A lecture by
sucau dese pratisthapya
tatraikagram manah krtva
"To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded, sacred place, lay kusa grass on the ground, and then cover the grass with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low. The yogi should then sit on the seat very firmly and practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart, and fixing the mind on one point." [Bhagavad-gita 6.11-12]
These are Krsna's practical instructions on how to execute mystic yoga. In the United States yoga is very popular, and there are many so-called yoga societies that follow various teachings. But here the Supreme Lord Himself is giving instructions on how to practice yoga. The first instruction concerns how to sit and where to sit. Fist one has to select a place where he can sit down and practice yoga. Krsna says it should be in a "sacred place," which refers to a place of pilgrimage. In India the transcendentalists (the yogis and devotees) all leave home and reside in sacred places-such as Prayag, Mathura, Vrndavana, Hrsikesa, or Hardwar-and they practice yoga there. But in this age how many people are prepared to search out a sacred place? For their livelihood they have to live in a congested city. What is the question of finding a sacred place? But if one can't find a sacred place, then how can he practice yoga, since that is the first instruction?
The answer is found in bhakti-yoga. In the bhakti-yoga system the sacred place is the Lord's temple. A temple is nirguna, or transcendental. The Vedic injunction is that the city is the place of passion, the forest is the place of goodness, and the Lord's temple is transcendental. If one lives in a city or a town, he is living in a passionate place. And if he doesn't want to live in a passionate place, he can go to a forest-that is a place of goodness. But God's temple is above passion and goodness. Therefore a temple is the only secluded place in this age. We cannot go to a secluded place in a forest; it is impossible. And if one makes a show of yoga practice in a so-called class and indulges in all kinds of nonsensical things, that is not real yoga. Here are the genuine instructions on how to practice yoga.
Concerning the actual process of meditation, the Brhan-naradiya Purana says that in the Kali-yuga (the present yuga, or age), when people in general are short-lived, slow in spiritual realization, and always disturbed by various anxieties, the best means of spiritual realization is to chant the holy name of the Lord:
harer nama harer nama
"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way. " This chanting of Hare Krsna, which is the essence of the bhakti-yoga process, is universal, and it is so nice that even a child can take part in it. But other processes will not be feasible.
Two of these processes are astanga-yoga and jnana-yoga. The sitting postures and meditation comprise astanga-yoga, and jnana-yoga is an analytical and philosophical process by which one tries to understand what is Brahman and what is not Brahman (neti neti). Part of jnana-yoga consists of studying the Vedanta-sutra, which begins with these words: Janmady asya yatah. This aphorism gives us the hint that the Supreme Brahman, the Absolute Truth, is that from which everything has emanated. Then we must try to understand what that Absolute Truth is. The nature of the Absolute Truth is explained in the first verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam: janmady asya yato 'anvayad itaratas ca arthesu abhijnah svarat.
Now, if the Absolute Truth is the supreme cause of all emanations, then what are His symptoms? The Bhagavatam says that He must be cognizant. He's not dead. And what kind of cognizance does He have? Anvayad itaratas carthesu: "He is directly and indirectly cognizant of all manifestations." I am cognizant, as is every living being, but I do not know how many hairs there are on my body. And if I ask anyone else, "Do you know how many hairs you have on your, body?" he will not be able to answer. Another example of cognizance: I know I am eating, but I do not know how my internal processes are working—how the food is being transformed, how it is entering my bloodstream, how the blood is going through the arteries and veins. I do not know any of this. So, this kind of knowledge is not real knowledge.
But the Supreme, says the Bhagavatam, knows everything, directly and indirectly. God must know everything—He must know what is going on in every corner of His creation. In other words, the Supreme Truth, from whom everything has emanated, must be supremely cognizant (abhijnah). Now, one may say, "If God is so powerful, wise and cognizant, then He must have learned His knowledge from someone similar." No. If a person has learned His knowledge from someone else, then he is not God. God is svarat, or independent. He knows everything automatically.
So, this is jnana-yoga: to investigate by philosophical inquiry the nature of the Supreme, from whom everything is emanating. And because the Supreme is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Bhagavatam teaches the supreme jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga combined. In bhakti-yoga the target is the same as in the other yogas. The jnana-yoga tries to reach the supreme, ultimate, goal by philosophical analysis, the astanga-yogi tries to concentrate his mind on the Supreme, and the bhakti-yogi simply engages himself in serving the Supreme Lord so that he reveals Himself. The jnanis and mystic yogis try to understand the Lord by the ascending process of knowledge, and the bhaktas understand Him by the descending process.
For example, if we are in the darkness of night and we try to understand what the sun is by the ascending process, by shining our very powerful searchlight, we cannot see the sun. But if we use the descending process, then when the sun rises we understand it immediately. The ascending process is the process of induction—using our own endeavor to gain knowledge-and the descending process is deduction. Another example: Suppose I am trying to know whether man is mortal. If I go to my father and he says that man is mortal, and if I accept it, then I have understood the truth by the deductive process. But if I want to use the inductive process to learn whether man is mortal, then I have to study many thousands of men and see whether they are immortal or mortal. This will take so much time, and my knowledge will never be complete. But if I take the knowledge that man is mortal from a superior authority, then my knowledge is complete. Thus, in Srimad-Bhagavatam [10.14.29] it is said,
athapi te deva padambuja-dvaya-
"My dear Lord, a person who has received a little favor from You can understand You very quickly. But those who are trying to understand You by the ascending process may go on speculating for millions of years, yet they will never understand You."
The speculators come to the point of frustration and confusion. "God is zero," they say. If God is zero, then how have so many forms come into being? God is not zero. The Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: "Everything is generated from the Supreme." Now, we have to study how it is generated. That is also explained in the Vedanta-sutra. Veda means "knowledge," and anta means "ultimate." So Vedanta means "the ultimate knowledge." The ultimate knowledge is realization of the Supreme Lord.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, you said that we cannot comprehend the form of Krsna with our mind and senses. Then how are we to understand the form of Krsna that we see in the pictures and the murtis [statues]?
Srila Prabhupada: You should simply serve Him; then He will reveal Himself. You cannot understand Krsna by the ascending process. You have to serve Krsna, and Krsna will reveal Himself to you. This is stated in Bhagavad-gita [10.11]:
"Just as a special favor to those who always engage in My service, I vanquish all kinds of darkness and ignorance with the light of knowledge." Krsna is within you, and when you are sincerely searching after Krsna by the devotional process, He reveals Himself to you. As Krsna says in the Eighteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, bhaktya mam abhijanati: "One can understand Me only by bhakti, the devotional process." And what is bhakti? Bhakti is this: sravanam kirtanam visnoh, simply hearing and chanting about Visnu. This is the beginning of bhakti. So, if you simply hear talks on Krsna sincerely and submissively, then you will understand Krsna. Krsna will reveal Himself to you. Now we are hearing about Krsna from Bhagavad-gita and chanting His glories: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This is the beginning—sravanam kirtanam visnoh. Everything is done in relation to Visnu. The meditation is on Visnu, the bhakti is for Visnu—nothing is without Visnu. And Krsna is the original form of Visnu (Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam), the original form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So, if we follow this process of bhakti-yoga, then we'll be able to understand the form of Krsna, without any doubt.
The next verses of Bhagavad-gita read as follows:
"One should hold one's body, neck, and head in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life." [Bg. 6.13-14]
The goal of life is to know Krsna, who is situated within the heart of every living being as Paramatma, the four-handed Visnu form. The astanga-yoga process is practiced in order to discover and see this localized form of Visnu, and not for any other purpose. One who has no program to realize this Visnu-murti is uselessly engaged in mock-yoga practice and is certainly wasting his time. Krsna is the ultimate goal of life, and the Visnu-murti situated in one's heart is the object of astanga-yoga practice. As mentioned in the previous verses, to begin the astanga-yoga process one must first of all select a solitary place, where he can execute yoga alone. It is not that one can go to a yoga class, pay some fee, do some gymnastics, and then come back home and do all kinds of nonsense. We shouldn't be entrapped by all these ridiculous "yoga societies." Such societies, I can declare, are simply societies of the cheaters and the cheated. Here in Bhagavad-gita is the real yoga process, taught by the supreme authority, Krsna. Can there possibly be any person who is a better yogi than Krsna? No. And here is His authoritative statement on yoga. So, first of all one has to select a secluded, holy place and prepare a special seat. Then one has to sit down upon the seat in an erect posture: "One should hold one's body, neck, and head in a straight line." These things help to concentrate the mind, that's all. But the real purpose of yoga is to keep Krsna always within oneself. Here it is stated, "One should hold one's body, neck, and head in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose." And if one closes his eyes during meditation, he'll sleep. I have seen this. In these "yoga classes" so many so-called meditators are simply sleeping, because as soon as one closes his eyes, it is natural that he'll feel sleepy. So the eyes must be half-closed, and one has to see the tip of his nose. This process will help the mind to be fixed.
Then Krsna says one should have an "unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear." Generally, a yogi practices in a jungle. But if he's thinking, "Is some tiger or snake coming? What is that?" his mind will be agitated. After all, he has to sit down alone in a jungle. There are so many animals-tigers, lions, snakes. Therefore it is especially stated here that the yogi must be "devoid of fear." The skin of a deer is especially used in yoga-asana because it has some chemical property that repels snakes. If one sits down on that particular skin, the snakes and other reptiles will not come. That is the purpose of the deerskin: one will not be disturbed. But one can be truly fearless only when one is fully in Krsna consciousness. A conditioned soul is fearful due to his perverted memory, his forgetfulness of his eternal relationship with Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam says, bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syad isad apetasya viparyayo 'smrtih. Krsna consciousness is the only basis for fearlessness. Therefore perfect yoga practice is possible only for a person who is Krsna conscious. The next qualification for the yogi is that he must be "completely free from sex life." If one indulges in sex, he cannot fix his mind on anything. A steady mind is the effect of brahmacarya, or celibacy. If one remains a brahmacari, or without sex life, then he can be determined. A practical example is Mahatma Gandhi, of India. Now, he started his movement of non-violent non-cooperation against the powerful British Empire. Just see! He declared, "I shall fight with the Britishers nonviolently, without any weapon." Besides, India was dependent, so there were no weapons. And the few times armed revolutions were attempted, the Britishers, being more powerful, cut them down. So Gandhi invented the method of non-violent non-cooperation. "I shall fight with the Britishers," he declared, "and even if they become violent, I shall not become violent. In this way I shall get world sympathy." This was his plan. He was a great statesman, but more important, his determination was very fixed because he was a brahmacari. At the age of thirty-six he gave up sex life. He was a young family man-he had children, he had a wife-but from the age of thirty-six on he gave up sex with his wife. That made him so determined to drive away the Britishers from the land of India that he actually did it. Therefore, refraining from sex makes one very powerful. Even if one doesn't do anything else, if he simply refrains from sex he becomes a very powerful man. People do not know the secret: if one wants to do anything with determination, one has to stop sex.
Therefore in no Vedic process—neither the yoga process nor the bhakti process nor the jnana process—is unrestricted sex indulgence allowed. No. Sex indulgence is allowed only in family life, just to beget very nice children, that's all. Sex is not for sense enjoyment, although there is enjoyment by nature's arrangement. Unless there were enjoyment, why would anyone take responsibility for family life? That pleasure is nature's gift, but we should not take advantage of it. These are the secrets of life.
So yoga practice is such a nice thing, but if one simultaneously indulges in sex life, it is simply nonsense. It is simply nonsense if anyone says that one can go on with his sex life as much as he likes and at the same time become a yogi. The so-called yoga teachers advertise, "Simply pay my fees, and I will give you a miracle mantra." These things are all nonsense. But we accept them because we want to be cheated. We want to get something sublime very cheaply. That means we want to be cheated. If I want a very fine thing, I must pay for it. Suppose I go to a store and say to the proprietor, "Sir, I can pay you ten cents. Please give me the best thing in your store." How can I expect the best thing for ten cents? If I want to purchase gold, then I have to pay for it. Similarly, if we want perfection in yoga practice, then we have to pay for it by giving up sex. That is the instruction of Bhagavad-gita. We shouldn't try to make yoga a childish affair. If we try to make it a childish affair, then we'll be cheated. And there are so many cheaters waiting to cheat us, take our money, and go away. Here is the authoritative statement: "Free from sex life."
Next Krsna says, "One should meditate upon Me. Ultimately, what is the object of meditation? Not the void, but the form of Visnu. This is sankhya-yoga, which was first practiced by Kapiladeva, an incarnation of Krsna, or God. So the secret of yoga is that one should absorb the mind in Krsna. The process of sitting straight and seeing the tip of one's nose helps one to concentrate the mind on the Visnu form, or Krsna. "One should meditate upon Me," says Krsna. Thus meditation in sankhya-yoga means meditation on Krsna.
Now, in the Krsna consciousness movement the meditation is directly on Krsna and nothing else. Therefore no one is a better meditator than my disciples. They are concentrating simply on Krsna, and all their activities are centered on Krsna. When they're working in the garden, digging the earth, they're thinking, "A nice rose will grow, and we shall offer it to Krsna." This is meditation—practical meditation: "I shall grow a rose, and it will be offered to Krsna." Even in the digging there is meditation. And when they are preparing nice food, they think, "It will be eaten by Krsna." So, in cooking there is meditation. And what to speak of chanting Hare Krsna and dancing.
Therefore, because they are meditating twenty-four hours a day on Krsna, my disciples are perfect yogis. Let anyone come and challenge them. We are teaching the perfect yoga system, but not whimsically: on the authority of Bhagavad-gita. We have not manufactured anything by concoction. Here is Krsna's statement that one should simply concentrate one's mind on Him, and my disciples' activities have been so moulded that they cannot think of anything but Krsna. So they are the highest meditators. Krsna says, "Think of Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life." Krsna is the ultimate goal of life, and my disciples are preparing themselves for being transferred to Krsna's planet (Krisnaloka). Krsna consciousness, therefore, is the perfect yoga.
On this line of confrontation
by Suhotra dasa
SUHOTRA DASA, an American citizen, is assistant co-ordinator for the Hare Krsna movement's centers in West Germany.
From Autobahn 7, just south of the Hartz Mountain region near Gottingen, West Germany, one can turn east onto a winding country road and follow it over scenic pastoral hills and dales to the old medieval town of Duderstadt, with its cobblestone streets and thousand-year-old city hall. Just another picture postcard German city, one might think-it's seen its better days and is now more or less a tourist preserve for camera-toting outlanders who jostle noisily past the ageing local women tending their sidewalk vegetable stands.
Leaving Duderstadt and driving further east on a narrow farm route, one immediately notices how unkempt the countryside becomes, and how the few scattered roadside dwellings appear more and more run-down and lonely—something unusual for wealthy, populous West Germany, with its carefully manicured environs and standardized way of life. A strange quietness fills the air, and the dusty-tangy smell of cheap coal smoke suddenly wafts along with the spring breeze. Then you see it—a red and white sign with the warning ACHTUNG—GRENZGEBIET! and another in English, 50 METERS TO EAST GERMAN BORDER.
Cresting a hill, the road lies parallel to the infamous "Death Strip," fully visible in the glen below. It runs as far as the eye can see, through forests and across fields-a sixty-foot-wide ribbon of plowed earth, marked off by fences, barbed wire, and notices that read ACHTUNG! MINEN! ("Attention! Land Mines!"). In the distance, just visible over a far ridge, one can see a watchtower, looking something like an ugly cement UFO perched upon a smokestack. And in a wooded area a few hundred feet beyond the border strip, if you're careful you can just make out the three Communist soldiers in camouflage watching you, with guns at the ready.
It is here that "our world"—the Western Euro-American world of free and easy sensual enjoyment and sophisticated material opulence—comes to its abrupt end. Beyond it lies the forbidding East, with its drudgery, dullness, and totalitarian terror-where "free thought" is not even the privilege of the wealthy few. The very idea of such a place provokes our minds to exasperation, bewilderment, fear. And this heavily guarded frontier region between East and West Germany—the line of confrontation between two powerful political doctrines in opposition—is the edge of stress upon which the delicate hope of world peace is precariously balanced. Should this edge of stress crumble, both sides will topple into nuclear war, and society as we know it may very well cease to exist.
Of course, back in Frankfurt, that, "most American of all German cities:" one can get back into the swing of things-plenty of clubs, disco halls, and night spots to lose yourself in. One just has to learn to overlook the big U.S. Army base smack in the middle of town, and the long convoys of military traffic clogging the autobahns out of the city, so as not to be reminded of the slender thread on which the revelry is hanging.
And even when you return to supposedly secure Stateside, where the good life abounds, the grim memory of the Death Strip and the threat which lies beyond it pop up again with the news reports about Afghanistan or Cambodia, about next year's defence budget and the draft. Yes, lately even in America the confrontation of East and West is raising the spectre of world war in people's minds.
"World war? Nobody wants it." Maybe that's true, but still its inevitability stalks us. From a Krsna conscious point of view, the accumulated societal sins of our global civilization make it almost unavoidable. Rampant animal slaughter, legalized abortions, terrorism, the brushfire wars that erupt almost monthly somewhere in the world—Srila Prabhupada told his disciples as early as 1975 that the world could not continue in this way without succumbing to catastrophe. And from a strictly political and economic outlook, things aren't encouraging, either. The arms race, the oil crunch, and inflation—where will it all end? These days one doesn't have to be a crackpot to fear the worst.
If, as a recent Time poll indicated, seventy percent of Americans are worried about a major war in the near future, a natural question on their minds must be, "What are we going to do about it?" Unfortunately, experience from the previous two world wars teaches us that although people had ample warning, they either could not or would not do anything to prevent war and insure against its eventual recurrence. For instance, the fever that culminated in the First World War started in 1911, three years before the fighting actually broke out. Three years to wake up and avert disaster-but nothing was done. After that "Great War," statesmen of the world vowed it would never happen again, and they formed the League of Nations. But in 1938, with the Munich crisis, humanity was again poised on the brink of a major conflict, and again nothing was done. Hostilities broke out one year later, and the world plunged into the Second World War, which proved much more destructive than the first. And now, in 1980, world war is once more a dinner-table topic. What can we do?
Let us reconsider that border between East and West Germany, which in many ways represents the very knife-edge of the modern world dilemma. Here are some disarmingly simple questions: To whom does that land really belong? Who owned it before it was divided? Who owned it before the German people settled it, and who owned it before the previous occupants, the Celts? Who put it there to begin with?
The sophisticated may scoff, "Uh-oh, here comes God into the picture. Spare us this theological moralizing." But please notice that when by our sophisticated scepticism or out-and-out atheism we attempt to avoid the question "Who really owns the land?" the logic of politics and war seems inevitable. It is then that the claimants break into arguments that diplomatic rules of order such as those of the U.N. have yet to succeed in containing.
The simple fact is that we human inhabitants of this planet cannot substantiate an absolute claim of ownership over anything-not over the land, the plants, the animals, other people, or even our own bodies-because we cannot independently produce anything. Remember, we are born here in a manner totally beyond our control. We interact briefly with this earthly environment, upon which we are completely dependent for our life's sustenance. And then we are forced to die, and whatever claims we have established are blown away by time. What right do we have to quarrel over things that don't belong to us?
And yet, in a remarkable display of self-assuredness, scientists and philosophers insist that the world belongs to mankind by default, because the ingeniously well ordered biosphere in which we live is a product of random chemical combinations, with no conscious creator to claim it. Such men envision a world government of many flags united by an enlightened scientific materialism. Their utopian suggestions, however, always seem to fall flat in a storm of unsatisfied political opportunism. The atheistic mentality of our modern leaders, whether in America, Russia, or elsewhere, is condemning us to devastating social violence. For all its semblance of rationality, our society is rooted in the ultimate irrationality-the belief that the intricate arrangement of nature, which defies the understanding of the greatest speculators, is produced from blind chance. When leaders of states admit no allegiance to the Supreme, idle theories will not save them from being consumed by their own lust, envy, and greed for power.
"But most of history's bloodshed has been caused by religious disagreement." If that be true, then it only further proves the point. Religion and God are not synonymous. If a religious process fails to provide realized knowledge of God due to faulty teachings, then God is not to blame-the leaders of that so-called religion are. God is more than just a vague or mysterious idea. He may have many names, but clearly He is one and only one person. And nothing can change that not even self-righteous designations like "Christian," "Jew," "Muslim," "Buddhist," and "Hindu." History may show that many wars have been fought between differing religious sects, but that in itself proves only that the adherents of these contesting religions were lacking in knowledge of the factual owner of everything.
If religion is to be successful in revealing God to man, it must offer a process of knowledge that leads one beyond sentiment and fanaticism to a mature understanding of the Supreme Being. The Vedic literatures of India stress the factual realization of God by the process of yoga ("linking up"). Yoga fulfills the expressed purpose of religion, for it provides the science by which the tiny jiva, the eternal individual spark of life that animates each one of us, can rise above the temporary designations of the human species and re-establish its connection with the Supreme Soul, God. This very first step of yoga, the understanding that I am not the body but an eternal particle of consciousness, part and parcel of God, immediately dispels the confusion of opposing bodily conceptions like "man" vs. "woman," "black" vs. "white," "young" vs. "old," and "Catholic" vs. "Protestant," which are the source of so much strife in the modern world.
The essential teachings of the yoga system were revealed five thousand years ago by Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita. And one verse of this great book has been singled out by the foremost Bhagavad-gita commentator in our time, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This, he says, is the "peace formula" for humanity at large:
"The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries." (Bhagavad-gita 5.29)
Srila Prabhupada further elaborates: "Under the spell of illusion, living entities are trying to be lords of all they survey, but actually they are dominated by the material energy of the Lord. The Lord is the master of material nature, and the conditioned souls are under the stringent rules of material nature. Unless one understands these bare facts, it is not possible to achieve peace in this world, either individually or collectively."
The philosophy of Krsna consciousness explains that the disturbances to peace we experience in the material world are due to ignorance of God, of matter, and of our own inherent spiritual nature. For the most part, living beings here are unsurrendered to God, determined instead to play God by grasping at His material energy. To realize this dubious end, they must forfeit the peace of their eternal spiritual consciousness and accept the endless discomforts of birth after birth in various species. Krsna's material nature is known as maya, or illusion, and maya is the reward for those who choose to forget Krsna. By maya's influence, God seemingly becomes a myth, and the quest to dominate nature seemingly becomes reality.
While we play our false roles as kings and queens of the world, maya assaults us with an insurmountable succession of miseries—birth, death, disease, and old age—which ultimately drag us down, dashing all of our hopes for mundane glory. In the kingdom of maya we may find opposing regimes erecting fortifications, amassing military might, and vying for control of contested territories; but maya can smash these aspirations at any moment and prove that neither party has the power to defy Krsna's jurisdiction.
Actually, we are always poised at the edge of destruction, war or not, since none of us can foresee how long our life in this present body will last. We may make all sorts of physical preparations for World War 111, digging bomb shelters or whatever, but we may not live to enjoy our handiwork, having died of a heart attack from the exertion. The most substantial preparation possible is to become God conscious—Krsna conscious—now.
Being Krsna conscious means we must learn to live out our lives in a way that will please the Lord. According to the Vedic teachings, this entails approaching a bona fide spiritual master and submissively inquiring from him about the science of Krsna. Such a spiritual master can engage one in bhakti-yoga, or service to Krsna, which begins with chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and following the basic regulative principles of spiritual life, namely abstinence from meat-eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication. By these simple processes one can know the Lord in truth, cross over the miseries of this temporary world, and go back home, back to Godhead.
These teachings of Lord Krsna's peace formula, as explained by Srila Prabhupada and offered to everyone by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, are admittedly simple proposals for solving a complex problem. They have been available to the Western world since 1966, but they have been largely ignored by top-level policy makers, owing to our modern society's "secular" orientation. Godless politicians have not been able to afford even an experimental investigation into the application of these principles in society, and yet their own exertions seem to be offering us no relief from the dilemmas they are pledged to resolve. History has shown their attempts for peace to be nothing more than a flimsy charade of false promises.
However, the Vedic literatures themselves serve as testimony to the social efficacy of the Krsna conscious philosophy, since they were compiled at a time when the important civilizations of the world followed those principles. From the descriptions of the Bhagavad-gita, the most esteemed of the Puranas (Vedic histories), we find that by acknowledging the property rights of Lord Krsna, human society was decorated by His blessings in the form of wisdom, opulence, happiness, and peace, the natural conditions of life for devotees of the Lord.
Srila Prabhupada was convinced that it is not too late for us to alter the vicious course of modern history and return to the divine shelter from which we have wandered so far away. He called modern socio-political arrangements "decorations on a dead body," because the spiritual foundations of society have long decayed. Therefore, external adjustments to the social body in the name of "detente," "coexistence," "arms limitation," or "containment" cannot check social decline, any more than cosmetics can check the gradual withering of a corpse. But by spiritual inspiration through Krsna consciousness, civilization can regain its real life and purpose. For those who recognize the futility of a godless existence of quarrel, uncertainty, and meaningless death, Srila Prabhupada's teachings are not to be lightly dismissed.
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
He was maestro of the chanting,
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Having transplanted Krsna consciousness to a small storefront in New York. Srila Prabhupada carefully nurtured his first disciples with a variety of spiritual activities.
It was makeshift—a storefront-turned-temple and a two-room apartment transformed into the guru's residence and study—but it was complete nonetheless. It was a complete monastery amid the city slums. The temple (the storefront) was quickly becoming known among the hip underground of the Lower East Side; the courtyard was a strangely peaceful place for aspiring monks, with its little garden, bird sanctuary, and trees, squeezed in between the front and rear buildings; the Swami's back room was the inner sanctum of the monastery. Each room had a flavor all its own-or rather, it took on its particular character from Swami's activities there.
The temple room was his kirtana and lecture hall. The lecture was always serious and formal. Even from the beginning. when there was no dais and he had to sit on a straw mat facing a few guests, it was clear he was here to instruct, not to invite casual give-and-take dialogue. Questions had to wait until he finished speaking. The audience would sit on the floor and listen for forty-five minutes as he delivered the Vedic knowledge intact, always speaking on the basis of Vedic authority—quoting Sanskrit, quoting the previous spiritual masters, giving perfect knowledge based on reason and argument. While contending with noises of the street, he lectured with exacting scholarship and deeply committed devotion. It seemed he had long ago mastered all the references and conclusions of his predecessors and had even come to anticipate all intellectual challenges.
He also held kirtanas in the storefront. Like the lectures, the kirtanas were serious, but they were not so formal: Prabhupada was lenient during kirtana.
Visitors would bring wooden flutes, harmoniums, guitars, and they would follow the melody or create their own improvisations. Someone brought an old string bass and bow, and an inspired guest could always pick up the bow and play along. Some of the boys had found the innards of an upright piano, waiting on the curb with someone's garbage, and they had brought it to the temple and placed it near the entrance. During a kirtana, freewheeling guests would run their hands over the wires, creating strange vibrations. Robert Nelson had brought a large cymbal that now hung from the ceiling, dangling close by the Swami's dais. But there was a limit to the extravagance. Sometimes when a newcomer picked up the karatalas and played them in a beat other than the standard one two-three, Swamiji would ask one of the boys to correct him, even at the risk of offending the guest. Prabhupada led the chanting and drummed with one hand on a small bongo. Even on this little bongo drum, he played Bengali mrdanga rhythms so interesting that a local conga drummer used to come just to hear: "The Swami gets in some good licks."
The Swami's kirtanas were a new high, and the boys would glance at each other with widening eyes and shaking heads as they responded to his chanting, comparing it to their previous drug experiences and signalling each other favorably: "This is great. It's better than LSD!" "Hey, man, I'm really getting high on this." And Prabhupada encouraged their new-found intoxication.
As maestro of these kirtanas, he was also acting expertly as guru. Lord Caitanya had said, "There are no hard-and-fast rules for chanting the holy name," and Prabhupada brought the chanting to the Lower East Side just that way. "A kindergarten of spiritual life," he once called the temple. Here he taught the ABCs of Krsna consciousness, lecturing from Bhagavad-gita and leading the group chanting of Hare Krsna. Sometimes, after the final kirtana he would invite those who were interested to join him for further talks in his apartment.
In the back room of his apartment Prabhupada was usually alone, especially in the early morning hours—two, three, and four a.m.—when almost no one else was awake. In these early hours his room was silent, and he worked alone in the intimacy of his relationship with Krsna. He would sit on the floor behind his suitcase-desk, worshiping Krsna by typing the translations and purports of his Srimad-Bhagavatam.
But this same back room was also used for meetings, and anyone who brought himself to knock on the Swami's door could enter and speak with him at any time, face to face. Prabhupada would sit back from his typewriter and give his time to talking, listening, answering questions, sometimes arguing or joking. A visitor might sit alone with him for half an hour before someone else would knock and Swamiji would invite the newcomer to join them. New guests would come and others would go, but Swamiji stayed and sat and talked.
Generally, visits were formal-his guests would ask philosophical questions, and he would answer, much the same as after a lecture in the storefront. But occasionally some of the more committed boys would monopolize his time -especially on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, when there was no evening lecture in the temple. Often they would ask him personal questions: What was it like when he first came to New York? What about India? Did he have followers there? Were his family members devotees of Krsna? What was his spiritual master like? And then Prabhupada would talk in a different way—quieter, more intimate and humorous.
He told how one morning in New York he had first seen snow and thought someone had whitewashed the buildings. He told how he had spoken at several churches in Butler, and when the boys asked what kind of churches they were he smiled and replied, I don't know," and they laughed with him. He would reminisce freely about the British control of India and about Indian politics. He told them it was not so much Gandhi as Subhas Chandra Bose who had liberated India. Subhas Chandra Bose had gone outside of India and started the Indian National Army: he entered into an agreement with Hitler that Indian soldiers fighting for British India who surrendered to the Germans could be returned to the Indian National Army to fight against the British. And it was this show of force by Bose, more than Gandhi's non-violence, which led to India's independence.
He talked of his childhood at the turn of the century, when street lamps were gas-lit and carriages and horse-drawn trams were the only vehicles on Calcutta's dusty streets. These talks charmed the boys even more than the transcendental philosophy of Bhagavad-gita and drew them affectionately to him. He told about his father. Gour Mohan De, a pure Vaisnava. His father had been a cloth merchant, and his family had been intimately related with the aristocratic Mulliks of Calcutta. The Mulliks had a Deity of Krsna. and Prabhupada's father had given him a Deity to worship as a child. He used to imitate the worship of the Govinda Deity in the Mullik's temple. As a boy, he had held his own Ratha-yatra festivals each year, imitating in miniature the gigantic festival at Jagannatha Puri, and his father's friends used to joke: "Oh, the Ratha-yatra ceremony is going on at your home, and you do not invite us? What is this?" His father would reply, "This is a child's play, that's all." But the neighbors said, "Oh, child's play? You are avoiding us by saying it's for children?"
Prabhupada fondly remembered his father, who had never wanted him to be a worldly man, who had given him lessons in mrdanga, and who had prayed to visiting sadhus that one day the boy would grow up to be a devotee of Radharani.
One night he told how he had met his spiritual master. He told how he had begun his own chemical business but had left home and in 1959 had taken sannyasa. The boys were interested, but so ignorant of the things Prabhupada was talking about that at the mention of a word like mrdanga or sannyasa they would have to ask what it meant, and he would go on conversational tangents describing Indian spices, Indian drums, even Indian women. And whatever he spoke about, he would eventually shine upon it the light of the sastra. He did not ration out such talk, but gave it out abundantly by the hour, day after day, as long as there was a real, live inquirer.
At noon the front room became a dining hall and in the evenings a place of intimate worship. Prabhupada had kept the room, with its twelve-foot-square hardwood parquet floor, clean and bare; the solitary coffee table against the wall between the two courtyard windows was the only furniture. Daily at noon a dozen men were now taking lunch here with him. The meal was cooked by Keith, who spent the whole morning in the kitchen.
At first Keith had cooked only for the Swami. He had mastered the art of cooking dal, rice, and sabji in the Swami's three-tiered boiler, and usually there had been enough for one or two guests as well. But soon more guests had begun to gather, and Prabhupada had told Keith to increase the quantity (abandoning the small three-tiered cooker) until he was cooking for a dozen hungry men. The boarders, Raphael and Don, though not so interested in the Swami's talk, would arrive punctually each day for prasadam, usually with a friend or two who had wandered into the storefront. Steve would drop by from his job at the welfare office. The Mott Street group would come. And there were others.
The kitchen was stocked with standard Indian spices: fresh chilies, fresh gingerroot, whole cumin seeds, turmeric, and asafetida. Keith mastered the basic cooking techniques and passed them on to Chuck, who became his assistant. Some of the other boys would stand at the doorway of the narrow kitchenette to watch Keith, as one thick, pancake-like capati after another blew up like an inflated football over the open flame and then took its place in the steaming stack.
While the fine bhasmati rice boiled to a moist, fluffy-white finish and the sabji simmered, the noon cooking would climax with "the chaunce." Keith prepared the chaunce exactly as Swamiji had shown him. Over the flame he set a small metal cup, half filled with clarified butter, and then put in cumin seeds. When the seeds turned almost black he added chilies, and as the chilies blackened, a choking smoke began to pour from the cup. Now the chaunce was ready. With his cook's tongs,
Keith lifted the cup, its boiling, crackling mixture fuming like a sorcerer's kettle, and brought it to the edge of the pot of boiling dal. He opened the tight cover slightly, dumped the boiling chaunce into the dal, and immediately replaced the lid .... POW! The meeting of the chaunce and dal created an explosion, which was then greeted by cheers from the doorway, signifying that the cooking was now complete. This final operation was so volatile that it once blew the top of the pot to the ceiling with a loud smash, causing minor burns to Keith's hand. Some of the neighbors complained of acrid, penetrating fumes. But the devotees loved it.
When lunch was ready, Swamiji would wash his hands and mouth in the bathroom and come out into the front room, his soft, pink-bottomed feet always bare, his saffron dhoti reaching down to his ankles. He would stand by the coffee table, which held the picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates, while his own associates stood around him against the walls. Keith would bring in a big tray of capatis, stacked by the dozens, and place it on the floor before the altar table along with pots of rice, dal, and sabji. Swamiji would then recite the Bengali prayer for offering food to the Lord, and all present would follow him by bowing down, knees and head to the floor, and approximating the Bengali prayer one word at a time. While the steam and mixed aromas drifted up like an offering of incense before the picture of Lord Caitanya, the Swami's followers bowed their heads to the wooden floor and mumbled the prayer.
Prabhupada then sat with his friends, eating the same prasadam as they. with the addition of a banana and a metal bowl full of hot milk. He would slice the banana by pushing it downward against the edge of the bowl, letting the slices fall into the hot milk.
Prabhupada's open decree that everyone should eat as much prasadam as possible created a humorous mood and a family feeling. No one was allowed simply to sit, picking at his food, nibbling politely. They ate with a gusto Swamiji almost insisted upon. If he saw someone not eating heartily, he would smilingly protest, "Why are you not eating? Take prasadam." And he would laugh. "When I was coming to your country on the boat:' he said. "I thought, 'How will the Americans ever eat this food?"' And as the boys pushed their plates forward for more, Keith would serve seconds—more rice, dal, capatis, and sabji.
After all, it was spiritual. You were supposed to eat a lot. It would purify you. It would free you from maya. Besides, it was good, delicious, spicy. This was better than American food. It was like chanting. You got high from eating this food.
They ate with the right hand, Indian style. Keith and Howard had already learned this and had even tasted similar dishes, but as they told the Swami and a room full of believers, the food in India had never been this good.
One boy, Stanley, was quite young, and Prabhupada, almost like a doting father, watched over him as he ate. Stanley's mother had personally met Prabhupada and said that only if he took personal care of her son would she allow him to live in the monastery. Prabhupada complied. He diligently encouraged the boy until Stanley gradually took on a voracious appetite and began consuming ten capatis at a sitting (and would have taken more had Swamiji not told him to stop). But aside from Swamiji's limiting Stanley to ten capatis, the word was always, "More ... take more." When Prabhupada was finished, he would rise and leave the room, Keith would catch a couple of volunteers to help him clean, and the others would leave.
Occasionally, on a Sunday, Prabhupada himself would cook a feast with special Indian dishes.
Steve: Swamiji personally cooked the prasadam and then served it to us upstairs in his front room. We all sat in rows, and I remember him walking up and down in between the rows of boys. passing before us with his bare feet and serving us with a spoon from different pots. He would ask what did we want—did we want more of this? And he would serve us with pleasure. These dishes were not ordinary, but sweets and savories-like sweet rice and kacauris—with special tastes. Even after we had all taken a full plate, he would come back and ask us to take more. Once he came up to me and asked what I would like more of—would I like some more sweet rice? In my early misconception of spiritual life, I thought I should deny myself what I liked best, so I asked for some more plain rice. But even that "Plain" rice was fancy yellow rice with fried cheese balls.
On off nights his apartment was quiet. He might remain alone for the whole evening, typing and translating Srimad-Bhagavatam, or talking in a relaxed atmosphere to just one or two guests until ten. But on meeting nights-Monday, Wednesday, and Friday—there was activity in every room. He wasn't alone any more. His new followers were helping him, and they shared in his spirit of trying to get people to chant Hare Krsna and hear about Krsna consciousness.
In the back room, he worked on his translation of the Bhagavatam or spoke with guests up until six, when he would go to take his bath. Sometimes he would have to wait until the bathroom was free. He had introduced his young followers to the practice of taking two baths a day, and now he was sometimes inconvenienced by having to share his bathroom.
After his bath he would come into the front room, where his assembled followers would sit around him. He would sit on a mat facing his picture of the Panca-tattva, and after putting a few drops of water in his left palm from a small metal spoon and bowl, he would rub a lump of Vrndavana clay in the water, making a wet paste. He would then apply the clay markings of Vaisnava tilaka, dipping into the yellowish paste in his left hand with the ring finger of his right. He would scrape wet clay from his palm, and while looking into a small mirror which he held deftly between the thumb and pinkie of his left hand, he would mark a vertical clay strip up his forehead and then trim the clay into two parallel lines by placing the little finger of his right hand between his eyebrows and running it upward past the hairline, clearing a path in the still-moist clay. Then he marked eleven other places on his body, while the boys sat observing, sometimes asking questions or sometimes speaking their own understandings of Krsna consciousness.
Prabhupada: My Guru Maharaja used to put on tilaka without a mirror.
Devotee: Did it come out neat?
Prabhupada: Neat or not neat. that does not matter. Yes, it was also neat.
Prabhupada would then silently recite the Gayatri mantra. Holding his brahmana's sacred thread and looping it around his right thumb, he would sit erect, silently moving his lips. His bare shoulders and arms were quite thin, as was his chest, but he had a round, slightly protruding belly. His complexion was as satiny smooth as a young boy's, except for his face, which bore signs of age. The movements of his hands were methodical, aristocratic, yet delicate.
He picked up two brass bells in his left hand and began ringing them. Then, lighting two sticks of incense from the candle near the picture of Lord Caitanya and His associates, he began waving the incense slowly in small circles before Lord Caitanya, while still ringing the bells. He looked deeply at the picture and continued cutting spirals of fragrant smoke, all the while ringing the bells. None of the boys knew what he was doing, although he did it every evening. But it was a ceremony. It meant something. The boys began to call the ceremony "bells."
After bells Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it would usually be time for the evening kirtana. Some of the devotees would already be downstairs greeting guests and explaining about the Swami and the chanting. But without the Swami, nothing could begin. No one knew how to sing or drum, and no one dared think of leading the mantra—chanting without him. Only when he entered at seven o'clock could they begin.
Freshly showered and dressed in his clean Indian hand-woven cloth, his arms and body decorated with the arrowlike Vaisnava markings, Prabhupada would leave his apartment and go downstairs to face another ecstatic opportunity to glorify Krsna. The tiny temple would be crowded with wild, unbrahminical, candid young Americans.
(To be continued)
From Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. 1980 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Does Each Person Have His Own Truth!
Stambha dasa oversees a Krsna conscious center in
Student: I don't think that someone else, a book or some person, can tell me what is reality for me, because I am an individual, with my own experiences and existence. I think each individual is his own truth and he is the only one who knows what's best for him.
Stambha dasa: Do you mean that truth is mere subjective opinion? In other words, do you really mean that my opinion is true by virtue of its being my opinion and that your opinion is true by virtue of its being your opinion?
Stambha dasa: Are you sure? Are you sure that my opinion is true, just by virtue of its being my opinion?
Stambha dasa: Well, my opinion, then, is that truth is absolute, not opinion, and that you are absolutely wrong in saying that truth is subjective. And since this is my opinion, you have to grant that it's true, according to your philosophy.
Student: Well . . . that may be true for you, but not for me.
Stambha dasa: No, no. That's not logical. If you allow that for me truth is absolute, then you have allowed that there is an Absolute Truth. And absolute means "complete." Therefore, if you allow that a truth is absolute, that truth must be "complete," or containing all other truths. There cannot be a truth which is not contained in that complete truth, if it is indeed complete or absolute. Therefore, since my truth is absolute, it is superior to your so-called truth.
Student: But I think that truth is what each individual believes it to be.
Stambha dasa: Do you mean that if you believe that two plus two equals five, it must equal five just because you believe that it does?
Student: If that's what I believe, then it's true for me.
Stambha dasa: All right. Someone please go get me a whole stack of one-dollar bills. Now, according to you, since this is your truth and since we want you to be able to dwell in truth and not live a lie, I'll hand you two one-dollar bills and then two more, and you can give me a five-dollar bill in return. And then again I'll give you two more plus two more, and you can give me another five-dollar bill, and in this way we will pass the entire night very happily. Okay?
Stambha dasa: You see, this is the difficulty. This is the practical difference: these relative truths cannot be satisfactorily practiced. They're just so much talk. Everyone is talking. But philosophy is not just mental speculation and mental gymnastics. Philosophy is meant to guide the activities of one's life. So much armchair philosophy, so many parlor-room truths. But then when it comes time to practice these so-called truths, no one can do it. Therefore, you can only speak your truth, whereas we are able to live our truth, and very happily. So who is living reality and who is living a lie or some mental dream?
We hear so many people talk so much, yet in their lives they can't stick to their philosophy. For example, there are some scientists who are always saying that life is nothing but a combination of chemicals. But when we say, "All right, so if we give you the chemicals can you produce life?" they can't do it.
Because these philosophies are imperfect, relative truths, they don't bring satisfaction to the self, which is hankering for absolute, eternal truth. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that that which is true now but is not true tomorrow is not actually truth. Truth is eternal. It's true for all people in all times and all places. Only this will actually satisfy us.
Our subjective truths are simply sources of uncertainty, because with subjective truth we actually don't know. We have to admit to ourselves that we don't know anything for certain, and this uncertainty causes continuous anxiety, anxiety rooted in ignorance.
We are thinking, "Should I go to this college? Should I take this job? Should I rent this apartment?" We want to know what will make us happy, but practically every one of us has found that we have made so many wrong decisions in the past. So we should admit, therefore, that what we're presently considering by this subjective process is not at all certain to bring us happiness. But even though we've made so many mistakes and gone through so much frustration and anxiety, we are so egotistical that we can't admit that we really don't know what is in our best interest. We can't just be humble and agree to hear from Krsna, from God Himself, the one who is in full knowledge of past, present, and future, who is fully conscious of everything, and who has been followed to success by great sages since time immemorial.
As long as we don't have atma-jnana, knowledge of the self, as long as we don't know what this material world is, who God is, where we have come from, what the goal of our lives is, and what will happen to us at the time of death-as long as we are uncertain about these matters, there can only be anxiety in our lives, no matter what pleasant distractions we may arrange for our senses, no matter what so-called philosophies or subjective truths we may try to pacify ourselves with.
We take advice from so many friends, counselors, and teachers. "What do you think I ought to do?" So if we just hear from the supreme friend, the supreme teacher, Krsna, then we can be situated in real truth and happiness. Kane says, "This knowledge is joyful." But how can someone be joyful if he doesn't know if he's going in the right direction?
Sometimes when you're driving you're not sure whether you turned in the right direction, and you suspect that you may in fact be going the wrong way. Then every mile you travel is simply anxiety. You don't know whether to go sixty miles an hour or twenty miles an hour, because if you're going in the wrong direction you don't want to go too far too fast. On the other hand, if you're gong in the right direction you want to get to your destination as soon as possible. So a life without spiritual knowledge is full of a similar anxiety. We see so many people with motivational problems in their lives. We're in so much anxiety until we get some assurance, some highway marker that shows we're going in the right direction. Guidance from the bona fide scriptures and spiritual master is essential, so that we can, be free from anxiety and work confidently toward the goal of life.
On the one hand, how could anyone
by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
One fall day in 1972, the part of Philadelphia called University City was overrun by bright yellow posters. A rapid metastasis followed. The next day the posters had taken over Center City, and yellow tendrils were reaching delicately along main avenues toward the outlying districts. The following morning all the telephone poles on the street before our Krsna temple were infested with shining yellow squares.
Early that morning a zealous young devotee barged into my office. (I was then the temple president.) Fired with outrage, he shoved a poster before me. "Now they're right out front!" he moaned. "We have to put a stop to this! There's no way we can let this go on!"
He was very young, and his obvious innocence fortunately made tolerable his headstrong and dogmatic ways. What's more, the poster justified his anger.
In bold black letters the poster said:
KRISHNA MEDITATED: HE BECAME GOD, THE LOVE DIVINE.
BUDDHA MEDITATED: HE BECAME GOD, THE KNOWLEDGE DIVINE.
JESUS MEDITATED: HE BECAME GOD, THE FORGIVENESS DIVINE.
NOW GOD WANTS YOU TO MEDITATE, SO YOU CAN BECOME GOD...
In smaller type it announced that members of a New York yoga group were coming down in a week to offer an introductory presentation at the University of Pennsylvania Christian Association.
"Well?" demanded the ardent devotee, an edge of challenge in his voice. "What are we going to do about it?" He meant, of course, what was I going to do.
"What we're already doing," I said. "Chant Hare Krsna. Distribute more and more Gitas and Back to Godheads. What else?"
This was not acceptable. He demanded action. The atheistic poster was everywhere. Now, he said, all a person had to do was walk down the street to be told that Krsna began as an ordinary guy, and that any ordinary guy could likewise become God. It loudly proclaimed there was no difference between man and God. It blasphemed the Supreme Lord. If I tolerated that blasphemy, my friend warned, I would lose all my "pious credit," become devoid of the results of my devotional service. He showed me my duty; he quoted verses; he demanded action.
"The posters are already there," I protested. "It's too late."
"Well then!" he exclaimed triumphantly, "when they come to town you could go and challenge them! You could smash the rascals!" He snatched up the bright poster and thumped the bottom, the invitation for all ambitious souls to begin becoming God.
"See! Don't you see what they're up to! It's a mystic yoga factory! They're going to set up a mystic yoga factory right here in this city! You've got to stop them! You've got to!"
"Yeah!" said voices together. During the devotee's tirade several others had gathered in the room. The poster went back for their inspection.
I was thinking. On the one hand, how many could be so stupid as to fall for the crass hucksterism of the poster? "First Krishna; then Buddha; then Jesus; and NOW—YOU! Yes, you too . . ." Could anyone take that seriously? On the other hand, they sure could. We had them come often enough into our temple to announce their divinity. Once one of them had taken me aside after a Sunday feast to confide solemnly, "I am very pleased by the way you are worshiping Me here."
God had become dirt-cheap. It was common to meet these do-it-yourself Gods, made right in their own homes with medicine mixed in basements. It was already a cottage industry. So why not mass-produce them in a mystic factory? It was a sure thing.
The group with the poster was deeply impressed.
"Wow! Is this ever impersonal philosophy!"
Mincingly, someone said, "So you become God, the jerk divine . . ."
I cleared my office, and began thinking of what could be done . . .
Here was an egregious instance of what we recognized as the ultimate spiritual disease, the philosophy of impersonal oneness that proclaims man to be God. The speculative doctrines of impersonalism had been propounded in India for thousands of years, and for thousands of years our own tradition of bhakti, devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had opposed them. And now the battle had spread to Western soil.
According to impersonalists, the absolute truth ("Brahman" in Sanskrit, but you could call it "God") is a completely undifferentiated spiritual unity; it has no variety in it, no form, no qualities, no relations. Moreover, it is the only reality. The existence of any other entity, they claim, would limit it. Thus the world we see about us, in all its profusion of shapes, smells, sounds, colors, and tastes, is an illusion, maya. There is only one homogeneous spiritual entity, and that alone is real. All else is false. You and I, as particular individuals, are in truth non-existent. When Brahman is covered by maya, the illusion of individual existence arises.
What is inexplicable in this philosophy is the existence of illusion itself. How did that illusion arise? How could it cover Brahman? Impersonalists try to make illusion more powerful than the Supreme. For them, illusion in its individual aspect is a finite person; illusion in its collective aspect is given the name "God." Thus, the one Supreme Person is an illusion, the infinitely many subordinate persons are illusions, and bhakti, the devotional service of the many to the One, is also an illusion. So although impersonalists may make free use of the word God, in fact they are rigorously atheistic.
To support their impersonalism, they appeal to the idea that the Supreme must be unlimited and unconditioned. And all name and form, they say, are limitations. Individuality is a limitation. The Supreme, then, can properly be understood only through the complete elimination of all such limiting ideas, by the denial of all names, forms, actions, and attributes. "Neti, neti," they say: "Not this, not that." This procedure alone secures the transcendence of the Supreme, they say, and keeps it from coming under the confinement of our materially entrenched conceptions.
They do not recognize, however, that definition by negation has its own inherent limitation. We may negate conceptions of material qualities, relations, and forms, but the corresponding negations are themselves material ideas. If "form," for instance, is a material concept, then "formless" is also material. This is because the idea of "formless" depends for its meaning upon the idea of "form." "Formless" requires "form" if it is to have any sense at all. Thus "nameless," "formless," "qualityless," and so on are only relative material conceptions of the Supreme; they cannot precisely describe the Supreme. Definition by negation, then, is incomplete.
Can we complete the process of definition? We start with "form," then by negation go to "formless." Where can we go from there? "Form" and "formless" seem to exhaust the alternatives. We can't go back to material form; nor do we want to get hung up in some interminable blow-your-own-mind effort to realize the "unity" of "form" and "formless." (Many impersonalists do this.) But let us examine the starting point again, this time more carefully. We start not with "form" but more precisely with "material form." And our negation, "formless," means "no material form." Now we can see our way through the barrier, to the affirmation that is finally called for: "spiritual form." Here we have the factual unity or synthesis of "form" and "formless": there is form, but no (material) form. Thus we must conclude that the Supreme Absolute Truth has spiritual or transcendental form and, by the same token, transcendental names, qualities, activities, and relations.
And it makes good sense. We can agree that the Supreme must be unlimited, but isn't it paradoxical that the impersonal conception of the Supreme, arrived at by relentless denial, is of an entity so systematically stripped of everything -form, attributes, and relations-that it is cognitively no different from the idea of nothing at all? (Indeed, some impersonalists like to speak of the "Divine Nothingness" or "Nonbeing.") But nullity, nothingness, is the ultimate in limitation. On the other hand, the personal conception of God as a being full of transcendental or spiritual forms, qualities, activities, and relationships without limit really does indicate one who is the greatest of all.
Our reasoning can show that the Supreme has transcendental variegatedness, but it cannot tell us the specific, concrete facts about that variegatedness. At this point we have to drop our efforts to understand God by our own mental prowess, and we have to hear, submissively, from the Vedas, from the transcendental sound that comes from the Supreme Himself. That sound discloses in full the specific name, form, opulences, and activities of the Supreme, which are beyond the effulgence of impersonal Brahman: It is Krsna, the all-attractive, whose transcendental bluish-black form glows like a new raincloud illuminated by lightning within, whose jewel-bedecked hands lift a silver flute to His lips, whose eyes, beautiful like lotus petals, roam restless with love over His devotees in the eternal kingdom of God.
The impersonalists hanker to merge into the effulgence of the Supreme. But when they hear about the form beyond that effulgence, the transcendental form of Krsna, the embodiment of all beauty, they think of it as material, as maya. This is because their own mentality is so rigidly materialistic. They are unable to accept the notion of "transcendental form" because as far as they are concerned all form is material. This keeps them stuck in their negations. But why should we impose our material ideas of name, form, qualities, and actions on God? Who says that all form has to be material form?
It is true that mundane mind and senses cannot conceive of the Supreme, but there is no reason why we have to be limited to mundane mind and senses. We can, in fact, directly experience the transcendental nature of the form, qualities, and activities of Krsna when our own mind and senses have been completely purified and spiritualized by total absorption in devotional service to God (bhakti), which begins with the chanting of Hare Krsna. We can then personally enter into the endless pastimes of Krsna.
To understand God you must become a servant of God. But an impersonalist is unwilling to do that. He is ambitious. He wants to become God Himself. Therefore he is hostile toward the actual Personality of Godhead, and because of that hostility he persists in a perverse logic that tries to make the Supreme a nonentity. The impersonalist's "neti. neti. neti" is a sword with which he attacks the transcendental Supreme Person, trying to mince Him down to nothing. He tries to kill Krsna in order to take His place.
I had witnessed the impersonalist's policy of denigrating God even in their casual, offhand remarks. Once, for instance, at a Sunday feast I was speaking to a guest about Krsna, and she stopped me to say, "Oh, don't spoil it by giving it a name!" What would she think if someone spoke of her that way?
"Karen's quite a nice girl."
"Oh, don't spoil it by giving it a name!"
And countless times I've heard the remark, "Oh, I think God is just energy." Note the word just. Here we are talking about the Supreme, and we have to say "just." I am a person with senses and intelligence, but God, who is supposed to be greater, is "just energy."
The yoga society's poster revealed the same implicit enmity toward God. No difference between you and Krsna; no need, then, to surrender to Him and serve Him. You be God! The claim that Krsna meditated to become God certainly brought Him down to size. It also arrogantly contradicted Krsna's own revelation in the Bhagavad-gita, as well as the standard history of Krsna's appearance in Srimad-Bhagavatam, another Vedic text.
We discussed this point that evening in the Gita class, considering in particular one incident from Krsna's history, the story of Krsna and the demoness Putana.
Krsna says in the Gita that He comes to the material world with a mission: to establish religious principles, to protect the devotees, and to destroy the atheists. When atheistic and demonic rulers oppressed the earth five thousand years ago, Krsna appeared in the family of the chief of them, a usurper named Kamsa. Prophecy warned Kamsa that one of his nephews was destined to kill him. Kamsa therefore imprisoned his sister and her husband and killed their newborn children one by one. Their eighth child, Krsna, was covertly taken from the capital on the night of His birth and hidden in Gokula, a small village of cowherds, where He was put under the care of Nanda, the chief of the herdsmen, and his wife Yasoda. When Kamsa learned that the eighth child had eluded him, he sent his allies out into the countryside to kill every child born around that time.
One of these allies was Putana, an adept in black arts. She had attained powers through mystic yoga: she could travel swiftly through the sky and alter her bodily form at will. Under the order of Kamsa, Putana roamed the countryside killing babies, a task for which she was especially well qualified, since she drank with relish the warm blood of children.
Alighting on a pasture outside Gokula, Putana assumed the form of a young woman and headed toward the settlement. The villagers all looked up in wonder as a woman of almost supernatural beauty suddenly appeared, alone and announced, on their streets. Her hips were full, and her large and firm breasts seemed more of a burden than her slender waist could bear. Her clothes were gorgeous, and the tresses of glossy black hair that framed her beautiful face were braided with garlands of flowers. Her brilliant earrings flashed. Everyone stopped to watch her, and she glanced upon them enchantingly. They were all disarmed. The women thought she must be the goddess of fortune herself coming to worship Krsna.
No one stopped Putana as she entered Nanda's house and went directly into the room where baby Krsna lay napping. She sat by the bed, reached in, and took the baby on her lap. Disarmed by her beauty and by the tender way she held the child, Krsna's mother did nothing to stop her.
Hugging the child to her breast, Putana pushed her nipple into His mouth. She had smeared this nipple with a fast-acting, deadly poison, but it did not have the expected effect. Krsna squeezed her breast with both His hands and began to suck very hard. Putana's eyes bulged; she broke out in a sweat: she began flailing her arms and legs: her hair loosened. Jumping up, she tried in vain to knock the child away. Shrieking "Stop! Stop! Let me go! Let me go!" she fled blindly from the house and out of the village. Clinging fast to her breast, Krsna sucked out the poison, her milk, and then her very life. Her screams reverberating through the countryside, Putana died, and her body returned to its original form, hideous and gigantic, and fell with a shock that leveled trees for twelve miles around. The villagers, terrified by the ear-splitting screams and the concussion of Putana's fall, came racing out of the village and in fear and wonder saw the monstrous, repulsive body of Putana lying across the fields. The tiny form of baby Krsna crawled happily over her chest.
Putana was a powerful mystic yogini, while Krsna was only an infant just starting to crawl. Yet as Putana discovered, He had inconceivable power. He never had to "become God," because He is God eternally. This is the difference between the real Godhead and the would-be Gods turned out in the mystic factory. Krsna did not meditate to become God, nor by meditation can we ever become, God ourselves.
Yet it seemed that every telephone pole in Philadelphia proclaimed otherwise. Every day the devotees returned from preaching, chanting, and book distribution more antagonized by the ubiquitous poster. Impersonal philosophy weighed on all minds, and in our classes I was inevitably called upon to produce further and further arguments against it. And this I did with increasing vigor and enthusiasm. I couldn't help that, yet I knew it made the notion that I would go and "smash the rascals" more and more fixed in the devotees' minds.
I had serious misgivings about going. The circumstances would not be favorable. It was the yogis meeting, after all, and I would come as an intruder. The whole audience would be on their side. If I observed the etiquette proper for a guest, I could hardly challenge them effectively, yet if I violated that etiquette I would appear rude and belligerent. The impersonalists were already hostile, and I would simply increase their enmity.
But the devotees wanted a confrontation. As the day of the meeting drew nearer and nearer and the preaching increased in vigor, it became clear to me that the situation had developed a dramatic momentum that required a denouncement. Without some resolution, a sense of incompleteness and dissatisfaction would interminably linger; morale would suffer. Whatever my misgivings, I had to go, just to lay the business to rest. If only for its symbolic value, it had to be done. So I selected two devotees who could be counted on to stay calm, and let the word out that we would go to the meeting.
It is already dark as we walk through the ivied campus and into the Christian Association. Passing under high ceilings and along heavy walnut wainscoting, we find the room. It is dimly lit, perhaps thirty feet wide and twenty feet deep, and crowded. The audience sits on the floor. Mostly male, blue jeans, flannel shirts, hair below the shoulders. Up front is a table where candles burn and thin plumes of incense curl toward the ceiling. We make our way through the crowd, the faint odor of marijuana and patchouli rising to meet us. We create a quiet sensation: dhotis and kurtas, shaven heads, twin lines of clay on our foreheads. We sit in the first circle, at the left of the table, and observe the mystic yogis themselves. They are a surprise. Standing at the table are three young men identically dressed in grey, flannel trousers, white knit turtleneck sweaters, and what looks like white buck shoes. Their hair is short and neatly combed. They all look like Pat Boone in April Love.
The room is deadly silent—no whispering, no coughing. A very solemn audience. Many sit with rigid backs, straight arms resting on knees, eyes closed. The quiet continues; a few more fill in the back.
Then with folded hands one of the welcomes them in a soft, almost languid voice and says that we will begin by chanting "om." The members of the audience work themselves into versions of a yogic posture. Everyone breathes out "Om" We chant "Hare Krsna" softly on beads. "Om" means Krsna, but the impersonalists have ruined it for us. Bad usage drives out the good. On the table between the candles is a black-and-white front-face photograph of an Indian in yogic posture, their leader; his eyes are open wide, but you can see nothing but the whites.
The vibes are all quiet now, soft, mellow, and om-y. The three whisper among themselves, sending glances periodically our way. Two of them walk noiselessly to the side and sit. The other addresses us in soft and well-modulated tones. This is an exploratory meeting. If there is sufficient interest, members will come down to open a permanent branch.
Then he talks about Love. We must open our hearts to the divine. He talks about Surrender and Service. He talks about Humility. As he talks, his shoulders take on a slight hunch, he bends forward slightly from the waist, a posture he retains throughout his talk. Now and then he presses the palms of his hands together before him. Devotion, he says. Now and then he sends a quick look our way. Love, he says. Serve. Surrender.
It is quite a disarming performance. These are the same people who put up the poster, but we are not going to be able to get a handle on that. No, they believe in Love, Service, and Surrender. They are Devotees.
Now we are to have some Devotional Poetry, written by their leader. A girl in a shirtwaist dress goes to the front. "My Krishna is not black," she reads. "My Krishna is gold. I have painted Him black with the ink of my mind."
There it is. The devotee next to me groans. In context, "gold" means the impersonal effulgence of light, and "black" stands for Krsna's name, form, qualities—everything.
A hand. "You speak a lot about worship. But isn't there something higher?" It's the first question, so they immediately realize that in slanting their presentation to us they have not satisfied the others. Now they are caught uncomfortably in between.
His answer, as you might expect, is convoluted, taking away with one hand what it gives with the other. It takes several other questions and answers to get his position out. It is this: Actually bhakti, the path of devotion, is the best because it is the easiest. Whatever path you take, it leads to the same place. On the path of devotion we choose some particular idea of God to worship, to concentrate our mind on. But when we reach the goal, we realize that the Supreme is beyond all thought and ideas and that the particular form we have been worshiping is a material conception. We also realize that our own individuality is an illusion. Thus we become one with the object of worship. So philosophically we understand that there is no difference between us and God. But when we practice bhakti we don't think like that. For the purposes of bhakti, we must think of God as great and of ourselves as very small. We must become very humble and surrender to and serve our chosen ideal. The higher realization of oneness will come automatically, in time.
My hand is up. Reluctantly, "Yes?"
"Your poster says that Krsna meditated in order to become God?"
"Could you tell me how it is that God has to meditate in order to become God?"
He walks a few steps over toward me. "Well, we were just trying to express in words what is beyond words."
"But it's not so hard to understand. God means omnipotent, unlimited. If I am God, then why should I have to meditate? What kind of God is that?"
He looks at me with a hurt expression, and raising his hands at me palms out, he begins slowly to back away.
"Words . . ." he says in a pained voice. "Words ..."
"Words . . ." plaintively echoes the other fellow, also backing away.
"Words . . ." they both say, looking around the audience in appeal, as if words were the most distressful things in the world to contemplate.
This is an amazing performance. "Wait a minute," I protest. "You just spent an hour speaking all sorts of words, most of which sounded like nonsense to me. Now why—"
But they are past hearing, past words.
The doctrine that words are meaningless is so nonsensical it can't even be spoken. In fact, it can't even be thought!
They back away as if before a plague victim.
The audience is in turmoil. The vibes are gone. Several speak at once. Someone begins lecturing me from the other side of the room on the meaninglessness of words. Someone else flips rapidly through the Upanisads in paperback, apparently searching for confirmation of the same doctrine.
A heavy hand falls on my shoulder. I turn to confront a thin face fringed with a wispy beard. Baleful, solemn eyes peer into mine. "Hey, man," he says, "you're creatin' duality."
The mystic yogis turn to other questions, and the meeting quickly breaks up. We approach them afterwards, but they refuse discussion. I tell them that as devotees of Krsna we cannot tolerate blasphemy of Him, and that I hope we will not see any more of such posters.
The cold autumn night air cleared my head, but the meeting had left me despondent. My misgivings had been sound. All we had done was create antagonisms. I hadn't been able even to confront their philosophy, let alone defeat it. It had been like putting your hands through mush. There was nothing to get a hold of.
Back at the temple we found a few devotees waiting up for us with cups of steaming hot milk. As we recounted what had happened, my mood began to improve.
"They can talk nonsense for hours," I said, "and then when you challenge them, all of a sudden words are meaningless!" The fathomless stupidity of their position struck me with wonder. The doctrine that words are meaningless is so nonsensical that it can't even be spoken. In fact, it can't even be thought! Why couldn't they at least be consistent and be silent? If they were true to themselves they couldn't spread this nonsense.
If words are meaningless, then thinking is meaningless too. They are actually trying to become mindless. They say that bhakti is for the emotional sort and that their speculative process is for the intellectual, but they revealed that night how profoundly anti-intellectual and antirational they are. For them, all rational thinking is maya. And if they try to base their position on scripture (like the boy flipping through the Upanisads)—well, that is maya too.
I was feeling ebullient. And then another realization came to me. It made everything worthwhile. I understood their philosophy of devotion.
"It's Putana-bhakti!" I exclaimed. "That's what it is, Putana-bhakti" Everything fell into place. Their devotional service, like Putana's, was a disguise, a sham. Putana wanted to kill Krsna, and to get close to Him she disguised herself as a devotee, as the goddess of fortune. Pretending she was going to serve Krsna the way His mother Yasoda serves Him. She took Him tenderly upon her lap. Even the devotees were fooled. But at the last minute, her purpose was revealed. It is the same with the impersonalists. They adopt bhakti for spiritual advancement and try to act like devotees; they talk about humility, and service, and surrender, but, as the yogi said in his talk, they have another idea in the back of their minds: "I'm God." They try to approach God through their duplicitous devotion, and their plan is that at the last moment they're going to whip off the disguise, attack Krsna with their "neti, neti. neti," kill Him, and take His place. Putana-bhakti!
I was exhilarated. They had challenged Krsna, but in doing so they had merely brought out in the open their own mindlessness and their own petty envy of God. How ridiculous the tiny creature becomes when he aspires to be the Supreme. They had challenged Krsna, but there was no doubt that it was—as it had to be—a clear victory for Krsna.
In a short time & yellow posters all disappeared from the city. And the mystic yogis, for whatever reason, did not come back.
RAVINDRA SVARUPA DASA holds a doctorate in religion from Temple University, Philadelphia. He has been a devotee of Krsna for nine Years.
Children in Krsna consciousness are among the very few who
The courtroom hushed as he faced the jury and pointed a long, manicured finger at the defendant, an attractive young woman who sat calmly turning her prayer beads. The prosecution was offering summary remarks in a trial to determine custody of the woman's seven-year-old son David, then enrolled at a Krsna conscious secondary school. The boy's divorced father had demanded that she remove their son from the school or else relinquish custody. She refused to do either.
The prosecution listed some of the shocking facts about the life of children in Krsna schools: they ate no meat, rose early every morning for temple services, and learned that man did not descend from the apes. And then came the clincher: "They don't even watch television."
A buzz swept through the gallery as astonished witnesses and visitors realized the full meaning of these words.
"What? No television?"
Nonetheless, the jury found the boy healthy and happy and allowed the mother to retain custody. They could find nothing objectionable in the boy's diet. In fact, two doctors testified that it was one of the healthiest imaginable. Religious observances each morning appeared to have done the boy no harm. As for evolution, the boy himself provided a rather remarkable slice-up of Darwin's theories.
And what about the television? He said he didn't mind not having it.
"Then what do you do?" they asked him.
"I play with my friends," he said, "and I go to Krsna farms on weekends and learn about planting crops and how trees have feelings and how to milk a cow. I also like to play the mrdanga drum and chant Krsna's names."
His teacher gave more information about his studies and extracurricular activities. Like many of his classmates, he had a reading level three grades above that of his counterparts in public schools and a math proficiency two grades higher. He was as mischievous as any other child his age, she said, but he remained respectful to teachers and elders, was sorry his father wouldn't come to visit, and wrote to him once a week.
This little boy's case was exceptional, in that Krsna children usually have contact with both their parents. Separation, especially at an early age, is not the practice in Vedic culture. What was not exceptional for Krsna children was the absence of television. TV programs offer little for people who are growing up spiritually. Devotee children have more satisfying forms of entertainment that engage them physically and intellectually. And even though the use of television sets is not in itself objectionable to devotees, the content of the programs—even carefully selected ones—is generally incompatible with spiritual education. Krsna conscious children don't need electronic "aids" to enhance their interest in study, and the children themselves say television programs seem "made up" and boring.
Isvara Puri dasa is six and a half years old and has seen television programs when visiting family members. His parents are both devotees. "I don't like when they show people killing," he explains. "If you kill someone, you have to suffer yourself from the karma. There should be shows about Krsna, so that kids can become purified. otherwise, they'll do nonsense like killing and have to suffer.
"I never liked Mickey Mouse's body," he says. "It isn't true. It's invented. When I was younger, I liked television, but my intelligence is better developed now. Besides, Krsna things are even funnier than television."
Madhavi's parents are also devotees, but she was already seven years old when they entered Krsna consciousness. Now Madhavi is nine. "I suppose I liked television before becoming a devotee, but I was seeing with materialistic eyes. I don't like it any more, because I know it's an illusion. Things aren't really like that, and they always talk about cigarettes, gum, eating meat—things that aren't good for you. And you forget Krsna when you watch television."
Devotee parents and teachers help children avoid vidiocy by providing a daily schedule filled with color and variety. Morning and evening services are particularly satisfying. The services bring the devotional community together for chanting and dancing before the Krsna Deity. The Deity receives fresh garlands each morning, and the previous day's flowers are distributed to the children and guests. Near the altar the children have a special place reserved for them, so that they can get a closer view of Krsna's beautiful decorations. The children also greet newcomers, help in cooking, take part in Sunday feasts and monthly festivals, and enjoy frequent outings with their classmates.
"Do you like your studies, David?" the defense counsel asked.
"Sure. Even in math and spelling we talk about Krsna. In history we learn about what happened a long time ago in India when the government was God conscious, and then we talk about how it's different now. "
"Before, David, you said you don't miss television. What do you do instead for fun?"
"We go places and do plays every week. We play different incarnations of Krsna, like Lord Rama, and we dress up in costumes, and on Sunday we do the play for the guests and devotees at the feast. I like to play Rama's monkey warrior Hanuman, because he's strong and a great devotee." No one wanted to argue that watching cartoon characters parade across a television screen was "more constructive."
There is no objection among devotees to television per se, since it can be used to broadcast the message of Krsna consciousness. Devotees even staff a video department that offers taped lectures and plays. Using technology in Krsna's service is not a break with religious tradition but, rather, a demonstration that everything—including machinery—is God's energy and can be used for devotional purposes. Some religionists in India refuse even to wear watches, because they consider the lubricating oil contaminating. Krsna devotees recognize, however, that when one is properly trained to engage everything in God's service, such extremes are unnecessary.
"The objection is not the medium but the message," David's mother explained. "The Krsna culture holds certain values in great esteem that commercial television shows neglect: chastity, respect for life in all its forms, minimizing material needs, controlling the mind and senses. I read recently that by the time a schoolchild in this country graduates from high school he will have spent eleven thousand hours in school and fifteen thousand in front of the television. Those thousands of hours don't do a thing for the child's spiritual development. I don't find it necessary for David, and he has made no objection."
David's mother also indicated that the kinds of foods promoted on the network stations were contrary to David's diet, which calls for strictly vegetarian foods offered to God. "In his school and at home David really relishes eating devotional meals. He has no interest in junk foods. And whenever he sees nondevotee children eating meat, he tries to tell them why it is wrong. 'You have to kill the animal,' he says. 'Do you believe in killing?' He convinces some of them to think about what they do and eat, instead of just following what they see on television."
The absence of television has helped devotee children cultivate alternative interests. David and many of his classmates, for example, are voracious readers, something which has greatly accelerated their spelling, writing, and concentration. The girls, although attentive to their appearance, are indifferent to fashion and glamor and prefer to learn devotional arts such as cooking, Deity sewing, music, and dance.
For role models, devotee children prefer persons of high moral and religious character over the stereotyped heroes and heroines of the screen. The ambitions the children espouse are not wealth, fame, or success in business, even though their teachers don't deprecate these things. Instead, the children speak of becoming better devotees of Krsna and helping others develop their love for Him.
One day, after the custody hearings had adjourned, a visitor approached the devotee mother and asked whether perhaps David were not isolated from society by not watching television.
"As a parent," she replied, "I see certain elements of this society that I want David to remain isolated from, and television is one of them."
With 19.5 scenes of violence per hour, who can blame her?
In Carbondale, Pennsylvania, a doctor from India leads a life of surgery and spirituality.
by Yogesvara dasa
The other doctors never call him Samika Rsi dasa. Most of them don't even know he is an initiated devotee of Lord Krsna. In the hospital—St. Joseph's Hospital, Carbondale, Pennsylvania—he is Shyam Sundar Mahajan, director of the emergency ward.
"Code Blue! Code Blue!" Physicians and nurses hurry to prearranged stations. A red light sweeps rhythmically across glass doors and windows as an ambulance speeds toward the hospital. Paramedics rush to receive the patient, a middle-aged man whose heart, for some reason no one will ever know, has stopped working.
Samika Rsi stands ready with a barrage of equipment. Attendants wheel the patient into an examination room. The doors close. Minutes tick by. Finally Samika Rsi emerges and removes his white coat. Evening settles in quietly.
"Good night, doctor," a nurse bids on her way out. Hospital personnel prepare to go home.
"If someone examines the man on that table," Samika Rsi says, "they will find all the organs intact, all the parts and chemicals still there. So why can he not be revived? Because the soul has left the body. No drug or machine can change that."
He removes his stethoscope and shoves it into his bag. A few minutes' drive and we arrive at his two-story home on the outskirts of town. Ornamenting the front door is a tiny portrait of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who inaugurated the street chanting of Hare Krsna in India five hundred years ago. Inside, paintings of Lord Krsna mingle with ceramics and woodcarvings.
"How often do you get life-or-death cases like tonight?"
"Four or five times a week," he says. "Sometimes more. I treat thirty to forty emergency cases each day: stab wounds, rape, car accidents, heart attacks."
Samika Rsi is the second eldest of six brothers and three sisters. He was born in Nagziri, India, a town of eight thousand, where as a young man he assisted his father, a devotee of Lord Krsna trained in classical Vedic medicine. They would travel from village to village on medical call, prescribing cures and accepting as payment grain or cloth, according to each patient's means. At age twenty-two he graduated head of his class at Gandhi Medical College and came West.
In 1972 he and his wife met devotees on the streets of Philadelphia, followed them back to the Krsna temple, and a year later received initiation from the Society's founder, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
That evening we read from Bhagavad-Gita As It Is after a light vegetarian dinner offered first to the Deity of Lord Krsna. Discussion soon turns again to his medical career. Apart from the emergency ward, Samika Rsi also serves as a staff physician in a maximum-security mental hospital for the criminally insane.
"Being a doctor is second best," he explains. "Being a devotee is better. Devotees offer permanent solutions, whereas doctors can only make temporary repairs, patching things up until something else breaks down and the patient dies."
For a week at a time, he works on twenty-four-hour call. He rests whenever time permits, in a small room on the fifth floor, but can always be reached by a red hot-line or over the loudspeaker. In his room the next day I change into sterilized green clothes, slip a mask over my face, wash my hands with a brown, soapy solution, and enter the operating room, cameras clutched to my side.
Samika Rsi works with another doctor to remove what they suspect is a cancerous tumor from beneath the patient's intestines. It is a short operation, and within an hour we are preparing to return home.
"That may be considered a 'legitimate' operation," he says, "but out of the twelve thousand emergency cases I treat each year, half could be avoided by simple self-control. The vast majority of emergencies are due to misuse of the body, people pushing the body to enjoy exaggerated pleasures or improper foods, drugs, alcohol.
"People are accustomed to godlessness and unrestrained sense activity. In the media and in school they learn that meat-eating, casual sex, and intoxication are acceptable habits. Not many people today admire austerity, so they make fun of devotees, who follow strict regulative principles. But the fact is, without Krsna consciousness, where are people to find the inspiration for a nobler existence?"
Samika Rsi is particularly concerned for young people. His own son is a student at a Krsna conscious elementary school in the Northeast. For the school's temple, he went to Jaipur, India, and personally brought back Deities of Lord Krsna. He dedicates in fact about half of his salary to spreading Krsna consciousness by helping construct temples and schools and publish books.
The evening before my departure, Samika Rsi invites friends and family members to his home to see a slide show on Krsna conscious schools in the U.S. After a dinner of finely spiced vegetables, sauces, salads, and milk sweets, we gather in the temple. Samika Rsi reads from Bhagavad-gita, and we discuss various points of philosophy.
The phone rings. His wife Anarta dasi answers the call.
"Code Blue," she says.
Samika Rsi closes the book, bows to the Deity of Lord Krsna, reaches for his bag, and walks swiftly out the door.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Black Swami Returns from Africa
New York—Bhaktitirtha Swami, former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's student division, recently returned from a three-month tour of African nations. Having lectured to university audiences in Ghana and Nigeria on the science of bhakti-yoga, Bhaktitirtha Swami praised Africa's receptivity to Krsna consciousness.
"Much of Africa's population accepts reincarnation," he explained. "And because Africans have a tradition of sitting and hearing from spiritual authorities, my lectures were well received. People there hear the message of the Bhagavad-gita and feel that it clarifies beliefs they have long held. Our contribution is a scientific explanation of phenomena they have accepted for centuries, without understanding how or why."
Among Bhaktitirtha Swami's programs were an address at the National Arts Council in Accra, Ghana, that country's largest cultural center, and an appearance on television in Lagos, Nigeria. The programs were arranged by His Holiness Brahmananda Swami, who has been in Africa preaching Krsna consciousness for the last ten years.
"People there are very eager to have books on meditation and yoga," Bhaktitirtha Swami said. "They practically bombard us with questions, stopping us at street lights, in stores."
Often living in villages as guest of honor in the homes of chiefs and elders, Bhaktitirtha Swami saw many cultural parallels between the African heritage and that of the Vedic, Krsna conscious culture. "Much of Africa is very Eastern," he noted. "The family life, diet, respect for authority, spiritual beliefs . . . and the similarities with Krsna consciousness are greatly appreciated. Rather than propose a change of culture, as the Christian missionaries did, Krsna consciousness suggests that people continue with their own culture and simply add an understanding of the scientific process of devotional service, as described in the Bhagavad-gita"
In the United States, Bhaktitirtha Swami directs the activities of the Urban Spiritual Development Committee, which sponsors Krsna conscious social welfare programs in inner-city areas.
Bhaktitirtha Swami joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in 1972 and accepted sannyasa. the order of renounced life, in 1979. He holds a degree in psychology from Princeton, where he was president of the Student Council and of the Third World Coalition. Before joining ISKCON he was the director of seven drug-abuse programs for the city of Cleveland and director of several penal reform projects for the state of New Jersey.
Indian Scholar Praises Srila Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam
"I have read with pleasure and profit the English translation of Srimad-Bhagavatam by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This Bhagavata Mahapurana, considered in Vaisnava tradition a word image of Bhagavan Sri Krsna, has served as a touchstone of scholarship through the ages. As an aggregation of spirituality and devotion, it has been the main source of the philosophical tenets of the various schools of Vaisnavism. It is really gratifying to note that Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has performed the tremendous task of translating into English, adding purport and esoteric interpretation, this basic text of Vaisnavism in several volumes. Indian religion and Indology both will remain indebted to Srila Prabhupada for making Vaisnava thought and philosophy available round the world through the translation of this text. I do not find adequate words to express my joy and appreciation of this excellent edition."—Professor Rasik Vihari Joshi, Head of the Dept. of Sanskrit, University of Delhi, India.
Good Marks for Govinda's
Bombay—Recently Society magazine said this about the local branch of Govinda's Restaurant: "For the absolute yogic saints, the great souls who eat only vegetarian food in pure goodness, we have discovered the place, where both the food and the lingering fragrance of sandalwood seem to guarantee your instant nirvana. Govinda's is a vegetarian restaurant managed by the disciples of the Hare Krishna movement at their ashram in the Juhu Beach area. Not only do they provide the most reasonably priced vegetarian plate cooked in pure clarified butter, but there is surely a divine hand in the preparation of their delicious menu."
The Power of the Volcano
The media's complete coverage of the Mount St. Helens volcano completely avoided seriously considering the cataclysm's ultimate cause. Photographers in airplanes hovered over the mountain, taking sensational news photos of the blast, officials tallied the loss of life and money, but no one spoke of the ultimate cause; no one suggested the volcanic eruptions were the work of God. One observer cried, "Oh, my God, the mountain blew!" And a photographer at the foot of St. Helens cried, "O dear God, this is hell! God, I want to live!" and barely escaped with his life. The press, however, offered these exclamations not as philosophical statements but as human-interest sidelights.
The daily science pages, while admitting—we simply do not know enough about volcanoes," mentioned only items of intermediate interest—continental plates, how lava forms, how volcanic dust particles are wonderful "windows" by which scientists can see into the mysterious bowels of the earth. But nothing of an ultimate cause, nothing about God. One reporter did raise the question of divine origins, but only to relegate it to the antiquated superstition of primitive religion: "The ancients were convinced that eruptions occurred because of the anger of the gods: today's scientists have a more modern theory."
If the editors of this science page had wanted to bring up a God conscious explanation of natural disasters, they could have given us something more thought-provoking, such as the explanations given in the Vedic literature. But then that might have upset their intention of presenting science as the last word in everything, including nature and her origins.
Both The New York Times and Time magazine made the same editorial reflection: there was nothing anyone could have done to stop it. "You can't blame a volcano." "It was literally inhuman."
Said Ms. Brigid O'Hara-Forster. the writer of Time's cover story. "It put our human failings and frailties in perspective."
What does that mean, to "put our human failings and frailties in perspective"? Clearly, it means the volcano showed us a force for annihilation far greater than man's most powerful and inhuman atomic weaponry. St. Helens, a baby volcano, erupted with five hundred times more power than the Hiroshima bomb. It reminded us that despite our advancement in science or military strength, man has no control over "inhuman" natural forces, forces that could in a moment dash the planet or the entire universe to pieces.
They say, "literally inhuman" and "You can't blame a volcano," but indirectly this admits to the supremacy of a power, and even a morality, incomparably beyond human scope. Call it what you will, "Nature" or "inhuman force," St. Helens forces us to admit the presence of an awesome power not answerable to man.
A Krsna conscious person acknowledges the power of nature to be but an an insignificant energy of the all-cognizant supreme controller, Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna showed His devotee Arjuna a divine vision of the universal form, displaying the destructive power of all the universe. "If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky," states the Gita, "they might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form:' (This was the verse quoted by Robert Oppenheimer in 1945 as he witnessed the first atomic bomb exploding at Alamogordo.) Seeing the fearsome universal form of God, Arjuna asked, "What is Your mission?" and the Lord replied, "Time I am, the destroyer of the worlds, and I have come to engage all people," Was not the "baby volcano," St. Helens, a reminder of God's annihilating force, which will eventually engage all men?
People wonder: Why, if the Supreme is all-good, would He destroy? And this is a natural question with which we can begin our inquiry into Krsna consciousness.
That the disasters of nature often seem retributive is not beyond the jurisdiction of the supreme will. The Sanskrit term karma refers to the law that for every action there is a reaction, either in this life or in a future life. Karmic reaction may be good or bad, and the vicissitudes of nature are one way we may receive bad karma. The plan of the Supreme is complex, ultimately inscrutable; even an expert devotee cannot comprehend fully how Krsna is working. The devotee willingly acknowledges, however, that not a blade of grass moves but by the will of the Supreme, and he sees God in everything.
In the Gita, Krsna suggests how to see the Supreme in the varied manifestations of the world: "I am the taste of the water, the light of the sun and the moon; I am the sound in ether and ability in man. I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives..." The devotee knows that a volcanic eruption, like anything else, springs from but a spark of the mighty splendor of the Supreme.
In His original form, Krsna has very sweet features, and His dealings are all-loving exchanges with His pure devotees. This is His personal nature in the supreme eternal abode. All saints and prophets have described the material world, although produced of God's energy, to be a foreign place for the lost and wandering souls, and they advise us to go back to the kingdom of God to be reunited in loving pastimes with Him.
But although persons who deny the Supreme cannot love Him and cannot know Him in His loving aspect, they ultimately embrace Him in a form they cannot deny—Death. Those who refuse to admit the presence of the Supreme are forced to submit to Him in this most unwelcome feature. No one escapes Him: "Time I am. I have come to engage all men."
And sometimes, by His own independent will, the Supreme may manifest His power on such a grand scale that it puts even proud human beings "into the right perspective."—SDG