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Volume 16, Number 09, 1981


The Religion Beyond All Religions
Ticket to a World Without Death
You Don't Need a Guru—or Do You?
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
Srila Prabhupada : A Modern Saint
ISKCON's Anti-Drug Programs Win Worldwide Praise
Every Town and Village
The Yoga Dictionary
The Saga of Lord Rama
Notes from the Editor

© 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International

The Religion Beyond All Religions

A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada,
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

In June 1976 at New Vrindaban, the Hare Krsna movements farm community in West Virginia, Srila Prabhupada fields questions sent to him from the editors of Bhavan's Journal, one of Bombay's leading cultural and religious periodicals.

Devotee: Here is the first question:

"It is said that the greatest strength of Hinduism is its catholicity, or breadth of outlook, but that this is also its greatest weakness in that there are very few religious observances that are obligatory for all, as in other religions. Is it necessary and possible to outline certain basic minimum observances for all Hindus?"

Srila Prabhupada: As far as Vedic religion is concerned, it is not for the Hindus; it is for all living entities. That is the first thing to be understood. Vedic religion is called sanatana-dharma, "the eternal occupation of the living entity." The living entity is sanatana [eternal]. God is sanatana, and there is sanatana-dharma. Sanatana-dharma is meant for all living entities, not just the so-called Hindus. Hinduism, this 'ism', that 'ism'—these are all misconceptions. Historically, sanatana-dharma was followed regularly in India, and Indians were called 'Hindus' by the Muslims. The Muslims saw that the Indians lived on the other side of the River Sind, and the Muslims pronounces Sind as Hind. Therefore they called India 'Hindustan' and the people who lived there 'Hindus'. But the word Hindu has no reference in the Vedic literature, nor does so-called Hindu dharma. Now that sanatana-dharma or Vedic dharma, is being distorted, not being obeyed, not being carried our properly, it has come to be known as Hinduism. But that is a freak understanding. We have to study sanatana-dharma; then we'll understand what Vedic religion is. [To a devotee] Read from the Eleventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, eighteenth verse.

Devotee: [Reads.]

tvam aksaram paramam veditavyam
tvam asya visvasya param nidhanam
tvam avyayah sasvata-dharma-gopta
sanatanas tvam puruso mato me

"O Lord Krsna, You are the supreme primal objective; You are inexhaustivle, and You are the oldest; You are the maintainer of religion, the eternal Personality of Godhead."

Srila Prabhupada: This understanding is wanted. Krsna is eternal, we are eternal, and the place where we can live and exchange our feelings with Krsna—that is eternal. And the system that teaches this eternal process of reciprocation—that is sanatana-dharma, which is meant for everyone.

Devotee: So what would be the daily prescribed religious observances followed by one who is aspiring for this sanatana-dharma? What would he do? The complaint is that within Hinduism—or, let's say, sanatana-dharma—there is such a breadth, there is so much variegatedness in different types—

Srila Prabhupada: Why do you go to variegatedness? Why don't you take the real purpose of religion from Krsna? Krsna says [Bg. 18.66], sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all other so-called dharmas and just surrender to Me." Why don't you take that? Why are you taking up variegated practices under the name of so-called Hinduism? Why don't you take the advice of the sanatana, Krsna? You refuse to accept sanatana-dharma—what the sanatana, God, says—but you say, "How can we avoid so many varieties and come to the right point?" Why accept varieties? Take to this one consciousness: sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja. Why don't you do that?

Devotee: How can people do this practically, on a daily basis?

Srila Prabhupada: How are we doing it? Is what we are doing not practical? People will manufacture their own impractical way of religion, but they won't take our practical system. What is that? Man-mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru: simply think of Krsna, become His devotee, worship Him, and offer obeisances to Him. Where is the difficulty? Where is the impracticality? Krsna says, "This is your duty. If you do this you will come to Me without any doubt." Why don't you do that? Why remain Hindu? Why remain Muslim? Why remain Christian? Give up all this nonsense. Just surrender to Krsna and understand, "I am a devotee of Krsna, a servant of Krsna." Then everything will immediately be resolved.

Devotee: But the Hindus would say, "There are so many other aspects to Hindu dharma."

Srila Prabhupada: Real dharma is defined in Srimad-Bhagavatam: dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam. "What God says—that is dharma." Now, God says, "Give up all other dharmas and just surrender unto Me." So take that dharma. Why do you want to remain a Hindu? And besides, what Hindu does not accept the authority of Krsna? Even today, if any Hindu says, "I don't care for Krsna and Bhagavad-gita" he will immediately be rejected as a madman. Why don't you take Krsna's instruction? Why go elsewhere? Your trouble is that you do not know what religion is and you do not know what sanatana-dharma is. In our Krsna consciousness society there are many who were formerly so-called Hindus, so-called Muslims, and so-called Christians, but now they don't care for "Hindu" or "Muslim" or "Christian." They care only for Krsna. That's all. If you follow a false religious system, you suffer; but if you follow a real religious system, you'll be happy.

Unfortunately, the Indian people gave up the real religious system—sanatana-dharma, or varnasrama-dharma—and accepted a hodgepodge thing called "Hinduism." Therefore there is trouble. Vedic religion means varnasrama-dharma, the division of society into four social classes and four spiritual orders of life. The four social classes are the brahmanas [priests and intellectuals], the ksatriyas [political leaders and military men], the vaisyas [merchants and farmers], and the sudras [manual laborers]. The four spiritual orders are the brahmacaris [celibate students], the grhasthas [householders], the vanaprasthas [retired persons], and the sannyasis [renunciants]. When all these classes and orders work harmoniously to satisfy, the Lord, that is real religion, or dharma.

Devotee: The next question is this: "In the Kali-yuga, the present Age of Quarrel, bhakti [devotional service to God] has been described as the most suitable path for God realization. Yet how is it that Vedantic teachings, with their accent on jnana [knowledge, or intellectual speculation], are emphasized by noted savants?"

Srila Prabhupada: The so-called Vedantists are cheaters; they do not know what vedanta is. But people want to be cheated, and the cheaters are taking advantage of them. The word veda means "knowledge," and anta means "end." So the meaning of vedanta is "the ultimate knowledge," and the Vedanta-sutra teaches this. (A sutra is an aphorism: in a few words, a big philosophy is given.) The first aphorism in the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma-jijnasa:

"Now, in the human form of life, one should inquire about Brahman, the Absolute Truth." So the. study of the Vedanta-sutra begins when one is inquisitive about the Absolute Truth. And what is that Absolute Truth? That is answered in a nutshell in the second aphorism. Janmady asya yatah: "Brahman is the origin of everything." So Brahman is God, the origin of everything. And all veda, or knowledge, culminates in Him. This is confirmed by Krsna in Bhagavad-gita [15.15]. Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah: "The purpose of all the Vedas, all books of knowledge, is to search out God."

So the whole Vedanta-sutra is a description of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But because in this Kali-yuga people will not be able to study Vedanta-sutra nicely on account of a lack of education, Srila Vyasadeva personally wrote a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra. That commentary is Srimad-Bhagavatam {bhasyam brahma-sutranam). Srimad-Bhagavatam is the real commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, written by the same author, Vyasadeva, under the instruction of Narada, his spiritual master. Srimad-Bhagavatam begins with the same aphorism as the Vedanta-sutra, janmady asya yatah, and then continues, anvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat.

So, actually, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam the Vedanta-sutra is explained by the author of the Vedanta-sutra. But some rascals, without understanding the Vedanta-sutra, without reading the natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, are posing themselves as Vedantists and misguiding people. And because people are not educated, they're accepting these rascals as Vedantists. Actually, the so-called Vedantists are bluffers; they are not Vedantists. They do not know anything of the vedanta. The Vedanta-sutra is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam, and if we take Srimad-Bhagavatam as the real explanation of the Vedanta-sutra we can understand what vedanta is. But if we take shelter of the bluffers, then we will not learn vedanta. People do not know anything, so they can be bluffed and cheated by anyone. But now they should learn from the Krsna consciousness movement what vedanta is and what the explanation of vedanta is. Then they will be benefited.

Devotee: Generally, those who follow the impersonalistic commentary on the Vedanta-sutra are concerned with liberation from the miseries of the material world. Does Srimad-Bhagavatam also describe liberation?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Since Srimad-Bhagavatam is the real commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, we find this verse describing liberation in this age:

kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet

In this Kali-yuga, which is an ocean full of faults, there is one benediction. What is that? One can become liberated simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. This is real vedanta, and actually it is happening.

Devotee: Are you saying that the conclusion of the Vedanta-sutra and the conclusion of the Srimad-Bhagavatam are one and the same—bhakti?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Devotee: But how does bhakti tie in to the conclusion of Vedantic knowledge or wisdom? Here it says that bhakti is the most suitable and easiest path of God realization, but it also says that the Vedantic teachings stress jnana, or knowledge. Is that a fact?

Srila Prabhupada: What is jnana? That is explained by Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita [7.19]: bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate. "After many, many births, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me." So unless one surrenders to Krsna, there is no jnana. This impersonalistic "jnana" is all nonsense. The impersonalists are passing themselves off as jnanis, but they have no knowledge at all. Vedanta means "the ultimate knowledge." So the subject matter of ultimate knowledge is Krsna, God. If one does not know who God is, who Krsna is, then where is one's knowledge? But if a rascal claims, "I am a man of knowledge," then what can be done?

In the same verse we just mentioned, Krsna concludes, vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah: "When one understands that Vasudeva, Krsna, is everything, one is in knowledge." Before that, there is no knowledge. It is simply misunderstanding. Brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti sabdyate. One may begin by searching out impersonal Brahman by the speculative method, and then one may progress to realization of Paramatma, the localized aspect of the Supreme. That is the secondary stage of realization. But the final stage is understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. So if you do not understand Krsna, where is your knowledge? Halfway knowledge is no knowledge. We want complete knowledge, and that complete knowledge is possible by the grace of Krsna, through Bhagavad-gita.

Devotee: Can I ask the next question, Srila Prabhupada? "Is a guru essential for one to enter the spiritual path and attain the goal? And how does one recognize one's guru?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a guru is necessary. That is explained in the Bhagavad-gita. When Krsna and Arjuna were talking as friends, there was no conclusion. Therefore Arjuna decided to accept Krsna as his guru. [To a devotee} Find out this verse: karpanya-dosopahata-svabhavah . . .

Devotee : [Reads]

prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam

"Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me." [Bg. 2.7]

Srila Prabhupada: Not only Arjuna but everyone is perplexed about his duty. Nobody can decide for himself. When a physician is seriously sick, he does not prescribe his own treatment. He knows his brain is not in order, so he calls for another physician. Similarly, when we are perplexed, bewildered, when we cannot reach any solution—at that time the right person to search out is the guru. It is essential; you cannot avoid it.

So, in our present state of existence we are all perplexed. And under the circumstances, a guru is required to give us real direction. Arjuna represents the perplexed materialistic person who surrenders to a guru. And to set the example Arjuna decided on Krsna as his guru. He did not go to anyone else. So the real guru is Krsna. Krsna Krishna is guru not only for Arjuna but for everyone. If we take instruction from Krsna and abide by that instruction, our life is successful. The mission of the Krsna consciousness movement is to get everyone to accept Krsna as guru. That is our mission. We don't say, "I am Krsna." We never say that. We simply ask people, "Please abide by the orders of Krsna."

Devotee: Some of these so-called gurus will say some things that Krsna says, but they'll give other instructions also. What is the position of such persons?

Srila Prabhupada: They are most dangerous. Most dangerous. They are opportunists. According to the customer, they give some teachings so he will be pleased. Such a person is not a guru; he's a servant. He wants to serve his so-called disciples so that they may be satisfied and pay him something. A real guru is not a servant of his disciples; he is their master. If one becomes a servant, if he wants to please the disciples by flattering them to get their money, then he is not a guru. A guru should also be a servant, yes—but a servant of the Supreme. The literal meaning of the word guru is "heavy"—heavy with knowledge and authority, because his knowledge and authority come from Krsna. You cannot utilize the guru for satisfying your whims.

Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." And we say the same thing:

"Surrender to Krsna. Give up all other ideas of so-called dharma, or religiosity." We don't say, "I am the authority." No, we say, "Krsna is the authority, and you should try to understand Krsna." This is the Krsna consciousness movement.

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Ticket to a World Without Death

An ancient science provides the
perfect vehicle for the ultimate journey.

by Giri-Yadava Dasa

If TWA were selling tickets for a flight to a newly discovered planet where no one grew old, no one suffered disease, and no one ever died, who wouldn't want to purchase a ticket to go there, at any cost?

We all long to live forever, but have you ever stopped to wonder why? If death is natural, why does everyone just as naturally try to avoid death?

In Bhagavad-gita, one of the Vedic literatures, the ancient Sanskrit texts of India, Lord Krsna addresses this very question: "For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He does not come to be, has not come to be, and will not come to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (Bg. 2.20)

The Vedic writings define God—or, more precisely, the Absolute Truth—as "that from which everything has emanated." God is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss, and we living entities, being part and parcel of God, have qualitative oneness with Him. As a drop of ocean water has the same qualities as the rest of the ocean but in a smaller quantity, we all have a minute quantity of God's qualities. Therefore, since God is eternal, we are also eternal, and thus we do not wish to die.

At the present moment, however, we are under the false impression that we are the temporary material body. Everyone is thinking, "I am Canadian," or "I am American," or "I am black," or "I am white," or "I am Christian," or "I am Hindu." In reality we, the eternal conscious self, have nothing to do with these temporary external identities. Lord Krsna elucidates this point in Bhagavad-gita (2.22): "As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones." To clarify this point further, let us consider the expression "This is my hand." The word my is a possessive pronoun denoting that the object, the hand, belongs to me. But let us reflect upon the word me. Who am I? I am obviously something other than my hand, because I am observing my hand. Then who am I? I am that which is aware, the conscious perceiver within the body: the self.

Now, the special facility we have in the human form of life is that we can realize our true self, understand the relationship between the individual self and the Supreme Self, and ultimately develop love for Him.

To achieve these goals, we must be trained by a self-realized person. Why people today refuse spiritual training has always puzzled me. To become an expert cook, painter, dancer, mechanic, technician, lawyer, or doctor, one must approach an experienced teacher and take instruction from him. Nevertheless, when it comes to the most important subject—the science of God realization—we stubbornly insist, "I don't need anyone's help." This false pride limits us to an incomplete understanding of the Absolute Truth. Because we are imperfect, our senses are limited, and we tend to make mistakes. How, then, can we possibly expect to attain liberation on our own? If I am bound hand and foot, how can I free myself? I need help from someone who is free.

Out of his causeless mercy and kindness, the Lord sends His ambassador, the liberated spiritual master. Though in the material world, he is not in material consciousness, because he is in constant touch with the Lord in his heart. Just as a fish in an aquarium is in a room but simultaneously in a world apart, the water, so the spiritual master is in this material world but simultaneously in a world apart—the kingdom of God.

If one takes shelter of the instructions of such a bona fide spiritual master, one's deliverance from the material world is guaranteed by Lord Krsna: "Just try to understand the truth by approaching a bona fide spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth." (Bg. 4.34)

The liberated, self-realized spiritual master is like the TWA airplane pilot who knows the bearings of the spiritual destination. The spiritual master, by imparting the knowledge contained in revealed scripture and by his own undaunted example, trains his disciples to render unconditional devotional service to Lord Krsna despite all material difficulties.

The Vedic literature declares that because God is absolute, there is no difference between the Lord and His name. In other words, one can associate with God by associating with His name. Thus the contamination of bodily misconceptions is cleansed away by the antiseptic power of associating with the Lord's holy name. This axiomatic principle is given in the Vedic literature, and those who are scientifically minded should make a spiritual experiment by chanting the Lord's holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama. Hare Hare. The Vedic literature recommends this chanting process as the most potent means of devotional service in this age.

Lord Krsna further reveals, "To those who are constantly devoted to Me and who worship Me with love, I give them the understanding by which they can come to Me. I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance."(Bg. 10.10-11)

Thus the disciple's genuinely humble service attitude brings him to the point of firm conviction and steadiness in devotional service. Next, his taste for chanting the Lord's holy name and glories increases. Then he comes to the stage of spontaneous service, and finally he reaches the culmination of spiritual life: devotional service in pure love of God.

If one stays aboard the airplane of devotional service, one is sure to reach his destination. "After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection." (Bg. 8.15) This process of devotional service is scientific and authorized because we receive it directly from Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita. We should not manufacture any new method; the old method is perfect.

Everyone who has stepped into the boxing ring of human life has been pulverized by the blows of death. Death is guaranteed. If there is even the slightest hope of escaping death and rebirth in this material world, why not take it? If your house is on fire and you see a door leading to safety, do you stop and look around for other possible exits? No! You take the first sure door to safety. That is intelligence.

Why not set aside your doubts (at least temporarily) and make a scientific spiritual experiment? Chant the Lord's holy names. What Ponce de Leon searched for and never found—the fountain of eternal youth—can be tasted by anyone who purchases the ticket of the nectarean names of Krsna.

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You Don't Need a Guru—or Do You?

Questions at Harvard Divinity School

Recently Professor Harvey Cox of Harvard University invited Subhananda dasa, a Hare Krsna devotee, to give three talks on the traditional role of the guru. Later the talking went on, between Professor Cox and his divinity students and their guest.

Student: The idea of "spiritual guide" or "spiritual master" is not exclusive to the Indian spiritual tradition, as you know. It's found, in varying degrees of formality, in a wide spectrum of religious and cultural contexts: the Christian abbot or prior, the Jewish rabbi, the Zen roshi, and so on. Yet most people in the West seem apprehensive about the idea of submission to a spiritual guide. Why would you say this is?

Subhananda dasa: It's due to a lack of interest in spiritual life. We live in a society that is materially oriented, so most people simply aren't interested. This lack of interest in spirituality comes from our modern skepticism—our disbelief in the very notion of an absolute, perfect Truth. Most people—if they have any interest in philosophy or religion at all—tend to be relativists: "Everyone has his own truth." So if there's really no ultimate, objective, absolute Truth—if all is relative and subjective—then the idea of a guru, one who teaches Truth, becomes meaningless. And so we view gurus as merely people propagating their own or someone else's relative concept of truth or reality.

Student: Also, most people are reluctant to accept the premise of human perfectibility. Even though there may be objective truth, they say, human nature is so terribly fallible—and therefore no one person can perceive truth in full.

Subhananda dasa: Yes. Absolute Truth, or God, appears so infinite, transcendent, or esoteric that it must be beyond our human powers to perceive it. So we think that no one can achieve perfect realization of Truth. We accept the idea of "teacher" only in a limited sense. One person, we think, may be able to tell us something of his own relative insights about relative truths. But anyone who reportedly possesses perfect knowledge of truth has to be immediately written off as a charlatan. We see this skepticism in the media's stereotypes—"the guru": a skinny old fellow wearing long flowing hair and a beard, dispensing cryptic aphorisms and cosmic riddles, and milking his followers for all they're worth.

Student: I think that—perhaps out of pride—some people dislike the very idea of submission.

Subhananda dasa: Yes. We'd rather be in the position of teacher than that of student. Submission to a teacher implies an admission that I need instruction and guidance. And this is humbling. Most of us will submit to another person for guidance only as a last resort, when all our own wisdom has failed.

Student: But then, we all know that authority figures can become corrupt. All of us have, I suppose, experienced disappointment with authority figures—parents, teachers, politicians, clergy. I think we're leery of any guru because he may be corrupt.

Subhananda dasa: Unfortunately, that fear is well founded. For every genuine guru, there are plenty of others who are not qualified, not genuine, whose motives are questionable. And for sure, some are outright charlatans and conmen. Often the problem is, "Power corrupts." And when a guru is invested, whether by tradition or by self-pronouncement, with absolute power, too often, "Absolute power corrupts absolutely." If a person's motives in becoming someone else's spiritual mentor are even slightly tainted with self-serving, quite likely he'll turn into an exploiter. So one has to be wary. There are bona fide gurus. But : to find a bona fide guru one has to be a genuine seeker.

Student: Why do so many people seem to fall in with gurus of such questionable qualifications or motives?

Subhananda dasa: It's because most self-styled seekers don't really want a genuine traditional guru. They don't want spiritual life strongly enough to make the necessary sacrifices. A genuine guru will require real personal surrender and real renunciation of worldliness. Most people simply don't want to go that far. They want a guru who will make few demands and provide a cheap artificial "high." Another thing is that hardly any gurus on the American scene talk about the traditional texts that provide criteria by which would-be followers could judge a teacher's authenticity. In many cases, I'm sure, the gurus do this quite consciously. Some teachers go so far as denying the importance of the traditional texts and arguing that they themselves can provide the spiritual experience that the scriptures can only describe. This is a ploy to save themselves from being exposed. The followers are left with no criteria for judging the authenticity of their guru—except, of course, the guru's own criteria. Anyone who knows the Indian spiritual tradition through the texts of the tradition can see through all this. But many followers are spiritually illiterate, ignorant of the depth and richness of the traditions their gurus claim to represent.

Under the banner of "experience" they imagine that analytical thinking is a waste of time—and so they have no grasp of any spiritual realities other than vague concepts like "the light," "the spirit," "love," "the One," and so on. You may consider this a bit of an exaggeration. If you do, go and see for yourselves. Talk with the followers of some gurus. You'll be surprised.

Student: I think what you've said about inauthentic gurus has been helpful. I'd like to hear you speak a little more about the concept of guru in the ideal, as articulated in your own tradition.

Subhananda dasa: Well, the basic thing about a guru is that he is fully conversant with the science of the Absolute Truth. Also, a genuine guru is a fully self-realized soul. He is free from illusion. He knows himself as an eternal, spiritual being, and thus he no longer identifies himself with materiality. He knows the Absolute Truth as the source and essence of everything. And his knowledge isn't theoretical or speculative; it's based on direct perception of reality. He experiences truth directly, not merely in theory. He isn't just a philosopher or theologian, but a mystic. He has experienced, and is experiencing, that of which he speaks.

And not only does the realized guru know the truth. He loves the truth. In its original sense, the term philosopher means "one who loves truth." So one might say that the spiritual master is the ideal philosopher. Nor is it a mere concept or idea, however grandiose or sublime, that he loves. It is the Personal Truth, God, who elicits his deepest devotional sentiments.

There are, of course, many interpretations of the nature and function of the guru, even within the Indian spiritual tradition. But rather than try to provide a survey, I'm speaking from the viewpoint of India's chief and most influential theistic tradition, that of Vaisnavism, represented by such seminal thinkers as Ramanuja, Madhva, and Sri Caitanya.

Student: Earlier you spoke of the guru's asceticism ...

Subhananda dasa: Yes. This is another classical characteristic of a genuine guru. He has renounced the desire for material acquisition and gratification. Because he is free of ahankara, false ego, he isn't physically or mentally self-indulgent. In other words, it's not enough for one to know oneself to be different from one's material body merely in theory. One has to understand his spiritual identity through direct realization.

And one who directly realizes his spiritual identity renounces those objects, those pleasures, that have to do with the temporal body. He realizes that just as the body is temporary, so its possessions and its pleasures are also temporary and therefore of no real, ultimate significance. Compared to the sublime pleasure he gets from his devotional service to Lord Krsna, all mundane pleasures appear dull and lifeless. This renunciation or asceticism can come only from real spiritual advancement. That's why Srila Rupa Gosvami tells us, "Only a spiritually advanced person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind's demands, the actions of anger, and the urges of the tongue, the belly, and the genitals is qualified to take the position of guru." If someone has taken the position of guru and yet we see he's still attached to materialism, this should give us pause.

Student: So practice is at least as important as precept?

Subhananda dasa: Yes. If the guru himself is not renounced—if he is still addicted to worldly activities and gratification—how will he succeed in freeing others from egoism and illusion? He himself must set the highest example. The guru is also called acarya—one who teaches by personal example. In other words, he himself lives by the knowledge he teaches. His actions, his words, his entire disposition reflect the sublime truth of which he speaks. His actions set an example for others to follow. His very presence can, if one is a little sensitive, soften the heart, elevate the feelings, and inspire sublime action.

Student: The qualifications for the guru that you've discussed so far—that he must be spiritually realized, that he must be materially renounced, and that he must set a high example—sound like general criteria for holiness. What uniquely distinguishes a person as a guru over and above a holy man?

Subhananda dasa: The obvious distinguishing factor is that the guru teaches. Not only is he a holy man, but he also makes others holy. This means compassion. He isn't content with his own spiritual advancement, liberation, or salvation. He desires these things for others. In fact, this compassion is the real symptom of spirituality.

It's important to note how the guru transmits knowledge to his disciple. There's a popular misconception that the guru's enlightenment of his disciple is a kind of magical feat whereby he magically injects spiritual knowledge into his disciple as if surcharging him with an electrical current. In reality, the guru explains everything to the disciple in accordance with logic and reason, as well as scriptural authority and tradition.

Student: Earlier, you were speaking about how to be sure of the validity of the knowledge the guru teaches, and you were tying that in with historical disciplic succession.

Subhananda dasa: This is a crucial point. There has to be a test for validity. Nowadays, everyone considers himself a guru, in the sense that everyone instinctively assumes that he's seeing things as they really are. We draw upon the vast and murky data of our ordinary daily sense perceptions and mental impressions, and we form broad conclusions about the nature of things. But because one person's sensory and mental impressions differ vastly from any other person's, we come to vastly differing conclusions. A multitude of individuals, a multitude of weltanschauungs. We all think we're our own guru. But clearly anyone who thinks he's his own guru has a fool for a disciple.

The idea of a guru presumes the existence, the reality, of perfect objective knowledge—knowledge that can be directly perceived, if only we have the eyes to see it. Within the broad tradition that I'm taking part in, perfect and infallible knowledge is called veda—divine, eternal wisdom, preserved through oral tradition and later compiled in the form of the Vedic scriptures. Traditionally, Vedic knowledge is transmitted through what is called parampara, disciplic succession. The knowledge is carefully preserved and passed down from master to disciple, generation after generation. In other words, the guru. has the sacred duty to transmit Vedic knowledge as it is, without subjective taint or speculative interpretation.

Professor Cox: I'd like to raise in a friendly way what I think might be an interesting contrast—not in this case, I think, between the Hindu tradition and the Christian, but between what might be referred to as the lineage and the antilineage elements within any particular religious tradition. I think that in Christianity one finds examples of both lineage and antilineage, or disciplic and antidisciplic, understandings. There's the concept of apostolic succession, which the Pope is said to represent, and many churches are based on this notion of disciplic succession.

There are, however, and I think also stemming from Jesus, antilineage, anti-disciplic visions of truth. The underlying thought here is that a lineage can become corrupt and often is corrupt. In fact, many of them have within their very structure the possibility of corruption. And therefore God sometimes appears in human society as a critic of lineage rather than its perpetuator. When Jesus criticizes the existing lineage of his time, he says, "You say you have Abraham as your father, but I tell you that God is able to raise up out of the stones children of Abraham." He affiliates himself with John the. Baptist, who founded what you might call an antilineage movement. And also, interestingly enough, we have the example of St. Paul, who was a kind of epitome in the early Christian period of the antilineage disciplic notion. That is, he had a direct revelation from God and Christ and carefully did not seek legitimization from the early disciples. So, maybe you'd like to respond to this theme—the tension between the disciplic transmission and the ... let's call it the charismatic or visionary revelation of truth, which is often antidisciplic.

Subhananda dasa: You're certainly correct in pointing out that a lineage can and does become corrupt. Lineages become weak or cease to function altogether. Religious history provides many examples of this, for sure. But it is important to understand Vaisnava disciplic succession as not merely historical but revelatory. That is, it by no. means precludes charismatic or visionary revelation of truth. Succession does not necessarily imply merely mechanical transmission of dogma. The guru is no mere pedantic functionary. With each link in the disciplic .chain, the eternal Vedic knowledge comes to life. It becomes real and dynamic through the guru's own spiritual vitality. He realizes truth and he transmits the fruits of that realization, including the very process through which his disciple can himself achieve realization. Krsna tells Arjuna in the Gita, "The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth." It is further understood that the Lord, in His form as the indwelling witness and guide, the Supersoul, the Paramatma, is forever revealing spiritual understanding within the heart of His pure devotee. So disciplic succession is a revelatory function, although that function remains intact only so long as the links of the chain are strong.

But, because for one reason or another a disciplic succession may be corrupted or lose its spiritual vitality, God will intercede, either personally or through an agent. You gave the example of Jesus Christ, who criticized the lineage existing in his time. But it seems to me that what he was criticizing was not the notion of lineage per se, but the corruption of lineage, or the decadence or misuse of lineage, or simply the limitations of a particular lineage. Catholics, at any rate, would argue that Jesus himself established a new lineage, that of the apostolic succession, although, as you imply, Protestant thinking would tend to be antilineage in that respect. In Vaisnava understanding, the Lord can and does intercede historically when a tradition has been corrupted or lost, or is in need of revitalization. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna Himself explained to Arjuna that with the ancient disciplic succession now broken, the eternal science of yoga had become lost, and therefore it was necessary for Him to personally present again this science to His disciple, Arjuna, through the Gita. Disciplic successions can degrade into archaic orthodoxy, but they don't have to.

Student: If the guru is primarily a transmitter of Vedic knowledge, can't one simply guide one's life in terms of that scriptural knowledge, without having to associate himself with a guru? Why can't one deal directly with the scripture?

Subhananda dasa: Adherence to Vedic scripture without the direct, practical guidance of a spiritual master is insufficient for spiritual advancement for a few reasons. First, Vedic literature describes the Absolute Truth from various angles and prescribes a variety of paths to that Truth. The spiritual master knows the particular mentality of each disciple and instructs him personally, in a manner appropriate to his mentality. The example is given that a pharmacy may contain thousands of medicines, but one requires a doctor who can prescribe the appropriate medicine for the particular ailment. Second, the spiritual aspirant benefits from the personal example of a perfected soul. Because the guru personally exemplifies Vedic wisdom, that wisdom becomes a tangible, real thing for the disciple.

Further, it's not by the disciple's own efforts, in the ultimate sense, that he advances on the spiritual path. It is by divine grace. The Lord's blessings are delivered by the Lord's representative, the spiritual master. A verse in the Svetasvatara Upanisad states, "Only unto those great souls who simultaneously have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of the Vedic knowledge automatically revealed."

Student: I wonder if you could explain again the guru's emissary function—what you referred to as his being an "external manifestation" of God?

Subhananda dasa: The authentic guru is God's representative. He acts as the intermediary between the spiritual aspirant and God. The guru does not obstruct the soul's approach to God. He facilitates it. While under the influence of maya, illusion, the unaided soul can neither perceive nor approach God directly. He makes this approach through the spiritual master. The disciple sees God, you might say, through his spiritual master—and this vision is really still direct. You may view a tree through your bedroom window, but your perception of the tree is still direct. What this means is that the guru must be "transparent"—a transparent medium for the disciple's approach to God. The guru doesn't take the disciple's worship as his own, but he passes it on to God. God appears, as it were, through the agency of the guru to liberate the seeking soul. (To be continued.)

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The Biography of a Pure Devotee

A Refuge For The Hippies

Winter-spring, 1967: San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. "It was like opening a temple in a battlefield."

by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami

Srila Prabhupada had come to San Francisco from New York just when the hippie movement was reaching its height. Now he found that his small temple on Frederick Street, in the heart of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, was becoming a spiritual haven for troubled, searching, and sometimes desperate young people.

Prabhupada's thoughtful followers felt that some of the candidates for initiation in San Francisco did not intend to fulfill the exclusive lifelong commitment a disciple owes to his guru. "Swamiji," they would say, "some of these people come only for their initiation. We have never seen them before, and we never see them again." Srila Prabhupada replied that that was the risk he had to take. One day in a lecture in the temple, he explained that although the reactions for a disciple's past sins are removed at initiation, the spiritual master remains responsible until the disciple is delivered from the material world. Therefore, he said, Lord Caitanya warned that a guru should not accept many disciples.

One night in the temple during the question-and-answer session, a big, bearded fellow raised his hand and asked Prabhupada, "Can I become initiated?"

The brash public request annoyed some of Prabhupada's followers, but Prabhupada was serene. "Yes," he replied. "But first you must answer two questions. Who is Krsna?"

The boy thought for a moment and said, "Krsna is God."

"Yes," Prabhupada replied. "And who are you?"

Again the boy thought for a few moments and then replied, "I am the servant of God."

"Very good," Prabhupada said. "Yes, you can be initiated tomorrow."

Srila Prabhupada knew that it would be difficult for his Western disciples to stick to Krsna consciousness and attain the goal of pure devotional service. All their lives they had had the worst of training, and despite their nominal Christianity and philosophical searching, most of them knew nothing of the science of God. They did not even know that illicit sex and meat-eating were wrong, although when he told them they accepted what he said. And they freely chanted Hare Krsna. So how could he refuse them?

Of course, whether they would be able to persevere in Krsna consciousness de-spite the ever-present attractions of maya would be seen in time. Some would fall—that was the human tendency. But some would not. At least those who sincerely followed his instructions to chant Hare Krsna and avoid sinful activities would be successful. Somehow or other, Srila Prabhupada would say, people should be engaged in Krsna consciousness. And this was the instruction of Lord Caitanya's chief follower, Rupa Gosvami, who had written, tasmat kenapy upayena manah krsne nivesayet. . . : "Somehow or other, fix the mind on Krsna; the rules and regulations can come later."

Inherent in this attitude of Srila Prabhupada's and Srila Rupa Gosvami's was a strong conviction about the purifying force of the holy name; if engaged in chanting Hare Krsna, even the most fallen person could gradually become a saintly devotee. Srila Prabhupada would often quote a verse from Srimad-Bhagavatam affirming that persons addicted to sinful acts could be purified by taking shelter of the devotees of the Lord. He knew that every Haight-Ashbury hippie was eligible to receive the mercy of the holy name, and he saw it as his duty to his spiritual master to distribute the gift of Krsna consciousness freely, rejecting no one.

The morning and evening kirtana (chanting) had already made the Radha-Krsna temple popular in Haight-Ashbury, but when the devotees began serving a daily free lunch, the temple became an integral part of the community. Prabhupada told his disciples simply to cook and distribute prasadam—that would be their only activity during the day. In the morning they would cook, and at noon they would feed everyone who came—sometimes 150 or 200 hippies from the streets of Haight-Ashbury.

Before the morning kirtana, the girls would put oatmeal on the stove, and by breakfast there would be a roomful of hippies, most of whom had been up all night. The cereal and fruit was for some the first solid food in days.

But the main program was the lunch. Malati would go out and shop, getting donations whenever possible, for wholewheat flour, garbanzo flour, split peas, rice, and whatever vegetables were cheap or free: potatoes, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, beets. Then every day the cooks would prepare spiced mashed potatoes, buttered capatis, split-pea dal, and a vegetable dish—for two hundred people. The lunch program was possible because many merchants were willing to donate to the recognized cause of feeding hippies.

Harsarani: The lunch program attracted a lot of the Hippie Hill crowd, who obviously wanted food. They were really hungry. And there were other people who would come also, people who were working with the temple but weren't initiated. The record player would be playing the Swamiji's record. It was a nice family atmosphere.

Haridasa: The people would just all huddle together, and we would really line them wall to wall. A lot of them would simply eat and leave. But we were welcoming everybody. We were providing a kind of refuge from the tumult and madness of the street scene. So it was in that sense a hospital, and I think a lot of people were helped and maybe even saved. I don't mean only their souls—I mean their minds and bodies were saved, because of what was going on in the streets that they just simply couldn 't handle. I'm talking about overdoses of drugs, people who were plain lost and needed comforting and who sort of wandered or staggered into the temple. Some of them stayed and became devotees, and some just took prasadam and left. Daily we had unusual incidents, and Swamiji witnessed it and took part in it. The lunch program was his idea.

Larry Shippen: Some of the community of loose people cynically took advantage of the free food. They didn't appreciate the Swami, because they said he was, in his own way, an orthodox minister and they were much more interested in being unorthodox, it was a fairly cynical thing.

Those who were more interested and had questions—the spiritual seekers—would visit Swamiji in his room. Many of them would come in complete anxiety over the war in Vietnam or whatever was going on—trouble with the law, bad experiences on drugs, a falling out with school or family.

There was much public concern about the huge influx of youth into San Francisco, a situation that was creating an almost uncontrollable social problem. Police and welfare workers were worried about health problems and poor living conditions, especially in Haight-Ashbury. Some middle-class people feared a complete hippie take over. The local authorities welcomed the service offered by Swami Bhaktivedanta's temple.

Master Subramuniya: The young people at that time were searching and needed somebody of a very high caliber who would take an interest in them and who would say, "You should do this, and you should not do that." The consensus was that no one could tell the young people what to do, because they were completely out of hand with drugs and so forth. But Swamiji told them what to do, and they did it. And everyone was appreciative, especially the young people.

Harsarani: Just from a medical standpoint, doctors didn't know what to do with people on LSD. The police and the free clinics in the area couldn't handle the overload of people taking LSD. The police saw Swamiji as a certain refuge.

Michael Bowen: Bhaktivedanta had an amazing ability through devotion to get people off drugs, especially speed, heroin, burnt-out LSD cases—all of that.

Haridasa: The hippies needed all the help they could get, and they knew it. And the Radha-Krsna temple was certainly a kind of spiritual haven. Kids sensed it. They were running, living on the streets, no place where they could go, where they could rest, where people weren't going to hurt them. A lot of kids would literally fall into the temple. I think it saved a lot of lives; there might have been a lot more casualties if it hadn't been for Hare Krsna. It was like opening a temple in a battlefield. It was the hardest place to do it, but it was the place where it was most needed. Although the Swami had no precedents for dealing with any of this, he applied the chanting with miraculous results. The chanting was wonderful. It worked.

Srila Prabhupada knew that only Krsna consciousness could help. Others had their remedies, but Prabhupada considered them mere patchwork. He knew that ignorantly identifying the self with the body was the real cause of suffering. How could someone help himself, what to speak of others, if he didn't know who he was, if he didn't know that the body merelly covered the real self, the spirit soul, which could be happy only in his original nature as an eternal servant of Krsna?

Understanding that Lord Krsna considered anyone who approached Him a virtuous person and that even a little devotional service would never be lost and could save a person at the time of death, Srila Prabhupada had opened his door to everyone, even the most abject runaway. But for a lost soul to receive the balm of Krsna consciousness, he would first have to stay awhile and chant, inquire, listen and follow.

As Alien Ginsberg had advised five thousand hippies at the Avalon Ballroom, the early-morning kirtana at the temple provided a vital community service for those who were coming down from LSD and wanted "to stabilize their consciousness on reentry."

On occasion, the "reentries" would come flying in out of control for crash landings in the middle of the night. One morning at two a.m. the boys sleeping in the storefront were awakened by a pounding at the door, screaming, and police lights. When they opened the door, a young hippie with wild red hair and beard plunged in, crying, "O Krsna, Krsna! Oh, help me! Oh, don't let them get me. Oh, for God's sake, help!"

A policeman stuck his head in the door and smiled. "We decided to bring him by here," he said, "because we thought maybe you guys could help him."

"I'm not comfortable in this body!" the boy screamed as the policeman shut the door. The boy began chanting furiously and turned white, sweating profusely in terror. Swamiji's boys spent the rest of the early morning consoling him and chanting with him until the Swami came down for kirtana and class.

As for challengers, almost every night someone would come to argue with Prabhupada. One man came regularly with prepared arguments from a philosophy book, from which he would read aloud. Prabhupada would defeat him, and the man would go home, prepare another argument, and come back again with his book. One night, after the man had presented his challenge, Prabhupada simply looked at him without bothering to reply. Prabhupada's neglect was another defeat for the man, who got up and left.

One morning a couple attended the lecture, a woman carrying a child and a man wearing a backpack. During the question-and-answer period the man asked,"What about my mind?" Prabhupada gave him philosophical replies, but the man kept repeating, "What about my mind? What about my mind?"

With a pleading, compassionate look, Prabhupada said, "I have no other medicine. Please chant this Hare Krsna. I have no other explanation. I have no other answer."

But the man kept talking about his mind. Finally, one of the women devotees interrupted and said, "Just do what he says. Just try it." And Prabhupada picked up his karatalas and began kirtana.

One evening while Prabhupada was sitting on his dais, lecturing to a full house, a fat girl who had been sitting on the window seat suddenly stood up and began hollering at him. "Are you just going to sit there?" she yelled. "What are you going to do now? Come on! Aren't you going to say something? What are you going to do now? Who are you?" Her action was so sudden and her speech so violent that no one in the temple responded. Unangered, Prabhupada sat very quietly. He appeared hurt. Only the devotees sitting closest to him heard him say softly, as if to himself, "It is the darkest of darkness."

Another night while Prabhupada was lecturing, a boy came up and sat on the dais beside him. The boy faced out toward the audience and interrupted Prabhupada: "I got something to say. I want to say what I have to say now." The devotees in the audience looked up, astonished, while the boy began talking incoherently.

Then Prabhupada picked up his karatalas: "All right, let us have kirtana." The boy sat in the same place throughout the kirtana, looking crazily, sometimes menacingly, at Prabhupada. After half an hour the kirtana stopped.

Prabhupada cut an apple into small pieces, as was his custom. He then placed the paring knife and a piece of apple in his right hand and held his hand out to the boy. The boy looked at Prabhupada, then down at the apple and the knife. The room became silent. Prabhupada sat motionless, smiling slightly at the boy. After a long, tense moment, the boy reached out. A sigh rose from the audience as the boy chose the piece of apple from Prabhupada's open hand.

Haridasa: I used to watch how Swamiji would handle things. It wasn't easy. To me, that was a real test of his powers and understanding—how to handle these people, not to alienate or antagonize or stir them up to create more trouble. He would turn their energy so that before they knew it they were calm, like when you pat a baby and it stops crying. Swamiji had a way of doing that with words, with the intonation of his voice, with his patience to let them carry on for a certain period of time, let them work it out, act it out even. I guess he realized that the devotees just couldn't say, "Listen, when you come to the temple you can't behave this way." It was a delicate situation there.

Often someone would say, "I am God." They would get an insight or hallucination from their drugs. They would try to steal the spotlight. They wanted to be heard, and you could feel an anger against the Swami from people like that. Sometimes they would speak inspired and poetic for a while, but they couldn't sustain it, and their speech would become gibberish. And the Swami was not one to simply pacify people. He wasn 't going to coddle them. He would say, "What do you mean? If you are God, then you have to be all-knowing. You have to have the attributes of God. Are you omniscient and omnipotent?" He would then name all the characteristics that one would have to have to be an avatara, to be God. He would rationally prove the person wrong. He had superior knowledge, and he would rationally explain to them, "If you are God, can you do this? Do you have this power?"

Sometimes people would take it as a challenge and would try to have a verbal battle with the Swami. The audience's attention would then swing to the disturbing individual, the person who was grabbing the spotlight. Sometimes it was very difficult. I used to sit there and wonder, "How is he going to handle this guy? This one is really a problem. " But Swamiji was hard to defeat. Even if he couldn't convince the person, he convinced the other people in the crowd so that the energy of the room would change and would tend to quiet the person. Swamiji would win the audience by showing them that this person didn't know what he was talking about.

So Swamiji would remove the audience rather than the person. He would do it without crushing the person. He would do it by superior intelligence, but also with a lot of compassion. He had the sensitivity not to injure a person psychologically or emotionally, so that when the person sat down and shut up, he wouldn't be doing it in defeat or anger—he wouldn't be hurt. He would just be outwitted by the Swami. When I saw the Swami do these things, then I realized he was a great teacher and a great human being.

(To be continued.)

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Srila Prabhupada : A Modern Saint

Among the hippies in San Francisco were many young people who were sincerely searching for spiritual enlightenment—and who found it when they met His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

As recently as 1965, Srila Prabhupada, at age 69, had been living as a renounced ascetic in the holy town of Vrndavana, India, where he was regarded as a pure, saintly devotee of Lord Krsna. He had lived there in simple quarters in a famous medieval temple, working tirelessly to translate ancient Sanskrit scriptures into English.

In 1921, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master had requested him to spread the science of Krsna consciousness in the West. So in 1965, after a lifetime of preperation, Srila Prabhupada had come to America to do it.

In the whole history of Indian spiritual life, no one had ever attempted something as bold and seemingly impossible—to transform Westerners into full-fledged devotees of Lord Krsna. But by his intense spiritual energy and compassion Srila Prabhupada was successful beyond his own expectations, thus earning recognition as a great spiritual figure of the modern age.

In the Encyclopedia Brittanica Book of the Year for 1975 we read "His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada astonished academic and literary communities worldwide by writing and publishing 52 books on the ancient Vedic culture. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness which he had established in 1966, had expanded by the end of 1975 to seventy eight temples on 5 continents."

But in 1966, when Srila Prabhupada had come to San Francisco, he had brought only himself. It was by his own qualities of spiritual warmth, humor, mercy, knowledge, friendliness, and love that Srila Prabhupada had charmed and won over the hippies of the Haight.

One of Srila Prabhupada's early disciples, Mukunda dasa, tells how it was in San Francisco. We would just say to people. " You have to come and meet the Swami. They would come, and their lives would be transformed in some way, great or small."

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ISKCON's Anti-Drug Programs Win Worldwide Praise

From it's very beginning, the International Society for Krishna Conciousness has been active in helping young people from becoming free from drug abuse. Through a well structured program including a Vegetarian diet, yoga techniques, and meditation on the Hare Krsna mantra, ISKCON has succeeded in giving thousands of young people the self-confidence and inner satisfaction that enable them to willingly reject all forms of intoxication. Here are a few of the many appreciations ISKCON has received for its work.

"Krishna consciousness is close to 100% successful in stopping drug use among those who voluntarily enter the program"—Addictions Magazine, Washington, D.C, Area Council on Alchoholism & Drug Abuse, Inc.

"Mayor Lindsay is most appreciative of the work that your Society is doing, especially in the realm of combating drug addtiction"—Woody Klein, Press Secretary, Office of the Mayor, City of New York.

"The combination of our medical care and the spiritual care from the Hare Krsna philosophy has resulted in a very powerful tool indeed for the treatment of drug addiction, and for this we are very greatful"—Fraser McDonald, Medical Superintendent, Carrington Hospital, Auckland, New Zealand.

"You have done good work in establishing a workable alternative to the problem of drug addiction and alienation."—Morris Jeff, New Orleans Welfare Director.

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We welcome your letters. Write to
51 West Allens Lane
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119

Once again, your latest edition of BACK TO GODHEAD was a smasher. I read it through with tear-filled eyes. Especially, the article "Impressions of India" was a most moving and accurate account of "Indian" attitudes toward life.

Although an Indian myself, I've never been to India and yet I hope to go (I'm just 18). The spirit within me pulls me strongly toward India, not because it is "my" country but because Krsna, the essence of life itself, is perfectly understood in that country, where so much time and energy are spent for Him even now. Please don't misunderstand me when I say "perfectly understood." Of course not everyone in India understands Krsna, but practically everyone at least makes an effort to understand Him.

I have a question. Since we are all part and parcel of Sri Krsna, why were we separated from Him in the first place? In the beginning, why did God create the universe—and then separate the souls and let them loose in the material world?

Once again, thanks for your wonderful magazine. It helps me dream of a time when all the world will be at peace, there will be no cow-slaughtering, no nuclear horrors or political haggling or wars—just a little piece of land for everyone, a few cows, and the Hare Krsna mantra to chant!

Arti P. London, England

Krsna has complete independence, and because we are small parts of Krsna, we have partial independence. That independence consists of the freedom to choose whether or not we want to serve Krsna. Most living entities eternally serve Krsna, and they are ever-liberated souls who reside in the spiritual world. But a small number of us misuse our independence by choosing to neglect Krsna rather than serve Him. Instead of desiring to give enjoyment to Krsna, we desire to be the center of enjoyment ourselves. In this way we separate ourselves from Krsna, by our own desires. Because all living beings are constitutionally Krsna's servants, our desire to enjoy separately from Krsna is unnatural. Nonetheless, when we want to enjoy in this way, Krsna Himself reluctantly fulfills our desires by placing us in the illusion that we are fully independent and can do whatever we like. The Lord creates the material universe to provide a place where those of us who want to forget Him can seemingly do as we please, without Krsna consciousness. But for our benefit the Lord gives us His instructions in the Vedic literature and sends us His representatives, the pure devotees, to try to persuade us to give up our separatist mentality and return to our natural position as His servants. Separation from Krsna is only an illusion, but we are now in that illusion, because we desire it. As soon as we desire to be Krsna conscious, Krsna withdraws that illusion and helps us make progress back to our real life of devotional service in eternity, knowledge, and bliss.

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Every Town and Village

A look at the worldwide activities of the
International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)

Hare Krishna—You Can Look It Up

Hare Krishna is now a dictionary word. While browsing through the most recent edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language, we were pleased to find this entry: "Hare Krishna. A religious sect based on Vedic scriptures, whose followers engage in joyful congregational chanting of God's name: founded in the U.S. in 1966. [from part of the chant]"

Of course. Hare Krishna was part of the Sanskrit lexicon before English even existed. But in the short time since His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Hare Krishna to the West, these ancient Sanskrit words have become an accepted part of the modern English language.

"Desire Tree" Offers Japanese the Fruit of Vedic Knowledge

Tokyo—The Japanese branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has just published the first full-color Krsna-conscious magazine in Japanese. Called Nozomi no ki (Desire Tree), the twenty-four-page magazine contains articles on Buddhism (and its roots in Vedic culture), reincarnation, and chanting Hare Krsna .

100,000 in Gujarat Inaugurate Cultural Project

Baroda, India—The Hare Krsna movement has begun constructing a new cultural center in the heart of Baroda, an elegant old city in Gujarat (a state on India's west coast that is home for more than five million devotees of Lord Krsna). The center, situated on five acres of land, will include a Radha-Krsna temple surrounded by a tropical garden, a theater, a restaurant, a guesthouse, an asrama, and a guru-kula school for primary education. More than 100,000 guests attended the three-day festival to dedicate the project, which the movement plans to complete by 1985.

Vedic Culture Now Taught in German University Town

Heidelberg, West Germany—Nestled in the green valleys along the River Neckar, the town of Heidelberg, famous as a center of education since medieval times, has now added a new feature to its long cultural tradition: The Center for Vedic Studies.

Just a fifteen-minute walk from the university, the Center is the Hare Krsna movement's way of presenting the ancient philosophical, cultural, and religious experience of India to Heidelberg's residents and visitors who have an educated interest—or just simple curiosity.

The Center sponsors films, slide presentations, art exhibits, lectures on Vedic philosophy, and a daily program of lunch, devotional music, and brief talks about the Vedic experience. The Center also includes a shopping annex, offering Indian clothes, handicrafts, and devotional items, and it houses the publishing offices for the German-language counterpart of back to godhead.

Hare Krsna In the Holy Land

Haifa, Israel—The Hare Krsna movement now has a rural asrama near this Israeli port and industrial center. The ten-acre community, called Neve Hemed, "the Oasis of Sweetness," lies in Israel's most fertile valley, the Emeq Yisrael, and is surrounded by many kibbutzim (communal farms).

Rockefeller Praises Work of Krsna Devotee

Wheeling, West Virginia—Jay Rockefeller, Governor of West Virginia, recently came to the Wheeling Civic Center to dedicate two historical murals, one of them painted by Muralidhara dasa, a devotee of Krsna. Appreciating Muralidhara's work, which the Governor praised as "beautiful" and "extraordinary," the Wheeling newspaper said that the Ohio Valley (of which Wheeling is a part) is "fortunate to have an individual of his caliber." Muralidhara is the artistic director for Prabhupada's Palace of Gold, the Hare Krsna movement's memorial to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at the nearby New Vrindaban Community. Muralidhara donated for the Palace the $5,000 fee he received for the mural.

150,000 Celebrate "Festival of the Chariots"

Bombay—The Hare Krsna movement recently sponsored Bombay's first Jagannatha Ratha-yatra, "The Festival of the Chariots." Some 150,000 people took part in the eight-mile procession from Shivaji Park to Chowpatty Beach, where the movement held a week-long festival of Hare Krsna chanting, devotional dramas, lectures on Krsna conscious philosophy, and feasting on food offered to Lord Jagannatha—Krsna, Lord of the Universe.

Krsna Philosophy "En Espanol"

Los Angeles—The Spanish Division of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has now shipped more than fourteen million Spanish books of Krsna conscious philosophy and culture to sixteen countries, including Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Last year alone, the division printed more than 2,700,000 books. Among the books in print are illustrated hardbound editions of Bhagavad-gita As It Is and the multi-volume Srimad-Bhagavatam, as well as numerous paperbacks.

Indian Associations Award Drama Prize To Hare Krsna Troupe

New York City—A drama troupe from the Hare Krsna movement recently won first prize at an Indian drama festival held at the Columbia University School of International Affairs. The troupe, the Brijbasi Players, came from the movement's New Vrindaban community in West Virginia. They performed a dramatization from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, an ancient Indian classic that is one of the movement's principal scriptures. The festival was sponsored by the Federation of Indian Associations.

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The Yoga Dictionary

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 Englisth terms) and explain what they mean.

Atma.The word atma means "self." The atma is what we really are, as distinct from what we falsely think we are. Generally we think of ourselves in terms of the various labels we've pinned on ourselves or had pinned on us—American, English, Christian, Hindu, white, black, liberal, conservative, father, mother, Jones, Smith, or whatever. But these are only temporary tags. Time unpins them and replaces them with new ones. After all, the label, is different from the merchandise.

Therefore, although atma sometimes refers to one's temporary body, mind, or intelligence, the atma is ultimately the eternal consciousness (the spirit, or soul) that is present within the body of every living being. This atma—higher than the senses, the mind, and even the intelligence—is most mysterious and subtle. The Bhagavad-gita describes it in this way: "For the atma there is neither birth nor death at any time. He does not come to be, has not come to be, and will not come to be. He is unborn, eternal, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain. . . .The atma can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. This individual atma is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable, and eternally the same."

One who realizes this eternal atma within himself—that is, one who recognizes himself to be the eternal consciousness or soul within the body—becomes a perfectly self-realized person. There are innumerable atmas, all in essence the same yet each eternally distinct. And above all these atmas is the Paramatma, or supreme atma—God. God, too, is distinct from all other living beings, and this distinction is eternal. God, the supreme infinite, is the complete spiritual whole, and all other living beings are infinitesimal parts of God. A living being can never "become God" any more than a drop of water can become the entire ocean.

Avatara. An avatara is an incarnation of God who descends to the material world. As the president of a country may enter a prison to oversee its management or bestow clemency on prisoners, the Supreme Lord, from time to time, enters the material world to oversee the workings of the material creation and bestow His mercy on fortunate souls.

The purpose or mission of avataras is explained in a famous passage from Bhagavad-gita in which Lord Krsna says, "Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice and a predominant rise of irreligion—at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear, millennium after millennium."

Although the Supreme Lord eternally resides in His own abode, beyond the material world. He has the power to appear within the material world. He can do this by His spiritual potency. The Lord is beyond the restrictions of time and space. An ordinary living being can work in only one place at any one time, but the Lord, by His unlimited spiritual capabilities, can appear in many places simultaneously, in an unlimited number of forms, and perform unlimited activities.

An avatara may resemble an ordinary human being, but He performs extraordinary acts. Lord Krsna, for example, lifted a mountain when a mere child, killed demons like Putana and Kamsa, and gave the world the immortal teachings of Bhagavad-gita. An ordinary person is born by the force of nature, according to the laws of karma, but God's birth as an avatara takes place by His own choice, as a supernatural event, transcendental to nature's laws. As stated in Bhagavad-gita, one who understands the transcendental birth and activities of the Lord's avatara becomes free from birth and death and returns to the kingdom of God in the spiritual world.

The genuine avataras of the Lord are all described in revealed scriptures, which give details of the avatara's physical appearance and His specific activities and purpose. An avatara never invents a new method of self-realization, but upholds the eternal methods set forth in authentic scriptures. One whose teachings contradict those of the scriptures cannot be a genuine avatara.

One should be wary of fraudulent incarnations—cheap self-proclaimed Gods who preach their own concocted philosophies, imitate the Supreme Lord, and swindle the naive. Recent years have seen such frauds in abundance, and people who lack scientific knowledge of God consciousness offer them honor. Scientific knowledge about God and His avataras is at hand in Bhagavad-gita, and one who understands the science of Bhagavad-gita will not be cheated. One should not be gullible. The president may enter a prison to favor the inmates, but it's useless to seek favors from a prisoner who claims to be president.

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A Dialogue on "The Ghost in the Machine"

Is the existence of the soul merely a myth propagated by fuzzy-minded fanatics—or a fact verifiable by a nonmechanistic science?

By Sadaputa Dasa

The prevailing view among modern scientists is that a human being is in essence a complex machine. According to this view, our life and consciousness have their source in the interactions of our bodily parts—neurons in the brain, organelles in the cells, and so on. Mechanistic scientists scoff at the idea that a transcendental entity—the self, or soul—could be the source of life and consciousness. "The ghost in the machine" is a favorite epithet they use to turn thumbs down on the idea of the soul and attempt to dismiss it from serious consideration.

What follows is an excerpt from Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, a forthcoming book that explores in depth the question of the origin and nature of life and consciousness. Dr. Avaroha expresses the views of the author; Drs. Kutark and Shunya are composite characters who express views widely held by members of the modern scientific community.

Dr. Avaroha: The Bhagavad-gita states that each individual organism consists of an irreducible conscious entity riding in a physical body composed of gross material elements. The body is insentient—a complicated machine, according to Bhagavad-gita [18.61]. In contrast, the conscious entity, or jivatma, is the actual sentient self of the living being, and it cannot be explained in mechanistic terms [Bg. Ch. 2]. Each jivatma possesses all the attributes of a person, including consciousness, intelligence, and innate sensory faculties. These attributes cannot be reduced to the interplay of some underlying impersonal entities that we might hope to describe by a mechanistic theory. In a sense, we can compare the jivatmas to the hypothetical fundamental particles sought by physicists. Just as these particles are envisioned as having certain irreducible material properties, the jivatmas can be thought of as fundamental units of conscious personality endowed with certain irreducible personal traits.

Dr. Kutark: So you are proposing a theory that features a transcendental soul as a primitive element. A priori, I suppose there's no reason why we can't propose such a thing. But are there any experiments proving the existence of the soul?

Dr. Avaroha: To answer this question, let's consider how physical experiments are conducted. In physics we can show that an entity exists only by performing an experiment that takes advantage of that entity's mode of interaction with other matter. Take for example the cloud-chamber tracks made by charged particles such as electrons. These tracks result from the ionization of atoms near the path of the particle, and this ionization is caused by the electromagnetic interaction between the particle and the electrons in the atoms. Neutral particles do not interact in this way and thus leave no tracks. The neutrino, for example, is famous for interacting with matter in a very weak way—by what is known as the weak force, in fact—and thus it is very hard to detect experimentally.

Dr. Kutark: So to detect the soul in an experiment we would have to take advantage of the soul's particular mode of interaction with matter. That's reasonable. But what is that mode of interaction? At present, physicists know of four basic types of forces: strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational. You are suggesting, I gather, that the soul does not interact in any of these modes?

Dr. Avaroha: That's correct, and so we can't hope to detect the presence of the jivatma directly with any of our usual physical instruments. The jivatma does interact with matter, but in a very indirect and subtle way. As a result of the jivatma's primary interaction, secondary electromagnetic interactions are induced in the body, and these affect the nervous system in particular [Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.26.34]. These electromagnetic effects are detectable in principle, but they are very complex. Therefore, it would be very difficult to unambiguously single out the influence of the jivatma on the body by analyzing physical measurements.

Dr. Shunya: This makes it seem very implausible that you could ever verify the existence of this hypothetical jivatma. But I would like to make another, more fundamental point. Suppose you could demonstrate from experimental data that some new fundamental law of nature was needed to explain the functioning of the brain. A theory incorporating this law would still be mechanistic. All our scientific statements—and, in fact, all valid statements of any kind—refer to patterns in measured data, and they are therefore necessarily mechanistic, even though we may not always try to express them in formal mathematical language. Since you are describing consciousness and personality as nonmechanistic, you are in effect saying nothing at all. It is meaningless even to talk about verifying such statements experimentally.

Dr. Avaroha: You are partly right. It is indeed true that we cannot study consciousness per se by examining its influence on the motion of matter. Of course, we can make indirect inferences about consciousness by such methods. But to make a real study of consciousness, we have to take advantage of the higher cognitive potencies of the jivatma itself. To understand consciousness and deal with it in a practical way, we need to enter a domain of discourse and experience that goes beyond the mechanistic world view. If we were simply machines, then this would not be possible. But, according to Bhagavad-gita our own existence transcends the mechanistic realm.

When the jivatma is embodied, its innate senses are linked up with the information-processing system of the physical body, and thus the normal sensory perceptions of the jivatma refer almost exclusively to the physical states of machines, including the machine of the brain [Bg. 15.7]. Only the embodied jivatma's direct perception of its own internal sensory and cognitive activities involves something that cannot be described in terms of mechanical configurations. For this reason, there is a strong tendency for the jivatma to overlook its own nature and view the world in an entirely mechanistic way.

But the inherent senses of the jivatma are not limited to observing the states of the physical body. The jivatma is capable of direct reciprocation with other jivatmas and the Paramatma, or Superconsciousness. Since this mode of interaction directly involves the use of all personal attributes and qualities, it cannot be described in mechanistic terms. But it can be understood and meaningfully discussed by persons who have attained to this level of experience by direct realization.

Dr. Shunya: Such "realization" is purely subjective! Anyone can claim to have all kinds of remarkable realizations and mystical visions, and in fact there are many thousands of such people, and thousands of conflicting sects composed of their gullible followers! But science is limited to knowledge that can be verified objectively. For an observation to be considered objective it must be possible for several different people to make the observation independently and then correlate their results.

Dr. Avaroha: Two persons able to function on a higher level of consciousness would certainly be able to recognize each other as realized souls, and they could also meaningfully discuss their realizations with other similarly endowed persons. We can partially illustrate this situation by the analogy of two seeing persons discussing a sunset in the presence of a congenitally blind person. The blind person would not be able to appreciate their statements, and he might take the skeptical viewpoint that talk about sunsets is simply meaningless. Nonetheless, the seeing persons would go right on discussing the sunset, and each would feel confident that the other was sharing his experience and understanding what he was talking about.

Another point is that realized persons are able to perceive themselves and others directly with their innate transcendental senses. Such persons are not restricted to external observations of behavior. Thus, confirmation of higher states of consciousness is not limited simply to the subjective perception of each individual.

You are certainly correct in pointing out that there are many people who delude themselves and others by claiming to have attained various kinds of mystical realizations. But the existence of such cheating does not imply that a genuine science of higher consciousness is impossible. Such a science must indeed be based on verification of crucial observations by more than one person, but such verification is possible by realized persons.

Bhagavad-gita outlines a practical system for attaining higher realization. In this system the seeker of knowledge must take instruction from a realized soul [Bg. 4.34]. By following these instructions, the person's higher cognitive faculties awaken by the grace of the Supreme [Bg. 10.10]. His realizations, however, can readily be evaluated by his teacher, who is fully capable of detecting mistakes and illusions. Furthermore, one can check the conduct of both teacher and disciple by consulting other self-realized souls and by referring to a standard body of authoritative literature. This system is like modern science in that the findings of individuals are scrutinised by their peers and evaluated in the context of standard knowledge.

Dr. Kutark: You have referred to the Supreme and to Superconsciousness. What do you mean by these terms? Also, just what does one realize by "awakening his higher cognitive faculties"? Can this realization be conveyed to a person whose experience is limited to the ordinary functioning of the five senses?

Dr. Avaroha: Bhagavad-gita explains that consciousness exists in two aspects, the infinite and the infinitesimal. The infinite consciousness is the very basis of reality and the ultimate source of all phenomena. According to Bhagavad-gita, this absolute consciousness is the Supreme Person, who is fully endowed with all personal attributes—such as senses, will, and intelligence—and who is known in the Vedic literature by many names, such as Krsna and Govinda. This is, of course, the same Supreme Being known as God in the Judeo-Christian tradition, or as Allah in Islam.

The infinitesimal aspect of consciousness consists of the innumerable atomic selves called jivatmas. We can illustrate the relation between atomic and infinite consciousness by a simple analogy. In classical physics we can fully characterize an electron as a minute charged particle that interacts in a certain way with an electromagnetic field. Similarly, we can understand the true character of the jivatma in terms of its natural interaction with the Supreme Person. Just as we can think of the electron as being defined bv its interaction with an electromagnetic field, we can understand the jivatma as being defined by its personal interaction with the Supreme Conscious Being.

Thus, the final goal of self-realization is to attain this state of natural reciprocation with the Supreme. This mode of interaction is entirely personal, being based on the exchange of loving service. We get some hint of the quality of this exchange from the following characterization of the Supreme Person in the Brahma-samhita [5.38]:

santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti
yam syamasundaram acintya-guna-svarupam
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Syamasundara, Krsna Himself. with inconceivable, innumerable attributes. The pure devotees see Him in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love." Of course, we can attain full understanding of what this description means only by direct experience, just as we can understand the taste of a fruit only by actually eating it.

SADAPUTA DASA studied at the State University of New York and Syracuse University and later received a National Science Fellowship. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell, specializing in probability theory and statistical mechanics.

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The Saga of Lord Rama

A classic Indian epic of
the eternal war between Good
and Evil comes to the television screen.

by Dravida dasa

The Vedic literature describes how Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appears in the material world throughout history to eradicate evil, establish the principles of religion, and enliven His devotees. Sometimes He comes Himself, but more often He expands as an incarnation who manifests a certain portion of His supreme glories. Among these incarnations, one of the best known and most sacred is Lord Ramachandra, the hero of the Ramayana, a Sanskrit epic written by the great sage Valmiki.

Recently ISKCON Television, the team of devotees that produces television program on Krsna conscious topics, shot a video version of Lord Rama's pastimes. Under the direction of Nrsimhananda dasa, who has worked extensively with professional TV studios in Hollywood, ITV staged an all-devotee Ramayana at the Hare Krsna movement's New Vrindaban farm community in West Virginia. Srila Prabhupada 's Palace of Gold (see back to godhead Vol. 16, No. 7) and the woodsy New Vrindaban landscape provided the perfect setting. Nrsimhananda adapted a script condensed from the original Ramayana by Nanda-kisora dasa, a seasoned Krsna conscious director and actor. What follows is a synopsis of the plot, with highlights of the ITV production

Millions of years ago a king named Dasaratha ruled the world from his capital city, Ayodhya, which lies about midway between present-day Calcutta and New Delhi. By his queens Dasaratha had many sons, but the jewel among them was Ramacandra, the Personality of Godhead Himself.

Even from His youth Rama possessed all the qualities of a leader. His magnanimity was unrivaled, as were His religious wisdom, prowess in fighting, and freedom from greed for the privileges of power. His strength knew no limit: He won the hand of Sita-devi, the goddess of fortune herself, by breaking a huge bow His rival suitors couldn't even lift.

When the time came for King Dasaratha to retire, he naturally chose as his successor his eldest and most qualified son, Rama. All Ayodhya rejoiced at hearing the news and prepared for the coronation of the beloved prince. But the coronation was not to be. Kaikeyi, one of Dasaratha's queens, was incited by a malicious maidservant to block Rama's ascendance to the throne. Some time before, Dasaratha had promised Kaikeyi two boons, but she had asked that they be deferred. Now, blinded by envy, Kaikeyi held Dasaratha to his word and forced him to fulfill two wishes: first, she wanted Rama exiled to the forest for fourteen years; and second, she wanted her own son, Bharata, crowned King of Ayodhya.

Dasaratha felt Kaikeyi's demands to be like a thunderbolt striking his head. How could he banish his most beloved son, Rama, on the eve of His coronation! What would become of Ayodhya? What would become of Sita? Dasaratha saw only calamity on all sides—yet his word was his very life, and he yielded to Kaikeyi's will.

Rama accepted His exile cheerfully, but He worried that His father and mother might die of grief. (His father did, in fact, die of despair soon after Rama left Ayodhya.) Nonetheless, Rama was determined to follow His father's order, come what may. When Rama told Sita and His brother Laksmana of the impending exile, they insisted on accompanying Him. Thus Lord Rama, the personification of righteousness, Sita-devi, the personification of faithfulness, and Laksmana, the personification of fraternal devotion, entered the Dandaka Forest for the fourteen-year ordeal.

Of course, since Rama and Laksmana are none other than the Personality of Godhead and His first expansion. Their stay in the Dandaka Forest proved no ordeal at all. For some time They and Sita lived peacefully and happily, enjoying nature's gifts and making friends with many sages who had repaired to the forest for seclusion and meditation. But then came a fateful turn of events ...

One day a hideous man-eating demoness named Surpanakha came upon Rama's cottage. Overwhelmed with lust at seeing Rama's handsome figure, she attempted to seduce Him. When that failed she turned to Laksmana, but both He and Rama ridiculed her. Infuriated, Surpanakha rushed toward Sita to devour her. Rama stopped Surpanakha and had Laksmana cut off her nose and ears to teach her a lesson. Then the demoness ran into the forest, screaming in agony and vowing that her brother Ravana would avenge her humiliation.

Ravana was the king of the man-eaters. By practicing severe austerities, he had won from Lord Brahma, the chief demigod, several boons that gave him near-invincibility. From his kingdom on Lanka, the island off the southern tip of India, the fearsome Ravana and his man-eating minions would roam the earth and the heavens, pillaging, raping, and devouring at will. Ravana cared for neither God nor law nor morality. Always intoxicated by pride and arrogance, as well as by strong drink, Ravana was sin incarnate.

Ravana had several brothers who were equal to him in vileness. One of these, named Khara, lived in a part of the Dandaka Forest near Rama's cottage and led an army of man-eaters who fed on the flesh of saintly hermits. From Rama's cottage Surpanakha fled to Khara, and when he saw what Laksmana had done to his sister he flew into a rage and sent out 14,000 of his formidable warriors to slay Rama and Laksmana. But Khara didn't realize with whom he was dealing. Rama's arrows, like shafts of fire, flew from His golden bow with unerring accuracy, annihilating Khara and his army. A lone survivor escaped to Lanka to tell Ravana of the disaster wrought by the supernatural valor of Rama.

Hearing of Rama's exploits, Ravana thought it wise to adopt a devious lactic. Rather than confront Rama directly, Ravana would kidnap Rama's beloved Sita so that Rama would die of a broken heart. Not only would this plan avenge the humiliation of Surpanakha and the slaughter of Khara and the 14,000 warriors, but it would also provide Ravana with the consummate object for his lust: the chaste and beautiful Sita.

Ravana paid a visit to his warlord, Marica. Like many other demons, Marica could change his form at will. Ravana ordered him to take the form of an irresistibly charming deer and then to frisk before Sita. When the deer would run into the forest, Ravana hoped, Sita would insist that Rama and Laksmana capture it for her. Left alone, Sita would then be easy prey for Ravana.

The ruse worked, and Ravana came before the lone Sita disguised as a robed renunciant. Sita welcomed him into the cottage and offered him refreshment, but suddenly Ravana cast off his disguise and declared his purpose. Despite Sita's piteous entreaties and, prophetic warnings, Ravana abducted Sita and carried her off toward Lanka.

Along the way Ravana met and mortally wounded Jatayu, a huge bird who was a lifelong friend of King Dasaratha's. Jatayu tried to stop Ravana, but was no match for the world-conquering demon. When Rama and Laksmana discovered that Sita had been kidnapped. They were overcome with grief. In anguish They searched everywhere, finally coming upon the dying Jatayu, who told them with his last breath that it was Ravana who had made off with Sita. Later Rama learned that a certain tribe of monkey warriors, headed by Hanuman and Sugriva, could find Ravana's kingdom and help Rama regain Sita. Rama and Laksmana sealed an alliance with the monkey warriors and found them to be fiercely devoted followers. Among them all, Hanuman stands as the very emblem of the faithful, dedicated servant. Being the son of the Wind-god, Hanuman could fly, and when he learned that Ravana's kingdom lay on the island of Lanka, he used his prodigious strength to leap over the sea. All he knew was that he must find Sita and help retrieve her for Rama.

Shrinking himself down to the size of a cat, Hanuman walked freely through the fabulous city of Lanka, reconnoitering its defenses. Finally, he found Sita in the heart of a dense forest of Asoka trees. She was wan and weak, wracked with grief at her separation from her beloved Rama. Because of a demigod's curse, Ravana had been unable to force himself upon her, and she had resisted all his advances. Though the torment had taken its toll, she was still radiant with beauty.

Hanuman gave Sita one of Rama's rings to prove he was a messenger, not a man-eater. Then the noble monkey soothed Sita with sweet remembrances of her Lord. Hanuman assured her that Rama would soon rescue her, and she sent him forth with one of her pearls so that Rama would know that Hanuman had indeed found her. Before leaving Lanka, the jubilant Hanuman set fire to large sections of the city and slew thousands of Ravana's soldiers.

Upon hearing Hanuman's report, Rama at once prepared to invade Lanka. He led the army of monkey warriors to the sea and told Sugriva to build a bridge of, boulders across to Lanka. The faithful monkeys had no idea how such a feat could be accomplished, but they dutifully began heaving huge rocks into the ocean—and Rama made them float, by His divine energy! Rama's legions of monkey warriors marched across the miraculous bridge to Lanka, and soon the great siege began. Ravana's men were trained in the art of war and armed with bows and arrows, swords, lances, tridents, and other such weapons. The untrained monkeys had only boulders and tree trunks for weapons. But they had one insuperable advantage: they were empowered by Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead Himself. For some days the two armies fought ferociously, with heavy casualties on both sides, and finally Rama's forces routed the man-eaters.

At last Ravana himself had to confront Rama. Even now the demon wouldn't believe his power could be cut down. Rama rebuked Ravana for cravenly kidnapping Sita in His absence, and the demon in turn cast low insults at the Lord. The furious battle that then ensued between Rama and Ravana lasted for days without letup. The earth, the seas, and the heavens were disturbed by the sheer force of their combat, and various astronomical events portended the imminent defeat of Ravana. Finally, the Lord released an arrow from His bow that struck Ravana's heart like a nuclear bomb. The demon tumbled to the ground, vomiting blood. Having at last rid the world of the curse of Ravana, Rama installed Vibhisana, Ravana's pious brother, as King of Lanka.

Rama went at once to the Asoka grove to find Sita. Joyously reunited, they flew back to Ayodhya in a glorious airplane bedecked with flowers. At last Lord Ramacandra had retrieved Sita, the fourteen-year exile was over, and the long-awaited coronation could take place.

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Notes from the Editor

Reincarnation and the Holy Name

Is there life after death? If so, what is the nature of that life?

These questions have always been with us, and the search for their answers is an intrinsic function of the human psyche. In recent years interest in reincarnation has grown, with new advocates, theories, and discoveries. Testimonies by persons who have returned from the verge of death after supposedly glimpsing the hereafter have intrigued modern parapsychologists, as well as researchers like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, author of On Death and Dying, and Raymond Moody, author of Life After Life and other bestsellers.

The original source—books on reincarnation, however, are the Sanskrit Vedic, literatures. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, for example, gives a fascinating account of the near-death experience of a man named Ajamila. Unlike modern investigations, the case of Ajamila lets us study the near-death experience not from the viewpoint of the dying person but from the viewpoint of higher beings present at the time of the soul's passing out of the body.

Srimad-Bhagavatam relates how the messengers of Death and the messengers of Lord Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, disagreed over where Ajamila should reincarnate in his next life. Being deathless, the atma, or self, must take birth in another body when the present body ceases to function. And that next body is determined by one's individual karma: "As you sow, so shall you reap."

In the case of Ajamila, the messengers of Death wanted to drag the soul to hell because of his life of sin. Although Ajamila lay in a coma, he was conscious of the messengers of Death preparing to transfer him to the lower regions. But suddenly the beautiful, effulgent messengers of, Visnu arrived and intervened. The messengers of the Lord said the messengers of Death had misjudged the soul of Ajamila and had no right to take him.

Incensed, the messengers of Death explained why Ajamila should be taken and punished. Judging a person's karma, they said, is a relatively simple thing. At the time of death, when a soul is ready to enter another body, the superintendent of Death arranges for a future body in accordance with the particular soul's past sinful and pious acts. Because Ajamila had led a sinful life, he was now due to be punished.

The messengers of Death gave an analogy: As springtime in the present indicates the nature of springs in the past and future, so this present life of happiness or distress indicates one's activities in the past, and one's present activities are an index of one's future incarnations. In other words, on the basis of the activities a person performs in his present life, the higher authorities determine his destiny in the next life.

Since most people incur at least some bad karma, it is the duty of the messengers of Death to transfer them to a lower position. Most people act without any understanding of the law of karma and thus commit all kinds of abominable acts for the pleasure of the present body. They do not know that their present suffering is a result of past sins, nor are they able to understand that their present sins will cause them future suffering. Acting in the darkness of ignorance, most people are unable to know their past or future lives. And even when they hear from the Vedic literature about transmigration of the soul and the law of karma, they refuse to accept that there is anything beyond this present life of sense .gratification.

Such an ignorant person was Ajamila. And because of his life of sin, the messengers of Death saw no reason why the messengers of the Lord should obstruct their work of awarding him his just karma.

The messengers of Lord Visnu, however, asked the messengers of Death on what basis they had judged Ajamila. The messengers of Death replied that they had judged him according to the religious scriptures. They then read a long list of criminal, violent, irresponsible, irreligious, and perverted acts Ajamila had committed. At this, the messengers of Visnu admitted that hellish punishment would ordinarily await such a sinner but in the case of Ajamila, this did not apply.

The extraordinary circumstance in Ajamila's case was that at the last moment of his life he had called out the name of God, Narayana. Although he was not thinking of God but of his son Narayana, he had nevertheless called out, "Narayana!" This had neutralized all Ajamila's bad karma and had saved him.

The messengers of Visnu explained that Ajamila's uttering the name Narayana had absolved him of all his sins—not only those of his present life but those of millions of past lives. He had chanted without offense and was therefore purified and eligible for liberation. The messengers of Visnu explained that even if a person chants the name of God indirectly (to indicate something else), jokingly, for musical entertainment, or even neglectfully, the holy name will still free him from the reactions of all sins. No matter how sinful a person may be, the holy name of God has the power to absolve him and save him from hellish punishment.

Unable to oppose the higher authority, the messengers of Death released Ajamila. The supernatural beings vanished, Ajamila awakened from his coma, and by the grace of the Lord he was able to spend his remaining days in devotional meditation on the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

This account from Srimad-Bhagavatam gives us valuable information about the soul, the next life, the laws of karma, and the potency of the holy name of the Lord. For those interested in reincarnation, the Vedic literatures are worth investigating. Rather than limit oneself to empirical data from modern researchers, one should consult Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita for a clear understanding of reincarnation and the specific importance and responsibility of the human form of life. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And an essential part of one's life to examine is one's death. What happens at this critical time? Is there a next life? If so, how can we assure the best next life for ourselves? Certainly any introspective, openminded investigation into the subject of reincarnation would be incomplete without careful study of Vedic writings like Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita.—SDG

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