krsna, this Bhagavad-gita. And if anyone knows it perfectly, then he becomes a spiritual master.
And this transcendental vibration, Hare Krsna, will help us by cleaning the dust from the mirror of our mind. On the mind we have accumulated material dust. Just like on the Second Avenue, due to the constant traffic of motorcars, there's always a creation of dust over everything. Similarly, by our manipulation of materialistic activities, there are some material dusts which are accumulated on the mind, and therefore we are unable to see things in true perspective. So this process, the vibration of the transcendental sound—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—will cleanse the dust. And as soon as the dust is cleared, then, as you see your nice face in the mirror, similarly you can see your real constitutional position as spirit soul. In Sanskrit language it is said, ceto-darpana-marjanam. Lord Caitanya said that. Lord Caitanya's picture you have seen on the bookcase. He is dancing and chanting Hare Krsna. So, it doesn't matter what a person was doing before, what sinful activities. A person may not be perfect at first, but if he is engaged in service, then he will be purified.
Suddenly a Bowery derelict enters, whistling and drunkenly shouting. The audience remains seated, not knowing what to make of it.
Drunk: How are ya? I'll be right back. I brought another thing.
Prabhupada: Don't disturb. Sit down. We are talking seriously.
Drunk: I'll put it up there. In a church? All right. I'll be right back.
The man is white-haired, with a short, grizzly beard and frowzy clothing. His odor reeks through the temple. But then he suddenly careens out the door and is gone. Prabhupada chuckles softly and returns immediately to his lecture.
So it doesn't matter what a person is doing before, if he engages in Krsna consciousness—chanting Hare Krsna and Bhagavad-gita—it should be concluded that he is a saint. He is a saintly person. Api cet suduracaro. Never mind if he may have some external immoral habit due to his past association. It doesn't matter. Some way or other, one should become Krsna conscious, and then gradually he will become a saintly person as he goes on executing this process of Krsna consciousness.
There is a story about how habit is second nature. There was a thief, and he went on pilgrimage with some friends. So at night when the others were sleeping, because his habit was to steal at night, he got up and was taking someone's baggage. But then he was thinking, "Oh, I have come to this holy place of pilgrimage, but still I am committing theft by habit. No, I shall not do it."
So then he took someone's bag and put it in another's place, and for the whole night the poor fellow moved the bags of the pilgrims from here to there. But due to his conscience, because he was on a holy pilgrimage, he did not actually take anything. So in the morning when everyone got up, they looked around and said, "Where is my bag? I don't see it." And another man says, "I don't see my bag." And then someone says, "Oh, there is your bag." So there was some row, so they thought, "What is the matter? How has it so happened?"
Then the thief rose up and told all of the friends, "My dear gentlemen, I am a thief by occupation, and because I have that habit to steal at night, I couldn't stop myself. But I thought, I have come to this holy place, so I won't do it.' Therefore I placed one person's bag in another man's place. Please excuse me."
So this is habit. He doesn't want to, but he has a habit of doing it. He has decided not to commit theft anymore, but sometimes he does, habitually. So Krsna says that in such conditions, when one has decided to stop all immoral habits and just take to this process of Krsna consciousness, if by chance he does something which is immoral in the face of society, that should not be taken account of. In the next verse Krsna says, ksipram bhavati dharmatma: because he has dovetailed himself in Krsna consciousness, it is sure that he will be saintly very soon.
Suddenly the old derelict returns, announcing his entrance: "How are ya?" He is carrying something. He maneuvers his way through the group, straight to the back of the temple, where Prabhupada is sitting. He opens the toilet room door, puts two rolls of bathroom tissue inside, closes the door, and then turns to the sink, sits some paper towels on top of it, and puts two more rolls of bathroom tissue and some more paper towels under the sink. He then stands and turns around toward the Swami and the audience. The Swami is looking at him and asks, "What is this?" The bum is silent now; he has done his work. Prabhupada begins to laugh, thanking his visitor, who is now moving towards the door: "Thank you. Thank you very much." The bum exits. "Just see," Prabhupada now addresses his congregation. "It is a natural tendency to give some service. Just see, he is not in order, but he thought that, 'Here is something. Let me get some service.' Just see how automatically it comes. This is natural."
The young men in the audience look at one another. This is really far out—first the chanting with the brass cymbals, the Swami looking like Buddha and talking about Krsna and chanting, and now this crazy stuff with the bum. But the Swami stays cool, he's really cool, just sitting on the floor like he's not afraid of anything, just talking of his philosophy about the soul and us becoming saints and even the old drunk becoming a saint!
After almost an hour, the dog still barks, and the kids still squeal.
Prabhupada is asking his hearers, who don't even qualify as laymen, to become totally dedicated preachers of Krsna consciousness: "In the Bhagavad-gita you will find that anyone who preaches the gospel of Bhagavad-gita to the people of the world is the most dear, the dearest person to Krsna. Therefore it is our duty to preach the principles of this Bhagavad-gita to make people Krsna conscious." It's as if he can't wait to tell them—even if they aren't ready. It's too urgent. The world needs Krsna conscious preachers.
People are suffering for want of Krsna consciousness. Therefore, each and every one of us should be engaged in the preaching work of Krsna consciousness for the benefit of the whole world. Lord Caitanya, whose picture is in the front of our store, has very nicely preached the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. The Lord says, "Just take My orders, all of you, and become a spiritual master." Lord Caitanya gives the order that in every country you go and preach Krsna consciousness. So if we take up this missionary work to preach Bhagavad-gita, without interpretation and without any material motives behind it—as it is—then Krsna says it shall be done. We should not have any attraction for worldly activities, otherwise we can't have Krsna. But it doesn't mean that we should be inimical to the people of the world. No, it is our duty to give them the highest instruction, that you become Krsna conscious and ...
A young man in the audience seems unable to contain himself and begins making his own incoherent speech.
Prabhupada: No. You cannot disturb just now.
Man (standing up): Now wait a minute, man. (A quarrel begins as others try to quiet him.)
Prabhupada: No, no, no. No, no, no, no. Not just now. No, no, you cannot ask just now.
Man: Well, I am trying to talk.
Prabhupada: No, just now you cannot ask.
Man: But wait a minute, man. Wait.
Prabhupada: Why do you interfere just now? We have a regular question time.
Others in the audience: Let the man finish. Yeah, let him talk. (The man has gained some supporters, who defend his right to speak. Others try to silence him.)
Second Man: I have just one question, please. How long is an individual allowed or expected to go on without any type of thought? How long?
Prabhupada: I am not finished. We'll give question time after finishing the talk. (The parties go on quarreling.) All right, I am very glad you are curious, but please wait. Have some patience, because we have not finished. As soon as we finish, after five minutes, ten minutes, I will tend to your question. Don't be impatient. Sit down. (The audience quiets down, and Prabhupada goes on with his talk.)
After five minutes ...
Prabhupada: All right. This gentleman is impatient. We shall stop here. Now what is your question, sir?
Man: Practically we tend to place emphasis on those we identify with the fact itself. Many people are meant to explain the whyfores and the wherefores of the metaphysical truth, that I think, therefore I am.
Prabhupada: What is your particular question?
Man: I have no answer to that question. Rather, but that I attempt, I move, I live, I breathe.
Man: So ability—tell me why I have nothing to do with it. May I understand the whyfores and wheres?
Prabhupada: That's all right.
Man: I have difficulty in you. I have difficulty in saying.
Prabhupada: So long as we are in this material world there are so many problems.
Man: Not many problems. It is not many problems. This is the greatest fact. I have ... I know. . .
Man: I also know that the whys and wherefores of my particular...
Man: I didn't come here ... But let me explain my position. This isn't necessarily ... I feel I must ... I think the difference is to learn . . . You'll find it innumerable times, by the same token ... Maybe we are able to reconcile the fact of individual being for a long time to find out why we are existing ...
Prabhupada (turning to one of the boys): Roy, can you answer his question? It is a general question. You can answer, yes?
Roy turns sympathetically to the rambling questioner, and Srila Prabhupada addresses his audience: "Enough questions." His voice now seems tired and resigned: "Let us have kirtana." And the Lower East Side once again abates. The chanting begins: the brass cymbals, Prabhupada's voice carrying the melody, and the audience responding. It goes for half an hour and then stops.
It is now 9:00. The audience sits before Prabhupada while a boy brings him an apple, a small wooden bowl, and a knife. As most of the audience still sits and watches, gauging the aftereffects of the chanting as though it had been some new drug, Prabhupada cuts the apple in half, then in fourths, then in eighths, until there are many pieces. He takes one himself and asks one of the boys to pass the bowl around. Prabhupada holds back his head and deftly pops a slice of apple into his mouth, without touching his fingers to his lips. He chews a bit, ruminating, his lips closed.
The members of the congregation munch silently on little pieces of apple. Prabhupada stands, slips into his shoes, and exits through the side door.
(To be continued.)
"Why Do They Seem So Strange?"
This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and reporters took place at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Reporter: Swamiji, what special message would you have for people who don't know anything about your movement and would like to know something about it?
Srila Prabhupada: It is a little difficult to understand this movement, because it is a spiritual movement. Unfortunately, people have practically no information about what spirit is and what a spiritual movement is. They can simply understand that the body is there—but the body is a machine, and the driver of the machine is the spirit soul. So we are beginning our movement from this platform. People are very much engrossed with the machine only, but they have no information about who is driving the machine. That is what we are teaching.
Reporter: Swamiji, your movement has received much attention because many of your followers dress in what, for the West, is an odd fashion. Why have you asked your followers to dress in this fashion and play drums on the streets?
Srila Prabhupada: This is our preaching method—somehow or other to draw people's attention, so that they may have the opportunity to revive their eternal relationship with God.
Reporter: I'm sure that you're aware that to many people in the West, your disciples seem strange because of the way they act on the streets. What about that?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they must seem strange, because they are acting spiritually. To materialistic persons we are surely acting strangely.
Reporter: Is this manifestation the only way to be spiritual?
Srila Prabhupada: No, there is much more. For instance, we don't have any illicit sex; we don't have meat-eating; we have no intoxication; we have no gambling.
Reporter: But I mean, Swamiji, is this manifestation—dressing in this fashion, playing drums, and dancing in the streets the only way to be spiritual?
Srila Prabhupada: No. We have published about seventy books [Srila Prabhupada's translations and commentaries on the Vedic literatures]. If you want to learn about this movement through science and philosophy, you have got our books. Have you not seen our books?
Reporter: Yes, I have, but—can't people be spiritual without dressing in this fashion and dancing in the streets?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You can become spiritualized in the clothing you are wearing now. You simply have to learn about spiritual life from the books. Dress is not a very important thing. Still, in the material world one person is dressed in one way; another, another way.
Reporter: The way we ordinary people dress lets us move in all circles. But the way your disciples dress ...
Srila Prabhupada: The thing is, to signify that one is performing a particular job, he may dress differently. For example, a policeman is differently dressed, so that others can understand that he is a policeman. Similarly, we are also differently dressed, so that everyone may understand that we are Hare Krsna people.
Second Reporter: Swami, I saw a television program about your movement once, and they said that the men give the directions and the women follow. Is that true?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily. We follow the Bhagavad-gita the directions of Lord Krsna. That is applicable to both men and women.
Second Reporter: Are men regarded as superior to women, though?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, naturally. Naturally a woman requires protection by a man—in childhood she is protected by her father, later she is protected by her husband, and in old age she is protected by her eldest sons. That is natural.
Second Reporter: That goes against the thinking of a lot of people in America now. Do you know that?
Srila Prabhupada: In America, maybe. But this is the natural situation. Women require protection.
Third Reporter: Swamiji, is there a chance that all your followers can realize the highest truth?
Srila Prabhupada: They already have.
Third Reporter: They already have?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly, and I can deliver it to you, also, if you want. The highest truth is that God is a person, like you and me. Now, what is the difference between this one person and all the rest of us? It is this: He maintains all of us, and we are maintained by Him. But He is also a person, like you and me. Do you follow?
Third Reporter: Yes, I do.
Srila Prabhupada: So my disciples have already realized the highest truth. Otherwise, why would they be following a teacher like me? I am a poor Indian man. Why are they following me? They are American—they are rich. So how could I have bribed them? These young people are educated, qualified. Why are they following me, unless they have already realized some higher knowledge?
Fourth Reporter: Swamiji, I have one more question for you, please. It seems to me, and I think to other sympathetic observers, that you have asked your spiritual children to go deep within the heart of the Krsna consciousness movement to accomplish what you've set as their goal. But as far as I know, they do not work in, for instance, hospitals or perform service to the "outer world" other than offering free meals at the temple and preaching the word of Lord Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada: Many of my disciples work at ordinary professions, of course. But do you know what real service is?
Fourth Reporter: The answer should come from you and not from me.
Srila Prabhupada: Suppose you open a hospital. You can cure some disease for the time being, but can you give a patient any assurance that he will not die? Can you protect him from death? In spite of all your big hospitals, can you protect humanity from death, from birth, from old age, from disease? Can you?
Fourth Reporter: Physically, of course not. Only spiritually.
Srila Prabhupada: So we are providing that—the process whereby one can return to the kingdom of God, where there is no more death, no more birth, no more old age, and no more disease.
Celibacy—Exquisite Torture, or a "Yes to God"?
by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
The visit of Pope John Paul II to America last fall may come to be remembered most for the strange contrast it presented between the overwhelming enthusiasm shown for the man and the decided lack of enthusiasm shown for what he had to say. Among the unpopular positions espoused by the Pope was his insistence on maintaining the celibacy of priests. On the evening of October 3 he reiterated this position before an audience of seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a complex of imposing buildings of huge grey granite blocks, where the Diocese of Philadelphia trains its priests. The Pope's visit here particularly interested me, since a few years earlier I myself had spoken before the seminarians of St. Charles—and on the very same topic.
It is rare but not odd that a Pope should speak before American seminarians, but it is perhaps rare and odd that a Hare Krsna devotee should do so. What the Pope had to say was not unexpected. He stressed the full commitment the life of a priest demands, urged prayer as necessary for priests "to remain in a state of continuous reaching out to God," and praised celibacy for priests as the "concrete response in their lives to express the totality of the 'yes' they have spoken to the Lord." Naturally he was received enthusiastically, and the seminarians were reportedly "touched" by his speech. My own reception was somewhat more subdued, though respectful. But it is interesting that the Pope did not hear the seminarians voice the protests against celibacy that I—a member of "another religion"—did.
I had been invited specifically to address a class on the topic of revelation. Fifty or so young men in black filled the lecture hall when I arrived. I had thought over carefully what I would say: it must be clear to them that I had no sectarian message. I could speak on the general principles of religion that ought to apply as much to their faith as to my own.
And I knew some of their problems. I knew that the Church was losing priests at an alarming rate, and that there was agitation among the clergy for a married priesthood. Indeed, I had seen some of this turbulence at an appallingly close range: while doing graduate work in religion at Temple University, I had watched as one Catholic religious after another abandoned their vows to take up secular life. Some got married; others simply hit the streets.
I wrote the Hare Krsna mantra on the blackboard and then explained to the class that it was simultaneously a prayer and the prayer's fulfillment. As a prayer, it begs the divine energy that unites us to God to join us with Him through service, and at the same time it is that union, for by chanting we directly associate with God in the form of His divine names (Krsna the person and "Krsna" the sound are nondifferent). Then I taught the seminarians how to pronounce the words of the mantra and asked them to chant it with me in call-and-response fashion. And then, to my immense delight, we had a wonderful kirtana, as fifty strong voices clearly and vigorously chanted the Hare Krsna mantra with me. After years of lecturing, I could get just about any audience to chant, but this chanting was exceptional; it was robust, spirited, with none of the sectarian reluctance I had feared. It was alive. These were clearly not ordinary men.
After the kirtana, I began to explain how chanting was related to the subject of revelation. Revelation is two-sided: there is the giver and the receiver, and then the receiver becomes the giver to another receiver, in turn. In Sanskrit this process is called parampara, or disciplic succession. Since the All-perfect reveals Himself perfectly, His revelation must be passed down without any change or alteration. For God's revelation to be potent, it must be preserved intact, in all its original integrity.
How is this possible? The original giver, God, may be infallible, but the receiver is all too fallible. And yet, as I explained, we must understand that the divine revelation is not merely a collection of sentences, not just propositional truth. Memorization and rote transmission are machinelike functions that do not in themselves suffice for transmitting the revelation. God's revelation—His word—like His names in the mantra, is absolute, and therefore God Himself is given in His word, in His own revelation. For this reason, the word of God possesses a concrete power. Just as a potent antibiotic injected into the bloodstream destroys the agents of infection, so the word of God, injected into the ears of a fully submissive receiver, destroys all his material contaminations, and he becomes transformed into a fitting receptacle, into an unsullied transparent medium. Such a person not only speaks the word of God; he lives it, and living it, becomes the word personified.
Thus the potency of God's revelation is exhibited through the devotees, who are living exemplars of the purifying power of God. The word that is in relation to God can be received as-it-is only from those persons who are in relation to God. They are the life in which the letter lives. The revelation of God becomes a dead letter, like a law without government, when there are no pure devotees living the life of the letter.
So far, I had their full attention. Now I began to explain the four regulative principles, which are absolutely necessary for a person to observe if he wants to transmit the revelation of God intact. I enumerated: no eating of animal flesh, no indulgence in illicit sex, no taking of intoxicants, and no gambling—and I saw that I was losing my audience. Feet shuffled, eyes wandered ... and then the monsignor, their instructor, announced that it was time for a short break.
He and I sat down together. I wanted to talk with him about meat-eating, but before I could begin to offer reasons why a Christian ought to refrain from animal slaughter, he began to offer reasons why a Christian could indulge in alcohol. This was not an auspicious sign, to say the least, and as I began the second part of my lecture, I was somewhat less sanguine about the spiritual chances of these wonderful chanters. The monsignor, after all, was their teacher.
I spent the second part of the lecture explaining the spiritual principle that it is possible to give up the material activities of the senses not by rigid nullifications or barren abnegations, but only by giving the senses superior engagements in divine service. It is first of all necessary to control the tongue, I explained; only then can the other senses (including the genitals) be controlled. In the Krsna consciousness movement, I told them, we control the tongue by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and by talking about the transcendental activities of the Lord and His devotees, and we eat only the sacred food called prasada (or God's mercy), which is sanctified by having first been offered to the Lord. Similarly, the eyes, ears, nose, hands, and legs are all controlled by spiritual engagements in divine service. Our senses are not repressed by such engagements; rather, they become purified by being kept in contact with the divine through active service. And thus our mind, the hub of the senses, becomes fixed in constant remembrance of the Lord, and such recollection gradually reawakens our dormant love for God. When this original love is misdirected, it assumes the guise of material desire, of lust. This is why, when spiritual purity is restored, material desire is not present even in a repressed state, where it can break out at any time; rather, it has been wholly transmuted back into its original and natural form, pure love for God.
I answered a number of questions, mostly concerning the particular practices of Krsna devotees, while they passed around the large bowl of sweetballs (prasada) I had brought for them.
After the class was dismissed, about a dozen seminarians lingered behind, all very friendly and inquisitive, and began to question me, mostly about the four regulative principles. I saw that several of them had lit cigarettes.
In the course of our discussion, I finally asked one of the smokers, "Do you really find that impossible to give up? I wasn't prepared for his answer—or for the vehemence of it.
"If I could just take a girl out on Saturday night, he exclaimed, "instead of having to sit around here, crawling up the walls, I might not have to smoke!" There were murmurs of assent. And with much bitterness and resentment, they began criticizing the celibacy rule.
The Krsna consciousness movement, of course, has married priests. (I'm one.) But I told them that even married couples restrict sexual intercourse to once a month, and then only if they are trying to have a child. ("Rhythm" we regard as another form of cheating.) One of them said that it sounded worse than celibacy: they clearly didn't want marriage on those terms either.
I was appalled by the amount of sexual frustration these men were giving voice to. It was wrong. So I started to question them about their life in the seminary, and it soon became quite clear why they were having such immense difficulty. To begin with, they had large stretches of idle time on their hands. And then, they freely read novels and magazines, habitually watched television. All these activities certainly agitated their senses. There was nothing spiritual about their eating habits. It was strictly for the tongue, and they were accustomed to drinking beer and smoking. They had lots of idle time, their senses were kept continuously under the bombardment of materialistic stimulation, and then—they were told to be celibate!
No one could be celibate under those circumstances. They were being cruelly, exquisitely tortured. Then I remembered the monsignor with his perverse syllogism: "Everything God has made is good. God has made alcohol. . . ." (He made arsenic, too, but you don't ingest that!) I became angry. It was criminal to do this. These seminarians were not ordinary men: they wanted, and wanted very badly, to dedicate their lives fully to God. But nobody was showing them how. They were living in a way to agitate all their senses, and then commanded to be celibate! Of course they were always falling down, always laboring under a huge load of guilt. No wonder they were so cynical, so bitter and resentful. I wondered why nobody was teaching them. They didn't even know the practical ABCs of spiritual life. They were being criminally betrayed.
It was so frustrating for me. I had told them what to do—but could they do it in the context of the Church? To chant God's names and dance with His devotees, to eat the sumptuous feasts of His mercy, to hear and read the always-fresh stories of His activities and pastimes, which fill volume after volume, to let their eyes feast on the gorgeous form of the Lord in the temple ... could they do things like these? I had an overwhelming urge to take these men, right now, out onto the streets to chant. Then, I knew, they would be all right, they would be safe. They wanted a pure life (a rare thing), they wanted to surrender fully to God, they wanted to overcome the powerful "law of the flesh"—and I knew how they could do it.
But here they were, all in black. As we began walking down the long corridor, I asked one of them if there were some spiritually advanced person here he could follow. He shrugged.
"I don't know." He turned to his friend: "What d'you think?"
"I don't know." Silence for a few paces.
"Hey!" another suddenly exclaimed. "What about Holy Joe!"
"Hey, yeah! Holy Joe!" They began to laugh.
My depression deepened. We walked through the high, deserted halls, our footsteps ringing in the emptiness. The massive stone of the seminary loomed over us.
We stopped at the entrance to the chapel (the one where the Pope would speak a few years later). They wanted me to see it. They were proud of it. But it was huge, dark, and cold. Walls of bone-white marble shone dully. It was like a sepulcher. I shivered and mumbled something polite.
Before I left I told them that I had not come to criticize their religion. But as I looked at their faces, still clearly marked by the purity of their calling, I could only think that they were being horribly betrayed. I do not want to criticize their religion now, either, but I can only honestly report that I did not see there the spiritual energy that the word of God bears when lived by his pure devotees.
With John Paul II there has come hope. He is young, energetic, and is said to have charisma. But the sign of real renewal will not be the protestations of affection, the big turnouts, the cheers, and the applause. It will be when those seminarians embrace their vows not with bitterness and resentment but with joy, enthusiasm, and confidence.
You may not believe such a thing is possible, but I have seen it. I have been blessed to meet a pure devotee of God. Some of us have not been betrayed.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Royal Dwelling Now Yoga Academy
Croome, U.K.—The International Society for Krishna Consciousness recently inaugurated the British Bhakti-yoga Academy at Croome Court, twenty-five miles south of Birmingham and a 2 ½-hour drive from central London.
Croome Court has been the home of British nobility for generations; it was built in 1752 by the first Earl of Coventry. The nearly 175,000 square feet of buildings were the residence of the Queen of Holland during World War II. Now the estate will house elementary and secondary school children, plus a variety of academic and artistic workshops, including ones in graphic design, painting, gardening, traditional Vedic cookery, and classical Eastern music.
Stone lions guard the ornate entry, and twelve-foot-high Vandyke portraits of Lords and Ladies of Coventry line the main reception hall.
Indonesians Are on the Way to Krsna
Jakarta—The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has just released an Indonesian translation of On the Way to Krsna, a book originally written in English by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Rendered into Bahasa Indonesian by Gaura-mandala-bhumi dasa, an Australian devotee of Krsna, On the Way to Krsna has won warm praise from Indonesia's Central Body of Hindu Dharma. Tjorkorda Rai Sudharta, a spokesman for the organization, made this comment:
"Having read the translation, we consider this a book that should be read diligently, especially by the followers of the Hindu faith all over Indonesia, because its contents are completely based on the teachings of the scripture Bhagavad gita.. . . By reading this book one immediately gets a deep understanding of the teachings and philosophy of Sri Krsna—an understanding which brings mankind towards the Supreme Lord."
And Dr. I. B. Mantra, Governor of the Indonesian island of Bali, offered the following appreciation of the Book Trust in general:
"The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust is performing an important service to humanity by publishing the great philosophical texts of India's ancient Vedic civilization.... It is a great joy to see that these writings are now being made available to scholars and students all over the world, and I hope the Book Trust will continue to bring out such high-quality publications."
Prime Minister Gives Support
Mauritius—This small island nation in the Indian Ocean has hundreds of Life Members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Among them is the Prime Minister, the Hon. Sir Sewasegoor Ramgooram. Recently Sir Sewasegoor underscored his support of ISKCON's programs, which include the restoration of the Vedic land-based, spiritually oriented culture.
"If we can restore the Vedic culture," he said to ISKCON's Navayogendra Swami. "it will be by your blessing."
by Yogesvara dasa
Horace walked on stage, found a bottle, and rubbed it. Out popped a malicious genie who demanded to be constantly engaged. Horace commanded him to chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, an engagement without beginning and without end. The children of Letchmore Heath loved the performance by the devotee troupe, and so did the local papers. They featured the children's-day open house at Bhaktivedanta Manor, Hare Krsna headquarters for the United Kingdom, and noted that devotees had become "an accepted part of life in the village."
Devotees have in fact become an accepted part of life throughout the U.K., where Commonwealth citizens from Dover to Glasgow are joining in the program and practices of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Nicholas Davies, fortyone, lives in London with his wife and two daughters. He is a fruits-and vegetables trader. Elizabeth Loehning is seventy-seven, an accomplished linguist, and retired. Maganbhai Bhimjiyani, born in Uganda in 1922, is president of a pharmaceutical products company and head of Britain's Lohana families community. Like thousands of others, they have become Life Members of ISKCON U.K.
"Life Members are the Krsna devotees people don't see chanting on the streets;" explains Akhandadhi dasa, ISKCON Life Membership Director for the U.K.
"They are business people, students, professionals, people who have embraced the Krsna consciousness ideals while retaining their place in the secular world."
Full-time devotees number three hundred in Britain and Life Members and other supporters tally in the tens of thousands. They have, for the most part, come in contact with devotees through daily street chanting parties and ISKCON publications.
"My eyebrows used to go up like everybody else's on Oxford Street;" Elizabeth Loehning explains, "but when my interest in spiritual thought turned to the East, someone suggested I try the Hare Krsna temple. I had read many books on Eastern philosophy, but I found the Bhagavad-gita by Srila Prabhupada clearer and more concise than the others. The teachings have brought me great peace. I chant every day.
"Most people I know look on devotees with mild wonderment and not a glimpse of understanding. Older people especially are victims of their habits and can't be bothered to change or learn new lessons in life. They're too tired. But you never know when the understanding will come. I'm seventy-seven now and disabled, but I became a Life Member, and it's brought me happiness and fulfillment."
Full-time devotees qualify for initiation into Krsna consciousness by following four basic regulations: no intoxication, no illicit sex, no meat-eating, and no gambling. Life Members do not always seek initiation, but demonstrate their support by attending temple ceremonies, reading Krsna literature, and donating funds or services to ISKCON temples.
Working with Asian Youth
The majority of ISKCON Life Members in the U.K. are Asians, who look to Krsna temples as their home away from home. Most Asians in the U.K. emigrated in the 1950's and 1960's, when postwar England was developing rapidly and required a large labor force. By 1968 there were more than a million and a half immigrants in Britain, searching after better material comforts than those they had known at home. Finally the British government called a halt to the influx, stopped the unrestricted entry, and thus set off a rush to establish residency. In less than one year an additional 230,000 Asians had entered the U.K. Then, in the early 1970's, an Asian exodus from Uganda pushed the number of immigrants over the two million mark, nearly three percent of the total British population.
A large number of Asians came alone, hoping they could save enough to call their families later. They soon realized that their plans had to be revised. Immigrants were generally limited to low-paying jobs with little chance for promotion: the government often took two or three years to grant entry visas. After many years, traditions were exchanged for those of British culture. The children became more and more Anglicized. Britain was their home, and the traditional culture of India a relic of past generations.
"The second-generation Asian is critical of his parents' orthodoxy and is seeking liberalization of family customs—especially those related to sex," explains Dr. Bhikhu Parekh, Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Hull. "Often the dominant white culture encourages an immigrant child, by subtle and not so subtle means, to despise his own culture. Many such cases are extremely tragic: youths ashamed to be seen walking on the streets with their parents, children struggling to wash themselves white, persuading their mothers not to wear saris, asking parents to be given a new name, and the like. The situation cannot be solved unless Britain recognizes itself as a multicultural society and takes firm steps to encourage a sense of positive identity in its cultural minorities."
In many ways, the lifestyle of devotees and that of orthodox Hindus run parallel, and devotees often find themselves regarded as emissaries of Indian tradition. Local authorities and community leaders frequently approach ISKCON to help resolve cultural conflicts between British and Asian youths. Devotees respond by organizing school lecture programs, clubs, and summer camps for young people, and by teaching young people to transcend cultural differences by realizing their common spiritual nature.
"The problem among Asian youth is generally described as a lack of material self-esteem," explains Vicitravirya dasa. Assistant Governing Body Commissioner for ISKCON U.K. "Actually, this is a shortsighted explanation. There is truth to descriptions of racial prejudice, children torn by pressures at home to be Asian and pressures outside to be Western: but the real solution is not to reinforce temporary religious or national identity. 'I am Hindu' and 'I am Christian' are both bodily designations. The real self within the body is eternally a servant of God, and any identification with—place of birth, religion, or caste is a misconception devoid of any redeeming benefits.
"Even from a material point of view, what value is there in trying to encourage nationalist sentiment? India is technologically retarded, and Britain is spiritually anemic. There is as much incidence, if not more, of children leaving home among the British as among the Asians. Encouraging pride as 'Asian' or 'English' won't be effective in increasing the stability of young people. Real progress can be made by teaching that God is the proprietor of all countries, and that our common heritage is service to Him."
Helping Teachers Teach
The British were the first to popularize knowledge of Indian culture, albeit through a veil of Christian condescension. Colonial zeal to convert "Hindoo heathens" has subsided, for the most part. Nonetheless, ignorance of the Vedic culture's true spirit pervades English schools. The British Community Relations Commission reports that a majority of teachers do not think their education has adequately prepared them for working in multiracial schools. "I was completely ignorant of these children's culture, religion, and background;" a Bristol teacher admits. "I had no real knowledge of their lives and found it extremely difficult to begin teaching." Life after death, arranged marriages, vegetarianism, and unfamiliar religious practices are some of the concepts teachers must somehow comprehend and accommodate without prior training.
Partly impelled by necessity and partly inspired by the numerous school programs initiated by devotees, teachers in the U.K. have begun looking to ISKCON for insights into the thoughts and beliefs of Asian students.
"Devotees are uniquely situated," says Ramesh Solanki, head of the Gujarati Arya Youth Program of Harrow. "They are multinational and therefore not seen as representing exclusively one or another of the various Indian religions—Sikh, Jain, Parsee, Hindu, and so on. They can, in this sense, effectively explain the universality of Vedic philosophy."
The Vedas are the essential texts of India, compiled about five thousand years ago. They prescribe various methods of worship, according to one's degree of detachment from material affections. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Vedas are not polytheistic. There is a Supreme Godhead, called Krsna, who is worshiped and adored by scores of lesser beings: Siva, Durga, Indra, Brahma. Krsna (literally the "all-attractive one") is the same God of creation recognized in all revealed scriptures of the world, and devotees of Krsna therefore do not consider themselves to belong to one religion among many. Rather, Krsna consciousness (technically called bhakti-yoga) invokes a vision of all living beings as parts and parcels of God, beyond designations such as Hindu or Christian.
Working with the Government
One of the hotbeds of racial violence in England is Southall, a densely populated Asian community in South London. Riots broke out recently there between members of the extremist British Nationalist Front and loosely organized Hindu radicals. Three youths were killed. Less than a week later, devotees had mobilized dozens of Southall young people into an ISKCON youth club. Working with local authorities, they went door to door, campaigning for a krsna-kranti ("Krsna revolution") to offset racial tension.
The initiative of devotees in Southall prompted Suhail Aziz, Director of General Services for the government-sponsored Committee for Racial Equality, to address the crowd gathered for the club's official inauguration.
"ISKCON is making an unparalleled contribution to racial harmony in this country," he said, and he emphasized the importance of local support for the devotees' effort in areas of Asian concentration. Six ISKCON youth clubs are presently operative in England.
Responding to Mr. Aziz's comments, Srila Jayatirtha Maharaja, initiating guru for ISKCON U.K., declared, "As long as we remain lodged in a bodily concept of ourselves—'I am American' or 'British' or 'Hindu'—such uprisings as those we saw here last week are inevitable. Material consciousness is a diseased condition, but it can be cured by reviving our dormant Krsna or God consciousness. Actually, we are related spiritually; but these artificial divisions oblige us to war and violence. Therefore we are presenting Krsna consciousness not just here but around the world as the peace formula, the solution to the prejudices of mankind everywhere."
Devotees do not consider themselves social workers. They view the problems of the world as essentially spiritual. If there is too little food, it is not an economic problem but a spiritual one, since men and governments refuse to see their obligation to share equally the property of the Lord. If there is racial unrest, it is also due to spiritual shortsightedness, to accepting the body and not the eternal soul as the real self. In the minds of people still unfamiliar with the meaning of Krsna consciousness programs, devotees are enigmatic, strangely garbed remnants of an ancient culture somehow transplanted to the West. But for thousands in the U.K. and elsewhere, Krsna consciousness offers a broad vision of the world as it some day may be—unified by knowledge of the self, beyond cultural and racial differences.
An Energy Alternative: The Resources Within
The world's energy supply is limited—everyone knows—and the supply is being depleted by ravenous, irresponsible consumption. These are well-known facts. And everyone is aware that Americans, especially, seem unable to voluntarily reduce their consumption of energy, despite the inevitable future.
Humberto Berti, Venezuela's Minister of Energy, said recently, "Americans have to control consumption. You have to make a real conservation effort. Forget about the big cars, the air-conditioned shopping centers."
According to Sheik Yamani, the Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia, "The United States should ration oil. They must take drastic action to conserve oil in order to forestall large price increases when OPEC nations meet."
President Carter has lamented that America's reaction to the energy problem has ranged from "panic" to "almost absolute apathy." Americans can no longer avoid saving energy, he says. "There are ways to have a good life, even a better life, without our wasting so much."
Already we have experienced inconvenience and even panic over temporary shortages of gasoline. Yet despite our own experience, the warnings of experts, and the President's call for restraint, Americans have no idea how to start living more simply. And the mad rate of consumption gets madder. Obviously, we are not seriously considering reduced consumption. "If you strip away the rhetoric," said one energy analyst, "the real American energy policy since 1973 has been to import more oil:'
Why are we unable to reduce our consumption of energy? The reason is, we are addicted to sense gratification. Of course, the body is made of senses, and a certain level of sense gratification is necessary. But when increasing sense gratification becomes the nation's sole and final goal, then American society becomes increasingly greedy, and the entire planet, with all its natural resources, living beings, and nations, becomes exploited, victimized.
True, the animals live a life of sense gratification, but human society is meant for something more. Even among the animals there is natural conservation, imposed by instinct and the laws of nature. If some bags of grain were left lying on the road, a bird would take only what it needs and go away, but a human being would probably grab all the bags—more than he needs—and then sell them. The human being has more intelligence than the animals, but when he misuses it—simply for increasing his sense gratification—he creates a disturbance in God's creation. His higher intelligence should be used for controlling his senses and for executing his higher, human mission of life.
American life, however, has evolved to one of strict hedonism: enjoy as much as possible for as long as possible. Americans are only five percent of the world's population, and yet we are now consuming forty percent of the world's natural energy . . . for sense gratification. Despite America's nominal Judeo-Christian background, our actions show that we do not honor the fact that everything in the universe belongs to God, and that we should take only what we need, according to our quota.
In order to satisfy our senses on as high a standard as possible, we have to deprive and exploit less fortunate people all over the world. We regularly resort to killing innocent animals and killing babies in the womb, just so that there will be no check on our sense gratification, either for the tongue or the genitals. But we have not created the world, with its ecological balance, its natural controls, and its limit of energy resources. God has created it. And His law cannot be defied for long. We have violated the laws of nature for a season, but our hedonistic, wasteful life is coming to an end, by nature's law.
What we need is a regulated life of controlled sense gratification and reduced consumption. But who is actually willing and able to give up sense gratification? To a hedonist, sense gratification means happiness, and to most Americans, conservation means giving up life's pleasures. So patriotic speeches calling on Americans to become moderate will not work. Truckers, for instance, are prepared to fight farmers over limited supplies of gasoline, and before Californians would ration gasoline, they just might watch their countrymen in the Northeast freeze. But if American society—which is now on a path of hedonism and waste—would turn to the path of self-realization, the problem of controlling consumption would be solved automatically. If our nation of pleasure-seekers is to adjust to a simpler life, we must first experience satisfaction on a higher level. The Bhagavad-gita (2.59) teaches this principle analytically: "Although the embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, one is fixed in consciousness." Unfortunately, at present America has no scientific understanding of how a person can feel happiness beyond gross sense gratification.
Those who are following the path of Krsna consciousness, however, are experiencing this way of life—simple living and high thinking—and they offer it for serious consideration to persons concerned with the American energy dilemma. Experiencing the higher taste is something we can all explore as an energy alternative. Today, when the government is casting around for any kind of energy alternative, they would do well to investigate the subtle but realistic principle of the Bhagavad-gita: experiencing the higher taste, in Krsna consciousness. Only when we Americans can find a deeper satisfaction in our lives, a higher happiness than sense gratification, will we be able to live peacefully, without absolute dependence on cars, color TV, air conditioning, and so on. Only then will it be possible for us to tap the unlimited energy resources that lie within each of us.—SDG