A lecture by
Delivered in Calcutta, India, on January 31, 1973
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for your kindly inviting me to speak something about East and West. Actually, I have considerable experience now because I have been traveling between the East and the West—not only once but at least twice or thrice every year.
As far as the Krsna conscious movement is concerned, there is really no such thing as East and West. For instance, the sun rises from the eastern horizon and sets on the western horizon, but the sun is the same. You cannot say "the eastern sun and "the western sun." That is not possible. This planet earth is moving, and we are thinking that the sun is moving from east to west. But the sun is fixed in its position. Similarly, this Krsna consciousness movement makes no such distinction between East and West. If one makes such a distinction, it is due to lack of knowledge.
Why this lack of knowledge? Because we are in the bodily concept of life. According to Vedic culture, anyone who accepts the material body to be the self is not considered a human being. It is said in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [10.84],
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
"One who accepts this bodily bag of three elements (bile, mucus, and air) as his self, who desires an intimate relationship with his wife and children, who considers the land of his birth worshipable, who bathes at the holy places of pilgrimage but never takes advantage of those persons who are in actual knowledge-he is no better than an ass or a cow."
Go-kharah. Go means "cow," and khara means ass." This is how the Srimad-Bhagavatam describes any person who is accepting this body as himself. For example, if someone asks us, "Who are you?" generally we say, "I am Mr. Such-and-such; I am American." Or "I am Indian," or "I am African." These are all bodily designations, because I am identifying myself with this body.
Yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke. Kunape means "bag." This body is a bag—a bag of bones, flesh, blood, urine, and so many other things. You cannot manufacture a living entity by combining bones, flesh, blood, urine, and stool. That is not possible. You are great scientists, you are going to the moon, but if I give you some ingredients like these bones, flesh, blood, and urine, can you manufacture a human being? Can you? Can anyone? Is there any scientist in the world who can manufacture a human being by combining bones, flesh, blood, urine, and stool? No. Then why are you identifying with this body?
From your country have come so many scientists and great leaders. From our country, also, come many big leaders—Mahatma Gandhi and others. Do you think these men are merely combinations of bones and flesh and urine? According to the Ayurvedic system of medicine, this body is made chiefly of three elements, kapha pitta vayu: mucus, bile, and air Actually, this body is like that. As soon as the spirit soul leaves this body, the body is nothing but bones, flesh, urine, and stool, and it has to be disposed of. While the man was living he was acting so nicely, so intelligently. Now, as soon as the soul is gone, immediately all of his good qualities are gone. So do you think he was simply a combination of bones and flesh? Will any sane man accept this?
You may say that it is because something is lacking for generating life in this body that the body is called dead. But that is not a fact, because after this body's death—after the soul has gone out of the body—innumerable microbes will come out. Decomposition. So you cannot say that the ingredients that give impetus to the generation of life are lacking. They are not lacking.
So if there is any difference between East and West, this is the difference. In the Eastern part of the world, especially in India, the people know, "I am not this body." And in the Western part of the world, they do not know. That is the difference. That is the distinction between East and West.
In India, go to a village and ask any man, "What are you?" He will say, "Sir, I am a soul suffering or enjoying according to my past karma." In other words, "I was living in the past. So according to my past actions I am suffering or enjoying the reactions in this life." He believes in the transmigration of the soul. And he believes in the future life also. He is very cautious not to commit sins, because he knows, "If I commit sins in this life, I'll have to suffer in my next life." This is Eastern life. And in the Western countries, no one knows this, even big, big professors. In Moscow I talked with one Professor Kotofsky. He said, "Swamiji, after death everything is finished." This is the difference between East and West.
In the Eastern countries, especially in India, a common man will understand the existence of the soul. And in the Western countries, a topmost man—a professor—does not know about the soul. That is the difference. Otherwise, as far as your eating is concerned, it is the same, either in Eastern countries or Western countries. You eat something very nice on a plate; they also eat something. You sleep in a nice apartment; they also sleep in something. You try to defend with your atomic weapons; they also try to defend. You are after sex; they are also after sex. And this is true not only of Eastern and Western people: the animals are also after these things. Ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca/ samanyam etad pasubhih naranam. Eating, sleeping, sex life, and defense. These are common to the animal and the human being. You may improve the cooking process or eating process, but, after all, it is still eating. Your eating is meant for maintaining your body. That is done by the animals, also. These things are not cultural advancement. Real cultural advancement is to know, "I am not this body. I am spirit soul." Aham brahmasmi. That is the difference. So this education is in India.
In the beginning of Bhagavad-gita [2.l3], Krsna says,
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change." This is the Eastern gift.
So I have come to the Western countries to give this Eastern gift. And it is being accepted by your children. So many American and European boys and girls are accepting it. Not only hundreds, but thousands. People say, "Swamiji, you are doing wonderfully." I tell them I am not doing wonderfully. I do not know any magic. I have no mystic power. I am simply presenting the Eastern culture to the West. That's all. It is not unreasonable. Any child can understand that there is the soul within the body. There is one doctor in Montreal by the name of Dr. Bigelow who is now speaking about the existence of the soul. He's a cardiologist. I had some correspondence with him, and he admitted, "Swamiji, your people know much more about these things than we know." But there is no question of East and West. It is simply education. Take these boys, for example. Four or five years ago they did not know anything about Krsna consciousness. But because they have been educated in the science of Bhagavad-gita, they are now also teaching others about the soul. And they are very sound in their conviction.
Actually, any knowledge—any scientific knowledge—is meant for the whole world. For instance, Professor Einstein discovered the law of relativity, but it is not just for the Western people. It is for the Eastern people also. When there is culture, when there is knowledge, there is no question of Eastern and Western. The Eastern people may know something very nicely, and the Western people may take some time to learn it; or the Western people may know something very nicely, and the Eastern people may take a little time. For example, in order to learn about technology, an Easterner will go to the Western countries to learn how a certain machine works. In India, they are also learning.
So now the time is ripe for us to stop thinking in terms of Eastern and Western. We should be hankering after real knowledge. That is needed. That is the point of unity. Now, for lack of knowledge, the Eastern and Western people are trying to find a solution to the world's problems through the United Nations. But they are unable to do so. My headquarters is in New York. I go to First Avenue, and occasionally I see the United Nations building. But instead of diminishing the number of flags, they're increasing them. They're increasing. Then what is the meaning of this "United Nations"? Big politicians and big learned scholars are speaking. Then why are the nations not united? It is due to lack of knowledge.
What is that lack of knowledge? Yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke. Everyone is thinking, "I am this body." They are trying to unite, but the basic principle of their disunity is that they are all thinking, "I am this body." The American is thinking, "I am this American body," and the Russian is thinking, "I am this Russian body." So they are fighting. Why? Due to this identification with the body. But if we understand this very simple principle, that "I am not this body," then everyone will be united. Until the lack of knowledge is eradicated, how will we be united, culturally or in any other way? It is not possible, because we are missing the point.
This is the point: dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara tatha dehantara-praptir dhiras tatra na muhyati. Asmin dehe: in this body, there is a proprietor of the body. That is the soul. This proprietor of the body is constantly trans-migrating to different types of bodies. The example is given: kaumaram yauvanam jara. A small child is changing his body to boyhood, the boy is changing his body to adolescence, and the young man. is changing his body to an old man's body. Similarly, when the old man's body dies, the soul accepts another body. This is knowledge. Dhiras tatra na muhyati. One who is actually in knowledge is not disturbed by the death of the body, because he knows the soul is not dead.
Another example is how you change your dress. Now, some of you are present here with a coat of black color. And tomorrow you can change into a white coat. But that does not make any difference; you still remain the same person. So it is the same when we change our body. For instance, I was once a baby. I remember that I had a little body'. But that body is missing now. Then I remember that I was a young man; I had a very youthful body. But that body is also missing now. And as an older person, I know that I have again changed my body. I have simply changed my body, but I am still living. I remember the different bodies. Similarly, when we change into a completely different body, it does not mean that we are dead. It is further explained in the Bhagavad-gita, na hanyate hanyamane sarire. The living entity, after the annihilation of this body, does not die.
How does the living entity transmigrate from one body to another? By the subtle body. There is a subtle body. The flesh, bones, and blood form the gross body. The subtle body works when we are asleep. While dreaming, we go outside our bedroom and we see so many things; we work in so many ways. That is the subtle body. So after the destruction of this gross body, that subtle body carries us to another gross body. It is a great science. A great science. And it is explained very nicely in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures. So why do the scientists of the Western countries not take. this matter seriously?
I was invited to speak in Boston, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. First I inquired of all the students, "Where is your technological department by which, when the body stops, you can again give it vitality and make it work? Where is that technology?" The students all liked that, and we had a very nice discussion.
We are very much advanced in technology, but we do not know the technology of the soul transmigrating from one body to another. That is ignorance. And this ignorance prevails in animals also. The animals do not know of the soul, because they are not advanced in knowledge. But they are also souls evolving or transmigrating from one body to another. There is a system. Jalaja nava-laksani sthavara laksa vimsati: from the aquatics everything is coming. The whole world was merged into water, devastation. Therefore, the beginning of the living entities is the aquatics. From the aquatics, they come to the forms of plants and trees. Then from plants and trees to insects. From insects to birds. Then from birds to beasts, and from beasts to human beings. Asatims caturams caiva laksams tan jiva-jatisu. They're all mentioned.
The evolutionary theory is not a new thing, as stated by Darwin. It is there in the Visnu Purana. But it is very perfectly explained there. Darwin has not very perfectly explained it. In his theory, there are so many defects. But the real point is that the living entity, the soul, is transmigrating from one body to another, and the chance of developed consciousness is in the human form of life. In this human form of life, we must come to understand, "What am I, where have I come from, where am I going next, and why have I taken this body, which is subjected to so many miserable tribulations I do not want?"
Ultimately, all of our miserable conditions have been summarized into four—birth, death, old age, and disease. Janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam. We are trying to become happy by our scientific knowledge, by advancement of knowledge, but Lord Krsna says that you cannot make any material solution to these four problems. That is not possible. So our happiness is false happiness. This is called maya. Maya means we are falsely happy. We are thinking, "Now I am well situated," but I am not thinking that at any moment—perhaps the next moment—I may be kicked out of the situation I am in and everything will be finished. "Why am I being kicked out? I want to stay here permanently." Nobody wants to leave his present body. Then why do we? Where is the solution? This is lack of knowledge. But there is a solution. That is Eastern culture.
The Eastern culture knows how to make the solution. Therefore, you'll find so many groups—the karmis (performers of ritualistic activity), the jnanis (philosophers), the yogis, and the devotees—they are all trying to make a solution to these four problems of birth, death, old age, and disease. That is the Eastern gift. And in the Bhagavad-gita- [4.9], there is the solution:
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." That is culture. That is the real business of the human being—to understand, "I am put into this material condition of life. I am changing from one kind of body to another. Who can guarantee that I am not going to become a tree in my next life?"
There is no guarantee. There is no scientific guarantee that you are not going to be a tree, that you are again going to become an American. No, there is no guarantee. Because the so-called scientists cannot find a solution to this problem, they do not believe in the next life That is their defect in their knowledge. They want to live permanently, but by the laws of nature they cannot Therefore, they cannot find a solution. But we can give the solution. Nobody wants to become old, but we are forced to become old. We can also give the solution to this problem. This is Eastern culture.
I request all of you ladies and gentlemen to take to this Krsna consciousness movement. It is not a sentimental movement. It is a very authorized, scientific movement.
Already we are combining East and West socially, politically, religiously, philosophically, economically—in every way. The solution is here, if you take it seriously. It is not a sentimental movement. It is most scientific. If any scientist comes to me, I can convince him that it is a scientific movement.
I asked Professor Kotofsky in Moscow, "My dear professor, what is the difference between your communist movement and my movement? You have selected Lenin as God; I have selected Krsna as God. Where is the difference of principle? You cannot live without a leader, or God. I cannot live without a leader, or God.
That's a fact. Then where is the difference? Now it is to be judged whether Lenin is good or Krsna is good. That is another thing. But your position is that you have to accept one leader, either Lenin or Jawaharlal Nehru or Hitler or Churchill. You have to accept. You cannot work independently. Therefore you have got so many parties. So here is another party, the Krsna party. So where is the difference in philosophy? There is no basic difference in philosophy. Now let us study whether the Lenin party is better or the Krsna party is better. Then the whole solution will be realized." Thank you very much. Hare Krsna
"Is the end near?
by Hayagriva Dasa
In twenty years, we'll have reached year 2000. Just twenty brief orbits round the sun, five Presidential elections, three total changes in body chemistry. Twenty years fly. Nineteen sixty was but yesterday: President Kennedy elected, U.S. property seized in Cuba, Adolf Eichmann captured, the absurdist end of Albert Camus.
Most of us living today will be alive in year 2000, everything being equal, barring accidents, diseases, nuclear catastrophes, and so much else that can befall man on this planet.
A recent report to President Carter, however, reveals that a great deal will be happening on this globe between now and 2000. And assuredly, all things will not be "equal". In the material universe, the old laws hold: You can't win, break even, or even stop playing. As Lord Krsna assures us, this universe is duhkhalayam, a place of misery, and asasvatam, the place of death.
The State Department and the Council on Environment Quality have assured President Carter the same. In a 766-page report submitted in early August (1980), the President was informed that the earth and life on it are slowly dying. And that's putting it euphemistically. The outlook is bleak. The report, entitled "Global 2000," paints a landscape of a wasteland that makes T. S. Eliot's portrait paradisal.
Due to unwanted population and misuse of natural resources, Mother Earth will hardly be recognizable. Half of the existing forests will be depleted, especially in the tropics, where overpopulated, underdeveloped countries use wood for fires. Burning fuels will raise the carbon dioxide content in the air, triggering climatic changes. We have already witnessed side effects: heat waves, warm winters, snow in June, gigantic hurricanes, droughts, tornadoes, and other scenes from Revelations. Is the end near? Probably not, but we may be wishing it were.
The cities of year 2000 will be the size of nations in bygone eras. Population will increase 55 percent to 6.35 billion, and most of this growth will appear in less developed countries, where it can't be accommodated. The poor will get poorer, and the rich will do all they can to break even. Air pollution and loss of natural habitats wilt force two million species of plants, birds, insects, and animals to call it quits and disappear. The big demand, of course, will be for food. Unwanted children mean unwanted mouths to feed. Look for more starving children in the Mideast, Latin America, Africa, and Asia. According to the report, "the quantity of food available to the poorest groups of people will simply be insufficient to permit children to reach normal body weight and intelligence."
Srimad-Bhagavatam's predictions realized! Eventually, the Bhagavatam tells us, people in our present Kali-yuga, "the Age of Kali," will be twelve inches tall. (We've 427,000 years of Kali's age left.) These physical and mental dwarfs will run about frantically, spawning offspring to eat. Shades of Jonathan Swift.
Underlining these prophecies, the report to the President informs us that hundreds of millions of people will go hungry in twenty years. The harvests of arable land will be spreading thinner: although 2.4 acres of land fed 2.6 people in the early 1970s, they will have to support four people by the year 2000. Salt and alkali buildups will also threaten tillable soil with erosion. Sand dunes will replace fertile farms. More hungry, unwanted children crying, diseased, fly-ridden, ignorant, miserable.
Deforestation will cause sufficient catastrophes in the form of floods and droughts. The world's rivers will be destabilized; ground water will be depleted.
There will be lots of money by today's standards, but what will the currency be worth? Mere paper. The per capita gross national product will rise to 11,117 dollars in developed countries and will flounder at 587 dollars in underdeveloped countries. The gap between poor and rich will widen. Prices for food will be astronomical. The report states: "It is not quite clear how a world economy will function when virtually every one of its major sectors needs a price increase that substantially . . . exceeds overall inflation rates." According to Vedic culture, wealth is figured in terms of cows and grains. In Kaliyuga, it's worthless paper. And demonic machines of destruction—guns, tanks, bombs.
Avoiding conjecture, the report to the President makes no allowances for war, that great depleter of resources, time, energy, constructive ambition, love.
"'Global 2000' paints an absolutely shocking picture of the world twenty years from now," World Bank president Robert McNamara states. "Unless we act now."
We can recall how well McNamara solved our Vietnam fiasco. And now he talks about managing the world's flow of events, of redirecting the karma of six billion souls.
What a world to live in, to bring children into, to die in. And this prognosis is not science fiction. It is based on the logical outcome of current trends; if we simply continue as we are, all this will come to pass.
It's easy to say that if everyone takes to Krsna consciousness—or some form of God consciousness—these disasters can be avoided. But we might as well say that if man stopped reproducing, population would drop. It's not in man's nature to turn perfect overnight, or over-yuga.
"There are two classes of beings," Lord Krsna tells us. "The fallible and the infallible. In the material world, every entity is fallible. . . . There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods, [who is] free from the three modes of material nature." (Bhagavad-gita, 15.17, 18.40).
It is man's nature to err, to cheat, to be illusioned, and to be limited. These are our basic defects. If anyone claims not to be so conditioned, he's either illusioned or trying to cheat. This is especially true in Kali-yuga, our present time cycle.
This isn't to say that man is inherently evil. To the contrary, everyone is by nature Krsna conscious. It is the Zeitgeist of Kali-yuga that deludes us into mistaking the illusion for reality.
"What appears to be truth without Me is certainly My illusory energy, ' Lord Krsna says, "for nothing can exist without Me. It is like a reflection of real light in the shadows, for in the light there are neither shadows nor reflections."
All the miseries delineated in' "Global 2000" are there for a purpose-to make us give up trying to find happiness in the shadows, happiness independent of Krsna.
What is misery? Birth is misery. Disease is misery. Old age is misery. Death is misery. No one can claim to be free from these "inconveniences." "From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place." (Bhagavad-gita, 8.16) Guaranteed. By Lord Krsna.
Mercifully, the Lord has given us an exit-the wisdom of Bhagavad-gita, "knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence." (Gita, 9.1) The message of the Gita is frequently reiterated: Render devotional service to Krsna under the guidance of guru. That is the Vedic way out of the labyrinth of misery that's sure to worsen.
The purpose of ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, is to disseminate this knowledge for the benefit of mankind. Whoever's given time to read this article might give a little more time to acquire Bhagavad-gita As It Is, read it with an open mind, and then think of the direction we're heading in Global 2000.
After reading Bhagavad-gita, come visit us at one of our ISKCON centers to see how we're putting the philosophy of the Gita into daily practice. Our communities may represent a small step, but at least it's in the classical Vedic direction. As Global 2000 approaches, we shall see that our decision to follow Sri Krsna's advice—perhaps difficult at first—is justified.
"In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear." (Gita, 2.40)
The various meanings of dharma reveal
by Garuda dasa
The concept of dharma is of central importance in Vaisnava (Krsna conscious) philosophy and practice. So important is the concept that His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada actually defines the central teaching of Vaisnava philosophy, bhakti, in terms of dharma. Therefore, if one desires to understand bhakti, an understanding of dharma is essential. The purpose of this study is to examine the dimensions of dharma that contribute to an understanding of the genuine experience of bhakti.
The concept of dharma is difficult for the Westerner to under-stand. Many a student and scholar of Indian religion and philosophy has failed to arrive at a full sense of its meaning and has put forward incomplete and faulty interpretations, thus demonstrating dharma's seeming foreignness. Because the West has no experience that is the equivalent of dharma, we have neither a direct nor adequate English translation of the word. To account for the complexity of this concept, and for the difficulty Westerners have in understanding it, I will analyze the various dimensions of dharma as they are exhibited in the extensive writings and translations of Srila Prabhupada.
The Problem of Translation
The various specific meanings of dharma, which emerge through the context in which the word is found, reveal the richness of the concept and will gradually introduce us to a unique experience. In his writings, Srila Prabhupada often translates dharma simply as "religion." But he indicates that he uses this particular translation for convenience and for want of a better single English term, and he expresses dissatisfaction with a translation that could be misleading. In the introduction to his translation of the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada notes that the word religion "conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change." If a person's religion can change, then it is not eternal but temporary, and therefore material. Thus in his introduction to the Gita, he cautions the reader that dharma translated as "religion" is intended to mean truly spiritual religion, which is eternal, changeless.
At the same time, as Srila Prabhupada also mentions, the word dharma does appear sometimes in the traditional Hindu context of the four purusarthas, or standard, mundane aims of life: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksa (liberation). Here Srila Prabhupada translates dharma as "mundane religion." He rejects this sense of dharma for the same reason that he objects to the sense of religion as "changeable faith." In his commentary he explains that dharma here means simply the pursuit of materialistic interests. The God explains that this dharma is embraced is phalakanksi, desirous of the fruits of his labor, or by a rajasi; a passionate person. Dharma in the specific context of the purusarthas is always temporary and mundane, and so Srila Prabhupada always distinguishes between dharma in this context and dharma in its other contexts. Religion interpreted as mere "religious faith" is practically the same as dharma in the mundane purusarthas context, and therefore he is careful to distinguish between ordinary religion and genuine dharma.
We may also understand dharma by examining religion that is considered not dharma. Srila Prabhupada describes this kind of irreligion as kaitava-dharma, which he translates as "religious activities that are materially motivated. Srimad-Bhagavatam further qualifies kaitava-dharma as five kinds of irreligion, or vidharma. Vidharma refers not just to the materialistic "religion" of the purusarthas, but to a complete misuse or distortion of religion.
Less ambiguous than the translation "religion" is the translation "religious principles" or "the principles of religion." Srila Prabhupada uses this translation of dharma more frequently. This slightly expanded translation conveys the sense of religion that is unchanging, that is intrinsic to human existence. However, even this translation of dharma does not fully reveal the complexity and depth that dharma has in the writings of Srila Prabhupada. Although he uses convenient English terms for the purposes of translation, and although the context in which dharma is found does surely contribute to its sense, he does not rely on these simple translations to convey the full meaning that dharma has in Vaisnava philosophy. The struggle in translation merely gives us a clue as to dharma's profundity. Now let us examine the various ways in which dharma functions philosophically in the thought of Srila Prabhupada.
The Ontological Foundation of Dharma
An analysis of dharma in terms of its ontological, sociological, and theological dimensions is justified, because the word takes on many prefixes that indicate these levels of meaning. These prefixed meanings also are often implied by the context within which the word dharma alone is found. However, we will find that the ontological analysis demonstrates a common denominator in all these meanings of dharma, providing an underlying meaning upon which other meanings are built. The ontological, sociological, and theological levels, on which dharma functions in intricate ways, are all collapsed into the single word dharma. Thus the complexity of the concept can be seen in the various ways in which the word is applied in Vaisnava philosophy.
Srila Prabhupada establishes the ontological foundation of dharma first by referring to the word's etymological root. * (The verbal root of dharma is dhr, which may mean "to hold," "to bear," "to support," to sustain," and so on.) He states, "dharma refers to that which is constantly existing with the particular object." He illustrates this point with the metaphor of fire: the constituent qualities of fire are heat and light, without which fire could not exist as fire. "The warmth of fire is inseparable from fire; therefore warmth is called the dharma, or nature, of fire." Thus the dharma of the living being is that which is inseparable from him, that which is his essential nature and eternal quality. It is that which "sustains one's existence." What, then, is the dharma of the living being?
As Srila Prabhupada explains, the very dharma (or essential characteristic and occupation) of the living being is service. "Service" presupposes action, and the Bhagavad-gita states that it is impossible for the living being to cease from action even for a moment. Commenting on this verse, Srila Prabhupada says that "it is the nature of the soul to be always active." Furthermore, he observes that all actions performed by living beings are ultimately service, and that "every living creature is engaging in the service of something else." So characteristic is the quality of service that it is seen to be the innate tendency of all living beings, an "essential part of living energy." Thus "service" is presented as an irreducible quality of life.
It is "service" itself which is the sanatana-dharma, or "eternal" religion, of the living entity. In the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, to, Lord Caitanya states that the svarupa, or constitutional position, of the living being is the rendering of service to God. From this statement, Srila Prabhupada deduces that there is no living being who does not render service, and that at no time does the living being stop rendering service.
If we analyze this statement of Lord Caitanya's, we can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. . . . A serves B master, B serves C master, C serves D master, and so on . . . In this way we can see that no living being is exempt from rendering service to other living beings, and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service is the eternal religion of the living being.
The living being's dharma of service is not just in relation to other living beings, but is related ultimately to God, or the complete whole. Dharma as service refers to that metaphysical position of the living beings as very small parts in relation to God, or the complete whole. If the living being does not consciously participate in, with knowledge of, the complete whole, then his life becomes incomplete:
. . . living beings are parts and parcels of the complete whole, and if they are severed from the complete whole, the illusory representation of completeness cannot fully satisfy them.
The incompleteness experienced by living beings indicates that they strive for completeness, and this is achieved through a "dovetailing" of service with the complete whole. The living entity's full and conscious participation in activities that harmoniously serve the whole is service.
The Sociological Dimensions of Dharma
The Hierarchical Organization of Human Service
The different types of actions that humans perform are dovetailed led with the complete whole through the function of dharma in the socio-ethical system called varnasrama-dharma. This system gradually elevates human beings to conscious participation in the complete whole. Here dharma encompasses the full range of human duties and actions in the world in relation to the elevation of the soul to perfection.
Dharma, or "occupational duty," as Srila Prabhupada most often translates it in the context of varnasrama, is the organization of the various types of human service for the ultimate aim of perfecting that service characteristic. The principle is that a person attains perfection by performing his proper work. He accomplishes this first by identifying the particular nature of his own service, or sva-dharma, according to his particular psychophysical condition and harmoniously accommodating it into the total scheme of a God-centered society.
Service is qualified according to progressive stages of life and principal categories of work. The four stages of life, or asramas, consist of a student stage, a working stage in married life, a stage of withdrawal from both work and household life, and a last stage of complete renunciation. The varnas, which come into play in the second stage of asrama (the household stage), are four basic classes or categories of practical work: the teaching class, the administrative and martial class, the professional class, and the working class, which serves the first three classes. The varna and asrama of a particular person are determined by that person's qualities, or guna, and by the nature of his past and present activities, or karma.
The varnasrama-dharma is an arrangement of classes of human service according to people's various qualities and activities which directly reflect various degrees or levels of awareness of the complete whole. Srila Prabhupada explains that "a living being is meant for service activities, and his desires are centered on such a service attitude. . . . The perfection of such a service attitude is attained only by transferring the desire of service from matter to spirit . . ." As our service becomes gradually directed away from matter toward pure spirit and our desires become completely purified, we progress to higher occupational duties. The different occupational duties indicated by the varnas correspond to different stages of our evolving consciousness of the complete whole. For example, the development of consciousness of the public administrator is greater than that of the professional, and the latter's development of consciousness is greater than that of the simple laborer. The teaching class, or brahmana class, have the most developed consciousness, because to teach they have to realize the complete whole, or Brahman.
The varnasrama-dharma system presupposes the realities of karma and the transmigration of the soul; a person can improve his human status of activities by performing his proper occupational duties in this life, thereby qualifying himself for higher or more advanced activities in the next human birth. "The system of the sanatana-dharma institution is so made that the follower is trained for the better next life without any chance that the human life will be spoiled."
Universal Characteristics of Society
It is important to note that in the above quotation varnasrama-dharma is called the "sanatana-dharma institution." This expresses still another philosophical understanding about varnasrama-dharma. Here Srila Prabhupada indicates the eternal function of the varnasrama sociological principle, describing the very dharma of human society itself:
No one can stop the system of varna and asrama, or the castes and divisions. For example, whether or not one accepts the name brahmana, there is a class in society which is known as the intelligent class and which is interested in spiritual understanding and philosophy. Similarly, there is a class of men who are interested in administration and in ruling others. In the Vedic system these martially spirited men are called ksatriyas. Similarly, everywhere there is a class of men who are interested in economic development, business, industry, and making money; they are called vaisyas. And there is another class who are neither intelligent nor martially spirited nor endowed with the capacity for economic development but who simply can serve others. They are called sudras, or the laborer class. This system is sanatana—it comes from time immemorial, and it will continue in the same way. There is no power in the world which can stop it.
Because varnasrama-dharma was created by God, it can never be destroyed, although it may be distorted or perverted, as in the present-day caste system.
Varnasrama-dharma is carefully distinguished from the present caste system found in India, where a person's varna and asrama are decided solely by his birth. At present, even if a person born into a family of laborers acquires the qualities of a learned brahmana, still, according to the present caste system, he must remain a laborer. But Srila Prabhupada states that a person's varnasrama-dharma must be determined by his present qualities and that such an intelligent person should take up the appropriate varna despite a familial orientation toward a different varna. This principle is confirmed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The Paradoxical Nature of "Varnasrama-dharma"
Although Srila Prabhupada advocates the varnasrama-dharma system as a means of gradual spiritual advancement, he states that in the present age the perfect practice of varnasrama-dharma cannot take place:
The purpose of work is to please Visnu. Unfortunately people have forgotten this. Varnasrama-dharma, the Vedic system of society, is therefore very important in that it is meant to give human beings a chance to perfect their lives by pleasing Krsna. Unfortunately, the varnasrama-dharma system has been lost in this age. . . . Although we may try to revive the perfect varnasrama system, it is not possible in this age.
Not only is the varnasrama system impractical for this age, but it is neither entirely nor ultimately necessary: "Varnasrama-dharma is the systematic institution for advancing in worship of Visnu. However, if one directly engages in the process of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it may not be necessary to undergo the disciplinary system of varnasrama-dharma."
We can transcend varnasrama-dharma by attaining the goal of varnasrama-dharma, which is the full and direct service to God. However, transcending varnasrama-dharma does not necessarily entail the renunciation of the social system. We find that even when the goal of varnasrama-dharma (knowing and pleasing God) is reached, the system is still utilized, although the distinctions between services become unnecessary when all the social orders are completely absorbed in satisfying God:
Everyone's aim should be to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead by engaging his mind in thinking always of Krsna, his words in always offering prayers to the Lord or preaching about the glories of the Lord, and his body in executing the service required to satisfy the Lord. . . . In executing the prescribed duties of life, no one is higher or lower; there are such divisions as "higher" or "lower," but since there is actually a common interest—to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead—there are no distinctions between them.
The devotee of God (or, the Vaisnava) transcends all service distinctions but retains his position in varnasrama-dharma, because he is fully satisfying God in that position. Recognizing his particular psychophysical qualities and limitations, he transcends them by engaging them in service to God, thus fulfilling the spiritual purpose of varnasrama-dharma. Conversely, one who ignores his nature and qualities becomes unconsciously dominated and limited by them, causing his own future bondage in the material world.
Another aspect of transcending varnasrama-dharma is that once a person is totally purified, he can take up any varna for the service of God, whereas ordinarily, while still undergoing purification from material conditioning, a person should perform only his own duty. The examples of Parasurama and Visvamitra are given as examples of those who, though originally of one varna, at times acted in another varna.
Varnasrama-dharma is rejected in the discussion between Lord Caitanya and Ramananda Raya. Here Lord Caitanya asks about the ultimate goal of life. Ramananda Raya suggests that it is the execution of prescribed duties to awaken God consciousness, and he quotes the Visnu Purana:
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Visnu, is worshiped by the proper execution of prescribed duties in the system of varna and asrama. There is no other way to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One must be situated in the institution of the four varnas and asramas."
Commenting on Lord Caitanya's response to Ramananda Raya, Srila Prabhupada states, "The system of varnasrama is more or less based on moral and ethical principles. There is very little realization of the Transcendence as such, and Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu rejected it as superficial and asked Ramananda Raya to go further into the matter." It is only when Ramananda Raya suggests the giving up of all occupational duties in order to render service directly to God that Lord Caitanya is satisfied.
Although Lord Caitanya rejected varnasrama as being external, we know from the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta that He rigorously upheld the practice of recognizing the varnas and asramas in His own dealings and advocated the maintenance of etiquette between them. This paradox is also found in the Bhagavad-gita: Arjuna is told to take up his position as a warrior and fight in the battle. But at the very climax of Krsna's instruction, Arjuna is told to abandon all varieties of dharma, or occupational duties, and to come directly to Him as the only shelter. Yet we know from the Bhagavad-gita and the Mahabharata's account of the great war at Kuruksetra that Arjuna does in fact take up his occupation as a warrior and fight the battle. Does this mean Arjuna disregards Krsna's paramount instruction to take complete shelter of Him? No, not at all. Arjuna's example epitomizes the paradoxical relationship between the perfect stage of surrender both to God and to occupational duty, to the dharma of varnasrama. We know from Srila Prabhupada's writings that the perfection of dharma as religion is complete and utter surrender to God along with complete engagement in service to Him, and that the whole purpose of varnasrama-dharma is to raise a person gradually to this perfection. But once a person attains this perfection and has given up everything (including all occupational duties) in surrender to God, only then does he have the opportunity of entering back into various positions of varnasrama for the sole purpose of pleasing and serving God. The principle is that a person must first reject occupations or dharmas for God, and then he must take up, after he has completely surrendered to God, in order to use them perfectly. Srila Prabhupada calls this "daiva"-varnasrama-dharma. Thus the varnasrama-dharma system organizes the full range of human service or activities while a person is still in a materially conditioned state, and it also may organize the various activities performed directly for God. Therefore varnasrama-dharma is never fully rejected—on the contrary, it is used both for the gradual attainment of spiritual perfection and also for assisting and expressing the direct service of God.
The Theological Dimensions of Dharma
The "Order" of God
We have discussed the ontological dimension of dharma as "service," which Srila Prabhupada calls "sanatana-dharma." We have also seen in varnasrama-dharma that the irreducible factor of "service" is qualified according to the natural, universal divisions of life and work, and dharma here is "occupational duty." We saw how these qualified states of service, representing different levels of spiritual development and awareness, were organized for the aim of perfecting service, and how, once having perfected service, a person naturally performs his occupational duty to please God. This is called daiva-varnasrama-dharma, where dharma consists of one's "divine service." There is still another sense in which the word dharma is used, and this involves its theological dimension.
At a theological level, dharma takes on a different sense as "bhagavata"-dharma, or the dharma of God. According to Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavata-dharma offers the "simplest definition" of dharma, defining dharma as "the order of the Supreme Being." The meaning of Bhagavata-dharma is further revealed by a key statement from the Srimad-Bhagavatam: dharmam tu saksat bhagavat-pranitam. This says that actual dharma, or religion, is directly (saksat) manifested from God. (And that is the literal meaning of bhagavata-dharma.) Thus dharma in bhagavata-dharma, as "order," has the distinct character of sabda-brahma, or the revelation of God.
Srila Prabhupada repeatedly emphasizes the definition of dharma as "the order of God," demonstrating what religion is and what it is not. He insists that "we cannot manufacture dharma." He reasons that "no one can manufacture state laws; they are given by the government." Similarly, dharma cannot be manufactured, but must be revealed by God. "In bhagavata-dharma there is no question of 'what you believe' and ' what I believe.' Everyone must believe in the Supreme Lord and carry out His orders." It is on the authority of God's "order," or revelation, that dharma is based. This kind of dharma can be transmitted only by God's representatives.
Bhagavata-dharma is not sectarian religion; it is that universal religion which shows how everything is connected with God. Srila Prabhupada states, "Bhagavata-dharma has no contradictions. Conceptions of 'your religion' and 'my religion' are completely absent from bhagavata-dharma," and therefore one's identity as a "Hindu" or "Christian" or "Buddhist," or whatever, is superficial because these identities do not necessarily mean that one is performing bhagavata-dharma, or fulfilling the order of God. However, Srila Prabhupada accepts the diversity of religions: "Since everyone has a different body and mind, different types of religions are needed." He also explains that different religions exist because of disagreements based on these limited material conceptions and differences. But "the Absolute Truth is one, and when one is situated in the Absolute Truth, there is no disagreement." On the spiritual platform we find no differences or disagreements, simply a "oneness in religion."
The "order of God" is defined more specifically as the order to live according to the instruction of God. In the discussion of bhagavata-dharma as supreme religion, verse 18.66 from the Bhagavad-gita is usually presented, because therein the necessity of "surrender to God" is declared by Krsna Himself: sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja—"Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." Srila Prabhupada points out that the word ekam, meaning "one," shows that religion is ultimately one. The very unity of religion is realized in bhakti, wherein one finds the full realization and perfection of dharma.
The Perfection of Service as Bhakti
Bhagavata-dharma and sanatana-dharma meet in bhakti. Bhakti means the living entity's response to the order or message of God by consciously participating in His plan as an eternal servitor:
Factually we are related to the Supreme Lord in service. The Supreme Lord is the supreme enjoyer, and we living entities are His servitors. We are created for His enjoyment, and if we participate in that eternal enjoyment with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we become completely happy. . . . It is not possible for the living entity to be happy without rendering transcendental loving service unto the Supreme Lord.
This participation of the living being as an eternal servitor of God is called yoga,' it consists in the connection of the living entity to the supreme Deity. This connection, or yoga, is made possible by the revelation of God, or bhagavata-dharma, which Srila Prabhupada says "captures the presence of the Supreme," and the living being's response of surrender and service to God. This connection is called bhakti-yoga.
Many Western scholars, and even many Hindus, translate the word bhakti most often as "devotion," and sometimes as "love" or "worship," which themselves are not unacceptable but may render the word ambiguously. Too often the Westerner takes these translations and relegates the experience of bhakti either to the mere subjective and emotional or to the realm of peculiar phenomena in the history of religions. But Srila Prabhupada's contrasting translation of bhakti as "devotional service" is truly significant, because it indicates that bhakti is not an isolated emotional experience, but rather a genuine cognitive experience in direct response to the supreme reality.
It is important to note that in the translation "devotional service," "devotion" is not the primary element, but qualifies the substantive "service." But bhakti is not just any service; rather, it is devotional service, service that corresponds to the perfection of service itself, or the highest service: Sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje. Bhakti, therefore, is the supreme occupation (paro dharmah) of the living entity, because it is service performed directly in relation to God (adhoksaje). In the above verse, bhakti is correlated with dharma in its most essential and highest level. Bhakti, indeed, is the essence of dharma.
Thus we have seen that dharma finds its highest expression in bhakti, devotional service to God. We have also seen that bhakti is defined in terms of dharma, precisely because bhakti is the perfection of service—and dharma indeed does provide the full philosophical backdrop within which the experience of bhakti is properly understood. Through an examination of the ontological. sociological, and theological dimensions of dharma, we have been able to see how the concept of dharma functions in complex ways, signifying an understanding of reality that is profoundly comprehensive and virtually untranslatable, and therefore unfamiliar to the West. In the end, dharma as a concept is meant not merely to provide an exercise in philosophical discourse, but to be personally realized-and this is possible through the practice of bhakti.
GARUDA DASA is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He holds masters degrees in comparative theology from Chicago and Harvard.
On Purity and Freedom
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a priest took place in July 1973 in London.
Srila Prabhupada: In our temples there are regular Krsna conscious programs so that one may be purified internally and externally. Yah smaret pundarikaksam sa bahyabhyantarah sucih. If you constantly remember the lotus-eyed Supreme Lord, you automatically become purified, internally and externally, because the Lord is absolute.
The best way to remember the Lord is to chant His holy name. The Lord and the Lord's name are identical. Because the Lord is absolute, when we chant Hare Krsna the name Krsna and the person Krsna are identical. In the material world, the world of duality, the name is not the same as the substance. If you require water, simply by chanting "water, water" you will not quench your thirst. You require the substance water. But in the spiritual world the Lord and His name are the same thing. If you chant Krsna, or any other name of the Lord, that name is identical with the Lord Himself. Therefore, by chanting the holy name of the Lord you are associating with the Lord, and as soon as you associate with the Lord you become purified, because the Lord is all-pure. If you associate with fire, you become warm. Similarly, if you constantly associate with the Lord, you'll remain purified. Therefore, our devotees are always chanting (just as I'm also chanting), or reading some book about Krsna, or talking about Krsna. In this way we are always connected with Krsna, or God, in all our activities. Throughout the whole temple you'll find my disciples engaged in some sort of work that has a connection with Krsna. There is no other work. Nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe. Anything related to God is also godly.
Priest: You see, I don't think that spiritual activities, which are external, can really, in and of themselves, change the internal man.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. One changes internally and externally. And you can actually see: my disciples here have changed.
Priest: But a person can go to church every Sunday and say he's pure—
Srila Prabhupada: No. Our program is not like that—once every seven days. We are engaged twenty-four hours a day in Krsna's service. Suppose you are washing the floor of the temple. It is not only external; because you are also thinking of Krsna, you are in Krsna consciousness. One may be washing the floor, but he is in pure Krsna consciousness. If your full consciousness is only of God, then you will always remain godly. There's no doubt about it. If you make a division—so much for worldly things and so much for God—then you will remain impure. But if you dovetail everything towards the service of the Lord, then everything you do is godly.
Priest: Would you think it possible for a devotee to come to hate Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: Hate Krsna?
Priest: Yes. Is it possible?
Srila Prabhupada: No. A devotee cannot hate Krsna. Then how could he serve Krsna?
Priest: He could come to see Krsna as too strong, repressive, taking away his freedom, and so he could come to hate Him.
Srila Prabhupada: Spiritualism means to sacrifice your freedom for God. That is spiritualism.
Priest: Then why were we created free?
Srila Prabhupada: You are not free. You are thinking you're free, but you are not; you are under the stringent laws of nature.
Of course, you are free to some extent, because you are part and parcel of God, who is completely free. Therefore you have minute freedom. You may serve the Lord, or you may not serve Him—that is your freedom. If you serve the Lord you become happy; if you do not serve Lord you become unhappy.
Priest: But if I serve the Lord, do I lose that little bit of freedom?
Srila Prabhupada: No, serving the Lord is real freedom. For example, my finger is part and parcel of my body. As long as the finger is healthy it serves the body, but if it is full of pain, if it is unhealthy, it cannot serve. Similarly, when a living entity does not serve God, that is his material condition, his unhealthy condition. When he serves God, that is his natural, healthy condition, because he is part and parcel of God.
Priest: When did we lose contact with God?
Srila Prabhupada: When you misused your minute freedom. For example, suppose a small child wishes to become independent of his father and he leaves home and wanders in the streets. He will soon become sick from improper food, being dirty, and so on. He will not remain healthy. Similarly, we must be dependent on God. In your Christian Bible also, you pray, "O God, please give us our daily bread." You are recognizing your dependence on God. So it is better to remain dependent on God than to misuse your little independence. To remain dependent on God is our healthy state. As soon as we declare ourselves independent of God, that is our unhealthy state. This is our philosophy, and your philosophy also.
Priest: Oh, yes, I accept that. But within this world, within the limits of time and space, can't you be a healthy person without admitting your dependence on God?
Srila Prabhupada: Our definition of being healthy is being God conscious. That is healthy life. Otherwise, do you think that because someone is very strong, that means he is healthy?
Priest: Well, I would say my body can be healthy.
Srila Prabhupada: That is temporary. Everyone is subject to death. You may be very strong and healthy, but you cannot avoid death.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore, ultimately, whether you are so-called healthy or not healthy, you die. That is a fact. So we do not want that kind of 'healthy" life. Our proposition is to go back home, back to Godhead, and remain with God eternally, enjoying blissful life. This is our healthy life.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
New Laguna Beach Temple Opens
Laguna Beach, California—Some three hundred devotees from the American West Coast recently celebrated the opening of the new Hare Krsna temple in this southern California oceanside town. With colorful ceremonies, they installed five-foot-high Deity forms of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu (Lord Krsna's incarnation for the present age) and His four principal associates. These are the first such Deities in the continental United States. (They appear on the cover of this month's BACK TO GODHEAD.) The celebrations included a procession through the main streets of the city and a bountiful vegetarian feast for guests and devotees alike.
"We want this temple to be known as a place of pilgrimage for devotees of Lord Krsna and as a site of ecstatic festivals for the people of this town," said Srila Ramesvara Swami, who oversees the programs of the Hare Krsna movement in the American Southwest. The Hare Krsna devotees have had a small center in Laguna Beach for ten years.
The opening of the new temple represents a victory for the Hare Krsna devotees in a controversy that began when they acquired the building in 1977. City officials had contended that the new property, formerly a Christian church, was no longer zoned for religious use. But after some advice from the city attorney, the city council changed its mind and allowed renovation to proceed. Devotee carpenters and builders then transformed the abandoned church into a showpiece for Krsna consciousness.
Australian VIPs Applaud Krsna Conscious Banquet
South Melbourne, Australia—The Krsna consciousness movement has won official accolades for a banquet it catered at Town Hall for the Mayor, the local State Member of Parliament, five other mayors, and thirty-five other guests.
Mayor Dahan of South Melbourne wrote the Hare Krsna devotees:
"I wish to convey my thanks for the outstanding catering done by the ISKCON team at my reception.
"Two years ago, I was horrified to learn from my eldest son that he had partaken of some food prepared by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. After further discussion, however, and an assurance that he had not been drugged or poisoned, I was happy to learn that he had actually acquired some ideas on food science.
"Thanks to your magazine and the benefit of discussion with you, I no longer have the prejudice caused by superstition and lack of knowledge.
"I received a great deal of pleasure in bringing to the attention of my guests that the attractive display of food was prepared without the use of any meat, fish or eggs.
"They were all delighted with the food and deeply appreciated your decision to donate the costs of catering to the South Melbourne Community Chest
"I look forward to obtaining your services on a future occasion.
Mayor of South Melbourne"
An enlightened person sees with equal vision a learned scholar, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.
By Jayadvaita Swami
Attempts to establish equality among all people are naive and superficial unless supported by spiritual understanding. Materially, we are not equal. Some people are geniuses; others are fools. Materially, the rule is not unity but diversity. Ours is a world of diverse bodies, diverse faces.
And it is in terms of these diversities that we think of our selves. We think, "I am a man" or "I am a woman." "I am black" or "I am white." "I am tall" or "I am short." "I am an American" or "I am a Russian." We think in terms of temporary designations, temporary roles.
Within the limits of our categories, we strive for unity. Americans United. Women United. Workers United. And those who are broadminded seek to go beyond the small and petty and reach out to a greater oneness, the oneness of all humanity.
Yet even this human oneness is limited. It is but a larger "in" group, from which other living beings—animals and plants, for example—are excluded.
In Krsna consciousness, however, one sees all living beings equally because one sees who they really are. Krsna consciousness begins on the spiritual platform, with the understanding that I am not the body but the consciousness within the body. The external body is not the real self—the true self is the spark of consciousness within the body. It is that conscious spark that illuminates one's entire body with life. Indeed, life is consciousness; the body is but the house in which consciousness dwells for some time; it is a temporary garment for the eternally conscious self.
Spiritual realization, therefore, begins with awakening from one's bodily false ego to one's real identity as the spiritual soul within the body. This spiritual insight gives one the enlightened vision with which to see other living beings in their true identities also.
The enlightened person no longer sees other beings in terms of their temporary, material coverings. He no longer thinks in superficial stereotypes and designations. Rather, he sees everyone to be a spiritual spark of consciousness, in quality one with himself.
Consciousness is the same everywhere. It always has the same qualities—the qualities of perception, of understanding, of desire—regardless of the body in which it appears. A Russian may think or feel himself different from an American, but the essential nature of their thoughts and feelings is the same. As light is of one quality although it appears different when it shines through glass of varied colors, consciousness is the same in all living beings, although it manifests itself differently because of the varied bodies in which it dwells. This consciousness within the body is the real self.
A Krsna conscious person. therefore, gives more importance to the self within and less to the outward body. So although he recognizes material variety, he understands the unity behind it.
According to Bhagavad-gita—the basic book of knowledge for Krsna consciousness, a self-realized person sees all living beings equally. In India, the highest men among the social classes are the brahmanas, or those whose intellect is sharp and refined, whereas the lowest of men are those whose habits are unclean and who live by eating dogs. But although not blind to the outward differences between the brahmana and the dog-eater, a Krsna conscious person sees that both are essentially the same, because each of them is a spiritual soul, an embodied spark of consciousness.
The Krsna conscious person sees with this spiritual vision not only other human beings but also the lower species of life. In India, cows are loved and respected as the most valuable animals, whereas dogs are thought low and nasty. In the West, our sentiments are nearly the opposite; while raising cows for slaughter. we value dogs as our companions and lavish our affections upon them. A Krsna conscious person, however, sees no difference between a cow and a dog and an elephant or any other creature, because he sees each of them as a tiny embodied spiritual soul. Again, the bodies differ, yet the spark of consciousness in each body is the same.
A Krsna conscious person, therefore, has a perfect vision of material diversity and spiritual unity at the same time. He is not foolish and impractical, awkwardly straining to see all creatures as one in all respects. He recognizes diversity. We embrace our fellow human beings, but we don't embrace a tiger. Why? Because we know the differences between the tiger and the man. Our human friends shake hands with us; a tiger greets us with its jaws. Nonetheless, spiritually we see that the man and the tiger are one, because an equally spiritual soul resides within them both.
Yet although the Krsna consciousness person sees beyond the material body, he even sees beyond the soul within. For the Krsna conscious person is ultimately conscious of Krsna, the supreme reservoir of all consciousness. He sees Krsna to be present within the heart of every living being. Within each body resides an individual spark of consciousness, an individual living entity—but that consciousness dwells in one body, and only one body, at any one time. Thus I am conscious of the pains and pleasures of my body but not of yours, whereas you are conscious of yours but not mine. Krsna, however, lives simultaneously in the hearts of all living beings. He is present within the heart of the intellectual and the dog-eater, the elephant, the cow, and the dog. It is from Krsna that each living being ultimately draws his life, and because of Him that one remembers or forgets. It is He who guides each living being toward spiritual perfection or away from it, according to what each of us desires. He is therefore the ultimate fountainhead of all life, all consciousness, and all spiritual and material energy. He is the source of everything, the ultimate truth.
The Krsna conscious person sees Krsna within all living beings, and all living beings within Krsna. Therefore his vision is clear, perfect, and universal.
This spiritual vision is not abstract or theoretical. As one advances in realization, one's vision becomes purified, and this spiritual vision becomes a natural part of his life. A businessman, because of his financial consciousness, sees money everywhere. A man intent upon sexual fulfillment sees everywhere some opportunity for sex. These are crude examples, but similarly a Krsna conscious person, one whose consciousness is focused upon Krsna, becomes eligible to see Krsna everywhere. And because he sees Krsna everywhere, he sees within Krsna the true equality of all living beings.
Fall, 1966: the Lower East Side, New York
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Shortly after founding the first Krsna conscious temple in the West, Srila Prabhupada organized the first Vedic marriage ceremony, replete with fire sacrifice, garlands, exotic foods, and an intimation of the worldwide mission soon to follow.
The morning after the initiation, Prabhupada sat in his apartment reading from a commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The large Sanskrit volume lay before him on his desk as he read. He wore horn-rimmed glasses, which changed his demeanor, making him look extremely scholarly. He wore eye-glasses only for reading, and this added to the visual impression that he had now gone into a deep professorial meditation. The room was quiet, and brilliant midmorning sunlight shone warmly through the window.
Suddenly someone knocked on the door. "Yes? Come in." He looked up, removing his glasses, as Mike and Jan, now Mukunda and Janaki, opened the door, peering in. He had asked to see them. "Yes, yes, come in." He smiled, and they walked in and closed the door behind them, two vivacious young Americans. From his expressive eyes, he seemed amused. They sat down before him, and Prabhupada playfully addressed them by their new initiated names. "So, you are living together, but now you have taken serious vows of initiation. So what will you do about it?"
"Well"—Mukunda seemed puzzled—"isn't there any love in Krsna consciousness?"
Swamiji nodded. "Yes, so I am saying why don't you get married?" They agreed it was a good idea, and Prabhupada immediately scheduled a wedding date for two days later.
Swamiji said he would cook a big feast and hold the marriage ceremony in his apartment, and he asked Mukunda and Janaki to invite their relatives. Both Mukunda and Janaki had grown up in Oregon, and their family members found it impossible to travel such a long distance on such short notice. Only Janaki's sister, Joan, agreed to come.
Joan: Little did I know what kind of wedding it would be. All I knew was that they had met a swami and were taking Sanskrit from him as well as attending his small storefront temple on Second Avenue. When I met the Swami he was sitting beside the window in his front room, bathed in sunlight, surrounded by pots of prasadam, which he was distributing to the devotees who were sitting around him against the wall. I was a follower of macrobiotics and not so eager for taking this noonday meal. When I entered the room, the Swami said, "Who is this?" and Mukunda said, "This is Janaki's sister, Joan. She has come from Oregon to attend the wedding."
Swamiji said, "Oh? Where is Oregon?" Mukunda said, "It's three thousand miles away, on the other side of the United States."
And he asked, "Oh, coming from so far? Very nice. And when will the other members of the family arrive?"
Then I said, "I am the only one who is coming for the wedding, Swamiji.
He said, "Never mind. It is very nice that you have come. Please sit down and take some krsna-prasadam."
He offered me some dal, a rather moist sabji, yogurt, salad, and capatis. But because I was a devotee of macrobiotics, all of this prasadam was very unpalatable to me. Practically speaking, it was sticking in my throat the whole time, but I remember looking over at the radiant and beautiful person who was so eager for me to take this prasadam that he had prepared: So I took it all, but in my mind I decided this would be the last time I would take this luncheon with the devotees.
At any rate, somehow I finished the meal, and Swamiji, who had been looking over at me, said, "You want more? You want more?" And I said, "No, thank you. I am so full. It was very nice, but I can't take any more." So finally the prasadam was finished, and they were all getting up to clean, and Swamiji commented that he wanted to see Mukunda, Janaki, and myself—for making preparations for the wedding the next day.
So when we were all three sitting there in the room with him, the Swami reached over into the corner, where there was a big pot with crystallized sugar syrup sticking to the outside. I thought, "Oh, this is supposed to be the piece de resistance, but I can't possibly take any more." But he reached his hand into the pot anyway and pulled up a huge, round, dripping gulabjamun. I said, "Oh, no. I am so full I couldn't take any." And he said, "Oh, take, take." And he made me hold out my hand and take it. Well, by the time I finished the gulabjamun I was fully convinced that this would be the last time I would ever come there.
Then he began explaining how in the Vedic tradition the woman's side of the family made lavish arrangements for the wedding feast. So the next morning at nine, while Janaki was decorating the room for the fire sacrifice, stringing leaves and flower garlands across the top of the room, I went upstairs to meet Swamiji.
When I arrived, he immediately sent me out shopping with a list-five or six items to purchase. One of those items was not available anywhere in the markets, although I spoke to so many shopkeepers. When I came back he asked me, "You have obtained all the items on the list?" And I said, "Well, everything except for one. "He said, "What is that?" I said, "Well, no one knows what tumar is."
'He had me wash my hands and sat me down in his front room on the floor with a five-pound bag of flour, a pound of butter, and a pitcher of water. And he looked down at me and said, "Can you make a medium-soft dough?"
I replied, "Do you mean a pastry or piecrust or shortcrust dough or pate brisee dough? What kind of pastry do you want?"
"How old are you?" he said.
And I said, "I am twenty-five, Swamiji."
"You are twenty-five," he said, "and you can't make a medium-soft dough? It is a custom in India that any young girl from the age of five years is very experienced in making this dough. But never mind, I will show you." So he very deftly emptied the bag of flour and, with his fingertips, cut in the butter until the mixture had a consistency of coarse meal. Then he made a well in the center of the flour, poured in just the right amount of water, and very deftly and expertly kneaded it into a velvety smooth, medium-soft dough. He then brought in a tray of cooked potatoes, mashed them with his fingertips, and began to sprinkle in spices. He showed me how to make and form potato kacauris, which are fried Indian pastries with spiced potato filling. From eleven until five that afternoon, I sat in this one room, making potato kacauris. Meanwhile, in the course of the same afternoon, Swamiji brought in fifteen other special vegetarian dishes, each one in a large enough quantity for forty persons. And he had made them singlehandedly in his small, narrow kitchen.
It was rather hot that afternoon, and I was perspiring. I asked, "Swamiji, may I please have a glass of water?" He peeked his head around the door and said, "Go wash your hands." I immediately did so, and when I returned Swamiji had a glass of water for me. He explained to me that while preparing this food for offering to the Supreme Lord, one should not think of eating or drinking anything. So after drinking the glass of water, I went in and washed my hands and sat down. About two in the afternoon, I said, "Swamiji, may I have a cigarette?" and he peeked his head around the corner and said, "Go wash your hands." So I did, and when I came back he explained to me the four rules of Krsna consciousness. I continued to make kacauris, and around three-thirty, four o'clock, it was extremely warm in the room, and as Swamiji was bringing in one of his preparations I was wiping my arm and hand across my forehead. He looked down at me and said, "Please go and wash your hands." Again I did so, and upon returning he had a moistened paper towel for me. He explained that cooking for Krsna required certain standards of cleanliness and purity that were different from the ones I was accustomed to.
About thirty people attended. The decorations were like the ones for the initiation a few days before except more festive, and the feast was more lavish. Swamiji's front room was decorated with pine boughs, and leaves and flowers strung overhead from one side of the room to the other. Some of the new initiates came, their large red beads around their necks. They had taken vows now—sixteen rounds a day—and they chanted on their beads just as Swamiji had shown them, and they happily though self-consciously called one another by their new spiritual names.
Janaki: Swamiji said that I should wear a sari at my wedding, and he said it should be made of silk. I asked him what color, and he said red. So Mukunda bought me an absolutely elegant sari and some very nice jewelry.
The Swami's friends were used to seeing Janaki, as she always came with Mukunda, but usually she wore no makeup and dressed in very plain clothes. They were astounded and somewhat embarrassed to see her enter wearing jewelry, makeup, and a bright red sari. The bride's hair was up and braided, decorated with an oval silver-filigree hair ornament. She wore heavy silver earrings, which Mukunda had purchased from an expensive Indian import shop on Fifth Avenue, and silver bracelets. Prabhupada directed Mukunda and Janaki to sit opposite him on the other side of the sacrificial arena. And just as at the initiation, he lit the incense and instructed them in the purification by water, recited the purification mantra, and then began to speak. He explained about the relationship between man and wife in Krsna consciousness, and how they should serve each other and how they should serve Krsna. Prabhupada then asked Janaki's sister to present her formally to Mukunda as his wife. Mukunda then repeated after Swamiji: "I accept Janaki as my wife, and I shall take charge of her throughout both of our lives. We shall live together peacefully in Krsna consciousness, and there will never be any separation." And then Prabhupada turned to Janaki: "Will you accept Sriman Mukunda dasa brahmacari as your life's companion? Will you serve him always and help him to execute his Krsna conscious activities?" And then Janaki replied, "Yes, I accept Mukunda as my husband throughout my life. There shall never be any separation between us, either in happiness or distress. I shall serve him always, and we shall live together peacefully in Krsna consciousness."
No one knew anything of what was going on except Swamiji. He led the chanting, he gave the lines for the bride and groom to exchange, he told them where to sit and what to do—he, in fact, had told them to get married. He had also cooked the elaborate feast that was waiting in the kitchen for the completion of the ceremony.
Prabhupada asked Mukunda and Janaki to exchange their flower garlands and after that to exchange sitting places. He then asked Mukunda to rub some vermilion down the part in Janaki's hair and then to cover her head with her sari. Next came the fire sacrifice, and finally the feast.
The special feature of the wedding was the big feast. It turned out to be quite a social success. The guests ate enthusiastically, asked for more, and raved about the sensational tastes. Prabhupada's followers, who were accustomed to the simple daily fare of rice, dal, sabji, and capatis, found the feast intoxicating and ate as much as they could get. Many of Mukunda's friends were macrobiotic followers, and at first they fastidiously avoided all the sweets. But gradually the enthusiasm of the others wore down their resistance, and they became captivated by the Swami's expert cooking. "God, he's a good cook!" said Janaki. Bruce, who had missed the first initiation, was seeing the Vedic fire sacrifice and tasting the Swami's kacauris for the first time. He resolved on the spot to dedicate himself to Krsna consciousness and become one of the Swamiji's disciples as soon as possible. Almost all the visitors personally approached Swamiji to thank and congratulate him. He was happy and said it was all Krsna's grace.
After the ceremony, Mukunda and his wife entertained many of the devotees and guests in their apartment. The evening had put everyone in high spirits, and Hayagriva was reciting poetry. Then someone turned on the television to catch the scheduled interview with Allen Ginsberg, the poet, and much to everyone's happiness, Allen began playing harmonium and chanting Hare Krsna. He even said there was a swami on the Lower East Side who was teaching this mantra-yoga. Krsna consciousness was new and unheard of, yet now the devotees were seeing a famous celebrity perform kirtana on television. The whole evening seemed auspicious.
Back at his apartment, Prabhupada, along with a few helpers, cleaned up after the ceremony. He was satisfied. He was introducing some of the major elements of his Krsna consciousness mission. He had initiated disciples, he had married them, and he had feasted the public with krsna-prasadam. "If I had the means," he told his followers, "I could hold a major festival like this every day."
(to be continued)
From Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami. © 1980 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and God realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in BACK TO GODHEAD, will focus upon the most important of these (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean.
Absolute Truth. According to the Vedanta-sutra, which concisely states the essence of Vedic knowledge, the Absolute Truth is the source of everything, the ultimate cause of all causes. It is satyam param, the highest truth. The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us that this supreme truth is pure, undivided knowledge and may be perceived in three features—as Brahman (all-pervading, impersonal oneness), as Paramatma (the manifestation of God within the heart of every being), and as Bhagavan (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). These three are the same one truth, understood from increasingly advanced levels of realization. In the beginning one perceives the Absolute impersonally; with further advancement, one perceives the Supreme within one's own heart and the hearts of others; and with the highest realization, one perceives the Supreme Truth as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is complete in wealth, power, fame, beauty, knowledge, and renunciation. The Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other Vedic literatures identify this Supreme Personality of Godhead as Lord Sri Krsna.
Acarya. An acarya is a teacher—specifically, a spiritual master—who teaches not only by verbal instructions but by the way he acts in his own life. The Bhagavad-gita advises that one who wants to know truth should submissively approach a qualified acarya, surrender to him and serve him, and place before him sincere and relevant inquiries. The enlightened acarya can impart knowledge, for he is a seer of the truth. The Vedic literature emphatically says that unless one approaches such an acarya one cannot attain success in life. A qualified acarya, therefore, is one who has been enlightened in truth by his own acarya and who imparts the truth to others. The acarya should be spotless in character, and moreover it is essential that he be a devotee of the Supreme Lord. One who poses as an acarya but does not have an attitude of service to the Supreme Lord is useless.
Acintya-bhedabheda-tattva. This is the Vedanta philosophy explained by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. In some places the Vedas say that all beings are one with God, and in others that God and all beings are different. This is a matter of considerable controversy among commentators on Vedanta philosophy. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu taught that both statements are simultaneously true. According to the Vedic literature, God is the ultimate source of multifarious kinds of energy. In this way He resembles the sun, which gives off energy in the form of heat and light. And just as the sun is inseparable from its rays, God is inseparable from His energies. God and His energies are therefore nondifferent. Yet simultaneously God and His energies are distinct. Although the sun and its rays are one, they are different also: while we on earth enjoy the rays of the sun, the fiery sun itself is millions of miles away. Similarly, although God is present everywhere by the manifestations of His energy, He simultaneously maintains His distinct personal identity, with His own name, form, qualities, abode, pastimes, and entourage. Since all living beings are manifestations of God's energy, God and the living beings are simultaneously different (bheda) and nondifferent (abheda). For the mundane mind this truth (tattva) is held to be inconceivable (acintya). The entire cosmic manifestation is also a manifestation of God's energy and is therefore simultaneously one with God and different from Him.
Acyuta. A name of Krsna meaning "the infallible one." Living beings are fallible because they can be overwhelmed by weakness or illusion. But these defects can never overcome the Supreme (for then weakness and illusion themselves would be supreme and the term "supreme" would be meaningless). The supreme—or Krsna—is therefore known as Acyuta. The material energy (the energy that illusions ordinary beings) is one of Krsna's energies and is therefore always under His supreme control. This is a distinction between the Lord and other living beings. Krsna is also called Acyuta because He never fails in His affection for His devotees.
Advaita. The word dvaita means "dual," and so advaita means "nondual." The material world is a world of dualities—heat and cold, happiness and distress, up and down, black and white. According to the Vedic literature, however, the Absolute truth is free from all such material dualities: It is therefore called advaita.
Some philosophers, principally Sankara, have espoused the view that because the Absolute is free from dualities, it must be utterly impersonal and devoid of qualities. According to this view, which is called kevaladvaita or Advaita Vedanta, in the Absolute there can be no desires, thoughts, or perceptions, no sense of personal identity, no forms, qualities, or activity, but only undifferentiated spiritual oneness. This being so, whatever we now perceive is illusory.
A problem with this view, however, is that it leads one to ask, If nothing really exists but one undifferentiated Absolute Truth, where does the illusion of variety come from? How can illusion exist (or even appear to exist)? And if truth and illusion both exist, how can there be oneness? The exponents of Advaita Vedanta have yet to provide adequate answers to these questions.
Other Vedanta philosophers, however, have explained that although the Absolute Truth is one, the one truth spiritually manifests itself in unlimited diversity. That the Absolute is void of material characteristics does not mean that it must have no characteristics at all. The Vedic literature says, parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate: the Absolute Truth is understood to have a varied multitude of energies. But because the Absolute is spiritual, these energies are ultimately spiritual too. In this way, there is oneness between the energies and their source. The varieties we perceive are not illusions; they are energies of the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, Krsna.
Our vision may be enlightened by truth or bewildered by illusion, according to our own desires, and this, too, is made possible by Krsna, through His varied energies. As parts of Krsna, we are naturally meant to serve Krsna, and when we do so we are in perfect oneness with the Absolute Truth. But when we separate ourselves from Krsna we plunge ourselves into illusion and duality. One attains liberation from illusion and duality when one surrenders to Krsna, accepting Him as advaita, "one without a second."
A queen of Vedic India found freedom in dependence.
By Nandarani Devi Dasi
Recently I was reading one of the many new books by women who feel they should make their miserable plight known to the world. The book read like a horror story. It told how nuptial love becomes a nightmare of neglect and abuse, how simple children become savage villains, how civilization turns a deaf ear to women's desperate pleas. Still, the story had something of a happy ending. The author joined a women's liberation group, and she is now a liberated divorcee working for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Although I truly believe that the author suffered—and that countless other women are suffering in one way or another—I couldn't help reflecting on the life of one woman in history who countered her misery with a more realistic remedy than ERA.
Draupadi was the daughter of a provincial king in what is now India. When Draupadi was little more than a child, her father arranged a wedding contest. Whoever could shoot an arrow through the eye of a fish suspended high above by looking at the fish's reflection down below in a pool of water could have the king's daughter. But the best archer was a man Draupadi detested, so at the last moment she insisted that one of the rules be changed so that this man would be disqualified. Ultimately she was won by the prince Arjuna, but since Arjuna was obliged to share everything he had with his four brothers, Draupadi became the wife of all of the five Pandava princes. Whatever pain and pleasure we experience in establishing a marital relationship, Draupadi experienced fivefold.
Of course, the Pandavas were not ordinary husbands. Each in his own right was godly, and since Draupadi was a princess, each of her husbands gave her the care that was her due. But there was a time when they failed to meet her expectations, and her subsequent plight was unbearable.
The eldest Pandava brother, Yudhisthira, was forced into an unfair dice game with his vicious cousin Duryodhana, who was challenging him for the right to the kingly throne. The stakes were high, and in the course of the game Yudhisthira lost his wealth, his kingdom, his palaces, and ultimately his throne. With nothing else left, in the last game he bet Draupadi, his beautiful wife, as though she were an expendable piece of property. As if this were not insulting enough, he lost her in the game. Draupadi became the property of the vicious cousin.
Duryodhana immediately sent his brother to Draupadi's chambers. The man grabbed the princess by her long black hair and dragged her into the assembly, where her husbands sat humiliated. She wept and pleaded for her husbands to protect her. When they turned their faces down in hopelessness, she cried out to the others in the assembly. The brother of Duryodhana began to take off the royal garments that covered her. He was going to disrobe her in public, and no one was going to help her.
Now, let's try to see this incident in the light of today's culture. Our modern-day beauties don't mind at all standing naked in front of the whole world. It seems their beauty is shallow; they have found no deeper meaning in life than playing up to the animal instincts of equally shallow men. Draupadi was physically beautiful, but more, she was noble, queenly, almost divine. She was sweet and chaste, beautiful and intelligent, though at times full of the fire of her noble birth. She was a pinnacle of femininity in a culture that (generally) respected women. This kind of mistreatment would usually not have been tolerated by even the lower classes, let alone the kingly order.
Draupadi called out to the assembly of kings and princes, "If you have ever loved and revered the mothers who bore you and nursed you, if the honor of wife or sister or daughter has ever been dear to you, if you believe in God and dharma [His laws], forsake me not in this horror more cruel than death."
Yes, death would have been more tolerable than this insult. Under normal circumstances, a man would have been killed for so much as touching a princess, especially in the presence of her husband. But here she was—being dragged by her hair and forcibly undressed—and no one was going to save her. Of course, there was a reason why her husbands didn't protect her, but that is another story. The fact is that at this point in her life, she was abandoned while facing a danger worse than death.
If Draupadi were to face the same crisis today, she would have a number of alternatives. She could issue a couple of well-placed karate kicks or shoot her attacker with a hand gun. She could claim that on the basis of ERA, she should not be treated as a second-class citizen. She could threaten to sue the aggressor for assault and the assembly hall proprietors for insufficient protection. If none of these tactics worked, afterward she could write a book on the experience, and with her royalties she could start her own women's liberation force.
But fortunately for Draupadi, she did not have all these complicated, mundane, if not useless, options. When she saw that no one in the hall was going to help her, she gave up all attempts to protect herself, and with upraised hands she cried, "O Krsna, Lord of the world, God whom I adore and trust, abandon me not in this dire plight. You are my sole refuge. Please protect me."
As the brother of Duryodhana was pulling off Draupadi's royal sari, Krsna continued supplying an unlimited length of cloth to cover her. Her attacker pulled and pulled until he built a mound of cloth, but still Draupadi remained covered. At last the man admitted defeat, and Draupadi was released.
This is a classic example of genuine women's liberation. Draupadi was a perfect, chaste wife, an ideal example of womanhood. And beyond this, she was an intelligent devotee of Krsna. She had sought protection from her husbands; failing that, she had turned to the larger social body for help. But ultimately she was protected not by any material arrangement. She was personally liberated by Krsna Himself.
Now the world is full of men far worse than Duryodhana. Tormented women are crying out for help. Out of foolishness and desperation they are accepting the empty promises of ERA. But the independence it offers is artificial; it has no substance. Legislation cannot change nature, and by nature we are all inescapably dependent on each other. Sometimes, in our interdependence, we can exploit, and sometimes we are exploited. Sometimes we are treated fairly, and sometimes not. But at no time does independence, freedom, or equality rest in our hands.
Of course, this doesn't mean we should give up trying to protect ourselves, trying to right the wrongs of an inequitable society. (I have been in a number of places, from the jungle villages of Bengal to the streets of New York, where I wished my karate were in better shape.) Surely we should use the machinery of democracy to help the exploited minorities. We can follow Draupadi's example. We can appeal for the help of the greater social body; we can use our intelligence to fight for the cause of just government. But ultimately, we have to raise our hands in the air and cry out—not simply for independence from an exploitative world, but for full dependence on Krsna, the bestower of liberation.
Chanting Hare Krsna: A Practice for Saints and Sinners
Devotees in the Krsna consciousness movement are known for their chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But why so much stress on chanting?
We chant because we follow Vedic scriptures, which prescribe chanting the name of God as the primary religious principle for the present age. We also chant because five hundred years ago in Bengal our great spiritual predecessor Lord Caitanya used to perform hours-long kirtanas, chanting and dancing with His associates. They would chant Hare Krsna, dance and leap in great ecstasy, and play musical instruments. Only when the devotees were exhausted would Lord Caitanya stop the kirtana. And we chant because His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, our spiritual master, who came to the West to spread the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the Vedic scriptures, especially stressed the chanting of Hare Krsna.
The Vedic literature explains the power of chanting God's name in the story of Ajamila, a great sinner who at the time of his death called out the name of God and was immediately purified of all sinful contamination. "Indeed," states the Srimad-Bhagavatam, "he atoned not only for sins performed in one life but for those performed in millions of lives, for in a helpless condition he chanted the holy name of Narayana [Krsna]."
Present sins bring future suffering. But the story of Ajamila teaches that no matter how sinful a person may be, chanting Hare Krsna frees him from the hellish suffering that would otherwise await him for his bad karma. This is why the scriptures, Lord Caitanya, Srila Prabhupada, and other great spiritual authorities, while encouraging us to live a pure life and chant Hare Krsna, still urge us to chant even if we are unable to give up our sin. Sinful life basically consists of meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication; and gambling-habits almost universally common in this degraded age. If someone wants to go beyond these, find a higher pleasure, and avoid the impending punishment of karma, he should chant Hare Krsna.
In June of 1967 Srila Prabhupada wrote, "We do have certain restrictions they are not restrictions but something better in the place of something inferior. . . If you live peaceful, regulated lives, eating nothing but krsna-prasadam [food offered to Krsna], then the tissues in your brain will develop for spiritual consciousness and understanding. However, if you are not agreeable to these simple restrictions, still I request you to join the chanting with us. Everybody can do that, and that will gradually clarify everything. All problems will be solved, and you will find a new chapter of your life."
But one can misuse the chanting. One may think, "My sins could cause me suffering in the future, but chanting will free me from suffering. So I'll use the power of the holy name of God to go on sinning and not have to suffer." This is offensive. If one chants with this mentality, for him the Hare Krsna mantra will become ineffectual, like fire doused with water.
Chanting is sweet. There is nothing sweeter in life than chanting the holy name, which brings the soul to the ecstasy of reciprocation with Krsna. The ecstasies Lord Caitanya showed during kirtana attest to the sublime sweetness of the name of Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam states that if one does not experience ecstasy while chanting, one's heart must be steel-framed. The pleasure that comes from chanting Hare Krsna is not like material pleasure, which stays for a while and then goes away; it is a spiritual pleasure. The more one chants, the more the sweet taste increases. And it is this sweet taste that enables one to give up the lower taste of material sense gratification.
Nevertheless, in the first stages of chanting one may fail to taste the sweetness, and thus one resembles a person with jaundice, for whom sugar candy tastes bitter. According to Ayurvedic medicine, the best remedy for jaundice is rock candy crystallized from fresh sugarcane juice. Although rock candy tastes bitter to the patient, as he goes on eating it daily he becomes cured, and gradually it begins to taste sweet. Similarly, although one may find the restrictions unpalatable—no illicit sex, no meat-eating, no gambling, and no intoxication—and although one may have little taste for chanting, regularly chanting Hare Krsna will gradually free one from the disease of excessive sense gratification. And the cure will be evident when he finds the chanting very sweet and relishable.
If one does not taste the sweetness immediately, he shouldn't give up the cure, the chanting. He should go on chanting, and before long the taste will come—his original spiritual consciousness will revive. The happiness we have been looking for-in travel, study, nationalism, religion, sex—is actually to be found in the chanting of the holy name.
Aware of the difficulties we would have in trying to chant Hare Krsna purely in this materialistic age, Lord Caitanya expressed our position in His prayers: "O My Lord, You have kindly appeared in fullness in Your holy name, but lam so unfortunate that I have no taste for chanting." It's natural that one may want to chant yet find himself overpowered by his materialistic environment or by his own desires. Narottama dasa Thakura, a great devotee who followed Lord Caitanya, expresses this position: "What good is my life? I know that this chanting is everything, yet I don't like to chant Hare Krsna. I must have been cursed. What is the use of living?" Narottama dasa Thakura presents himself as someone who doesn't want materialistic life yet cannot taste the nectar of the holy name. Such despair, however, is not permanent; rather, it produces a feeling of helplessness, which leads to inoffensive chanting. Just as Ajamila chanted in utter helplessness at the time of death and was saved, when we feel overwhelmed by material desires we can also chant in helplessness. Even the "cursed" person, if he chants not to help himself along in sinning but to rid himself of sin, can chant in helplessness and be delivered. He can know within his heart, "Though this chanting is everything, the highest nectar, I am unable to taste it now, because of my materialistic mentality. But it is my only hope of deliverance." This is the proper mood of helplessness for inoffensive chanting.
Lord Caitanya says, "All glories to the chanting of the holy name, which cleanses the heart of all the dirt accumulated for many, many births." The chanting of the holy name of God is "the prime benediction for all humanity because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon." The moon begins as a small sliver and waxes full. So one who starts chanting Hare Krsna faithfully, without offenses, can soon realize the full moon of ecstatic love of God. As Lord Caitanya says, "Chanting the name of God increases the ocean of transcendental bliss and gives us a taste of the nectar for which we are always anxious."—SDG
It's a kind of open house. You come alone of with your friends or family. When you come in, you might like to meet some of the devotees. Maybe you'll just wander around on your own and see what the place is all about. It's up to you.
The schedule differs from center to center. Generally things get started with some chanting of Hare Krsna. It's a kind of meditation. The idea is to meditate on the sound. And if you decide to join along in the chanting too—well, so much the better. And if you feel like dancing in ecstasy, fine! You take it as you like, at your own pace, in your own way.
After the chanting (it usually goes for twenty minutes or so) there's a talk on Bhagavad-gita. This is the basic book of spiritual knowledge the Hare Krsna devotees get their philosophy from. It's five thousand years old, originally written in Sanskrit, and its ideas have drawn some of the deepest minds of the world. Emerson and Thoreau revered it. Albert Schweitzer found it fascinating. Mahatma Gandhi said it was the most important book in his life. If you haven't read it yet, you're in for quite a profound encounter.
And of course you can ask the devotees questions about it too. In fact, the whole Bhagavad-gita comes to us in the form of a dialogue, and questions and answers have always provided the way to get at the essence of what the book is all about.
After the talk about the Gita comes a ceremony called arati. If you've never been to a Hare Krsna temple before and you've never been to India, chances are you've never seen anything quite like it. Arati is an ancient and very beautiful ceremony that helps you come out into you spiritual identity, into a higher awareness, and ultimately into being reunited with Krsna—God—in a very personal way.
In the arati ceremony, Krsna Himself appears on the temple's altar in His Deity form (a statue, most people would say). A devotee offers Krsna flaming lamps of camphor and ghee, fragrant flowers, peacock fans, and a special white whisk call a camara. All this to the sounds of hand cymbals, drums, and the chanting of Hare Krsna. The effect of the ceremony is that you actually feel that you're in the personal presence of Krsna—which in fact you are. (We're all in Krsna's presence all the time, without thinking about it, but the arati ceremony helps us realize it.) How it happens may be a little hard to explain. But when you attend the ceremony, the spiritual experience is very pure and natural. That's why Krsna temples in India have held arati ceremonies every day since longer ago than anyone can remeber.
After arati comes the feast. And it's no small-time snack. Devotees have spent all day—sometimes more—cooking wonderfully varied dishes, with devotion for Krsna. After the food is offered to Krsna (that's part of what goes on with the arati), devotees and guests alike sit down to sumptuous plates. There are sweet things made with milk and grains and sugar that taste something like ice cream, cake, and smooth cream cheese all rolled into one. There are salty things, spicy things, fried things, baked things, blended things ... People have been known to go on for hours later asking, "And what were those spicy yellow balls with the tomato sauce? And was that yogurt with soft little white cakes in it?" Other have just eaten and smiled big smiles.
After the feast, maybe you pick up a copy of Bhagavad-gita to take home with you. And when you finally leave, you probably feel a whole lot richer within yourself than you did when the evening started.