A lecture by
Delivered in Calcutta on January 30, 1973, to the Bharata Chamber of Commerce.
Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you very much for kindly inviting me I'll serve you to the best of my ability.
Today's subject is "Culture and Business." We understand business to mean "occupational duty." According to our Vedic culture, there are different types of business. As described in Bhagavad-gita [4.13], catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah,. The four divisions of the social system, based on people's qualities and types of work, are the brahmanas [intellectuals and teachers], the ksatriyas [military men and state leaders], the vaisyas [farmers and merchants], and the sudras [laborers]. Before doing business, one must know what kinds of work there are and who can do what kind of work. People have different capabilities, and there are different types of work, but now we have created a society where everyone takes up everyone else's business. That is not very scientific.
Society has natural cultural divisions, just as there are natural divisions in the human body. The whole body is one unit, but it has different departments, also—for example, the head department, the arm department, the belly department, and the leg department. This is scientific. So in society the head department is represented by the brahmana, the arm department by the ksatriya, the belly department by the vaisya, and the leg department by the sudra. Business should be divided scientifically in this way.
The head department is the most important department, because without the head the other departments—the arm, the belly, and the leg—cannot function. If the arm department is lacking, business can still go on. If the leg department is lacking, business can go on. But if the head department is not there—if your head is cut off from your body—then even though you have arms, legs, and a belly, they are all useless,
The head is meant for culture. Without culture, every type of business creates confusion and chaos. And that is what we have at the present moment, because of jumbling of different types of business. So there must be one section of people; the head department, who give advice to the other departments. These advisors are the intelligent and qualified brahmanas.
samo damas tapah saucam
"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness-these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work." [Bhagavad-gita 18.42]
The brahmanas, the head of the social body, are meant to guide society in culture. Culture means knowing the aim of life. Without understanding the aim of life, a man is a ship without a rudder. But at the present moment we are missing the goal of life because there is no head department in society. The whole human society is now lacking real brahmanas to give advice to the other departments.
Arjuna is a good example of how a member of the ksatriya department should take advice. He was a military man; his business was to fight. In the Battle of Kuruksetra he engaged in his business, but at the same time he took the advice of the brahmanya-deva, Lord Krsna. As it is said,
"Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krsna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who is always benefiting the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krsna and Govinda." [Visnu Purana 1.19.65]
In this verse the first things taken into consideration are the cows and the brahmanas (go-brahmana). Why are they stressed? Because a society with no brahminical culture and no cow protection is not a human society but a chaotic, animalistic society. And any business you do in a chaotic condition will never be perfect. Business can be done nicely only in a society following a proper cultural system.
Instructions for a perfect cultural system are given in Srimad-Bhagavatam. At a meeting in the forest of Naimisaranya, where many learned scholars and brahmanas had assembled and Srila Suta Gosvami was giving instructions, he stressed the varnasrama social system (atah pumbhir dvija-srestha varnasrama-vibhagasah). The Vedic culture organizes society into four varnas [occupational divisions] and four asramas [spiritual stages of life]. As mentioned before, the varnas are the brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra. The asramas are the brahmacari-asrama [celibate student life], grhastha-asrama [family life], vanaprastha-asrama [retired life], and sannyasa-asrama [renounced life]. Unless we take to this institution of varnasrama-dharma, the whole society will be chaotic.
And the purpose of varnasrama-dharma is to satisfy the Supreme Lord. As stated in the Visnu Purana [3.8.9],
According to this verse, one has to satisfy the Supreme Lord by properly performing one's prescribed duties according to the system of varna and asrama. In a state, you have to satisfy your government. If you don't, you are a bad citizen and cause chaos in society. Similarly, in the cosmic state—that is, in this material creation as a whole-if you do not satisfy the Supreme Lord, the proprietor of everything, then there will be a chaotic condition. Our Vedic culture teaches that whatever you do, you must satisfy the Supreme Lord. That is real culture.
Sva-karmana tam abhyarcya siddhim vindati manavah. You may do any business—the brahmana's business, the ksatriya's business, the vaisya's business, or the sudra's business—but by your business you should satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. You may be a merchant, a professional man, a legal advisor, a medical man—it doesn't matter. But if you want perfection in your business, then you must try to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Otherwise you are simply wasting your time.
In Bhagavad-gita [3.9], Lord Krsna says, yajnarthat karmanah,. The word yajna refers to Visnu, or Krsna, the Supreme Lord. You have to work for Him. Otherwise you become bound by the reactions of your activities (anyatra loko 'yam karma-bandhanah). And as long as you are in the bondage of karma, you have to transmigrate from one body to another.
Unfortunately, at the present moment people do not know that there is a soul and that the soul transmigrates from one body to another. As stated in Bhagavad-gita [2.13], tatha dehantara-praptir: "When the body dies, the soul transmigrates to another body." I've talked with big, big scientists and professors who do not know that there is life after death. They do not know. But according to our Vedic information, there is life after death. And we can experience transmigration of the soul in this present life. It is a very common thing: a baby soon gets the body of a boy, the boy then gets the body of a young man, and the young man gets the body of an old man. Similarly, the old man, after the annihilation of his body, will get another body. It is quite natural and logical.
Actually, we have two bodies, the gross body and the subtle body. The gross body is made up of our senses and the bodily elements like bones, blood, and so on. When we change our body at death, the present gross body is destroyed, but the subtle body, made of mind, intelligence, and ego, is not. The subtle body carries us to our next gross body.
It is just like what happens when we sleep. At night we forget about the gross body, and the subtle body alone works. As we dream we are taken away from our home, from our bed, to some other place, and we completely forget the gross body. When our sleep is over we forget about the dream and become attached again to the gross body. This is going on in our daily experience.
So we are the observer, sometimes of the gross body and sometimes of the subtle body. Both bodies are changing, but we are the unchanging observer, the soul within the bodies. Therefore, our inquiry should be, "What is my position? At night I forget my gross body, and during the daytime I forget my subtle body. Then what is my real body?" These are the questions we should ask.
So you may do your business, as Arjuna did his business. He was a fighter, a ksatriya, but he did not forget his culture, hearing Gita from the master. But if you simply do business and do not cultivate your spiritual life, then your business is a useless waste of time (srama eva hi kevalam).
Our Krsna consciousness movement is being spread so that you do not forget your cultural life. We do not say that you stop your business and become a sannyasi like me and give up everything. We do not say that. Nor did Krsna say that. Krsna never said, "Arjuna, give up your fighting business." No, He said, "Arjuna, you are a ksatriya. You are declining to fight, saying, 'Oh, it is very abominable.' You should not say that. You must fight." That was Krsna's instruction.
Similarly, we Krsna conscious people are also advising everyone, "Don't give up your business. Go on with your business, but simply hear about Krsna." Caitanya Mahaprabhu also said this, quoting from Srimad-Bhagavatam: sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-manobhir. Caitanya Mahaprabhu never said, "Give up your position." Giving up one's position is not very difficult. But to cultivate spiritual knowledge while one stays in his position—that is required. Among the animals there is no cultivation of spiritual life. That is not possible; the animals cannot cultivate this knowledge. Therefore, if human beings do not cultivate spiritual knowledge, they're exactly like animals (dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah,).
So we should be very conscious about our eternal existence. We, the spirit soul within the body, are eternal (na hanyate hanyamane sarire). We are not going to die after the annihilation of our body. This is the cultivation of knowledge, or brahma-jijnasa, which means inquiry about one's self. Caitanya Mahaprabhu's first disciple, Sanatana Gosvami, was formerly finance minister in the government of Nawab Hussein Shah. Then he retired and approached Caitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly said, "My dear Lord, people call me pandita." (Because he was a brahmana by caste, naturally he was called pandita, meaning "a learned person.") "But I am such a pandita," he said, "that I do not even know who or what I am."
This is the position of everyone. You may be a businessman, or you may be in another profession, but if you do not know what you are, wherefrom you have come, why you are under the tribulations of the laws of material nature, and where you are going in your next life—if you do not know these things, then whatever you are doing is useless. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.8],
dharmah svanusthitah pumsam
"The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead." Therefore our request to everyone is that while you engage in your business, in whatever position Krsna has posted you, do your duty nicely, but do not forget to cultivate Krsna knowledge.
Krsna knowledge means God consciousness. We must know that we are part and parcel of God (mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah). We are eternally part and parcel of Krsna, or God, but we are now struggling with the mind and senses (manah-sasthanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati). Why this struggle for existence? We must inquire about our eternal life beyond this temporary life. Suppose in this temporary life I become a big businessman for, say, twenty years or fifty years or at the utmost one hundred years. There is no guarantee that in my next life I'm going to be a big businessman. No. There is no such guarantee. But this we do not care about. We are taking care of our present small span of life, but we are not taking care of our life eternal. That is our mistake.
In this life I may be a very great businessman, but in my next life, by my karma, I may become something else. There are 8,400,000 forms of life. jalaja nava-laksani sthavara laksa vimsati: There are 900,000 forms of life in the water, and two million forms of trees and other plants. Then krmayo rudra-sankhyayah paksinam dasa-laksanam: There are 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and one million species of birds. Finally, there are three million varieties of beasts and 400,000 human species. So we must pass through eight million different forms of life before we come to the human form of life.
Therefore Prahlada Maharaja says,
kaumara acaret prajno
"One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life-in other words, from the tender age of childhood-to practice the activities of devotional service. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection." [Bhag. 7.6.1] This human birth is very rare. We should not be satisfied simply with becoming a big businessman. We must know what our next life is, what we are going to be.
There are different kinds of men. Some are called karmis, some are called jnanis, some are called yogis, and some are called bhaktas. The karmis are after material happiness. They want the best material comforts in this life, and they want to be elevated to the heavenly planets after death. The jnanis also want happiness, but being fed up with the materialistic way of life, they want to merge into the existence of Brahman, the Absolute. The yogis want mystic power. And the bhaktas, the devotees, simply want the service of the Lord. But unless one understands who the Lord is, how can one render service to Him? So cultivating knowledge of God is the highest culture.
There are different kinds of culture: the culture of the karmis, the culture of the jnanis, the culture of the yogis, and the culture of the bhaktas. Actually, all of these people are called yogi's if they are doing their duty sincerely. Then they are known as karma-yogis, jnana-yogis, dhyana-yogis, and bhakti-yogis. But in Bhagavad-gita [6.47] Krsna says,
yoginam api sarvesam
Who is the first-class yogi? Krsna answers, "He who is always thinking of Me." This means the Krsna conscious person is the best yogi. As already mentioned, there are different kinds of yogis (the karma-yogi, the jnana-yogi, the dhyana-yogi, and the bhakti-yogi), but the best yogi is he who always thinks of Krsna within himself with faith and love. One who is rendering service to the Lord-he is the first-class yogi.
So we request everyone to try to know what he is, what Krsna is, what his relationship with Krsna is, what his real life is, and what the goal of his life is. Unless we cultivate all this knowledge, we are simply wasting our time, wasting our valuable human form of life. Although everyone will die—that's a fact—one who dies after knowing these things is benefited. His life is successful.
The cat will die, the dog will die—everyone will die. But one who dies knowing Krsna—oh, that is a successful death. As Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita [4.9],
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows in truth the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."
So wherever we go all over the world, our only request is, "Please try to understand Krsna. Then your life is successful." It doesn't matter what your business is. You have to do something to live. Krsna says, sarira-yatrapi ca te na prasiddhyed akarmanah: if you stop working, your life will be hampered. One has to do something for his livelihood, but at the same time he has to cultivate knowledge for the perfection of his life. The perfection of life is simple: try to understand Krsna. This is what we are prescribing all over the world. It is not very difficult. If you read Bhagavad-gita As It Is, you will come to understand Krsna. Krsna explains everything.
For the neophytes, Krsna says, raso 'ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh. "My dear Kaunteya, I am the taste of water, and I am the light of the sun and the moon," There is no need to say, "I cannot see God." Here is God; the taste of water is God. Everyone drinks water, and when one tastes it he is perceiving God. Then why do you say, "I cannot see God"? Think as God directs, and then gradually you'll see Him. Simply remember this one instruction from Bhagavad-gita—raso 'ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh: "I am the taste of water; I am the shining illumination of the sun and moon." Who has not seen the sunlight? Who has not seen the moonlight? Who has not tasted water? Then why do you say, "I have not seen God"? If you simply practice this bhakti-yoga, as soon as you taste water and feel satisfied you will think, "Oh, here is Krsna." Immediately you will remember Krsna. As soon as you see the sun shine, you will remember, "Oh, here is Krsna." As soon as you see the moon shine, you will remember, "Oh, here is Krsna." And sabdah khe: As soon as you hear some sound in the sky, you will re member, "Here is Krsna."
In this way, you will remember Krsna a every step of your life. And if you re member Krsna at every step of life, you become the topmost yogi. And above all if you practice the chanting of Hare Krsna Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare, you will easily remember Krsna. There is no tax. There is no loss to your business. If you chant the Hare Krsna mantra, if you remember Krsna while drinking water, what is your loss Why don't you try it? This is the real culture of knowledge. If you cultivate this knowledge and at the same time go or doing your business, your life will be successful. Thank you very much.
by Visakha-devi dasi
Q. Why should women be interested in Krsna consciousness?
A. So they can realize they're not women! If we think of ourselves as "women," we reveal our ignorance of our actual identity. The word woman refers to the temporary material body, not to the eternal, spiritual soul, the person within the body. In maybe forty or sixty years, the body I'm wearing will perish, and I'll no longer be a woman. But the living force, the soul within the body, won't perish. Krsna consciousness provides an understanding of the relationship between the soul and matter and the Supreme Soul, Krsna. Human intelligence is meant for contemplating these subjects, not for dwelling on materialistic thoughts based on a false identification with the temporary body.
Q. What do you think of the women's liberation movement?
A. The highest liberation is to go back home, back to Godhead, and never again face the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. Although the women's liberation movement may offer some worth-while proposals, it generally ignores this highest goal. But by becoming Krsna conscious, a woman is liberated in this life and the next; so Krsna consciousness is the real women's liberation movement.
Q. In the Krsna consciousness movement, what is the position of women devotees?
A. From the spiritual viewpoint, men and women (and all other living entities) are equal. The soul within the body is part and parcel of Krsna and is equal in quality and quantity to all other souls. But from the material, bodily point of view, obviously there are differences.
Q. What about those differences?
A. As far as serving Krsna and preaching Krsna consciousness, material differences are ignored. Men and women serve the Supreme Lord's Deity form in the temple—worshiping, cleaning, cooking-and they go out daily to preach to interested people and distribute literature about Krsna consciousness. Women with children both care for their children and spread Krsna consciousness alongside their unmarried godsisters. Actually, to raise a child as a devotee of God is in itself a great service to Krsna.
Q. But I've heard that you think women are inferior to men. Is that true?
A. As I mentioned before, spiritually there's no distinction. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says that both men and women are eligible to attain the highest destination, to return to the kingdom of God, if they take shelter of Him. Spiritually there's no duality, no inferiority or superiority based on the body and mind. But there are material differences: women are generally not as physically strong as men, but only women can bear children and nourish them with their breast milk. So it's natural that women's duties will differ from men's in some ways.
Q. Today many people reject that idea. It won't make your movement very popular among women.
A. We can't change the Krsna conscious philosophy to make it popular. Nor are we so concerned with popularity. We simply want to present Krsna's teachings as they are, and those who hear receptively will benefit. The first step in spiritual understanding is to transcend the bodily concept of life. To think "I am a man" or "I am a woman" is to be in illusion. The body is a material dress for the soul, a dress that's changing from moment to moment, as the body develops, and will change entirely at death. But the constant within the body is the soul, which is not subject to birth, death, or any other material influence.
Q. How do men and women relate to each other in Krsna consciousness?
A. Except for his wife, a Krsna conscious man should regard every woman as he would his mother. So in Krsna consciousness the relationship between men and women is based not on lust but on mutual respect, with Krsna in the center. If this mentality is absent, men and women mix too freely, and their relationship may easily degrade into immorality and mutual exploitation.
Q. What about in more intimate relationships?
A. In more intimate relationships, the man protects the woman. In a woman's youth, her father protects her; after marriage, her husband protects her; and later on in life her grown sons protect her.
Q. What do you mean, "protect"?
A. Protect from illusion and degradation. That is real protection. When the father, husband, and sons are fully trained in spiritual principles by the spiritual master, they are qualified to guide their family members.
Bhagavad-gita points out that when the religious tradition in the family breaks down, the chastity and faithfulness of women are shaken. As men and women mix freely, the result is abortion and unwanted progeny. From such immorality and licentiousness come broken homes and the degradation of the whole society. Conversely, when the husband is a dedicated 'devotee of God and the wife is loyal, good progeny and a harmonious society result.
Q. But what if the woman wants to be more, than just a housewife?
A. That is welcome and encouraged. Women in the Krsna consciousness movement sing, write, photograph, paint, act, sculpt, teach, and dance. One of my god-sisters in our West Virginia farm community is an architect. Now she's helping plan out a huge temple that the devotees there will build over the next few years. So there's no hindrance at all to a woman who wants to use her special talents to serve Krsna.
Q. Can women become leaders?
A. Real leadership is to teach by example and precept how to go back home, back to Godhead, at the end of this lifetime. A fully Krsna conscious devotee, whether man or woman, is actually more of a leader than all the so-called leaders of modern society. Materialistic leaders simply increase our material problems; a devotee decreases those problems to nil. That is real leadership.
VISAKHA-DEVI DASI, a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology, is a professional photographer and an expert on photomicrography, in which small objects are reproduced as magnified images. She joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness while doing free-lance work in India. She and her husband, also a professional photographer, are currently traveling around the world making documentary films about the Krsna consciousness movement.
Chanting and Speaking for All to Hear
Fall, 1966: Tompkins Square Park, the Lower East Side, New York. Street sadhus and street musicians, hippie seekers and the simply curious—all joined with Srila Prabhupada in chanting Hare Krsna in the park.
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Since he had broken the American silence with his public chanting of Hare Krsna in Washington Square Park, in the heart of Greenwich Village, Srila Prabhupada had been sending out small "parades" of devotees, chanting and playing hand cymbals through the streets of the Lower East Side. Now he was ready for a bold foray into one of the centers of the midsixties hippie scene—Tompkins Square Park.
Tompkins Square Park was the park on the Lower East Side. Since the Weather was still warm and it was Sunday, the park was crowded with people. Almost all the space on the benches that lined the walkways was occupied. There were old people, mostly Ukrainians, dressed in outdated suits and sweaters, even in the warm weather, sitting together in clans, talking. There were many children in the park also, mostly Puerto Ricans and blacks but also fair-haired, hard-faced slum kids racing around on bikes or playing with balls and Frisbees. The basketball and handball courts were mostly taken by the teenagers. And as always, there were plenty of loose, running dogs.
And the hippies were there, different from the others. The bearded Bohemian men and their long-haired young girlfriends dressed in old blue jeans were still an unusual sight. Even in the Lower East side melting pot, their presence created tension. They were from middle-class families, and so they had not been driven to the slums by dire economic necessity. This created conflicts in their dealings with the underprivileged immigrants. And the hippies' well-known proclivity for psychedelic drugs, their revolt against their families and affluence, and their absorption in the avant-garde sometimes made them the jeered minority among their neighbors. But the hippies just wanted to do their own thing and create their own revolution for "love and peace," so usually they were tolerated, although not appreciated.
There were various groups among the young and hip at Tompkins Square Park. There were friends who had gone to the same school together, who took the same drug together, or who agreed on a particular philosophy of art, literature, politics, or metaphysics. There were lovers. There were groups hanging out together for reasons undecipherable, except for the common purpose of doing their own thing. And there were others, who lived like hermits—a loner would sit on a park bench, analyzing the effects of cocaine, looking up at the strangely rustling green leaves of the trees and the blue sky above the tenements and then down to the garbage at his feet, as he helplessly followed his mind from fear to illumination, to disgust to hallucination, on and on, until after a few hours the drug began to wear off and he was again a common stranger. Sometimes they would sit up all night, "spaced out" in the park, until at last, in the light of morning, they would stretch out on benches to sleep.
But whatever the hippies' diverse interests and drives, the Lower East Side was an essential part of the mystique. It was not just a dirty slum; it was the best place in the world to conduct the experiment in consciousness. For all its filth and threat of violence and the confined life of its brownstone tenements, the Lower East Side was still the forefront of the revolution in mind expansion. Unless you were living there and taking psychedelics or marijuana, or at least intellectually pursuing the quest for free personal religion, you weren't enlightened, and you weren't taking part in the most progressive evolution of human consciousness. And it was this searching—a quest beyond the humdrum existence of the ordinary, materialistic, "straight" American—that brought unity to the otherwise eclectic gathering of hippies on the Lower East Side.
Swamiji, accompanied by half a dozen disciples, was walking the eight blocks to the park from the storefront. Brahmananda carried the harmonium and the Swami's drum. Kirtanananda, now shaven-headed at Swamiji's request and dressed in loose-flowing canary yellow robes, created an extra sensation. Drivers pulled their cars over to have a look, their passengers leaning forward, agape at the outrageous dress and shaved head. As the group passed a store, people inside would poke each other and indicate the spectacle. People came to the windows of their tenements, taking in the Swami and his group as if a parade were passing. The Puerto Rican tough guys, especially, couldn't restrain themselves from exaggerated reactions. "Hey, Buddha!" they taunted. "Hey, you forgot to change your pajamas!" They made shrill screams as if imitating Indian war whoops they had heard in Hollywood westerns.
"Hey, A-rabs!" exclaimed one heckler, who began imitating what he thought was an Eastern dance. No one on the street knew anything about Krsna consciousness, nor even of Hindu culture and customs. To them, the Swami's entourage was just a bunch of crazy hippies showing off. But they didn't quite know what to make of the Swami. He was different. Nevertheless, they were suspicious. Some, however, like Irving Halpern, a veteran Lower East Side resident, felt sympathetic toward this stranger, who was "apparently a very dignified person on a peaceful mission."
Irving Halpern: A lot of people had spectacularized notions of what a swami was. As though they were going to suddenly see people lying on little mattresses made out of nails-and all kinds of other absurd notions. Yet here come just a very graceful, peaceful, gentle, obviously well-meaning being into a lot of hostility.
"What are they, Communists?"
While the young taunted, the middle-aged and elderly shook their heads or stared, cold and uncomprehending. The way to the park was spotted with blasphemies, ribald jokes, and tension, but no violence. After the successful kirtana in Washington Square Park, Prabhupada had regularly been sending out "parades" of three or four devotees, chanting Hare Krsna and playing hand cymbals through the streets and sidewalks of the Lower East Side. On one occasion, they had been bombarded with water balloons and eggs, and they were sometimes faced with bullies looking for a fight. But they were never attacked—just stared at, laughed at, or shouted after.
Today, the ethnic neighbors just assumed that Prabhupada and his followers had come onto the streets dressed in outlandish costumes as a joke, just to turn everything topsy-turvy and cause stares and howls. They felt that their responses were only natural for any normal, respectable American slum-dweller.
So it was quite an adventure before the group even reached the park. Swamiji, however, remained unaffected. "What are they saying?" he asked once or twice, and Brahmananda explained. Prabhupada had a way of holding his head high, his chin up, as he walked forward. It made him look aristocratic and determined. His vision was spiritual—he saw everyone as a spiritual soul and Krsna as the controller of everything. Yet aside from that, even from a worldly point of view he was unafraid of the city's pandemonium. After all, he was an experienced "Calcutta man."
The kirtana had been going for about ten minutes when Swamiji arrived. Stepping out of his white rubber slippers, just as if he were home in the temple, he sat down on the rug with his followers, who had now stopped their singing and were watching him. He wore a pink sweater, and around his shoulders a khadi wrapper. He smiled. Looking at his group, he indicated the rhythm by counting, one . . . two . . . three. Then he began clapping his hands heavily as he continued counting, "One . . . two . . . three." The karatalas followed, at first with wrong beats, but he kept the rhythm by clapping his hands, and then they got it, clapping hands, clashing cymbals artlessly to a slow, steady beat.
He began singing prayers that no one else knew. Vande 'ham sri-guroh sri-yuta-pada-kamalam sri-gurun vaisnavams ca. His voice was sweet like the harmonium, rich in the nuances of Bengali melody. Sitting on the rug under a large oak tree, he sang the mysterious Sanskrit prayers. None of his followers knew any mantra but Hare Krsna, but they knew Swamiji. And they kept the rhythm, listening closely to him while the trucks rumbled on the street and the conga drums pulsed in the distance.
As he sang—sri-rupam sagrajatam—the dogs came by, kids stared, a few mockers pointed fingers: "Hey, who is that priest, man?" But his voice was a shelter beyond the clashing dualities. His boys went on ringing cymbals while he sang alone: sri-radha-krsna-padan.
Prabhupada sang prayers in praise of the pure conjugal love of Srimati Radharani for Krsna, the beloved of the gopis. Each word, passed down for hundreds of years by the intimate associates of Krsna, was saturated with deep transcendental meaning that only he understood. Saha-gana-lalita-sri-visakhanvitams ca. They waited for him to begin Hare Krsna, although hearing him chant was exciting enough.
More people came—which was what Prabhupada wanted. He wanted them chanting and dancing with him, and now his followers wanted that too. They wanted to be with him. They had tried together at the U.N., Ananda Ashram, and Washington Square Park. It seemed that this would be the thing they would always do—go with Swamiji and sit and chant. He would always be with them, chanting.
Then he began the mantra-Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They responded, too low and muddled at first, but he returned it to them again, singing it right and triumphant. Again they responded, gaining heart, ringing karatalas and clapping hands one . . . two . . . three, one . . . two . . . three. Again he sang it alone, and they stayed, hanging closely on each word, clapping, beating cymbals, and watching him looking back at them from his inner concentration—his old-age wisdom, his bhakti—and out of love for Swamiji, they broke loose from their surroundings and joined him as a chanting congregation. Swamiji played his small drum, holding its strap in his left hand, bracing the drum against his body, and with his right hand playing intricate mrdanga rhythms.
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. He was going strong after half an hour, repeating the mantra, carrying them with him as interested onlookers gathered in greater numbers. A few hippies sat down on the edge of the rug, copying the cross-legged sitting posture, listening, clapping, trying the chanting, and the small inner circle of Prabhupada and his followers grew, as gradually more people joined.
As always, his kirtana attracted musicians.
Irving Halpern: I make flutes, and I play musical instruments. There are all kinds of different instruments that I make. When the Swami came, I went up and started playing, and he welcomed me. Whenever a new musician would join and play their first note, he would extend his arms. It would be as though he had stepped up to the podium and was going to lead the New York Philharmonic. I mean, there was this gesture that every musician knows. You just know when someone else wants you to play with them and feels good that you are playing with them. And this very basic kind of musician communication was there with him, and I related to it very quickly. And I was happy about it.
Lone musicians were always loitering in different parts of the park, and when they heard they could play with the Swami's chanting and that they were welcome, then they began to come by, one by one. A saxophone player came just because there was such a strong rhythm section to play with. Others, like Irving Halpern, saw it as something spiritual, with good vibrations. As the musicians joined, more passersby were drawn into the kirtana. Prabhupada had been singing both lead and chorus, and many who had joined now sang the lead part also, so that there was a constant chorus of chanting. During the afternoon, the crowd grew to more than a hundred, with a dozen musicians trying—with their conga and bongo drums, bamboo flutes, metal flutes, mouth organs, wood and metal "clackers," tambourines, and guitars—to stay with the Swami.
Irving Halpern: The park resounded. The musicians were very careful in listening to the mantras. When the Swami sang Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama Rama Rama, Hare Hare, there was sometimes a Krsna, a tripling of what had been a double syllable. It would be usually on the first stanza, and the musicians really picked up on it. The Swami would pronounce it in a particular way, and the musicians were really meticulous and listened very carefully to the way the Swami would sing. And we began to notice that there were different melodies for the same brief sentence, and we got to count on that one regularity, like one would count on the conductor of an orchestra or the lead singer of a madrigal. It was really pleasant, and people would dig one another in their ribs. They would say, "Hey, see!" We would catch and repeat a particular subtle pronunciation of a Sanskrit phrase that the audience, in their enthusiasm, while they would be dancing or playing, had perhaps missed. Or the Swami would add an extra beat, but it meant something, in the way in which the drummer, who at that time was the Swami, the main drummer, would hit the drums.
I have talked to a couple of musicians about it, and we agreed that in his head this Swami must have had hundreds and hundreds of melodies that had been brought back from the real learning from the other side of the world. So many people came there just to tune in to the musical gift, the transmission of the dharma. "Hey," they would say, "listen to this holy monk." People were really sure there were going to be unusual feats, grandstanding, flashy levitation, or whatever else people expected was going to happen. But when the simplicity of what the Swami was really saying, when you began to sense it—whether you were motivated to actually make a lifetime commitment and go this way of life, or whether you merely wanted to appreciate it and place it in a place and give certain due respect to it—it turned you around.
And that was interesting, too, the different ways in which people regarded the kirtana. Some people thought it was a prelude. Some people thought it was a main event. Some people liked the music. Some people liked the poetic sound of it.
Then Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky arrived, along with some of their friends. Allen surveyed the scene and found a seat among the chanters. With his black beard, his eyeglasses, his bald spot surrounded by long, black ringlets of hair, Allen Ginsberg, the poet-patriarch come to join the chanting, greatly enhanced the local prestige of the kirtana. Prabhupada, while continuing his ecstatic chanting and drum-playing, acknowledged Allen and smiled.
A reporter from The New York Times dropped by and asked Allen for an interview, but he refused: "A man should not be disturbed while worshiping." The Times would have to wait.
Allen: Tompkins Square Park was a hotbed of spiritual conflict in those days, so it was absolutely great. All of a sudden, in the midst of all the talk and drugs and theories, for some people to put their bodies, their singing, to break through the intellectual ice and come out with total bhakti that was really amazing.
Prabhupada was striking to see. His brow was furrowed in the effort of singing loud, and his visage was strong. The veins in his temples stood out visibly, and his jaw jutted forward as he sang his "Hare Krsna Hare Krsna" for all to hear. Although his demeanor was pleasant, his chanting was intensive, sometimes straining, and everything about him was concentration.
It wasn't someone else's yoga retreat or silent peace vigil, but a pure chanting be-in of Prabhupada's own doing. It was a new wave, something everyone could take part in. The community seemed to be accepting it. It became so popular that the ice cream vendor came over to make sales. Beside Prabhupada a group of young, blond-haired boys, five or six years old, were just sitting around. A young Polish boy stood staring. Someone began burning frankincense on a glowing coal in a metal strainer, and the sweet fumes billowed among the flutists, drummers, and chanters.
Swamiji motioned to his disciples, and they got up and began dancing. Prabhupada gave a gesture of acceptance by a typically Indian movement of his head, and then he raised his arms, inviting more dancers.
The harmonium played a constant drone, and a boy wearing a military fatigue jacket improvised atonal creations on a wooden recorder. Yet the total sound of the instruments blended, and Swamiji's voice emerged above the mulling tones of each chord. And so it went for hours. Prabhupada held his head and shoulders erect, although at the end of each line of the mantra he would sometimes shrug his shoulders before he started the next line. His disciples stayed close by him, sitting on the same rug, religious ecstasy visible in their eyes. Finally, he stopped.
Immediately he stood up, and they knew he was going to speak. It was four o'clock, and the warm autumn sun was still shining on the park. The atmosphere was peaceful and the audience attentive and mellow from the concentration on the mantra. He began to speak to them, thanking everyone for joining in the kirtana. The chanting of Hare Krsna, he said, had been introduced five hundred years ago in West Bengal by Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Hare means "O energy of the Lord," Krsna is the Lord, and Rama is also a name of the Supreme Lord, meaning "the highest pleasure." His disciples sat at his feet, listening. Raya Rama squinted through his shielding hand into the sun to see Swamiji, and Kirtanananda's head was cocked to one side, like a bird's who is listening to the ground.
He stood erect by the stout oak, his hands folded loosely before him in a proper speaker's posture, his light saffron robes covering him gracefully. The tree behind him seemed perfectly placed, and the sunshine dappled leafy shadows against the thick trunk. Behind him, through the grove of trees, was the steeple of St. Brigid's. On his right was a dumpy, middle-aged woman wearing a dress and hairdo that had been out of style in the United States for twenty-five years. On his left was a bold-looking hippie girl in tight denims and beside her a young black man in a black sweater, his arms folded across his chest. Next was a young father holding an infant, then a bearded young street sadhu, his long hair parted in the middle, and two ordinary, short-haired middle-class men and their young female companions. Many in the crowd, although standing close by, became distracted, looking off here and there.
Prabhupada explained that there are three platforms-sensual, mental, and intellectual—and above them is the spiritual platform. The chanting of Hare Krsna is on the spiritual platform, and it is the best process for reviving our eternal, blissful consciousness. He invited everyone to attend the meetings at 26 Second Avenue and concluded his brief speech by saying, "Thank you very much. Please chant with us." Then he sat down, took the drum and began the kirtana again.
If it were risky for a seventy-one-year-old man to thump a drum and shout so loud, then he would take that risk for Krsna. It was too good to stop. He had come far from Vrndavana, survived the non-Krsna yoga society, waited all winter in obscurity. America had waited hundreds of years with no Krsna-chanting. No "Hare Krsna" had come from Thoreau's or Emerson's appreciations, though they had pored over English translations of the Gita and Puranas. And no kirtana had come from Vivekananda's famous speech on behalf of Hinduism at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893. So now that he finally had krsna-bhakti going, flowing like the Ganges to the sea, it could not stop. In his heart he felt the infinite will of Lord Caitanya to deliver the fallen souls.
He knew this was the desire of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his own spiritual master, even though caste-conscious brahmanas in India would disapprove of his associating with such untouchables as these drug-mad American meat-eaters and their girlfriends. But Swamiji explained that he was in full accord with the scriptures. The Bhagavatam had clearly stated that Krsna consciousness should be delivered to all races. Everyone was a spiritual soul, and regardless of birth they could be brought to the highest spiritual platform by chanting the holy name. Never mind whatever sinful things they were doing, these people were perfect candidates for Krsna consciousness. Tompkins Square Park was Krsna's plan; it was also part of the earth, and these people were members of the human race. And the chanting of Hare Krsna was the dharma of the age.
* * *
Walking back home in the early evening, past the shops and crowded tenements, followed by more than a dozen interested new people from the park, the Swami again sustained occasional shouts and taunts. But those who followed him from the park were still feeling the aura of an ecstasy that easily tolerated a few taunts from the street. Prabhupada, especially, was undisturbed. As he walked with his head high, not speaking, he was gravely absorbed in his thoughts. And yet his eyes actively noticed people and places and exchanged glances with those whom he passed on his way along Seventh Street, past the churches and funeral homes, across First Avenue to the noisy, heavily trafficked Second Avenue, then down Second past liquor stores, coin laundries, delicatessens, past the Iglesia Alianza Cristiana Missionera, the Koh-I-Noor Intercontinental Restaurant Palace, then past the Church of the Nativity, and finally back home to number twenty-six.
A few days later, Ravindra Svarupa was walking down Second Avenue, on his way to the Swami's morning class, when an acquaintance came out of the Gems Spa Candy and News Store and said, "Hey, your Swami is in the newspaper. Did you see?" "Yeah," Ravindra Svarupa replied, "The New York Times."
"No," his friend said. "Today." And he held up a copy of the latest edition of The East Village Other. The front page was filled with a two-color photo of the Swami, his hands folded decorously at his waist, standing in yellow robes in front of the big tree in Tompkins Square Park. He was speaking to a small crowd that had gathered around, and his disciples were at his feet. The big steeple of St. Brigid's formed a silhouette behind him.
Above the photo was the single headline, "SAVE EARTH NOW!!" and beneath was the mantra: "HARE KRISHNA HARE KRISHNA KRISHNA KRISHNA HARE HARE HARE RAMA HARE RAMA RAMA RAMA HARE HARE." Below the mantra were the words, "See Centerfold." That was the whole front page.
Ravindra Svarupa took the newspaper and opened to the center, where he found a long article and a large photo of Swamiji with his left hand on his head, grinning blissfully in an unusual, casual moment. His friend gave him the paper, and Ravindra Svarupa hurried to Swamiji. When he reached the storefront, several boys went along with him to show Swamiji the paper. "Look!" Ravindra Svarupa handed it over. "This is the biggest local newspaper! Everybody reads it." Swamiji opened his eyes wide. He read aloud, "Save earth now." Was it an ecological pun? Was it a reference to staving off nuclear disaster? Was it poking fun at Swamiji's evangelism?
"Well," said Umapati, "after all, this is The East Village Other. It could mean anything."
"Swamiji is saving the earth," Kirtanananda said.
"We are trying to," Prabhupada replied, "by Krsna's grace." Methodically, he put on the eyeglasses he usually reserved for reading the Bhagavatam and carefully appraised the page from top to bottom. The newspaper looked incongruous in his hands. Then he began turning the pages. He stopped at the centerfold and looked at the picture of himself and laughed, then paused, studying the article. "So," he said, "read it." He handed the paper to Hayagriva.
"Once upon a time, . . ." Hayagriva began loudly. It was a fanciful story of a group of theologians who had killed an old man in a church and of the subsequent press report that God was now dead. But, the story went on, some people didn't believe it. They had dug up the body and found it to be "not the body" of God, but that of His P.R. man: organized religion. At once the good tidings swept across the wide world. GOD LIVES! . . . But where was God?" Hayagriva read dramatically to an enthralled group. . . .
A full-page ad in The New York Times, offering a reward for information leading to the discovery of the whereabouts of God, and signed by Martin Luther King and Ronald Reagan, brought no response. People began to worry and wonder again. "God," said some people, "lives in a sugar cube." Others whispered that the sacred secret was in a cigarette.
The boys broke into cheers and applause. Acyutananda apologized to Swamiji for the language of the article: "It's the hippie newspaper."
"That's all right," said Prabhupada. "He has written it in his own way. But he has said that we are giving God. They are saying that God is dead. But it is false. We are directly presenting, 'Here is God,' Who can deny it? So many theologians and people may say there is no God, but the Vaisnava hands God over to you freely, as a commodity: 'Here is God.' So he has marked this. It is very good."
The article was long. "For the cynical New Yorker," it said, "living, visible, tangible proof can be found at 26 Second Avenue, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between seven and nine." The article described the evening kirtanas, quoted from Prabhupada's lecture, and mentioned "a rhythmic, hypnotic sixteen-word chant, Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, sung for hours on end to the accompaniment of hand clapping, cymbals, and bells." Swamiji said that simply because the mantra was there, the article was perfect.
The article also included testimony from the Swami's disciples:
I started chanting to myself, like the Swami said, as I walked down the street—Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare—over and over, and suddenly everything started looking so beautiful, the kids, the old men and women . . . even the creeps looked beautiful . . . to say nothing of the trees and flowers. It was like I had taken a dozen doses of LSD. But I knew there was a difference. There's no coming down from this. I can always do this any time, anywhere. It is always with you.
Without sarcasm, the article referred to the Swami's discipline forbidding coffee, tea, meat, eggs, and cigarettes, "to say nothing of marijuana, LSD, alcohol, and illicit sex." Obviously the author admired Swamiji: "the energetic old man, a leading exponent of the philosophy of Personalism, which holds that the one God is a person but that His form is spiritual." The article ended with a hint that Tompkins Square Park would see similar spiritual happenings each weekend: "There in the shadow of Hoving's Hill, God lives in a trancelike dance and chant."
(To be continued)
From Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami. © 1980 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Out On Being Subordinate
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a guest took place in September 1968 at the Seattle Krsna center.
Guest: Can you explain subordination?
Srila Prabhupada: Subordination? Yes, it is simple. Everyone must be subordinate to somebody else. Are you not subordinate to somebody?
Guest: Yes, in a material sense. But in the spiritual sense, I don't feel subordinate to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: When you understand what spiritual life is, you will see that in the spiritual sense also you are subordinate, because your nature is to be subordinate. What do you mean by spiritual and material?
Guest: Well, for example, at my job I'm subordinate to my boss, but in my real being, my spiritual being, I don't feel I am subordinate to my boss or anyone else. In other words, I don't feel that I have to bow down to anybody, and I don't feel that anybody has to bow down to me.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you not want to bow down?
Guest: Because I don't feel that I owe anyone anything, or that anyone owes me anything.
Srila Prabhupada: So, this is the material disease. We are forced to bow down, yet we think that we do not have to bow down. This is the disease.
Guest: No one can force me to bow down.
Srila Prabhupada: Just try to understand. You say that you do not want to bow down-is that right?
Guest: That's basically true, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Why?
Guest: Because I don't feel that I'm inferior to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: This is the disease of material existence. You have diagnosed your own disease. Everyone is thinking, "I want to be the master. I don't wish to bow down." Everyone is thinking like this. This is not only your disease; everyone has this diseased mentality: Why shall I bow down? Why shall I become subordinate?" But nature is forcing me to become subordinate. Now, why are people dying? Can you answer this question?
Guest: Why are people dying?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, nobody wants to die, yet everyone is dying. Why?
Guest: Well, death is biologically determined-
Srila Prabhupada: That means biological force! You are subordinate to biology. Then why do you say that you are independent?
Guest: Well, I feel that I'm—
Srila Prabhupada: You are feeling wrongly. That is my point. You are subordinate, and you must bow down to biological force. When death comes, you can't say, "Oh, I don't obey you." Therefore, you are subordinate.
Guest: I am subordinate to God, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: No, forget God for now. God is far away. Now we are speaking of the material nature. Just try to understand that although you do not want to die, you are forced to die because you are subordinate.
Guest: Oh, yes, that makes sense.
Srila Prabhupada: Then you understand your position-that you are subordinate. You cannot declare, "I am free; I am not subordinate." If you are thinking that you don't wish to be subordinate, that you don't have to bow down, then you are diseased.
Guest: O.K. But who or what should I bow down to?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all try to fully understand your disease. Then we shall prescribe your medicine. You are bowing down to death, you are bowing down to disease, you are bowing down to old age—you are bowing down to so many things. You are forced to bow down, yet still you are thinking, "I cannot bow down; I don't like to bow down." But you have to bow down. Why do you forget your position? That forgetfulness is your disease.
The next step is to understand that since you are being forced to bow down, now you have to find where you shall be happy even by bowing down. And that is Krsna. Your bowing down will not be stopped, because you are meant for that, but if you bow down to Krsna and Krsna's representative, you become happy. That's the difference. If you don't bow down to Krsna and His representative, you'll be forced to bow down to something else—maya [Krsna's material nature]. That is your position. You cannot be free at any moment.
But if you bow down to Krsna and His representative, you'll be happy. For example, a child is always bowing down to his parents, and he is happy. His mother says, "My dear child, please come and sit down here." "Yes," says the child, and he is happy. This is the nature of the child's relationship with his mother. Similarly, Krsna and His representative are like loving parents, and we are like helpless children in the clutches of maya. But if we bow down to them we shall be safe and happy.
So you cannot stop your bowing down—that is not possible. But you simply have to seek out the proper persons to bow down to. That's all. If you artificially think, "I am not going to bow down to anyone—I am independent," then you suffer. You simply have to bow down to the right person—and that is Krsna, or Krsna's representative.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Indian Governor Lauds Krsna Society
Vrndavana, Uttar Pradesh, India—Recently Chandreswar Prasad Narayan Singh, the governor of the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (population: nearly 95 million), came to this holy city expressly to visit the Krsna-Balarama temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. After being garlanded by the devotees, he paid his respects to the Lord's Deity forms in the temple and then met for some time with Srila Bhavananda Goswami Visnupada, who oversees the Society's activities in Vrndavana and other parts of India. The governor greatly appreciated the books of the Krsna consciousness movement and said, "I am extremely happy to be here amongst so many devotees of Sri Krsna. Congratulations on your effort to let the world know about the secrets of bhakti-yoga [Krsna consciousness]."
Krsna Conscious Children's Book Is Choice For Youth Library
Munich—The International Youth Library, which houses the world's largest collection of children's books, has chosen Readings in Vedic Literature for Children for its "Choice list" at the IYL annual exposition.
Readings is published by Bala Books, the children's publications office of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The book is an anthology of stories from Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta, classic works on Krsna consciousness never before adapted for young readers.
Illustrations for Readings were executed by Jan Steward, graphic designer for Ravi Shankar, and the stories were edited by Yogesvara dasa, director of the Bala Books project.
The Vedic Version Aired on Michigan TV
East Lansing, Michigan—The Krsna consciousness movement now broadcasts a weekly, half-hour television show here on station WELM. Called The Vedic Version, the prime-time program acquaints viewers with the ways of the Vedic culture as lived five thousand years ago in India and as lived and taught today by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Prince Charles Charmed By Krsna Conscious Books
Bombay-Attending a cultural performance at Bombay's National Center for the Performing Arts during a recent royal visit to India, His Royal Highness Prince Charles discovered the books of the Hare Krsna movement. Between two recitals of Indian music and dance, the prince received two of the movement's books from a Hare Krsna devotee. "Possibly he found them more interesting than the performance," reported one Indian newspaper, "for he buried himself in the books."
Krsna Movement Gains New Swiss Center, Wins Federal Approval
Zurich—The Zurich chapter of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has received what is, in all of Europe, a rare approbation for any but the largest majority religions: official recognition from the Swiss federal government as a tax-exempt religious foundation. Since early autumn the Society's Swiss headquarters has been an estate overlooking the Lake of Zurich. The new facility serves as both the main place of worship for Swiss devotees and a center for the expression of Indian art and culture.
by Subhananda Dasa
I do not know how much nectar the two syllables 'Krs-na' have produced. When the holy name of Krsna, is chanted, it appears to dance within the mouth. We then desire many, many mouths. When that name enters the holes of the ears, we desire many millions of ears. And when the holy name dances in the courtyard of the heart, it conquers the activities of the mind, and therefore all the senses become inert."
These lines, conceived in a state of religious ecstasy, flowed from the pen of Srila Rupa Gosvami, the great Vaisnava theologian and mystic, as he wrote his famous devotional drama Vidagdha-madhava in early sixteenth-century India. His equally famous brother, Srila Sanatana Gosvami, exults in his Brhad-bhagavatamrta,
All glories to the all-blissful holy name of Sri Krsna, which causes the devotees to give up all conventional religious duties, meditation, and worship. When somehow or other uttered even once by a living entity, the holy name awards him liberation. The holy name of Krsna is the highest nectar. It is my very life and my only treasure.
To the uninitiated, these expressions of enthusiasm for the practice of contemplative recitation of the name of God may appear odd. For how can repeated recitation of mere sounds—linguistic formulations—transform consciousness and invoke ecstasy? Modern secular students of religion, especially those of a reductionistic temperament, seek often to divest such spiritual experiences of their unique metaphysical properties, attributing them to quantifiable psychological (or other) causes. Some even view them as pathological. But mere psychological reductionism can do little to shed light upon the profound religious experiences of those who "taste," in devotional ecstasy, "the nectar of the name. Nor can it explain the profound influence this practice has had on the religious adepts of many different spiritual traditions, most prominently the Vaisnava religious tradition of India, within which the theology and practice of the holy name has reached its highest development.
According to historically reliable literary accounts, medieval India witnessed a massive religious renaissance centered largely on the popular mysticism of the congregational chanting and singing of the names of God. This litany often took the form of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The great sixteenth-century saint Sri Caitanya, Himself worshiped as an incarnation of Lord Krsna, first turned this public congregational chanting (sankirtana) into a mass movement in Bengal and then spread it to other parts of north India, and later to the south of India, where, according to His-biographers, He traveled on foot for six years and converted millions to the religion of the holy name. The chanting of the divine name was no longer to be confined to the retreats of solitary mystics and hermits, but to spread itself widely and assume a central role in the spiritual lives of the common people. Exuberant chanting processions, accompanied by drums and cymbals, swept through the streets of the cities, towns, and villages, inundating countless people in a tidal wave of ecstasy emotion. Not only the common people but some of the most prominent religious intellectuals of the day, having first been inspired by the brilliance and clarity of His teachings, succumbed to the devotional ecstasy of Sri Caitanya's revivalist movement. No meant to remain confined even to India, Caitanya-style sankirtana has in recent decades appeared on Western shores, where members of the Hare Krsna movement, modern followers of Sri Caitanya, publicly chant in the streets of major cities.
Why the profound effect on human consciousness? How is this process of meditation performed? What are its effects? Why it universal appeal, which appears to transcend all historical and cultural bounds? To gain a deep understanding of these matters, we will need to explore the theological and mystical literature of the Vaisnava tradition. In preparation, because we are dealing with, subject that is not quantitative and empiric but experiential, we will need to suspend our limiting ethnocentric and ideological prejudices and attempt to understand these apparent mysteries with an open and inquisitive mind. To do so, let us assume the reverential attitude of the sincere pilgrim, for this will give us chance to penetrate the mystery. Now, let us proceed.
The Divine Attributes of the Holy Name
According to Vaisnava wisdom, the holy name of Krsna has extraordinary spiritual potency because the name of God is non-different from God Himself. In the material sense, name is different from form. Language is merely representative, symbolic; it does not itself embody the reality it seeks to represent. Recitation of the sound water does not quench our thirst, nor does calling the name of our beloved invoke the full presence of the beloved. In the divine realm, however, symbol embodies reality. Krsna self-manifests within His "sound incarnation," His holy name. In the only literary work ascribed to Sri Caitanya, the eight-verse Siksastaka, Sri Caitanya prays, "My Lord, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as Krsna and Govinda, by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names." That the name of God, being nondifferent from God manifests all transcendental potencies and attributes is explained in this verse from Padma Purana:
The holy name of Krsna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krsna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krsna's name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krsna Himself. Since Krsna's name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya- [illusion). Krsna's name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krsna and Krsna Himself are identical.
The great seventeenth-century Vaisnava poet Narottama dasa Thakura writes, golokera prema-dhana, hari-nama-sankirtana: the transcendental sound of the holy name of the Lord has its origin in the spiritual world.
Being the sound incarnation of the Lord, therefore, the holy name is not an ordinary material sound; it is divine, transcendental. But the divine nature of the holy name remains forever a mystery to those whose approach is merely empiric or intellectual. In discussing the theology of the holy name with an assembly of scholars, Srila Haridasa Thakura, the great teacher of the name, asserted, "One cannot understand the glories of the holy name merely by logic and argument." The holy name is understood and experienced only by those who have renounced all conceit and pretension and directly embraced the process of chanting with humility, faith, and devotion. As sound transmitted from afar can be heard when received by an appropriate electronic device, so transcendent, spiritual sound can be properly heard and assimilated by one equipped with the proper means to receive it: bhagavata-prema, love of God.
The Practice of Chanting the Holy Name
Since the holy name is spiritual, it must be received from spiritual sources. The holy name-and, ultimately, all spiritual wisdom—is preserved and transmitted by generation after generation of realized souls comprising a disciplic succession of spiritual teachers. The mantra, the holy name, which is the seed of spiritual devotion, is planted within the heart of the sincere disciple by the spiritual master at the time of formal spiritual initiation. When uttered in devotion by a fully realized guru, the holy name has great efficacy upon the hearer, who achieves immediate benefit. Having received the holy name from the lips of a spiritual master, the student embarks upon the path of daily chanting, being careful to pronounce the mantra clearly and distinctly and to chant loudly enough to hear himself. The chanter must absorb his consciousness deeply within the divine sound of the mantra, vigilantly protecting the mind from the distraction of trivial or directionless thought.
The chanting of the holy name is not, however, a mechanical process depending merely upon contemplative prowess. It is a devotional art, a form of prayer, and thus one must chant with reverence and devotion. The Hare Krsna mantra is a prayer for protection and deliverance, a prayer to the Lord for His divine presence and for the opportunity to serve Him. Chanting is compared to the helpless cry of a child for its mother. It is a prayer from the core of the repentant heart. It is chanted, therefore, in humility. Once, in a state of devotional ecstasy while in the company of two close followers (Svarupa Damodara Gosvami and Ramananda Raya), Sri Caitanya described the quintessential importance of chanting with the mood of humility. He said, "One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others, can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord." Commenting u p on this famous verse, Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, author of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, declares, "Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance. One must strictly follow the principles given by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu in this verse. If one simply does so, certainly he will achieve the ultimate goal of life, the lotus feet of Sri Krsna."
When and where is chanting appropriate? There is no restriction as to the appropriate time or place for chanting the holy name. The devotee is advised to chant always and everywhere. The process of God realization is not a mere liturgical or social formality to be restricted to circumscribed times and places. It is a quest that should underlie and pervade all one's activities. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna describes that great souls (mahatmas) constantly chant His glories (satatam kirtayanto mam). The final line of Sri Caitanya's prayer mentioned above recommends that one chant the holy name continuously (kirtaniyah sada harih). Srila Haridasa Thakura says, nirantara nama lao: "Chant the holy name without stopping."
To experience the full effects of the holy name, one must attain the stage of offenseless chanting. According to Vaisnava scripture, there are three progressive stages in the development of chanting: the offensive stage (nama-aparadha), the stage of lessening offenses (namabhasa), and the offenseless, pure stage. A neophyte commits offenses against the holy name. According to Padma Purana, there are ten offenses, involving misuse of or mundane misconceptions about the holy name and the scriptures and Saints who embody and teach the holy name. One who remains at the offensive stage does not attain the ultimate goal of chanting, love of God. Says Krsnadasa Kaviraja, "If one chants the exalted holy name of the Lord again and again and yet his love for the Supreme Lord does not develop and tears do not appear in his eyes, it is evident that because of his offenses in chanting, the seed of the holy name of Krsna does not sprout." In fact, without giving up the offenses in chanting, one does not develop a spontaneous attachment for chanting. Taking the role of a conditioned soul, Sri Caitanya prays, "My dear Lord, although You bestow mercy upon the fallen conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting."
How can one overcome offenses and develop pure chanting? By more chanting. In his commentary on Srimad-Bhagavatam (Bhagavata-Purana), Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura quotes a verse from Padma Purana stating that even if in the beginning one chants the Hare Krsna mantra with offenses, one can become free from such offenses by repeated chanting. By the immense purificatory power of the holy name, constant chanting frees one from offenses to the holy name and gradually elevates one to the transcendental platform of pure chanting, by which one can attain pure love of God. Elsewhere it is recommended that one can also overcome offenses by realizing that the holy name is nondifferent from the Lord, by chanting in humility, and by developing an attitude of service to the Lord.
After the offensive stage, as one's offenses cease, one approaches the platform of pure chanting. Finally, with offenseless chanting, one becomes completely enlightened and liberated, and one's dormant love of God fully awakens. In that stage, one actually enters the kingdom of God, although physically he may apparently be within the material world.
The Transcendental Effects of the Holy Name
The holy name exerts the deepest and most profound influence upon those who invoke it in a mood of reverential devotion.
Freedom from the Reactions to Sin
First, the holy name eradicates the results of sins committed both in the present and in prior lifetimes. According to the law of karma, a human being is responsible for the sinful acts he performs and must suffer for them ("As ye sow, so shall ye reap"). Deeply enmeshed in a complex web of material actions and their reactions, one must suffer the duality of pleasure and pain, lifetime after lifetime. The holy name, however, eradicates all reactions to past sins, both those manifesting themselves at present and those destined to manifest themselves in the future. Simply by chanting the holy name, one attracts the attention of the Supreme Lord, who therefore considers, "Because this person has chanted My holy name, My duty is to give him protection." The power of the holy name to absolve sins is declared emphatically in the scriptures. The Garuda Purana tells us, "If one chants the holy name of the Lord, even in helplessness or without desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars all the small animals flee in fear." Says the Brhad-visnu Purana, "Simply by chanting the name of Han, a sinful man can counteract the reactions to more sins than he is able to commit." In the Visnu-dharmottara we read, "This word krsna is so auspicious that anyone who chants this holy name rids himself immediately of the reactions of sinful activities from many, many births." But for the chanting of the holy name to exert such a powerful purifying effect, the devotee must chant the holy name in purity, without offense. Having ceased to indulge in sinful actions, he must live a pure and holy life.
Freedom from Desire Due to Illusion
How can one escape the will to sin? By escaping the illusion that supports it—the illusion that the material body is the self. When the embodied soul erroneously identifies himself with the gross material body and its subtle mind, intellect, and false ego, he seeks pleasure in the comfort and gratification of the body. As he wanders throughout the material creation, lifetime after lifetime, trying to dominate and enjoy the resources of the phenomenal world, he goes through myriad temporary, fleeting sensory experiences, which create myriad impressions of the phenomenal world upon his heart and consciousness. In this way, his original, pure consciousness becomes covered by layer after layer of material contamination. Because the self is purely spiritual, no variety or amount of physical or mental gratification can give him real satisfaction. Under the illusion of bodily identification, therefore, he perpetually suffers the unnatural and frustrating condition of material existence.
This illusion and its painful effects, which have haunted and tormented the embodied soul since time immemorial, are destroyed by the transcendental effects of the holy name. Because the divine name and the Lord Himself are identical, when one regularly chants the holy name he develops attraction toward the Lord Himself. That divine, spontaneous attraction cleanses his heart of all desires for lesser, material pleasures. Lord Krsna personally aids in that progressive purification, as the great devotee Suta Gosvami explained to the sages assembled at Naimisaranya Forest: "Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted." When the heart is fully purified by chanting of the holy name, the devotee loses interest in everything unspiritual. He views the entire creation as the Lord's energy and thus gives up the desire to exploit and consume matter. As chanting cleanses the mirror of the heart (ceto-darpana-marjanam), one fully awakens to spiritual reality.
All knowledge, both spiritual and material, is contained within the ancient writings called the Vedas. The knowledge of the Vedas is said to be eternal and of divine origin; it is not a creation of historical, imperfect human speculation. Long before the Vedic literature was compiled (by Srila Vyasadeva, the 'literary incarnation of God," according to orthodox Vedic historiography). that Vedic knowledge existed in the form of pure, transcendental sound (sabda-brahman). In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna, thc speaker of the Gita, identifies Himself as the summum bonum of Vedic knowledge: "By all the Vedas, I am to be known" (vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo). The holy name of Lord Krsna, being nondifferent from the Lord Himself, is the quintessence of the Vedas, and therefore of all knowledge. Chanting the holy name thus enlightens the soul with complete knowledge—knowledge of his own existential identity, of the material and spiritual worlds, of God, of the soul's eternal relationship with God, and of the means to revive that transcendental relationship. The maha-mantra embodies all knowledge, all wisdom.
Those who worship the Lord by chanting His holy name invoke the mercy of the Lord, who acts as the indwelling teacher (caitya-guru) and supreme friend of the conditioned soul by enlightening the soul from within: "To those who are constantly devoted and who worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. Out of compassion, I, dwelling within their hearts, destroy with the lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance." Rupa Gosvami compares the holy name to the sun, "for just as a slight appearance of the sun dissipates the darkness of night, so a slight appearance of the holy name of Krsna can drive away all the darkness of ignorance that arises in the heart because of greatly sinful activities performed in previous lives."
When through purification and knowledge one no longer identifies himself with the material body and the material world, he ceases to engage in material actions, and thus he is freed from material reactions. Thus freed, he no longer has to take birth again. He is free from samsara, the cycle of repeated birth and death. This is the meaning of moksa, liberation. Spiritual sound (sabda-brahman) has the power to liberate. The Vedanta-sutra speaks of anavrttih sabdat, "liberation by sound."
The ease with which one attains liberation through chanting is affirmed in the Skanda Purana: "By once chanting the holy name of the Lord, which consists of the two syllables ha-ri, one guarantees his path to liberation." As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, even unconscious chanting brings results: "Living beings entangled in the complicated meshes of birth and death can be freed immediately by even unconsciously chanting the holy name of Krsna." "Even the faintest rays of the effulgence of the Lord's holy name," says Haridasa Thakura, "can grant one liberation."
Ultimately, the chanting of the holy name produces God consciousness, which culminates in ecstatic devotion to Krsna (krsna-bhakti). Liberation (moksa) is not the ultimate in spiritual perfection. It simply indicates freedom from, or a negation of, material existence. Once liberated from material contamination, the soul must return to its original, constitutional position as a loving servant of the Lord.
As one progresses on the path of bhakti, divine love of God, the chanting of the holy name brings one into closer and closer contact with the Lord. On that path, the holy name invokes remembrance of the Lord, association with the Lord (via His form as sound), attraction to the Lord, the transcendental ("beatific") vision (darsana) of the Lord, and finally divine love of God, wherein the devotee experiences various and intense spiritual ecstasies.
One should note that the efficacy of the process of chanting presupposes the Lord's direct intervention in the devotional life of the spiritual adept. There is, in other words, nothing automatic or mechanical about the process of chanting. Revival of the soul's dormant God consciousness depends not on any ritualized litany but on the causeless mercy of the Lord, who responds to the sincere efforts of His devotee to glorify Him in devotion.
Since the holy name is Krsna Himself, the chanting of the holy name invokes remembrance of and association with Krsna Himself. Recollection, absorption, meditation, constant remembrance, and trance (samadhi) are the five stages in progressive remembrance of Krsna (krsna-smarana). In conscious remembrance, the devotee feels the presence of the Lord as a transcendental, mystical fact. When the devotee chants the holy name, all the Lord's transcendental opulences-His divine form, activities, qualities, and so on—become manifest within the devotee's heart. Indeed, Krsna Himself appears. "My dear Narada, I do not actually reside in My abode, Vaikuntha, nor within the hearts of the yogis. I reside where My pure devotees chant My holy name and discuss My form, pastimes, and qualities." (Padma Purana) Thus, the devotee's consciousness becomes attracted to Lord Krsna. Along with remembrance, association, and attraction, the devotee's attitude of service to the Lord develops, and in an advanced stage the devotee engages directly in the service of the Lord in the spiritual realm, even while situated within the material body. Thus, through pure, devotional chanting of the holy name, the devotee directly realizes the presence of the Lord and enters the deepest mysteries of God consciousness.
Ecstatic Love of God
Absorption in God consciousness culminates in prema-bhakti, pure love of God. Writes Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, "The holy name of Krsna is so attractive that anyone who chants it . . . becomes imbued with love of Krsna. This is the effect of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra." Sri Caitanya similarly instructs Sanatana Gosvami, "Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to chant the holy name of the Lord always. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead."
Pure love for Krsna elicits the most sublime and lofty emotions of the soul. Liberation or spiritual perfection implies not the absence of cognition or emotion, but their ultimate perfection. Within the soul are profound transcendental emotions, which lie dormant as long as the soul sleeps in maya, material illusion. But such sublime emotions awaken with the awakening of pure, spiritual consciousness. The entire range of emotions experienced by a conditioned soul (such as happiness and misery, love and hate, compassion and envy) are merely dim and perverted reflections of their spiritual counterparts, which exist in absolute purity and are experienced by fully realized souls in their eternal relationship with the Lord. When the soul has awakened to pure love of Krsna, he tastes the infinitely sweet flavors of a wide variety of transcendental emotions, emotions which are variegated manifestations of spiritual ecstasy. Such transcendental, ecstatic emotions within the heart and mind of the pure devotee are so powerful that they erupt and spill over into the realm of the physical. In pursuance of the order of His spiritual master, Sri Caitanya entered upon the path of constant chanting of the holy name of Krsna. When such chanting invoked intense spiritual ecstasy, He wondered whether He had lost His sanity. He approached His guru, Isvara Puri, who then explained,
It is a characteristic of love of Godhead that by nature it induces transcendental symptoms in one's body and makes one more and more greedy to achieve the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord. When one actually develops love of Godhead, he naturally sometimes cries, sometimes laughs, sometimes chants, and sometimes runs here and there Just like a madman. Perspiration, trembling, standing of one's bodily hairs, tears, faltering, fading, madness, melancholy, patience, pride, joy, and humility-these are various natural symptoms of ecstatic love of Godhead, which causes a devotee to dance and float in an ocean of transcendental bliss while chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
Of course, such states of spiritual ecstasy are very rarely achieved. They are experienced only by those who have entered the most intimate, confidential relationship with Lord Krsna. Such experiences are unavailable even to those who worship the Lord in awe and veneration, viewing the Lord merely in His aspect of greatness, power, and majesty. The divine flavors of such ecstasy are relished by those who, by the grace of the Lord, gaze beyond His majestic feature and deal with Him in spontaneous, intimate affection. As stated in Caitanya-caritamrta, the pure devotional chanting of Lord Krsna's personal names ushers the devotee into the Lord's personal presence and into the highest bliss: "Dealings in affection with the Supreme Personality of Godhead bring happiness many millions of times greater than dealing with Him in awe and veneration. Simply by hearing the holy name of the Lord, the devotee is merged in transcendental bliss."
By chanting the holy name in purity and devotion throughout his life, the devotee returns to Krsna at the time of death. Lord Krsna explains in Bhagavad-gita,
Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail. . . . He who meditates on Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, . . . is sure to reach Me.
Thus by chanting at the time of leaving the material body, the devotee who has practiced krsna-smarana, remembrance of Krsna, by chanting Krsna's holy names throughout his life can escape the painful cycle of birth and death and return to Krsna in the spiritual realm (Vaikuntha) to render Him intimate, ecstatic. loving service.
The Divine Dispensation
Apart from the holy name's importance as a means toward individual spiritual perfection, a reading of Vaisnava literature reveals the holy name to possess the broadest historical and universal significance as well. Chanting of the holy name is in fact described as the universal and supreme religion in the current epoch, an epoch referred to in traditional Indian texts as Kali-yuga, "the Age of Kali," the great Iron Age, an age of materialism, hypocrisy, and quarrel. Kali-yuga is the last of the four Great Ages, each progressively worse than its predecessor, four vast epochs that cycle perpetually. The Age of Kali is the age wherein human society degrades from human to subhuman, in which the people of the world forget their souls, identify with their gross bodies, and become mad competitors for the world's stock of material goods and pleasures. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, the unfortunate inhabitants of the Kali Age are "quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and, above all, always disturbed."
Because such unfortunate persons have little or no inclination toward spiritual advancement, there is a compelling need for a simple method by which they can wake up from their deathly slumber and receive the opportunity for spiritual emancipation. That Great Dispensation is the holy name. Declares Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, "In the Age of Kali, Lord Krsna has descended in the form of the holy name." The holy name is the one true glory, the one saving grace of this condemned age, as Sukadeva Gosvami tells King Pariksit: "Al though Kali-yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the holy name of Krsna one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom." Various means of spiritual advancement practiced in the previous eras are rendered virtually ineffectual in Kali by the degradation of human beings, individually and collectively. The chanting of the holy name now supersedes all other forms of spiritual discipline: "Whatever result was obtained in Satya-yuga by meditating on Visnu, in Treta-yuga by performing sacrifices, and in Dvapara-yuga by serving the Lord's lotus feet can also be obtained in Kali-yuga simply by chanting the holy name of the Lord." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.3.52) The primacy and exclusivity of the practice of the holy name is emphatically declared in this often cited verse from the Brhan-naradiya Purana: "In this Age of Kali there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative for spiritual progress but the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord." Thus the chanting of the holy name of the Lord is the yuga-dharma, the universal and supreme religion of the age, meant to unite all faiths in common, joyful glorification of the one Supreme Lord.
Although the chanting of the holy name has played a role in India's religious history for millennia, it was specifically propagated and popularized as the yuga-dharma by the great Caitanya, whose effulgent presence and fervid ecstasies drew millions into nama-dharma, the Religion of the Name. As the great popularizer of the holy name, Sri Caitanya was regarded and worshiped as the Kali-yuga avatara, the prime avatara (incarnation) for the Age of Kali. Further, He was worshiped as the greatest incarnation of the Lord because He liberally bestowed pure Krsna-bhakti, ecstatic love of God, upon all persons. The maha-mantra, the chant popularized by Sri Caitanya, is specifically mentioned in the Kalisantarana Upanisad as the exclusive means for escaping the debilitating conditions of the Kali Age: "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—these sixteen names composed of thirty-two syllables are the only means to counteract the evil effects of Kali-yuga. In all the Vedas it is seen that to cross the ocean of nescience there is no alternative to the chanting of the holy name." Not only does the holy name bestow the highest benefits upon human beings both individually and collectively, but it purifies even lower species of life. Any living being fortunate enough to hear the divine, transcendental sound incarnation of the Lord receives immense spiritual benefit.
Sri Caitanya did not intend the holy name to remain confined to India, but predicted that the holy name would reach "every town and village." Four centuries later, this missionary ideal, based upon a compelling vision of the universality of the holy name, gained momentum through the efforts of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great follower and ninth-generation disciplic representative of Sri Caitanya. Writing in his religious journal Sajjana-tosani in 1885, he declared prophetically,
Lord Caitanya did not advent Himself to liberate only a few men in India. Rather, His main objective was to emancipate all living entities of all countries throughout the entire universe and preach the Eternal Religion. . . . There is no doubt that this unquestionable order will come to pass. . . . Very soon the unparalleled path of hari-nama-sankirtana will be propagated all over the world. . . . Oh, for that day when the fortunate English, French, Russian, German, and American people will take up banners, mrdangas and karatalas and raise kirtana through their streets and towns! When will that day come? . . . That day will witness the holy transcendental ecstasy of the Vaisnava dharma to be the only dharma, and all the Sects and religions will flow like rivers into the ocean of Vaisnava dharma. When will that day come?
Eighty years later, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a disciple of Bhaktivinoda's son (Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami), left India and traveled to the United States to transform Bhaktivinoda's dream into reality. In 1966 he founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, which, for its active propagation of the maha-mantra, came to be popularly known as "the Hare Krsna movement." The chanting and propagation of the holy name are the stated basis and goal of the movement. The Society's founder, Srila Prabhupada, writes, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu introduced the congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra to give everyone a chance to hear Krsna's holy name, for simply by hearing [the holy name] one be comes purified. Therefore our Krsna consciousness movement I chiefly engaged in chanting the Hare Krsna mantra all over the. world." "The Krsna consciousness movement," he says, "is base on this principle: chant the Hare Krsna mantra at every moment as much as possible, both inside and outside of the temple." This movement "is especially meant for creating an atmosphere ii which people can take to the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra." The public chanting of the holy name performed by Srila Prabhupada's followers, clad in traditional Indian dhotis and saris, is not a familiar sight on the streets of most major cities of the world.
The holy name of Krsna, for so long concealed within India locked away from Western view, has now entered the mainstream of Western society. It has become, so to speak, a "household mantra," available to everyone. But although it is in open, public view, the holy name is not an ordinary commodity one can find and purchase in the market. It is a hidden treasure. One must develop the eyes to see it or, rather, the ears to hear it. If one simply approaches the holy name with reverence and allows the holy name to enter through his ears into his heart, and especially if h accepts the divine name as his very life and soul, he can enter the deepest, most profound, most sublime of all spiritual mysteries.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna
The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and God realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in BACK TO GODHEAD, will focus upon the most important of these words (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean. (For a guide to proper pronunciation, please seepage 1.)
Aham brahmasmi. This is an aphorism from the Vedic literature, expressing the essential identity of each living being. Aham means "I am." What am I? Aham brahmasmi: I am Brahman, or spirit.
In materialistic life, one identifies himself with bodily designations thinking, "I am American" or "I am English," "I am black" or "I am white." One has to become free from such bodily designations and understand oneself to be Brahman, a purely spiritual soul.
The word Brahman may also refer to the Supreme Absolute and therefore some philosophers interpret the words aham brahmasmi to mean "I am the Supreme."
This is partially correct. The word Brahman applies first to the Supreme Absolute. And because all living entities are part and parcel of the Supreme Absolute, they too are called Brahman, just as drops of water from the ocean may also be called "ocean." And just as drops of water have the same chemical composition as the ocean, all living beings have the same spiritual qualities as the Supreme. All living beings, therefore, share in the qualities of sat (eternity), cit (knowledge), and ananda (bliss). Yet quantitatively the living beings are different from the Supreme, for the Supreme is the whole and all other living entities are tiny parts of the Supreme. The Supreme is infinite; the living entities, infinitesimal.
The aphorism aham brahmasmi, therefore, should ultimately be understood to mean "I am an infinitesimal spiritual part of the infinite spiritual whole."
According to Bhagavad-gita, when a living entity realizes his identity as Brahman, he becomes joyful, free from hankering and lamentation, and equal toward all other living beings. He then engages himself in the devotional service of the Supreme Brahman the Personality of Godhead, Krsna.
Ahankara. False ego. In pure understanding of one's self, one thinks, aham brahmasmi: "I am spirit." In contrast, one who lacks this pure understanding misidentifies himself with matter. So he thinks, "I am this body." In other words, he identifies himself with temporary bodily designations—white, black, tall, short, young, old, and soon.
When scientists propose that life and consciousness are but temporary phenomena arising from organic chemicals, they too advocate such a misunderstanding of the self.
Bhagavad-gita explains that the self is eternal and conscious whereas matter is temporary and insentient. The self is therefore known as "superior energy," whereas matter is called "inferior energy." The link that binds the superior energy to the inferior is called "false ego."
Bhagavad-gita describes the inferior energy in gross and subtle divisions, beginning from the most tangible and gross, such as earth, water, and fire, and proceeding to the most subtle, such as mind and intelligence. And the most subtle of all the material elements—the very point of contact between the inferior, material energy and the superior, spiritual energy—is ahankara, the false ego, the spiritual soul's false identification with matter.
The mind and intelligence of a living being are subtle aspects of matter, whereas his physical body is gross matter. Therefore, when a living being identifies himself with either his gross physical body or his subtle mind and intelligence, he is under the influence of false ego.
Because of false ego, people engage in false, superficial activities, which give rise to a false mode of civilization. Such a so-called civilization, built upon the bodily concept of the self, smothers the spiritual life of its people.
By the influence of false ego, one takes credit for doing everything independently. Material nature controls all the world's living beings, but illusioned living beings, failing to understand that their material bodies are machines working under nature's laws, fancy themselves winning control over nature. Thus they become ever more entangled in nature's complexities.
One can free oneself from this entanglement only by giving up one's false ego and returning to one's real ego. Ego, or identity, need not be false—one also has a real ego, a real identity: every living entity is an eternal servant of God, or Krsna. If one relinquishes his false identity but tries to extinguish this real identity also, he is attempting spiritual suicide. One must give up the false identity and come to his real, eternal identity. He then becomes a liberated soul.
As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, every living entity is eternally a tiny part of God. Therefore, if by mental speculation or misguided mysticism one concludes that he himself is God, he falls prey to the ultimate snare of false ego. Only one who realizes himself to be an eternal servant of God becomes perfectly situated in self-realization.
Ahimsa. Nonviolence. Nonviolence is one of the preliminary qualifications for advancement in religious or spiritual life. Every religion, therefore, proscribes needless violence.
But violence is unavoidable, for the material world is by nature a violent place. Sometimes violence is necessary for the protection of innocent lives, and shrinking from such necessary violence leads to still greater violence.
Violence, therefore, must be undertaken in obedience to religious principles and employed only for the welfare of others. Violent acts impelled by ignorance and greed are always condemned.
We should not regard violence and nonviolence only in relation to the body. The body is temporary and its destruction inevitable. More important than the body, therefore, is the eternally existing consciousness, or soul, within the body. The soul is meant for spiritual advancement, and anyone who needlessly impedes the spiritual advancement of the soul is guilty of violence in the extreme.
Nor can one justify being nonviolent toward human beings but violent toward animals. Animals are also creatures of God, and they also have a right to live undisturbed. When fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk are abundant, a slaughterhouse is a symbol of barbarianism. The mouth that speaks of peace and nonviolence but feeds on the blood and flesh of slaughtered animals is the mouth of a hypocrite or a fool. Although the proprietor of the LBJ Ranch wanted to build a Great Society, he had to suffer the ignominious slaughter of his country's young men in a bitter and profitless war. By the laws of karma, acts of ignorant violence bring violence in return.
This earthly life confounded
The Time of Death—and Afterwards
Many people haven't given much thought to the question of whether there is life after death, and many even prefer to ignore death. Still, we all must die. Like a tiger, death stalks each of us. Sooner or later it will strike.
So what happens after death? In the West there has been much speculation about reincarnation, the existence of repeated personal lives. Plato, Emerson, Thoreau, Jung, Schrodinger, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, and Henry Ford all believed in reincarnation, and their ideas have helped fuel popular speculations on the subject.
Today the speculations continue. Some people think that once a person evolves up to the human form he never goes back down to lower life forms in future lives. Some think of reincarnation only in terms of taking birth after birth in the material world, eternally. Some groups take an interest in finding out exactly what a person did in his past lives. Others put forward an idea of liberation, release from the cycle of reincarnation, wherein one loses his personal identity and merges into a light or "the void," or becomes one with the eternal energy. In the East, certain Buddhist sects describe that a person's character traits are reborn in another person, without any connecting link of continuing personal identity.
The oldest, most authorized, and most widely revered teachings on reincarnation are found in the Vedas, India's ancient books of wisdom. "What extracts from the Vedas I have read," wrote Henry David Thoreau, "follow me like the light of a higher and purer luminary, which describes a loftier course through a purer stratum-free from particulars, simple, universal."
Bhagavad-gita, the best known of all Vedic texts, explains that life doesn't end with the demise of the body. The life within the body—the atma or "self"—is eternal. And at the time of death the atma transmigrates from one body to another. The Gita explains that at death one's karma may cause him to descend to a lower species of life, and he may have to transmigrate among the trees, fish, birds, and so on before coming again to the human platform.
The human form of life offers a rare opportunity. As Bhagavad-gita explains, if at the time of death a person remembers Krsna (God), he can transfer to the eternal spiritual world and become free from repeated birth and death in the material world. If a person forgets Krsna, however, whatever else he may have attained will be destroyed by death.
Remembering Krsna is not very difficult for one who chants His name: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. There is no difference between God and God's names. One can associate with Him simply by chanting. This simple meditation fixes the mind on the Supreme. So if a person chants regularly, he will easily be able to remember Krsna at the time of death.
Otherwise, remembering the Supreme at death may be very difficult. Death is often sudden. Frequently it is accompanied by disease, pain, unconsciousness. The time of death is the most disturbing time of our life—not the ideal moment to begin meditation.
Taking up the chanting of God's names doesn't mean stopping our regular duties. One can chant anywhere, at any time. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna assures His warrior-friend Arjuna, "Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt." This is Krsna's advice to all men. He doesn't say that a person has to give up his normal life and become a monk, or retire from economic or family duties. You can continue such activities and at the same time think of Krsna by chanting Hare Krsna.
Reading Vedic literature like Bhagavad-gita is another way to remember Krsna. We are already accustomed to reading newspapers, magazines, and novels. And this ordinary reading absorbs us in subjects of this temporary world. If we read transcendental literature and discuss it among devotees, then we shall revive our relationship with the Supreme Lord. Reading Vedic literature helps us transfer our thinking power to spiritual subjects. This will make it possible for us to remember the Supreme at the time of death. And by remembering Krsna one returns to Krsna in the spiritual world, thus ending the cycle of reincarnation within this material world.
Bhagavad-gita explains that this release from the cycle of birth and death does not involve the annihilation of our personality. The Supreme is not an impersonal light or void; He is the Supreme Person Krsna, the all-attractive. Krsna isn't an ordinary person. He has a transcendental body with inconceivable potency. From Him everything emanates. He is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. Everything we desire but can never perfectly realize in our relationships in this material world can be found complete in our eternal relationship with Krsna in the spiritual world. Although we have now forgotten our relationship with Krsna, human life is meant for reviving that God consciousness.
And what if one doesn't cultivate God consciousness? What happens to him at death? According to Bhagavad-gita, as long as the atma is absorbed in material consciousness, forgetful of his real, eternal relationship with Krsna, he is compelled by karma to take repeated births in this material world, life after life. "Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body," Bhagavad-gita says, "that state he will attain without fail." So a man who misuses the special gift of human life and degrades himself by material consciousness may have to take his next birth as an animal or plant, while a man who is pious and morally good may take his next birth in a fortunate human family. But in all cases, rebirth means another life of mixed happiness and suffering, and, irrevocably, death again . . . and again . . . and again. . .
An intelligent human being, the Vedic literature explains, must live his life with these facts in view. While carrying on our activities in this world, we should cultivate remembrance of Krsna and chant Hare Krsna. The tiger of death is stalking each of us, and he will strike sooner or later. But if we remember to chant God's names, then Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is feared even by death himself, will save us from the tiger's jaws.—SDG