A Vedic Perspective
An excerpt from Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
In Dialectical Spiritualism (a book in manuscript), Srila Prabhupada examines with his disciples the ideas of the West's major philosophers. What follows is taken from his discussions about Aristotle.
Disciple: Aristotle constructed a system of abstract notions and principles—"matter," "form," and "privation"; "potency" and "act"; the ten categories; the four kinds of causes; and so on—which he tried to show were universal in scope, capable of explicating reality on all levels. He wanted to show how all of reality is thus intelligible.
Aristotle thought of the cosmos as a hierarchy. At the bottom is prime or pure matter, which possesses no intelligible essence, or "form"; it is pure potency, without actuality. And at the top is God, the unmoved mover of the whole system, who is pure actuality (He is all that He could ever be), sheer form, pure intelligible, intellectual essence, with no tinge of matter or potentiality. In between are the changing substances compounded of matter and form—the elements, minerals, plants, animals, humans, and the ethereal intelligences that move the stars. The higher up the scale you go, the more form predominates over matter. In this way, Aristotle rejected the separation between the world of forms and the world of matter that characterized the philosophy of his teacher, Plato.
One modern philosopher has observed that Aristotle's conception of God was motivated entirely by dispassionate rational concerns—no extraneous ethical or religious interests influenced his idea—and that this did not go far toward producing an idea of God available for religious purposes.
Srila Prabhupada: By speculation Aristotle may have known something about God, but our point is that we can know everything about God from God Himself. This is not a question of "religion." It is simply a matter of the best process to know God. When we learn about God from God Himself, then our knowledge is perfect. In Bhagavad-gita [7.1] Krsna says,
mayy asakta-manah partha
"Now hear, O son of Prtha [Arjuna], how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt." This is the process of Krsna consciousness. Of course, we may speculate about God, and if we simply think of God that will help us to some extent. If we are in darkness, we may speculate and concoct ideas about the sun. This is one kind of knowledge. But if we actually come to the light, our knowledge is complete. We may contemplate the sun in darkness, but the best process is to come into the sunshine and see for ourselves.
Disciple: Aristotle understood substance to be a composite of "form" and "matter." "Form" is the essence of a substance, that by which it is what it is, its actuality. "Matter," for Aristotle, is not a kind of stuff; rather it designates the failure of a substance to be fully informed. In other words, matter is a substance's potentiality for development toward form, or its disintegration away from form. God is perfect:
He is pure form, without potentiality or matter. But man is a combination of matter and form. Since man is form and matter, he is imperfect, less than fully real or realized. This imperfection is inherent, being located in matter or potentiality.
Srila Prabhupada: That is nonsense. Man is not made of matter but is covered by matter. Man is, made of spirit. If God is spirit, man is, also spirit. In the Bible it is also said that "man is made in the image of God"; therefore man is originally perfect. A person is generally supposed to be healthy, but if he falls into a diseased condition, it is not his imperfection. It is something external which has attacked a healthy man. According to his original nature, the living entity is healthy, or in other words, pure spirit.
Disciple: Although Aristotle criticized the Platonic separation between matter and form, his evaluation of these two was much like that of his teacher. Matter for Aristotle is unknowable and unintelligible, of no intrinsic worth; it is the cause of imperfection, change and destruction. Form alone is the object of knowledge, the really real, the unchangeable and enduring; it alone endows the world with meaning, intelligibility, and intrinsic purpose.
Srila Prabhupada: This means that the Supreme Absolute must have form. Isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda-vigrahah. The word vigrahah indicates form. That form is not dead but is the activating spirit. Krsna's form is sac-cid-ananda: eternal, fully cognizant, and blissful. Our bodies are neither fully cognizant nor fully blissful, but Krsna's is. He knows past, present, and future, and He is always happy. Our knowledge is limited, and we are always full of anxieties.
Disciple: For Aristotle, form gives changing things an immanent goal or purpose—entelechy. Therefore all matter has some form for its actualization. The world is an unfolding of phenomena realizing themselves. In other words, nature is driven by purpose.
Srila Prabhupada: We agree with this. According to the Padma Purana, there are 8,400,000 various forms, and none of them is accidental. According to karma, one receives a particular form. Lord Brahma receives his form according to his karma, and the dog or cat receives its form according to its karma. There is no question of accident. Nature unfolds in accordance with a plan, by virtue of which these various forms are existing. Yas tv indra-gopam athavendram aho sva-karma-bandhanurupa-phala-bhajanam atanoti. From Indra down to the indragopa, a microscopic germ, all living entities are working out the results of their karma. If one's karma is good, he attains a higher form; if it is not good, he attains a lower form.
There is a process of evolution. The living entity passes from one species to another, from fish to trees to vegetables to insects to birds, beasts, and humans. In the human form, the result of evolution is fully manifest. It is like a flower unfolding from a bud. When the living entity attains the human form, his proper duty is to understand his lost relationship with God. If he misses this opportunity, he may regress. Aristotle is correct, therefore, when he says that everything has a purpose. The whole creative process aims at bringing the living entity back home, back to Godhead.
Disciple: Does every living entity eventually come to that point?
Srila Prabhupada: As a human being, you can properly utilize your consciousness, or you can misuse it. That is up to you. Krsna gives Arjuna instructions and then tells him that the decision is up to him. Under the orders of Krsna, nature has brought you through so many species. Now, as a human, you can choose whether to return to God or again endure the cycle of birth and death. If you are fortunate, you make the proper choice according to the instructions of the spiritual master and Krsna. Then your life is successful.
Disciple: Aristotle sees a hierarchy of forms extending from minerals, vegetables, and animals up to human beings and ultimately God, who is pure form and pure act. God is devoid of all potentiality or materiality.
Srila Prabhupada: Of course there is a hierarchy. And the individual soul transmigrates from one form to another. That is a fact. But who is to say that the next form you attain is closer to perfection? If you have a human form this life, there is no guarantee that you will get a higher form in the next. You accept another form just as you accept another suit of clothes. Those clothes may be valuable or of no value whatsoever. You get your clothes according to the price you pay, and you accept a form according to your work. Similarly, you bring about your own form, and you enjoy or suffer according to your work.
In any case, a material form is never perfect, because it undergoes six changes. It is born, it grows, it stays for a while, it leaves some by-products, it dwindles, and then it vanishes. When your form vanishes, you have to take on another form, which also undergoes the same processes. When a form vanishes, it decomposes, and its various elements return to nature. Water returns to water, earth returns to earth, air returns to air, and so forth.
Disciple: Aristotle's God is the unmoved mover. He is perfect, and He wants nothing. He does not have to actualize Himself, because He is completely actualized.
Srila Prabhupada: We also agree that God is all-perfect. Parasara Muni defines God as the totality of wisdom, strength, wealth, fame, beauty, and renunciation. All these qualities are possessed by Krsna in full, and when Krsna was present, everyone could see that He was all-perfect. One who is perfect can rule others, and we accept the leadership of a person according to his degree of perfection. If one is not somewhat wise, beautiful, wealthy, and so forth, why should we accept him as a leader? And one who is supremely perfect in all these qualities is the supreme leader. That is natural. Since Krsna is supremely perfect, we should accept Him as our leader.
Disciple: God is pure form or actuality, without matter or potentiality. But for Aristotle form without matter means thought. Therefore, he considered God to be entirely mind or intellect (nous) and the divine life to be the life of the mind. God's perfection requires this.
Srila Prabhupada: When he said that God is mind, what did he mean? Did he have some conception of God's personality? God must be a person, otherwise how could He think?
Disciple: Aristotle said that God's activity was thought, and that his thought had itself as its sole object: God's thinking is noesis noeseos, thinking of thinking. Thus His nature is self-contemplation.
Srila Prabhupada: Does this mean that when one is perfect he engages in no activity? Does God simply sit down and meditate? If so, what is the difference between God and a stone? A stone simply sits; it has no activity. How is inactivity perfection? Krsna never meditates, yet when He speaks He delivers perfect knowledge. Krsna enacts various pastimes: He fights with demons, protects His devotees, dances with the gopis, and delivers words of enlightenment. There is no question of sitting down like a stone and engaging in "self-contemplation."
Disciple: But is it not possible to meditate while acting?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly, but God doesn't have to meditate. Why should He meditate? He is perfect. One meditates to come from the imperfect stage to the perfect stage. Since God is perfect to begin with, what business does He have meditating? Everything is simply actualized by His will alone.
Aristotle recommends that a man should meditate to become perfect. This meditation presupposes imperfection. Contemplation is recommended for conditioned living entities, but we should understand that God is never conditioned or imperfect. He is so powerful that whatever He desires or wills immediately comes into being. This information is given in the Vedas. Parasya saktir vividhaiva sruyate. God's multi-energies are so powerful that everything is immediately actualized as soon as He desires.
Disciple: But what about the meditations of the Buddha?
Srila Prabhupada: Buddha's mission was different. He was setting an example for miscreants who were engaged in mischievous activities. He was recommending that they sit down and meditate, just as you tell a mischievous child to sit in a corner and be quiet.
Disciple: Aristotle never really says that we should end our activities. But he does say that we should contemplate God.
Srila Prabhupada: That is our process. Sravanam kirtanam visnoh smaranam. One should always think of Krsna. Krsna consciousness means remembering Krsna and acting for Him. When you sweep Krsna's temple, you remember Krsna. When you cook for Krsna, you remember Krsna. When you talk about Krsna, you remember Krsna. This is the process Krsna Himself recommends in Bhagavad-gita [6.47]:
yoginam api sarvesam
"Of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all."
Disciple: Aristotle reasons that if God were to know changing things, it would entail change in God Himself. Thus it seems that Aristotle's God has no knowledge of the world. This means that He cannot return the love He receives. He neither loves nor cares for mankind.
Srila Prabhupada: What kind of God is this? If one knows nothing of God, one should not speak of God. God certainly reciprocates with His devotees. As we offer our love to God, He responds and cooperates accordingly. In Bhagavad-gita [4.11] Krsna says,
ye yatha mam prapadyante
"As one surrenders unto Me, I reward him accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha." When we fully surrender to God in loving service, we can actually understand God's nature.
Disciple: God causes motion in the world not actively but by being the object of desire. He moves the world the way the beloved moves the lover. In spite of His being the supreme object of thought and desire, there is no mention of His being a person. On the contrary, He seems to be merely a sort of consciousness that has no object save itself.
Srila Prabhupada: It appears that Aristotle is a Mayavadi, an impersonalist. One has to speculate if one does not receive perfect knowledge from God Himself.
Disciple: But at least the idea of God's moving the world by attraction shows some idea of God as the all-attractive.
Srila Prabhupada: Unless God is all-attractive, how can He be God? Therefore the word Krsna, which means "all-attractive," is the perfect name for God. God attracts everyone. In Vrndavana He attracts His parents, the cowherd boys and girls, the animals, the fruits and flowers, the trees—everything. Even the water was attracted to Krsna. The Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam describes how the water of the River Yamuna would become stunned in ecstasy and stop flowing as soon as she saw Krsna.
Disciple: Aristotle had the idea that God was totally unified, without duality. In what way would you say that God's thought and His activity are one?
Srila Prabhupada: God need only think of a thing in order for that thing to be created or actualized. God's thinking, feeling, willing, and acting are the same. Because we are imperfect, when we think of something it may or may not happen. But whenever God thinks of something, it takes place. Because Krsna thought that the Battle of Kuruksetra should take place, there was no stopping it. At first Arjuna declined to fight, but Krsna plainly told him that whether he fought or not, almost all the warriors there were destined to die. He therefore told Arjuna to become His instrument and take the credit for killing them. No one can check what God decides. It doesn't matter whether you help God or not, but it is in your interest that you become His instrument.
Disciple: Aristotle said that a person is happiest and most like the divine himself when he performs his activities in such a way that he is always contemplating "things divine."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the process of bhakti, devotional service. But unless one is a devotee, how can he constantly think of God? Srila Rupa Gosvami gives the example of a married woman who has a paramour. She performs her household chores very nicely, but she is always thinking, "When will my lover come at night?" So if it is possible to think of an ordinary person all the time, why not God? It is simply a question of practice, of developing your attraction for Him. Then, despite engaging in so many different types of work, you can think of God incessantly.
Now, Aristotle may have some conception of God, but he has no clear idea of Krsna' s personality. We can think specifically and concretely of God because we receive information from Vedic literature that God is a person and appears and acts in a certain way. In Bhagavad-gita it is stated that impersonalists experience a great deal of trouble because they have no clear idea of God. If you have no conception of God's form, your attempt to realize God will be very difficult.
Disciple: For Aristotle, God is known by speculative reason, not by revelation.
Srila Prabhupada: We are all limited, and God is unlimited; therefore we cannot understand God by our limited sensory powers. Consequently, God must be known by revelation. As the Padma Purana states, atah sri-krsna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih. It is not possible to know God by mental speculation. But when we engage in His service, He reveals Himself. And Sri Krsna Himself says in Bhagavad-gita [7.25],
naham prakasah sarvasya
"I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency (yoga-maya); and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible." It is a fact that unless God reveals Himself, He is not known. Therefore He appears, and great authorities like Vyasadeva, Narada, Sukadeva Gosvami, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, and Caitanya Mahaprabhu—great scholars and transcendentalists—accept Him as He reveals Himself. Arjuna saw God face to face, and he accepted Him. When we are freed of ignorance by our service to God, God reveals Himself.
The world's oldest celebration comes to the West.
by Prahladananda Dasa
For thousands of years devotees of Lord Krsna have journeyed to Jagannatha Puri in India to take part in the annual celebration called Ratha-yatra, "The Festival of the Chariots." During this festival devotees glorify the pastimes of Krsna in a two-mile parade of three fifty-foot-high chariots.
In recent years colossal chariots like these have been appearing in major cities around the world, leading many observers to wonder, amid the excitement and joy of the celebration, What does it all mean? Who are those figures riding on the chariots? and Where did this festival come from?
The Ratha-yatra festival commemorates a meeting that took place between Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Srimati Radharani, His most beloved devotee, when They were present on earth five thousand years ago. Once Lord Krsna, His brother Balarama, and His sister Subhadra journeyed on a chariot to Kuruksetra, India, to observe the ancient Vedic custom of bathing at a holy place during a solar eclipse. On this auspicious occasion many great devotees of the Lord were reunited with Him. Foremost among them were the devotees from the rural village of Vrndavana, where Krsna had spent His early years before He had left to live as a king in the opulent city of Dvaraka. During Krsna's absence from Vrndavana, the devotees there—especially Srimati Radharani—always thought of Him and longed for His return. So when Srimati Radharani met Krsna at Kuruksetra, She invited Him to come back to Vrndavana and again enjoy loving pastimes with His devotees there. Today those who take part in a Ratha-yatra festival can share in the feelings of Krsna's devotees who drew Him back to Vrndavana with their love.
One shouldn't think that Ratha-yatra is an empty ritual, a mere imitation of a remote historical event. Although the Jagannatha Deity riding on the chariot may appear to be a wooden statue, He is actually Krsna Himself. By Krsna's mercy and omnipotence, He appears as the Deity to give us the opportunity to see Him and serve Him despite our limitations. Though nondevotees cannot understand how the Deity can be God, the Deity reveals Himself to those who serve Him sincerely. We should not conclude, however, that worship of any form is worship of God, any more than we would think we could drop our mail into any box on the street and have it reach its destination. Because the Jagannatha Deity is carved according to the authorized Vedic scriptures, worshiping Lord Jagannatha is worshiping God, just as putting our mail in a mailbox authorized by the post office is the same as bringing the mail to the post office. So worshiping Lord Jagannatha as He rides His chariot in the Ratha-yatra festival is not idolatry; it is a sublime method of reviving our dormant love of God.
Those familiar with the humanlike image of Lord Krsna holding a flute in His two hands may wonder at the unusual appearance of the Jagannatha Deities rounded bodies, no visible hands or legs, wide-open eyes. The story behind the Deities is that once, thousands of years ago, a king named Indradyumna felt inspired to establish a temple of Krsna. So he comissioned a sculptor to carve the Deity. The sculptor pledged to carry out the work in three weeks, provided the king would let him work alone in the temple and not barge in on him. But after only two weeks had passed, the king became very anxious to see how the work was coming, and he entered the temple. There he found only the apparently incomplete forms we see today. The king was despondent until he had a revelation that the Deities in his temple were the fully manifested forms of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he began the elaborate worship of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama and Srimati Subhadra that continues to this day. Until the 17th century the West was unfamiliar with Lord Jagannatha and the Ratha-yatra festival. It was then that the first British came to Puri and saw the festival, with its massive chariots, huge Deities, and immense and enthusiastic crowds. The British called Jagannatha juggernaut, a word that soon came to mean "an overwhelming, irresistible force."
The British colonists were certainly impressed with the yearly Ratha-yatra festival at Puri, but of course they never considered importing it to London, for they saw it as merely an overzealous display of idolatry by the "Hindoo heathen." It would remain for one who knew the true import of the word jagannatha—Lord (natha) of the universe (jagat)—to bring Ratha-yatra not only to London but to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other points West.
In early 20th-century Calcutta that faithful worshiper of Lord Jagannatha was growing up in the home of Gour Mohan De, an unalloyed servant of Lord Krsna. The boy—later to be known as His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness—was from his early childhood a great devotee of Lord Jagannatha and Ratha-yatra. From the age of five Srila Prabhupada organized an annual Ratha-yatra festival in his neighborhood in Calcutta. His father bought him a three-foot-high Ratha-yatra cart and helped him decorate it, following the details of the Puri originals. During Srila Prabhupada's Ratha-yatra festival, his friends pulled the cart with a rope while Srila Prabhupada chanted, played a clay drum, and led the singing, dancing, and distribution of prasadam (vegetarian food offered to God). Each year Srila Prabhupada made various improvements on both his Ratha-yatra cart and the children's festival.
Much later, in 1965, Srila Prabhupada came to the United States on his spiritual master's order to spread Krsna consciousness in the West. Soon after the Krsna consciousness movement got started, Srila Prabhupada inspired the first Ratha-yatra ever held outside of India. Recalled Jayananda dasa, "The first year, 1967, we just rented a flatbed truck and started out in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco. We decorated the truck with flowers and put the Deities on the back, and the girls passed out fruit. A good crowd walked along with us at the beginning, and when we turned off Haight Street a smaller group of people came with us and we went all the way to the beach." Over the years Jayananda and other devotees spread the festival to other cities.
Now Ratha-yatra is performed in dozens of cities around the world each year. Several mayors have declared special Ratha-yatra days. At one festival in Vancouver, Canada, Mayor Jack Volrich said, "I hope this Festival of the Chariots, one of the greatest historic festivals in the world, will become an annual event in Vancouver . . . so we will be able to share some of the very important, sincere, and deep principles of morality that you espouse."
While it is true that taking part in the Ratha-yatra festival frees one from bad karma, the main reason it has become popular the world over is because it is just plain fun. Elephant rides, movies, dancing, drama, classical and popular art, exotic food—there's something for everyone at Ratha-yatra.
So when you're out in the sun at some park or beach on a weekend this summer, don't be surprised if you look up and see three fifty-foot-high, silk-peaked chariots cruising along amidst waves of dancing and chanting celebrants. Though you might think you're seeing a fleet of clipper ships with multicolored sails, you're actually looking upon a millennia-old festival—Ratha-yatra. Follow along and dip into an ocean of transcendental delight.
The Mantra-Rock Dance
January 1967: San Francisco. "The Avalon Ballroom seemed like a human field of wheat blowing in the wind—finally everyone was jumping, crying, shouting."
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Though some of the New York disciples had objected, Srila Prabhupada was still scheduled for the Mantra-Rock Dance at the Avalon Ballroom. It wasn't proper, they had said, for the devotees out in San Francisco to ask their spiritual master to go to such a place. It would mean amplified guitars, pounding drums, wild light shows, and hundreds of drugged hippies. How could his pure message be heard in such a place?
But in San Francisco Mukunda and others had been working on the Mantra-Rock Dance for months. It would draw thousands of young people, and the San Francisco Radha-Krsna Temple stood to make thousands of dollars. So although among his New York disciples Srila Prabhupada had expressed uncertainty, he now said nothing to deter the enthusiasm of his San Francisco followers.
Sam Speerstra, Mukunda's friend and one of the Mantra-Rock Dance organizers, explained the idea to Hayagriva, who had just arrived from New York: "There's a whole new school of San Francisco music opening up. The Grateful Dead have already cut their first record. Their offer to do this dance is a great publicity boost just when we need it. It's all been arranged. All the bands will be onstage, and Allen Ginsberg will introduce Swamiji to San Francisco. Swamiji will talk and then chant Hare Krsna, with the bands joining in. Then he leaves. There should be around four thousand people there."
Srila Prabhupada knew he would not compromise himself; he would go, chant, and then leave. The important thing was to spread the chanting of Hare Krsna. If thousands of young people gathering to hear rock music could be engaged in hearing and chanting the names of God, then what was the harm? As a preacher, Prabhupada was prepared to go anywhere to spread Krsna consciousness. Since chanting Hare Krsna was absolute, one who heard or chanted the names of Krsna—anyone, anywhere, in any condition—could be saved from falling to the lower species in the next life. These young hippies wanted something spiritual, but they had no direction. They were confused, accepting hallucinations as spiritual visions. But they were seeking genuine spiritual life, just like many of the young people on the Lower East Side. Prabhupada decided he would go; his disciples wanted him to, and he was their servant and the servant of Lord Caitanya.
Mukunda, Sam, and Harvey Cohen had already met with rock entrepreneur Chet Helms, who had agreed that they could use his Avalon Ballroom and that, if they could get the bands to come, everything above the costs for the groups, the security, and a few other basics would go as profit for the San Francisco Radha-Krsna Temple. Mukunda and Sam had then gone calling on the music groups, most of whom lived in the Bay area, and one after another the exciting new San Francisco rock bands—the Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service—had agreed to appear with Swami Bhaktivedanta for the minimum wage of 250 dollars per group. And Allen Ginsberg had agreed. The line-up was complete.
In San Francisco every rock concert had an art poster, many of them designed by the psychedelic artist called Mouse. One thing about Mouse's posters was that it was difficult to tell where the letters left off and the background began. He used dissonant colors that made his posters seem to flash on and off. Borrowing from this tradition, Harvey Cohen had created a unique poster—KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS COMES WEST—using red and blue concentric circles and a candid photo of Swamiji smiling in Tompkins Square Park. The devotees put the poster up all over town.
With only a few days remaining before the Mantra-Rock Dance, Allen Ginsberg came to an early morning kirtana at the temple and later joined Srila Prabhupada upstairs in his room. A few devotees were sitting with Prabhupada eating Indian sweets when Allen came to the door. He and Prabhupada smiled and exchanged greetings, and Prabhupada offered him a sweet, remarking that Mr. Ginsberg was up very early.
"Yes," Allen replied, "the phone hasn't stopped ringing since I arrived in San Francisco."
"That is what happens when one becomes famous," said Prabhupada. "That was the tragedy of Mahatma Gandhi also. Wherever he went, thousands of people would crowd about him, chanting, 'Mahatma Gandhi ki jaya! Mahatma Gandhi ki jaya!' The gentleman could not sleep."
"Well, at least it got me up for kirtana this morning," said Allen.
"Yes, that is good."
The conversation turned to the upcoming program at the Avalon Ballroom.
"Don't you think there's a possibility of chanting a tune that would be more appealing to Western ears?" Allen asked.
"Any tune will do," said Prabhupada. "Melody is not important. What is important is that you chant Hare Krsna. It can be in the tune of your own country. That doesn't matter."
Prabhupada and Allen also talked about the meaning of the word hippie, and Allen mentioned something about taking LSD. Prabhupada replied that LSD created dependence and was not necessary for a person in Krsna consciousness. "Krsna consciousness resolves everything," Prabhupada said. "Nothing else is needed."
At the Mantra-Rock Dance there would be a multimedia light show by the biggest names in the art, Ben Van Meter and Roger Hillyard. Ben and Roger were expert at using simultaneous strobe lights, films, and slide shows to fill an auditorium with optical effects reminiscent of LSD visions. Mukunda had given them many slides of Krsna to use during the kirtana. One evening, Ben and Roger came to see Swamiji in his apartment.
Roger Hillyard: He was great. I was really impressed. It wasn't the way he looked, the way he acted, or the way he dressed, but it was his total being. Swami, was serene and very humorous, and at the same time obviously very wise and in tune enlightened. He had the ability to relate to lot of different kinds of people. I was thinking, "Some of this must be really strange for this person—to come to the United States and end up in the middle of Haight-Ashbury with a storefront for an asrama and a lot of very strange people around." And yet he was totally right there right there with everybody.
On the night of the Mantra-Rock Dance, while the stage crew set up equipment and tested the sound system and Ben and Roger organized their light show up stairs, Mukunda and others collected tickets at the door. People lined up all the way down the street and around the block waiting for tickets at $2.50 apiece. Attendance would be good, a capacity crowd and most of the local luminaries were coming. LSD pioneer Timothy Leary arrived and was given a seat onstage. Swami Kriyananda came, carrying a tamboura. A man wearing a top hat and a Suit with silk sash that said SAN FRANCISCO arrived, claiming to be the mayor. A the door, Mukunda stopped a respectably dressed young man who didn't have ticket. But then someone tapped Mukunda on the shoulder: "Let him in. It's all right. He's Owsley." Mukunda apologized and allowed Augustus Owsley Stanley II, folk hero and famous synthesizer of LSD, to enter without a ticket.
Almost everyone who came wore bright or unusual costumes: tribal robes, Mexican ponchos, Indian kurtas, "God's eyes," feathers, and beads. Some hippies brought their own flutes, lutes, gourd drums, rattles, horns, and guitars. The Hell's Angels, dirty-haired, wearing jeans, boots, and denim jackets and accompanied by their women, made their entrance, carrying chains, smoking cigarette and displaying their regalia of German helmets, emblazoned emblems—everything but their motorcycles, which they had parked outside.
The devotees began a warm-up kirtana onstage, dancing the way Swamiji had shown them. Incense poured from the stage and from the corners of the large ballroom. And although most in the audience were high on drugs, the atmosphere was calm; they had come seeking spiritual experience. As the chanting began, very melodiously, some of the musicians took part by playing their instruments. The light show began: strobe lights flashed, colored balls bounced back and forth to the beat of the music, large blobs of pulsing color splurted across the floor, walls, and ceiling.
A little after eight o'clock, Moby Grape took the stage. With heavy electric guitars, electric bass and two drummers, they launched into their first number. The large speakers shook the ballroom with their vibrations and a roar of approval rose from the audience.
At ten o'clock Prabhupada walked up the stairs of the Avalon, followed by Kirtanananda and Ranacora. As he entered the ballroom, devotees blew conchshells, someone began a drum roll, and the crowd parted down the center, all the way from the entrance to the stage, opening a path for him to walk. With his head held high, Prabhupada seemed to float by as he walked through the strange milieu, making his way across the ballroom floor to the stage.
Suddenly the light show changed. Pictures of Krsna and His pastimes flashed onto the wall: Krsna and Arjuna riding together on Arjuna's chariot, Krsna eating butter, Krsna subduing the whirlwind demon, Krsna playing the flute. As Prabhupada walked through the crowd, everyone stood, applauding and cheering. He climbed the stairs and seated himself softly on a waiting cushion. The crowd quieted.
Looking over at Allen Ginsberg, Prabhupada said, "You can speak something about the mantra."
Allen began to tell of his understanding and experience with the Hare Krsna mantra. He told how Swamiji had opened a storefront on Second Avenue in New York and had chanted Hare Krsna in Tompkins Square Park. And he invited everyone to the Frederick Street temple. "I especially recommend the early-morning kirtanas," he said, "for those who, coming down from LSD, want to stabilize their consciousness on reentry."
Prabhupada spoke, giving a brief history of the mantra. Then he looked over at Allen again: "You may chant."
Allen began playing his harmonium and chanting into the microphone, singing the tune he had brought from India. Gradually more and more people in the audience caught on and began chanting. As the kirtana continued and the audience got increasingly enthusiastic, musicians from the various bands came onstage to join in. Ranacora, a fair drummer, began playing Moby Grape's drums. Some of the bass players and guitar players joined in as the devotees and a large group of hippies mounted the stage. Projected slides of multicolored oil slicks pulsed, and the balls bounced back and forth to the beat of the mantra, now projected onto the wall: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. As the chanting spread throughout the hall, some of the hippies got to their feet, held hands, and danced.
Allen Ginsberg: We sang Hare Krsna all evening. It was absolutely great—an open thing. It was the height of the Haight-Ashbury spiritual enthusiasm. It was the first time there had been a music scene in San Francisco where everybody could be part of it and participate. Everybody could sing and dance rather than listen to other people sing and dance.
Janaki: People didn't know what they were chanting for. But to see that many people chanting—even though most of them were intoxicated—made Swamiji very happy. He loved to see the people chanting.
Hayagriva: Standing in front of the bands, I could hardly hear. But above all, I could make out the chanting of Hare Krsna, building steadily. On the wall behind, a slide projected a huge picture of Krsna in a gold helmet with a peacock feather, a flute in His hand.
Then Srila Prabhupada stood up, lifted his arms, and began to dance. He gestured for everyone to join him, and those who were still seated stood up and began dancing and chanting and swaying back and forth, following Prabhupada's gentle dance.
Roger Segal: The ballroom appeared as if it was a human field of wheat blowing in the wind. It produced a calm feeling in contrast to the usual Avalon Ballroom atmosphere of gyrating energies. The chanting of Hare Krsna continued for over an hour, and finally everyone was jumping and yelling, even crying and shouting.
Someone placed a microphone before Srila Prabhupada, and his voice resounded strongly over the powerful sound system. The tempo quickened. Srila Prabhupada was perspiring profusely. Kirtanananda insisted that the kirtana stop. Swamiji was too old for this, he said; it might be harmful. But the chanting continued, faster and faster, until the words of the mantra finally became indistinguishable amidst the amplified music and the chorus of thousands of voices.
Then suddenly it ended. And all that could be heard was the loud hum of the amplifiers and Srila Prabhupada's voice, ringing out, offering obeisances to his spiritual master: "Om Visnupada Paramahamsa Parivrajakacarya Astottara-sata Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja ki jaya! . . . All glories to the assembled devotees!"
Srila Prabhupada made his way offstage, through the heavy smoke and crowds, and down the front stairs, with Kirtanananda and Ranacora close behind him. Allen announced the next rock group.
The next morning the temple was crowded with young people who had seen Swamiji at the Avalon. Most of them had stayed up all night. Srila Prabhupada, having followed his usual morning schedule, came down at seven, held kirtana, and delivered the morning lecture.
Later that morning, while riding to the beach with Kirtanananda and Hayagriva, Swamiji half-audibly chanted in the back seat of the car, looking out the window as quiet and unassuming as a child, with no indication that the night before he had been cheered and applauded by thousands of hippies, who had stood back and made a great aisle for him to walk in triumph across the strobe-lit floor amid the thunder of the electric basses and the pounding drums of the Avalon Ballroom. For all the fanfare of the night before, he remained untouched, the same as ever in personal demeanor: he was aloof, innocent, and humble, while at the same time appearing very grave and ancient. As Kirtanananda and Hayagriva were aware, Swamiji was not of this world. They knew that he, unlike them, was always thinking of Krsna.
They walked with him along the boardwalk near the ocean, with its cool breezes and cresting waves. Kirtanananda spread the cadar over Swamiji's shoulders. "In Bengali there is one nice verse," Prabhupada remarked, breaking his silence. "I remember. 'Oh, what is that voice across the sea calling, calling: Come here, come here. . .'" Speaking little, he walked the boardwalk with his two friends, frequently looking out at the sea and sky. As he walked he softly sang a mantra that Kirtanananda and Hayagriva had never heard before: "Govinda jaya jaya, gopala jaya jaya, radha-ramana hari, govinda jaya jaya." He sang slowly, in a deep voice, as they walked along the boardwalk. He looked out at the Pacific Ocean: "Because it is great, it is tranquil."
"The ocean appears to be eternal," Hayagriva ventured.
"No," Prabhupada replied. "Nothing in the material world is eternal."
(To be continued.)
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Sita-Rama Installed Near London: 10,000 Attend
Hertfordshire, U.K.-Recently at the Bhaktivedanta Manor, the country asrama of the Krsna consciousness movement near London, devotees installed the Deity forms of Lord Ramacandra (Krsna's incarnation as a perfect king) and His consort, Srimati Sita-devi. The installation ceremonies were conducted by His Holiness Krsnadasa Swami and Srila Jayatirtha Maharaja, who oversees the movement's activities in Great Britain. More than ten thousand guests attended.
Said Krsnadasa Swami, a devotee from India who has lived in England since 1966: "This ceremony has fulfilled a wish I have cherished for many years. Indian people are especially eager to have the Deity of Lord Rama installed because from their childhood they've known Him as 'Maryadapurusottama Rama'—the ideal example for human society. He acted as an ideal father, son, husband, king, brother, and master. That is why His kingdom, Ramarajya, is famous even today."
Four ISKCON life members—Mr. Maganbhai Bhimjiyani, Mr. Rameshbhai Patel, Mr. L. Pagarani, and Mr. Kevalani—donated all the expenses for acquiring the Deities from India, and thousands of other well-wishers donated the cost of the Deities' ornaments, garments, crowns, and other accouterments.
Highlights of the program included a bathing ceremony for the Deities, called abhiseka; a film about Lord Ramacandra's pastimes as told in the classic scripture Ramayana; a drama staged by ISKCON devotees; and a sumptuous feast of prasadam, sanctified vegetarian food.
Aussies Won Over by "Children of Krishna"
Melbourne—About a third of all the people in Australia recently viewed a 12-minute documentary about the education of children in the Hare Krsna movement. "The Children of Krishna," which appeared on the Australian version of the 60 Minutes TV program, focused on the movement's elementary school in Murwillumbah, New South Wales. About five million people watched the show, which brought the station an unusually large amount of mail from viewers. According to station officials, 98.4% of the mail was positive, giving favorable comments about the show and the Hare Krsna school.
Book on Published in Thai
Bangkok, Thailand -The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has announced the publication of a book translated from English Into the Thai language and describing ten of Lord Krsna's incarnations. Written by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the book also includes two short essays: Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure and On Chanting Hare Krsna. The book was translated from English by Sammohini-devi dasi, a native of Thailand.
The Molding of the Hare Krsna Movement in British India
by Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins
Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins is the chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dr. Hopkins, author of The Hindu Religious Tradition, has made his special areas of interest Hindu devotional movements, Puranic and popular Hinduism, Hindu temples and religious arts, the Bhagavad-gita and its interpretations, the Krsna consciousness movement, new religions in America, yoga meditation, and related fields. What follows is a lecture he delivered in February 1981 before the South Asia Seminar at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia.
Tremendous changes have taken place in American religious life in the past two decades. Some of these changes have been largely internal and continuous with the past history of American religion, such as the rise of the Jesus movement and the rapid growth of charismatic and evangelical Christian churches. At least one change, however, has no clear historic parallel: the upsurge of religious movements whose leaders and doctrines have roots in traditional Asian religions. Both east Asia and south Asia are well represented in this development, but by far the largest number of new groups have come from India—so much so that the phenomenon can almost be considered a missionary movement from India to America, a reversal of the Western missionary efforts of the 18th and 19th centuries. Instead of Westerners setting forth to Christianize the heathen, the "heathen" are coming to the West and are rapidly winning converts to their own religions.
Why has this happened? Many explanations have been put forth, most of them in terms of Western social and religious history: the decline of religious vitality in the West, disillusionment with Western technological culture, the alienation of young people from the political and religious establishment, and so on. All of these are undoubtedly important, but too little attention has been given to the other side: the surprising vitality of Asian religions in the face of at least two centuries of Western world dominance. A look at the Krsna consciousness movement may give us some insights into this side of the emerging pattern.
The success of the Krsna consciousness movement, if not unique, is certainly outstanding among the groups with Asian roots that have flourished in America in the last two decades. What are the factors that have made the Krsna consciousness movement so successful? To understand these factors, it's necessary to understand where the movement came from in India. My primary thesis today is that the reasons for the success of the Krsna consciousness movement in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of India derive primarily from the development of that movement in India during the 19th century. What I want to start with today, therefore, is a little bit of the history of the 19th century, looking particularly at the disciplic line of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The development of the Krsna consciousness movement in the 19th century—or the Gaudiya Vaisnava movement, as it is known in India—occurred in the context of a much larger process of social and religious change, which is represented by a number of very notable figures. The first of these is Ram Mohan Roy, who is generally seen as the father of the Hindu renaissance in the 19th century. Ram Mohan Roy was by no means alone in this effort; change was taking place in many areas. After him many others were involved in social and religious change—many of them, interestingly enough, coming out of the religious background stemming from Sri Caitanya. *Ram Mohan Roy himself was not specifically a Caitanyite. Though his father was of that background, his mother was a worshipper of Durga, so even in his parentage he had a kind of mixed orientation. But other, later figures also had some relationship to the Caitanya community and its tradition, so that there was a rather unusual interaction going on in Bengal between the Caitanya tradition, the influence of the modern English language and other Westernization processes, and the renaissance of the Hindu tradition.
What I want to look at first is a prime example of this interaction in the person of Kedaranatha Datta, better known by his religious name of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. He, more than anyone else, put together the factors in the 19th century that made possible the development of the Gaudiya Vaisnava movement in Bengal and the Krsna consciousness movement in the Western world. Frankly, I didn't know much about him before I started doing some research for this talk. The more I found out about him, though, the more fascinated I became. So I'd like to tell his story, because it seems to me he is not only outstanding in his own personal capability but is in many ways representative of what was going on in Bengal in that period.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born in 1838. He came out of a Caitanyite background, but rather characteristically for that time and place, he was headed in the direction of English and Western education. His father died when he was relatively young, but his mother's family had money and he was brought up in a zamindar (A zamindar is a wealthy householder—Editor) household of some importance. He was sent to high school in Calcutta at the Hindu Charitable Institution and later completed his education in Calcutta at a Christian college. So he's typical of that group in Bengal who had high social status, an intellectual orientation, and an English education that prepared them for life under British rule.
After finishing college Bhaktivinoda started teaching in Orissa, and he is credited by his biographers as one of the pioneers of English education in that state. But he didn't stay in education for very long. Instead, he studied law, passed his law examinations, and in 1862 took employment as a civil servant with the government of Bengal. Then in 1866 he was appointed a magistrate within the provincial civil service, and he carried on in that service for the rest of his government career, until his retirement in 1894.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was in many ways a typical educated Indian serving the British government in India. He held a variety of magistrate posts in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. He learned Persian and Urdu in Bihar, where the Mogul tradition was still preserved in legal and administrative circles, and in Orissa he was for a time, the British-appointed overseer of the Jagannatha temple in Puri; in each case his principal concern was to promote the cause of British law. As a competent and successful young magistrate, his interest in his own religious tradition was strictly personal and was largely a matter of cultural nostalgia. There is little evidence that he saw his Gaudiya Vaisnava heritage as a worthy rival to Christianity and the Western intellectual tradition, nor did he see his private religious interests as deserving of public attention. For the first thirty years of his life, in fact, he had little contact with the real religious and intellectual core of his own tradition. He was unable even to find a copy of the Caitanya-caritamrta, which was written in his native Bengali, and he had no acquaintance with either the Srimad-Bhagavatam or the writings of the Six Gosvamis of Vrndavana.
All of this changed in 1868, when he received from a friend a copy of both the Caitanya-caritamrta and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, with the commentary of Sridhara Svami. He plunged into these works, discovered their wealth of religious teaching, and went through a personal transformation. For the first time he realized there was something in the Caitanyite tradition worth preserving-and not only worth preserving, but worth promoting on a public level. This he took as his new obligation.
I have a copy of a little pamphlet that Bhaktivinoda Thakura published called The Bhagavata: Its Philosophy, Ethics, and Theology. It was written soon after his great discovery and is based on perhaps the first public lecture he gave to announce his new-found cause. It is clearly directed to English-educated Indians who, like himself, had lost contact with their own tradition. Written in marvelously fluent English, it is nonetheless an argument against the inroads of British education and Western cultural values. It is not a total rejection of the West but a plea for reform based on the religious insights and teachings of Caitanya. In advocating reformation, Bhaktivinoda does what any successful reformer must do: he maintains contact with the current social and intellectual climate and yet carries his message beyond the existing level to a new synthesis. But rather than trying to describe this work further, I'd like to give you a sense of its flavor by reading excerpts from the first part of it.
"We love to read a book," he writes, "which we've never read before. We're anxious to gather whatever information is contained in it, and with such acquirement our curiousity stops. This mode of study prevails amongst a great number of readers, who are mere repositories of facts and statements made by other people. But this is not study. The student is to read the facts with a view to create, and not with the object of fruitless retention. Students, like satellites, should reflect whatever light they receive from authors and not imprison the facts and thoughts as the magistrates imprison the convicts in the jail!
"Thought is progressive. The author's thoughts must have progress in the reader in the shape of correction or development. He is the best critic who can show the further development of an old thought, but a mere denouncer is the enemy of progress and consequently of Nature. . . . Thus the shallow critic and the fruitless reader are the two great enemies of progress. We must shun them. . . .
"The Bhagavat [that is, the Bhagavata Purana], like all religious works and philosophical performances and writings of great men, has suffered from the imprudent conduct of useless readers and stupid critics. The former have done so much injury to the work that they have surpassed the latter in their evil consequence. Men of brilliant thoughts have passed by the work in quest of truth and philosophy, but the prejudice which they imbibed from its useless readers and their conduct prevented them from making a candid investigation. .
"The Bhagavat has suffered alike from shallow critics both Indian and outlandish. [He knew English well enough, I think, to know what he was saying.] That book has been accursed and denounced by a great number of our young countrymen who have scarcely read its contents and pondered over the philosophy on which it is founded. It is owing mostly to their imbibing an unfounded prejudice against it when they were in school. . . . We are ourselves witness of the fact. When we were in college, reading the philosophical works of the West and exchanging thoughts with the thinkers of the day, we had a real hatred toward the Bhagavat. That great work looked like a repository of wicked and stupid ideas scarcely adapted to the 19th century, and we hated to hear any arguments in its favor. With us then a volume of Channinge Parker, Emerson, or Newman had more weight than the whole lot of the Vaishnav works. Greedily we pored over the various commentations of the Holy Bible and the labors of the Tattwa Bodhini Sabha, containing extracts from the Upanishads and the Vedanta, but no work of the Vaishnavas had any favor with us.
"But when we advanced in age and our religious sentiment received development, we turned out in a manner Unitarian in our belief and prayed as Jesus prayed in the Garden. Accidentally we fell in with a work about the Great Caitanya, and on reading it with some attention in order to discern the historical position of that Mighty Genius of Nadia, we had the opportunity of gathering His explanations of the Bhagavat given to the wrangling Vedantist of the Benares School.
'The accidental study created in us a love for all the works which we found about our Eastern Savior. We gathered with difficulty the Kurchas [Kurchas are notebooks—Editor.] in Sanskrit, written by the disciples of Caitanya. The explanations that we got of the Bhagavat from these sources were of such a charming character that we procured a copy of the Bhagavat complete and studied its texts . . . with the assistance of the famous commentaries of Shreedhar Swami. From such study it is that we have at last gathered the real doctrines of the Vaishnavas. Oh! What a trouble to get rid of prejudices gathered in unripe years!"
Bhaktivinoda Thakura then goes on to put the position of the Bhagavata into its right perspective and to describe its philosophical and theological contents, carrying on in the process a running critique of other positions. In this he foreshadowed his effort throughout the rest of his career: to restore the Bhagavata Purana and the Caitanya tradition as a whole to respectability. It was not an easy task. As the pamphlet indicates, learned persons in general held the tradition to be unworthy of serious interest. There was thus no attention given to the great writings of the past and no current publications to elicit such attention or give access to the great treasury of devotional religion that had poured forth from Caitanya onward. Fortunately for the tradition, Bhaktivinoda Thakura not only recognized the problem but was equal to the task.
Bhaktivinoda published some hundred books during his career, most of them devoted to recovering and promoting the tradition of Caitanya. He was obviously an enormously productive person. His work habits are frightening: He would get up at 4:30 in the morning, bathe, do his bhajana (Bhajana is the (usually solitary) chanting of the Lord's name or the singing of devotional songs.—Editor), answer correspondence, and so forth, and then at 9:00 he would go to the court. (Remember, those hundred books were written during his career as a magistrate, which is what he was supposedly spending most of his time at.) So he would go to the law court at 9:00 and finish by 5:00, with an hour's break from 1:00 to 2:00. Then he would translate some Sanskrit religious work into Bengali from 5:00 until 7:00, have dinner, take a couple of hours' nap, get up, and write all night from 10:00 until 4:00. Then he would rest a little bit and go through his daily routine. So he was working about eighteen to twenty hours a day, efficiently. That's the way people describe him. And, amazingly, he also found time to raise thirteen children.
In 1881 Bhaktivinoda started a new Vaisnava journal called Sajjana-tosani to disseminate the teachings of Caitanya. At about the same time he also accepted Jagannatha dasa Babaji as his siksa-guru. (A siksa-guru is a spiritual master who imparts Vedic knowledge to someone who may or may not be his initiated disciple.—Editor). This is an example of a very interesting interaction that was taking place in the 19th century between the educated, intellectual, Westernized, highly philosophically oriented scholar types like Bhaktivinoda Thakura and the more emotional, ecstatic babaji types in the paramahamsa-sannyasa category, who were anything but scholars, who were primarily devotees to the core, and who spent most of their time doing bhajana and had no interest in scholarship at all, certainly not to do it or to promote it. But then in Bhaktivinoda Thakura—and, I think, in this whole tradition—what you get is a blending of those two components, which is really the secret of all the successful devotional movements in Indian history. They have somehow managed to bring together the intellectual dimension and the emotional dimension in a creative way; in every one of these movements there has always been that kind of merger. That merger occurred very clearly in the case of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, who was apparently equally at ease wearing a dhoti and doing bhajana or wearing a cloth coat and doing law. He moved between these two worlds with facility and understood them both.
Later on, in 1887, again to promote Caitanya's movement of devotional service to Krsna, he began work on commentaries in Bengali on the Caitanya-caritamrta and established a printing press at Bhaktibhavan, his house in Calcutta. Printing and publishing were very early seen as the key to successful promotion of the cause. Thus technology was very early employed by Bhaktivinoda Thakura in pursuit of the religious community, and its use was carried even further by his son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, who would refer to the printing press as the brhat mrdanga (A mrdanga is a clay drum used in congregational chanting—Editor), "the great mrdanga." Bhaktisiddhanta said the brhat mrdanga should supplement the ordinary mrdanga, because an ordinary mrdanga can be heard for only a couple of blocks but the printing press can be heard around the world. This image of "the great mrdanga"—publishing and printing and promoting the cause through writing, translation, and commentaries—is, again, distinctive of the Krsna consciousness movement.
In 1888, Bhaktivinoda Thakura discovered the birthplace of Caitanya, which had been forgotten. Everybody thought it was in Navadvipa, but it turned out to be in the nearby village of Mayapura. Bhaktivinoda promoted the building of a temple at that site and used that promotion as a way of generating enthusiasm for the renewal of the Caitanyite tradition. When he retired in 1894, he spent most of his time working on that project, which was successfully completed in 1895.
In 1896 Bhaktivinoda published in Sanskrit a little booklet on Caitanya, to which was attached an English preface called Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts. Copies of this little booklet were sent to various places in the West. One of them ended up at McGill University Library and another at the library of the Royal Asiatic Society in London. From these efforts the Krsna consciousness movement won intellectual respectability; after all, McGill and the Royal Asiatic Society had sanctioned it.
Finally, in 1900, near the end of his life, Bhaktivinoda Thakura went to Jagannatha Puri and from that point on spent most of his time in seclusion, performing his bhajana incessantly and eventually being initiated as a babaji, a renounced person pursuing his own personal religious activities.
Bhaktivinoda's role in the movement was taken up by his son, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. His father had conducted all of his education, giving him a broad knowledge of English, Sanskrit, and Bengali along with an exhaustive knowledge of devotional texts and a powerful sense of the mission to spread Krsna consciousness. He set out to promote the cause and in 1915 established the Bhagavat Press to publish, and publish extensively, the literature of the Vaisnava tradition. He also strove to break down the entrenched caste prejudices in India by giving the sacred brahmana thread to every qualified candidate who presented himself for initiation, no matter what caste he came from. Thus whether the person was a sudra, an outcaste, or presumably even a non-Hindu, if he qualified religiously he could be initiated and receive the sacred thread, thereby becoming a brahmana as good as any other brahmana. Following the example of his father, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati based these actions on the teachings of the Bhagavata Purana, particularly the history of Narada, who, although raised as a sudra, was given status as brahmana because of his personal qualities of devotion and learning. So both Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura pushed this issue-that brahmanhood is a matter of personal quality and not of birth.
Now, out of all this we get Bhaktivedanta Swami. He really is simply the inheritor—well not simply: he's a great person in his own right—but he is the inheritor of this tradition. He himself was given an English education at Scottish Churches' College in Calcutta, went into business, and ran a pharmacy for many years in Allahabad. He was initiated in Allahabad by Bhaktisiddhanta, and finally he moved more and more toward the renounced life. Essentially, he spent most of his time pursuing his religious career. In 1944 he founded BACK TO GODHEAD magazine, which is now being sold by his disciples and his disciples' disciples throughout the country. In 1959 he was initiated as a sannyasi (a sannyasi is a renunciant.—Editor), and in 1962 he published the first volume of his translation of and commentary on the Bhagavata Purana. In August of 1965 he left India for New York City, and the history after that is fairly well known.
The point I want to make is that Bhaktivedanta Swami brought with him much more than his own abilities; he brought with him a century of working through the problem of how the great tradition of the Vaisnava devotional path relates to the modern world, how that tradition can be related to the Western mentality, how it can be promoted within the West, and how it can be propagated by the acquisition of new members. For instance, new members of the Krsna consciousness organization go through a two-stage initiation. First they are simply given a religious name and beads to chant Hare Krsna on. The second initiation is the initiation into brahmanhood. But, again, this is not an American innovation. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had done that in India, and it was simply carried over into this country by Bhaktivedanta Swami.
For almost every one of what may seem to be innovative practices, the way was paved during the three generations before Bhaktivedanta Swami came to America. The practices were shaped for precisely the kind of situation Bhaktivedanta Swami would meet in New York City in 1965. And it's out of that 19th-century background—unknown, to say the least, to the people to whom he was bringing his message—that this tremendous Krsna consciousness movement has emerged. The whole thing was set in place in the 19th century, and the ground was prepared for somebody with the determination and drive that Bhaktivedanta Swami had to tap the resources of Gaudiya Vaisnavism and bring it over and put it in a place where it would take root and flourish.
On Sex and Suffering
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place on an early-morning walk in January 1974 at Venice Beach, California.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, here in California the divorce rate is nearly 50%. Why do you think that is so?
Srila Prabhupada: In India there is a saying that he who is married laments and he who is not married also laments. The married man laments, "Why did I marry? I could have remained free." And he who is not married laments, "Oh, why didn't I accept a wife? I would have been happy." [Laughter.] By sex one begets a child, and as soon as there is a child there is suffering. The child suffers, and the parents also suffer to take care of him. But again they have another child. Therefore it is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam [7.9.45], trpyanti neha krpana bahu-duhkha-bhajah. In connection with this child-producing there is so much difficulty and trouble, but although one knows that, one again does the same thing.
Sex is the main happiness in this material world. That is the main happiness, and it is very abominable. What is this happiness? Kanduyanena karayor iva duhkha-duhkham. It is like the rubbing of two hands together to relieve an itch. Sex produces so many bad results, but still one is not satisfied. Now there are contraceptives, abortion-so many things. Maya [illusion] is so strong; she says, "Yes, do this and be implicated."
Therefore the Bhagavatam says, kandutivan manasijam visaheta dhirah. A man who is dhira, sober and sane, tolerates this itching sensation of sex desire. One who can tolerate the itching sensation saves so much trouble, but one who cannot is immediately implicated. Whether illicit or legitimate, sex is trouble.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, this is the first time we've walked this way. Everything looks different and new.
Srila Prabhupada: [Laughs.] This is material life. We are wandering sometimes this way, sometimes that way, and we are thinking, "Oh, this is new." Brahmanda bhramite: we are wandering all over the universe trying to find out something new. But nothing is new: everything is old.
When a man becomes old, he generally thinks, "Oh, this life is so troublesome." So he is allowed to change to a new body, a child's body. The child is taken care of, and he thinks, "Now I've got such a comfortable life." But again he becomes old and disgusted. So, Krsna is so kind: "All right," He says, "change your body." This is punah punas carvita-carvananam, chewing the chewed. Krsna gives the living entity many facilities: "All right, become a tree. All right, become a serpent. All right, become a demigod. All right, become a king. Become a cobbler. Go to the heavenly planets. Go to the hellish planets." There are so many varieties of life, but in all of them the living entity is packed up in this material world. He's looking for freedom, but he does not know that freedom is available only under the shelter of Krsna. That he will not accept.
Seeing the suffering in this material world, the Mayavadis [impersonalists] want to make life variety-less (nirvisesa) and the Buddhists want to make it zero (sunyavadi). But neither proposition is possible. You may remain variety-less for some time, but again you will want varieties. Big, big sannyasis [renunciants] preach so much about brahma satyam jagan mithya ["The impersonal Absolute is true; this universe is false"], but again they come down from Brahman to do political and social work. They cannot remain in Brahman for long, so they have to accept this material variety, because variety is the mother of enjoyment. Therefore, our proposition is this: Come to the real variety, Krsna consciousness. Then your life will be successful.
Devotee: Most people are trying to enjoy so much in this life that they don't even think about the next life.
Srila Prabhupada: They do not know what the next life is, so they make it zero. They say, "There is no next life," and in that way they are satisfied. When a rabbit sees some danger it closes its eyes and thinks there is no danger. These rascals are like that. It is all ignorance.
Devotee: There is a philosophy called stoicism, which says that since life is meant for suffering, one should just become very sturdy and suffer a great deal.
Srila Prabhupada: So, their idea is that one who can suffer without any protest—he is a first-class man. Believing in such a philosophy means that one does not know how to stop suffering. One class of philosophers says that suffering cannot be dismissed and therefore we must be strong to tolerate it. And another class of philosophers says that since life is full of suffering, we should make life zero. But neither class has any information that there is real life where there is no suffering. That is Krsna consciousness. There is life, but no suffering. Anandamayo 'bhyasat: simply bliss. Dancing, eating, and chanting, with no suffering. Would anybody refuse that? Is there any such fool?
Devotee: People deny that such a life exists.
Srila Prabhupada: But suppose there is such a life, where you can simply dance, eat, and live happily for eternity. Would you not like to accept it?
Devotee: Anyone would like to accept it. But people think it doesn't exist.
Srila Prabhupada: So our first proposition should be that there is a life like this—only happiness, with no suffering. Everyone will say, "Yes, I would like it." They will accept it. Unfortunately, because people have been cheated again and again, they think that this is another cheating. Therefore, preaching Krsna consciousness means to convince people that there is a life full of happiness, with no suffering.
Devotee: What will convince them that we are not cheating, also?
Srila Prabhupada: Invite them to come to our temple and see our devotees. We are chanting, dancing, and eating nicely. This is practical proof.
Devotee: But doesn't one have to be purified before one can realize these things?
Srila Prabhupada: No. We say, "Come and chant Hare Krsna with us; you'll become purified. We don't want anything from you. We shall give you food—we shall give you everything. Simply come and chant with us." This is our message.
by Dravida dasa
Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, stands on the bank of the River Yamuna with Srimati Radharani, His eternal consort, in this scene in Goloka Vrndavana, the Lord's spiritual abode. The prancing peacock's jubilant calls, the fragrance of the lotus and jasmine spreading on the cool, soughing breezes, the fresh springtime atmosphere-all lend the perfect touch to this most exalted spiritual event: the meeting of Radha and Krsna.
Because the spiritual love epitomized in Their meeting resembles the attraction between a young man and a young woman, it is generally misunderstood by those who try to fathom it without reference to the Vedic sastra, or revealed scriptures. These books draw a sharp distinction between love of God and what passes for love between ordinary human beings. "The desire to gratify one's own senses is lust [kama]," writes Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja in his 16th-century devotional classic Caitanya-caritamrta, "but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krsna is love [prema]. . . . Therefore lust and love are quite different. Lust is like dense darkness, but love is like the bright sun."
Our original nature is to dwell in the "bright sun" of love of Krsna in the spiritual world. But somehow we become envious of Krsna in His position as supreme enjoyer, and with that envy our love for Him turns to lust and we enter the darkness of the material world. Thus it is lust that brings us to this world of forgetfulness of God, lust that keeps us here, and lust that prevents us from knowing Lord Krsna as our eternal master, guide, friend, and lover. Only when we transmute that lust back into love for Krsna can we realize that we are His eternal servants and that our real happiness lies in serving His senses, not our own.
Bhakti-yoga, the practice of Krsna consciousness, or devotional service, changes lust into love of God. The first step is hearing-hearing the name of Krsna in the Hare Krsna mantra and hearing the teachings about Krsna given through the revealed scriptures by the great devotees of the Lord and the Lord Himself. But all-important in this process is that the sound we hear (or the words we read) come from the right source, a pure devotee of God. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes this way about hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krsna: "It is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam that one who hears the pastimes of Krsna with the gopis [the cowherd girls in the spiritual world, of whom Srimati Radharani is the foremost] will attain the highest platform of devotional service and will be freed from the lust that overwhelms everyone's heart in the material world. In other words, by hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krsna, one can get rid of all material lust. . . . Unless one hears from the right source, however, one will misinterpret the pastimes of Radha and Krsna, considering them to be ordinary affairs between a man and a woman. In this way one will be misguided."
So let us not be misguided. Krsna is God, the all-powerful, all-perfect creator, maintainer, and destroyer of everything, and Srimati Radharani is His most beloved worshiper (Her very name means "one who worships Krsna best"). Since we are all servants of the Lord, each of us has some role to play in His eternal pastimes of love. But we can discover that role, our original spiritual identity, only if we carefully follow the instructions of those exalted souls who have realized God and whose only motivation is compassion for those of us suffering in this material world, far from our spiritual home. If we follow their instructions, we will one day realize the truth of the unlimitedly sweet pastimes of the Lord-and this will be the perfection of our lives.
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.
Arjuna. The hero of the Bhagavad-gita and personal friend of Lord Sri Krsna. Five thousand years ago, Arjuna, one of the five righteous princes known as the Pandavas, faced the duty of fighting in a great battle against his evil cousin Duryodhana. Just as the battle was to begin, Arjuna, torn between his duty as a prince and his finer sentiments of compassion and familial love,. threw down his weapons in despair. Unable to decide whether to leave the battlefield in disgrace or fight against his beloved relatives and friends, Arjuna turned to his friend Krsna, who was acting as his charioteer. There on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, on a chariot drawn between the two opposed armies, Krsna enlightened Arjuna with the teachings that have come down to us in the seven hundred verses known as Bhagavad-gita.
Astanga-yoga. This is the eightfold discipline by which to achieve union with the Supreme. It is described in Bhagavad-gita and also in the writings of the sage Patanjali (for whom it is sometimes called "the Patanjali yoga system").
The eight stages in astanga-yoga are yama (restraint of the senses), niyama (restraint of the mind), asana (sitting in the appropriate posture), pratyahara (withdrawal from sense objects), dharana (mental concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (a trance of perfect realization).
To follow the astanga-yoga system, one must practice so as to attain stages, one after another. As described in Bhagavad-gita (Chapter Six), one must vow complete celibacy and withdraw to seclusion in a sanctified place. There one must strictly regulate one's eating and sleeping, subdue one's mind and senses, discipline one's respiration, cease all external awareness, and ultimately fix one's mind unswervingly on the Supreme Personality. of Godhead, Krsna. Thus one attains perfection.
We should note, however, that the rules of this system are so stringent that in the present age they are nearly impossible to follow. Arjuna himself, although a man of extraordinary qualifications, admitted in Bhagavad-gita that he would be unable to endure the difficulties of astanga-yoga. Instead he followed the path of bhakti-yoga, the yoga of devotional service, which is easier, more direct, and therefore more appropriate for people today.
Of course, one may elect to practice astanga-yoga by going to a yoga class or retreat where one can skip over the difficult and unpleasant austerities but still learn to sit in yogic postures, practice exercises in breathing, and take part in sessions of meditation. This path has the advantage of being easy, but unfortunately it is useless for spiritual realization.
Astral travel. There are various means by which a yogi can enable his mind to take him out of his body to journey to far distant places in the universe. This is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (Second Canto). But Bhagavad-gita advises that even if one goes to Brahmaloka, the highest planet in the universe, one cannot stay there, but will have to return to where one is now. On the other hand, if one focuses one's mind upon Krsna and becomes fully Krsna conscious, one can go beyond this material universe and enter the eternal spiritual sky, the abode of Krsna, from which one never has to return. The desire to travel to other planets in this material world is therefore considered an impediment on the path of spiritual realization. Whether one goes by yoga or by the mechanical rockets of modern science, traveling to other planets cannot free one from the cycle of birth and death. So from the spiritual point of view it is a useless waste of time.
Asuras. Bhagavad-gita describes two kinds of human beings-the godly (devas) and the ungodly (asuras). Those who are godly are known by their good qualities, such as purity, simplicity, self-control, fearlessness, truthfulness, and tranquility. The ungodly, on the other hand, are those who are harsh, arrogant, conceited, foolish, and bewildered by lust, anger, and greed. The godly proceed on the path toward liberation, following the guidance of scriptures, whereas the ungodly, bound by their own illusions, suffer the worst tortures of repeated birth and death. Because the ungodly try to exploit the world, its creatures, and their fellow men through mean, cruel, vicious acts, the laws of karma force them to be born as dogs, worms, pigs, and other lower species of life. The ungodly, who are also called demons, are vividly described in the Sixteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita.
We welcome your letters. Write to
Dear Sadaputa dasa:
I would like first of all to express my appreciation for your articles in BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol.16, No.3-4 and No.5. The arguments you have presented against the general theory of evolution and the accepted scientific view of the origin of life are both lucid and sound.
The theory of evolution, however, is only a reflection of a much broader philosophy—the philosophy of materialistic science. It is this philosophy that is the cause of many people's rejection of any theistic religion and that must therefore be exposed as inferior to belief in God. In other words, faith in God, as a prelude to love of God (Krsna), must be shown to be more rational than faith in materialistic science.
Refutations of the theory of evolution, when presented within a scientific frame-work, are useful to a certain extent. Predictions that follow from the theory can be shown to be inconsistent with the evidence, and certain assumptions of the theory can be shown to be highly improbable. But a person who has accepted the scientific framework would conclude from these arguments only that the theory of evolution is in need of further modification and refinement, analogous to physics before the advent of Einstein. You would not have convinced him to believe in a God who is the creator and maintainer of the universe.
Faith in God, therefore, must be shown to be more rational than faith in science. How is this to be accomplished? In your article "Evolution: A Doctrine in Search of a Theory," you briefly discussed the role of faith in both science and sanatana-dharma. Your discussion implies that both types of faith are equally rational and verifiable. According to science, however, faith in sanatana-dharma is not based on verifiable observations; depending on the scientist, the existence of God remains either a delusion, a psychological wish, or simply a subjective belief. No matter how much one's faith grows, sanatana-dharma remains a subjective, psychological belief akin to faith in an alternative world based on one's continual use of peyote.
What must be propagated instead are logical arguments for faith in God. In other words, the philosophy of theism must be shown to be superior to the philosophy of materialistic science. This can be accomplished through a critical analysis of the assumptions which underlie science, with a view toward exposing their limitations, e.g., the dependence on the senses and the reliance on inductive reasoning, which requires faith of the highest order. Complementing this analysis should be an in-depth examination of the role of deductive reasoning—Just what does a proof actually prove?—followed by a study of various proofs for the existence of God. (Not to say that a proof for the existence of God could actually place God before our senses, but it could demonstrate that faith in God is logical, given a certain set of postulates.) Special attention could be paid to Anselm's ontological argument, Aquinas's argument for an unmoved mover, and the argument from design, which was a favorite of His Divine Grace Swami Prabhupada's. ** ("The ontological proof," discovered by St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), in effect argues that if you think that God might not exist, then you are not really thinking about God. But since you can conceive of God, God exists, without even the possibility of not existing. This argument, however, is less a proof for God's existence than a revelation of it. St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274) rejected the ontological argument, but advanced five others. One held that motion is inexplicable without an ultimate, unmoved mover. Another argument held that an ultimate intelligence is necessary to explain the regularity, order, and direction found in nature. This ever-popular argument is commonly called "the argument from design."-Editor) A discussion of epistemology, or the theory of knowledge, would also be fruitful, for it would delineate the role of logic, the role of the senses, and the role of faith. In summary, I think what is needed is a science of God sharpened by Western philosophy.
Note: Concerning epistemology, Hume's statement (as presented by you in your article on evolution) that no amount of finite observation of the things of this world could ever justify conclusions concerning an infinite, transcendental being is fallacious. From the finite one can never know the infinite in full, but one can still know certain characteristics of the infinite, just as one can know that the set of whole numbers is infinite.
I would appreciate learning your thoughts on these matters.
Yours, Brad Berquist
Dear Brad Berquist:
Hare Krsna! Thank you very much for your letter about my articles in BACK TO GODHEAD.
I certainly agree that we must show faith in God to be more rational than faith in modern science. I would suggest, however, that we can ultimately accomplish this by demonstrating that there are scientific methods available whereby the individual can actually come to know God in a direct, personal way. It is quite true that at present people will tend to suppose that no such methods exist, and that the realizations of great souls are subjective beliefs, hallucinations, etc. What we have to do, then, is show that there really is a rational basis for an objective science of God consciousness.
In the articles you mentioned, I have not undertaken this task but have mainly concentrated on the unavoidable negative work of clearing away the obstacles to spiritual life that have been thrown up by materialistic scientists. However, I am now writing a book on the science of God consciousness, and when it is finished I would be interested in hearing your comments.
I agree that logical arguments can play an important role in building people's faith in God, but logic alone is not enough. The problem is that a logical argument is no better than its premises, and these, by definition, are not proven. Now, what premises are sufficient to establish the existence of God? In many arguments purporting to prove the existence of God, a preconceived idea of God is covertly inserted at some point, thus conveying the impression that the argument proves something it really does not prove at all. This was one of Hume's complaints about the design argument. Proponents of this argument want to conclude from it that an infinite, beneficent being created the world, but Hume pointed out that the creator could just as well have been a finite being of moderate intelligence and questionable character. Another example is provided by Aquinas's argument for an unmoved mover. Aquinas concludes that "this is what men call God," but why does an unmoved mover have to be anything like the God of religion, who takes a personal interest in people's lives? An unmoved mover might be something completely impersonal, and, indeed, many logical arguments for the existence of God tend to arrive at an abstract, impersonal conception of God that is practically atheistic.
By the way, in what sense do whole numbers exist? Can you prove that there are infinitely many of them? Modern mathematics has not done this. For example, in Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory the axiom of infinity postulates that there are infinitely many integers. These could "exist" only in a model of set theory, but mathematicians never try to show that such models exist in any real sense of the word.
In one of my monographs, I present a version of the design argument for the existence of God. There the logical and empirical arguments indicate that absolute information specifying the structural plans of organisms must exist (in a real sense). I conclude that this fact is inconsistent with the idea of evolution, but that it is consistent with revealed knowledge about God. The argument does not prove that the absolute information resides in the mind of God—it might exist in some sort of utterly impersonal Platonic realm of ideal forms. Yet for a pious person the argument opens up the possibilities that God may really exist and that we may be able to communicate with Him directly.
These possibilities are confirmed by the Vedic (and other) scriptures, which provide revealed information about God and prescribe specific methods by which the individual can come into direct contact with Him.
As far as I can understand, real knowledge of God can come only by revelation and can be proven true only on an individual basis by personal revelation. (A logical argument for this statement can be derived from the discussion of information compression in the "Chance and Unity" article in BACK TO GODHEAD: incompressible information cannot be generated by deduction from postulates occupying less space [in "bits"] than the information itself, and thus to obtain the information, some information source is necessary . . .) The problem is this: by what criteria can we distinguish between genuine and spurious revelation, and between genuine God consciousness and hallucinations? It seems to me that one of the contributions of the literature of Krsna consciousness, as presented by Srila Prabhupada, is that it does give us valid criteria for making these distinctions. What do you think about this?
Why You Should Become a Devotee of Krsna—and Why You Don't
You should become a devotee of Krsna. Why?
1. When you become a devotee of Krsna, you enter into the association of great souls. These great souls, or pure devotees of God, are your best friends in this world. The Vedic literature describes them as "able to fulfill the desires of everyone and full of compassion for the fallen souls." They have realized Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and can therefore help you tremendously in your realization of God. More so than the politician, educator, or sectarian religionist, a pure devotee is a true welfare worker—because he can work for your eternal benefit. While others claim, "God is dead," the pure devotee reveals God to you by helping you revive your forgotten relationship with Him.
But where, you may ask, are such devotee-friends to be found today? Admittedly, it is rare to find a pure devotee of the Lord—a person totally free of all material desire, who wishes only to serve God. But we have the writings of such magnanimous persons. And in their writings, especially in the Vedic literature, the great devotees have explicated the science of pure love of God. The writings of these great friends of humanity are solace and guidance for one who aspires to God realization.
In the past there was Lord Krsna Himself, who spoke the Bhagavad-gita; Srila Vyasadeva, who compiled all the Vedas; and Lord Caitanya, who taught the chanting of Hare Krsna. More recently one of Lord Krsna's pure devotees, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, taught the science of Krsna consciousness throughout the world. He founded the Krsna consciousness movement and translated and commented on' many volumes of Vedic literature.
But you may feel that you cannot find anyone nowadays of Srila Prabhupada's stature. Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada's followers in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are also your true friends. Since devotees base their lives on devotional service to Krsna, they don't try to exploit others for self-aggrandizement but try to help them reach life's spiritual goal. This is the basis of true friendship and love: to help another person on his or her path back to Godhead.
2. Another reason you should become a devotee of Krsna is that devotion to Krsna is your original nature. You and I—all of us—are eternal servants of God. But you have temporarily forgotten this. According to the Vedas, you are eternal, full of bliss and knowledge, and by becoming a devotee of Krsna you will return to your normal, healthy condition. As a sick person should become well, as a crazy person should become sane, and as a lost person should find his home, so you, being an eternal servant of God, should become His devotee.
3. Becoming a devotee is the only thing that can save you at death. The great Vedic thinker Sankara advised his too-sophisticated contemporaries, "Worship Govinda [Krsna]! Worship Govinda! Worship Govinda! Your mental speculation won't save you at the time of death." The material world is full of dangers; death may come at any moment.. And after death, the Vedic literature explains, comes another birth in another body and then another lifetime of suffering. This is the law of karma. He who is so illusioned as to disregard death and not prepare for the next life is a fool. But becoming a devotee can save you at the time of death, because devotional service gives you the means to escape the reactions of karma.
4. At the time of death a pure devotee of the Lord leaves the material world and returns to Krsna in the spiritual world. As I have already stated, this is the soul's original, though forgotten nature-to be an eternal servant of God. The only way to return to this position is by acting as a devotee of the Lord in this lifetime. Bhagavad-gita [18.55] says, "One can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, one can enter into the kingdom of God,"
Here are some of the standard reasons why you don't become a devotee of Krsna:
1. You may be completely misinformed about what a devotee of Krsna is. Newspaper accounts sometimes depict Hare Krsna devotees as cultists. This is false. Or you may think that to be a devotee you have to give up your job and family, shave your head, and do all sorts of fanatical things. This is also false. In other words, you may really not know what a devotee is. If you remain misinformed, then you cannot become genuinely interested in devotional service.
2. You may think you don't have time to serve God; you are too busy with other things you consider more important. The Vedic literature says that men who are too busy with mundane matters to inquire about devotional service and self-realization are completely wasting their lives.
3. You may be a victim of atheistic propaganda concerning the origin and nature of life. Those who say a human being is nothing more than a mass of chemicals and electrical impulses, that all life has evolved from matter, and that there is no eternal soul are killers of spiritual inquiry. If you believe this propaganda, you will find it difficult to start on the path of devotion.
Bhagavad-gita describes four kinds of persons who do not become devotees of Krsna. One is the mudha, or fool. Just as a donkey works hard all day simply to get some grass from its master, the foolish materialist takes up the burden of hard work just to maintain himself and his family, but he neglects spiritual life. Such a poor mudha, wrongly thinking he is his body, identifies himself as an American, a Russian, an Indian, and so on. And his only ken of happiness is in terms of his body.
Bhagavad-gita also describes the nara-dhama, "the lowest of men." Although educated and cultured, 'the naradhama has no spiritual sense and is thus unable to take up devotional service.
Another kind of person unable to serve Krsna is the mayayapahrta-jnana, one whose sophistication in philosophy or religion leads him to think that religion is a relative, cultural phenomenon, that Krsna is a myth, or that God can be found only in a particular religious sect. According to Vedic knowledge, however, one can know a true devotee of God not by whether he is nominally a Christian, Jew, Hindu, or whatever but by whether he has developed the symptoms of love for God. The chief of these are complete absence of mundane desires and an unimpeded flow of devotional service to God.
Bhagavad-gita describes a fourth category of persons who don't become devotees: asuram bhavam asritah, the staunch atheists. Obviously, the avowed atheist will not become a devotee of God.
So the reasons you should become a devotee of Krsna are compelling, whereas the reasons you don't are descriptions of misfortune. If you can admit that there is substantial validity to our claims for taking up devotional service, you should investigate further. Even if you are not prepared to change your life totally, you can add devotional service to it without any difficulty. Association with the great souls of the past is available through Srila Prabhupada's translations of Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other books of Vedic literature. And the current followers of Lord Krsna, the members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, are eager td share this knowledge and introduce you to such practices as chanting Hare Krsna and offering food to Krsna, which you can easily adopt. Why don't you become a devotee of Krsna?—SDG