The Key To Self-Realization
A lecture by
satatam kirtayanto mam
"Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, the great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion." [Bhagavad-gita 9.14]
Lord Krsna is describing the mahatmas, or great souls, who worship the Supreme Lord by the process of kirtana. Kirtana means "chanting" or, more specifically, "describing." You can describe with music; you can describe in writing. You can describe in speeches. Any sort of describing—that is called kirtana. Devotional service to the Lord begins with kirtana-and sravana, hearing. Unless you hear, you cannot describe. What shall you describe? If you do not know anything about the Supreme Lord, then how can you describe Him? Therefore, hearing is the first item.
All Vedic literature is called sruti-sastra. Sruti means "to receive through hearing." If you want to know the Supreme Spirit, you do not need to qualify yourself materially. You can remain what you are. But you must simply hear. God has given you the power of hearing. If you hear about God from authoritative sources, you will become perfect. Simply by hearing. Therefore, the first principle—hearing—is essential.
Formerly, the Vedas were heard by students from their spiritual master. For instance, in the Bhagavad-gita you'll find that Arjuna was hearing from Krsna. On the battlefield he was not studying any Vedanta philosophy. He was simply hearing. You can hear at any place. Even on the battlefield, you can hear from the authoritative source. So that has always been the process of acquiring knowledge.
Hearing means receiving the knowledge—not manufacturing knowledge. There are some persons who think, "Oh, why shall I hear from him? I can think. I can speculate. I can manufacture something new in my own circle of friends." This is nonsense. This is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is hearing. There are two processes of acquiring knowledge: the ascending process and the descending process. The "ascending" way means trying to go high—trying to elevate yourself—by your own strength. And the "descending" way means receiving pure knowledge from someone who is already elevated, from someone who already understands the Absolute Truth. So the ascending, or inductive, process is not recommended as the Vedic process of knowledge. The Vedic way of receiving knowledge is the descending, or deductive, process—the student gives submissive aural reception to the bona fide spiritual master. That is the way real knowledge comes to us.
As you have read in the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, evam parampara praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: traditionally this knowledge of self-realization was imparted in this way-from spiritual master to student. The Lord said, "I imparted this knowledge first of all to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and the sun-god imparted this knowledge to his son, Manu. And Manu imparted this knowledge to his son, Iksvaku." At that time Iksvaku was the king of this planet. So from Iksvaku this knowledge is coming down-from father to son, or from master to disciple.
And now, because that disciplic succession had been broken, Lord Krsna was saying, "I am again speaking that old system of knowledge to you, Arjuna—because you are My devotee, because you are My dear friend." So this is the way. Hearing is the first stage. Hearing is so powerful that simply by hearing from the authoritative source you can become completely perfect—simply by hearing.
Submissive hearing, of course. Jnane prayasam udapasya namanta eva. This is a verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. "Don't be an upstart. Don't try to understand the supreme knowledge, the Absolute Truth, by your own strength," Your intelligence is limited; your senses are imperfect. You cannot understand. This should be given up—attempting to know the Supreme by the ascending process.
Nowadays, everyone is thinking, "Oh, I'll manufacture my own way. Why shall I accept any authority? I shall decide myself what I am and what is my duty." This is going on. But this is not the Vedic process. The Vedic process is sravana, hearing from the bona fide source. So if we simply give up this foolish process of trying to know the Absolute Truth by our own efforts and become submissive, then we will be successful on the path of enlightenment.
"Submissive" means—we must know our imperfection. As long as we are conditioned, we are subject to four kinds of imperfection. First of all, we must commit mistakes. As long as we are materially conditioned, nobody can say, "I'll not commit a mistake; I never commit any mistakes." It is not possible. You must. To err is human. So this is one imperfection.
Second, we become illusioned. We accept as true that which is false. For example, we identify with this body. If every one of us were asked what we are—"Oh, I am American." But what is "American"? These bodies are American. But we are not, because we are not these bodies. So this is illusion.
Then, our senses are imperfect. We are very proud of seeing, but as soon as the light is put off, we cannot see. So our seeing is conditional. And similarly, all of our other senses are conditional. Therefore they are imperfect.
And finally, we have got a cheating propensity. We do not know anything, but we want to cheat others into thinking that we know everything. I may be Fool Number One, but I want to start a group of students and teach them foolish things. This is cheating.
One must learn the Absolute Truth from the authoritative sources and then speak that knowledge to others. Arjuna was taught by Krsna, and we are still speaking that same philosophy, even today. And those who are following Arjuna's submissive attitude—they're the real students of Bhagavad-gita.
So our attempt to understand the Absolute Truth by our faulty senses and experience is futile. We must hear. That is the Vedic process. Formerly the student would go to the home of the spiritual master, which was known as the gurukula. Every brahmana, every self-realized soul, every vipra (or expert in the knowledge of the Vedic literatures) would be provided with some brahmacaris, celibate students. They would follow the rules and regulations of brahmacari life and live at the home of the spiritual master, and he would teach them real knowledge from the Vedic literatures. That is the process. So, one should not adopt the ascending process. Jnane prayasam udapasya. Udapasya means, "Give it up." and namanta eva—"Be submissive." Namanta eva jivanti san-mukharitam bhavadiya-vartam: if one hears from the realized soul—just as Arjuna heard from Krsna, the perfect person—then one will attain the perfection of life without any difficulty.
One may also hear from Krsna's representative, the devotee of Krsna. For instance, Arjuna was made the representative of Krsna. Why? Krsna said, bhakto'si—"Because you are My devotee." But nobody can become the representative of Krsna, or God, without becoming His devotee. One who thinks, "I am God"—he cannot become the representative of God.
Suppose you are a businessman and you send your representative for securing business. Now, if the representative presents himself to the customer, "I am the proprietor—I am the proprietor," how long can he go on like this? As soon as the employer finds out that this foolish man is presenting himself as the proprietor of the firm, at once he'll fire the man. Because that man is cheating. He's not the proprietor. Similarly, anyone who says, "I am God"—he should not teach.
Of course, one may think himself capable of acquiring knowledge of God. That is another thing. "I am God" has to do with the quality of God. Because I am part and parcel of God, I am qualitatively the same as God.
For example, even a molecular particle of gold is also gold. It is nothing but gold. Similarly, although we are very minute fragments of the Supreme, our quality is the same as His. So if I study myself, then I can study God, also, because I can understand the quality of God. But I may not understand the quantity.
Suppose you receive some good grains of rice. At first you are not concerned with the quantity of rice in stock, but from the sample you can understand the quality of the rice, and you can purchase. Then you make your transaction: "How many pounds have you got in your stock that I can take?" So quantity is another thing. But from the quality you can make your selection of what sort of rice you shall purchase. In the same way, you are qualitatively one with God—but quantitatively you are different. God is great, and you are small.
Therefore you cannot claim, "I am God." Because if you advertise yourself as God, then people may ask of you, "If you are God, then show me your all-powerfulness," and that you cannot show. So you cannot claim, "I am God'" As far as Krsna is concerned, He proved that He is God. How? In the Bhagavad-gita. In the Eleventh Chapter Arjuna requested, "O Krsna, will You kindly show me Your universal form?" So Krsna showed him.
This was Arjuna's lasting message to the world: "In the future so many fools will represent themselves as God. So don't be fooled by them. Just ask them, 'Show me your universal form.' If they can do that, then accept them as God. But don't very cheaply accept any fool as God."
This is the highest imperfection: someone is under the stringent laws of material nature—if he simply gets a toothache he becomes overwhelmed—yet he advertises himself as God. This sort of thing can be accepted only by people of a similarly foolish nature. God is supreme. Nobody else can be God, and nobody else can be equal with God.
In the Vedic literature, God is called asamordhva. Asama means, "Nobody is equal to Him." And urdhva means, "Nobody is higher than Him." Nobody can be equal to God, and nobody can be higher than God. Everyone is lower than God, however great one may be. There is a nice verse in this connection: siva-virinci-nutam. Siva means Lord Siva. And virinci means Lord Brahma. They are considered to be the topmost demigods in this material world. But they also offer their respectful obeisances to Visnu, or God. So nobody can be equal to God. Therefore, instead of trying to become God, or instead of trying to understand God personally by our tiny knowledge and imperfect senses, we would do better to become submissive. Jnane prayasam udapasya: "Just give up this foolish habit of thinking, 'I can know God by speculation. Just become submissive, and try to hear from bona fide authorities."
Who is the authority? Krsna—God—or His representative, like Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is a representative of God. So he's an authority. And similarly with any other authorized incarnation. That incarnation will never say, "I am God." Rather, "I am a servant of God." That is his credential for representing God. He'll never say, "I am God." He'll say, "I am a servant of God" or "I am a son of God" or "I am a devotee of God." He's a real representative.
So we have to hear from him submissively, sthane sthitah. Sthane sthitah means "keeping oneself in one's position." For instance, you are hearing Bhagavad-gita. Some of you are medical men. Some of you are engineers. Some of you are businessmen. Some of you are clerks. That doesn't matter. You can remain in your occupational position. You remain an American. You remain a Christian. It doesn't matter. But there is no harm in hearing Bhagavad-gita. There is no harm. You'll get knowledge—you'll get knowledge. You'll become a better Christian. You'll become a better American. You see? We are not trying to convert Americans into Indians, or Indians into Americans, or Christians into Hindus. That is not our mission. We are just teaching the science of Krsna, the science of God, Krsna consciousness.
So everyone can learn this science. For example, when you go to college, there is no question of whether a man is American or Indian or African. Everyone in the school or college or university is allowed to receive scientific knowledge. So this is Krsna consciousness, the science of God. Everyone can take part. Sthane sthitah—there is no need of change. Sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir: just try to assimilate the knowledge with your body, with your mind, and with your intelligence.
If you do this, then the result will be prayaso 'jita jito 'py asi tais tri-lokyam: you will conquer the unconquerable Lord. Another name for God is Ajita. Ajita means "unconquerable." Because, after all, everyone is lower than God. Who will conquer Him? What to speak of God-we cannot conquer even the energy of God. We are all under the influence of the material energy of God in our present conditioned life. We cannot conquer even the energy. So how can we conquer God? It is not possible. So therefore another name of God is Ajita, or "one who is unconquerable." But that unconquerable person sometimes becomes conquered. How? By this process of submissively hearing about God and trying to assimilate the knowledge nicely. That's all.
God is neither Christian nor Hindu nor Muslim nor anything else. God is God. If you hear Bhagavad-gita submissively and try to apply it with your body, mind, and intelligence, then you'll understand God so nicely that although God is unconquerable, you'll conquer Him. You'll conquer Him. By this simple process. This is why sravana—hearing—is so important, and why in devotional service the first step is hearing. Then whatever you learn, if you describe it, that will help you to elevate yourself on this path of knowledge. Whatever we have discussed here today—if you have heard it in the proper consciousness, and if you try to repeat it amongst your friends and your family members—then you'll be established in this knowledge. That is called kirtana, describing. Sravanam kirtanam: hearing and describing.
Every day and night we are hearing something. There is television. There is radio. There are newspapers. There are so many things to hear about. But that is not the hearing that will help us to become self-realized. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh. You should devote your time to hearing and chanting about Visnu, Krsna. Krsna-kirtanam. Kirtanad eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet. If you simply do this—hear and chant about Krsna—then you shall become free from this material entanglement, and you shall be elevated to the supreme place, the kingdom of God. Hearing and chanting-this is the remedy suggested in this age. You cannot successfully practice anything else. You cannot practice sacrifice. You cannot practice speculation. You cannot practice mystic yoga. Nothing. You can simply practice this: submissively hear the science of Krsna from authoritative sources. Try to assimilate it. And become perfect.
"A German theologian allowed bhakti to speak to him,
by Garuda dasa
Garuda Dasa is a Ph.D. candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
In this century, more than ever, Christian thinkers have been concerned with understanding other religions of the world. This concern arises from what, for Christians, is an important question: Should we accept that other legitimate religions exist, or should we deny the existence of other true religions and hold that God has only one revelation, namely the Christian one? Some Christian theologians have taken a liberal stance by saying that Christianity is just one among many religions of the world and that the others should be considered just as valid. Others have taken an exclusivistic stance by saying that although there are certainly many religions, there is only one true faith-Christianity.
Still other Christian theologians, however, have been somewhat willing to look closely for genuine value in other religions of the world. One such theologian, one of the most renowned religious thinkers of this century, was a German scholar named Rudolf Otto, who is known particularly for his book entitled The Idea of the Holy. As a Christian theologian, Otto was not content simply to compare world religions. Rather, he was concerned with the significance of these religions for Christianity. Even more than this, he was sensitive to a pluralism that contained a religion that was to confront him in his own faith. Indeed, he was concerned with that particular religion which he felt to be the "competitor" to Christianity.
What exactly did Otto mean by a religious competitor, and what might that competitor be for Christianity'? Such a competitor, Otto explained, would make a claim to be equal or even superior to Christianity, and would have a wellfounded basis on which to make such a claim. According to Otto, a religious competitor is "whatever may seek a place in our hearts or control over our lives that is not our faith but in rivalry with it."
Out of all the world's religious traditions, the one Otto considered the competitor to Christianity was what he referred to as "India's religion of grace," or "bhakti-religion." He discussed this competitor in his book India's Religion of Grace and Christianity Compared and Contrasted. There he wrote:
In this Indian bhakti-religion there is presented, without doubt, a real, saving God, believed, received, and—can we doubt it?—experienced. And this is just why this religion appears to me to have been, and to be to-day, the most astonishing "competitor," to be taken most seriously.
Here we are dealing with a genuine religion and religion of experience. Religion is here no mere fringe sentiment furnishing a border to the rest of our life, but is conceived as the true meaning of life itself.
Otto dedicated a good part of this book to demonstrating and appreciating numerous similarities between bhakti and Christianity. Later in his work, however, Otto mentioned that the two religions demonstrate a difference of "spirit":
One feels that there in the Gita the spirit of India breathes, here [in the Bible] the different and, let us say at once, the incomparably more piercing and vigorous spirit of Palestine.
Of course, nowhere in his work did Otto demonstrate that he knew the "spirit" of bhakti, nor did he ever express just how that "spirit of India" breathes through the Gita. For this reason, his statement is hard to accept as being scholarly rather than emotional. How did Otto determine that a "piercing and vigorous" spirit is somehow better than some other kind? For that matter, did he actually show bhakti to be less piercing and vigorous? Finally, how could Otto evaluate bhakti and compare it to Christianity when he himself admitted, "Our [Christian] theology lacks categories for the evaluation and comparison of other religious types with our own"?
Yet although Otto never fully understood bhakti, and although the accuracy of the way he represented bhakti is highly questionable, he still wanted to make bhakti compete with Christianity in terms of the religious components peculiar to Christianity itself:
If [religions] are to be regarded as genuine competitors.... they must be considered with regard to that which Christianity has to offer as its deepest and most characteristic element, as its peculiar gift, the last and highest good which it has to give humanity.
To compare two religions by approaching and comparing the "peculiar gift" and the "last and highest good" of both would be sound scholarship, but Otto did not do this. Rather, he considered how a religion, as a whole, measures up to narrow expectations drawn from Christianity. Thus he complained, "India has no 'expiator' [referring specifically to Jesus], no Golgotha [the hill upon which Jesus was crucified], and no Cross." This says merely that bhakti is not Christianity; it in no ways shows bhakti to be inferior.
Because Otto's model for comparison was one of competition, and because in every competition there must be a winner and a loser, Otto was obliged to do whatever he could to have Christianity beat its bhakti finalist. Christianity would then reign supreme not only over bhakti, its most worthy competitor, but over all other religions of the world.
Unlike Christianity, however, bhakti theology does have many principles by which to evaluate and compare religions. An important verse from the Bhagavad-gita (4.11) explains the diversity and unity among religions:
ye yatha mam prapadyante
This verse states that God reciprocates differently according to the different ways we surrender to Him, and that the manifold religions simply express different degrees and ways of surrendering to God. These modes of surrender, in turn, determine the diversity of relationships with Him. This diversity, however, does not negate the unity of religion, which rests solely on our recognizing God as supreme and ourselves as His eternal servants.
Since Otto recognized the "full deity" of bhakti, he could not argue that the supreme God of bhakti is somehow not the same God as in Christianity, nor could he argue that the same supreme God is more supreme in Christianity. Rather, Otto had to judge bhakti in terms of the forms that Christianity's particular relationship with God takes, as though this relationship were something that could have a rival. What Otto was unaware of is this: Because the diversity in religions stems from the variety of relationships one can have with the one supreme Deity, there can be no competition between religions that leaves only one religion as true. So Otto's erroneous presupposition—that religions can compete—led him ultimately into some rather peculiar theological predicaments.
Unlike his more exclusivistic contemporaries, Otto was willing to take a close look at other religions to determine their genuine religious value. He was correct in understanding bhakti to be a "genuine religion," with a "real, saving God" who is truly "believed, received, and experienced." He was also correct in detecting a difference of spirit between bhakti and Christianity, although he was unable to attribute this difference to the uniqueness of the relationship with God found in each religion. That Otto considered bhakti the greatest religious "competitor" to Christianity attests that he allowed bhakti to speak to him, to address him directly, even to challenge him—but only up to a point.
Here it is important to note that the idea of a competition allowed Otto to appear to accept the existence of a genuine religion other than Christianity; exclusivism does not even begin to admit a competitor. But the very notion of a competition, which requires a winner and a loser, allowed Otto in the end to act exclusivistically—to conduct the competition so that Christianity won.
For the comparitive study of religion to genuinely accept the existence of several true religions, it must avoid setting up a competition among them. Rather, the real purpose of comparative religion must be to further our understanding of the simultaneous unity and diversity of religions: the oneness of God and the diversity of possible relationships with Him.
Otto was unaware that bhakti is not just a religion, but rather the very embodiment of the highest principles to which all religions ultimately point. Although historically bhakti seems to have arisen from within the "Hindu" complex of religions, it is obvious from a theological perspective that it represents something more than its mere historicality. The experience of bhakti presents a fullness of meaning far beyond that of a particular tradition or sectarian religion (which is how Otto treated bhakti). Rather, bhakti embodies the underlying meaning of religion itself. What then, does the term bhakti mean?
A look at the etymology of the word bhakti is revealing. Morphologically, the word bhakti is derived from the Sanskrit verb root bhaj. In a general sense, this verb means "to worship," "to love," or "to serve," and these words define bhakti in a basic way. But the most literal meaning of the verb bhaj is "to share," which indicates what is ultimately essential to all religions: man's devotion to and love for God, and God's reciprocation in the form of His grace and love for man. This idea is expressed in many places in bhakti scriptures. In the Gita, for example, we find this: "To those who are constantly devoted to God and worship Him with love, He gives, by His grace, the understanding by which they can come to Him." (Bg. 10.10)
Indeed, bhakti embodies the very science of the relationship between man and God. But Otto did not recognize the true nature of bhakti, and thus he failed to recognize that the fundamental principle of bhakti is also basic to Christianity. Although not emphasized as much as in such devotional scriptures as Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, it can be found in the saying of Jesus, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment." If Jesus Christ himself recognized this bhakti principle as the first requirement, "the great commandment," of all religion, then we may justifiably ask, What is the meaning of Christianity's expiator, its Golgotha, and its Cross if one overlooks this fundamental bhakti principle?
Boise Mother Follows Son
by Judy Steele
Their story started like so many others. After months of reading and study, Joanna Redfield's son James decided two years ago to join the Hare Krishna movement. At nineteen, he left his parents and three younger brothers, traveled to Portland from the East Coast, moved into a temple, and took the name Jagannatha Puri dasa.
Mrs. Redfield and her husband James didn't understand their son's decision, but they respected it, she said.
"We respected it because he's an intelligent person. We didn't talk against it."
But something happened that closed the generation gap.
Mrs. Redfield and her family moved to Boise. She began to receive magazines about the movement from her son. Jagannatha Puri came home to visit and brought friends from the temple with him. Mrs. Redfield went to Portland to see the temple for herself.
Last winter, she decided to become a Hare Krishna follower.
"The decision ended a process of fifteen years of intense searching," Mrs. Redfield said.
"I was brought up a strict Catholic. I went to church every Sunday, went to catechism and summer programs. As a young woman my only understanding of God was great fear. I was told I had to do things, but nobody ever explained why. I was going to church not out of love but out of fear. Even when I went away from the church, I suffered from fear."
Mrs. Redfield tried other Christian denominations, but "didn't get attached" to any of them. "Somehow, conventional religion just didn't work for me."
She also went through a period of studying psychology and philosophy.
At one point, she decided the doctrine of the liberated woman was the answer for her. She found a full-time job and began working and taking care of her husband and two children still left at home. "At the end of four months, all I wanted to do was sleep," she said.
Now, as a believer in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, Mrs. Redfield follows the principles that direct life in the temples. She eats no meat, eggs, or fish. She doesn't smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine beverages. She doesn't gamble. And she adheres to a regulated sex life. In her spare time she reads books from the movement, chants, and listens to devotional music and tapes of the teachings.
But being a member of the movement is not that easy in Boise, she said. There are no temples. She has no one she can talk to about her religion, unless her son and friends from Portland are in town. Her husband respects her beliefs, but is not a Hare Krishna follower.
"I fix vegetarian meals, even for my husband. I buy no beef," she said. "He respects our son's decision and knows I believe, but he hasn't accepted it wholeheartedly."
Mrs. Redfield wants to pass on the principles of Krishna consciousness to her two sons, ages fourteen and four, still living at home.
"A lot of parents are so fearful. They think their children are renouncing their whole life when they join the movement;" she said. "They think it's so great that the children are going to discos, and probably having illicit sex and smoking pot. They think that's all right. But I was really glad for my son when he found Hare Krishna."
But it's not easy to instill Krishna teachings in her fourteen-year-old when he is faced with the material world, she said. "I'm trying hard to instill the right values in my fourteen-year-old. But he's really caught up in the material world. He always has things he wants, things to buy. He understands what I'm talking about, though. He's said to me, 'I wait so long for one thing, and then after I get it. I don't care about it.' But there are problems that come up trying to instill this philosophy in someone already that old."
But for herself, release from the material world has been a blessing, Mrs. Redfield said. "Everybody wants to find happiness and contentment. They go to the cinema, they go bowling, but they're still frustrated. They're happy for a while but always looking for more. I got thoroughly disgusted with the material world. I've come to the point where I don't have the desire to run around searching for things. When I shop now, it's for food—just the basics. I don't want anything else:"
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
1966: The Lower East Side, New York.
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Amid the cacophony of a storefront at 26 Second Avenue in New York, Srila Prabhupada had begun teaching the science of Krsna consciousness to a motley congregation drawn from the local community. Then, in his characteristically farseeing way, he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
We shall call our society 'ISKCON.' " Prabhupada laughed playfully when he first coined the acronym.
He had initiated the legal work of incorporation that spring, while still living on the Bowery. But even before its legal beginning, Prabhupada had been talking about his "International Society for Krishna Consciousness," and so it had appeared in letters to India and in The Village Voice. A friend had suggested a title that would sound more familiar to Westerners, "International Society for God Consciousness," but Prabhupada had insisted: "Krishna Consciousness." "God" was a vague term, whereas "Krishna" was exact and scientific; "God consciousness" was spiritually weaker, less personal. And if Westerners didn't know that Krsna was God, then the International Society for Krishna Consciousness would tell them, by spreading His glories "in every town and village."
"Krsna consciousness" was Prabhupada's own rendering of a phrase from Srila Rupa Goswami's Padyavali, written in the sixteenth century. Krsna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita. "to be absorbed in the mellow taste of executing devotional service to Krsna."
But to register ISKCON legally as a nonprofit, tax-exempt religion required money and a lawyer. Carl Yeargens had already had some experience in forming a religious organization, and when he had met Prabhupada on the Bowery he had agreed to help. He had contacted his lawyer, a young Jewish man named Stephen Goldsmith.
Stephen Goldsmith had a wife and two children and an office on Park Avenue, yet he maintained an interest in spirituality. When Carl told him about Prabhupada's plans, he was immediately fascinated by the idea of setting up a religious corporation for an Indian swami. He visited Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue, and they discussed incorporation, tax exemption, Prabhupada's immigration status—and Krsna consciousness. Mr. Goldsmith visited Prabhupada several times. Once he brought his children, who liked the "soup" Prabhupada cooked. He began attending the evening lectures, where he was often the only nonhippie member of the congregation. One evening, having completed all the legal groundwork and being ready to complete the procedures for incorporation, Mr. Goldsmith came to Prabhupada's lecture and kirtana to get signatures from the trustees for the new society.
July 11. Prabhupada is lecturing.
Mr. Goldsmith, wearing slacks and a shirt and tie, sits on the floor near the door, listening earnestly to the lecture, despite the distracting noises from the neighborhood.
Prabhupada has been explaining how scholars mislead innocent people with nondevotional interpretations of the Bhagavad-gita. Now, in recognition of the attorney's respectable presence, and as if to catch up Mr. Goldsmith's attention better, Prabhupada introduces him into the subject of the talk.
I will give you a practical example of how things are misinterpreted. Just like our president, Mr. Goldsmith, he knows that expert lawyers, by interpretation, can do so many things. When I was in Calcutta, there was a rent tax passed by the government, and some expert lawyer changed the whole thing by his interpretation. The government had to reenact a whole law, because their purpose was foiled by the interpretation of this lawyer. So we are not out for foiling the purpose of Krsna, for which the Bhagavad-gita was spoken. But unauthorized persons are trying to foil the purpose of Krsna. Therefore, that is unauthorized.
All right, Mr. Goldsmith, you can ask anything.
Mr. Goldsmith stands, and to the surprise of the people gathered, he makes a short announcement asking for signers on an incorporation document for the Swami's new religious movement.
Prabhupada: They are present here. You can take the addresses now.
Mr. Goldsmith: I can take them now, yes.
Prabhupada: Yes, you can. Bill, you can give your address. And Raphael, you can give yours. And Don.... Raymond. ... Mr. Greene.
As the meeting breaks up, those called to sign as trustees come forward, standing around in the little storefront, waiting to leaf passively through the pages the lawyer has produced from his thin attache, and to sign as he directs. Yet not a soul among them is committed to Krsna consciousness. The lawyer meets his quota of signers, but they're merely a handful of sympathizers who feel enough reverence toward the Swami to want to help him.
The first trustees, who will hold office for a year, "until the first annual meeting of the corporation," are Michael Grant (who puts down his name and address without reading the document), Mike's girlfriend Jan, and James Greene. No one seriously intends to undertake any formal duties as trustee of the religious society, but they are happy to help the Swami by signing his fledgling society into legal existence.
According to law, a second group of trustees will assume office for the second year. They are Paul Gardiner, Roy, and Don. The trustees for the third year of office are Carl Yeargens, Bill Epstein, and Raphael.
No one knows exactly what the half-dozen legal-sized typed pages mean, except that "Swamiji is forming a society." Why?
For tax exemption, in case someone gives a big donation, and for other benefits an official religious society might receive.
But these purposes hardly seem urgent or even relevant to the present situation in the little storefront. Who's going to make donations? Except maybe for Mr. Goldsmith, who has any money?
But Prabhupada is planning for the future, and he's planning for much more than just tax exemptions. He is trying to serve his spiritual predecessors and fulfill the scriptural prediction of a spiritual movement that is to flourish for ten thousand years in the midst of the Age of Kali. Within the vast Kali Age (a period that is to last 432,000 years), the 1960s are an insignificant moment.
The Vedas describe that the time of the universe revolves through a cycle of four "seasons," or yugas, and Kali-yuga is the worst of times, in which all spiritual qualities of men diminish, until humanity is finally reduced to a bestial civilization devoid of human decency. Yet for ten thousand years after the advent of Lord Caitanya there is the possibility of a Golden Age of spiritual life, an eddy that runs against the current of Kali-yuga. With a vision that soars off to the end of the millennium and far beyond, and yet with his two feet planted solidly on Second Avenue, Srila Prabhupada has begun an International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He has many practical responsibilities: he has to pay the rent, and he has to incorporate his society and pave the way for a thriving worldwide congregation of devotees. Somehow, he doesn't see his extremely reduced present situation as a deterrent from the greater scope of his divine mission. He knows that everything depends on Krsna, so whether he succeeds or fails is all up to the Supreme. He has only to try.
The purposes stated within ISKCON's articles of incorporation reveal Prabhupada's thinking. They are seven points, similar to those given in the Prospectus for the League of Devotees he had formed in Jhansi, India, in 1953. That attempt had been unsuccessful, yet his purposes remained unchanged.
Seven Purposes of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness:
1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
2. To propagate a consciousness of Krsna, as it is revealed in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krsna, the prime entity, and thus to develop the idea within the members and humanity at large that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krsna).
4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy name of God as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
5. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krsna.
6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler and more natural way of life.
7. With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books and other writings.
Regardless of how ISKCON's charter members regarded the Society's purposes, Srila Prabhupada saw them as imminent realities. As Mr. Ruben, the subway conductor who had met Prabhupada on a Manhattan park bench in 1965, remembers, "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees. 'There are temples and books,' he said. 'They are existing, they are there, but the time is separating us from them.' "
The first purpose mentioned in the charter was propagation. "Preaching" was the word Prabhupada most often used. For him, preaching had a much broader significance than mere sermonizing. Preaching meant glorious, selfless adventures on behalf of the Supreme Lord. Lord Caitanya had preached by walking all over southern India and inducing thousands of people to chant and dance with Him in ecstasy. Lord Krsna had preached the Bhagavad-gita while standing with Arjuna in his chariot on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Lord Buddha had preached, Lord Jesus had preached, and all other pure devotees preached.
ISKCON's preaching would achieve what the League of Nations and the United Nations had failed to achieve—"real unity and peace in the world." ISKCON workers would bring peace to a world deeply afflicted by materialism and strife. They would "systematically propagate spiritual knowledge," knowledge of the nonsectarian science of God. It was not that a new religion was being born in July of 1966; rather, the eternal preaching of Godhead, known as sankirtana, was being transported from East to West. And this new consciousness in the West would come about through the teachings of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The Society's members would come together, and by hearing the philosophy of Krsna consciousness and chanting the Hare Krsna mantra in mutual association they would realize that each was a spirit soul, eternally related to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They would then preach these realizations to "humanity at large," especially through sankirtana, the chanting of the holy name of God.
ISKCON would also erect "a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the Personality of Krsna." Was this something beyond the storefront? Yes, certainly. He never thought small: "He seemed to know that he would have temples filled up with devotees."
He wanted ISKCON to demonstrate "a simple, more natural way of life." Such a life (Prabhupada thought of the villages of India, where people lived just as Krsna had lived) was most conducive to developing Krsna consciousness.
And all six of these purposes would be achieved by the seventh: ISKCON would publish and distribute literature. This was the special instruction given to Srila Prabhupada by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who had specifically told him one day in 1935 at Radha-kunda in Vrndavana, "If you ever get any money, publish books."
Certainly none of the signers saw any immediate shape to Prabhupada's dream, yet these seven purposes were not simply theistic rhetoric invented to convince a few New York State government officials. He literally meant to enact every item in the charter.
Of course, he was now working in extremely limited circumstances. The sole headquarters for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness was "the principal place of worship, located at 26 Second Avenue in the city, county, and state of New York." Yet Prabhupada insisted that he was not living at 26 Second Avenue, New York City. His vision was different. His Guru Maharaja had gone out from the traditional holy places of spiritual meditation to preach in cities like Calcutta, Bombay, and New Delhi. And yet Prabhupada would say that his spiritual master had not really been living in any of those cities, but was always in Vaikuntha, the spiritual world, because of his absorption in devotional service.
Similarly, the place of worship, 26 Second Avenue, was not a New York storefront, a former curiosity shop. It was a small place, but it had now been spiritualized. The storefront and the apartment were now a transcendental haven. "Society at large" could come here, the whole world could take shelter here, regardless of race or religion. Plain, small, and impoverished as it was, Prabhupada regarded the storefront as "a holy place of transcendental pastimes, dedicated to the Personality of Krsna:" It was a world headquarters, a publishing house. a sacred place of pilgrimage, and a center from which an army of devotees could issue forth and chant the holy names of God in all the streets in the world. The entire universe could receive Krsna consciousness from the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which was beginning here.
(To be continued)
A few minutes past 6:00 p.m. on March 13, at the ISKCON center in Sridham Mayapur, West Bengal, Srila Prabhupada's younger sister Srimati Bhavatarini-devi dasi passed away. Known to all ISKCON devotees as "Pisima" (Bengali for "the father's sister"), she was widely respected and loved for her simple and pure devotion to Lord Krsna and His devotees. A few hours before her passing she ceased all activities other than quietly chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. All the devotees at the center gathered around her bedside and chanted Hare Krsna as her final moments came.
Pisima was born in Calcutta in 1899, three years after Srila Prabhupada, and they were intimate friends as children. They sometimes flew kites together, and when a kite did not fly properly they prayed to Krsna so that it would. After Srila Prabhupada received small Radha-Govinda Deities from his father, Pisima became his constant companion in worshiping Them. Later Srila Prabhupada gave her the Deities, and after he passed away she placed Them in the care of the devotees at ISKCON's Mayapur center.
Pisima was an initiated disciple of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada often said she was a pure devotee of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna, and she showed her unflinching faith in the Lord on many occasions. Once, during an annual festival in Mayapur in the 1940s, her youngest son Madan came down with a dangerous disease called Asiatic cholera. Everyone advised Pisima to take him to the doctor, but she depended on Lord Krsna's healing power instead. She simply gave him some caranamrta, water that had washed the lotus feet of the Lord, and that brought life back to Madan's almost dead body.
In 1948 when riots flared up between the Hindus and the Muslims in Calcutta, no one dared go out—except Pisima. Every day she walked alone through the deserted streets to the Radha-Krsna temple.
Without a doubt, Pisima was a pure devotee, and now she has gone back to the spiritual world to participate in Radha-Krsna's eternal pastimes. We all pray to her for her blessings, so that we can serve the Lord and His associates with the same zeal she displayed all her life.
From Lord Caitanya'S Teachings
Lord Caitanya would meet in the evening with His followers
By Jayadvaita Swami
The illustration on this page depicts Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra in the home of the great devotee Srivasa Thakura.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared in West Bengal, India, five hundred years ago, was an avatara or incarnation, of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. Of course, in recent years self-proclaimed Gods have become a cheap commodity. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in contrast, never presented Himself as God but always as an insignificant living entity, a humble servant of God. Nonetheless, the scholarly followers of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu understood His true identity and proved it conclusively from revealed scriptures.
Among the many scriptural passages that refer to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, one verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam is particularly important:
This verse indicates that when Lord Krsna appears in the present age, which is known as Kali-yuga, or the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy, His complexion is golden, He is surrounded by various associates, and His mission is to teach people how to make their lives spiritually sublime through the sankirtana-yajna, or chanting of the holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
To fulfill this mission, Lord Krsna, in the form of Lord Caitanya, assumes the role of His own devotee. When Lord Krsna appeared on earth five thousand years ago, He revealed His opulences as bhagavan, the Supreme Godhead, and spoke the Bhagavad-gita, in which He concluded that the highest duty in human life is to give up all lower occupations and surrender exclusively to Him in pure devotional service. The Lord also gave His firm assurance that He will always protect from the reactions of all karma those who surrender to Him, so that they will surely obtain liberation from material existence. What Lord Krsna did not do, however, is demonstrate how to surrender to Him. How should one surrender to Krsna? How should one become His devotee? This is what Lord Krsna comes to show when He appears as Lord Caitanya.
The painting depicts Lord Caitanya in His youth, around the age of twenty-one, when He was just beginning to make known His teachings. At this time, Lord Caitanya was a married man, and He had something of a reputation as a skillful teacher of grammar and logic. But He had recently gone on a pilgrimage to Gaya, where He had met Isvara Puri, a great spiritual master in Krsna consciousness. Having received initiation in Krsna consciousness from Isvara Puri, Lord Caitanya returned home to Bengal full of ecstatic feelings of devotional love for Krsna. Following the instructions of His spiritual master. He had begun chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, and now He began chanting every evening in the company of other devotees.
This congregational chanting, Lord Caitanya taught, is the most effective means in the present age to purify our hearts and awaken our dormant love for God. He especially pointed out a verse in the Vedic literature that says.
harer nama harer nama
The meaning of this verse is that in the present age, Kali-yuga, the best means of God realization is the chanting of the holy name of God. No other means of self-realization or God realization will be successful in this age. The verse repeats the words harer nama ("the holy name of the Lord") three times, emphasizing with great force the importance of the chanting of the Lord's holy name. It also repeats three times the words nasty eva to emphasize with equal force that no other way of spiritual realization will bring about the desired result. Other forms of yoga and spiritual and philosophical discipline are effective in other ages, but in the present age, which began 5,000 years ago and continues for more than 400,000 more, only the chanting of the holy name of God can bring about the desired success. The best way to surrender to Krsna and develop one's devotion and love for Krsna is to chant the holy names of Krsna, especially as found in the maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama. Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu led the congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra in Srivasa Thakura's house every night for a full year. This pastime of the Lord's is instructive in many ways. First, the Lord showed the importance of congregational chanting, chanting in the company of devotees. By chanting Hare Krsna one comes to the transcendental platform, because Krsna's name is completely spiritual. Because of Krsna's absolute spiritual nature, there is no difference between the name Krsna and Krsna Himself. So by chanting Hare Krsna one associates directly with Krsna, the Supreme Truth. One may chant anywhere, under any circumstances, and the chanting will always be effective. Nonetheless, the chanting becomes even more beneficial and more ecstatic when performed in the association of other devotees. The loud congregational vibration of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra acts with special effectiveness to create a purely spiritual atmosphere of Krsna consciousness that is naturally pleasing to the mind and heart. In such an atmosphere, one gradually develops a spiritual appreciation for Lord Krsna that matures into strong attraction to Him and ultimately into pure love and devotion for Krsna, the supreme transcendental Lord.
While chanting Hare Krsna, Lord Caitanya and the other devotees began dancing in ecstasy. This is a natural effect of the chanting. As the chanting of Hare Krsna begins to awaken one's dormant Krsna consciousness, one feels spiritual ecstasy and feels like dancing. By dancing along with the chanting, one gives in to a natural spiritual feeling coming from the soul itself. So by chanting Hare Krsna and dancing in ecstasy one leaves behind the material hang-ups of one's temporary physical identity and dances in the pleasure of eternal Krsna consciousness. Lord Caitanya taught that one should simply chant Hare Krsna and dance in ecstasy. Lord Caitanya was especially beautiful in His physical features, and by seeing the Lord's dancing golden form and moonlike face the devotees at the house of Srivasa Thakura would all feel as though immersed in an ocean of transcendental bliss.
By chanting and dancing every evening, Lord Caitanya and His associates showed us the best way to use our evenings for spiritual advancement. The human form of life is especially meant for spiritual progress, because in human life one has the requisite intelligence with which to try to understand one's self and one's relationship with God. Unfortunately people waste their valuable human life in activities meant for nothing. During the day they work hard to get money or spend whatever money they have, and at night they come home to relax, eat dinner, have sex, and go to sleep. But Lord Caitanya taught that one can use one's evenings for spiritual profit by chanting the holy name of the Lord. Instead of going to the movies, watching television, taking drugs, having sex, reading novels, or sleeping, one can chant Hare Krsna and makes one's life sublime.
Another feature of Lord Caitanya's nightly gatherings was krsna-prasada, delicious food that had been sanctified by having first been offered to Krsna. Lord Caitanya's teachings were not dry, lifeless speculations, nor did He teach a life of harsh, impractical renunciation. Rather, He and His devotees chanted and danced in spiritual bliss, and after chanting and dancing they would take pleasure in discussing Krsna conscious topics of spiritual enlightenment and relish the taste of Krsna's mercy in the form of krsna-prasada. This was the way of spiritual life that Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, playing the role of a pure devotee, taught by His own example.
It is significant that the Lord performed these pastimes while still a householder—that is, during His married life. Lord Caitanya and the associates shown here were practically all married men. So by their example they taught that to chant Hare Krsna one need not leave home and give up the world. One may continue one's life at home and carry on one's family responsibilities—but one should purify one's consciousness by chanting Hare Krsna. The home of Srivasa Thakura is revered even today as a holy place because Lord Caitanya and His devotees chanted there. Similarly, one can transform one's own home from an ordinary place for eating and sleeping into a transcendental place of spiritual culture simply by adding Krsna consciousness.
To carry forward the teachings of Lord Caitanya, the Krsna consciousness movement has temples all over the world where devotees continue to take part in Lord Caitanya's nightly Hare Krsna festivals of chanting, dancing, feasting, and philosophy. Lord Caitanya taught that one can most easily and effectively cultivate one's Krsna consciousness in the association of Krsna's devotees.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Hare Krsna Swami in West Africa
Aba, Nigeria—Recently Brahmananda Swami, who oversees ISKCON's activities in West Africa, delivered the keynote address here at the Annual Convocation of a metaphysical group called the School of Universal Law (SOUL). Though the group espouses a generally impersonal view of the Absolute Truth, they warmly welcomed the swami and appreciated his talk. They enthusiastically joined him in chanting Hare Krsna, and later many of them purchased some literature n the science of Krsna consciousness. Brahmananda Swami plans to return to Aba for an extended stay after visiting Ghana; Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Book Trust Begins Publishing Srila Prabhupada's Biography
The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has just published Volume 2 of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, the authorized biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Written by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, editor in chief of BACK TO GODHEAD, the volume is entitled Planting the Seed-New York City 1965-66. It chronicles how Srila Prabhupada traveled from India to America at age 69, struggled along with no real home, few friends, and practically no money, and finally began the International Society for Krishna Consciousness on New York's Lower East Side.
The Book Trust plans to release Volume 1, treating of Srila Prabhupada's life in India before he sailed for America, in the fall of this year. Because Volume 1 involved much difficult and time-consuming research in India, Volume 2 was published first. Srila Satsvarupa Goswami plans to complete the proposed seven-volume work within three years.
Planting the Seed has won appreciation from academicians and religionists as a significant contribution to religio-historical literature. Here is an excerpt from the foreword, written by Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania:
"[Srila Prabhupada's biography] is a remarkable tale of faith, determination, and success beyond anyone's expectation.
The present volume [Planting the Seed] gives only the beginning of the story, but it tells us in fascinating detail how the first seeds of success were planted in what "seemed such unpromising ground....
"The temporal setting of the story is important. The 1960s was a unique period in American history, a time when major changes were taking place in our society. The place is important also, since New York City in general and the East Village in particular were on the leading edge of these changes. The author of this biography was very much a part of this time and place as one of Bhaktivedanta Swami's earliest disciples in New York. From his own recollections, from recordings and writings of the time, and from extensive interviews with other participants, he has put together a series of striking vignettes of the 1960s that have independent historical value. Threading through these scenes, however, and binding the individuals together in collective effort, is the dominant figure of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami....
"It is to Bhaktivedanta's credit that he believed in keeping nothing secret, and it is to Satsvarupa's credit that he has presented the events of this critical period as objectively as possible. Seldom before have we had such an intimate and detailed account of a spiritual master bringing forth anew religious movement, and probably never has there been such a wealth of contemporary data to back it up. Those of us who are historians of religion will be working this rich vein for years to come."
A Call for Strong Leadership
What follows is a conversation between David Shapiro, Director of ISKCON TV, and Srila Hrdayananda dasa Goswami Acaryadeva, one of the devotees Srila Prabhupada designated as spiritual masters qualified to initiate disciples. Their talk took place last September 1 at ISKCON's New Vrindaban community in West Virginia.
David Shapiro: You've called for quite a different approach to education in this country—and for a new kind of leadership. Can you explain just what your approach would be?
Srila Acaryadeva: Yes, our approach is to teach people the purpose of their life. Instead of letting students waste their time carving up their desks, shooting up heroin in the lavatory, and raping their teachers, or leaming atheistic nonsense, why not actually give them an education? Let's teach them about the purpose of life.
Our leaders are blind mice leading other blind mice on a treadmill. What do we really learn? If I don't know. what I am, if I don't know what God is, if I don't know the purpose of my life, then what is my education? Simply technical training for financial improvement. And this financial improvement is to gratify the bodily senses. We want money, and with money sense gratification. But that sense gratification is also available to hogs and dogs. Without getting degrees in business administration or engineering, without working for a big firm, without arranging a large bank account, without renting a nice penthouse or purchasing a fashionable condominium, without all these elaborate arrangements, the pig or the dog enjoys sex daily. And in his sexual activity the pig or dog experiences essentially the same pleasure that we do. So our whole educational system aims at economic advancement, for sense gratification. And that means sophisticated dog life, pig life.
Why so much trouble for low-grade pleasures? Real education means to understand God and, by understanding God, to feel unlimited spiritual bliss. Americans aren't feeling unlimited happiness. They're frustrated. Pills to sleep, pills to wake up. They're totally frustrated, because their heart's been cut, out of their body. The heart and soul of human life is God and love of God. And this modern culture has cut the heart out of the American people.
David Shapiro: Well, certainly the leadership of this country leaves something to be desired.
Srila Acaryadeva: It leaves everything to be desired. There is no leadership. Misleadership.
David Shapiro: What qualifications do you expect in a leader?
Srila Acaryadeva: That he not be a fool. Without knowing what the purpose of human life is, how can you direct a large country like America—a large aggregation of human beings? The purpose of life is spiritual enlightenment.
By understanding God, we can go back to the kingdom of God. God has His kingdom; He's not living in the street, He's not floating in the clouds. He has a kingdom. And the purpose of human life is to go to that kingdom. So, if a leader doesn't direct people toward that goal, he's wasting their time.
We don't need big political parties, congress, and judiciary procedures, just to fill bellies. Among the pigs, dogs, hogs, camels, asses, pigeons, grasshoppers there's no judicial branch, no legislative branch, and no executive branch. No public debate, no nothing. But all these creatures fill their bellies. We don't need these fools in Washington to fill our bellies. We need leaders who can help people understand the purpose of life and how to achieve it. And that purpose is spiritual.
Separation of church and state means there is no state church. Isn't it obvious? But that doesn't mean the state should not be spiritual. When you talk about separation of church and state, "church" means a specific religious institution. The state can never be separated from the laws of God.
After all, the laws of God are those laws that govern the functions of this universe. Whether biological, anatomical, psychological, political, historical, or social—all natural laws at all levels of physical and mental organization are under God's direction. If we understand God's purpose and God's laws, then we live peacefully and harmoniously.
Otherwise, there will be conflict. And politicians will struggle to resolve conflicts that they themselves have created by neglecting God's laws. Materialistic solutions create ten thousand more conflicts. For example, if I drive my car without knowing the state traffic laws, then my method of driving will contradict the state law, and that contradiction will inflict upon me a punishment. In the same way, if we contradict God's laws, we suffer in a corresponding way. For instance, there are laws of God regulating sex. If we contradict those sexual laws; sexual misery will be inflicted upon us. If we contradict the political laws of God, political problems will be inflicted. So at any level of human society, if we contradict the laws of God, we provoke a misery in human society. The politicians try to solve the problem with another contradiction of God's laws. Thus they aggravate the problem.
David Shapiro: Well, I think that if you were to ask the American people whether or not they believe in God, a majority of them would say yes.
Srila Acaryadeva: That's not enough—just to believe in God. You have to obey Him. Belief is an insignificant thing. Everyone also believes in China, but who wants to live in China? So you may believe in God, but who actually wants to live in God's kingdom? Belief—we believe in so many things. But who is prepared to obey God? Simple belief is not significant.
David Shapiro: Many psychologists would claim that one takes to a religious belief—in particular, the Hare Krsna philosophy—as a crutch to divert oneself from the real problems of life. What do you say to that?
Srila Acaryadeva: Crutch? But we are dependent on God. Some claim they have no crutch, but aren't they dependent on the air, on the light of the sun and the moon, and on the vegetation of the earth? Actually, everyone is dependent on the crutch of nature's gifts. But atheists ignore God's gifts and depend on the crutch of false prestige and arrogance. They pretend they're in control when actually they aren't. They talk big words that no one understands, so that everyone will assume they know something. What is this bogus "rugged individualism"? No one is rugged. Everyone is a fragile thing that can be crushed in a second. Instead of falsely pretending we're rugged, why not admit that we're eternal servants of God and accept Him?
David Shapiro: In America, traditionally, heroes have always had an indomitable kind of strength. They've always gone it alone.
Srila Acaryadeva: Yes, and where have all the heroes gone? They've become food for the worms. Why pretend? Admit that we're eternal servants of God! Why not have that strength, to give up false prestige—to teach God consciousness, without worrying about our material reputation? Why not have that strength? Why just the strength of clicking spurs and jumping on a bucking bronco? Then death comes and bucks us in the head, and we're finished. So this material strength of spur clicking and bronco busting and mountain climbing—this kind of materialistic strength is a phantasmagoric, ephemeral thing, isn't it? Actual strength means to give up all of one's false prestige and surrender to God. That's strength.
How I Was Saved From Being "Saved"
by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
Each of the last few years before he retired, an elderly Professor of Missions used to invite me to address his class at the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, near Philadelphia. The professor, who had spent a goodly portion of his life seeking converts in Bengal, had the best manners I had ever encountered in another American. He would meet me at my car and escort me through the seminary. In the lobby, we would inevitably pause before a display of artifacts he and others had brought back from India; and with a bemused smile he would draw my attention to the prize exhibit: a worn gray plank, about two feet by five, bristling with rusty iron spikes—your standard Hindu bed of nails. He conveyed by this act a courteous imputation, demurely indicting my religion with this instrument of self-torture. Although he knew after my first visit that the contrivance had as little to do with my devotions as it did with his own, he never failed to linger before it as we went in.
I am sure this little maneuver was intended to divert both of us from the larger irony he and I were conscious of. There was no doubt that the reason he had invited me was to afford his students a firsthand look at what they would be up against in far-off India; odd that such an example should be so easily available locally; strange that these Baptists should discover, looking back at them under a shaven head marked with the twin clay lines of tilaka—the signs of a servant of Visnu—such a disconcertingly familiar American Protestant face.
The first time I entered his small classroom, I too felt the shock of recognition. There, looking up at me in wonder, in a ring around the table, were those same Sunday-school faces of my childhood, overlaid only slightly with a patina of age.
The professor opened class with a prayer, and hearing the suddenly familiar intonations of Protestant orison rising in that overheated room smelling of chalk and damp wool clothes, surrounded by the benign features of these ministers-to-be, I was transported back to Bible school, and with a pang I felt that old mellow glow of indistinct goodness. But then I was sharply brought back to present reality. As the professor gave a courtly introduction, his students stared up at me; I could see their minds ram into the brick wall of unintelligibility. What ever could have possessed a nice Christian boy to go and put on those robes and shave his head and ... ?
To see yourself being received, by features you recognize so well, with a look of utter incomprehension can give rise to a certain uneasiness. Those faces radiated a wall of misinformation, misunderstanding, cultural conditioning, and sectarian prejudice. For them to hear what I had to say, I would have to find some way to outflank the ideological Maginot Line arrayed against me.
Having spent many years in their spiritual milieu, I had formed my own judgment of them. I felt that their religious practice was severely crippled by a lack of disciplined, progressive cultivation under expert guidance. Spiritual advancement depends upon such cultivation, just as athletic success requires a rigorous program of training under an expert coach. But they had little sense of that. Their belief (correct enough) that salvation comes from God's grace became transmogrified in practice into a curious sort of spiritual passivity. They depended upon sudden emotional outpourings and flashes of inspiration (whose impact seemed to dissipate swiftly). Thus their spirituality had a haphazard, hit-or-miss character; it suffered from a lack of direction. It was immature.
As a result, they stagnated in a sort of bland, superficial wholesomeness. In the end, their religiosity simply gave a cachet to a kind of constrained, genteel materialism—to prayers in the locker room after football or golf, and to church barbecues where the girls from the choir managed to seem both sexy and pure at the same time. And even all of this was mostly for appearance. Since niceness is not enough, deviance was rampant, if covert. Yet their belief in inherent human sinfulness led to a passive acceptance of that, too.
On the other hand, I knew these Baptists would view me as espousing the error of Pelagius, the heresy that man can save himself by his own efforts. Enough evangelicals had approached me in the streets to announce, "I don't have to work for my salvation," to let me know that the party line on us was out. This charge had two sources. First of all, they saw any sort of regimen as smacking of works (although the "work" the evangelicals on the streets referred to was the exuberant dancing and chanting of a group of devotees—who's working?). Second of all, they believed that every religion but Christianity, no matter what its particular practices, was Pelagian. To be more precise, all religions were Pelagian, but Christianity, strictly speaking, was not a religion. Religion they defined as the vain attempts of man to reach God on his own; all such attempts are tainted by man's inherent sinfulness and so inevitably fail. Christianity, on the other hand, is God's own reaching out to man. It is not, of course, tainted by sinfulness.
The bed of nails hanging on the seminary wall epitomized for them the folly of religion, of man's unaided attempt to reach the divine. I had no doubt that they found my own appearance just as perversely strange, just as much an exemplification of the absurdity that ensues when man tries to save himself.
However, in my talk I was going to use another definition of religion. Religion, I began by telling them, means following the orders of God. According to the Vedas, "The path of religion is enunciated directly by the Lord." No one else can found a religion. But, I said, a question naturally arises: There are many scriptures, each with different injunctions; how do we judge which is best? This same question, the Vedas report, was asked five thousand years ago of a great authority, and he replied, "The best religion for all people is that which leads one to unconditional love for the Supreme Lord." The standard for such unconditional love, he went on to say, is that it is not motivated by any desire for personal gain, and it is uninterrupted. He did not mention any particular community. The standard is nonsectarian; wherever it may be realized—among Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, whatever—that must be accepted as true religion.
Other Vedic texts, I continued, elaborate on the nature of unconditional love for God. In Sanskrit, loving devotional service to God is called bhakti, but it can be contaminated in two specific ways—by jnana and by karma. (I wrote the Sanskrit words on the board.) Jnana refers to the process of empirical speculative knowledge, a quest that culminates in self-deification. Karma, "works" in Biblical language, refers to activities aimed at self-aggrandizement—whether in this life or in the next.
What most people have been taught to call "Hinduism," I explained, is actually bhakti (devotional service to God) corrupted by jnana (the quest for speculative knowledge). Such corrupted religion has created a polymorphous profusion of gods to be worshiped, but with the understanding that ultimately the whole hodgepodge (including the so-called worshiper) paradoxically dissolves into an amorphous, featureless nullity. According to these teachings, although ultimately no individuals exist, in the meantime and for all practical purposes every individual, including oneself, is God. By an overweening negative theology, jnana strips divinity down to nothingness; while professing to preserve the divine transcendence, it is actually a disguised expression of enmity toward God. Although such philosophy is an evil fruit of Indian civilization, it is now even more at home in the West. As an example, I cited the Protestant theologian Paul Tillich, who said, among other things, that since the temporal, contingent entities we know all "exist," it would be blasphemous to say of God that He also "exists." The "death of God" movement of the sixties was inspired by such theologizing.
While karma denotes those religious and charitable activities one performs in expectation of a reward, bhakti is service rendered to God simply out of love, with no desire for gain. Just as the Vedas distinguish between karma and bhakti, I explained, they also distinguish between heaven and the kingdom of God. The Vedas identify heaven as a group of higher planets within the material world where enjoyment is extended and intense; nevertheless, one's stay in heaven is circumscribed. Good deeds secure pious credit, but when that credit is exhausted, the heavenly sojourn ends. The kingdom of God, however, is beyond the material world, and there life is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. The activities there are not those of sense gratification but rather of loving exchanges with the Supreme Lord Himself, in varieties of relationships and degrees of intimacy. This is the supreme abode, the destination of the pure devotees, although they do not even aspire after it. Rather, they ask only to engage in divine service under any condition, in heaven or in hell.
The kingdom of God is our home, I said, our native country. All of us once resided there, engaging in the activity of our essential nature, our eternal religion: devotional service to God. But some of us perversely sought to deny our own nature and aspired not to be enjoyed by God but to enjoy as He does, not to serve Him but to be served, not to be controlled but to be the controller. In short, the original sin of the minute particle of God's energy is the desire to become God. Therefore we are exiled to the material world, where we can play out our masquerade and finally, by the mercy of the Lord, be rectified.
For this purpose God Himself establishes the path of pure religion, but under the impetus of our sinful will, even that religion becomes twisted. The Vedas call it kaitava-dharma—materially motivated, cheating religion, religion deformed by karma and jnana. Desiring to become the enjoyer and controller, the fallen soul performs religious duties for the sake of material advancement, which he needs to enjoy the senses; when he finally becomes disgusted, having met repeated defeat in the struggle for supremacy, he rejects the material world and aspires for liberation, for becoming one with God.
Although God establishes true religion, in the course of time it inevitably becomes corrupted by karma and jnana. Therefore, whenever bhakti is in danger of disappearing, God Himself descends to the material world, or He sends His son, prophet, or pure representative to restore true religion. Real religion is always in danger of being corrupted, and most religion—most of the time—is karmic, with varying degrees of jnana added. Bhakti is very rare.
Then I reminded them that the other symptom of pure religion is that it is uninterrupted. A pure devotee makes no distinction between his religion and his life; he does not separate the activities he does for God from those he does for himself. I could make this point clear only by giving them some concrete examples. So I explained how, in the Krsna consciousness movement, even eating and sex are transformed from material activities into divine service.
To live we must eat, and to eat we must kill. But killing is a sin; therefore it seems that sin is unavoidable. However, in the Bhagavad-gita God informs us that if we lovingly offer Him a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water, He will accept it. Of course, killing animals is never allowed; but if we collect vegetarian food and prepare it for God's enjoyment and then eat, then there is no sin. Rather, God accepts the offering of love, and in reciprocation He allows the devotees to eat the remnants of such sacrifice, which are called prasada, or the mercy of God. It is karma-less food. Thus, even eating need not interrupt devotional service.
Similarly, marriage can also be part of devotional service. Marriage does not confer a license for sexual indulgence. It does not sanction a holiday from religious principles. Rather, according to religious principles sex is meant only for begetting God conscious children. Thus there is no need for indulging more than once in a month, when the woman is fertile. Children born of parents who are free from lust will be exceptionally pure and naturally inclined toward devotional service. So not even biological necessities like mating and eating need divert us from our religion.
Here I would usually end my talk and ask for questions. There would be a smattering of inquiries about specific practices, and then someone would finally voice what was on all their minds. "What religion were you raised in?"
"I was nominally a Methodist," I would answer. "But the Baptists had a strong influence on me."
Then they would get down to it. "Why did you change to this?"
I wanted to be both truthful and tactful, a rather difficult task under the circumstances. I would say something like, "In my childhood I was rather heavily evangelized. But I never made a full commitment. And I think it was because, well, I just never met anyone who sufficiently inspired me by his personal example to make that commitment."
But of course there was more to it than that. And as I stood there before these future ministers, the memory that had been nibbling at my consciousness all morning finally struck. The formidable machinations of their predecessors' evangelical assaults rose before me—that amazing dramatic contrivance which, if anything, must be deemed the homegrown, all-American couterpart of a bed of nails.
During vacation Bible school, all of us would be led each morning into the cool and dark interior of the Baptist church. Rank after rank of pews would fill with the small forms of children. We sang hymns, and then a well-spoken minister would begin talking to us. Although he seemed friendly, he did not let that stop him from telling us the truth about ourselves. And the truth was that even though we were only little kids and were supposed to be innocent, we were very sinful. He told us how we despised our brothers and sisters, hated our parents, envied our friends. Skillfully, he drew out all the evil of our small lives—until it was all there before us. It crushed down on us like an unbearable weight. He described how abominable, how foul our sinfulness appeared in the eyes of God, so great, so holy and pure. Such an affront were we to Him that it was only fitting and proper that we should suffer endlessly in hell for our sins. He evoked hell for us. We were going there directly, and that was only right.
But, he would say, God was not happy with mere justice. He loved us more than we could ever imagine; so much that he gave His only begotten Son, His own Son, who had never sinned, who was as pure as we were dirty, to suffer for our sins and die in our place. Eloquently, he would explain how Jesus had, in advance, without our even asking, undergone all the sufferings due us, and had already paid the price for us. The sins, which were like a huge weight about to shove us down to hell, were already atoned for by Jesus. And all we had to do to be saved was just accept Jesus in our heart as our personal savior.
Now his voice would drop and seem to speak to us right near our ears. He would tell us to bow our heads and shut our eyes. And then he said that anyone who had not yet accepted Jesus in his heart as his personal savior should raise his hand. A hush would fall over the church. With a pounding heart (for you could not lie now), I would raise my arm. The seconds crawled by as I would sit there, nakedly exposed, my arm as heavy as lead. Finally, we could lower our hands (but had to keep our eyes shut). Then he would say that all we had to do to accept Jesus as our savior was to get up right now and walk up to the communion rail. Then the organ would start to play soft, yearning music. With compelling hypnotic tones the minister would urge us forward, and then under the swelling surges of the organ you would hear the rustling sounds of children edging out of the pews.
Day after day I would sit in anguish, and then, when I was on the verge of bolting from my seat, I would suddenly seem to be high in the church vaults, looking down. From that distance everything would become clear, and I could see with a wonderful lucidity just what was going on, and their whole contrivance became transparent. When, so many years later, I was to hear the Krsna consciousness movement charged with being a new "cult" that converted through brainwashing, coercive persuasion, emotional manipulation, and the evocation of guilt, I was astounded; it was an eerily accurate description of just what I had experienced as a child in this most indigenous of American religions. Yet even as a child I could recognize that I was being played upon by some craftiness or artifice. It reeked of fraudulence; how could I trust them?
After church, we would be led to our separate classes, and on some days a face or two would be missing: they had gone up to the communion rail. They would come in later, looking a bit dazed. I would watch them carefully. For a few days they would be different—a bit remote, extremely peaceful, and very, very nice—but then their old selves would creep back in.
And that was the real problem. For all the anguish invoked, for all the high redemptive drama with its incredible emotional impact, there was a curiously meager result. As I grew older, I still looked for something more, something deeper than that benign wholesomeness, that always-smiling friendliness and relentless cheerfulness. It all seemed so superficial, and so many of them were, as my father put it, "on the quietus," doing in secret what the unsaved did in the open.
The spirit of American Protestant Christianity became epitomized for me by a frequently replayed cultural scenario. Reporters crowd around the winner of the Miss North or South Carolina beauty contest, glowing with her victory in that competition which has degraded her personhood to the level of a commodity, in which the air of lubricity is all the more cloying for being disguised as a celebration of the value of wholesome, upright American womanhood. The winner flashes that wide smile, the same smile that daily arouses our desire for toothpaste and shampoo on the TV, and then she announces, with not even the slightest sense of incongruity, that the most important thing in her life is that she has accepted Jesus Christ in her heart as her personal savior. And, as I experienced, Christians—laity and ministers alike—all thought that was just wonderful! I would feel, with some relief, that I had been saved.
And now, looking down at these missionary faces, suffused with that expression of mild goodness, I understood clearly what I had discovered in Krsna consciousness that their religion did not provide me. It was integrity; it was religion without compromise. At first, I had sought integrity in uncompromising materialism. That failed, but when I was offered the integrity of Krsna consciousness, I accepted it without misgivings. To be sure, it was sometimes difficult. But it was the genuine article.
Yet, I realized suddenly, I was indebted to these Christians. For they had started me on the search for the divine, even though they could not provide the solution with the same efficacy with which they could expose the problem. It was unlikely that they could see the continuity between us that I saw, while I was standing so strangely before them in that different garb, a missionary to the missionaries.
An alternative to literary junk food.
by Yogesvara dasa
Soon after its beginnings in 1966 in a small New York storefront, the Krsna consciousness movement grew to include thousands of full-time devotees.
By 1970 it was evident that we would need schools for training our children in the principles of Krsna conscious life. And we would need books, for both inside and outside the classroom. When I mentioned this to my spiritual master, the Society's founder Srila Prabhupada, he encouraged me to publish a library of children's literature based on the pastimes of Lord Krsna and His incarnations.
"Do not invent anything," he directed. "Rather, present Krsna's pastimes just as they are described in the revealed scriptures. Of course, the language can be simplified, but nothing is to be altered in the stories or characters. Just as I have not altered anything in presenting the Vedic literature in English, so now you adapt these books without change for children. Remember, in Krsna consciousness our strength is purity."
By 1977 Bala Books (in Sanskrit bala means "child") was fully launched. The first book, Agha the Terrible Demon, had been prepared as carefully as possible to preserve the exact meaning of Srila Prabhupada's original translation of the story from the Sanskrit. Naturally devotees were enthusiastic about the book; at the same time, those who had worked on it hoped for its good reception by people in general. That came.
"Sanskrit literature is full of stories which have delighted and educated Indian children for thousands of years," wrote Professor Hugh M. Flick, Jr., of the Harvard Humanities General Education Department. "These stories reflect and illustrate all aspects of life in India, from interpersonal relationships to relationships with God.
"Unfortunately, many of these wonderful tales have never been translated for children. In response to this lack of availability, Bala Books is presenting the popular Krishna cycle of stories, in a format designed especially for English-speaking children
"Whether Krishna is viewed as a folk hero or a an incarnation of God does not affect the universal appeal and educational value of the Bala Books publications. The stories are told with love and are delightfully illustrated."
When preparing Bala publications, the devotees remember Srila Prabhupada's instructions: "Do not change anything. Remain pure in your presentation. It is not for your glorification, but for Krsna's." The devotees also keep in mind that these are books for extraordinary children. As the Bhagavad-gita explains, children born of devotee parents have surely practiced some form of yoga in their last lifetime. But having failed to complete their spiritual practices, they have again taken birth in the material world. Now, with the benefits of devotee parents and a spiritual environment from early childhood, it is expected that they will achieve full love for God and go back to Him.
So devotee parents are careful to nurture their children's God consciousness by offering them suitable books and teaching them Krsna-related games. Some people accuse us of brainwashing our children and of isolating them from the world. Why not give them television and commercially published children's books? Our answer is that there are no "neutral" programs or books for children. They all reflect values of one kind or another. For example, it is common for characters in children's books to be seen eating meat. Krsna philosophy condemns animal slaughter as cruel and unnecessary. Also, recent commercial publications for children tend to reinforce the notion that life is chemical, or that there is no difference between the self and the body. We find, as a result, many children's books exhorting youngsters to be proud of their "blackness" or their "womanhood." Yet the first lesson a devotee learns is to see the equality of the soul in all bodies.
The books devotee children read are prepared with the intention of bolstering devotional attitudes and encouraging a simple life guided by wisdom, compassion, and love for God. By focusing on Krsna's heroic activities and qualities, these books transcend the materialistic norms of contemporary society and instead remind young readers of Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Children in Krsna communities, growing up in a devotional environment and reading spiritual books, tend to be philosophically inclined. Topics such as transmigration of the soul, karma, and yoga are not beyond their comprehension. On one occasion I overheard two five-year-old girls talking together at the Krsna school in Philadelphia. They had just discovered a cat lying dead on the road outside the school building. While one girl cried at the way the poor creature had been killed, the other consoled her by explaining that the soul had not died but rather had left the cat's body and taken up residence in some other place.
In Bala publications, therefore, philosophical issues are not skirted. In Agha, the demon's soul merges into the spiritual body of Lord Krsna and so attains salvation. The event could have been omitted, but reincarnation and liberation are topics of daily discussion for devotee children. They know that the soul does not die when the body dies, and that remembrance of Krsna at the time of death guarantees entrance into the spiritual world.
Such topics are rarely found in commercial children's books, primarily because publishers don't make much profit from books with spiritual themes. Parents, teachers, and librarians (the book buyers) shy away from books that are too "didactic," and this condemns most children to a fanciful world created by the media and industry, a world inhabited by Superman, Muppets, Seussian characters, and a hefty roster of television stereotypes who do little to shape good character or reinforce devotional goals.
Bala publications draw their subject matter from historic events depicted in the Vedic literatures. The personalities described are ideal role models for devotee children, and the adults enjoy the stories as much as the children. This is important, because a shared literature forms bonds of common interest between children and adults in Krsna communities.
Not only the reading matter but many elements of a devotee's life—food, dress, music, social events—carry over from childhood to adulthood. In devotional life children attend the same plays, feasts, and festivals as their parents. Proper devotional behavior is thus greatly reinforced. Of course, the children still run, play, and exhibit the mischievousness common to their age; but for them there is no generation gap, no revolt or running away. The transition from childhood to adulthood is easier.
Agha was the first Bala publication. It was followed by several other picture books for young readers. Then, in 1978, two teachers from the Krsna conscious school for boys in India came to New York with a unique assignment: to produce a grammar book that would cover all elements of English usage and at the same time use devotional subject matter. That way, instead of learning punctuation with the usual nondescript sentences ("we cant begin." "Didnt you go today.") devotee children would work with themes from the Vedas:
Lord Rama was an ideal ruler. His (capital / capitol) was Ayodhya.
In Bala academic books—whether the topic be English or math or history—the theme is always Krsna and His pure devotees. This common thread through the various academic subjects makes retention much easier.
"In Bala textbooks the children's minds are not distracted by an endless barrage of external stimuli," explains Bhurijana dasa, the headmaster for a Krsna school in the Northeast. "In most grammar books, for example, publishers have resorted to shabby content to interest children in reading. Their advertising says it outright: 'Such-and-such reading series on sports makes it happen!' So the children end up reading about everything from dogs and fads to lovable monsters and their friends. But the common thread of Krsna in all studies means devotee children have a natural interest—no motivation problems. Recently, we gave our students here a Wide Range Achievement Test. Twenty-five percent of the children tested are reading one grade above their peers in public school, forty percent are reading three grades above, and thirty-three percent are reading four grades above. The same results showed in spelling tests."
The Krsna school system differs from public schools in yet another way: the teaching techniques. So-called modern methods minimize the work as far as possible, through games and workbooks where everything is already written out for the student; but devotee children learn to write by writing, and they learn to read by reading. No shortcuts. The work is harder, but the themes are always of personal interest to the children, and so they develop strong mental discipline.
To date, Bala Books has published six storybooks and four academic books and has distributed a total of sixty thousand copies around the world. One title (The King Who Swept the Road, about the king of Orissa) has been published also in Spanish and French. Our address is in each book, and the letters we receive show that many parents are dissatisfied with the usual run of children's books and are seeking alternative reading matter. More than thirty-five percent of the people in the world are under sixteen, and all of them are entitled to read books that do not proselytize for materialism—books that reflect another, more natural lifestyle, centered on a loving relationship with God. The people at Bala Books are planning to produce at least one hundred volumes, including an adaptation of the epic Ramayana. By introducing young readers to these works, we hope to lay a foundation for young people's cultural, intellectual, and spiritual development.
A Personal Look at the U.S. Presidency
Like all Americans, I've seen my destiny shaped by the U.S. presidents under whose rule I have lived and served. But now that I think about it, although my life was shaped in certain ways by their decisions, none of the presidents were really leaders to me. Their leadership was never very inspirational; it never touched my inner self. The only persons I can think of who were my actual leaders were Steve Marino, my father, and later Srila Prabhupada, my spiritual master.
It was through my father that I received my first impressions of the presidents: Teddy Roosevelt, he said, was a "bully-good" leader. He didn't care for Wilson. And as for "silent Cal" and Hoover, I heard only jokes. I was born when Franklin Roosevelt was president. When I was two years olds the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor—the day after my birthday party—and my father had to go overseas for two years. But the war wasn't FDR's fault: it was the other "presidents"—Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini.
In those years I was mostly with my mother. I remember President Roosevelt wearing a big black cape and sitting with Churchill and Stalin, figuring out how to win the war. I was only a child, and things were happening around me; and although my father was away and Franklin Roosevelt was in charge, it didn't seem to make much difference. There was my mother, food, and shelter, and life went on, waiting for Father to return. When he returned, he was again the leader of my life, as always. One night my father stayed up late listening to the radio, and I went to sleep hearing that Thomas Dewey had been elected president; but in the morning I learned that Harry Truman had won. I'm not sure about Truman, whether my father liked him or not, but it really didn't make any difference to me. I know he liked Eisenhower, and since my political opinions were whatever my father's were (as opposed to the foolish opinions sometimes held by other boys' fathers) I also officially revered Eisenhower.
But as I grew up in high school, it dawned on me that I was entitled to my own opinion, and after my first semester in college I was already in disagreement with my father. I concluded that he was a conservative, while I became sympathetic to the left. Yet conservative as he was, I still thought he would favor Kennedy over Nixon in the 1960 election. I remember talking with him while he raked leaves on the front lawn. He looked up and said, "I think Nixon will make a better president," and I was shocked and disappointed. But what did it really matter'? My disappointment wasn't over which president he thought was best, but over the widening rift between us.
What did matter was that I had to go into active military service after college—since my father had enrolled me in the Reserves when I was seventeen. So it was under the order of my political choice, JFK, that I had to sail on a ship in the Caribbean during the Cuban scare. But even while my life was being shaped against my will by President Kennedy, I felt free of his leadership and ideology. I had read in Civil Disobedience how Thoreau had felt free although he had been imprisoned by the government, and I was also thinking like that. The president was not my leader, even though he exercised certain powers over my physical body.
By this time I had become thoroughly disenchanted with my father's leadership, and as soon as my tour of duty was over, I left military service. With Lyndon Johnson as my president now, I went to live on the Lower East Side of New York, where I met my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.
Here was a real leader. He hadn't come from the White House; he had come from Krsna. I began coming by and hearing his lectures, and it didn't matter who was president or whether they taxed me or ran me out of gasoline or inflated me or depressed me or blew me up with a bomb. I had a real leader, and I was going back to Godhead. He was the first one to give me real philosophy and a perfect example in his own life. He taught from a book of transcendental knowledge, the Bhagavad-gita, about the real, eternal self and the purpose of life in love of Godhead. I had never received that from anyone, neither father, priests, nor presidents. It was the mercy of Srila Prabhupada that he came to New York City when I was living there looking for answers and not finding them. I became his student and wanted to take up his mission of spreading Krsna consciousness to my countrymen.
I remember chanting Hare Krsna with a large group of devotees outside Madison Square Garden. It was the scene of the 1976 Democratic National Convention. A political folk singer was singing, "Vote nobody for president," over an outdoor public-address system, while inside the Garden Jimmy Carter was receiving his party's nomination. A reporter approached me and asked what was the Krsna conscious viewpoint of the presidential election. I told him that a true leader must be Krsna conscious—God conscious. I explained that it was not sufficient that the president belong nominally to a particular religious organization, but that he should be prepared to enact practical policy based on realization of the Supreme Being as the controller and proprietor of everything in the universe. The reporter was interviewing me merely as a sidelight to his coverage of the Democratic Convention, and I thought it unfortunate that the Vedic knowledge was being taken less seriously than the speculations of the politicans. But at least I was speaking the truth, by the grace of Srila Prabhupada.
So here it is, another election year and still no hope for a really God conscious leader. And if the people persist in being led around by their hedonism and sectarian attachments and thus pick unqualified leaders, they will have only themselves to blame for the ensuing cataclysm. But if, being dissatisfied with all other alternatives, people realize that the planet belongs to God, then they may elect a real leader who knows how to rule according to the dictates of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Of course, you don't have to wait for the majority to elect such a leader. If you are tired of being cheated, you can seek out a bona fide spiritual master by taking direction from authentic sources like the Vedic scriptures. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated, "One who cannot deliver his dependents from repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, or a leader of the people, or even a father or a husband." A misled nation may not be able to elect a qualified leader, but an individual can still save himself by sincerely and determinedly seeking to find the truth. There is higher knowledge than that delivered by our political systems. There are real leaders.—SDG