The Problem We Prefer to Set Aside
A talk given in August 1973 by
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth, and then to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."
Generally, people cannot understand this simple verse. Therefore Krsna says, dhiras tatra na muhyati: "Only a sober man can understand." But what is the difficulty? How plainly Krsna has explained things! There are three stages of life. The first, kaumaram, lasts until one is fifteen years old. Then, from the sixteenth year, one begins youthful life, yauvanam. Then, after the fortieth or fiftieth year, one becomes an old man, jara. So those who are dhira—sober-headed, cool-headed—they can understand: "I have changed my body. I remember how I was playing and jumping when I was a boy. Then I became a young man, and I was enjoying my life with friends and family. Now I am an old man, and when this body dies I shall again enter a new body."
In the previous verse Krsna said to Arjuna, "All of us—you. Me, and all the soldiers and kings who are present here—we existed in the past, we are existing now, and we shall continue to exist in the future." This is Krsna's statement. But rascals will say, "How was I existing in the past? I was born only in such-and-such a year. Before that I was not existing. At the present time I am existing. That's all right. But as soon as I die, I'll not exist." But Krsna says, "You, I, all of us—we were existing, we are still existing, and we shall continue to exist." Is that wrong? No, it is a fact. Before our birth we were existing, in a different body; and after our death we shall continue to exist, in a different body:
This is to be understood.
For example, seventy years ago I was a boy, then I became a young man, and now I have become an old man. My body has changed, but I, the proprietor of the body, am existing unchanged. So where is the difficulty in understanding? Dehino 'smin yatha dehe. Dehinah means "the proprietor of the body," and dehe means "in the body." The body is changing, but the soul, the proprietor of the body, remains unchanged.
Anyone can understand that his body has changed. So in the next life the body will also change. But we may not remember; that is another thing. In my last life, what was my body? I do not remember. So forgetfulness is our nature, but our forgetting something does not mean that it did not take place. No. In my childhood I did so many things I do not remember, but my father and mother remember. So, forgetting does not mean that things did not take place.
Similarly, death simply means I have forgotten what I was in my past life. That is death. Otherwise I, as spirit soul, have no death. Suppose I change my clothes. In my boyhood I wore certain clothes, in my youth I wore different clothes. Now, in my old age, as a sannyasi [a renunciant], I am wearing different clothes. The clothes may change, but that does not mean that the owner of the clothes is dead and gone. No.
This is a simple explanation of transmigration of the soul.
Also, all of us are individuals. There is no question of merging together. Every one of us is an individual. God is an individual, and we are also individuals. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam: "Of all the eternal, conscious, individual persons, one is supreme." The difference is that God never changes His body but we change our bodies in the material world. When we go to the spiritual world, there is no more change of body. Just as Krsna has His sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, an eternal form of bliss and knowledge, so when you go back home, back to Godhead, you will also get a similar body. The difference is that even when Krsna comes to the material world. He does not change His body. Therefore one of His names is Acyuta, "He who never falls."
Krsna never changes. He never falls down, because He is the controller of maya, the material energy. We are controlled by the material energy, and Krsna is the controller of the material energy. That is the difference between Krsna and us. And not only does He control the material energy, but He controls the spiritual energy also—all energies. Everything that we see, everything manifested—that is Krsna's energy. Just as heat and light are the energies of the sun, everything manifested is made up of the energies of Krsna.
There are many energies, but they have been divided into three principal ones: the external energy, the internal energy, and the marginal energy. We living entities are the marginal energy. Marginal means that we may remain under the influence of the external energy or we may remain under the influence of the internal energy, as we like. The independence is there. After speaking Bhagavad-gita Krsna says to Arjuna, yathecchasi tatha kuru: "Whatever you like, you can do." Krsna gives this independence to Arjuna. He does not force one to surrender. That is not good. Something forced will not stand. For example, we advise our students, "Rise early in the morning." This is our advice. We do not force anyone. Of course, we may force someone once or twice, but if he does not practice it, force will be useless.
Similarly, Krsna does not force anyone to leave this material world. All conditioned souls are under the influence of the external, or material, energy. Krsna comes here to deliver us from the clutches of the material energy. Because we are part and parcel of Krsna, we are all directly Krsna's sons. And if a son is in difficulty, the father suffers also, indirectly. Suppose the son has become a madman—or, nowadays, a hippy. The father is very sorry: "Oh, my son is living like a wretch." So, the father is not happy. Similarly, the conditioned souls in this material world are suffering so much, living like wretches and rascals. So Krsna is not happy. Therefore He comes personally to teach us how to return to Him. (Yada yada hi dharmasya glanir bhavati. . . tad-atmanam srjamy aham.)
When Krsna comes. He comes in His original form. But unfortunately we understand Krsna to be one of us. In one sense He is one of us, since He is the father and we are His sons. But He's the chief: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. He's more powerful than us. He's the most powerful, the Supreme Powerful. We have a little power, but Krsna has infinite power. That is the difference between Krsna and us. We cannot be equal to God. Nobody can be equal to Krsna or greater than Him. Everyone is under Krsna. Ekale isvara krsna, ara saba bhrtya: everyone is the servant of Krsna; Krsna is the only master. Bhoktaram yajna-tapasam sarva-loka-mahesvaram: "I am the only enjoyer; I am the proprietor," Krsna says. And that is a fact.
So, we are changing our body, but Krsna does not change His. We should understand this. The proof is that Krsna remembers past, present, and future. In the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita you'll find that Krsna says He spoke the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god some 120,000,000 years ago. How does Krsna remember? Because He does not change His body. We forget things because we are changing our body at every moment. That is a medical fact. The corpuscles of our blood are changing at every second. But the body is changing imperceptibly. That is why the father and mother of a growing child do not notice how his body is changing. A third person, if he comes after some time and sees that the child has grown, he says, "Oh, the child has grown so big." But the father and mother have not noticed that he has grown so big, because they are always seeing him and the changes are taking place imperceptibly, at every moment. So our body is always changing, but I, the soul, the proprietor of the body, am not changing. This is to be understood.
We are all individual souls, and we are eternal, but because our body is changing we are suffering birth, death, old age, and disease. The Krsna consciousness movement is meant to get us out of this changing condition. "Since I am eternal, how can I come to the permanent position?" That should be our question. Everyone wants to live eternally; nobody wants to die. If I come before you with a revolver and say, "I am going to kill you," you will immediately cry out, because you do not want to die. This is not a very good business—to die and take birth again. It is very troublesome. This we all know subconsciously. We know that when we die we'll have to enter again into the womb of a mother—and nowadays mothers are killing the children within the womb. Then again another mother . . . The process of accepting another body again and again is very long and very troublesome. In our subconscious we remember all this trouble, and therefore we do not want to die.
So our question should be this: "I am eternal, so why have I been put into this temporary life?" This is an intelligent question. And this is our real problem. But rascals set aside this real problem. They are thinking of how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, how to defend. Even if you eat nicely and sleep nicely, ultimately you have to die. The problem of death is there. But they don't care about this real problem. They are very much alert to solve the temporary problems, which are not actually problems at all. The birds and beasts also eat, sleep, have sexual intercourse, and defend themselves. They know how to do all these things, even without the human beings' education and so-called civilization. So these things are not our real problems. The real problem is that we do not want to die but death takes place. This is our real problem.
But the rascals do not know it. They are always busy with temporary problems. For example, suppose there is severe cold. This is a problem. We have to search out a nice coat or a fireplace, and if these are not available we are in distress. So severe cold is a problem. But it is a temporary problem. Severe cold, winter, has come, and it will go. It is not a permanent problem. My permanent problem is that because of ignorance I am taking birth, I am accepting disease, I am accepting old age, and I am accepting death. These are my real problems. Therefore Krsna says, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: those who are actually in knowledge see these four problems—birth, death, old age, and disease.
Now, Krsna says, dhiras tatra na muhyati: "A sober man is not perplexed at the time of death." If you prepare yourself for death, why should you be perplexed? For example, if in your childhood and boyhood you prepare yourself nicely, if you become educated, then you will get a nice job, a nice situation, and be happy. Similarly, if you prepare yourself in this life for going back home, back to Godhead, then where is your perplexity at the time of death? There is no perplexity. You'll know, "I am going to Krsna. I am going back home, back to Godhead. Now I'll not have to change material bodies; I'll have my spiritual body. Now I shall play with Krsna and dance with Krsna and eat with Krsna." This is Krsna consciousness—to prepare yourself for the next life.
Sometimes a dying man cries out, because according to karma those who are very, very sinful see horrible scenes at the time of death. The sinful man knows he is going to accept some abominable type of body. But those who are pious, the devotees, die without any anxiety. Foolish people say, "You devotees are dying, and the nondevotees are also dying, so what is the difference?" There is a difference. A cat catches her kitten in its mouth, and it also catches the mouse in its mouth. Superficially we may see that the cat has caught both the mouse and the kitten in the same way. But there are differences of catching. The kitten is feeling pleasure: "Oh, my mother is carrying me." And the mouse is feeling death: "Oh, now I'm going to die." This is the difference. So, although both devotees and nondevotees die, there is a difference of feeling at the time of death—just like the kitten and the mouse. Don't think that both of them are dying in the same way. The bodily process may be the same, but the mental situation is different. In Bhagavad-gita [4.11] Krsna says,
janma karma ca me divyam
If you simply try to understand Krsna, you can go to Him at the time of death. Everything about Krsna is divine, transcendental. Krsna's activities, Krsna's appearance, Krsna's worship, Krsna's temple, Krsna's glories—everything is transcendental. So if one understands these things, or even tries to understand, then one becomes liberated from the process of birth and death. This is what Krsna says. So become very serious to understand Krsna, and remain in Krsna consciousness. Then these problems—birth, death, old age, and disease—will be solved automatically, very easily.
A dhira, a sober man, will think, "I want to live eternally. Why does death take place? I want to live a very healthy life. Why does disease come? I don't want to become an old man. Why does old age come?" Janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi. These are real problems. One can solve these problems simply by taking to Krsna consciousness, simply by understanding Krsna. And for understanding Krsna, the Bhagavad-gita is there, very nicely explained. So make your life successful. Understand that you are not the body. You are embodied within the body, but you are not the body. For example, a bird may be within a cage, but the cage is not the bird. Foolish persons take care of the cage, not the bird, and the bird suffers starvation. So we are suffering spiritual starvation. Therefore nobody is happy in the material world. Spiritual starvation. That is why you see that in an opulent country like America—enough food, enough residences, enough material enjoyment—still they are becoming hippies. The young people are not satisfied, because of spiritual starvation. Materially you may be very opulent, but if you starve spiritually you cannot be happy.
A spiritual rejuvenation is required. You must realize, aham brahmasmi: "I am not this body; I am brahman, spiritual soul." Then you'll be happy. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma na socati na kanksati samah sarvesu bhutesu. Then there will be equality, fraternity, brotherhood. Otherwise it is all bogus—simply high-sounding words. There cannot be equality, fraternity, and so on without Krsna consciousness. Come to the spiritual platform; then you will see everyone equally. Otherwise you will think, "I am a human being with hands and legs, and the cow has no hands and legs. So let me kill the cow and eat it." Why? What right do you have to kill an animal? You have no vision of equality, for want of Krsna consciousness. Therefore, in this material world, so-called education, culture, fraternity—all these are bogus. Krsna consciousness is the right subject matter to be studied. Then society will be happy. Otherwise not. Thank you very much.
We welcome your letters. Write to
In Washington, D.C., on August 20th, a call-in radio show hosted Jean Merritt, who says that the Hare Krsna movement is a "destructive cult" with dubious religious status whose members are taught not to think for themselves.
I called Ms. Merritt and told her that about 13 years ago my brother and I experienced something cultlike when we were employed at a resort during our summer vacation—low wages, poor diet, and hard work. That fall my brother went to college at the University of Minnesota. He is a bright person, and he graduated with honors, but he felt something was missing. He had some contact with the Hare Krsna movement while he was in college, and he joined the movement in 1974. Although he reported that it was difficult to adjust to the rules—no meat-eating, no gambling, no illicit sex, and no intoxication—he pulled through. Since he is now quite a thoughtful adult, I informed Jean Merritt that I could not agree with her that the Hare Krsna movement is a "destructive cult."
She said that the rule "no gambling" includes the idea of "no mental speculation." She quoted Swami Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita. She said that he wrote in that book that devotees have to "suspend the ego function."
I replied to her by saying that it seems to me that one sacrifices some of his ego whether he works for the above-mentioned resort owner and transfers one's loyalty to him (although the benefit is negligible) or whether he serves Krsna, whom he considers to be God (in which case the benefit is spiritual and eternal).
Then the moderator ended my call. But as a reader of BACK TO GODHEAD magazine (my brother gave me a complimentary subscription) I want to know whether your rules or the Bhagavad-gita tend to restrict a devotee's mental or intellectual range. And if so, how?
Your letter raises several interesting points. The first concerns the scope of the prohibition against gambling. This, as you know, is one of the four regulative principles that form the pillars of our spiritual life: no meat-eating, no intoxication, no illicit sex, and no gambling. Gambling, however, refers only to wagering on the outcome of games of chance, sporting events, and so on. While on occasion Srila Prabhupada has added "participating in frivolous sports" to this prohibition, he also personally corrected someone who had added "mental speculation" to "gambling." "No," Srila Prabhupada said, "just 'no gambling'. " So the idea that "no gambling" includes "no mental speculation" is simply a speculation.
Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada taught that a habit of mental speculation will impede a devotee's spiritual development. Even though this rule lacks the weight of the four regulative principles, devotees take it very seriously. Ms. Merritt, however, is simply speculating on the meaning of this prohibition, which she doesn't understand at all. Had she the good sense to inquire from a valid source, as you have done, she would have discovered the regulation's meaning. She would then have seen that it certainly allows devotees to think for themselves and that it has nothing to do with some supposed "suspension of the ego function."
"Mental speculation," as we use the term, refers to the attempt to discover the nature of the Absolute Truth—the ultimate source of all manifestations—solely by the strength of hypothesis, reasoning, and arguments. In India, this endeavor has been formalized into a spiritual path called jnana-yoga, which leads to the understanding that God is impersonal, that the world is unreal, and that the individual is identical in all respects with God. This is a position known as kevaladvaita, or undifferentiated monism. Krsna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga, on the other hand, aims at establishing an eternal personal relationship between the subordinate individual and the Supreme Personality of Godhead through the practice of devotional service, which includes the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
According to the Bhagavad-gita, the personal feature of the Absolute Truth is higher than the impersonal, and the method of bhakti superior to jnana. The personal feature is called adhoksaja, beyond the range of mental speculation; He is knowable only through pure devotion of the soul. But pure devotion must be free from karma, the endeavor for material enjoyment, and jnana, the endeavor to become one with God by mental speculation. Therefore, jnana, mental speculation, is useless in developing love for and knowledge of the highest feature of the Absolute Truth.
This hardly means that a devotee should avoid thinking for himself. On the contrary, it is only by thinking for himself that a person can arrive at the conclusion to dedicate himself fully to the service of God. It is impossible for anyone else to enact such dedication for him. Accordingly, an aspirant has to apply all his mental faculties to understanding the philosophy of devotional service, explicated in works like the Bhagavad-gita. Moreover, a devotee also exercises his intelligence in logically establishing the conclusion of devotional service against the inimical teachings of voidistic and impersonalistic philosophies.
Devotional service entails not suspending the ego function but rather engaging the ego, intelligence, and every other faculty in the service of Krsna. It is the mental speculators, i.e. jnanis, who aspire after the destruction of individuality. We are opposed to such spiritual suicide; we wish to retain individuality, purified of selfishness, for the unending service of Krsna.
As Srila Prabhupada has written in his commentary to Srimad-Bhagavatam: "All sages and devotees of the Lord have recommended that the subject matter of art, science, philosophy, physics, chemistry, psychology, and all other branches of knowledge should be wholly and solely applied in the service of the Lord. . . . There is no use presenting dry speculative theories for sense gratification. Philosophy and science should be engaged to establish the glory of the Lord. . . . A great scientist should endeavor to prove the existence of the Lord on a scientific basis. Similarly, philosophical speculations should be utilized to establish the Supreme Truth as sentient and all-powerful. Similarly, all other branches of knowledge should always be engaged in the service of the Lord."
In this way there is unlimited scope for the use of intelligence in Krsna consciousness. Avoiding mental speculation is no more a limitation on intelligence than avoiding ignorance is on knowledge. Someone may charge that our becoming intelligent has limited our freedom to be stupid, but we would rather leave that freedom to Ms. Merritt.
The Perfection of Glorifying God
"Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the name of the Lord;
by Garuda dasa
GARUDA DASA is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He holds masters degrees in comparative theology from Chicago and Harvard.
Among all the practices of the Hare Krsna movement, the most prominent is the public chanting of God's names, ecstatic dancing, and playing of musical instruments—a spontaneous street liturgy common in most major cities throughout the world. Yet upon first seeing devotees chanting and dancing on a busy downtown street of a modern Western city, many people understandably experience a kind of culture shock. Perhaps it's the devotees' uncommon appearance, or the unfamiliar music, or the mere presence of a group of people celebrating something right on the street. In any case, the spectacle of ecstatic dancing, chanting, and music-making certainly warrants an explanation, and we can begin with some historical background.
One day, in early sixteenth-century India, Sri Krsna Caitanya requested the people of the Bengali town of Navadvipa to chant the Hare Krsna mantra in every one of their homes. Before long, these devotees became so overwhelmed and intoxicated by the chanting of the holy names of God that they burst out of their homes into the streets. One of Sri Caitanya's biographers says, "No one in Navadvipa could hear any sound other than the words 'Hare Krsna! Hare Rama!' and the beating of mrdanga drums and the clashing of hand cymbals." Accompanied by these musical instruments, Sri Caitanya would chant with such devotional ecstasy that huge crowds of people would gather to chant and dance through the streets of Navadvipa and into the nearby villages.
Thus Sri Caitanya, who is accepted by devotees as an incarnation of Godhead and by historians as one of the greatest devotional mystics in the history of the world's religions, introduced this most dramatic expression of devotion, known as sankirtana. Although we can trace the idea of sankirtana back thousands of years, not until Sri Caitanya was its full potential realized, for it was He who first demonstrated its universal attraction. For six years He traveled widely in India by foot, and wherever He went He introduced the practice of sankirtana. Thereafter, it was accepted by saints of various religious traditions and sects across the Indian subcontinent.
Nearly five centuries later, in 1966, sankirtana was introduced in the West by its foremost modern exponent. His Divine Grace A..C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (the founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). Since then, its practice has spread throughout the world. It is precisely this ancient practice of sankirtana that the devotees of the Hare Krsna movement are presenting before the world's plurality of cultures today. Now let us examine more closely the phenomenon of sankirtana.
We can understand what sankirtana is through a brief analysis of the word. The word sankirtana has a twofold meaning, indicated by two distinct translations of its root. The Sanskrit verb kirt, from which the word kirtana derives, means on the one hand "to praise" or "to glorify" and on the other "to tell" or "to call." Thus the act of kirtana is meant to praise or glorify God while telling or calling man to participate in this glorification. Kirtana always takes place in a congregation of saintly people, as indicated by the prefix sam, meaning "all together," or "congregationally." The prefix sam may also act as an intensive, connoting "perfect" or "complete" kirtana. Therefore sankirtana carries the sense that when kirtana is performed congregationally, the glorification of God and the calling of man is perfect or complete.
Sankirtana is the performance of activities that in some way glorify God. There are various forms of sankirtana, such as chanting God's holy names, offering and accepting sanctified food, and producing and distributing sacred literature. Each of these is a primary way a pure devotee may glorify God.
Glorifying God pleases Him, purifies the glorifier, develops one's spiritual qualities, and attracts others to this glorification (thus pleasing God even more). How can one please the Supreme Being, upon whom everything is absolutely dependent? We can do this by giving Him the only thing He lacks—our love and devotion to Him. Sankirtana is the most complete and perfect way of giving God man's devotion.
As chanting God's name in glorification pleases God, so also do offering food to God and writing and publishing literature about God. When devotees offer food to the Supreme in worship, the food is spiritually transformed, and devotees gladly distribute it to all, for just by tasting such sanctified food one is purified and begins pleasing God. Furthermore, a book that glorifies the Supreme Lord, His name. His form, His qualities, and His manifestations is itself an embodiment of the divinity. Devotees therefore distribute such literature for the spiritual education of others. Sri Caitanya advocated all three of these forms of sankirtana.
The chanting of the holy names of God is a religious principle that genuine prophets and saints of widely varied traditions have tried to promulgate, and therefore it should not be a practice completely foreign to the West. Countless verses in the Old Testament express the importance of the names of God: "So I will sing praise unto Thy name forever," "Sing praises to His name," "Blessed be the name of the Lord," and so on. Many verses even ask us to sing the holy name of God with music and dance: "Let them praise His name in the dance, let them sing praises unto Him with the timbrel and harp." And sankirtana should absorb one constantly: "From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Lord's name is to be praised." These examples illustrate that God's name must not be ordinary; otherwise, why should a devotee of God occupy himself constantly with praising it?
There is something special about the relationship between God and His name that we don't find between ordinary persons or things and their names. We should note that these passages from the Old Testament don't directly mention God as the one being praised. Rather, it is His name. The praising of God takes place through the praising of His holy names, because they actually represent God in a form that enables one to associate with Him while in limited human life. Because God is the supreme absolute being, He is fully present in any one of His names. Therefore, by sounding God's names one associates with the transcendent Lord Himself. Sankirtana, then, means to associate with God through the chanting of His sacred names in order to realize our eternal relationship with Him.
Describing the power of God's names, Lord Caitanya says that God has invested all His transcendental potencies in His names and that chanting these names enables anyone to easily approach Him. Although there are many names of God that one may chant, the especially potent formula given by Sri Caitanya and His followers is the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This formula is known as the "greatest chant," or the maha-mantra, because it contains the most powerful names of God for the process of sankirtana. Anyone may benefit from chanting these names, regardless of sex, race, nationality, religious belief, or social status.
One cannot overestimate the potency of sankirtana, for in each of its forms it brings about a permanent spiritual effect. But sankirtana with sacred literature has a special quality. We have mentioned that devotees recognize sacred literature as an embodiment of the divinity, as they recognize the holy names and sanctified food. Such sacred literature is very dear to the devotees because it conveys the message of God and thus invokes His very presence. But although chanting God's names and partaking of sanctified food have a powerful, permanent effect and these methods have their own special applications, they provide the purifying presence of God only during the time they are performed. The special quality of sacred literature, therefore, is that it provides continuous access to the Deity and association with Him, The Padma Purana says that if one just keeps such literature in one's home, the Lord resides there. The devotee understands that sacred literature is the greatest gift, so he naturally tries to distribute this gift profusely for everyone's benefit. *
*Sacred literature plays an essential role in the Vaisnava tradition, from which the sankirtana movement emerges. For example, among the tradition's many texts is the Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in the world (eight times the length of the lliad and the Odyssey combined). One section of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-gita, the most loved sacred text of India. And many thousands of other works belong to this same rich literary heritage.
The distribution of sacred literature is not a new form of sankirtana. It was highly regarded even during Lord Caitanya's time, when literature was not mass-produced. Lord Caitanya ordered His immediate disciples the Six Gosvamis of Vrndavana to write copious works on the spiritual science. And later, as printing technology developed, the importance of literary sankirtana increased. In the early twentieth century one great Vaisnava teacher called the distribution of sacred literature the "great drum," or brhat mrdanga; the sound of a drum may be heard for half a mile, but books can be heard around the world.
The process of sankirtana is so complete and powerful that while it glorifies God through its various forms, it spiritually uplifts all who participate or have even remote contact with it. Thus, as Lord Caitanya states, it is "the prime benediction for humanity at large." It is the direct and genuine experience of the soul proper. It is the outpouring of the most natural tendency of the human heart in its lasting relation with the Supreme Being. It is that for which man ultimately hankers in his higher self, after realizing the futility of trying to satisfy worldly appetites and passions. Sankirtana "enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious."
As demonstrated by the Hare Krsna movement, the worldwide spread of this powerful religious force can spiritually transform people from all cultures. This fact, along with evidence about sankirtana from other scriptural texts, points to the universality of sankirtana: sankirtana brings forth the ultimate religious dimension of human existence. Because sankirtana so thoroughly arouses man's spiritual potential in his relation to the Supreme Person, it brings forth love of God par excellence. Indeed, in our materialistic society, which pushes us toward utter forgetfulness of God, sankirtana powerfully reasserts the genuine spiritual character of man.
Waves of Ecstasy
Spring, 1967: San Francisco. Whether in the temple, on the beach, at a hippie farm, or at San Francisco Airport, Srila Prabhupada was the focus of his disciples' affection and an inspiration for love of Krsna.
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Srila Prabhupada had planted the seed of Krsna consciousness in the fertile ground of New York's Lower East Side and seen it take root and flourish. But when he came to San Francisco, his International Society for Krishna Consciousness truly began to blossom. Just a few days after he arrived, in January 1967, Srila Prabhupada found himself on center stage in the Avalon Ballroom, leading thousands of young people in the chanting of Hare Krsna, accompanied by exciting new "acid-rock" bands like the Jefferson Airplane.
Srila Prabhupada soon developed his small storefront temple on Frederick Street, in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district, into a spiritual haven for the troubled youth living in local crash pads and on the streets. His chanting in Golden Gate Park brought a good response, as did his free-lunch program at the temple, and when he installed. Jagannatha deities there he increased the devotion of his disciples and guests alike.
And all through these adventures—up until his emotion-packed departure after just two and a half months—Srila Prabhupada showed a spiritual depth, a warmth of personality, and a loving concern that endeared him to all who met him.
Govinda dasi had a question for Swamiji. He had mentioned briefly that Lord Caitanya used to cry in separation from Krsna and had once even thrown Himself into a river, crying, "Where is Krsna?" She was unsure whether her question would be proper, but she waited for an opportunity to ask it.
One evening after the lecture, when Prabhupada asked for questions and there were none, Govinda dasi thought, "This is my chance." But she hesitated. Her question wasn't on the subject of the lecture, and besides, she didn't like to ask questions in public.
"No question?" Srila Prabhupada looked around. Govinda dasi thought Swamiji seemed disappointed that there were no questions. He had several times said that they should ask questions and clear up any doubts. Again he asked, "Have you got any questions?"
Govinda dasi: "Uh, well, could you tell about Lord Caitanya asking ..."
Govinda dasi: "... asking where is Krsna?"
Govinda dasi: "Could you tell about Lord Caitanya asking where is Krsna and falling in the water? Or would that be not..."
Prabhupada smiled. "Yes, yes. Very nice. Your question is very nice. Oh, I am very glad.
"Lord Caitanya—He was the greatest symbol of krsna-bhakti, a devotee of Krsna. So just see from His life. He never said that, 'I have seen Krsna.' He was mad after Krsna; That is the process of Caitanya philosophy. It is called viraha. Viraha means separation . . . separation: 'Krsna, You are so good, You are so merciful, You are so, nice. But I am so rascal, I am so full of sin, that I cannot see You. I have no qualification to see You.' So in this way, if one feels the separation of Krsna—'Krsna, I want to see You, but I am so disqualified that I cannot see You'—these feelings of separation will make you enriched in Krsna consciousness. Feelings of separation. Not that 'Krsna, I have seen You. Finished. All right. I have understood You. Finished. All my business finished.' No! Perpetually. Think of yourself that' I am unfit to see Krsna.' That will enrich you in Krsna consciousness.
"Caitanya Mahaprabhu displayed this—these feelings of separation. This is Radharani's separation.* (*Radharani, the daughter of King Vrsabhanu, is the most devoted of all of Lord Krsna's devotees in Vrndavana, His supreme abode.) When Krsna went from Vrndavana to His father's place, Radharani was feeling in that way—always mad after Krsna. So Krsna Caitanya, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, took the separation feeling of Radharani. That is the best way of worshiping Krsna, becoming Krsna conscious. So you know that Lord Caitanya fell into the sea: 'Krsna, if You are here. Krsna, if You are here.'
"Similarly, the next devotees. Lord Caitanya's direct disciples, the Gosvamis—Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami—they also, the same disciplic succession, they also worship Krsna in that separation feeling. There is a nice verse about them..."
Srila Prabhupada sang:
he radhe vraja-devike ca lalite he nanda-suno kutah
"I offer my respectful obeisances to the six Gosvamis, namely, Sri Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha dasa Gosvami, Sri Jiva Gosvami, and Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, who were chanting very loudly everywhere in Vrndavana, shouting, 'O Radharani, Queen of Vrndavana! O Lalita! O Krsna, son of Nanda Maharaja! Where are you all now? Are you just on the hill of Govardhana, or are you under the trees on the bank of the Yamuna? Where are you?' These were their moods in executing Krsna consciousness." Vrndavana, Lord Krsna's eternal abode in the spiritual world, also has its counterpart on earth, in a village area ninety miles south of Delhi. This song sung by Srila Prabhupada describes how Lord Caitanya's followers the Gosvamis, living in Vrndavana on earth, expressed their ecstatic feelings.
"These Gosvamis also, later on when they were very much mature in devotional service—what were they doing? They were daily wandering in the Vrndavana dhama, just like madmen: 'Krsna, where are You?' That is the quality.
"It is a very nice question."
Srila Prabhupada paused and uttered a thoughtful mmm. He remained silent. The devotees also remained silent, watching him. He sat cross-legged on the black velvet pillow on the redwood dais. His hands were folded, his eyes closed. And he became overpowered by inner feelings of ecstasy. Although the simple devotees present could not know what was happening, they could feel the atmosphere transform into awesome devotional stillness. They kept their eyes fixed on him.
A minute and a half passed. Srila Prabhupada uttered another thoughtful mmm and opened his eyes—they were filled with tears. He reached over and grasped his karatalas, hand cymbals, which rattled in his hand. But he moved no further. Again he withdrew from external consciousness.
Another minute of silence passed. The minute seemed extremely calm, yet intense and long. Another minute passed. After almost four minutes, Prabhupada cleared his throat and struck the karatalas together, beginning the slow rhythm. A devotee began the one-note drone on the harmonium. Prabhupada sang: govinda jaya jaya gopala jaya jaya radha-ramana hari govinda jaya jaya, ("All glories to Lord Krsna, Govinda, the reservoir of all pleasure. All glories to Lord Krsna, the protector of the cows. All glories to Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the enjoyer of Radharani. All glories to Lord Krsna, the reservoir of transcendental pleasure.") building the chanting to a lively pace. After about ten minutes the kirtana (chanting) stopped, and Prabhupada left the room.
As the devotees rose and began their various duties—some leaving through the front door behind Prabhupada and going to the kitchen, others coming together for conversation—they all knew that their spiritual master had been intensely feeling separation from Krsna. They had no doubt that it was a deep ecstasy, because just by being in his presence during that long and special stillness they also had felt a glimmer of the same love for Krsna.
* * *
On the invitation of his disciples, Srila Prabhupada agreed to hold kirtana on the beach. On a Tuesday night, with no kirtana or lecture scheduled in the temple, he got into the back seat of one of the devotees' cars. About a dozen initiated followers and a couple of dogs got into other cars, and together they traveled to the beach. When they arrived, some devotees were running across the beach, gathering driftwood and building a fire in the shelter of a sand dune.
The late afternoon air was cool, and there was a seaside wind. Prabhupada was dressed in a long checkered coat over a hooded sweatshirt. During the kirtana, he clapped and danced while the devotees joined hands, forming a circle around him. As the sun was setting, all the devotees faced the ocean, raising their arms and singing as loudly as they could. But with the surf pounding in on the coast and with the great expanse of windy air around them, their kirtana sound very small.
Gathering around the fire, the devotees buried foil-wrapped potatoes and foil-wrapped apples filled with raisins and brown sugar under the coals. It was their idea, but Prabhupada was happy to comply with their ideas of California kirtana fun.
Walking together along the beach, they came upon an old dilapidated Dutch windmill. "Mukunda," Prabhupada said, "you should approach the government and tell them that we will restore this windmill if they let us build a temple on this site." Mukunda took it as a joke at first, but then he saw that Prabhupada was completely serious. Mukunda said he would inquire about it.
Prabhupada, in his oversized checkered coat buttoned up to the neck, was the beloved center of the devotees' outing. After their walk, he sat with them on a big log, eating baked potatoes smeared with melted butter; and when he finished he threw his remnants to the dogs.
As the night grew dark, stars appeared high over the ocean, and the devotees stood close around Prabhupada for a last kirtana. Then, just as in the temple, they bowed down, and Prabhupada called out the prayers to the Lord and the disciplic succession. But he ended: "All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the assembled devotees! All glories to the Pacific Ocean!"
They all laughed. Swamiji was doing what his disciples wanted: enjoying an evening kirtana-cookout at the beach with them. And they were doing what he wanted: chanting the maha-mantra, becoming devotees of Krsna, becoming happy.
* * *
On Saturday, April 1, near the end of his stay in San Francisco, Prabhupada accepted an invitation from Lou Gottlieb, head of the Morningstar Ranch, a nudist hippie commune. Morningstar was a bunch of young people living in the woods, the devotees explained to Prabhupada. The hippies there had spiritual aspirations. They grew vegetables and worshiped the sun. They would hold hands and listen to the air. And naturally they were involved in lots of drug-taking and free sex.
When Lou came in the morning to pick up the Swami, they talked, and Prabhupada gave him a rasagulla (a bite-sized ball of curd simmered in sugar water). After a few minutes together in Prabhupada's room, they started for Morningstar, sixty miles north of San Francisco.
Lou Gottlieb: On the way out I was showing off all my vast erudition in having read a biography of Ramakrishna. That's when Bhaktivedanta gave the best advice to the aspirant I ever heard. We were talking about Ramakrishna and Vivekananda and Aurobindo and this and that. So he said, "You know, " putting a gentle hand on my knee, "when you have found your true path, all further investigation of comparative religion is merely sense enjoyment. "
Situated in a forest of redwoods more than two hundred feet tall, Morningstar Ranch occupied what had once been .an egg farm. Some of the land had been cleared for farming. There were a few tents, some insubstantial little huts, a couple of tree houses, but the only decent, insulated building was Lou's place, an old chicken house. The commune had about one hundred full-time members, with the number of residents rising to as many as three hundred on the weekends in the warm weather, when people would come out to work in the garden or just walk around naked and get high.
Prabhupada arrived at one in the afternoon on a beautiful sunny day. He first wanted to rest, so Lou offered his own house. Walking to Lou's place, Prabhupada noticed a few nude men and women hoeing in the garden. One of the workers, a short, stocky young man, Herbie Bressack, stopped his work in the garden and came to greet the Swami.
Herbie: Lou Gottlieb introduced us. We were planting potatoes at the time. He said, "This is Swami Bhaktivedanta." I came out of the garden and shook Swami's hand. I said, "Hello Swami. " He asked me, "What are you doing?" I told him that I was just planting potatoes. He then asked me what I was doing with my life. I didn't answer.
After resting for a few minutes, Prabhupada was ready for the kirtana. He and Lou went to a hilly pasture where the hippies had placed a wooden seat for Prabhupada before a bower of wild flowers arranged like a band shell. Prabhupada took his seat and began chanting. The commune members, all of whom had been anticipating the Swami's visit, gathered eagerly for the group meditation.
Mike Morrisey: Some people had clothes on, some people didn't. Some were dancing around. But Swamiji wasn't looking at our bodies; he was looking at our souls and giving us the mercy we needed.
The kirtana was well received. One of the members of the commune was so enthralled by the kirtana that he decided to put on his clothes and go back to San Francisco with the Swami. Prabhupada spoke very briefly, and then he prepared to leave, shaking hands and exchanging courtesies as he walked to the car.
Although Srila Prabhupada hadn't spoken much philosophy, his kirtana left a deep impression on the hippies at Morningstar. While leaving he had told one of the young men, "Keep chanting this Hare Krsna mantra here." And they did.
Lou Gottlieb: The Swami was an extremely intelligent guy with a job to do. There was no sanctimony or holy pretension, none of that eyes-lifted-silently-to-the-sky. All I remember is just a very pleasant, incredibly safe feeling. There's no doubt that the maha-mantra—once you get the mantra into the head, it's there. It never stops. It's in the cells. It awakens the DNA or something. Shortly thereafter, half of the people at Morningstar got seriously into chanting. Those that did were extremely sincere God-seekers. Their aspiration was a thousand percent sincere, considering the circumstances in which they were found. They were all dopers, that's for sure, but they definitely gave that up once they got in touch with the maha-mantra.
* * *
His top cloth wrapped loosely around his shoulders, Prabhupada stood a last moment by the open door of the car and looked back in farewell to the devotees and the storefront temple. It was no longer a mere storefront but had become something worthy: New Jagannatha Puri, the new home of Lord Jagannatha—Krsna, Lord of the universe. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had asked Srila Prabhupada to come here. Who among his Godbrothers could imagine how crazy these American hippies were—hallucinating on drugs, crying out, "I am God!" So many girls and boys—unhappy, mad, despite their wealth and education. But now, through Krsna consciousness, some were finding happiness.
The first day he had arrived the reporter had asked him why he had come to Haight-Ashbury. "Because the rent is cheap," he had replied. His desire was to spread the movement of Lord Caitanya; why else would he have come to such a dilapidated little storefront to live next to a Chinese laundry and the Diggers' Free Store? The reporters had asked if he were inviting the hippies and Bohemians to take to Krsna consciousness. "Yes," he had said, "everyone." But he had known that once joining him, his followers would become something different from what they had been before.
Now the devotees were a family. If they followed his instructions they would remain strong. If they were sincere, Krsna would help them. Lord Jagannatha was present, and the devotees would have to worship Him faithfully. They would be purified by chanting Hare Krsna and following their spiritual master's instructions.
Prabhupada got into the car, accompanied by some of his disciples, and a devotee drove him to the airport. Several carloads of devotees followed behind.
At the airport the devotees were crying. But Prabhupada assured them he would return if they would hold a Ratha-yatra festival. "You must arrange a procession down the main street," he told them. "Do it nicely. We must attract many people. They have such a procession yearly in Jagannatha Puri. At this time the Deity may leave the temple."
He would have to return, he knew, to tend the delicate devotional plants he had placed in their hearts. Otherwise, how could he expect these neophytes to survive in the ocean of material desires known as Haight-Ashbury? Repeatedly he promised them he would return. He asked them to cooperate among themselves—Mukunda, Syamasundara, Guru dasa, Jayananda, Subala, Gaurasundara, Hayagriva, Haridasa, and the girls.
Only two and a half months ago he had arrived here at this terminal, greeted by a throng of chanting young people. Many were now his disciples, although just barely assuming their spiritual identities and vows. Yet he felt no compunction about leaving them. He knew that some of them might fall away, but he couldn't stay with them always. His time was limited.
Srila Prabhupada, the father of two small bands of neophytes, tenderly left one group and headed East, where the other group waited in a different mood, a mood of joyful reception.
(Next month we shall begin serializing Volume One of Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, recounting the sixty-nine years Srila Prabhupada spent in India before coming West.)
(Excerpted from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. © 1981 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.)
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in August 1975 on an early-morning walk in Paris.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, many people say that because we have quit college or a job to become Krsna conscious, we are irresponsible.
Srila Prabhupada: We are not irresponsible. But we are in such a position that we have passed all material responsibilities. This is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam [11.5.41]: devarsi-bhutapta-nrnam pitrnam na kinkaro nayam rni ca rajan. "One who has fully surrendered to Krsna no longer has any responsibility to demigods, great sages, relatives, society—anyone." As long as you are not Krsna conscious, you have a responsibility to all these persons. But one who has taken to Krsna consciousness without any reservation—he has no material duties, no material responsibility. This is the statement of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Our only responsibility is to serve Krsna.
Devotee: So, Srila Prabhupada, when you told the guest last night that she should give up her responsibilities—
Srila Prabhupada: And take to Krsna consciousness. Not that you give up all responsibilities and do nothing. First take to Krsna consciousness. Give up something, take something. Then it is all right.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, when you speak of taking care of our responsibilities for Krsna, doesn't that also have a material aspect to it? For instance, in our movement parents must also bring up their children, take care of them, train them to read and write, and so on.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. But why are we taking care of the children? Just to make them Krsna conscious. This is our responsibility in Krsna consciousness. We should think, "Here is my child. Let me make him Krsna conscious." This is why we are taking so much care to train our children in the gurukulas [Krsna conscious schools]. We are not irresponsible.
Devotee: So when we say that we have finished all material responsibilities by surrendering to Krsna, that doesn't mean we've abandoned execution of duty?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Who says that?
Devotee: Well, some people say that we've taken to Krsna consciousness and now we've given up all our social duties.
Srila Prabhupada: Spreading Krsna consciousness is the main social duty. This is the main duty of the human form of life. Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all other duties and just surrender to Me." So we have surrendered to Krsna, and we are taking responsibility for pushing forward the Krsna consciousness movement. I am an old man, yet I am traveling all over the world, thrice in a year. Who else would take such a responsibility? In Krsna consciousness we have greater responsibility. It is just like when you become a big officer in the government: you become overburdened with responsibility.
Fulfilling material responsibilities is useless. Simply a waste of time. Here in Krsna consciousness is real responsibility. I explained this to the guest last night. Even if you take responsibility, what can you do? You cannot do anything. Suppose your son is diseased. He is suffering, and you have taken responsibility for seeing that he is cured. You have brought a good physician, you have brought good medicine—everything. But in spite of all your efforts, your son dies. Then what is the value of your responsibility? Actually, you cannot do anything. So what is the use of saying, "I am responsible"?
Andha yathandhair upaniyamanah. One blind man says, "I take responsibility. All of you other blind men—follow me." So what is the use of such responsibility? Both the leader and his followers will simply fall into a ditch. Similarly, the leaders of all the nations in the world are saying, "Follow me. I am responsible. I will bring peace." But as soon as there is a war, thousands and thousands will be killed. Where is the leaders' responsibility? As soon as one atom bomb is dropped, many thousands will be finished. Where is the leaders' responsibility? They cannot bring peace. They can make a monument: "This soldier has died. This soldier has died." But they cannot save the people from death.
Devotee: But these people say that we devotees also must die. Everyone must die.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but we die to live forever. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti. This is our last death.
Devotee: Then they will say, "How do you know?"
Srila Prabhupada: Become my student; then you will also know. Therefore there is a Vedic injunction: tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet. Because you are a fool, a rascal, you must approach a guru. That is the only way to know the Absolute Truth. Otherwise there is no possibility of knowing about eternal life; you will remain foolish forever and suffer.
Devotee: So, how do you define the word responsibility in Krsna consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: You have this human form of life: realize God. This is responsibility. Otherwise, you are finished. Your only responsibility is to understand God. Vedic culture is meant for understanding God. In the past many, many kings left everything and went to the forest to realize God. Bharata Maharaja, after whom India is called Bharata-varsa, was the emperor of this planet thousands of years ago. At the age of twenty-four he left everything to realize God. This is Vedic culture. Caitanya Mahaprabhu had a very nice position as a grhastha [householder]. He had a beautiful wife, an affectionate mother, good friends. He belonged to a brahmana family. He was a learned scholar—everything first class. He was God Himself, yet He left everything just to teach us the process of realizing God. This is Vedic culture.
So, you asked me, "What is the definition of responsibility?" Do you understand what responsibility is?
Devotee: We have this human life; we must realize God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—nine words. We define the whole of responsibility in nine words. Let the rascals understand it.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
100,000 Attend Ratha-yatra in L.A.
Los Angeles—This summer a record 100,000 people took part in the fifth annual Hare Krsna Ratha-yatra Festival of the Chariots at Venice Beach, California—the largest such festival in the Western Hemisphere. The thousands who followed the chariots down the beach promenade arrived at a four-acre park, where they discovered elephant rides, a multicourse feast; video exhibits, children's drama, fine art, sculpture, and continuous entertainment,
The all-day entertainment featured Dr. L. Subramaniam, classical Indian violinist, Srimati Jayalaksmi, one of India's foremost singers, and Alia Rakha, India's leading tablet drum player, Bahudaka dasa and other devotees from the Hare Krsna center in Vancouver sent amplified, pulsating Hare Krsna mantras out to the crowd, and visitors, local Los Angelenos, and devotees danced together in ecstasy for hours.
Scholar Praises Biography Of Srila Prabhupada
Canberra, Australia—Dr. R.K. Barz, of the Department of Asian Studies, Australian National University, has reviewed Planting the Seed and A Lifetime in Preparation, the first two volumes of the biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami.
Dr. Barz writes: "No one who reads these books could fail to be impressed. . . . Both A Lifetime in Preparation and Planting the Seed are essential reading for anyone interested either in Indian devotional religion or in current trends in modern religious life."
New Spanish Book A Best-Seller In Latin America
Los Angeles—The Spanish division of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has announced the publication of Teachings of Queen Kunti in Spanish. The book consists of a series of prayers from the devotional classic Srimad-Bhagavatam, with commentary by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Translated by Virabahu dasa, Las Ensenamas Misticas de la Reina Kunti has won such a following among people in Central and South America that the first printing of 65,000 has quickly sold out. "We've printed an additional 57,000 copies," said His Holiness Radha-Krsna Swami, head of the Spanish Book Trust, "but we expect those to be gone long before Christmas."
The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and Cod realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in back to godhead, will focus upon the most important of these words (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean. (For a guide to proper pronunciation, please see page 1.)
Bhakta. One who performs bhakti; a devotee (in particular, a devotee of the Supreme Lord).
Bhakti (bhakti-yoga). Bhakti-yoga is the cultivation of activities favorable for satisfying Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Such activities must be free from all misguided attempts to attain spiritual knowledge by one's own feeble speculative powers. Bhakti-yoga also excludes all activities directed merely toward satisfying one's own senses instead of the senses of the Supreme Lord. When one is free from all false identification with the temporary body and the temporary families, societies, and nations with which the body is allied, when one's consciousness is fully purified, and when one engages one's senses in serving the supreme master of the senses—the Supreme Lord, Krsna—one is said to be situated in pure bhakti-yoga.
One may engage one's senses in the service of Krsna in any of nine different ways: by hearing about Krsna, chanting about Krsna, remembering Krsna, serving the lotus feet of Krsna, worshiping Krsna, offering prayers to Krsna, carrying out the orders of Krsna, becoming Krsna's friend, or surrendering everything to Krsna. By serving Krsna in any or all of these ways, one makes one's life perfectly successful in Krsna consciousness.
Bhakti-yoga begins when one develops an interest in spiritual or transcendental understanding. Impelled by such an interest, one associates with devotees of Lord Krsna, and gradually, under the guidance of a pure devotee, one molds one's life in a devotional way. As one renders devotional service to the Lord, one gradually becomes free from all unwanted materialistic habits and develops firm faith in Krsna consciousness. As a result, one increasingly appreciates the taste of devotional service and becomes strongly attached to Krsna. This attachment then evolves into transcendental ecstasy, which culminates in pure, unalloyed love for Krsna. This is the step-by-step process for attaining perfection in bhakti-yoga.
The Bhagavad-gita says that of all systems of yoga, bhakti-yoga is the highest. Particularly in the present age, it is also the system most easy to follow.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. The spiritual master of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874-1936), a great devotee and scholar, wrote and published a wealth of literature explaining the science of Krsna consciousness in Sanskrit, Bengali, English, and other languages. He taught how to live a spiritual life of perfect renunciation not by artificially giving everything up but by using everything in the service of Krsna. He established sixty-four centers of Krsna consciousness in various parts of India, and in 1922 he instructed His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to teach Krsna consciousness in English. It was this order that led to the advent of Krsna consciousness in the West, and throughout the world.
Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977), the founder and original spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, founded back to godhead magazine in 1944. It was he who introduced bhakti-yoga and the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra to the West and spread them around the world. He is the author of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, The Nectar of Devotion, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, and multi-volume translations (with commentary) of Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta, as well as many other books. An adequate appreciation of Srila Prabhupada is not possible here. A biography of Srila Prabhupada—Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta—is appearing in condensed installments in back to godhead. The name Bhaktivedanta indicates that he taught bhakti-yoga as the culmination of spiritual knowledge.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura. A great poet, scholar, and devotee in the disciplic line of Krsna consciousness, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914) was the father of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. While living as a householder and working as a government magistrate, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura vigorously wrote and published devotional poetry and scholarly expositions of Krsna consciousness. During a time of spiritual confusion, he reestablished the integrity of the cultural movement of pure devotional service inaugurated centuries earlier by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great proponent of love of Krsna. back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 8, carried an appreciation by Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins (Franklin and Marshall College) of how Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura's work preserved and strengthened the Krsna consciousness movement and carried it forward toward its eventual journey to the West.
Two Faces of Krsna
To those who refuse to love His smiling, gentle form,
by Suhotra dasa
Early one morning in April 1945, a housewife was driving along a lonely deserted road near Alamogordo, New Mexico. Suddenly she saw a brilliant red glare light up the horizon. "It looked as if the sun popped up for a second and then went back down," she said later. The light was followed by a rumbling roar that echoed across the desert landscape.
A few miles away, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer saw the same brilliant flash of light from the shelter of a top-secret United States Army observation bunker. That light, so bright that it seemed momentarily to rival the sun, was the world's first atomic explosion, the result of nearly five years of frantic scientific development first commissioned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt just prior to America's entry into the Second World War. This first bomb was tiny by today's standards, yet it almost totally vaporized the 100-foot-high steel tower supporting it and turned a vast tract of sandy desert floor to glass.
The awesome release of atomic might early that spring morning near Alamogordo moved Dr. Oppenheimer, the chief scientist of the project and a dabbler in Eastern philosophy, to quote from Bhagavad-gita (11.32): "Time I am, destroyer of worlds." These were Lord Krsna's words to His personal friend and devotee Arjuna, who had been filled with awe upon seeing the Lord's visva-rupa, His all-powerful universal form. Arjuna had cried aloud, "O all-pervading Visnu [Krsna]! I can no longer maintain my equilibrium! Seeing Your radiant colors fill the skies and beholding Your eyes and mouths, I am afraid." Lord Krsna had revealed to Arjuna a side of Himself that Arjuna had never considered before: His terrible feature as irresistible time, which ultimately devours the entire universe.
Most of us, if we believe in God at all, do not like to identify Him with the destructive face of nature. Our natural tendency is to pray to God for shelter from destruction. "After all," we reason, "God is love. He created the world for our enjoyment, and if any danger arises we should pray to Him to preserve our existence here."
But if God is the single prime mover behind this manifest existence. He must also be its destroyer. If He is actually all-powerful, then He can't be rivaled by some separate destroyer who comes along like the proverbial bully at the beach to kick down what God has wrought.
Krsna's purpose for revealing the universal form was to convince Arjuna (and us) that He has no rival in creation, and that His will must be executed. Now, Arjuna wasn't an ordinary person praying to God for the preservation of his meager sense enjoyment in this temporary world of birth and death. He was a devotee of Krsna in the spiritual relationship called sakhya-rati, or friendly exchange. On the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, where Krsna spoke Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna was blinded by his friendship with Krsna and forgot for a few moments that He was in fact God Almighty, who had personally arranged for the vast destruction to come when the battle would take place. So Krsna showed Arjuna His fearsome side as kala, or time, just to remind His dear friend of His real position as the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of everything in the material world.
But Krsna's aim was not to frighten Arjuna into submission. Krsna's real purpose was to clearly demonstrate Arjuna's auspicious position as the Lord's dear friend. Only Arjuna and his four brothers, all intimate devotees of the Lord, would survive the battle and fulfill Krsna's purpose in the world. All others on the field of battle would perish. Thus the most confidential secret Krsna conveyed to Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita is that a devotee who is completely surrendered to the will of God need fear no adversity, for in every case the Lord directly guides the destiny of such a devotee. Even the moment of death holds no fear for a pure devotee, for he knows that Krsna has simply come to take him from the material world back to the spiritual world, where he will eternally serve and love Krsna in a personal relationship. "O son of Kunti," Krsna tells Arjuna in the Ninth Chapter, "declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes."
Materialists, however, must always fear God in His feature of all-devouring time, for they lack spiritual knowledge and thus identify their total existence with their own temporary bodies and those of their family, friends, and countrymen. To the materialistic non-devotee, God may be "a force" or "a provider," but never a personal friend. Such crippled theistic conceptions sometimes lead one to follow a religion based on fear of God, in which He is seen as the awesome authority behind the benedictions of Mother Nature, as the authority who must be obeyed to insure continued prosperity.
Yet "time marches on," bringing continuous death, destruction, and renewal. Despite our prayers and best wishes for the good health of friends and relatives, we must watch them die off one by one, until death comes at last to claim us too. Where we go from there depends on our karma. But one thing is certain: if we haven't developed a personal relationship with Krsna, we shall surely not go to Him. Instead, we shall continue suffering the ravages of time—birth, old age, disease, and death—somewhere in the material world.
So there doesn't seem to be much value in a religion based upon the preservation of one's bodily identity. And in fact this is precisely Krsna's message to Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita. "Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee," He says. "Offer your obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me" (Bg. 9.34). In other words, Krsna is saying that we should worship Him in a personal way, with the idea of reviving our eternal relationship with Him. We shouldn't divert religion into the service of our petty sense enjoyment, which ends with the inevitable death of the body. When we develop an eternal loving relationship with Krsna, one that absorbs all our attention, we go to Krsna at the time of death and there attain shelter at the Lord's lotus feet. The price of deathlessness—of complete safety from all-devouring time—is love of God.
Krsna wants our love. Loving our temporary bodies and fearing God for taking them away from us can't save us from birth and death, any more than a car thief's fear of the owner can save him from arrest and prosecution. Love means being attached to a person for himself, not for his wealth and possessions. Attachment to things that don't belong to us brings us only fear and anger when the owner comes to reclaim them. Therefore Krsna says, "Being free from attachment, fear, and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me—and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me" (Bg. 4.10).
Yet most people remain stubbornly attached to the bodily conception of life, refusing to surrender to Lord Krsna and often reacting with fear and anger toward His devotees, who do surrender everything to Him. Some people even accuse the devotees of being "fanatical cultists" and urge them to return to "the real world." Not caring for Lord Krsna's desires, such inveterate materialists concoct various conceptions of proper duty based on nationalism, communism, capitalism, and the like. But because these ideas rest on ignorance of man's real spiritual identity and his relationship to God, they always result in sinful activities, such as widespread animal slaughter and abortion. Thus men by their own foolishness insure victimization at the hands of time. Not only will they be cut down unceremoniously in the midst of their plan-making, but they will also have to spend more time in the material world, suffering in hellish, nonhuman species.
Our "real world" is rapidly becoming a dangerous place in which to live. Not that it wasn't always so, but the danger is becoming more and more obvious every day as human culture becomes progressively more depraved. Since the manifestation of Lord Krsna's time factor as the twenty-kiloton bomb at Alamogordo, the potential for nuclear destruction on this planet has multiplied beyond human conception. The United States now has 7,192 strategic nuclear warheads aimed at the Soviet Union, each thousands of times more powerful than the Alamogordo bomb. The Soviet Union has 6,302 similar warheads aimed at the United States and its allies. And to further "insure peace," President Reagan has ordered the deployment of two hundred new MX "high-survivability" missiles, which will undoubtedly spur the Russians to develop even more sophisticated weapons. By late 1983 the United States plans to have 572 cruise missiles and medium-range Pershing-2 rockets in Western Europe, adding to an already prodigious nuclear arsenal of more then 5,000 NATO warheads stockpiled there. As the "nuclear club" grows and the materials and knowledge needed to build nuclear weapons proliferate, the danger of strategic miscalculation, human or mechanical accident, and nuclear terrorism increases. The "balance of terror" grows ever more precarious. At any time the long-feared nuclear holocaust could become a reality.
Krsna has two faces: His smiling face of love for those who surrender to Him, and His fearsome face of the universal form, "whose effulgence is like the radiance of a thousand suns bursting forth at once in the sky." Lord Krsna reserves this face of all-devouring, devastating time for those who fear or deride or ignore Him, and who desire simply to exploit His creation for their own ends. Should that face manifest itself in the world, we can only hope that the people for whom it is meant will remember Krsna then.
By Sadaputa Dasa
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.
This excerpt from Mechanistic and Non-mechanistic Science, a book in progress, is the second in a series on bhakti-yoga as an objective science of self-realization. Here we discuss the relationship between the brain, the mind, and the conscious self.
Perhaps the main reason for the widespread dismissal of religion as "blind faith" is that many systems of theistic thought are not backed up by any verifiable direct interaction with the Supreme Person. Why is this so, we may ask, if the Supreme Person is as readily accessible as the proponents of bhakti-yoga claim? The following statement from Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.6.41] suggests an interesting answer to this question:
The great thinkers can know Him [Krsna] when completely freed from all material hankerings and when sheltered under undisturbed conditions of the senses. Otherwise, by untenable arguments, all is distorted, and the Lord disappears from our sight.
As indicated here, one of the most important principles of bhakti-yoga is that higher realization is impossible until the material senses are brought under control, In the materially conditioned state of consciousness, the jivatma (living entity) desires to enjoy his material situation and is completely preoccupied with the barrage of stimuli presented by his material senses. 'With his sensory channels overloaded, the jivatma is unable to perceive the presence of the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Person in one's heart), although constitutionally able to do so. Since direct access to the Supreme Person is denied the jivatma with uncontrolled senses, he is prone to indulge in fanciful speculations that simply lead him further and further from the truth.
To understand some of the practical problems involved in controlling the senses, we must first understand the concept of the material mind. As already pointed out (back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 10), the jivatma is a complete conscious individual and, as such, is inherently able to carry out the mental functions of thinking, feeling, and willing. Yet the machinery of the body includes a psychic subsystem that duplicates some of these functions. This subsystem acts as an intermediate link between the natural senses of the jivatma and the sensory apparatus of the body. Before reaching the jivatma, data from the bodily senses pass through this subsystem, which enriches and modifies them by additional information representing various thoughts, feelings, and desires.
This intermediate link consists of two components, one of which is the brain. Modern science conceives the brain to be the seat of all mental functions. According to Bhagavad-gita, however, the mind has an additional component (known in Sanskrit as manah, or "material mind") that is distinct from both the brain and the conscious self. This material mind serves as a connecting link between the brain and the self. Since the material mind is composed of a kind of material energy, it could, in principle, be studied by ordinary empirical methods. At present there is no widely accepted scientific theory of the material mind, but parapsychological research may provide the basis for such a theory.
A discussion of the higher physics of the material mind would take us far afield, so here we shall simply make a few remarks about the functional relationship between the material mind and the brain. According to Bhagavad-gita, the material mind interacts directly with the brain, and the conscious self interacts with the material mind through the agency of the Supersoul. The relationship between the brain and the material mind is like that between a computer and a computer programmer. Consider a businessman who has programmed a computer to process his accounts. The computer, with its own memory and data-processing facilities, is an extension of the man's mind. Although the man is a complete person in his own right, he may come to depend heavily on the computer, and thus any damage to it would greatly impair his ability to conduct his business affairs. Similarly, the brain is a computerlike extension of the material mind, and even though the material mind can function independently of the brain, the mind tends to become dependent on the brain for the execution of certain data-processing operations.
Together, the material body and the material mind act as a kind of false self, in which the real self (the jivatma) rides as a passenger. The false self is not conscious in its own right, though it seems conscious because it is animated by the jivatma. Both the brain and the material mind are mechanisms for symbol manipulation, and so they resemble man-made computers. The "thoughts" of the material mind are mere patterns of symbols, which are represented by actual thoughts only when perceived by the jivatma. But the embodied jivatma tends to accept the "thoughts," "feelings," and "desires" of the material mind as his own, and thus he falsely identifies himself as the persona these patterns of symbols represent.
Since the material mind is the director of the material senses, we can control these senses by controlling the mind. Most of us, however, have never made a real effort to practice such control. So we may tend to underestimate both its importance and the difficulties involved in achieving it. We get some idea of these difficulties when we consider the powerful role that habit plays in our normal activities. The material mind is a reservoir of elaborate programs governing everything from gross movements to subtle attitudes, and thus our mental life consists of a succession of conditioned thoughts and feelings unfolding inexorably according to their own logic and the stimuli of the senses.
Since we normally tend to identify the self with the material mind, we have no real idea what it would be like to be free from the material mind's endless torrent of mundane images and associations. The Bhagavad-gita [6.7] describes such freedom as follows:
For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquility. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same.
Once the material mind is under control, the natural senses of the jivatma are free to perceive the Supreme Person directly.
In bhakti-yoga one achieves control of the material mind and senses by following certain positive and negative injunctions. The negative injunctions restrict one from activities that tend to agitate the material mind and distract one from the process of self-realization. The most fundamental of these injunctions prohibit indulgence in intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sexual affairs, and gambling. We do not have sufficient space to discuss in detail the psychological dynamics of these activities, but we may note simply that those who engage in them tend to become more and more preoccupied with the actions and reactions of their material senses.
For many scientific experiments, success depends on our carefully adjusting the physical conditions in the experimental apparatus. The process of bhakti-yoga is an experiment in which the body and the material mind are the experimental apparatus, and in which the negative injunctions are necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for success. These injunctions are essential. A person who neglects them will not be able to free himself from material entanglement, and his "transcendental realizations" will indeed be nothing more than products of self-deception.*
*We stress this point because there are many watered-down systems of yoga or meditation that neglect even the most basic rules for sense control. Seeking self-realization through such systems is like trying to ignite wood while pouring water on it.
The positive injunctions of bhakti-yoga prescribe activities that directly engage the jivatma in service to the Supreme Person, Krsna. Ultimately these activities awaken the jivatma's natural love for Krsna. As a corollary to this reawakening, the jivatma automatically loses his attraction for the manifestations of his material mind, which are false theatrical displays inherently less interesting than the absolute reality of Krsna. Thus by engaging in active service to Krsna, one is able to attain the goal of mental control and free one's senses for further service to Krsna.
The ultimate goal of one who practices bhakti-yoga is to serve Krsna directly—a goal attainable when one is freed from entanglement in the affairs of the material mind and senses. One can readily obtain this freedom, in turn, by performing service to Krsna. Bhakti-yoga may thus seem like a vicious circle, but in practice it is a gradual process of development. First, one must bring the material mind under moderate control by adhering to the negative injunctions. Then one must render practical service to Krsna under the guidance of the guru. This service invokes Krsna's mercy, and one attains some realization of the Lord. As a result, one's attachment to the material mind is lessened, and one can further serve Krsna on a higher platform of realization. This leads one to further freedom from material desire and further realization of one's constitutional nature as a servant of Krsna. Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.19-20] sums up this process and its results as follows:
As soon as irrevocable loving service is established in the heart, the effects of nature's modes of passion and ignorance (effects such as lust, desire, and hankering) disappear from the heart. Then the devotee is established in goodness, and he becomes completely happy. Thus established in the mode of unalloyed goodness, the man whose mind has been enlivened by contact with devotional service to the Lord gains positive scientific knowledge of the Personality of Godhead in the stage of liberation from all material association.
(Next month we shall conclude this series by examining how two practices fundamental to bhakti-yoga can awaken our higher cognitive faculties and bring us directly in touch with the Supreme.)
Italy's leading producer of fine furniture heads up a devotional community in Florence.
by Yogesvara dasa
Hey, Marco! How's your father?" an old woman calls out, seeing him pass by in his Mercedes. Marco Ferrini waves and laughs jovially. He is the local boy who made good, Ponsacco's favorite son, and Italy's largest furniture designer and manufacturer. With more than eighty lines of furniture ensembles for living room, dining room, bedroom, and office, the Ferrini collection represents a skillful blend of cultural insight (Marco is a former professor of art history) and innovation (he holds patents on production techniques that have revolutionized Italy's billion-dollar-a-year furniture industry). But, in his own words, Marco Ferrini is a devotee of Lord Krsna first and a businessman second.
At the end of each day, after trading in his Gucci suit for a simple cotton dhoti, Marco spends the evening hours chanting Hare Krsna on beads, reading Bhagavad-gita, and speaking with visitors about the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. He lives with his wife Marisa and his father and mother in an elegant three-story villa overlooking the Ponsacco countryside. One large room has been converted into a temple, complete with Deity forms of Lord Krsna, an altar, musical instruments, and a library of spiritual literature. He makes good use of his managerial skills, too. Apart from being a member of the board of directors for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in Italy, Marco is president of Villa-Vrndavana, ISKCON's rural asrama and artists' center near Florence.
Marco Ferrini grew up in Ponsacco. He served his apprenticeship there before going on to earn his M.A. at the Magistero dell' Arte in Florence. By age twenty-five he had already made his first million, won the coveted Golden Legion Award for craftsmanship, and received dozens of other honors for innovative design and production—all of which left him with the sour taste of success.
"Wealth at first was intoxicating," he remembers. "I left my parents, whose religious life was always something of an anachronism to me, and moved to the Riviera. Yachts, big money, fancy cars and women. The whole useless picture of affluence. I turned to philosophy in disgust, but quickly grew nauseous of Nietzsche. On the pretext of studying ancient techniques of woodworking, I grabbed a plane to India, thinking perhaps someone in the East would know what life was really all about."
Marco traveled through India, Tibet, Thailand, China. "It was very intriguing, but inevitably all the so-called gurus I met just stared at my gold watch."
On a subsequent trip Marco met Srila Prabhupada at the Krsna temple in Vrndavana (where Krsna appeared five thousand years ago) and heard from him the teaching of Bhagavad-gita: that within the body is the eternal soul, part and parcel of Krsna, or God, and that one's true satisfaction lies in reviving that lost relationship with Him by chanting His holy names and. offering everything for His service. "I left India that time with something very special in my heart. Everything I had seen and heard had impressed me: the devotees' dedication to Krsna, the chanting, the elegant simplicity of their lives, and, above all, the purity of Srila Prabhupada's teachings. 'Your talents, like everything else, also belong to Krsna,' he told me. 'Go back and work for Krsna, and He will protect you.'"
Upon returning to Ponsacco, Marco spoke frankly with his wife and parents about what he had learned. To his great pleasure they found his arguments appealing, and the next day house cleaning began. Out went the television, out went the wine and meats, out went Nietzsche, and in came Krsna.
Soon Marco received spiritual initiation from Srila Prabhupada. Later, after Srila Prabhupada had passed away, Marco (now Matsya-avatara dasa) received brahminical initiation from Srila Bhagavan Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples who has been designated to accept new initiates. On that joyous occasion Matsya's entire family also took initiation from Srila Bhagavan Goswami.
If the transition from magnate to monk seemed inconsistent to some of his neighbors and friends, Matsya eased the shock with a demeanor as affable and winning as linguini a la pomo d'oro. Municipal officials, factory owners, architects, delivery boys, the telephone repairman—everyone received an equally warm "Haribol!" ("Chant the name of Hari [Krsna]!"), and no one left his villa-turned-temple without sampling the milk sweets offered to Lord Krsna and stocked in a large cookie jar by the front door.
Just to reassure his staff and clients, Matsya maintained his familiar aristocratic appearance. Still, everyone knew he had changed. For one, he was now vegetarian and took no liquor, in a region where wine and venison were high social tradition. For another, little things always gave him away: three strands of small wooden beads, signifying spiritual initiation, peeked shyly out from beneath his starched collar; a photo of his spiritual master hung conspicuously in his office among the Renaissance portraits of Italian nobility; on his shelf, books of Sanskrit stood out next to the collected works of Dante.
Ponsacco is a small municipality. News spreads fast. Matsya's clients grew nervous.
"They couldn't understand why a successful Italian businessman would become a devotee." he says. "People here are victims of a historical allergy to saints. The word priest is pejorative, synonymous with hypocrisy."
Matsya's competition called Matsya's biggest client and said that Matsya was leaving everything to become a monk. "Now, this client is a man who trusts me with his entire fortune. One line of furniture alone may cost him ten million dollars to put into production. He raced to my office to ask if becoming Krsna conscious meant having to leave one's work. 'Listen, Luigi,' I told him, 'Krsna never tells you to give up what you're supposed to do. He just wants us to do our work conscientiously as an offering to Him.' The man was relieved. Eventually he even began making donations to the Krsna temples in Italy. Now he says that he never even doubted my decision. 'I was just testing your sincerity,' he says."
Others, however, took a poor view of Matsya's spiritual dedication. "Some people were afraid to order millions of dollars in goods from a Hare Krsna devotee," Matsya explains. "They thought it might affect sales somehow." Among his inner staff, Matsya discovered three men playing on those sentiments to steal the accounts of doubting clients. Matsya was undeterred. He dismissed the traitors, released the accounts, and continued chanting Hare Krsna.
"I studied Bhagavad-gita and learned how to lecture on yoga, on work as a sacrifice to God, and also how to cook prasadam [sanctified foods]. On Sundays my wife and I would take our daughter and drive to Pisa to chant and distribute Hare Krsna magazines and sweets we had prepared. People were amazed to learn who I was. Some even became clients, Business tripled in three years."
But how to reconcile a life of comfort and wealth with a belief in the nonmaterial soul and detachment from the world?
"The question is not how much or how little you have," Matsya says, "but what you do with your resources. Perhaps, by nature's arrangements, one is poor, another rich. But nothing is ours, really. I am fortunate. I have a chance to make money and spend it for Krsna. After all, it is His, so I help build temples, print translations of scriptures. And I also try to be a good example for others by following spiritual principles very carefully."
To receive initiation, Matsya agreed to follow four regulative principles—no meat, fish, or eggs; no intoxicants, including coffee, tea, or cigarettes; no illicit sex; and no gambling—commitments that have even influenced his designs. Leather, for example, is out in all Ferrini creations, since using leather tacitly condones animal slaughter. Instead, his research team has invented a fabric stronger, warmer, and more versatile than leather. Now other designers have begun imitating the Ferrini leather substitute (partly because it's also cheaper than the real thing.)
Today, five years after his initial meeting with devotees, Matsya-avatara and his family lead busy lives of service to Krsna. His wife, Manu-patni dasi, engages her talents as bookkeeper to manage Ferrini Designs. Matsya's mother, sixty-five-year-old Ananda-vrndavana dasi, cooks, cares for the temple, receives their many weekly guests, and keeps an immaculate temple. Matsya's father, sixty-seven-year old Caitanya-Nitai dasa, retired from the large construction firm he once directed, now heads renovation work on the Hare Krsna farm in nearby Florence.
If you're ever in Ponsacco and would like to meet Matsya-avatara and his family, just say "Hare Krsna." Anyone can tell you where they live.
Transcending the Laws of Karma
Nadine is the mother of four children. Her son Ravi, age seven, was born deaf and dumb. The other day, using sign language, Ravi asked his mother why he cannot speak or hear like his brother and sisters. Nadine, who has recently taken up Krsna consciousness, answered by explaining in a very simple way the law of karma. Ravi understood.
Nadine feels that had her son asked this question prior to her coming to understand the law of karma, she would have been unable to give him a satisfying explanation. Surely such questions as this are perplexing. Why does one person enjoy, while another suffers? But the answers to such questions are crucial to all of us, because they give us a direct clue to how we can become free from all future suffering.
Nowadays people tend to accept, only explanations based on the authority of material sciences, such as physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Ideologists also Stress economic, political, psychological, and sociological explanations, as well as philosophical speculations, the interpretations of astrology, and the dogmas of sectarian religions. But none of these explanations for good and ill fortune is as scientific, or as intellectually and morally satisfying, as the Vedic literature's explanation of the law of karma.
According to the Vedic literature, karma is the law of cause and effect: there is a reaction for everything we do. If we throw a coin up, it will come down. If we regularly put money in the bank, our wealth will accumulate. If we drink too much, we'll get drunk. These are natural laws of cause and effect. Similarly, the law of karma states that if we do something sinful we shall get a bad result and if we do something pious we shall get a good result.
According to the Vedic literature, the activities we perform in our present life determine the happiness and distress we meet in our future life. The body we have now is not our real self but is only a covering. Our real identity is the atma, the eternal spirit soul within the body. Impelled by the law of karma, we, the atma, transmigrate from one species to another, suffering and enjoying the results of our activities in the human form of life.
The Vedic literature distinguishes between karma, acts which are allowed, and vikarma, acts which are forbidden. Vikarma will bring us unfortunate reactions in this life and the next. These unfortunate reactions are sometimes popularly referred to as "bad karma." Our present sufferings—chronic disease, poverty, and so on—are the bad karmic reactions of our past sinful activities.
These are not the beliefs of a particular religious faith; they are natural laws governing all activities in the material world. There is individual karma and collective karma. Individual karma accounts for our personal misfortune, and collective karma accounts for the sufferings of an entire nation: an epidemic, a war, a natural holocaust. Society's sins of abortion and cow-killing, for example, must eventually result in severe collective bad karma. On the other hand, one who acts piously may be rewarded by a good birth on this planet or even on higher planets, where there is greater longevity and better enjoyment than on earth.
In the ultimate sense, however, all karma, whether good or bad, is bondage. Even pious activities bind us to the cycle of repeated birth and death. Whether rich or poor, weak or strong, learned or ignorant, beautiful or ugly, pious or impious, famous or obscure, everyone in the material world must suffer, birth after birth. As Lord Krsna states in Bhagavad-gita (8.16), "From the highest planet to the lowest planet, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O Arjuna, never takes birth again in this material world." Therefore, until we become free of all karma, we have to undergo repeated birth and death.
Neither God nor the laws of nature are responsible for our karma; we make our own destiny. Out of our particular desires to enjoy this world in various ways, we create our own good or bad karma. We can attain freedom from karma only when we give up acting according to our material desires and instead act to serve the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When we are purified of all material desires and repose all our thoughts, words, and actions in loving service to Krsna, then only can we transcend the law of karma. Otherwise karma, good or bad, will lead us to repeated suffering, birth after birth.
We have to understand that the law of karma is actually operating, and then we can consider extricating ourselves from karma's influence. Even if a mother can educate her deaf and dumb child by alternative methods and help him adjust to his handicapped life, the main problems of material life still remain. There are no material means for avoiding karma. Freedom from karma is possible only when we understand how to act transcendentally.
Nadine understands the laws of karma and was therefore able to solve her son's dilemma. Usually psychologists, doctors, and parents of deaf and dumb children can explain only the immediate cause: "During pregnancy your mother was very sick." "You had meningitis when you were a baby." But such explanations don't really answer the question. And Ravi's reaction to such explanations had been like that of so many other handicapped children: "Yes, but why me?" Therefore he had remained dissatisfied.
Then Nadine had learned about Krsna consciousness and the Vedic literature's explanation of karma. So one day when her son approached her in great frustration, demanding to know why he was deaf and dumb, she showed him a painting in Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The painting depicted the soul as it transmigrates from birth to childhood to youth to adulthood to old age and finally, at death, to another body. Pointing to the picture, Nadine told Ravi that during one of his many previous lives he must have performed sinful activities and because of those sinful activities he was now being forced to accept the karmic reaction. Ravi looked up at his mother and smiled, and then he looked down at the picture again for a long, long time. He was no longer complaining, and he didn't hit her or blame her as before. He just kept looking at the picture, satisfied.
Nadine is also satisfied. Ravi will learn to use his life so he won't have to take another birth and suffer the results of his karma.—SDG