A lecture by
ajo 'pi sann avyayatma
"Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all- sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original, transcendental form." [Bhagavad-gita 4.6]
Krsna is unborn, and we are also unborn, but the difference is that unlike the Lord we have been entangled in a material body. Therefore we cannot keep our position as unborn, but have to take birth and transmigrate from one body to another, with no guarantee of what kind of body we shall receive next, Even in this life, we are obliged to accept one body after another. A child gives up his childhood body and accepts the body of a boy, and the boy gives up his boyhood body to accept a youthful body, which he then gives up for an old body. Therefore it is natural to conclude that when one gives up one's old body, one will have to accept another body; again one will accept the body of a child.
This is a natural cycle of this material world. It is similar to changes of season. After spring comes summer, and after summer comes fall and then winter, and 'then spring again. Similarly, after day comes night, and after night comes day. And just as these cyclic changes take place one after another, we change from one body to another, and it is natural to conclude that after leaving the present body we shall recieve another body (bhutva bhutva praliyate).
This conclusion is very logical, it is supported by, the sastra, the Vedic literature, and it is also affirmed by the greatest authority, Krsna Himself. Therefore why should we not accept it? If one does not accept this—if one thinks that there is no life after death—one is foolish.
There is life after death; and there is also the chance to free oneself from the cycle of repeated birth and death and attain a life of immortality. But because we have been accustomed to accepting one body after another since time immemorial, it is difficult for us to think of a life that is eternal. And the life of material existence is so troublesome that one may think that if there is an eternal life, that life must be troublesome also. For example, a diseased man who is taking very bitter medicine and who is lying down in bed, eating there and passing stool and urine there, unable to move, may find his life so intolerable that he thinks, "Let me commit suicide." Similarly, materialistic life is so miserable that in desperation one sometimes takes to a philosophy of voidism or impersonalism to try to negate his very existence and make everything zero. Actually, however, becoming zero is not possible, nor is it necessary. We are in trouble in our material condition, but when we get out of our material condition we can find real life, eternal life.
Because we are part and parcel of Krsna, who is aja, beyond birth and death, we are also aja. How could we be otherwise? If my father is happy and I am the son of my father, why should I be unhappy? I can naturally conclude that I shall enjoy my father's property just as my father is enjoying it. Similarly, God, Krsna, is all-powerful; all-beautiful, all-knowledgeable, and complete in everything, and although I may not be complete, I am part and parcel of God, and therefore I have all the qualities of God to a partial extent.
God does not die, so I also shall not die. That is my position. That is explained in Bhagavad-gita (2.20): na jayate mriyate va kadacit. Describing the soul, Krsna says; that the soul is never born (na jayate), and if one is not born how can he die? There is no question of death (mriyate va). Death is for one who has taken birth, and if one has no birth he can also have no death.
Unfortunately, however, we do not know this. We are conducting scientific research, but we do not know that every, living entity is a spiritual soul, with no birth and no death. This is our ignorance. The soul is eternal, everlasting, and primeval (nityah sasvato 'yam purano). The soul does not die with the annihilation of the body (na hanyate hanyamane sarire): But although the soul does not die, it accepts another body, and this is called bhava-roga, the material disease.
Since Krsna is the supreme living entity (nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam), we are exactly like Krsna, the difference being that Krsna is vibhu, unlimited, whereas we are anu, limited. Qualitatively, we areas good as Krsna. Therefore whatever propensities Krsna has, we have also. For example, Krsna has the propensity to love someone of the opposite sex, and therefore we have this same propensity. The beginning of love is present in the eternal love between Radha and Krsna. We are also seeking eternal love, but because we are conditioned by the material laws, our love is interrupted. But if we can transcend this interruption, we can take part in loving affairs similar to those of Krsna and Radharani. So our aim should be to go back home, back to Krsna, because since Krsna is eternal, we shall there receive an eternal body.
Although Krsna is eternal, or unborn, it is sometimes said that He takes birth. But although Krsna takes birth, His birth is not like ours. That we should know. The Lord says in Bhagavad-gita (4.9):
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."
It is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam that when Krsna first appeared, He did not take birth from the womb of Devaki; rather, He first appeared in the majestic four-armed form of Visnu, and then He became a small child on Devaki's lap. Therefore Krsna's birth is transcendental, whereas our birth takes place by force, by the laws of nature. Krsna is not under the laws of nature; the laws of nature work under Him (mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram). Prakrti, nature, works under the order of Krsna, and we work under the order of nature. Krsna is the master of nature, and we are servants of nature. So it may appear that He has taken birth just like us, but in fact He has not.. Only foolish persons say that He has taken birth like an ordinary human being. Krsna confirms this in Bhagavad-gita (9.11), avajananti mam mudha manusim tanum asritam: "Because I have appeared just like a human being, those who are rascals think that I am also just like an ordinary human." Param bhavam ajanantah: "They do not know the mystery behind God's taking birth like a human being."
Krsna is everywhere. The Lord is situated in everyone's heart (isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati). And since He is within us and is all-powerful, why should it be difficult for Him to appear before us? When the great devotee Dhruva Maharaja was engaged in meditation on the four-handed form of Visnu, all of a sudden his meditation broke, and he immediately saw before him the same form upon which he had been meditating. Was it very difficult for Krsna to appear in this way? Of course not. Similarly it was not difficult for Him to appear before Devaki in the same four-handed form. Therefore Krsna says, janma karma ca me divyam: ''One must 'understand My transcendental birth and activities."
But why should Krsna perform the pastime of taking birth? To glorify those who are very pious and very much advanced in spiritual understanding. Krsna comes as the son of Devaki to glorify His devotee Devaki. Krsna becomes the son of Yasoda to glorify Yasoda. Similarly, Krsna appears in the dynasty of Maharaja Yadu, His great devotee, just to glorify Maharaja Yadu. Thus Krsna is still known as Yadava, the descendant of Maharaja Yadu. Krsna has no obligation to take His birth in a particular family' or country, but He takes birth to glorify a certain person or a certain family because of their devotion. Therefore His birth is called divyam, transcendental.
The Lord is not obliged to take birth, but we are, obliged to do so. That is the distinction between our birth and the birth of Krsna. If by our karma, or activities, we are fit to take birth in a good family in human society or demigod society, we shall do so, but if our activities are low like those of animals, we shall have to take birth in a family of animals. That is the force of karma. Karmana daiva-netrena jantor dehopapattaye (Bhag. 3.31.1). We develop a certain type of body according to our karma.
The human form of life is meant for understanding the Supreme, the Absolute Truth (athato brahma-jijnasa). But if, we do not endeavor for this, if we misuse this opportunity and simply remain like animals, we shall return to an animal form of life. Therefore the Krsna consciousness movement is trying to save people from going down to animal life.
The appearance of Lord Krsna is compared to the growth of sandalwood trees in the Malaya Hills (malayasyeva candanam). There are two Malayas—the Malaya Hills and the part of the world now known as Malaysia. The candana tree, or sandalwood tree, can grow anywhere—there is no rule that it has to grow in Malaysia or the Malaya Hills—but because this sandalwood grows in large quantities in those parts of the world, it is known as malaya-candana. In the Western countries there is scented water known as eau de cologne: It can be manufactured anywhere, but because it was originally manufactured in the city of Cologne, it is known as eau de cologne. Similarly, sandalwood can grow anywhere, but because it was originally very prominent in Malaysia and the Malaya Hills, it is known as Malayan sandalwood.
Because India is a tropical country and sandalwood is very cooling, people in India use sandalwood pulp as a cosmetic. Even now, during the very warm days of the summer season, those who can afford to do so apply sandalwood pulp to their bodies and feel cool all day. In India it was the system that after bathing and sanctifying the body by applying marks of tilaka, one would offer obeisances to the Deity, take some candana-prasada from the room of the Deity, and apply it as a cosmetic to the body. This was called prasadhanam. But it is said that in the Kali-yuga, the present age, snanam eva prasadhanam (Bhag. 12.2.5): if one can even bathe nicely, that is prasadhana. In India even the poorest man will take an early morning bath every day, but when I came to America I saw that even taking one's daily bath maybe a difficult thing and is often not the practice. In India we are accustomed to see people bathe thrice in a day, but in New York I have seen that one may have to go to a friend's house to bathe because one may not have facilities to do so at home. These are symptoms of Kali-yuga. Snanam eva prasadhanam. In the Kali-yuga it will be very difficult even to take a bath.
Another symptom of Kali-yuga is daksyam kutumba-bharanam (Bhag. 12.2.7): one will be famous for his pious activities simply if he can maintain his family. The word daksyam, meaning "famous for pious activities," comes from daksa, which means "expert." In Kali-yuga one will be considered expert if he can maintain a family consisting of himself, his wife, and one or two children. In India, of course, the traditional family is the joint family, consisting of a man and his wife, their parents and children, their in-laws, and so on. But in Kali-yuga it will be difficult to maintain a simple family of oneself, one's wife, and a few children. When I was living in New York, among the people coming to our classes was an old lady who had a grown son. I asked her, "Why doesn't your son get married?" She replied, "Yes, he can marry when he can maintain a family." I did not know that maintaining a family was such a difficult job here. But this is described in the Bhagavatam: if one can maintain a family, he will be considered a very glorious man, and if a girl has a husband she will be considered very fortunate.
It is not our business to criticize, but the symptoms of Kali-yuga are very severe. The duration of Kali-yuga is 432,000 years, and although only 5,000 years of it have passed, already we find so many difficulties, and the more we grow into this Kali-yuga, the more the times will be difficult. The best course, therefore, is to complete our Krsna consciousness and return home, back to Godhead. That will save us. Otherwise, if we come back again for another life in Kali-yuga, we shall find difficult days ahead, and we shall have to suffer more and more.
The British derided the roughly carved form of Lord Jagannatha as He rode on His Chariot in Puri, but a century later that same form would with the worship of thousands of Westerners...
by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
RAVINDRA SVARUPA DASA holds a doctorate in religion from Temple University, Philadelphia. He has been a devotee of Krsna for nine years.
Few things seemed more expressive of heathen idolatry to British missionaries in India than the annual chariot festival at Jagannatha Puri in Orissa. When the three great forms of Jagannatha (Krsna, "Lord of the Universe"), Balarama (His first expansion), and Subhadra (His spiritual energy) were pulled on towering chariots mobbed by ecstatically chanting devotees, missionary outrage knew no bounds. Published reports from the last century evince an utter inability to comprehend the spectacle. Jagannatha is denounced as "the Moloch of Hindoostan:" with "a frightful visage painted black, with a distended mouth of a bloody color." The European failure to understand Jagannatha naturally placed the onus on the Indians: the parade of Jagannatha was simply an instance of the cultural inferiority of Indians, an example of primitive idol worship in all its pomp and savage ostentation, to be expected in India, "where the benighted Hindu," as one hymn put it, "bows down to wood and stone."
The British Empire has vanished, while the festival at Puri goes on. What is more, Lord Jagannatha now yearly rides His huge chariot through the streets of New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, and many more cities. Thousands of Westerners turn out to throng about the chariots. The times have changed; Jagannatha has prevailed. The triumph of Jagannatha means at least that the worship of the deity, once so incomprehensible to Westerners, has become intelligible and important to many of us. It has transcended mundane cultural differences and become the focus of a universal spiritual culture in its own right.
I want to tell you how Lord Jagannatha came into my own life, how I came to understand and indeed to worship Him as God Himself. Even though you may not embrace such worship yourself, you might like to understand why some of us do. The coming of Jagannatha to the West is arguably one of the significant cultural events of our time, and anyone who wants to understand these times will have to understand how Jagannatha came to be pulled down Fifth Avenue. My own story is part of that history.
I can see how the physical appearance of the deities of Jagannatha Puri could lead some to a superficial apprehension of them as "heathen idols." Krsna Himself is usually shown in His eternal, spiritual, two-handed humanlike form. (Precisely speaking, our human form is Krsnalike.) But in the form of Jagannatha, Krsna appears somewhat stylized or abstract, like a work of primitive art. His body is rounded, without visible legs. His two arms come sraight out at you, and His hands are indicated only by the outline of a discus on the end of one arm and of a conch on the other; these are emblems of divinity held by the Lord. His large countenance is jet black, and He has huge and perfectly round white eyes that stare at you intently. His wide red mouth is drawn up in a mirthful smile. Balarama, who is Krsna's first expansion and who appeared historically with Krsna as His older brother, is slightly larger. His complexion is pure white, and His red-rimmed eyes are shaped like teardrops. Balarama is smiling in delight. The deity of Subhadra, Krsna's spiritual potency and, historically, His sister, is yellow complexioned. Her arms are not visible at all. Her eyes are like Balarama's, and she is smiling almost mischievously from her place between her two larger brothers. All three fix their gaze on you with the round black centers of their wide eyes.
It is said that King Indradyumna first commissioned these three deities, and engaged Visvakarma, the architect of the demigods, to carve them. The impatient king took a peek at the work before the sculptor was finished, thus breaking his promise. Angered, Visvakarma walked off the job, and Indradyumna installed the deities as they were. We understand, however, that Krsna intended to appear in these particular forms; there was no happenstance. A person with spiritual vision can see that the deity of Jagannatha is nondifferent from Krsna Himself. A devotee once asked Srila Prabhupada (who introduced the authorized process of deity worship to the West) why Jagannatha looked different from Krsna. "Oh?" Srila Prabhupada replied. He looks different?"
The deity of Krsna is a form of Krsna Himself, and this is directly perceived by an advanced devotee. The appearance of Krsna as the deity is, however, especially intended for those of us who are not so advanced, who do not have the purified vision to see directly the spiritual form of God. God is not wood or stone: He is spirit. But He is capable of appearing as wood or as stone. Since we can see or touch only wood and stone, God, out of mercy to us, appears so that we can see and serve Him personally. For God there is no problem in turning matter into spirit and spirit into matter. The authorized worship of the deity is thus quite different from the worship of idols, of manmade surrogates for God. I will return to this point later.
I came into personal contact with Lord Jagannatha in the summer of 1968, some time before I met His devotees, who revealed His identity to me. I had just finished my first year of graduate work in religion. My study of religion was far from academic. I had come to view the historic collapse of value and meaning in Western civilization as an immense threat not only to our culture but to me personally. Religion had been on the retreat for at least five hundred years, and all attempts to construct secular substitutes had failed. I saw that most sensitive, intelligent people held no convictions at all, while those who believed did so with a fanaticism that exposed their convictions as a desperate defense against the terror of their own bottomless nihilism. I needed options other than these. I had decided to study religion especially to see if any solutions were available outside contemporary Western culture.
That year I had learned Hinduism from a scholarly swami of the impersonalistic or monistic school; I found his teachings attractive. He taught that the highest truth, called "Brahman" in the Vedas, was "the negation of all attributes or relationships." If we can destroy the illusion of multiplicity, we will realize our identity with Brahman and be liberated.
The characterization of "Brahman" by thoroughgoing negations was plausible to me, since it was cognitively no different from the atheistic or nihilistic view of reality I already held. To think that there is nothing beyond the world and to think that beyond the world is "Brahman," without relations or qualities, is practically the same. The latter idea, however, occurs in a context that promises ultimate liberation from the world.
We also learned about karma-yoga and bhakti-yoga as means to attain impersonal liberation. Bhakti was the worship of God in a personal form, a worship that ultimately ends, according to my teacher, when the aspirant realizes that the difference between himself and God is illusory. And that summer I tried practically to apply the swami's teachings about karma-yoga.
During the summer I worked in a tin-can factory in Salem, Oregon; my wife and I were visiting her family there. The pay was good, the work hellish. Our ears plugged against the din, we crawled like ants around the sprawling body of a roaring assembly line that devoured sheets of metal at one end and spewed out endless racks of finished cans at the other. Serving the machine like a robot, moving without letup at the machine's pace in a fixed mechanical routine, I tried to apply the "yoga of work" as taught by the swami.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that we should perform our work as an offering to Him by surrendering the fruits of our work to Him. This means practically I should give the fruit of my work—my earnings—to Krsna's representative, the devotee, for him to use in Krsna's service by preaching, temple worship, and so on. That is how we can perform our work for God without attachment: we give the results to Him.
This straightforward understanding of the Gita, however, was not available to the swami, since, according to him, we ourselves are God. To keep the money for ourselves is to give it to God. The swami had to propound a more convoluted doctrine. He taught that karma-yoga entailed a sort of conceptual renunciation, trying to become unattached to the fruits of our labor by a mental act, while, all the same, we enjoy them. To do this, the swami said, you should try not to think about the results of your work while you are working: you should try to work for the sake of the work itself. You should merge yourself totally into your work, become lost in it. So, day after day, I tried to merge into the tin-can factory, to become absorbed with all my might in the endless repetition of a mindless routine. But I felt no liberation, no ecstasy. The only joy I could take in the work was getting the paycheck at week's end.
Yet in spite of my bad instruction in karma-yoga, there may have been something sincere in my efforts, for as it turned out, part of the fruit of my work did become used (without my knowledge) for Krsna. Krsna says in the Gita that He is in the heart of every creature, and when He sees in one a sincere desire to return to Him, He makes the proper arrangements.
At the end of summer my wife and I visited a famous import plaza in Portland, where we wandered for hours, making a few purchases with the summer's savings. As we were preparing to leave, I happened upon a large cardboard box filled with carved figures six inches high; some were black, some white, and some yellow.
I stopped and picked one up, staring in wonder at its glowing black face; its wide round eyes looked back into mine. I examined each figure in amazement. They seemed to be primitive works of art, and yet they achieved an effect so sophisticated it contrasted startlingly with the apparent crudeness of execution. The faces of the figures, with their intensely staring eyes and their broad smiles, exquisitely combined profound wisdom and spontaneous joy. The unity was fascinating, and I remember thinking how unfathomable was the mentality that had produced these figures.
Having only enough money left to purchase one of them, I stood before the box, picking up one and then another. When we left, I was carrying Lord Balarama home with me.
"One cannot attain the Supreme or any form of self-realization." Srila Prabhupada writes in Krsna. "without being sufficiently favored by Balarama. One must have the spiritual strength which is infused by Balarama. Balarama is spiritual power, or the original spiritual master. And the spiritual master is the representative of Balarama, who gives spiritual strength."
Not knowing the identity of my figure, not even knowing that He was somewhere an object of worship, I placed Him on the shelf over my desk in Philadelphia, where for the next two semesters He watched over my labors, my speculative struggles to find some transcendent purpose to my life. His face, which so extraordinarily fused knowledge and bliss, never lost its fascination.
It was the height of the social warfare of the sixties. I belonged to both sides and equally mistrusted both. I attended classes, read books, wrote papers, even taught courses, but I saw no future for me in the academic establishment. ("Twenty years of schooling and they put you on the day shift," Bob Dylan wisely warned.) My friends belonged to what came to be called the counterculture. In the evenings we would sit together seeking pharmacological liberation, watching reality crumble. Sweet anarchy sang to us from the streets. We waited for the end, that apocalypse just around the corner, which for some reason never came. The most evident disintegration was taking place in the relationships and in the personalities of the people about me: there was no future in it.
I delved into the world's religions, toiled over books while my white-faced figure smiled down. I concluded that year that some essential teaching of all religion had been succinctly captured by the Buddha in three propositions. The first was that material existence is suffering. Some people never see this; to me it was excruciatingly obvious. The second proposition was that the root cause of this suffering is our cravings, our desires. I accepted this on the testimony of the Buddha and many other spiritual authorities from different traditions: it made a great deal of sense to me. Consequently, I accepted the third proposition: freedom or release from suffering is attained by extirpation of these desires.
As I became increasingly convinced of these things, I also became more and more aware that the life I was leading was wrapping me tighter and tighter in the skein of desires. Both the counterculture and the establishment were dedicated to the satisfaction of material desires; the whole disagreement was in the method to achieve it. Whether indigenous or imported, all the religions with which I had had personal contact had also accommodated themselves to the same enterprise. No help or even encouragement would ever come from these quarters. Yet by myself I was utterly unable to control my senses. I wanted to extirpate all material cravings and attachments, yet I couldn't even quit smoking cigarettes.
Whatever illusions I retained about the possibilities of material life were completely shattered in the fall, when my brother Bob, two years my junior, was killed on the highways. Death shed its abstractness and lived with me with the vivid immediacy of another person. And beneath all the turmoil of grief, I began to gain the hard kernel of a dreadful, awesome clarity. I saw that we live our ordinary lives only by virtue of a frenetic denial of death. The close proximity of death released me from the desperate charade so necessary to our ordinary life: the denial of mortality that makes confidence men of us all. I saw how we waste our spirit in elaborate self-deceptions, in the endless barren labor of a fake consciousness. Yet I knew that in time these deceptions would grow back. We require our lies. We must pretend not to see the slaughter all around us, the knife at our throats. Consciousness would destroy our paradise. I realized that the only means to a consciousness free of illusion and self-deception lay in becoming genuinely unattached to material existence. After the death of my brother, my desire for release became intense and urgent.
That same fall, when crossing campus on the way to class, I saw for the first time a row of saffron-robed Krsna devotees chanting. It intrigued me that the missionary effort was now coming this way. The next time I saw them, I purchased a pamphlet called Who Is Crazy? I gave it a quick reading and couldn't make much of it. Soon after that, a friend dropped by with news of something new in town, something really "far out": a Hare Krsna "love feast." He had never been to anything more far out. He came Sunday to take us. I had to be coaxed; I hated to disturb the languor of my Sundays.
We parked on a drab street of tightly packed row houses, went up some broken steps, left our shoes on a sagging porch, and when the door opened walked into dazzling splendor and overwhelming beauty. That was my immediate impression. Looking back, I realize that the temple then was rather makeshift and barren: a few pictures on the wall, a tacked-together altar against the front window. Still, the air was thick with heady incense and the pungency of exotic spices cooking; the throbbing chant of the Hare Krsna mantra came from the temple room, where a press of bodies, hands upraised, swayed to the music. We chanted, heard a lecture, feasted. My senses were overwhelmed by the density of stimuli put out by this utterly strange environment; every item of the feast exploded against my palate like a small revelation.
I never heard anything as welcome as the lecture after the chanting. The devotee spoke very strongly about the need to become free from material desires. He laid down four regulative principles, the pillars of spiritual life: no meat-eating, no intoxication, no illicit sex, no gambling. I know that many people who hear this in a Krsna temple are put off. I was attracted at once. At last, I thought, someone is willing to tell the truth.
Then the devotee began to explain how the control of the senses was practically possible. Mere negation or suppression of material desire, he said, will not work. The senses require engagement: if you try to stop the material activities of your senses without replacing those activities with something superior, you will quickly fall down. But if you give your senses superior spiritual engagement, your material activities will naturally cease, and you will remain fixed in consciousness. Spiritual life, he said, begins with control of the tongue: eating for sense gratification and talking of material things bind us firmly to material existence. Of course, it is virtually impossible to stop eating or talking. But if we eat only the spiritual food offered to Krsna and chant and talk only about Krsna, then our senses have spiritual engagement and automatically cease their material activities. Similarly, the devotee explained, all the other senses can be engaged in the spiritual activity of devotional service.
For the first time I had heard a reasonable account of how to become free from material desires. The devotee had, as if talking directly to me, explained my own failure and told me how to succeed. The lecture was so sensible, and the devotees and their temple were so attractive, that I began that week to chant Hare Krsna, and I returned to the temple next Sunday with enthusiasm.
If I had realized how coherent the philosophy of Krsna consciousness was, I might have been able to deduce from the lecture on sense control that it was integral with an extremely personal conception of God. Without such a conception, the idea of "spiritual activity" or "transcendental engagement of the senses" becomes meaningless. If God has no name, form, or qualities, how can we talk about Him? If He is not an individual person, how can we serve Him? If the impersonalists are right, then chanting and hearing about Krsna or serving Krsna are material activities, and they would not purify our senses and gradually uproot our material desires.
I naturally assumed, however, that the devotees were impersonalists like me. They were speaking strongly to the contrary, but it took some exposure for their words to penetrate the barrier of my own impersonalism. Their conception of God, of Krsna, was so concrete, so specific in its detail, that I assumed it had to be taken as a symbol or qualified in some other way. Krsna's luminous blue complexion, the peacock feather on His fine black hair, the silver flute raised to the smiling lips—surely these were material images, at best a manifestation in the world of time and space of something originally unmanifest, before which all words and images must fail. If we brought such words and images to the Supreme, then wouldn't we be limiting it by our mundane conceptions?
All my preconceptions were destroyed, however, when at the love feast I overheard a devotee say to someone: "Oh, no, you don't understand. Krsna is beyond that light! The clear light is emanating from the transcendental body of Krsna!" Instantly, all the different pieces of the Krsna conscious philosophy I had heard came together coherently. And in my mind the conceptual edifice of impersonal philosophy came crashing down as though someone had put a bomb under it.
The devotees presented a powerful case. I had thought that a personal conception would have limited the Supreme, but I found their arguments that the impersonal conception was the most limiting of all to be completely persuasive. For what is the difference between God defined completely by negations and no God at all? (I recalled the ease with which I had passed from nihilism to impersonalism.) What is great about a big zero? It is the impersonalists, the devotees argued, who impose their material conceptions on the Supreme, not the personalists. The impersonalists assume that if God has form, it must be a material form like ours; if He has activities and qualities, they must be material activities and qualities. Upon hearing about God's name, form, qualities, and activities, the impersonalists immediately limit Him by thinking of them as material. Therefore, they deny all these attributes and reduce God down to a nullity. Because they are enmeshed in the material conception of life, they cannot comprehend that there can be spiritual name, spiritual form, spiritual qualities, and spiritual activities. The devotees of God accept such transcendental variegatedness. They admit that God has an impersonal feature, but they affirm that He also possesses, beyond that, an eternal personal feature of transcendental name, form, qualities, and activities full of bliss and knowledge. In this way, there are no limits placed upon the Supreme. Specific form does not limit God, for He has unlimited transcendental forms (but of all such forms, that of Krsna is the highest).
I found these arguments unassailable. True, it was still amazing to think that God was, in His highest feature, a bluish youth, tending cows in His spiritual abode—but then, on the other hand, shouldn't God be amazing, the most amazing of all?
The detailed artistic depictions of Krsna I saw in the temple were more than just accurate representations of Him; they were nondifferent from Him. This was a feature of His absolute or spiritual nature. Krsna, the devotees explained, is absolute, or nondual. The variety of the spiritual world is not affected by the duality that characterizes material variety. When, for example, I say the word water, it doesn't quench my thirst, because in the world of duality the object and its name are different. But in the spiritual world there is no such duality. I say "Krsna" and Krsna is fully present. As He is fully present in His name, Krsna is also fully present in His picture or statue. Because of such nonduality, we can associate with Krsna directly through His name, or through the deity, and we become purified by that association. (I knew this to be factually true: after a few weeks of chanting, I was beginning to give up my bad habits; the clamor of material desire was subsiding.)
Thus, the deity worship of the Krsna devotees, as witnessed with such distress by the foreign missionaries at Puri, is based on a cogent and powerful philosophy of personalism, one which, I became convinced, far excels any religious philosophy produced in the West. At the root of the missionaries* failure to understand the worship of Jagannatha was their own deep impersonalism. For even though Christianity claims to be a personal religion, it has become undermined by impersonal speculation. If you ask a Christian to describe God, he will generally be able to give you only a concatenation of abstractions, which he will then qualify by saying that they do not literally apply to God. What little he gives with one hand, he takes away with the other. As the great Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas confessed—"We cannot know what God is, but only what He is not." If this is so, then how can we love God, a cipher, an unknown? There can be no spiritual engagement for the mind and the senses, only denials and barren abnegations, and then an inevitable return to material activities in frustration. This is the tragedy of Western spirituality.
The full import of the philosophy of personalism came to me gradually. I studied the books of Srila Prabhupada with close attention, and one by one tested all his arguments until I was fully satisfied of their soundness. But at the same time, I could feel the effects of chanting as a direct experiential confirmation. And on my third or fourth visit to the temple, something extraordinary happened.
During the chanting, my eyes roamed about the temple. I was only beginning to take in all that was there. Suddenly I saw, high over the altar, something that stopped me cold. There, looking down at me, was an intimately familiar face: the same pure white complexion, those same intense eyes, that same wide smile. It was a larger version of the figure who had stood for so long over my desk. I was so shaken I could hardly eat. As soon as I could, I sought out the temple president.
"Who is that figure over the altar—the white one?" I asked him with great trepidation.
"That's Lord Balarama," he said. "He's Krsna's brother. He's Krsna's first expansion and is nondifferent from Krsna."
"The black one is Krsna?"
"The black one is Krsna, and the white one is Balarama."
I had to tell him.
"Look." I said, "I don't know what to do about this. But the white one—"
"Balarama. I have Him at home."
The devotee looked at me.
"Really. I have Him at my house. I got Him at an import plaza a couple of years ago ... What should I do with Him?"
"Worship Him," the devotee said immediately.
So when I got home, I took Lord Balarama down and dusted Him off. I got some cloth and made a place in my living room for Him. I began to offer Him incense, and I would sit and chant in front of Him.
It was impossible to persuade myself that there was merely a coincidence here. It amazed me each time to look upon that face which had attracted me for so long, whose mystery I had tried so often to fathom, and now to know that it was in fact the face of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Balarama had led me to Krsna consciousness. A devotee had told me that by the grace of Krsna you get a spiritual master, and by the grace of the spiritual master you get Krsna. I didn't doubt that at all.
A year later, my wife and I and our two children moved into the Krsna temple. By the summer of 1972, when I was president of the Philadelphia temple, by the kindness of Srila Prabhupada I was able to install in the temple large and gravely beautiful deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra and to take them out through downtown Philadelphia in the first chariot festival on the East Coast of America.
I wanted to give you a personal glimpse into a small part of a large story of the coming of Jagannatha to America. You can see many elements at work: the frustration of material life, the pressures of a turbulent time, even an intellectual confrontation between personal and impersonal theology. Many elements were at work, but there is one thing that should not be overlooked. Krsna Himself—in the forms of the Jagannatha deities—was there for me to take. He had arrived on these shores coincidentally with His pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada. Jagannatha came to the West of His own accord, because He wanted to. Because we were at long last ready for Him.
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
After a year long struggle, Srila Prabhupada's mission of transplanting Krsna consciousness from India to America won its first dedicated supporters.
In Keith Prabhupada had a serious follower. Within a week of their meeting Keith had moved out of the Mott Street apartment and was living with Prabhupada. He still dressed ill his ragged denim shorts and T-shirt, but he began to do all the Swami's shopping and cooking. While in India, Keith had learned some of etiquette of reverence toward a holy man and the principles of discipleship. His friends watched him curiously as he dedicated himself to the Swami.
Keith: I saw that he was cooking, so I asked if I could help. And he was very happy at the suggestion. He showed me how to make capatis without a rolling pin by pressing out the dough with your fingers. Every day we would make capatis, rice, dal, and curries.
So Keith became the dependable cook and housekeeper in Prabhupada's apartment. Meanwhile, at the Mott Street apartment, the boys' favorite topic for discussion was their relationship with the Swami. Everyone thought it was a serious relationship. They knew Swamiji was guru. And when they heard that he would he giving daily classes at 6 a.m. up in his apartment, they were eager to attend.
Keith: I used to walk along the Bowery and look for flowers for him. When there were no flowers, I would take a straw or some grass. I loved going over there in the morning.
Chuck: I brought a few grapes and came to the Swami's door. This was all new. Previously I would always walk toward McDougall Street, toward Bohemia, aesthetic New York—and now I walked to the Lower East Side toward the business district, where there were no artists or musicians, but simply straight buildings. And somehow, outside the carnival atmosphere, there was the richest attraction for the senses and the heart.
Howard: I would walk very briskly over to Swamiji's, chanting Hare Krsna, feeling better than ever before. Miraculously, the Lower East Side no longer looked drab. The sidewalks and buildings seemed to sparkle, and in the early morning before the smog set in, the sky was red and golden.
Chuck: I came into the hall of his building, and there were many, many names printed on plaques over the mail-boxes. I immediately found the name. "A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami," handwritten on a slip of torn paper, slipped into one of the slots. I rang the buzzer and waited. After a few moments, the door buzzed loudly, and I entered through the security lock. I walked through the small garden into the rear building and upstairs.
Prabhupada held his classes for almost two months in the privacy of his room, the same room where he typed and talked to guests. To Keith it was not simply a class in philosophy but a mystical experience of sweetness.
Keith: The sound of his voice, the sun coming up . . . we'd chant for a few minutes, softly clapping hands, and Swamiji would speak. The thing that got me most was simply the sound of his voice, especially while he was chanting Sanskrit. It was like music.
So as not to disturb the neighbors, Prabhupada would say, "Chant softly," and he asked the boys to clap softly, so softly that their hands barely touched. Then he would chant the prayers to the spiritual master: samsara-davanala-lidha-loka. "The spiritual master is receiving benediction from the ocean of mercy. Just as a cloud pours water on a forest fire to extinguish it, so the spiritual master extinguishes the blazing fire of material existence." With his eyes closed, he sat singing softly in the dim morning light. The few who attended—Keith, Howard, Chuck, Steve, Wally—sat entranced. Never before had the Swami been so appreciated.
Chuck: The Swami was sitting there, and in the mornings he would look not shiny and brilliant, but very withdrawn. He looked as if he could sit like a stone maybe forever. His eyes were only two tiny slits of glistening light. He took out his cymbals and played lightly on the edge—one, two, three—and he began to sing in a deep voice that was almost atonal in its intervals. It was a melody-monotone that did not express happiness or sadness. We chanted along with him as best we could, but several times Swamiji stopped and said, "Softly." After about thirty minutes of chanting, we stopped. Then he opened his eyes wider and said, "We must chant softly, because sometimes the neighbors are complaining."
After singing, the Swami would give one of the boys a copy of Dr. Radhakrishnan's edition of Bhagavad-gita to read aloud from. He would correct their mispronunciations and then explain each verse. Because only a few people were present, there was always ample time for everyone to discuss the philosophy.
Steve: Swamiji mentioned that mangoes were the king of all fruits, and he even mentioned that they were not easily available in this country. It occurred to me that I could bring him mangoes. There was a store on First Avenue that always kept a stock of fresh mangoes in the cooler. I began a regular habit. Every day after getting off work, I would purchase one nice mango and bring it to Swamiji.
Wally: Some of the boys would say, "I'm doing this for the Swami. "So I went to him and said, "Is there something I can do for you?" So he told me I could take notes in his class.
The boys were sure that their service to Swamiji was spiritual, devotional service. By serving the spiritual master, who was a representative of Krsna, you were serving Krsna directly.
One morning Prabhupada told Howard that he needed help in spreading the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. Howard wanted to help, so he offered to type the Swami's manuscripts of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Howard: The first words of the first verse read, "O the King." And naturally I wondered whether "O" was the king's name and "the king" stood in apposition. After some time I figured out that "O king" was intended instead. I didn't make the correction without his permission. "Yes, " he said, "change it then." I began to point out a few changes and inform him that if he wanted I could make corrections, that I had a master's in English and taught last year at Ohio State. "Oh, yes," Swamiji said. "Do it. Put it nicely. "
He was giving them the idea of devotional service. "A devotee may not be perfect at first," he said. "but if he is engaged in service, once that service has begun he can be purified. Service is always there, in the material world or the spiritual." But service in the material world could not bring satisfaction to the self—only bhakti, purified service, service rendered to Krsna, could do that. And the best way to serve Krsna was to serve the representative of Krsna.
They picked it up quickly. It was something you could do easily: it was not difficult like meditation—it was activity. You did something, but you did it for Krsna. They had seen Swamiji respond to the Bowery bum who had come with a gift of toilet paper. "Just see." Swamiji had said, "he is not in order, but he thought, 'Let me give some service.' " But service had to be done voluntarily, out of love, not by force.
Wally: Swamiji once asked me. "Do you think you could wear the Vaisnava tilaka when you are on the streets?" I said.
"Well. I would feel funny doing it, but if you want me to I will" And Swamiji said. "No. I don't ask you to do anything you don't want to do."
Steve: One day when I brought my daily mango to him he was in his room surrounded by devotees. I gave him my mango and sat down, and he said. "Very good boy. " The way he said it, as if I were just a tiny little boy, made everyone in the room laugh, and I felt foolish. Swamiji, however, then changed their mood by saying, "No. This is actually love. This is Krsna consciousness." And then they didn't laugh.
When Howard first volunteered to do editing, he spent the whole morning working in Swamiji's room. "If there is any more typing:" Howard said, "let me know. I could take it back to Mott Street and type there."
"More? There's lots more." Swamiji said. He opened the closet and pulled out two large bundles of manuscripts tied in saffron cloth. There were thousands of pages, single-spaced manuscripts of Prabhupada's translations of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Howard stood before them, astonished. "It's a lifetime of typing," he said. And Prabhupada smiled and said. "Oh, yes, many lifetimes."
Because of Prabhupada's presence and the words that he spoke there and the kirtanas, everyone was already referring to the storefront as "the temple." But still it was just a bare, squalid storefront. The inspiration to decorate the place came from the Mott Street boys.
Howard, Keith, and Wally devised a scheme to surprise the Swami when he came to the evening kirtana. Wally removed the curtains from their apartment, took them to the laundromat (where they turned the water dark brown from filth), and then dyed them purple. The Mott Street apartment was decorated with posters, paintings, and large decorative silk hangings that Howard and Keith had brought back from India. The boys gathered up all their pictures, tapestries, incense burners, and other paraphernalia and took them, along with the purple curtains, to the storefront, where they began their day of decorating.
At the storefront the boys constructed a wooden platform for Prabhupada to sit on and covered it with old velvet cloth. Behind the platform, on the rear wall between the two windows to the courtyard, they hung the purple curtains, flanked by a pair of orange ones. Against the orange panel, just above Swamiji's sitting place, they hung a large original painting of Radha and Krsna on a circular canvas that James Greene had done. Prabhupada had commissioned James, giving him the dust jacket from his Srimad-Bhagavatam, with its crude Indian drawing, as a model. The figures were somewhat abstract, but the Lower East Side critics who frequented the storefront hailed the work as a wonderful achievement.
Keith and Howard were less confident that Prabhupada would approve of their paintings and prints from India, so they hung them near the street side of the temple, away from Swamiji's seat. One of these prints, well known in India, was of Hanuman carrying a mountain through the sky to Lord Ramacandra. The boys had no idea what kind of being Hanuman was. They thought perhaps he was a cat, because of the shape of his upper lip. Then there was the picture of a male person with six arms—two arms, painted greenish, held a bow and arrow; another pair, bluish, held a flute; and the third pair, golden, held a stick and bowl.
By late afternoon they had covered the sitting platform, hung the curtains, tacked up the decorative silks and prints and hung the paintings, and were decorating the dais with flowers and candlesticks. Someone brought a pillow for Swamiji to sit on and a faded cushion from an overstuffed chair for a backrest.
In addition to the Mott Street cache, Robert Nelson took one of his grandfather's Belgian-style Oriental rugs from his garage in the suburbs and brought it by subway to the storefront. Even Raphael and Don took part in the decorating.
The secret was well kept, and the boys waited to see Swamiji's response. That night, when he walked in to begin the kirtana, he looked at the newly decorated temple (there was even incense burning), and he raised his eyebrows in satisfaction. "You are advancing," he said as he looked around the room, smiling broadly. "Yes." he added, "this is Krsna consciousness." His sudden, happy mood seemed almost like their reward for their earnest labors. He then stepped up onto the platform—while the boys held their breaths, hoping it would be sturdy—and he sat, looking out appreciatively at the devotees and the decorations.
They had pleased him. But he now assumed a feature of extreme gravity, and though they knew he was certainly the same Swamiji, their titterings stuck in their throats, and their happy glances to each other suddenly abated in uncertainty and nervousness. As they regarded Swamiji's gravity, their joy of a few moments before seemed suddenly childish. As a cloud quickly covers the sun like a dark shade, Prabhupada changed his mood from jolly to grave—and they spontaneously resolved to become equally grave and sober. He picked up the karatalas and again smiled a ray of appreciation, and their hearts beamed back.
The temple was still a tiny storefront, with many hidden and unhidden cockroaches, a tilted floor, and poor lighting. But because many of the decorations were from India, it had an authentic atmosphere, especially with Swamiji present on the dais. Now guests who entered were suddenly in a little Indian temple.
Mike Grant: I came one evening, and all of a sudden there were carpets on the floor, pictures on the wall, and paintings. Just all of a sudden it had blossomed and was full of people. I was amazed how in just a matter of days people had brought so many wonderful things. When I came that evening and saw how it had been decorated, then I wasn't so much worried that he was going to make it. I thought it was really beginning to take hold now.
Prabhupada looked at his group of followers. He was moved by their offering him a seat of honor and their attempts at decorating Krsna's storefront. To see a devotee make an offering to Krsna was not new for him. But this was new. In New York, "this horrible place," the seed of bhakti was growing, and naturally, as the gardener of that tender sprout, he was touched by Krsna's mercy. Glancing at the pictures on the wall he said, "Tomorrow I will come look at the pictures and tell you which are good."
The next day, Prabhupada came down to appraise the new artwork on display. One framed watercolor painting was of a man playing a drum while a girl danced. "This one is all right," he said. But another painting of a woman was more mundane, and he said, "No, this painting is not so good." He walked to the back of the temple, followed anxiously by Howard, Keith, and Wally. When he came upon the painting of the six-armed person, he said, "Oh, this is very nice."
"Who is it?" Wally asked.
"This is Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu," Srila Prabhupada replied.
"Why does He have six arms?"
"Because He showed Himself to be both Rama and Krsna. These are the arms of Rama, and these are the arms of Krsna." "What are the other two arms?" Keith asked.
"Those are the arms of a sannyasi."
He went to the next picture, "This is also very nice."
"Who is it?" Howard asked.
"This is Hanuman."
"Is he a cat?"
"No:" Prabhupada replied. "He is a monkey."
Hanuman is glorified in the scripture Ramayana as the valiant, faithful servant of Lord Ramacandra. Millions of Indians worship the incarnation of Lord Rama and His servitor Hanuman, whose exploits are perennially exhibited in theater, cinema, art, and temple worship. In not knowing who Hanuman was, the Mott Street boys were no less ignorant than the old ladies uptown who, when Prabhupada had asked whether any of them had seen a picture of Krsna, had all stared blankly. The Lower East Side mystics didn't know Hanuman from a cat, and they had brought back from their hashish version of India a picture of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu without even knowing who He was. Yet there was an important difference between these boys and the ladies uptown: the boys were serving Swamiji and chanting Hare Krsna. They were through with material life and the middle-class work-reward syndrome. Their hearts had awakened to Swamiji's promise of expanded Krsna consciousness, and they sensed in his personal company something exalted. Like the Bowery bum who had donated toilet paper during Prabhupada's lecture, the Lower East Side boys did not have their minds quite in order, and yet, as Prabhupada saw it, Krsna was guiding them from within their hearts. Prabhupada knew they would change for the better by chanting and hearing about Krsna.
The summer of 1966 moved into August, and Prabhupada kept good health. For him these were happy days. New Yorkers complained of the summer heat waves, but this caused no inconvenience to one accustomed to the 100-degree-plus temperatures of Vrndavana's blazing summers. "It is like India," he said, as he went without a shirt, seeming relaxed and at home. He had thought that in America he would have to subsist on boiled potatoes (otherwise there would be nothing but meat), but here he was happily eating the same rice, dal, and capatis, and cooking on the same three-stacked cooker as in India. Work on the Srimad-Bhagavatam had also gone on regularly since he had moved into the Second Avenue apartment. And now Krsna was bringing these sincere young men who were cooking, typing, hearing him regularly, chanting Hare Krsna, and asking for more.
Prabhupada was still a solitary preacher, free to stay or go, writing his books in his own intimate relationship with Krsna—quite independent of the boys in the storefront. But now he had taken the International Society for Krishna Consciousness as his spiritual child. The inquiring young men, some of whom had already been chanting steadily for over a month, were like stumbling spiritual infants, and he felt responsible for guiding them. They were beginning to consider him their spiritual master, trusting him to lead them into spiritual life. Although they were unable to immediately follow the multifarious rules that brahmanas and Vaisnavas in India followed, he was hopeful. According to Rupa Gosvami the most important principle was that one should "somehow or other" become Krsna conscious. People should chant Hare Krsna and render devotional service. They should engage whatever they had in the service of Krsna. And Prabhupada was exercising this basic principle of Krsna consciousness to the furthest limit the history of Vaisnavism had ever seen.
Although he was engaging the boys in cooking and typing, Prabhupada was not doing any less himself. Rather, for every sincere soul who came forward to serve, a hundred came who wanted not to serve but to challenge. Speaking to them, sometimes shouting and pounding his fists, Prabhupada defended Krsna against the Mayavada philosophy. This was also his service to Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. He had not come to America to retire. So with each new day came yet another confirmation that his work and his followers and his challengers would only increase.
How much he could do was up to Krsna. "I am an old man," he said. "I may go away at any moment." But if he were to "go away" now, certainly Krsna consciousness would also go away, because the Krsna consciousness society was nothing but him: his figure leading the chanting while his head moved back and forth in small motions of ecstasy, his figure walking in and out of the temple through the courtyard or into the apartment, his person sitting down smilingly to discuss philosophy by the hour—he was the sole maintainer of the small, fragile, controlled atmosphere of Krsna consciousness on New York's Lower East Side.
Surviving the 80s
by Drutakarma dasa
In Siberia and in North Dakota, deep below the desolate plains and prairies, the missile crews are waiting. Beneath the oceans glide the nuclear-powered submarines, stocked with their deadly loads of MIRVed warheads. Soviet soldiers in their helicopters, tanks, and troop carriers are roaring into Afghanistan. At Ft. Bragg the airborne battalions are getting restless. And if you look up at the sky at night, you'll see the spy satellites cruising by overhead, seeming to weave in and out of the stars and planets, keeping a lifeless eye on everything.
The forces of time and violence whirl. Destruction starts its slow dance. Who knows where it will all end?
Today at UCLA some students are demonstrating against the draft. A leftist girl grabs the bullhorn and screams to the crowd that the imperialists are creating war hysteria and we've got to stop the bosses' racist war.
"There are seven bills before Congress to start up the draft!" she says. "Don't you see what's happening?"
Now some fraternity boys waving American flags push their way in, and cool, crack media people surge forward like assault troops, so that their mikes and cameras can catch the conflict for the evening news.
The students want to be detached, free to enjoy themselves and develop their careers and potentials. But now they feel themselves being pulled out to sea by the undertow of historical forces. They have to program into their futures the likelihood, however slight, of war, just as they have already programmed recession.
But it's not only the students who are feeling the pinch. The Gallup pollsters recently found that eighty-four percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way things are going. And they are convinced things are going to get worse. In his bestseller How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years, Howard J. Ruff predicts an "international monetary holocaust which will sweep all paper currencies down the drain and turn the world upside down." Tens of thousands of average homeowners and businessmen pay big fees to attend Ruff's survival seminars. And he's not alone. The apocalyptic vision of financial collapse has spawned an entire industry of newsletter writers and purveyors of survival equipment.
People are storing supplies of food and water in their cars, just in case the war or depression breaks out while they're on the way to the supermarket or drive-in. Waterbeds are enjoying renewed popularity, because survivalists have discovered that they are good for storing large amounts of water—up to 225 gallons. Kerosene lamps and wood-burning stoves are selling more than they have since the beginning of the century. And then there are the guns—an advertisement in a gun magazine shows a pretty young lady holding a big semiautomatic rifle and saying, with a smile, "Make love not war, but be prepared for both."
But wait a minute. Is any of this really going to help anyone survive? Ultimately no one survives. After all, each individual must submit to the force of time; he must age and die.
Nobody is going to walk out of this world alive. The Americans, the Russians, the Afghans, the Shah, the President, the Chairman of the Supreme Soviet, the postman—all are going to get zapped one way or another.
And this is why the Vedic sages called the earth Martyaloka, the planet of death. In the West St. Augustine wrote that "our whole life is nothing but a race towards death." Some of us may survive for a few years, but in the end we cannot avoid the common fate, which is truly "as sure as death and taxes."
And what will happen to us as a result of death? We will have to give up everything—home, family, wealth, bank balance, gold, guns, dehydrated food cache, and whatever else we happen to be attached to. As the Supreme Lord says in Bhagavad-gita, mrtyuh sarva-haras caham—"I am all-devouring death." In the end He takes back everything—including our very body.
This is a simple observation, but most people prefer to avoid it. Many thousands of years ago, in India, a great saint asked a king, "What is the most amazing thing in the world'?" The king replied, "The most amazing thing is this: at every moment hundreds and thousands of living entities meet death, but a foolish living being nonetheless thinks Himself deathless and does not prepare for the inevitable." Instead, everyone becomes a survivalist; everyone makes elaborate plans and arrangements to live forever.
Admittedly, the situation in the Mideast and in Southwest Asia is perilous. The fifty-three Americans held captive . . . the Soviets overrunning Afghanistan . . . OPEC pushing the world economy toward collapse. No wonder the price of gold has been going up and down like a yo-yo. The stakes are high. Millions are afraid for their survival, both financial and physical.
But don't forget—even if the world were a garden of peace and everybody had tons of gold and perfect happiness and satisfaction, everybody would still be in danger of death at every moment. In the end nobody would survive.
Therefore in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: an intelligent person realizes that no matter how pleasant or unpleasant his environment may be, he cannot avoid miseries such as old age, disease, and death.
So a real survivalist must deal with this basic question—how to overcome death. At first glance this appears impossible. Death seems compulsory. But it isn't. It can be overcome—not with automatic weapons, stashes of gold, dehydrated food, four-wheel-drive vehicles, or CB radios, but with spiritual knowledge.
In that sense, the best survival manual in the world is the Bhagavad-gita. Nobody should be without a copy. After all, if people are going to invest so much time, money, and energy in preparing for a nuclear war or financial disaster that may or may not happen, then why not spend some time preparing for the disaster that is 100% certain to strike everyone? For that, Bhagavad-gita is essential.
The Gita tells us that the first step to surviving death is to understand the real nature of the self. Without this knowledge one is sure to panic in the clutch. The key concept to remember is that your self is different from your body. The self is permanent; the body is temporary. Armed with this understanding, you are equipped to pass the ultimate test. According to Lord Krsna, the self "is not slain when the body is slain." The Lord further explains, "Only the material body of the indestructible living entity is subject to destruction."
How can this be? Actually the self is seated in the body like a driver on a machine. Here's an example—just imagine that we do finally get into a war. You're with an armored column that has just smashed through the enemy's front lines, and you are dashing toward his border at top speed. Then—WHAM. A fighter-bomber catches you with an air-to-ground missle. Your M61 tank is out of commission, totaled. But you get out, hop into an armored personnel carrier, and go on with the war. You are in a different vehicle, but you are the same person. In the same way, we change our bodies lifetime after lifetime. At a certain point in time, your body is bound to be destroyed. And then you'll enter another body, and another, and another. Needless to say, this constant changing of bodies is not the ideal condition. Dying and being reborn thousands of times is not exactly fun.
At this point we have to reevaluate our concept of death—it isn't just a one-shot thing. We can take some consolation in the fact that the self never really perishes. Yet unless we can somehow get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death, we must still suffer.
The natural position of the self is to exist in the spiritual world, which is described in the Vedas as being sac-cid-ananda. Sat means eternal, cit means full of knowledge, and ananda means full of ever-increasing pleasure. Such is the nature of the spiritual world, where there exist countless spiritual and very beautiful personalities.
And among all these personalities, one is Supreme—God. In Sanskrit, the language of the sacred books of India, He is called Krsna. In Krsna's world there is no struggle for survival. Life goes on naturally, from moment to moment, always very mellow, forever. The Vedas call the spiritual world Vaikuntha, which means "free from anxiety." That is where we've all come from.
Each of us is like a spiritual spark emanating from the fire of the Absolute Truth. But when a spark falls away from the central fire, it loses its fiery glow. In the same way, when some of the tiny spiritual beings leave the supreme spiritual being, they lose their eternal nature and take on different material bodies, one after another, in the material world.
But actually, our sufferings in this world are like the suffering one experiences in a dream. Imagine you are dreaming that you are an explorer walking through a tropical forest. There are orchids in the trees. Parrots are flying here and there. You hear the sound of a waterfall. The air is warm and fragrant with the perfume of exotic flowers. Then suddenly you hear a roar, and you see the tiger leaping upon you with claws extended, glaring yellow eyes, and fearsome fangs. But if you can see yourself being attacked by the tiger, logically it can't really be you that's in trouble—even in the middle of sleep your intellect is struggling to tell you that. But no, the dream is too strong, and you experience a terror that's all too real, until you wake up and realize who you really are. Then both the terror and the dream disappear.
In the same way, we are now asleep to our real, spiritual identity. We are all originally eternal servants of the Supreme Lord, residents of the kingdom of God, but we are now sleeping and dreaming in the material world. We are identifying with a dreamlike body. We are struggling to survive amid many fearful situations. We are trying to counteract these situations in many ways, but in the Srimad-Bhagavatam we learn, "When we have a troublesome dream, we cannot relieve it with a troublesome hallucination. One can counteract a dream only by awaking." Similarly, our material existence is due to ignorance and illusion. Unless we awaken to spiritual consciousness, we cannot be relieved of such dreams. For the ultimate solution to all problems, we must awaken to spiritual consciousness.
And how do we awaken? The best process for awakening a sleeping person is sound vibration. So in this age the Vedas recommend that in order to awaken from the sleeping condition of material life, which is very fearful, one should chant the transcendental sound vibration of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna. Krsna Krsna. Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama. Hare Hare. This chanting awakens the self to its natural condition of eternity, knowledge, and bliss.
But even though we can free ourselves from all kinds of fear and danger by studying the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and chanting the Lord's names, many are reluctant to try it. Instead, they continue to make plans for a permanent settlement in an impermanent world. Actually, their survival mania is less a solution to than a symptom of the collapse of human civilization. A mentality dominated by the drive for bodily survival at all costs is little better than an animal's.
According to the sages of ancient India, man shares four activities with the animals—eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing. And of these drives, fear is the strongest. An animal eats, sleeps, and mates in a climate of fear. If you approach an animal while it is eating, sleeping, or mating, it becomes very fearful and prepares to defend itself or run. So the human beings who are spending so much time and energy preparing for physical survival should not feel very proud—after all, even an animal will fight for its food, for its lair, for its mate and offspring. A human being who is concerned only with such matters is no better than an animal. He may indeed survive for some time, but his efforts will ultimately be wasted. In his next life he will probably wind up being born as an animal.
Human life is meant for more than surviving in order to eat, sleep, and have sex. It is meant for solving the greatest problem of human existence—how to become free of death. That is real survival.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Krsna Temple Moves to Miami Oceanfront
Miami Beach, Florida—The Hare Krsna movement has relocated its Miami center to a 100-room hotel on the oceanfront of Miami Beach. The new center—renamed "Govinda's Boardwalk Hotel"—includes a temple, an auditorium, a vegetarian restaurant, a pool and cabana area, and a private beach. The money to buy the hotel, which is located on Collins Avenue between 24th and 25th streets, came mostly from the sale of the movement's former Miami property, which had jumped in commercial value over the past several years.
"Govinda's Boardwalk Hotel," explains Vira-Krsna Goswami, director of the center, "is intended for people who would like to spend their vacation learning about spiritual life. Devotees will occupy only about thirty of the rooms; the rest are reserved for guests. A wide variety of programs will give every guest a chance to pick up the basic ideas of Krsna consciousness."
Indian Scholar Reviews Srila Prabhupada's Books
"It gave me great pleasure recently to study the publications of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Particularly Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great Indian classic describing the science of God, presented with the original Sanskrit texts, word-for-word meanings, and meaningful and devotional translations, drew my full attention. The beautiful and informative texts of Srila Vyasadeva have been properly augmented by the great insight and devotional qualities of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The Bhaktivedanta Bhagavatam clearly reveals the Vedic knowledge to modern man in the form of a comprehensive and accessible encyclopedia, useful for many different aspects of study, both in the sciences and in the humanities. In publishing the Bhagavatam in this way, Srila Prabhupada has done a great service to the people by showing them the practical application of bhagavata [devotional] principles to present-day problems. This sastra (scripture] is taking on an important significance as the guide for a rapidly growing international society dedicated in all seriousness to the respiritualization of humanity.
"Certainly I am very glad to have these beautiful and important books in our library, and I strongly recommend them for use by educators, scholars, students, and lay readers in every kind of library."—Dr. S.D. Joshi (Ph.D., Harvard; Director, University of Poona, India.)
Devotees Begin Farm Project in Spain
Brihuega, Spain—ISKCON now has an expansive farm and villa in Brihuega, Spain, about an hour's drive northeast of Madrid. Of classic design, the main building has more than forty rooms, including two large kitchens. In addition, six suites promise more than adequate accommodations for guests. Another structure nearby will provide separate asramas for sixty men and forty women. Scattered over the farm's nine hundred acres are many smaller buildings that will serve as homes, machinery and husbandry sheds, and dairy barns.
The farm lies in a beautiful, fertile valley fed by, the swiftly flowing Tajuna River. Pure drinking water springs from a source deep within the surrounding foothills. With such an ideal spiritual environment, the Brihuega farm is sure to attract many to the Krsna conscious way of life.
by Yogesvara dasa
Krsna is a Sanskrit name for God. Literally, Krsna means "the all-attractive one." And Krsna consciousness means the day-to-day awareness of our eternal relationship with Krsna. The technical term for Krsna consciousness is bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of devotion. There are many kinds of yoga, or means for linking oneself with the Supreme. Karma-yoga, or sacrifice of the fruits of work, leads to jnana-yoga, or knowledge of the difference between matter and spirit. This leads to astanga-yoga, by which one develops mystic powers through meditation. But of all yoga practices bhakti is the highest, because it is nothing less than the eternal activity of the soul after liberation from the material world. When the soul leaves the material body, all other yoga practices end, but bhakti, being the very nature of the soul, continues without end.
Many people practice modern versions of yoga exercise to achieve better health or digestion, or a better sex life, or to subdue mental stress. These "updated" forms are not, however, real yoga. The word yoga means "linking with the Supreme." and the rules governing proper yoga exercises are so rigorous as to be nearly impossible in the present age. Even Arjuna, the hero of the Bhagavad-gita, rejected the austere physical disciplines of such yoga as impractical for him. Krsna then informed him that these difficult practices would be unnecessary if he simply took up devotional yoga: "Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all." (Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)
Five hundred years ago, Krsna appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to demonstrate how to perform bhakti-yoga. At different moments in history, the Supreme Lord appears, either in person or else represented by His pure devotee, to deliver a means of self-realization appropriate to a particular culture and environment. Every true avatara, or appearance of the Supreme Lord, is recorded in advance, and without scriptural confirmation no one can be accepted as an avatara of God. More than four thousand years before the advent of Sri Caitanya, His appearance and mission were described in the Vedic texts. His teachings, now being carried forward by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), were brought to the West in 1965 by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, ISKCON's Founder-Acarya. * [*Acarya: one who teaches by example as well as by precept.]
Coming to Know Krsna
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's disciples compiled an extensive literature on the practice of bhakti-yoga. Their books describe that hearing (in Sanskrit, sravana) is the most effective means for imbibing a sense of devotion to Krsna. Many people therefore begin cultivating their Krsna consciousness by attending the classes on the Bhagavad-gita and other texts held daily in Krsna temples. One needs no previous qualifications in yoga to hear about Krsna. Krsna's activities and personal qualities are so attractive that anyone who simply hears about them receptively will discover a natural affinity for Krsna and His devotional service.
To be effective, of course, hearing demands not only that the hearer be receptive to the message but also that the speaker transmit the teachings purely. That is why, for example, when a devotee lectures in public he takes great, care to present faithfully what he has learned from his spiritual master. Invented ideas about the Absolute Truth have little value; opinions are, after all, as individual as their authors. Knowledge of God, on the other hand, has remained unchanged since the time Krsna first spoke the Vedic sciences to Brahma at the dawn of creation. Brahma, architect of the material universe, in turn transmitted the Vedic teachings to his disciples, who then taught their disciples, and so on down through the ages. This method of teaching is called parampara, or the system of descending knowledge (as opposed to ascending knowledge, that which is achieved through empiric research).
This parampara system forms the foundation of the Krsna consciousness movement. How has Krsna consciousness spread around the world so quickly? Why, of all the translations of Bhagavad-gita, did Srila Prabhupada's edition alone inspire an international movement of devotion to Krsna? The answer is parampara. Only Srila Prabhupada's edition presents the unaltered teachings of Krsna, as relayed by the parampara system. In every other English translation the commentator uses the Gita as a vehicle for his own philosophy. But Srila Prabhupada, as a pure devotee of Krsna, was motivated only to awaken people's natural love for Krsna. He acted as a message carrier, not as an interpreter or philosopher. The explanations received from the parampara are sufficient for reviving God consciousness; they need no additions or interpretations. The Krsna consciousness movement has grown because it is nourished by the pure teachings of Lord Krsna, and Srila Prabhupada's disciples are carrying on that pure heritage.
Chanting Hare Krsna
For previous ages, when people lived much longer and could concentrate better than today, the Vedic texts recommended solitary meditation and physical yoga practice as means to achieve self-realization. But for most people today, of course, such methods are impossible. It would be unreasonable to expect a married man with business responsibilities to abandon his work and family for the austere life of a recluse. Rather, for this age the Vedas recommend the chanting of God's holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The chanting of this mantra (spiritual sound) has the same purifying influence as associating directly with Krsna. Since God is absolute, He and His name are nondifferent. When we utter ordinary material sounds, like "water" or "light," they themselves have no substance; their value lies in the meaning they convey. A material sound is different from the idea it represents. On the spiritual platform, however, no distinction separates a sound from its meaning. And so the name Krsna possesses the same purifying qualities as Krsna Himself.
What are those purifying qualities? The Vedas compare them to the influence of the sun on a puddle of urine. Just as the sun evaporates the liquid, eliminates the obnoxious smell, and renders the spot clean—without itself ever becoming contaminated—so the name of Krsna acts like a spiritual sun to clean away the contamination of material qualities like lust and greed and to reveal the soul hidden within.
Chanting is a simple process that can be performed anywhere, under any circumstances, and even an inexperienced chanter can realize immediate results. The first result of chanting is an abatement of material anxieties. Formerly one had to withdraw to the woods or mountains and practice severe penances to achieve full detachment from material anxieties. In the present age, however, the same result is available through chanting. Devotees chant in two ways: either soto voce, as a personal meditation, while turning sacred beads called japa-mala, or congregationally, in the temple or at home or in public.
The japa-mala strand consists of 108 beads, each separated from the next by a small knot. An additional bead, somewhat larger, is the starting point. One does not chant on this bead; rather, it serves to indicate when one has finished each "round" of 108 beads. A chanter turns each bead between thumb and forefinger while reciting the Hare Krsna mantra. Then he moves on to the next bead and again recites the mantra. At the end of each round, the chanter begins the next round in the opposite direction, rather than crossing over the large bead.
An initiated devotee, or one aspiring for initiation, chants at least sixteen rounds daily. Rounds take six or seven minutes each, or a daily total of an hour and a half to two hours.
Sankirtana, or public chanting of the holy names, was introduced by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Bengal at the turn of the sixteenth century. He promulgated public chanting as the highest welfare activity and the religious duty for the present age. Both the street chanting that devotees perform in cities and towns around the world and the japa chanting are full of spiritual potency. Japa meditation, however, engages only the tongue and the ear of the chanter, whereas sankirtana has the added advantage of benefiting all who hear the chanting, and it also engages the entire body in dance, which takes place as a natural part of congregational chanting.
The basic principle of Krsna consciousness is remembering Krsna. And that is why devotees regularly chant the Hare Krsna mantra. In the beginning, a candidate for spiritual initiation may not be prepared to chant sixteen rounds daily. If not, he should determine some smaller number—two or three rounds, for example—that he will chant without fail. It is better to chant regularly than sporadically—three rounds every day is better than ten rounds one day and none the next. Progressively, as one continues to chant, one will naturally develop a desire to adopt the other principles and practices of bhakti-yoga.
The Morning Program
A Krsna devotee is careful to maintain internal and external purity as protection against the conditioning that impedes spiritual growth. So upon using in the morning, a devotee recites the holy names of the Hare Krsna mantra for internal purity and bathes for external purity. The Bhagavad-gita also describes that one cannot become successful in yoga if one eats or sleeps too much or too little. The Vedic scriptures therefore recommend not more than six hours rest at night for those seeking spiritual advancement. One can better progress spiritually if one takes rest early, instead of keeping late hours engaged in materialistic activities, and if one does not eat heavily at night.
For one aspiring to self-realization, the hours preceding sunrise, which are called brahma-muhurta, are particularly auspicious. Devotees generally rise by 3:30 a.m. to attend the first ceremony of the day, mangala-arati, during which they greet the Krsna Deity* [* The Deity is a manifestation of Krsna's personal form, fashioned from elements such as marble or wood. Krsna appears in the Deity form to facilitate the service of His devotees.] and offer varieties of gifts such as incense, flowers, and foods. Devotees who live too far away to attend morning ceremonies in the temple rise early and perform the same offering at home, meditating before a simple altar that bears a photo of the spiritual master (guru) and a painting of Sri Caitanya (Gauranga), surrounded by His principal associates, called collectively the Panca-tattva. Whether at home or in the temple, these daily services, held during the peaceful morning hours and accompanied by the sweet melodies of arati and the pleasing vision of the Deity or guru-Gauranga altar, awaken in the neophyte a sense of his eternal relationship with Krsna.
The activities so far described are important for cultivating bhakti-yoga. If the candidate for devotional service wants to advance steadily, however, he must also follow four regulative principles that constitute the pillars of devotional life.
The first regulative principle is no meat, fish or eggs in the diet. Meat-eating is the single greatest obstacle to spiritual progress. Fish are also considered animal life, and eggs undeveloped animal life. Despite popular opinions to the contrary, no scripture in the world encourages meat-eating, although some concessions may be mentioned for persons unable to control their tongues. Even then, however, the Vedas strictly prohibit cow-killing. The Vedic culture considers the cow a mother to human society because she supplies us her milk, and it encourages cow protection as essential to a peaceful society. Milk stimulates the growth of the healthy brain tissues required for understanding the finer points of spiritual life. Meat, on the other hand, contains large quantities of toxins and cholesterol that dull perceptions and make spiritual progress nearly impossible. * [* See Back to Godhead Vol. 15, No. 1-2.]
Becoming a vegetarian is not in itself the goal. To make spiritual progress one must offer his food to the Supreme Lord with love and devotion. In preparing a meal, the devotee remembers that the offering is meant for Krsna's pleasure, not his own. This does not decrease the satisfaction of eating; rather, the pleasure is increased by the devotional effort and by the fresh ingredients used exclusively in preparing food for offering to Krsna.
All the practices of bhakti-yoga aid in awakening our dormant sense of God consciousness. The devotee therefore follows strict kitchen rules while preparing an offering. The most important rule is never to taste a preparation before it has been offered to Krsna. He must be the first to enjoy. God has no need of our food. He is atmarama, completely self-satisfied. He nonetheless appreciates the love and devotion with which His devotee prepares an offering. The more one centers one's thoughts on Krsna, the more the offering is a success. This is real yoga: not to give up eating, but rather to sanctify the food one eats by first offering it to Krsna.
The second regulative principle is no intoxication, by which is meant the use of any substance that exaggerates or dulls perceptions, including coffee, tea, and tobacco as well as alcohol and drugs. Devotees reject anything that impedes progress in devotional life, and certainly stimulants or depressants are bound to affect concentration on spiritual practices. Sometimes people propose that drugs can lead to spiritual exaltation. Authorities in the parampara, however, have always dismissed that idea. Drugs act on the body and mind but have no access to the soul, which transcends matter.
No Illicit Sex
Illicit sex refers not only to sexual relations outside of marriage but also to intercourse within marriage not intended for procreation. This does not mean an artificial renunciation of all sex, but rather its regulation. In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that sex with the goal of procreating and raising God conscious children is sacred, for in such consciousness the sex act becomes an offering to Him.
Gambling is simply a waste of time and money. Human life is short. The sage Canakya used to say that a moment of life spent without pursuing self-realization was the greatest loss, for it could not be bought back for all the gold in the world. And that was before inflation.
The most important moment for the practitioner of bhakti-yoga. One who has successfully followed the four regulative principles for at least six months, is initiation by the spiritual master. The guru awards initiation when he feels confident that the candidate has shown his or her sincerity and determination to become Krsna conscious. In contrast with the fifteen-minutes-a-day yoga practices available from pseudogurus and swamis, Krsna consciousness is a constant effort to dedicate one's life to the service of God. The spiritual master therefore refrains from awarding initiation to people still addicted to materialistic habits. The act of initiation in essence links the disciple with Krsna through the intermediary of the guru. The guru's duty is to liberate the disciple from repeated birth and death by properly guiding him and instructing him from scripture, and the disciple's duty is to follow lifelong the guru's teachings. It is not necessary to live in a temple to receive initiation, but life at home must follow the same norms as those of the temple community, including rising early, eating only prasada (vegetarian foods offered first to Lord Krsna), and the other principles of sadhana-bhakti (devotional service in practice).
Working for Krsna
Krsna, the Absolute Truth, includes all things, and any talent or skill can be used in His service. An artist can paint scenes of the spiritual world as described in the Vedas. A writer can write articles on the science of bhakti-yoga. An architect can design and build temples, schools, and asramas dedicated to Lord Krsna. A businessman can help propagate Krsna consciousness by printing books or offering professional services. Everyone, in other words, has a part to play in Krsna's devotional service.
When Srila Prabhupada founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1965, his intention was to make Krsna consciousness available to people on all levels of society. He instructed his disciples, those students who had dedicated their lives completely to the service of Lord Krsna, to treat visiting guests with the greatest respect and courtesy. "Visiting Krsna's temple is visiting the spiritual world," he would say. Sunday open houses at the many Krsna temples around the world have become well attended weekly functions for thousands who practice bhakti-yoga at home. Here friends and newcomers participate in ecstatic arati ceremonies, share in the multicourse free feast, and receive answers to their questions on spiritual life. Whatever one's background, the programs of Krsna consciousness provide common ground for progress along the spiritual path.
Books to Save the World
Now approximately forty million of Srila Prabhupada's books have been printed and distributed in more than thirty languages. What are these books actually?
When he began them in India, one of his associates asked him, "Why bother? Aren't there enough Vedic scriptures?" But most of the Vedas had never been translated into English and given elaborate commentary. His spiritual master had asked him to preach to the people in the West. Srila Prabhupada felt that with these books he could create a revolution in consciousness. He had faith in the potency of the words of Krsna.
The Bhagavad-gita had already been translated dozens of times into English. Again the question was asked, this time by an American woman: "What is the need for another Bhagavad-gita in English?" As Srila Prabhupada explained, it had never before been given in the spirit in which Krsna Himself had spoken the Bhagavad-gita. It had never been translated and explained by a pure devotee of Krsna. He felt there was a great need to deliver the Bhagavad-gita as it is, because despite so many Bhagavad-gitas in English, no one had ever become a devotee of Krsna by reading them.
Srila Prabhupada wrote more than sixty books—English translations and commentaries on the Vedic scriptures: Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam in twenty-nine volumes, Caitanya-caritamrta (describing the life and teachings of Lord Caitanya) in seventeen volumes, The Nectar of Devotion, the Krsna books, and many, many more.
In America alone, more than eight million books have been distributed. Who has them? Where are all these books? Many are owned by people who bought them not so much because they went out thinking, "Today I will buy a translation of the Vedas," but because they were approached by Hare Krsna devotees and handed these books. Forty million, almost all passed out by the ubiquitous devotee book distributors, on streets or in parking lots or airports. Forty million books spread all over the world in people's homes, on bookshelves. (Srila Prabhupada said he wanted a Krsna book—a collection of the pastimes of Krsna in story form—in every home.) And they are in virtually all the public and university libraries.
The books are scholarly, deep philosophy. Too deep? Even the greatest sages can't know everything about Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam is the science of God. But Srila Prabhupada has made it simple, explaining it just as he heard it from his spiritual master and just as he has experienced it in his personal realization of Krsna. Once a devotee related to Srila Prabhupada that often people said they admired the books' Sanskrit verses but thought it all a little too deep for themselves. On hearing this, Srila Prabhupada reflected and replied, "Yes, Srimad-Bhagavatam is very deep."
And yet these books work. I know a policeman in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, who faithfully reads Srila Prabhupada's books; over the months he has given up smoking, intoxicants, and even meat-eating, and he regularly chants the Hare Krsna mantra.
Many books are at first put aside on the shelf and not read, or they are passed from place to place unread ... but finally someone starts to read one. A marine in the barracks, a service station attendant with time on his hands, a fashion model in Denmark, a hermit on Vancouver Island, a student writing a report.
To people who join the Krsna consciousness movement, these books are their bible. But to compare other scriptures to the Vedic literatures is like comparing the pocket dictionary to the unabridged international dictionary. Look up "the soul" or "life after death," or look up an explanation for creation, or try to inquire how God is great—in any of the world's other scriptures you will get scanty information compared to what Srila Prabhupada has given.
To the atheists, to the various exploiters of humanity, and to the sensualists, these books are formidable opposition. But what can the opponents do? It is too late: Srila Prabhupada's books are already there, and they are working, as the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, "to create a revolution in the impious civilization." The media's barrage against the Hare Krsna movement as a dangerous, mindless cult has certainly affected many people, but it is superficial propaganda. It will pass, like last year's newspapers, whereas the message of the Gita and the Bhagavatam will not pass. Rather, the knowledge in these books will become more and more effective. And to those books that have already been distributed, more and more are being added every day by sincere devotees who continue to distribute them.
Srila Prabhupada used to say that if a person reads one page of these books, his life could become perfect. Open one at random, and see what they say. From Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto: "When there are too many materialistic activities by the people in general all over the world, there is no wonder that a person or nation attacks another person or nation on slight provocation. That is the rule of this Age of Kali, or quarrel. The atmosphere is already polluted with corruption of all descriptions, and everyone knows it well.... The quarrels are not due to the issues in question but to the polluted atmosphere of this age: systematically there is propaganda by a section of the people to stop glorification of the name and fame of the Supreme Lord. Therefore, there is a great need to spread the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam all over the world to do the supermost good as well as to bring about the desired peace in the world."—SDG