by His Divine Grace Ac. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
A small child walking with his father goes on inquiring constantly. He asks his father so many odd things, and the father has to satisfy him with proper answers. When I was a young father in my householder life, I was overflooded with hundreds of questions from my second son, who was my constant companion. One day it so happened that a bridegroom's party was passing our tram-car, and the four-year-old boy, as usual, inquired what the big procession was. He was given all possible answers to his thousand and one questions regarding the marriage party, and finally he asked whether his own father was married! This question gave rise to loud laughter from all the elderly gentlemen present, although the boy was perplexed as to why we were laughing. Anyway, the boy was somehow satisfied by his married father.
The lesson from this incident is that since a human being is a rational animal, he is born to make inquiries. The greater the number of questions, the greater the advancement of knowledge and science. The whole of material civilization is based on this originally large volume of questions put by young men to their elders. When elderly persons give the proper answers to the questions of the youngsters, civilization makes progress, one step after another. The most intelligent man, however, inquires about what happens after death. The less intelligent make lesser inquiries, but the questions of those who are more intelligent go higher and still higher.
Among the most intelligent of men was Maharaja Pariksit, the great king of the entire world, who was accidentally cursed by a brahmana to meet death from the bite of a serpent within seven days. The brahmana who cursed him was only a boy, yet he was very powerful, and because he did not know the importance of the great king, the boy foolishly cursed him to meet death within seven days. This was later lamented by the boy's father, whom the king had offended. When the king was informed of the unfortunate curse, he at once left his palatial home and went to the bank of the Ganges, which was near his capital, to prepare for his impending death.
Because he was a great king, almost all the great sages and learned scholars assembled at the place where the king was fasting prior to leaving his mortal body. At last, Sukadeva Gosvami, the youngest contemporary saint, also arrived there, and he was unanimously accepted to preside at that meeting, although his great father was also present.
The king respectfully offered Sukadeva Gosvami the principal seat of esteem and asked him relevant questions regarding his passing from the mortal world, which was to take place on the seventh day thenceforward. The great king, as a worthy descendant of the Pandavas, who were all great devotees of the Lord, placed the following relevant inquiries before the great sage Sukadeva.
"My dear sir, you are the greatest of the great transcendentalists, and therefore I submissively beg to ask you about my duties at this moment. I am just on the verge of my death. Therefore, what should I do at this critical hour? Please tell me, my lord-what should I hear, what should I worship, or whom should I remember now? A great sage like you does not stay at the home of a householder more than necessary, and therefore it is my good fortune that you have kindly come here at the time of my death. Please, therefore, give me your directions at this critical hour."
The great sage, having thus been pleasingly requested by the king, answered his questions authoritatively, for the sage was a great transcendental scholar and was also well equipped with godly qualities, since he was the worthy son of Badarayana, or Vyasadeva, the original compiler of the Vedic literature.
Sukadeva Gosvami said, "My dear king, your inquiry is very much relevant, and it is also beneficial for all people of all times. Such inquiries, which are the highest of all, are relevant because they are confirmed by the teachings of the vedanta-darsana, the conclusion of the Vedic knowledge, and are atmavit-sammatah; in other words, liberated souls, who have full knowledge of their spiritual identity, put forward such relevant inquiries in order to elucidate further information about the Transcendence."
The Srimad-Bhagavatam is the natural commentary upon the great Vedanta- (or Sariraka-) sutras, which were compiled by Srila Vyasadeva. The Vedanta-sutras are the topmost Vedic literature, and they contain the nucleus of basic inquiries about the transcendental subject of spiritual knowledge. Yet although Srila Vyasadeva compiled this great treatise, his mind was not satisfied. Then he happened to meet Sri Narada, his spiritual master, who advised him to describe the identity of the Personality of Godhead. Upon receiving this advice, Vyasadeva meditated on the principle of bhakti-yoga, which showed him distinctly what is the Absolute and what is the relativity, or maya. Having achieved perfect realization of these facts, he compiled the great narration of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, or beautiful Bhagavatam, which begins with actual historical facts concerning the life of Maharaja Pariksit.
The Vedanta-sutra begins with the key inquiry about the Transcendence, atatho brahma-jijnasa: "One should now inquire about Brahman, or the Transcendence."
As long as a man is in the full vigor of life, he forgets the naked truth of death, which he has to meet. Thus a foolish man makes no relevant inquiry about the real problems of life. Everyone thinks that he will never die, although he sees evidence of death before his eyes at every second. Here is the distinction between animalism and humanity. An animal like a goat has no sense of its impending death. Although its brother goat is being slaughtered, the goat, being allured by the green grass offered to it, will stand peacefully waiting to be slaughtered next. On the other hand, if a human being sees his fellow man being killed by an enemy, he either fights to save his brother or leaves, if possible, to save his own life. That is the difference between a man and a goat.
An intelligent man knows that death is born along with his own birth. He knows that he is dying at every second and that the final touch will be given as soon as his term of life is finished. He therefore prepares himself for the next life or for liberation from the disease of repeated birth and death.
A foolish man, however, does not know that this human form of life is obtained after a series of births and deaths imposed in the past by the laws of nature. He does not know that a living entity is an eternal being, who has no birth and death. Birth, death, old age, and disease are external impositions on a living entity and are due to his contact with material nature and to his forgetfulness of his eternal, godly nature and qualitative oneness with the Absolute Whole.
Human life provides the opportunity to know this eternal fact, or truth. Thus the very beginning of the Vedanta-sutra advises that because we have achieved this valuable form of human life, it is our duty—now—to inquire, What is Brahman, the Absolute Truth?
A man who is not intelligent enough does not inquire about this transcendental life; instead, he inquires about many irrelevant matters that do not concern his eternal existence. From the very beginning of his life, he inquires from his mother, father, teachers, professors, books, and so many other sources, but he does not have the right type of information about his real life.
As mentioned before, Pariksit Maharaja was given a warning notice that he would meet death within seven days, and he at once left his palace to prepare himself for the next stage. The king had at least seven days at his disposal in which to prepare for death, but as far as we are concerned, although at least we know that our death is sure, we have no information of the date fixed for the occurrence. I do not know whether I am going to meet death at the next moment. Even such a great man as Mahatma Gandhi could not calculate that he was going to meet with death in the next five minutes, nor could his great associates guess his impending death. Nonetheless, all such gentlemen present themselves as great leaders of the people. It is ignorance of death and life that distinguishes an animal from a man. A man, in the real sense of the term, inquires about himself and what he is. Wherefrom has he come into this life, and where is he going after death? Why is he put under the troubles of threefold miseries although he does not want them? Beginning from one's childhood, one goes on inquiring about so many things in his life, but he never inquires about the real essence of life. This is animalism. There is no difference between a man and an animal as far as the four principles of animal life are concerned, for every living being exists by eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating. But only the human life is meant for relevant inquiries into the facts about eternal life and the Transcendence.
Human life is therefore meant for research into eternal life, and the Vedanta-sutra advises that one should conduct this research now or never. If one fails to inquire now into these relevant matters about life, one is sure to go back again to the animal kingdom by the laws of nature. Therefore, even if a foolish man appears advanced in material science—that is, in eating, sleeping, fearing, mating, and so on—he cannot get free from the cruel hands of death by the law of nature. The law of nature works under three modes—goodness, passion, and ignorance. Those who live under conditions of goodness are promoted to the higher, spiritual status of life, and those who live under conditions of passion remain stationed in the same place in the material world where they are now, but those who live under conditions of ignorance are sure to be degraded to the lower species.
The modern setup of human civilization is a risky one because it offers no education about relevant inquiries into the essential principles of life. Like animals, people do not know that they are going to be slaughtered by the laws of nature. They are satisfied with a bunch of green grass, or a so-called jolly life, like the waiting goat in a slaughterhouse. Considering such a condition of human life, we are just trying to make a humble attempt to save the human beings by the message of BACK TO GODHEAD. This method is not fictitious. If there is at all to be an era of reality, this message of BACK TO GODHEAD is the beginning of that era.
According to Sri Sukadeva Gosvami, the real fact is that a grhamedhi; or a person who has tied himself, like the goat meant for slaughter, in the business of family, society, community, nation, or humanity at large in regard to the problems and necessities of animal life—namely eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating—and who has no knowledge of the Transcendence, is no better than an animal. He may have inquired about physical, political, economic, cultural, educational, or similar other matters of temporary, material concern, but if he has not inquired about the principles of transcendental life, he should be regarded as a blind man driven ahead by uncontrolled senses and about to fall into a ditch. That is the description of the grhamedhi.
The opposite of the grha-medhi; however, is the grha-stha. The grhastha-asrama, or the shelter of spiritual family life, is as good as the life of a sannyasi, a member of the renounced order. Regardless of whether one is a householder or a renunciant, the important point is that of relevant inquiries. A sannyasi is bogus if not interested in relevant inquiries, and a grhastha, or householder, is bona fide if he is inclined to put forward such inquiries. The grhamedhi, however, is simply interested in the animal necessities of life. By the laws of nature, the grhamedhi's life is full of calamities, whereas the life of the grhastha is full of happiness. But in the modern human civilization, the grhamedhis are posing as the grhasthas.
We should therefore know who is what. A grhamedhi's life is full of vices, because he does not know how to live a family life. He does not know that beyond his control is a power who supervises and controls his activities, and he has no conception of his future life. The grhamedhi is blind to his future and has no aptitude for making relevant inquiries. His only qualification is that he is bound by the shackles of attachment to the false things he has contacted in his temporary existence.
At night such grhamedhis waste their valuable time by sleeping or by satisfying their different varieties of sexual urges by visiting cinema shows and attending clubs and gambling houses, where women and liquor are indulged in lavishly. And during the day, they waste their valuable life in accumulating money or, if they have sufficient money to spend, by adjusting the comforts of their family members. Their standard of living and their personal needs increase with their increase in monetary income. Thus there is no limit to their expenses, and they are never satiated. Consequently there is unlimited competition in the field of economic development, and therefore there is no peace in any society of the human world.
Everyone is perplexed by the same questions about earning and spending, but ultimately one must depend on the mercy of mother nature. When there is a scarcity in production or there are disturbances caused by providence, the poor plan-making politician blames it on cruel nature but carefully avoids studying how and by whom the laws of nature are controlled. The Bhagavad-gita, however, explains that the laws of nature are controlled by the Absolute Personality of Godhead. God alone is the controller of nature and the natural laws.
Ambitious materialists sometimes examine a fragment of the law of nature, but they never care to know the maker of these laws. Most of them do not believe in the existence of an absolute person or God who controls the laws of nature. Rather, they simply concern themselves with the principles by which different elements interact, but they make no reference to the ultimate direction which makes such interactions possible. They have no relevant questions or answers in this regard. The second of the Vedanta-sutras, however, answers the essential question about Brahman by asserting that the Supreme Brahman, the Supreme Transcendence, is He from whom everything is generated. Ultimately, He is the Supreme Person.
Not only is the foolish grhamedhi ignorant of the temporary nature of the particular type of body he has obtained, but he is also blind to the actual nature of what is happening before him in the daily affairs of his life. He may see his father die, his mother die, or a relative or neighbor die, yet he does not make the relevant inquiries about whether or not the other existing members of his family will die. Sometimes he thinks and knows that all the members of his family will die today or tomorrow and that he also will die. He may know that the whole family show—or, for that matter, the whole show of community, society, nation, and all such things—is but a temporary bubble in the air, having no permanent value. Yet he is mad after such temporary arrangements and does not concern himself with any relevant inquiries. He has no knowledge as to where he has to go after his death. He works very hard for the temporary arrangements of his family, society, or nation, but he never makes any future arrangement either for himself or for others who will pass from this present phase of life.
In a public vehicle like a railway carriage, we meet and sit down together with some unknown friends and become members of the same vehicle for a short time, but in due course we separate, never to meet again. Similarly, in a long sojourn of life, we get a temporary sitting accommodation in a so-called family, country, or society, but when the time is up, we are unwillingly separated from one another, never to meet again. There are so many questions relevant to our temporary arrangements in life and our friends in these temporary arrangements, but a man who is a grhamedhi never inquires about things of a permanent nature. We are all busy making impermanent plans in various degrees of leadership, without knowing the permanent nature of things as they are.
Sripada Sankaracarya, who especially strove to remove this ignorance in society and who advocated the cult of spiritual knowledge in regard to the all-pervading impersonal Brahman, said in despair, "Children are engaged in playing, young boys are engaged in so-called love affairs with young girls, and the old are seriously thoughtful about adjusting a baffled life of struggle. But, alas, no one is prepared to inquire relevantly into the science of Brahman the Absolute Truth."
Sri Sukadeva Gosvami, who was asked for direction by Maharaja Pariksit, responded to the king's relevant inquiries by advising him as follows:
tasmad bharata sarvatma
"O descendant of Bharata, it is the duty of mortal men to inquire about, hear about, glorify, and meditate upon the Personality of Godhead, who is the most attractive person because of His fullness in opulence. He is called Han because He alone can undo the conditional existence of a living being. If we at all want to be freed from conditional existence, we must make relevant inquiries about the Absolute Truth so that He may be pleased to bestow upon us perfect freedom in life." [Srimad Bhagavatam 2.1.5]
Sri Sukadeva Gosvami has particularly used four words in regard to the absolute Personality of Godhead. These words distinguish the Absolute Person, or Parabrahman, from other persons, who are qualitatively one with Him. The Absolute Personality of Godhead is addressed as sarvatma, or all-pervading, because no one is aloof from Him, although not everyone has this realization. The Personality of Godhead, by His plenary representation, resides in everyone's heart as Paramatma, the Supersoul, along with each individual soul. Therefore every individual soul has an intimate relationship with Him. Forgetfulness of this eternally existing intimate relationship with Him is the cause of conditional life since time immemorial. But because He is Bhagavan, or the supreme personality, He can at once reciprocate the responsive call of a devotee. Moreover, because He is the perfect person, His beauty, opulence, fame, strength, knowledge, and renunciation are all unlimited sources of transcendental bliss for the individual soul.
The individual soul becomes attracted by all these different opulences when they are imperfectly represented by other conditioned souls, but the individual soul is not satisfied by such imperfect representations, and therefore he perpetually seeks the perfect one. The Personality of Godhead's beauty has no comparison, nor do His knowledge and renunciation. But above all, He is isvara, or the supreme controller. We are at present being controlled by the police action of this great king. This police control is imposed upon us because of our disobedience of law. But because the Lord is Hari, He is able to cause the disappearance of our conditional life by giving us full freedom in spiritual existence. It is therefore the duty of every man to make relevant inquiries about Him and thus go back to Godhead.
This article first appeared in 1960, when Srila Prabhupada himself was publishing BACK TO GODHEAD in India.
In a welfare state gone sour,
by Yogesvara dasa
Vegavan dasa makes his home at the peaceful Krsna conscious farm community called New Radhakunda, twenty miles south of Stockholm in Korsnas Gard. But his life is hardly one of obscurity. His weekly all-night call-in show, Radio Krsna, and his university lectures on the spiritual traditions of India have made him well known in and around Stockholm. And since New Radhakunda offers a practical view of Vedic social planning, Vegavan also speaks to many of the philosophy and religion classes that visit the farm daily.
Vegavan's role as a spokesman for Krsna culture extends even to the national level. As a member of the Swedish Forum for Religions and World Views, an ecumenical council of educators and religious leaders, he periodically presents Krsna conscious plans for spiritual social reform to members of the Swedish socialist government. In seminars and published articles, Vegavan proposes a shift in emphasis away from the Social Democratic preoccupation with economic development and dependence on a welfare state to a self-sufficient, community-based society centered on God consciousness and simple human ideals.
Radio Krsna is a major vehicle for the Vedic system of social reform, called varnasrama. The all-night radio show combines Krsna conscious philosophy and discussion with music, drama, and guest appearances to produce one of Stockholm's most popular programs.
"What surprises me most is the sincere, nitty-gritty questions our listeners ask," Vegavan says. "There is a spiritual curiosity in this country that has gone unsatisfied for years. I get questions like 'If the whole country were to become God conscious, who would do the work?' So I explain that the Vedic system does not prescribe renouncing one's occupation to become God conscious, but rather executing one's prescribed duties for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. A farmer continues to farm, but he offers a portion of the harvest to God's temple so that sanctified foods can be distributed for everyone's purification. A businessman continues his business, but he offers professional services, goods, or money to help spread God consciousness. The artist uses his or her talents to glorify God, and so on. Nothing stops, but the consciousness of the members of society changes from self-centered to God-centered.
"Our lines are jammed from midnight to 6 A.M. An important reason for the show's success is that we touch on real issues and give practical solutions. We go into detail about everything from medicine to meditation, from international policy to the economy, abortion, and natural foods.
"Energy is also a big topic. I tell listeners that the varnasrama system encourages an agrarian society based on cow protection. Today's huge agribusinesses with their petroleum-based fertilizers simply make us more and more dependent on foreign oil and deplete the natural qualities of the soil. Cow dung is the best of all natural fertilizers and can be used to produce methane gas for lighting, heating, and cooking. At our farm community, rather than slaughter cows and bulls, we use the cow's milk to prepare many wonderful foods, and we use the bulls to till the ground. In this way society becomes free from the dependency on oil and machinery. People call to tell me the show is so interesting that they can't turn it off and end up staying awake until we go off the air at 6 A.M Many people know that the present social system in Sweden lacks fundamental truth, and this shows up in our listeners' response to Radio Krsna."
In his broadcasts and lectures, Vegavan quotes freely from the Bhagavad-gita, which gives the spiritual foundation of the varnasrama system. Translations of the Gita have existed in Swedish since the late 1890s. State policy, however, has always discouraged participation in non-Lutheran cultures. In fact, it wasn't until Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is first appeared here in Swedish (translated from the English by Vegavan) that Swedes began to take seriously the practical spiritual knowledge available in India's Vedic literatures. Isolated by geography and tradition, they had concentrated on exploiting Sweden's vast natural resources and evolving a socialist government of collectivities and farm settlements. By the end of the Second World War, economic advancement had become the nation's driving force.
But the all-encompassing welfare state that has burgeoned since the war and the material benefits the state has produced have failed to bridge the chasm between Social Democratic idealism and the growing number of dissidents, between the promises of material perfection and the rising dissatisfaction with an impersonal, soulless society.
"Swedes got their first taste of austerity when the oil crisis struck in 1973," Vegavan explains. "For the first time a lot of people considered that maybe material prosperity wasn't quite the panacea it was cracked up to be. Interestingly, with the growing uncertainty over the economy has come an increased interest in topics like reincarnation, meditation, yoga, and vegetarianism. That's one reason why our direct presentation of Krsna consciousness has met with so much success. People here admire that we've taken a bold stand and dared to do something different. As they see their artificial economic values falter, more and more Swedes are voicing respect for the spiritual values devotees represent: honesty, morality, cleanliness, simplicity."
Four years ago Vegavan helped pioneer the New Radhakunda farm, which got its name from a holy place in India where Lord Krsna enjoyed pastimes five thousand years ago. The model Vedic community embodies many principles of the varnasrama philosophy. Residents all follow the basic rules of Krsna conscious life: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no taking of intoxicants, and no gambling. They rise early and observe a morning program of worship, study, and meditation. After breakfast the fifteen school-aged children go off to classes in reading, writing, mathematics, and Krsna conscious subjects, and (for the older ones) history, geography, nature study, and Sanskrit. Adults form various work teams: farmers, cooks, a maintenance crew, administration and teaching staffs, artists, and a group of thirteen translators, typists, editors, and designers who work on publishing editions of the Vedic scriptures in Eastern European languages. In addition, three devotees run Govinda's, a popular vegetarian restaurant in downtown Stockholm. Everyone gathers at one o'clock for lunch and again in the evening for temple ceremonies and a class on the Bhagavad-gita.
New Radhakunda receives hundreds of weekly visitors who seek practical spiritual guidance. "In recent years," Vegavan explains, "Swedes have experimented with a new kind of collectivity—one based on ecological principles and idealistic theories of human equality. A leader from the largest of these communes came to see me last week requesting that we step in and help salvage the project from dissolution. Months of trial and error on their part—open classrooms, free love—had left basic questions unanswered: What should the communal goals be? What constitutes appropriate sexual relations and family life? How can the commune avoid factions and private interests?
"Most communes fail to recognize that a viable social organization does not just emerge from a shared desire for cooperation and a willingness to work hard. There must be a foundation of spiritual training and devotional service to God. People from troubled communes come to Krsna's farm because they see the devotees happy, cooperating, raising wholesome children—enjoying everything they've been striving for and more. Our advantage is our heritage—thousands of years of precedent for the programs we follow, all described in detail in the Vedic literatures. Rather than speculate about community life or spiritual practices, we follow the Vedic tradition: put Lord Krsna in the center and serve Him under the guidance of a bona fide guru and the scriptures."
In Sweden, where people tend to be absorbed into a secular welfare state, a successful spiritual community like New Radhakunda is something of an anomaly. Having been educated to believe that a good standard of living is the proper goal of human life, many Swedes have until recently considered themselves fulfilled and let the spiritual side of life languish.
"But now," says Vegavan, "things have begun to change. There is a widespread feeling that life's spiritual dimension has been cruelly neglected. Swedish theologians replaced service to God with service to man, and that confused religion with social policy. The consequences were predictable: moral anarchy. in a country of eight million there are more than a million alcoholics. There are six suicides a day and 34,000 abortions a year—one out of every four pregnancies. More than half of all marriages break up. Although the per-capita income is among the highest in the world, the Swedes are suffering like anything.
"Perhaps partly in response to the severe social problems here, Swedes have given Krsna consciousness a dramatically favorable reception. In 1973 Srila Prabhupada lectured to an auditorium of students at Uppsala University. He spoke about the varnasrama system, the division of society into classes according to individual capacity and inclination, and about the need to recognize God as the proprietor of all creation and the true center of human endeavor. Although the students were socialists, they gave him a standing ovation, and devotees have been welcome guests in classrooms here ever since."
But the open-armed reception of Krsna consciousness in Swedish classrooms has two distinct sides. One is a real interest among teachers and students in an ancient spiritual culture that offers a working plan for social reorganization; the other is a perfunctory treatment of religion by the State Education Department, which is geared toward discrediting God consciousness as a meaningful personal and social way of life. In fact, starting in the upper grades of secondary school, instructors present religions of the world as an escape from reality.
"What no one seems to have anticipated," comments Vegavan, "is the feasibility of Krsna culture as a viable social program. By inviting us into the classroom, officials may have expected to see us hang by our own rope, but instead they've been surprised by the positive response we've gotten. Students from the State Teachers' Training College spent two days at the Krsna farm and left so enthusiastic over the variety of activities, the talent, the practicality of how devotees live that many have become friends and supporters. Word has spread. Last week the Sociology Department of Uppsala University invited us to participate in a four-day symposium called 'Practical Utopia.' Researchers from the department want to know what makes New Radhakunda tick so well."
A high-school teacher from Stockholm who brought his class to visit New Radhakunda commented, "Swedish materialistic idealism is exaggerated. Especially the young people here have strong intimations of a need for higher spiritual purposes. Of course, by and large they still think in terms of a new stereo set, but they nonetheless respect Hare Krsna devotees for posing essential questions—Who am I? Who is God?—and for living truly committed lives of devotion."
Says Dr. Bertil Persson, Sweden's leading authority on Middle Eastern religions and author of school textbooks on comparative religion, "Coming in contact with the Krsna culture has affected students in this country in four ways. First, it has given them a new perspective on man as an entity with a positive spiritual identity. Second, it has given them a new perspective on God as something more than a mere principle, as a living transcendental person who reciprocates with His devotees. Third, having devotees address students has removed many prejudices over India and other religious traditions and has opened their minds to unfamiliar spiritual ideas. For example, for the first time they are confronted with the striking prospect of death not as an end but as a beginning. Finally, Krsna consciousness has forced students to reconsider their vision of the caste system (varnasrama). All they have known has been the stereotyped condemnation of an archaic, exploitative idea. It never occurred to them—nor were they ever encouraged to think—that material divisions in society do not preclude spiritual unity."
Vegavan has high hopes for the future of Sweden's varnasrama project, but he is realistic about immediate prospects. "Young people in Sweden find little appealing at home. Old people are losing their jobs. Taxes here are the highest in the world. There is a lot of bitterness toward the establishment, so there is bound to be change. But religion—all religion—is still seen by most people as part of the establishment. So I expect politics to remain the major recourse for dissenters for quite some time.
"Nonetheless, the Krsna consciousness movement has become the best known and the most respected spiritual community in the country. If we as devotees remain pure, both in our personal lives and in our presentation of Krsna consciousness, I have no doubt that our contribution will be a lasting one."
Breaking the American Silence
A guru had never before gone onto the streets
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Srila Prabhupada had founded America's first Krsna temple, initiated his first American disciples, and performed America's first Vedic wedding. Now he was ready for another big step: America's first public chanting of Hare Krsna by a genuine guru.
During the two months spent at 26 Second Avenue, Srila Prabhupada had achieved what had formerly been only a dream. He now had a temple, a duly registered society, full freedom to preach, and a band of initiated disciples. When a Godbrother had written asking him how he would manage a temple in New York, Prabhupada had said that he would need men from India but that he might find an American or two who could help. That had been last winter. Now Krsna had put him in a different situation: he had received no help from his God-brothers, no big donations from Indian business magnates, and no assistance from the Indian government, but he was finding success in a different way. These were "happy days," he said. He had struggled alone for a year, but then "Krsna sent me men and money."
Yes, these were happy days for Prabhupada, but his happiness was not like the happiness of an old man's "sunset years," as he fades into the dim comforts of retirement. His was the happiness of youth, a time of blossoming, of new powers, a time when future hopes expand without limit. He was seventy-one years old, but in ambition he was a courageous youth. He was like a young giant just beginning to grow. He was happy because his preaching was taking hold, just as Lord Caitanya had been happy when He had traveled alone to South India, spreading the chanting of Hare Krsna. Prabhupada's happiness was that of a selfless servant of Krsna to whom Krsna was sending candidates for devotional life. He was happy to place the seed of devotion within their hearts and to train them in chanting Hare Krsna, hearing about Krsna, and working to spread Krsna consciousness.
Prabhupada continued to accelerate. After the first initiations and the first marriage, he was eager for the next step. He was pleased by what he had, but he wanted to do more. It was the greed of the Vaisnava—not a greed to have sense gratification but to take more and more for Krsna. He would "go in like a needle and come out like a plow." That is to say, from a small, seemingly insignificant beginning, he would expand his movement to tremendous proportions. At least, that was his desire. He was not content with his newfound success and security at 26 Second Avenue, but was yearning to increase ISKCON as far as possible. This had always been his vision, and he had written it into the ISKCON charter: "to achieve real unity and peace in the world . . . within the members, and humanity at large."
Swamiji gathered his group together. He knew that once they tried it they would love it. But it would only happen if he personally went with them. Washington Square Park was only half a mile away, maybe a little more.
Ravindra Svarupa: He never made a secret of what he was doing. He used to say, "I want everybody to know what we are doing." Then one day, D-day came. He said, "We are going to chant in Washington Square Park." Everybody was scared. You just don't go into a park and chant. It seemed like a weird thing to do. But he assured us, saying, "You won't be afraid when you start chanting. Krsna will help you." And so we trudged down to Washington Square Park, hut we were very upset about it. Up until that time, we weren't exposing ourselves. I was upset about it, and I know that several other people were, to be making a public figure of yourself.
With Prabhupada leading they set out on that fair Sunday morning, walking the city blocks from Second Avenue to Washington Square in the heart of Greenwich Village. And the way he looked—just by walking he created a sensation. None of the boys had shaved heads or robes, but because of Swamiji—with his saffron robes, his white, pointy shoes, and his shaved head held high—people were astonished. It wasn't like when he would go out alone. That brought nothing more than an occasional second glance. But today, with a group of young men hurrying to keep up with him as he headed through the city streets, obviously about to do something, he caused quite a stir. Tough guys and kids called out names, and others laughed and made sounds. A year ago, in Butler, the Agarwals had been sure that Prabhupada had not come to the United States looking for followers. "He didn't want to make any waves, Sally Agarwal had thought. But now he was making waves, walking through the New York City streets, headed for the first public chanting in America, followed by his first disciples.
In the park there were hundreds of people milling about—stylish, decadent Greenwich Villagers, visitors from other boroughs, tourists from other states and other lands—an amalgam of faces, nationalities, ages, and interests. As usual, someone was playing his guitar by the fountain, boys and girls were sitting together and kissing, some were throwing Frisbees, some were playing drums or flutes or other instruments, and some were walking their dogs, talking, watching everything, wandering around. It was a typical day in the Village.
Prabhupada went to a patch of lawn where, despite a small sign that read Keep Off the Grass, many people were lounging. He sat down, and one by one his followers sat beside him. He took out his brass hand-cymbals and sang the maha-mantra, and his disciples responded, awkwardly at first, then stronger. It wasn't as bad as they had thought it would be.
Jagannatha: It was a marvelous thing, a marvelous experience that Swamiji brought upon me. Because it opened up a great deal, and overcame a certain shyness—the first time to chant out in the middle of everything.
A curious crowd gathered to watch, though no one joined in. Within a few minutes, two policemen moved in through the crowd. "Who's in charge here'?" an officer asked roughly. The boys looked toward Prabhupada. "Didn't you see the sign?" Swamiji furrowed his brow and turned his eyes toward the sign. He got up and walked to the uncomfortably warm pavement and sat down again, and his followers straggled after to sit around him. Prabhupada continued the chanting fur half an hour, and the crowd stood listening. A guru in America had never gone onto the streets before and sung the names of God.
After kirtana, he asked for a copy of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and had Hayagriva read aloud from the preface. With clear articulation, Hayagriva read: "Disparity in the human society is due to the basic principle of godless civilization. There is God, the Almighty One, from whom everything emanates, by whom everything is maintained, and in whom everything is merged to rest...." The crowd was still, Afterward, the Swami and his followers walked back to the storefront, feeling elated and victorious, They had broken the American silence,
* * *
Allen Ginsberg lived nearby on East Tenth Street. One day he received a peculiar invitation in the mail:
Practice the transcendental sound
International Society for
Swamiji had asked the boys to distribute it around the neighborhood.
One evening, soon after he received the invitation, Allen Ginsberg and his roommate, Peter Orlovsky, arrived at the storefront in a Volkswagen minibus. Allen had been captivated by the Hare Krsna mantra several years before, when he had first encountered it at the Kumbha-mela in Allahabad, India, and he had been chanting it often ever since. The devotees were impressed to see the world-famous author of Howl and leading figure of the beat generation enter their humble storefront. His advocation of free sex, marijuana, and LSD, his claims of drug-induced visions of spirituality in everyday sights, his political ideas, his exploration of insanity, revolt, and nakedness, and his attempts to create a harmony of likeminded souls—all were influential on the minds of American young people, especially those living on the Lower East Side. Although by middle-class standards he was scandalous and disheveled, he was, in his own right, a figure of worldly repute, more so than anyone who had ever come to the storefront before.
Allen Ginsberg: Bhaktivedanta seemed to have no friends in America, but was alone, totally alone, and gone somewhat like a lone hippie to the nearest refuge, the place where it was cheap enough to rent.
There were a few people sitting cross-legged on the floor. I think most of them were Lower East Side hippies who had just wandered in off the street, with beards a curiosity and inquisitiveness and a respect for spiritual presentation of some kind.
Some of them were sitting there with glazed eyes, but most of them were just like gentle folk—bearded, hip, and curious. They were refugees from the middle class in the Lower East Side, looking exactly like the street sadhus in India. It was very similar, that phase in American underground history. And I liked immediately the idea that Swami Bhaktivedanta had chosen the Lower East Side of New York for his practice. He'd gone to the lower depths. He'd gone to a spot more like the side streets of Calcutta than any other place.
Allen and Peter had come for the kirtana, but it wasn't quite time—Prabhupada hadn't come down from his apartment. They presented a new harmonium to the devotees. "It's for the kirtanas," said Allen. "A little donation." Allen stood at the entrance to the storefront, talking with Hayagriva, telling him how he had been chanting Hare Krsna around the world-at peace marches, poetry readings. a procession in Prague, a writers' union in Moscow. "Secular kirtana," said Allen, "but Hare Krsna nonetheless." Then Prabhupada entered. Allen and Peter sat with the congregation and joined in the kirtana. Allen played harmonium.
Allen: I was astounded that he'd come with the chanting, because it seemed like a reinforcement from India. I had been running around singing Hare Krsna but had never understood exactly why or what it meant. But I was surprised to see that he had a different melody, because I thought the melody I knew was the melody, the universal melody. I had gotten so used to my melody that actually the biggest difference! hod with him was over the tune—because I'd solidified it in my mind for years, and to hear another tune actually blew my mind.
After the lecture, Allen came forward to meet Prabhupada, who was still sitting on his dais. Allen offered his respects with folded palms and touched Prabhupada's feet, and Prabhupada reciprocated by nodding his head and folding his palms. They talked together briefly, and then Prabhupada returned to his apartment. Allen mentioned to Hayagriva that he would like to come by again and talk more with Prabhupada, so Hayagriva invited him to come the next day and stay for lunch prasadam.
"Don't you think Swamiji is a little too esoteric for New York?" Allen asked. Hayagriva thought. "Maybe," he replied.
Hayagriva then asked Allen to help the Swami, since his visa would soon expire. He had entered the country with a visa for a two-month stay, and he had been extending his visa for two more months again and again. This had gone on for one year, but the last time he had applied for an extension, he had been refused. "We need an immigration lawyer," said Hayagriva. "I'll donate to that," Allen assured him.
The next morning, Allen Ginsberg came by with a check and another harmonium. Up in Prabhupada's apartment, he demonstrated his melody for chanting Hare Krsna, and then he and Prabhupada talked.
Allen: I was a little shy with him because I didn't know where he was coming from. I thought it was great now that he was here to expound on the Hare Krsna mantra—that would Sort of justify my singing. I knew what I was doing, but I didn't have any theological background to satisfy further inquiries, and here was someone who did. So I thought that was absolutely great. Now I could go around singing Hare Krsna, and if anybody wanted to know what it was, I could just send them to Swami Bhaktivedanta to find out. If anyone wanted to know the technical intricacies and the ultimate history, I could send them to him.
He explained to me about his own teacher and about Caitanya and the lineage going back. His head was filled with so many things and what he was doing. He was already working on his translations. He always seemed to be sitting there just day after day and night after night. And I think he had one or two people helping him.
Prabhupada was very cordial with Allen. Quoting a passage from Bhagavad-gita where Krsna says that whatever a great man does, others will follow, he requested Allen to continue chanting Hare Krsna at every opportunity, so that others would follow his example. He told about Lord Caitanya's organizing the first civil disobedience movement in India, leading a sankirtana protest march against the Muslim ruler. Allen was fascinated. He enjoyed talking with the Swami.
But they had their differences. When Allen expressed his admiration for a well-known Bengali holy man, Prabhupada said that the holy man was bogus. Allen was shocked. He'd never before heard a swami severely criticize another's practice. Prabhupada explained, on the basis of Vedic evidence, the reasoning behind his criticism, and Allen admitted that he had naively thought that all holy men were one-hundred-percent holy. But now he decided that he should not simply accept sadhu, including Prabhupada, on blind faith. He decided to see Prabhupada in a more severe, critical light.
Allen: I had a very superstitious attitude of respect, which probably was an idiot sense of mentality, and so Swami Bhaktivedanta's teaching was very good to make me question that. It also made me question him and not take him for granted.
Allen described a divine vision he'd had in which William Blake had appeared to him in sound, and in which he had understood the oneness of all things. A sadhu in Vrndavana had told Allen that this meant that William Blake was his guru. But to Prabhupada this made no sense.
Allen: The main thing, above and beyond all our differences, was an aroma of sweetness that he had, a personal, self-less sweetness like total devotion. And that was what always conquered me, whatever intellectual questions or doubts I had, or even cynical views of ego. In his presence there was a kind of personal charm, coming from dedication, that conquered all our conflicts. Even though I didn't agree with him, I always liked to be with him.
Allen agreed, at Prabhupada's request, to chant more and to try to give up smoking.
"Do you really intend to make these American boys into Vaisnavas?" Allen asked.
"Yes," Prabhupada replied happily, "and I will make them all brahmanas,"
Allen left a $200 check to help cover the legal expenses for extending the Swami's visa and wished him good luck. "Brahmanas!" Allen didn't see how such a transformation could be possible.
(To be continued.)
From Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami. © 1980 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
A Rare Ketch for the Hawaii Krsna Center
Honolulu, Hawaii—The International Society for Krishna Consciousness has its first floating temple, a 53-foot teakwood ketch recently donated to Narahari dasa, president of the Honolulu Krsna center. Valued at more than $200,000, the rare boat is a gift from a friend of the movement who appreciated Narahari's desire to sail from island to island spreading Krsna consciousness in Hawaii.
The craft's maiden voyage was an adventure. Having christened the boat Sri Jaladuta II (after the Indian steamship that carried His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada from India to America in 1965), Narahari, a seasoned sailor, picked four of his sturdiest men and set out from San Francisco for Honolulu. There was no shortwave radio aboard, so they navigated only by the sun, stars, and planets. "Every night while steering our course," Narahari relates, "I would gaze into the crystal-clear sky filled with unlimited stars and meditate on how insignificant my position is on this insignificant planet. Being alone out in the midst of the great Pacific made us realize that we have no shelter other than Krsna's holy name."
The 18-day, 2500-mile journey ended with a reception at Magic Island, the popular Honolulu beach park. The hundred devotees of the Honolulu Krsna center celebrated the crew's arrival with chanting of Hare Krsna and a feast of krsna-prasadam, food offered to Lord Krsna. Two local TV stations sent reporters to cover the event for the evening news broadcasts.
Now Narahari is putting the finishing touches on the boat's interior, which has been remodeled as a temple. The first mission Narahari plans for the unique craft: a visit to Hawaii's Molokai Island leper colony to distribute prasadam.
Ghana Receives 1000 Books On Krsna Consciousness
Accra, Ghana—Recently His Holiness Brahmananda Swami, who coordinates the activities of the Krsna consciousness movement in West Africa, presented nearly one thousand books on Krsna consciousness to the Ghana Library Board for distribution to 177 libraries throughout this West African nation. The distribution of the books was handled by Mr. A.K. Gyehi, Assistant Director of the School and College Libraries Department of the Ghana Library Board. The books became available through gifts by ISKCON branches in the United States, Canada, and Europe under a "Books for Africa" program.
"The response has been tremendous," says Brahmananda Swami. "Correspondence to our centers in Africa and Great Britain has increased tenfold since the Books for Africa program began." The program is also sponsoring donations of books to thirty-six libraries in Nigeria.
First Volume of Srila Prabhupada's Biography Published
Los Angeles—The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has announced the publishing of A Lifetime in Preparation, the first volume of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, a projected six-volume biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. (The second volume, Planting the Seed, has already been published.)
A Lifetime in Preparation charts Srila Prabhupada's life from his birth in 1896 until his voyage to America in 1965, viewing him as a turn-of-the-century Calcutta schoolboy, as a young married businessman as a devoted disciple of a saintly teacher, and finally as a lone, elderly svami struggling in India to publish the teachings of Krsna consciousness in English.
By Sadaputa Dasa
"Probability is the most important concept in modern science,
Throughout human history, philosophers and seekers of knowledge have sought to discover a single fundamental cause underlying all the phenomena of the universe, Since the rise of Western science in the late Renaissance, many scientists have also felt impelled to seek this ultimate goal, and they have approached it from their own characteristic perspective. Western science is based on the assumption that the universe can be understood mechanistically—that is, in terms of numbers and mathematical formulas—and Western scientists have therefore searched for an ultimate, unified mathematical description of nature.
This search has gone through many vicissitudes, and many times scientists have felt that a final, unified theory was nearly within their grasp. Thus in the middle of the nineteenth century the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz was convinced that "The task of physical science is to reduce all phenomena of nature to forces of attraction and repulsion, the intensity of which is dependent only upon the mutual distance of material bodies." ** (Hermann von Helmholtz, "Uber die Erhaltung der Kraft," Osrwald's Klassiker der Exakten Wissenschaft, Nr. 1, 1847, p.6.) By 1900 many new concepts and discoveries had been incorporated into the science of physics. and Helmholtz's program had become superannuated. At about this time, however, Albert Einstein embarked on a much more sophisticated and ambitious program of unification. His goal was to explain all the phenomena of the universe as oscillations in one fundamental "unified field." But even while Einstein was working on this project, revolutionary developments in the science of physics were rendering his basic approach obsolete. For several decades a bewildering welter of new discoveries made the prospect of finding an ultimate theory seem more and more remote. But the effort to find a unified theory of nature has continued, and in 1979 three physicists (Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salem, and Steven Weinberg) won the Nobel Prize in physics for their effort in partially tying together some of the disparate elements of current physical theories. On the basis of their work, many scientists are now optimistically anticipating the development of a theory that can explain the entire universe in terms of mathematical equations describing a single, primordial "unified force."
The scientists' search for a unified explanation of natural phenomena begins with two main hypotheses. The first of these is that all the diverse phenomena of nature derive in a harmonious way from some ultimate, unified source. The second is that nature can be fully explained in terms of numbers and mathematical laws. As we have pointed out, the second of these hypotheses constitutes the fundamental methodological assumption of modern science, whereas the first has a much broader philosophical character.
Superficially, these two hypotheses seem to fit together nicely. A simple system of equations appears much more harmonious and unified than a highly complicated system containing many arbitrary, unrelated expressions. So the hypothesis that nature is fundamentally harmonious seems to guarantee that the ultimate mathematical laws of nature must be simple and comprehensible. Consequently, the conviction that nature posesses an underlying unity has assured many scientists that their program of mechanistic explanation is feasible.
We will show in this article, however, that these two hypotheses about nature are actually not compatible. To understand why this is so, we must consider a third feature of modern scientific theories—the concept of chance.
As we carefully examine the role chance plays in mechanistic explanations of nature, we shall see that a mechanistic theory of the universe must be either drastically incomplete or extremely incoherent and disunited. It follows that we must give up either the goal of mechanistically explaining the universe, or the idea that there is an essential unity behind the phenomena of nature. At the end of this article we will explore the first of these alternatives by introducing a nonmechanistic view of universal reality, a view that effectively shows how all the diverse phenomena of nature derive from a coherent, unified source.
First, however, let us examine how scientists employ the concept of chance in mechanistic theories of the universe. Such theories are normally formulated in the mathematical language of physics, and they involve many complicated technical details. Yet the basic concepts of chance and natural law in current physical theories readily lend themselves to illustration by simple examples. We will therefore briefly contemplate a few such examples and then draw some general conclusions about universal mechanistic theories.
Figure 1 depicts a simple device we shall regard, for the sake of argument, as a model universe. This device consists of a box with a window that always displays either a figure 0 or a figure 1. The nature of this box is that during each consecutive second the figure in the window may either remain unchanged or else change exactly once at the beginning of that second. We can thus describe the history of this model universe by a string of zeros and ones representing the successive figures appearing in the window during successive seconds. Figure 2 depicts a sample history.
Let us begin by considering how the concept of chance could apply to our model universe. For example, suppose we are told that the model universe obeys the following statistical law:
The zeros and ones appear randomly in the window, independently of one another. During any given second the probability is 50% that the window will display a one and 50% that it will display a zero.
How are we to interpret this statement? As we shall see, its interpretation involves two basic questions: the practical question of how we can judge whether or not the statement is true, and the broader question of what the statement implies about the nature of our model universe.
The answer to the first question is fairly simple. We would say that the statement is true of a particular history of ones and zeros if that history satisfied certain statistical criteria. For example, if the probability for the appearance of one is to be 50%, we would expect roughly 50% of the figures in the historical sequence to be ones. This is true of the sample history in figure 2, where the percentage of ones is 49.4%.
We could not, however, require the percentage of ones to be exactly 50%. If the sequence itself is random, the percentage of ones in the sequence must also be random, and so we would not expect it to take on some exact value. But if the percentage of ones were substantially different from 50%, we could not agree that these ones were appearing in the window with a probability of 50%.
In practice it would never be possible for a statistical analyst to say definitely that a given history does or does not satisfy our statistical law. All he could do would be to determine a degree of confidence in the truth or falsity of the law as it applied to a particular sequence of ones and zeros. For example, our sample history is 979 digits long. For a sequence of this length to satisfy our law, we would expect the percentage of ones to fall between 46.8% and 53.2%. (These are the "95% confidence limits.") If the percentage did not fall within these limits, we could take this failure as an indication that the sequence did not satisfy the law, but we could not assert this as a definite conclusion.
We have seen that our sample history consists of approximately 50% ones. This observation agrees with the hypothesis that the sequence satisfies our statistical law, but it is not sufficient to establish this, for there are other criteria such a sequence must meet. For example, suppose we divide the sequence into two-digit subsequences. There are four possible subsequences of this type, namely 00, 01, 10, and 11. If the ones and zeros were indeed appearing at random with equal probability, we would expect each of these four subsequences to appear with a frequency of roughly 25%. In fact, these subsequences do appear in our sample history with frequencies of 25.6%, 24.7%, 25.4%, and 24.3% respectively, and these frequencies also agree with the hypothesis that this history satisfies the statistical law.
In general, we can calculate the frequencies of subsequences of many different lengths. A statistical analyst would say that the history obeys our statistical law if subsequences of equal length always tend to appear with nearly equal frequency. (By "nearly equal" we mean that the frequencies should fall within certain calculated confidence limits.)
Introducing "Absolute Chance"
So in practical terms we can interpret our statistical law as an approximate statement about the relative frequency of various patterns of ones and zeros within a larger sequence of ones and zeros. If statistical laws were never attributed a deeper meaning than this, the concepts of randomness and statistical law might seem of little interest. However, because of an additional interpretation commonly given them, these concepts are actually of great significance in modern science, and particularly the science of physics. This interpretation becomes clear in the following reformulation of our statistical law, as understood from the viewpoint of modern physics:
The box contains some apparatus that operates according to definite laws of cause and effect and that determines which figures will appear in the window. But in addition to its predictable, causal behavior, this apparatus periodically undergoes changes that have no cause and that cannot be predicted, even in principle. The presence of a one or a zero in the window during any given second is due to an inherently unpredictable, causeless event. Yet it is also true that ones and zeros are equally likely to appear, and thus we say that their probability of appearance is 50%.
In this formulation, our statistical law is no longer simply a statement about patterns of ones and zeros in a sequence. Rather, it now becomes an assertion about an active process occurring in nature-a process that involves absolutely causeless events. Such an unpredictable process is said to be a "random process" or a process of "absolute chance."
When modern physicists view our statistical law in this way, they still judge its truth or falsity by the same criteria involving the relative frequencies of patterns of ones and zeros. But now they interpret the distribution of these patterns as evidence for inherently causeless natural phenomena. Ironically, they interpret the lawlike regularities the frequencies of various patterns obey as proof of underlying causeless events that, by definition, obey no law whatsoever.
At first glance this interpretation of the concept of randomness may seem quite strange, even self-contradictory. Nonetheless, since the development of quantum mechanics in the early decades of the twentieth century, this interpretation has occupied a central place in the modern scientific picture of nature. According to quantum mechanics, almost all natural phenomena involve "quantum jumps" that occur by absolute, or causeless, chance. At present many scientists regard the quantum theory as the fundamental basis for all explanations of natural phenomena. Consequently, the concept of absolute chance is now an integral part of the scientific world view.
The role absolute chance plays in the quantum theory becomes clear through the classical example of radioactive decay. Let us suppose our model universe contains some radioactive atoms, a Geiger counter tube, and some appropriate electrical apparatus. As the atoms decay they trigger the Geiger counter and thereby influence the apparatus, which in turn controls the sequence of figures appearing in the window. We could arrange the apparatus so that during any given second a one would appear in the window if a radioactive decay occurred at the start of that second, and otherwise a zero would appear. By adjusting the amount of radioactive substance, we could control the average rate at which the counter was triggered and thus assure that the figure one would appear approximately 50% of the time.
If the apparatus were adjusted in this way, we would expect from observational experience that the sequence of ones and zeros generated by the model universe would satisfy our simple statistical law. Modern physicists interpret this predictable statistical behavior as evidence of an underlying process of causeless chance. Although they analyze the operation of the apparatus in terms of cause and effect, they regard the decay of the atoms themselves as fundamentally causeless, and the exact time at which any given atom decays as inherently unpredictable. This unpredictability implies that the sequence of ones and zeroes generated by the model should follow no predictable pattern. Thus the hypothesis of causeless chance provides an explanation of the model's statistical behavior.
If we analyze the above example of a physical system, we can see that it involves a mixture of two basic elements: determinism and absolute chance. In our example we assumed that the electrical apparatus followed deterministic laws, whereas we attributed the decay of the radioactive atoms to absolute chance. In general, the theories of modern physics entail a combination of these two elements. The deterministic part of the theory is represented by mathematical equations describing causal interactions, and the element of chance is represented by statistical laws expressed in terms of probabilities.
When some scientists view natural phenomena in the actual universe as obeying such combined deterministic and statistical laws, they show a strong tendency to suppose that the phenomena are governed by these laws, and by nothing else. They are tempted to imagine that the laws correspond directly to a real underlying agency that produces the phenomena. Once they visualize such an agency, they naturally think of it as the enduring substantial cause, and they regard the phenomena themselves as ephemeral, insubstantial effects.
Thus the physicist Steven Weinberg refers to the theories of physics as "mathematical models of the universe to which at least the physicists give a higher degree of reality than they accord the ordinary world of sensation." ** (Steven Weinberg, "The Forces of Nature," American Scientist, Vol. 65, March-April 1977, p.175.) Following this line of thinking, some researchers are tempted to visualize ultimate mathematical laws that apply to all the phenomena of the universe and that represent the underlying basis of reality. Many scientists regard the discovery of such laws as the final goal of their quest to understand nature.
Up until now, of course, no one has formulated a mathematically consistent universal theory of this kind, and the partial attempts that have been made involve a formidable tangle of unresolved technical difficulties. It is possible, however, for us to give a fairly complete description of the laws involved in our simple model universe, and by studying this model we can gain some insight into the feasibility of the physicists' reaching their ultimate goal. As we shall see, their goal is actually unattainable, for it is vitiated by a serious fallacy in the interpretation of one of its underlying theoretical concepts-the concept of absolute chance.
Where Are the Details?
When we examine the laws of our model universe, we find that they adequately describe the deterministic functioning of the electrical apparatus and also the statistical properties' of the sequence of radioactive decays. They do not, however, say anything about the details of this sequence. Indeed, according to our theory of the model universe, we cannot expect this sequence to display any systematic patterns that would enable us to describe it succinctly. We may therefore raise the following questions: Can our theoretical description of the model universe really be considered complete or universal? For the description to be complete, wouldn't we need to incorporate into it a detailed description of the actual sequence of radioactive decays?
Considering these questions, we note that if we were to augment the theory in this way, then by no means could we consider the resulting enlarged theory unified. It would consist of a short list of basic laws followed by a very long list of data displaying no coherent pattern. Yet, if we did not include the exact sequence of radioactive decays, we would have to admit that our theory was incomplete in that it failed to account for this detailed information. Clearly, we could consider such a theory complete only if we adopted a standard of completeness that enabled us to ignore most of the detailed features of the very phenomena our theory was intended to describe.
Now, when we consider the concept of absolute chance, we see that it seems to provide just such a standard of completeness. The idea that a sequence of events is generated by causeless chance seems intuitively to imply that these events should be disorderly, chaotic, and meaningless. We would not expect one totally random sequence to be distinguishable in any significant way from any of the innumerable other random sequences having the same basic statistical properties. We would expect the details of the sequence to amount to nothing more than a display of pointless arbitrariness.
This leads naturally to the idea that one may consider a theoretical description of phenomena complete as long as it thoroughly accounts for the statistical properties of the phenomena. According to this idea, if the phenomena involve random sequences of events-in other words, sequences satisfying the statistical criteria for randomness—then these sequences must be products of causeless chance. As such, their detailed patterns must be meaningless and insignificant, and we can disregard them. Only the overall statistical features of the phenomena are worthy of theoretical description.
This method of defining the completeness of theories might seem satisfactory when applied to our example of radioactive decay. Certainly the observed patterns of atomic breakdown in radioactive substances seem completely chaotic. But let us look again at the sample history of our model universe depicted in figure 2. As we have already indicated, this history satisfies many of the criteria for a random sequence that can be deduced from our simple statistical laws. It also appears chaotic and disorderly. Yet if we examine it more closely, we find that it is actually a message expressed in binary code.
When we decipher this message it turns out, strangely enough, to consist of the following statement in English:
The probability of repetition of terrestrial evolution is zero. The same holds for the possibility that if most life on earth were destroyed, the evolution would start anew from some few primitive survivors. That evolution would be most unlikely to give rise to new manlike beings.
What are we to make of this? Could it be that by some extremely improbable accident, the random process corresponding to our simple statistical law just happened to generate this particular sequence? Using the law, we can calculate the probability of this, and we obtain a percentage of .000. . . (292 zeros) . . . 0001.
The answer, of course, is that we did not actually produce the sequence in figure 2 by a random process. That a sequence of events obeys a statistical law does not imply that a process of chance governed by this law actually produced the sequence. In fact, the sequence in figure 2 demonstrates that at least in some situations, the presence of a high degree of randomness in a sequence calls for a completely different interpretation. When we consider the method used to construct this sequence, we see that its apparent randomness results directly from the fact that it encodes a large amount of meaningful information.
We produced the sequence in figure 2 by a technique from the field of communications engineering known as "data compression." In this field, engineers confront the problem of how to send as many messages as possible across a limited communications channel, such as a telephone line. They have therefore sought methods of encoding messages as sequences of symbols that are as short as possible but can still be readily decoded to reproduce the original message.
In 1948 Claude Shannon established some of the fundamental principles of data compression. ** (Claude E. Shannon, "A Mathematical Theory of Communication," Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 27, July 1948, p.379.) He showed that each message has a certain information content, which can be expressed as a number of "bits," or binary ones and zeros. If a message contains n bits of information, we can encode it as a sequence of n or more ones and zeros, but we cannot encode it as a shorter sequence without losing part of the message. When we encode the message as a sequence of almost exactly n ones and zeros, its density of information is maximal, and each zero or one carries essential information.
Shannon showed that when encoded in the shortest possible sequence, a message appears to be completely random. The basic reason for this is that if patterns of ones and zeros are to be used in the most efficient possible way to encode information, all possible patterns must be used with roughly equal frequency. Thus the criteria for maximal information density and maximal randomness turn out to be the same.
Figures 3 and 4 show the effects of information compression for the message encoded in figure 2. Figure 3 illustrates some of the characteristics of an uncompressed binary encoding of this message. The bar graph in this figure represents the frequency distribution for five-bit subsequences, each representing a letter of the English text. This distribution clearly does not follow the bell-shaped curve we would expect for a random sequence. However, when we encode the message in compressed form, as in figure 2, we obtain the distribution shown by the bar graph in figure 4. Here we see that simply by encoding the message in a more succinct form, we have greatly increased its apparent randomness. ** (This sequence was encoded using a method devised by (D. A. Huffman, "A Method for the Construction of Minimum Redundancy Codes," Proceedings of the LR.E., Vol.40, Sept. 1952, p. 1098). As it stands, the sequence is highly random, but not fully so, since it still contains the redundancy caused by the repetition of words such as "evolution." Thus further compression and consequent randomization are possible.)
We can conclude that it is not justifiable to insist upon absolute chance as an explanation of apparent randomness in nature. If a sequence of events exhibits the statistical properties of randomness, this may simply mean that it contains a large amount of significant information. Also, if a sequence exhibits a combination of random features and systematic features, as with our text before compression, this may reflect the presence of significant information in a less concentrated form. In either case, we would clearly be mistaken to disregard the details of the sequence, thinking them simply products of chance.
Implications for Evolution
At this point let us consider how these observations bear on the actual universe in which we live. Could it be that while focusing on ultimate mechanistic laws, modern scientists are disregarding some significant information encoded in the phenomena of nature? In fact, this is the implication of the sequence in figure 2 when we decode it and perceive its higher meaning-namely, as a statement about human evolution. The source of this statement is the prominent evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, ** (Theodosius Dobzhansky, "From Potentiality to Realization in Evolution," Mind in Nature, eds. J. B. Cobb Jr. & D. R. Griffin (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1978), p.20.) who here expresses a view held widely among researchers in the life sciences. Dobzhansky is visualizing the origin of human life in the context of an underlying physical theory that involves combined processes of causation and chance. He is expressing the conviction that although such processes have generated the highly complex forms of human life we know, they nonetheless have a zero probability of doing so.
No one has shown, of course, that the universe as a whole, or even the small part of it we inhabit, really does obey some fundamental mechanistic laws. Yet suppose, for the sake of argument, that it does. In effect, Dobzhansky is asserting that from the viewpoint of this ultimate universal theory, the detailed information specifying the nature and history of human life is simply random noise. ** (We should note that in his article Dobzhansky does not clearly define his conception of the ultimate principles underlying the phenomena of the universe. He says that evolution is not acausal, that it is not due to pure chance, and that it is due to many interacting causal chains. Yet he also says that evolution is not rigidly predestined. He says that the course of evolution was not programmed or encoded into the primordial universe, but that primordial matter had the potential for giving rise to all forms of life, including innumerable unrealized forms. He speaks of evolution in terms of probabilities and stresses that the probability of the development of life as we know it is zero. It appears that Dobzhansky is thinking in terms of causal interactions that include, at some point, some mysterious element of absolute chance. We can conclude only that his thinking is muddled. We suggest that the reason for this is that although he needs the concept of absolute chance to formulate his evolutionary world view, at the same time he recognizes the illogical nature of this concept and would like to avoid it. Thus, he is caught in a dilemma.) The theory will be able to describe only broad statistical features of this information, and will have to dismiss its essential content as the vagaries of causeless chance.
The underlying basis for Dobzhansky's conviction is that he and his fellow evolutionists have not been able to discern in nature any clearly definable pattern of cause and effect that enables them to deduce the forms of living organisms from basic physical principles. Of course, evolutionists customarily postulate that certain physical processes called mutation and natural selection have produced all living organisms. But their analysis of these processes has given them no insight into why one form is produced and not some other, and they have generally concluded that the appearance of specific forms like tigers, horses, and human beings is simply a matter of chance. This is the conclusion shown, for example, by Charles Darwin's remark that "there seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the wind blows." ** (Charles Darwin, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Frances Darwin, Vol.1 (New York: D. Appleton, 1896), p.20.)
Now, one might propose that in the future it will become possible to deduce the appearance of particular life forms from basic physical laws, But how much detail can we hope to obtain from such deductions? Will it be possible to deduce the complex features of human personality from fundamental physical laws? Will it be possible to deduce from such laws the detailed life histories of individual persons and to specify, for example, the writings of Theodosius Dobzhansky? Clearly there must be some limit to what we can expect from deductions based on a fixed set of relatively simple laws.
These questions pose a considerable dilemma for those scientists who would like to formulate a complete and unified mechanistic theory of the universe, If we reject the unjustifiable concept of absolute chance, we see that a theory—if it is to be considered complete—must directly account for the unlimited diversity actually existing in reality. Either scientists must be satisfied with an incomplete theory that says nothing about the detailed features of many aspects of the universe-including life—or they must be willing to append to their theory a seemingly arbitrary list of data that describes these features at the cost of destroying the theory's unity.
We can further understand this dilemma by briefly considering the physical theories studied before the advent of quantum mechanics and the formal introduction of absolute chance into science. Based solely on causal interactions, these theories employed the idea of chance only to describe an observer's incomplete knowledge of the precisely determined flow of actual events, Although newer developments have superseded these theories, one might still wonder how effective they might be in providing a unified description of nature. We shall show by a simple example that these theories are confronted by the same dilemma that faces universal theories based on statistical laws.
Figure 5 depicts a rectangular array of evenly spaced spheres. Let us suppose that the positions of these spheres are fixed and that the array extends in all directions without limit. We shall consider the behavior of a single sphere that moves according to the laws of classical physics and rebounds elastically off the other spheres. We can imagine that once we set the single sphere into motion, it will continue to follow a zigzag path through the fixed array of spheres.
Figure 5 illustrates how a slight variation in the direction of the moving sphere can be greatly magnified when it bounces against one of the fixed spheres. On successive bounces this variation will increase more and more, and we would therefore have to know the sphere's initial direction of motion with great accuracy to predict its path correctly for any length of time. For example, suppose the moving sphere is going sixty miles per hour, and the dimensions of the spheres are as shown in the figure. To predict the moving sphere's path from bounce to bounce for one hour, we would have to know its original direction of motion (in degrees) with an accuracy of roughly two million decimal places. ** (We assume that the diameter of the spheres is 1/4 inch. If there is an average movement of about two inches between bounces, then a slight variation in direction will be magnified by an average of at least sixteen times per bounce. Consequently, an error in the nth decimal place in the direction of motion will begin to affect the first decimal place after about .83n bounces.) We can estimate that a number with this many decimal digits would take a full 714 pages to write down,
In effect, the number representing the initial direction of the sphere constitutes a script specifying in advance the detailed movements of the sphere for one hour. To specify the sphere's movements for one year, this script would have to be expanded to more than six million pages. We can therefore see that this simple deterministic theory can provide complete predictions about the phenomena being studied-namely, the movements of the sphere—only if a detailed description of what will actually happen is first built into the theory.
We I can generalize the example of the bouncing sphere by allowing all the spheres to move simultaneously and to interact not merely by elastic collision but by force laws of various kinds. By doing this we obtain the classical Newtonian theory of nature mentioned by Hermann Helmholtz in the quotation cited at the beginning of this article. Helmholtz and many other scientists of his time wished to account for all phenomena by this theory, which was based entirely on simple laws of attraction and repulsion between material particles.
Encoding a Rhinoceros?
Let us therefore consider what this theory implies about the origin of life. Although it is more complicated than our simple example, this theory has some of the same characteristics. To account for life as we know it, the theory would have to incorporate billions of numbers describing the state of the world at some earlier time, and the entire history of living beings would have to be encoded in the high-order decimal digits of those numbers. Some of these decimal digits would encode the blueprints for a future rhinoceros, and others would encode the life history of a particular human being.
These digits would encode the facts of universal history in an extremely complicated way, and as far as the theory is concerned this encoded information would be completely arbitrary. This might tempt an adherent of the theory to abandon the idea of strict determinism and say—perhaps covertly—that the encoded information must have arisen by absolute chance (see note 6). Yet we have seen that this is a misleading idea, and it certainly has no p[ace in a theory based solely on causal interactions. All we can realistically say in the context of this theory is that the facts of universal history simply are what they are. The theory can describe them only if a detailed script is initially appended to it.
We can conclude that the prospects for a simple, universal mechanistic theory are not good. Once we eliminate the unsound and misleading idea of absolute chance, we are confronted with the problem of accounting for an almost unlimited amount of detailed information with a finite system of formulas. Some of this information may seem meaningless and chaotic, but a substantial part of it is involved with the phenomena of life, and this part includes the life histories of all scientific theorists. We must regard a theory that neglects most of this information as only a partial description of some features of the universe. Conversely, a theory that takes large amounts of this information into account must be filled with elaborate detail, and it can hardly be considered simple or unified.
An Alternative World View
It seems that on the platform of finite mathematical description, the ideal of unity is incompatible with the diversity of the real world. But this does not mean that the goal of finding unity and harmony in nature must be abandoned. In the remainder of this article we will introduce an alternative to the mechanistic view of the universe. This alternative, known as sanatana-dharma, is expounded in the Vedic literatures of India, such as Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Brahma-samhita. According to sanatana-dharma, while the variegated phenomena of the universe do indeed arise from a single, unified source, one can understand the nature of this source only by transcending the mechanistic world view.
Those who subscribe to a mechanistic theory of nature express all theoretical statements in terms of numbers, some of which they hope correspond to fundamental entities lying at the basis of observable phenomena. Mechanistic theorists therefore regard the fundamental constituents of reality as completely representable by numerical magnitudes. An example is the electron, which modern physics characterizes by numbers representing its mass, charge, and spin.
In Sanatana-dharma, however, conscious personality is accepted as the irreducible basis of reality. The ultimate source of all phenomena is understood to be a Supreme Personality, who possesses many personal names, such as Krsna and Govinda. This primordial person fully possesses consciousness, senses, knowledge, will, and all other personal features. According to sanatana-dharma, all of these attributes are absolute, and it is not possible to reduce them to the mathematically describable interaction of some simple entities corresponding to sets of numbers. Rather, all the variegated phenomena of the universe, including the phenomena of life, are manifestations of the energy of the Supreme Person, and one can fully understand them only in relation to this original source.
The unity of the Absolute Person is a basic postulate of sanatana-dharma. Krsna is unique and indivisible, yet He simultaneously possesses unlimited personal opulences, and He is the original wellspring of all the diverse phenomena of the universe. This idea may seem contradictory, but we can partially understand it if we consider that, according to sanatana-dharma, conscious personality has the attributes of infinity.
A few simple examples will serve to illustrate the properties of infinity. Consider a finite set of, say, one hundred points. We can regard this set as essentially disunited, since any part of it has fewer points than the whole and is therefore different from the whole. In this sense, the only unified set is the set consisting of exactly one point. In contrast to this, consider a continuous line one unit long. If we select any small segment of this line, no matter how short, we can obtain the entire line by expanding this segment. Thus the line has unity in the sense that it is equivalent to its parts. This is so because the line has infinitely many parts.
Although the above example is crude, it will serve as a metaphor to illustrate the difference between the Supreme Person and the hypothetical physical processes in mechanistic theories. A mechanistic theory based on a finite system of mathematical expressions can be truly unified only if it can be reduced to one symbol-a single binary digit of 0 or 1. Correspondingly, an underlying physical process characterized theoretically by a finite set of attributes can be unified only if it is devoid of all properties. Of course, a theory that described the world in this way would say nothing at all, and mechanistic theorists have had to settle for the goal of seeking the simplest possible theory that can adequately describe nature. Unfortunately, we have seen that the simplest adequate theory must be almost unlimitedly complex.
In contrast to mechanistic theories, sanatana-dharma teaches that while the Supreme Person possesses unlimited complexity, He is simultaneously nondifferent from His parts and is therefore a perfect unit. The Brahma-samhita (5.32) expresses this idea; "Each of the limbs of Govinda, the primeval Lord, possesses the full-fledged functions of all the organs. and each limb eternally manifests, sees, and maintains the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane." Even though Krsna has distinct parts, each part is the total being of Krsna. This characteristic of the Supreme Person is dimly reflected in our example of the line, but there is a significant difference. The equivalence of the line to its parts depends on an externally supplied operation of expansion, and thus the unity of the line exists only in the mind of an observer (as does the line itself, for it is only an abstraction). In contrast, the identity of Krsna with His parts is inherent in the reality of Krsna Himself, and His unity is therefore complete and perfect.
The Supreme and His Energies
According to sanatana-dharma, the material universe we live in is the product of two basic energies of the Supreme Person. One of these, the external energy, comprises what are commonly known as matter and energy. The patterns and transformations of the external energy produce all the observable phenomena of the universe. Thus, the measurable aspects of this energy constitute the subject matter of modern, mechanistic science.
Sanatana-dharma teaches that the activity of the external energy is completely determined by the will of Krsna. At first glance, this might seem incompatible with our knowledge of physics, for it would seem that some phenomena of nature do follow rigid, deterministic laws that we can describe by simple mathematical formulas. But there is no real contradiction here. Just as a human being can draw circles and other curves obeying simple mathematical laws, so the Supreme Person can easily impose certain mathematical regularities on the behavior of matter in the universe as a whole.
We can better understand the relationship between Krsna and the phenomenal universe if we again consider the concept of infinity. The Vedic literature states that Krsna is fully present within all the atoms of the universe and that He is at the same time an undivided, independent being completely distinct from the universe. Krsna directly superintends all the phenomena of the universe in complete detail; but since He is unlimited, these details occupy only an infinitesimal fraction of His attention, and He can there-fore simultaneously remain completely aloof from the universal manifestation.
Here one might object that if all the phenomena of the universe follow the will of a supremely intelligent being, why do so many of these phenomena appear chaotic and meaningless?
Part of the answer to this question is that meaningful patterns may appear random if they contain a high density of information. We have seen that such complex patterns tend to obey certain statistical laws simply as a result of their large information content. Thus a complex, seemingly random pattern in nature may actually be meaningful, even though we do not understand it.
Another part of the answer is that meaningful patterns can easily change into meaningless patterns. Consider how a number of meaningful conversations, when heard simultaneously in a crowded room, merge into a meaningless din. Such meaningless patterns will inherit the statistical properties of their meaningful sources and will appear as undecipherable "random noise."
These considerations enable us to understand how apparent meaninglessness and chaos can arise in nature, but they tell us nothing about the ultimate definition of meaning itself. In general, mechanistic theorists have not been able to give a satisfactory definition of meaning or purpose within the framework of the mechanistic world view. But sanatana-dharma does provide such a definition, and this involves the second of the two basic energies of Krsna that make up the material universe.
The second energy, known as the internal energy of Krsna, includes the innumerable sentient entities, called atmas. Sanatana-dharma teaches that each living organism consists of an atma in association with a physical body composed of external energy. The atma is the actual conscious self of the living organism, whereas the physical body is merely an insentient vehicle or machine. Each atma is an irreducible conscious personality, possessing senses, mind, intelligence, and all other personal faculties. These individual personalities are minute fragmental parts of the Supreme Person, and as such they possess His qualities in minute degree.
In the embodied state the atma's natural senses are linked with the sensory apparatus of the body, and so the atma receives all its information about the world through the bodily senses. Likewise, the embodied atma's will can act only through various bodily organs. This interaction between the atma and the material apparatus of the body does not involve a direct link. Rather, this interaction is mediated by the Supreme Person, who manipulates the external energy in a highly complex fashion according to both the desires of the atmas and His own higher plan.
The embodied condition is not natural for the atma. The atma is one in quality with Krsna, and thus he is eternally connected with Him through a constitutional relationship of loving reciprocation. This relationship of direct personal exchange involves the full use of all the atma's personal faculties, and as such it defines the ultimate meaning and purpose of individual conscious personality. Yet in the embodied state the atma is largely unaware of this relationship. The purpose of Krsna's higher plan, then, is to reawaken the embodied atmas and gradually restore them to their natural state of existence.
It is this higher plan that determines the ultimate criterion of meaningfulness for the phenomena of the universe. Under the direction of the single Supreme Person, the external energy undergoes highly complex transformations that are related to the desires and activities of the innumerable conscious entities. These transformations involve the continuous imposition of intricate patterns on the distribution of matter, the combination and recombination of these patterns according to various systematic laws, and the gradual degradation of these patterns into a welter of cosmic "random noise." Seen from a purely mechanistic perspective, the measurable behavior of the external energy seems a complex but arbitrary combination of regularity and irregularity. But in the midst of this bewildering display of phenomena, the Supreme Person is continuously making arrangements for the atmas to realize their true nature.
In the ultimate issue, this activity by the Supreme Person is the key to understanding the entire cosmic manifestation. The process whereby the atma can achieve enlightenment is the principal subject matter of sanatana-dharma. And, in fact, sanatana-dharma is itself part of that process. This subject involves many detailed considerations, and here we have only introduced a few basic points that relate to the topics of chance and universal unity. In conclusion, we will simply note that by pursuing the process of self-realization described in sanatana-dharma, a person can acquire direct understanding of the unified source underlying the phenomena of the universe.
Readers interested in the subject matter of this article are invited to correspond with the author at 72 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts 02116.
SADAPUTA DASA studied at the State University of New York and Syracuse University and later received a National Science Fellowship. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell, specializing in probability theory and statistical mechanics.
On War and Death
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place some eight years ago on an early morning walk in San Francisco.
First disciple: Srila Prabhupada, recently a student committed suicide here. It's happening all over the country.
Srila Prabhupada: Some are publicly committing suicide, and others are silently committing suicide. If the human life is wasted for sense gratification, that is suicide. People have the opportunity for enlightenment, yet they live like dogs and cats. This is suicide.
Second disciple: One month ago there was a big story in the papers about how a student went through the archives in the Library of Congress and compiled enough information to construct an atom bomb. They concluded that, theoretically, anyone who wanted to could gather enough information from public sources and build an atom bomb.
Srila Prabhupada: This is also suicide. The atom bomb manufacturer is thinking he is successful in his life by building an atom bomb, but he does not know how to save himself from death. Nothing he has done can save him from death. So what is the use of his scientific knowledge? The dog is going to die, and he is also going to die, so where is the difference?
First disciple: Incidentally, the scientists' original purpose in building the atom bomb was to prevent death-to end the Second World War as soon as possible.
Srila Prabhupada: How can they prevent death? That they do not know-how to prevent death. They can accelerate it, that's all. Here are the real problems: janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi—birth, death, old age, and disease. What scientist can solve these problems? These are the really fearful problems, but where is the chemist or psychologist who can solve them?
First disciple: The theory nowadays is that since Russia has so many nuclear weapons and the United States has so many, they are both afraid to use them.
Srila Prabhupada: No. They must use them. That is nature's arrangement. This is not astrology; it is a natural conclusion. There is no doubt about it.
First disciple: The only difficulty is that if they use the nuclear weapons there'll be total destruction. So everyone is afraid of using them.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, total or partial, that we shall see. But the weapons must be used. If the leaders want to avoid war, they must understand three items: God is the proprietor of everything, He is the enjoyer of all work, and He is the friend of everyone. But the leaders act in just the opposite way, thinking, "I am the proprietor, I am the enjoyer, and I am the friend of everyone, because I am God." This is demonic. Nixon was elected President by pretending to be a friend of everyone, but later on he proved to be an enemy. Nobody can be the friend of everyone except Krsna.
Third disciple: But isn't a pure devotee of God a friend to all?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because he carries the message of Krsna. If there is a universal friend, and if somebody gives information of that universal friend, then he is also a universal friend. Krsna is the friend of all (suhrdam sarva-bhutanam), and the pure devotee tells everyone that Krsna is his friend. Therefore, nobody can be your friend except Krsna's representative. In the material world, "I am your enemy, and you are my enemy." This is the whole basis of the material world. But the spiritual world is just the opposite: "I am your friend, and you are my friend, because Krsna is the dearmost friend of us both."
Third disciple: When we distribute your books, Srila Prabhupada, are we trying to show people we are their friends, also?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. That is being a real friend. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, kota nidra jao maya-pisacira kole . . . enechi ausadhi maya nasibaro lagi' / Hari-nama maha-mantra lao tumi magi':
"O people, you are sleeping under the spell of maya [illusion]. How long will you sleep and suffer in this material world? I have the medicine—the Hare Krsna maha-mantra—so take it and sleep no more."
First disciple: Wouldn't the threat of nuclear warfare make Krsna consciousness easier to spread?
Srila Prabhupada: The threat is already here, but people are so foolish that they are not afraid of the threat. Certainly the threat of death is already here: everyone will die. That is the real problem, but who cares for it? People are avoiding this problem because they cannot make any countermeasure.
Fourth disciple: Srila Prabhupada, we constantly hear from you and your books that we will die and that we must learn how to face this. But still, even as your disciples, we're not so convinced. We've been brought up in a culture that hides death. Particularly here in America, we rarely see death.
Srila Prabhupada: You think you'll not die?
Fourth disciple: I know I will, but how can we come to the platform of realizing that?
Srila Prabhupada: Everyone is dying. Your mother is dying, your father is dying, your friends are dying—and still you cannot understand? Then how will it be possible to make you understand? Every day, every moment, so many men and animals die. Death is inevitable, but still you are thinking, "I'll not die." And this is our real problem. Nobody wants to die, but everyone is dying. This problem the rascal scientists cannot solve.
Sometimes we see a dog swimming in the Pacific Ocean and think, "Oh, let me grab hold of the dog's tail, and I shall cross the ocean." Similarly, those who are thinking the so-called scientists and philosophers will solve the problems of birth, death, old age, and disease are exactly like those who are trying to cross the Pacific Ocean by holding on to the tail of a dog. The scientists are like dogs, and to catch hold of their tails is hopeless.
First disciple: So one must become convinced of the reality of death through philosophy?
Srila Prabhupada: At the present moment philosophy means "mental concoction." But real philosophy means to find out reality. That is philosophy. Not "I think like this, he thinks like this, he thinks like that." This is mental concoction. Real philosophy is what Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita: janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam—" Always remember that there is death, that there is birth, that there is old age and disease, and try to save yourself from these by becoming Krsna conscious." This is philosophy.
Hare Krsna in the News: A Devotee's Point of View
I was discussing with a journalist why the media so often tries to give the Krsna consciousness movement a bad name. There seems to be a persistent effort to find and publish stories that represent our movement as criminal-infested and corrupt, which I know it is not.
"I don't think the press really has anything against you," my journalist friend said. "They're after news, that's all. They've learned what people want, and that's what they give them. People want to hear that a spiritual movement is corrupt."
Yes, that makes sense, I thought. When people avoid serving and worshiping God, they act against scriptural codes and tend to go in for things like drugs and illicit sex (or habits more extreme). So if those who are supposed to uphold the scriptures are found hypocrites themselves, one can build a good case for cynicism and let everyone off the hook.
But I thought you might be interested in knowing what a person practicing Krsna consciousness feels about the media's coverage and what keeps a devotee enthusiastic, despite a bad press.
A devotee can't be thin-skinned about criticism or overconcerned with the latest public-opinion polls. We have to work from a different, deeper motivation. There's an old literary story that the poet John Keats was killed by an unfavorable review of one of his poems. Whether or not the story is true, this is not the stuff of which a devotee is made. Our important preaching work, intended to relieve humanity of its sufferings, must go on despite all objections and risks. In the face of criticism, it might be easier for devotees simply to retire from active preaching, dissolve their organized movement, and let everyone meditate on his own. We might reason, "Since materialistic people misunderstand Krsna consciousness, why even hassle with this material world? Let the world go its hellish way, but let us go to a quiet place and chant Hare Krsna." Certain transcendentalists do, in fact, take the path of solitary meditation, but the Vedic scriptures declare that the devotees who go among people to try to spread the word of Krsna are on a higher level.
But in a world of pornography, gambling, intoxication, and atheism, a world where even a religious organization must struggle to stay alive, a world where one has to associate with people whom the scriptures say one should avoid, to try to remain saintly sometimes proves difficult for aspiring devotees. A weak member sometimes even falls (thus becoming a subject for the stories about misbehavior the public so much likes to read). But a devotee is not meant for easy life. His real happiness lies in serving Krsna, not in trying to find a secure situation for himself, even if serving Krsna means abandoning a peaceful, solitary retreat in favor of mixing with the multitude.
There is a great need to distribute Krsna's message. So a devotee can go on enthusiastically, even if not appreciated by the public, because he knows that by spreading Krsna's message he pleases Krsna and works for the greatest benefit of all people.
Forgetfulness of God is not a modern predicament; the material world has always been a place of forgetfulness. Today it takes exaggerated forms in a mentality of crass materialism, supported by scientific and psychological propaganda that there is no such thing as a soul or God. People are encouraged to believe that a human being is hardly different from an animal or is just a bundle of chemicals and electrical impulses. People do not know where they have come from or where they are going after death.
But beyond this ignorance is transcendental information in the Vedic scriptures about the nature of the self as an eternal soul and how the soul has to transmigrate life after life because of his materialistic desires. As long as we remain covered by ignorance, we have to suffer the repeated miseries of birth, death, disease, and old age, and we also have to suffer natural disasters, attacks from enemies, and distresses from the mind and body These miseries now stand out boldly, threatening worldwide economic collapse and nuclear war. But the Krsna conscious process, as taught in Bhagavad-gita, gives us knowledge and a practice by which we can approach God and revive our eternal consciousness. The mission of human life is to revive God consciousness so that at the time of death the soul can get free from transmigration into another material life and go join the Supreme Lord in the spiritual abode of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. The importance of this message of relief for humanity cannot be overestimated, nor can the enthusiasm of Krsna's devotees be dimmed by opposition or misrepresentation from the media.
Finally, a devotee is aware that the Krsna consciousness movement has an auspicious destiny, as predicted by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the in-carnation of Krsna Himself who appeared in India five hundred years ago. Lord Caitanya predicted that the name of Krsna would be chanted by people in every town and village. A devotee counts on this prediction by Lord Caitanya, and he counts on Krsna's protection and on the assurance that all materialistic discrepancies will be purged from the heart of a devotee who continues to chant and hear Krsna's holy name. Thus he feels encouraged under all circumstances. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada, said that if he converted even one soul to pure Krsna consciousness he would consider his work a success. A devotee, like a diamond merchant, cannot expect as many customers as one who is selling something cheap. It will be a rare customer who will take the opportunity to associate with devotees and read their books, despite a barrage of bad propaganda. But such a customer will be fortunate indeed.—SDG