A talk given in December 1966 by
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
yanti deva-vrata devan
"Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods, those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings, and those who worship Me will live with Me" (Bhagavad-gita, 9.25).
Some people argue that you can worship the Supreme in whatever form you please and still achieve perfection. This is the mayavada theory: God is actually impersonal, but because we cannot worship or meditate upon something impersonal, let us imagine some form of God and meditate upon that. The impersonalistic yogis have a similar idea: they put a circular design in front of themselves and concentrate upon that.
So here Krsna refutes that theory. The impersonal conception of the Supreme, imagining some form of God—these are not the ways of approaching God. He says clearly, "Those who are worshiping the demigods will go to the demigods." The demigods have their various places in this material world. There are seven higher planetary systems and seven lower planetary systems. We are living on earth, in the planetary system called Bhurloka, and there are many planets in this system. And above Bhurloka are Bhuvarloka, Svarga-loka, Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka, Brahmaloka—there are so many planets, with various kinds of living entities and various kinds of comforts. On some of these planets there are very highly intelligent beings, much more intelligent than human beings, who are called demigods ("those who are almost God").
So here Krsna says that those who are worshiping the demigods will go to the planets of the demigods. Then He says, pitrn yanti pitr-vratah. There is a process of worshiping the forefathers, and there is a particular planet where the worshipers of the forefathers go. And bhutani yanti bhutejya: those who worship earthly beings or earthly things will remain on the earthly platform. But, Krsna says, yanti mad-yajino 'pi mam: "Those who worship Me will come to Me." This is very clear.
Now, suppose you have purchased a train ticket for an intermediate station between New York and San Francisco. You will have to get out at that station. How can you expect that if you have purchased a ticket for an intermediate station you can go to San Francisco? If you want to go to San Francisco, you have to purchase a ticket for San Francisco. Similarly, if you worship the demigods you can go to a demigod's planet, but no higher. In the creation of God there are various arrangements for worship. You have freedom of action, and God awards you the result—whatever you want. But if you want to go to the planet where Krsna lives, which is called Krsnaloka or Goloka Vrndavana, then you have to worship Krsna. That is not unreasonable.
What is the difference between going to Krsna's planet and going to other planets? That is explained in a different part of Bhagavad-gita [15.6]: yad gatva na nivartante tad dhama paramam mama. The supreme planet is that place from which nobody returns to this material world. yad gatva na nivartante. Na nivartante means "does not return." We have already discussed that even if you go to the highest planets within this material world—the moon planet, the sun planet, the heavenly planets—after exhausting the results of your pious activities you have to come back to earth again. Punar avartinah. So we are sometimes going up and sometimes coming down. Sometimes we might have an Indian body, sometimes we might have an American body, sometimes we may get the body of a hog or a dog, and sometimes we may get the body of a demigod. These changes of bodily dress are going on in the cycle of birth and death, as the soul transmigrates from one form of life to another.
So, this going up and coming down should be stopped. That is the business of an intelligent person. We should try to go to that planet from which there is no more coming back (yad gatva na nivartante). That planet is Krsnaloka. Paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyah. Beyond this material sky there is the spiritual sky, Vaikuntha, where there are spiritual planets. And Krsnaloka is there.
Krsna says, yanti mad-yajino 'pi mam. "Just as others are trying to go to various planets, those who are in Krsna consciousness, those who are exclusively worshiping Me—they will come to Me." In another place [Bg. 8.15] Krsna says, mam upetya punar janma duhkhalayam asasvatam napnuvanti: "Those who once attain to me will never come again to this place of misery [the material world]."
If we always remain in Krsna consciousness, then our transference to the Krsnaloka planet is guaranteed. Yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram. We are going to get a body in our next life according to our mental condition at the time of our death. So if we are constantly engaged in transcendental loving service to Krsna, absorbed in Krsna consciousness, then naturally we shall be thinking of Krsna at the time of death. Then we shall attain a spiritual body and go to join Krsna in Krsnaloka. This is the practice of Krsna consciousness.
Unless you practice you cannot achieve success. Suppose you want to perform on the stage. So you have to practice for many years. Or if you want to pass some examination, then you have to prepare yourself for the sort of questions you may be asked. Similarly, if we at all want to transfer ourselves to the Krsnaloka planet, then we have to practice. We have to practice Krsna consciousness in this life. The human form of life is meant for this practice. "My disciples are just like apprentices, but here even apprentices are already liberated. In Krsna consciousness the student who is preparing himself nicely—he has already passed the test. In other words, he's preparing himself in such a nice way that his passing of the examination is guaranteed. So if we take the trouble to become always Krsna conscious, then our transference to Krsna's planet is guaranteed.
Now, the next question is, How do we perform Krsna consciousness? That is explained by the Lord in the next verse [Bg. 9.26]:
patram puspam phalam toyam
"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." You have to make friends with Krsna. If you want to see somebody very great, somehow or other you have to make some connection with him. You have to introduce yourself in a friendly way, in a loving manner, and then it is possible to make a connection with a great personality. So, if we want to transfer ourselves to that supreme planet, Krsnaloka, then we have to prepare ourselves by learning how to love Krsna, God. If we are intimately in touch with God by love. He will take us back to His supreme planet. But we cannot conquer Him by force. Unless we are in love with God, we cannot claim any favor from Him.
So, there are six principles of loving exchange. What are they?
How can one person understand that another person loves him? By these six kinds of exchange, or reciprocation. First are dadati pratigrhnati: you must give something to the one whom you love, and you must accept something from him. Then guhyam akhyati prcchati: you must disclose your mind, and you must also hear him. If your beloved is in some difficulty, you must listen when he discloses his mind. And finally, bhunkte bhojayate: you must give your beloved something to eat, and you must accept what he gives you to eat. So, we have to deal with God in this way.
Now, the beginning is offering something. We must offer something to Krsna. But suppose a poor man wants to offer something to God. What has he to offer? Here is a description, given by the Lord Himself, of things that can be offered even by the poorest man. Patram puspam phalam toyam: a small tulasi leaf (or any leaf), a little flower, a small fruit, and a little water. Now, these four things are available universally. Nobody is so poor that he cannot collect a leaf or a small fruit or a small flower or a little water. They are universal; they are not expensive. So anyone, in any country, in any place, can offer Krsna these four things. There is no bar. A small leaf you can get anywhere—there are so many trees. Even if you are forbidden, when you say, "I am going to offer this leaf to God," anyone will allow you to have it.
So the Lord says, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it." The real thing is the love. When one brings these four things with love and devotion, then. God says, tad aham . . . asnami: "I eat the offering." God is purnam, full in Himself. We should not think, "Oh, God is depending upon my little flower and fruit. He is very hungry, and when I offer Him this fruit He'll feel satisfied," No. He's purnam. So our offering should be made with love and devotion; that is its only qualification. That He accepts—your devotional love.
Anybody can worship Krsna with these four things: a leaf, a flower, fruit, and water. But we should not think, "Oh, Krsna wants only patram puspam phalam toyam, so let Him have this patram puspam phalam toyam, and for myself let me eat very sumptuously, the best thing." That is cheating. Krsna can understand. This patram puspam phalam toyam is for the poorest man, but if you have very nice things to offer Krsna, you must offer them. If you love Krsna you should offer Him the nicest, the choicest, the best things, because everything belongs to Him. So when you offer Krsna the best and the choicest, that is proof of your love.
Suppose you offer a fruit to Krsna. Can you manufacture the fruit? No, it is manufactured by Krsna; it is God's gift. But if you place before Him some choice fruit, some choice flower, then that is a token of your love. This process is already going on within the material world. Suppose there is a nice rose flower. Somebody picks it and thinks, "Oh, it is a very nice rose flower. I shall offer it to my girlfriend." That is sense gratification. But if you take the same flower and think, "Oh, it is a very nice flower; I shall offer it to Krsna," that is your service to the Lord. In either case the flower is there, you are there, and the offering is there. You simply have to change your consciousness. That's all. You have to change your consciousness to Krsna consciousness. If you utilize things for sense gratification, then you go to the darkest region of this material atmosphere, but if you take the same things and offer them to Krsna, you go to Krsnaloka, the spiritual world.
Now, when you offer something to Krsna, Krsna does not take it away. He leaves the remnants of the offering, and then we can partake of the prasadam ["the Lord's mercy," i.e., spiritual food]. The whole process becomes spiritual—the preparation, the offering, and the partaking. In this way we can spiritualize the whole world, simply by changing our consciousness.
We're anxious for peace. This is the process for attaining peace: change your consciousness to Krsna consciousness; don't accept anything for your sense gratification. Everything is supplied by the Supreme Lord, and therefore everything is the property of the Supreme Lord. You are falsely claiming that you are the proprietor. How can you be the proprietor? Suppose you have taken your birth in America. Before your birth the land was there, and after your death the land will be there. Therefore the land is God's property. Why do you claim that this is your land? The earth belongs to God. Everything belongs to God.
This consciousness should be adopted if you at all want peace. If you encroach upon God's property and take it as your own and try to use it for your sense gratification, you cannot expect any peace. Suppose you have stolen something from somebody and you want to enjoy it. You are always in anxiety, because you know that the police will search for you and that as soon as you are caught you will be in trouble. Similarly, nature is God's police agent. As soon as you want to gratify your senses by utilizing God's property, you're in trouble. Nature will inflict misery upon you. This is the law of nature.
Krsna clearly states in Bhagavad-gita [7.14],
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
This material nature is guna-mayi, a combination of the three modes of nature—the mode of goodness, the mode of passion, and the mode of ignorance. So Krsna says this material nature is duratyaya, most difficult to overcome. You cannot surpass the stringent laws of material nature. That is not in your power.
You are just like a prisoner. However stout and strong you are, when you are under police custody no amount of strength will help you. You'll be offered all kinds of tribulations. Similarly, nature is very strong. As long as we go on utilizing God's property illegally, encroaching upon His possessions, there cannot be any peace. If you want peace at all, you have to accept that everything belongs to God. We can use things, but only after offering them to Him. We should think, "I understand that this belongs to You, God. You have sent me all these things for my subsistence. So first of all You taste this food; then I shall take Your prasadam." This is Krsna consciousness.
The Lord is supplying you everything you need. He'll not take away what He has given you. It is for you. But you must simply acknowledge, "God, you have given us such nice things for eating. Please, You take first." A small child is provided with everything by his father. But while eating, the child may offer the father something: "My dear father, this is a very nice thing. You take it." How pleased the father will be! Just imagine. The father knows that he has supplied everything to his child, but if the child offers something to the father, the father says, "Oh, it is very nice? All right. I shall eat it." This is love.
So, here Krsna is explaining how you can offer your love to Him. Patram puspam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati. And if God accepts your things and eats them, then what more do you want? He becomes your most intimate friend. If you can make God your intimate friend, then there is nothing else wanted (yam labdhva caparam labham manyate nadhikam tatah). Also, you will remain undisturbed, even in the greatest difficulty (yasmin sthito na duhkhena gurunapi vicalyate).
When we become convinced that Krsna is our intimate friend and protector, how happy and peaceful we will be! So just be in love with Krsna. Then you will see how much tranquility you feel, how you are protected by Krsna, how you avoid insufficiency, how you become pure, and how you make progress in spiritual life. Thank you very much.
A Child Sent by Krsna
When this child reaches the age of seventy,
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Excerpted from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. 1981 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
With this issue of back to godhead we begin serializing Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, the biography of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, from Volume 1, A Lifetime in Preparation. This volume recounts the first sixty-nine years of Srila Prabhupada's life, from his birth in Calcutta in 1896 to his departure for the West in 1965.
The vignettes recorded in this first installment reveal that from earliest childhood Srila Prabhupada imbibed from his father the pure devotion to Krsna that would remain the central sustaining force throughout his life. And as this extraordinary history unfolds, we shall see how Srila Prabhupada, through the turbulence of two world wars, years of Hindu-British and Hindu-Muslim strife, and much personal travail, maintained his faith in Lord Krsna and carried forward the mission to spread the message of Krsna in India and in the West.
It was Janmastami, the annual celebration of the advent of Lord Krsna some five thousand years before. Residents of Calcutta, mostly Vaisnavas (devotees of Lord Krsna) but also many Muslims and even some British, were observing the festive day, moving here and there through the city's streets to visit the temples of Lord Krsna. Devout Vaisnavas, fasting until midnight, chanted Hare Krsna and heard about the birth and activities of Krsna from Srimad-Bhagavatam, one of the principal Vedic scriptures. The devotees continued fasting, chanting, and worshiping throughout the night.
The next day (September 1, 1896), in a little house in the Tollygunge suburb of Calcutta, a male child was born. Since he was born on Nandotsava, the day Krsna's father, Nanda Maharaja, had observed a festival in honor of Krsna's birth, the boy's uncle called him Nandulal. But his father, Gour Mohan De, and his mother, Rajani, named him Abhay Charan, "one who is fearless, having taken shelter at Lord Krsna's lotus feet." In accordance with Bengali tradition, the mother had gone to the home of her parents for the delivery, and so it was that on the bank of the Adi Ganga, a few miles from his father's home, in a small, two-room, mud-walled house with a tiled roof, underneath a jack-fruit tree, Abhay Charan was born. A few days later, Abhay returned with his parents to their home at 151 Harrison Road.
An astrologer did a horoscope for the child, and the family was made jubilant by the auspicious reading. The astrologer made a specific prediction: When this child reached the age of seventy, he would cross the ocean, become a great exponent of religion, and open 108 temples.
* * *
Abhay Charan De was born into an India dominated by Victorian imperialism. Calcutta was the capital of India, the seat of the viceroy, the Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, and the "second city" of the British Empire. Europeans and Indians lived separately, although in business and education they intermingled. The British lived mostly in central Calcutta, amidst their own theaters, racetracks, cricket fields, and fine European buildings. The Indians lived more in north Calcutta. Here the men dressed in dhotis and the women in saris and, while remaining loyal to the British Crown, followed their traditional religion and culture.
Abhay's home at 151 Harrison Road was in the Indian section of north Calcutta. Abhay's father, Gour Mohan De, was a cloth merchant of moderate income and belonged to the aristocratic suvarna-vanik merchant community. He was related, however, to the wealthy Mullik family, which for hundreds of years had traded in gold and salt with the British.
An entire block of properties on either side of Harrison Road belonged to Lokanath Mullik, and Gour Mohan and his family lived in a few rooms of a three-story building within the Mullik properties. Across the street from the Des' residence was a Radha-Govinda temple where for the past 150 years the Mulliks had maintained worship of the Deity of Radha and Krsna. Various shops on the Mullik properties provided income for the Deity and for the priests conducting the worship. Every morning before breakfast, the Mullik family members would visit the temple to see the Deity of Radha-Govinda. They would offer cooked rice, kacauris (fried vegetable patties), and vegetables on a large platter and would then distribute the prasadam (the remnants of the offering) to the Deities' morning visitors from the neighborhood.
Among the daily visitors was Abhay Charan, accompanying his mother, father, or servant.
Srila Prabhupada: I used to ride on the same perambulator with Siddhesvar Mullik. He used to call me Moti ("pearl"), and his nickname was Subidhi. And the servant pushed us together. If one day this friend did not see me, he would become mad. He would not go in the perambulator without me. We would not separate even for a moment.
* * *
As the servant pushed the baby carriage into the wide expanse of Harrison Road, timing his crossing between the bicycles and horse-drawn hackneys, the two children in the pram gazed up at the fair sky and tall trees across the road. Sounds and sights of the hackneys, with their large wheels spinning over the road, caught the fascinated attention of the two children. The servant steered the carriage towards the arched gateway within the red sandstone wall bordering the Radha-Govinda Mandira, and as Abhay and his friend rode underneath the ornate metal arch and into the courtyard, they saw high above them two stone lions, the heralds and protectors of the temple compound, their right paws extended.
In the courtyard was a circular drive, and on the oval lawn were lampposts with gaslights, and a statue of a young woman in robes. Sharply chirping sparrows flitted in the shrubs and trees or hopped across the grass, pausing to peck the ground, while choruses of pigeons cooed, sometimes abruptly flapping their wings overhead, sailing off to another perch or descending to the courtyard. Voices chattered as Bengalis moved to and fro, dressed in simple cotton saris and white dhotis. Someone paused by the carriage to amuse the golden-skinned boys, with their shining dark eyes, but mostly people were passing by quickly, going into the temple.
The heavy double doors leading into the inner courtyard were open, and the servant eased the carriage wheels down a foot-deep step and proceeded through the foyer, then down another step and into the bright sunlight of the main courtyard. The carriage moved ahead past two servants sweeping and washing the stone courtyard. It was just a few paces across the courtyard to the temple.
The temple area itself, open like a pavilion, was a raised platform with a stone roof supported by stout pillars fifteen feet tall. At the left end of the temple pavilion stood a crowd of worshipers, viewing the Deities on the altar. The servant pushed the carriage closer, lifted the two boys out, and then, holding their hands, escorted them reverentially before the Deities.
Srila Prabhupada: I can remember standing at the doorway of Radha-Govinda temple saying prayers to Radha-Govinda murti. I would watch for hours together. The Deity was so beautiful with His slanted eyes.
Radha and Govinda, freshly bathed and dressed, now stood on Their silver throne amidst vases of fragrant flowers. Govinda was about eighteen inches high, and Radharani, standing to his left, was slightly smaller. Both were golden. Radha and Govinda both stood in the same gracefully curved dancing pose, right leg bent at the knee and right foot placed in front of the left. Radharani, dressed in a lustrous silk sari, held up Her reddish right palm in benediction, and Krsna, in His silk jacket and dhoti, played on a golden flute.
At Govinda's lotus feet were green leaves from the sacred tulasi bush, with pulp of sandalwood. Hanging around Their Lordships' necks and reaching down almost to Their lotus feet were several garlands of fragrant night-blooming jasmines, delicate, trumpetlike blossoms resting lightly on Radha and Govinda's divine forms. Their necklaces of gold, pearls, and diamonds shimmered.
Beautifully dressed, dancing on Their silver throne beneath a silver canopy and surrounded by flowers, Radha and Krsna appeared most attractive to Abhay. Life outside, on Harrison Road and beyond, was forgotten. In the courtyard the birds went on chirping, and visitors came and went, but Abhay stood silently, absorbed in seeing the beautiful forms of Krsna and Radharani, the Supreme Lord and His eternal consort.
Then the kirtana began, devotees chanting and playing on drums and hand cymbals. Abhay and his friend kept watching as the priest, or pujari, offered incense, its curling smoke hanging in the air, then a flaming lamp, a conchshell, a handkerchief, flowers, a whisk, and a peacock fan. Finally the pujari blew the conchshell loudly, and the arati ceremony was over.
* * *
When Abhay was one and a half years old, he fell ill with typhoid. The family physician. Dr. Bose, prescribed chicken broth.
"No," Gour Mohan protested, "I cannot allow it."
"Yes, otherwise he will die."
"But we are not meat-eaters," Gour Mohan pleaded. "We cannot prepare chicken in our kitchen."
"Don't mind," Dr. Bose said. "I shall prepare it at my house and bring it in a jar, and you simply . . ."
Gour Mohan assented. "If it is necessary for my son to live." So the doctor came with his chicken broth and offered it to Abhay, who immediately began to vomit.
"All right," the doctor admitted. "Never mind, this is no good." Gour Mohan then threw the chicken broth away, and Abhay gradually recovered from the typhoid without having to eat meat.
* * *
In 1900, when Abhay was four, a vehement plague hit Calcutta. Dozens of people died every day, and thousands evacuated the city. When there seemed no way to check the plague, an old babaji oraganized Hare Krsna sankirtana all over Calcutta. Regardless of religion, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, and Parsi all joined, and then a large party of chanters traveled from street to street, door to door, chanting the names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The group arrived at 151 Harrison Road, and Gour Mohan eagerly received them. Although Abhay was a little child, his head reaching only up to the knees of the chanters, he also joined in the dancing. Shortly after this, the plague subsided.
* * *
Gour Mohan was a pure Vaisnava, and he raised his son to be Krsna conscious. Since his own parents had also been Vaisnavas, Gour Mohan had never touched meat, fish, eggs, tea, or coffee. His complexion was fair and his disposition reserved. At night he would lock up his cloth shop, set a bowl of rice in the middle of the floor to satisfy the rats so that they would not chew the cloth in their hunger, and return home. There he would read from Caitanya-caritamrta and Srimad-Bhagavatam, the main scriptures of Bengali Vaisnavas, chant on his japa beads, and worship the Deity of Lord Krsna. He was gentle and affectionate and would never punish Abhay. Even when obliged to correct him, Gour Mohan would first apologize: "You are my son, so now I must correct you. It is my duty. Even Caitanya Mahaprabhu's father would chastise Him, so don't mind."
Srila Prabhupada: My father's income was no more than 250 rupees per month, but there was no question of need. In the mango season when we were children, we would run through the house playing, and we would grab mangoes as we were running through. And all through the day we would eat mangoes. We wouldn't have to think, "Can I have a mango?" My father always provided food—mangoes were one rupee a dozen.
Life was simple, but there was always plenty. We were middle class but receiving four or five guests daily. My father gave four daughters in marriage, and there was no difficulty for him. Maybe it was not a very luxurious life, but there was no scarcity of food or shelter or cloth. Dally he purchased two and a half kilograms of milk. He did not like to purchase retail but would purchase a year's supply of coal by the cartload.
We were happy—not that because we did not purchase a motorcar we were unhappy. My father used to say, "God has ten hands. If He wants to take away from you, with two hands how much can you protest? And when He wants to give to you with ten hands, then with your two hands how much can you take?
My father would rise a little late, around seven or eight. Then, after taking bath, he would go purchasing. Then, from ten o'clock to one in the afternoon, he was engaged in puja [worship of the family Deity]. Then he would take his lunch and go to business. And in the business shop he would take a little rest for one hour. He would come home from business at ten o'clock at night, and then again he would do puja. Actually, his real business was puja. For livelihood he did some business, but puja was his main business. We would be sleeping, and father would be doing arati. Ding ding ding—we would hear the bell and wake up and see him bowing down before Krsna.
Gour Mohan wanted Vaisnava goals for his son; he wanted Abhay to become a servant of Radharani, to become a preacher of the Bhagavatam, and to learn the devotional art of playing mrdanga, a clay drum used in group chanting. He regularly received sadhus in his home, and he would always ask them, "Please bless my son so that Srimati Radharani may be pleased with him and grant him Her blessings."
When Abhay's mother said she wanted him to become a British lawyer when he grew up (which meant he would have to go to London to study), one of the Mullik "uncles" thought it was a good idea. But Gour Mohan would not hear of it; if Abhay went to England he would be influenced by European dress and manners. "He will learn drinking and woman-hunting." Gour Mohan objected. "I do not want his money."
From the beginning of Abhay's life, Gour Mohan had introduced his plan. He had hired a professional mrdanga player to teach Abhay the standard rhythms for accompanying kirtana. Rajani had been skeptical: "What is the purpose of teaching such a young child to play the mrdanga? It is not important." But Gour Mohan had his dream of a son who would grow up singing bhajanas, playing mrdanga, and speaking on Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta continues next month with five-year old Abhay Charan organizing a miniature Ratha-yatra chariot festival for the pleasure of Krsna, and to the delight of his family and friends.
Search For an Art of Transcendence
From the museums of New York City
by Yogesvara dasa
YOGESVARA DASA, a devotee of Krsna for twelve years, is a contributing editor for BACK TO GODHEAD magazine. He is also head of Bala Books, which publishes Krsna conscious literature for children.
I came of age in the mid '60s, at a time when progressives and liberals held sway in American society and the mood was full throttle into the bright future of technology and the unlimited creative potential of man. Odd-kid-out in most social activities (I attended expensive schools on scholarships, which put me in a socially awkward position), I ended up spending weekends and after-school hours wandering through New York City's cavernous museums, filled with stone and canvas monuments to the Creative Animal. In one afternoon I could journey on foot from prehistoric cave paintings to Renaissance pietas, and from there to modern art and the latest in pop, op, and the psychedelic rest.
Of course, I visited not only the Metropolitan, the Guggenheim, and the Museum of Modern Art, but also the Museum of Natural History. There I was struck by the apparent parallel between the evolution of art and the evolution of man. First came the cavemen, with their cave paintings—rough, simplistic products of an obviously lower order of intelligence. Then, as man began wearing clothes, shaping tools, and tilling the earth, he produced the crude religious paintings and iconography of early civilization. Finally, as man grew more civilized, art grew more sophisticated, until Homo sapien was producing an artistic legacy as complex and unfathomable as his own neurological organs.
But this apparent parallel evolution of art and man was too pat; it left an empty feeling in my stomach. Though my own culture accepted such a parallel, some part of me disagreed with the premise that art viewed chronologically was synonymous with art viewed progressively. The free-floating Calder mobiles appealed to my sense of aesthetics, but did that place them somehow above the simpler works relegated to sections marked "Tribal Talismans"? The sensual curves of a Moore sculpture attracted my adolescent mind, but were they "better" than the three-thousand-year-old works designated "Hindu Deities"? The open-ended canvases of Jasper Johns made me think about how his work affected me, but did I feel any less affected by the delicate miniature encrusted with gold and labeled "Krishna: Indian Forest God"?
These exhibits were consistently arranged so as to suggest that objects of art were no more than cultural artifacts. The arrangement was no doubt the work of anthropologists, art historians, sociologists, and others, who had a vested interest in making culture central, who addressed themselves, it seems, to people unwilling to bring themselves to consider anything that might transcend human experience.
Yet despite my intimations of a higher criterion than cultural relativity for evaluating art, when I met devotees of Lord Krsna for the first time, in 1969, I still believed that art could change the world without recourse to transcendent realities. Universities' in Europe and the United States abounded with such courses as "Existentialism and Modern Art," "Physics for Poets," "Social Trends in Art History," "Picasso and the Collective Unconscious," "Music as a Force for Change." What these courses all had in common was, first, an insistence on the interrelationship of the arts and, second, the idea that art should be about a personal "inner vision" that judiciously avoids other-worldliness. Like the perfectly ordered historical art exhibits I had known during my high-school days, the university catalogs also treated art as one of the Humanities, as a subject that deals only with human meanings. Art, they too were saying, can be understood only within the context of culture.
The devotees, however, lived with an art that went beyond such notions. In those early days of the Krsna consciousness movement in France, readings from the Bhagavad-gita and group chanting of Hare Krsna took place on Sundays in the Latin Quarter, at a gray two-story hangout for students, artists, poets, and musicians. Perched precariously on a folding chair, in the corner of a room that sat about thirty, was a three-foot-high color poster of Gopala (Krsna), the Supreme Lord and the speaker of the Gita. The name Gopala means "cowherd boy," and in the picture Gopala was sitting gracefully, with His arm around a calf, looking off into the distance.
"Who's that in the picture?" I asked a devotee who stood peeling apples by the door.
"That's Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
"And the idealized setting in the background—that's supposed to be heaven?"
"No, not heaven, but the spiritual world—the really ideal setting, where everything is eternally full of knowledge and bliss."
I watched the devotees meticulously arrange the apple sections on a brass tray, offer the tray before the poster of Gopala, bow down, and then dance and sing before Him. After a few moments the ceremony stopped, and a young man in robes and a shaved head began reading from the Bhagavad-gita in French. "Krsna's nature," he explained after one verse, "is spiritual, God is not limited by material elements, as we are. His body is not subject to laws of decay and death. And since He is absolute. He remains spiritual in all His manifestations. His appearance in wood or stone or paint transforms the material medium into His own spiritual substance. We should not think that a Deity or painting of Krsna is an idol. It is Krsna Himself, graciously appearing in a form visible to us, to help us remember Him."
Unexpectedly, here was a challenge to my long-held belief in the cultural relativity of art. Extrapolating freely, I concluded that the Bhagavad-gita had this to say about art: Art can contain more than human elements; under certain conditions a work of art can serve as a vehicle for higher, transcendental forces, whose impact on the viewer or hearer (in the case of music, drama, or poetry) doesn't depend on intellectual grasp or cultural relevance. The mere act of seeing or hearing spiritual art produces a spiritually uplifting effect. Though one's intellectual awareness of the image or sound—one's sense of its meaning or purpose—enhances the effect, such awareness is not prerequisite. Spiritual art is like fire: potent, able to act on anyone who comes near it.
I began spending evenings with some of the devotees. The small room they shared was filled with posters, photos, and drawings of all sizes and shapes. There were depictions of Krsna with His cowherd boyfriends, Krsna in His various incarnations, sages and saints from the scriptural histories. None of it struck me as very developed artistry. The features were often naive, the composition unimaginative, the proportions out of whack. But the greatest travesty, in my eyes, was the lack of a challenge to the viewer. So little in any of these pictures left anything at all to the onlooker's interpretive skills. It was pure representational art. The spectator did not participate at all; he was a passive watcher. There was Krsna tending His cows in His village, Vrndavana, and there were the trees and flowers, all neatly dressed, best blossoms forward. It was clear that the artist had done his job quite well by painting exactly what he had seen—or rather exactly what he had read in the scriptures the devotees were always quoting. The artist had painted, and now the observer had only to gaze.
But to the devotees, those pictures were windows on the spiritual world. Each morning they would sit for an hour or more, concentrating on them as they chanted Hare Krsna on their beads. It became clear that the artists' identities were of little importance to the devotees who sat entranced before these paintings. They had been done "right" (according to scripture), and that was all that mattered.
Many months later Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual guide of the Krsna consciousness movement, visited Paris. By that time I had myself become a devotee of Krsna, and Srila Prabhupada's visit seemed a good opportunity to clear up some of my lingering questions about the role of art in spiritual life. I waited until I could meet with him in his quarters, and then I dove right in.
"What is the function of art in spiritual life, Srila Prabhupada?" He looked up and studied my face for what seemed a long time.
"It is to put things in their proper place for best utility," he said.
I didn't understand what he meant, but rather than ask the same question again, I said, "Some artists might disagree with you. Sometimes it is considered art to take an object out of its proper place and give it a life of its own. Some artists argue that a work of art is a reality in itself, that it doesn't depend for its 'being' on anything or anyone else. They say that art is most beautiful when accepted as a self-sufficient reality."
"Beauty and art are different," he corrected. "Beauty is something that satisfies my eyes. Your eyes may be satisfied by something, my eyes by something else. According to your idea of beauty, my beauty may be unacceptable. Beauty is a kind of sense gratification."
"Yet the object of our vision may be beautiful, even if we can't appreciate it."
"No. If I like it, then it is beautiful. If I don't, then it isn't. There is no such thing as a standard of beauty. Just like nowadays artists make 'beautiful' paintings"—he waved an imaginary paintbrush wildly in the air above his head and laughed. 'I don't like it, but someone else may say it is very beautiful. So beauty and art are different. Art means arranging things for the highest utility. Beauty may satisfy but not have any higher utility. A picture, a poem—anything—is art when it serves the very best utility."
Utility was obviously the crux of his definition. "If someone's work fulfills that qualification of highest utility, is he an artist?"
"Yes. An artist is one who knows the standard of best utility."
I opened Webster's. "One definition the dictionary gives for artist is 'one specifically skilled in the practice of a manual art or occupation, as cooking.' If we apply that definition to spiritual life, a sincere laborer working for Krsna—a carpenter or a cook—is actually an artist."
"Oh, yes, anyone who performs his work for the satisfaction of Krsna, who knows His relationship with Krsna, is a true artist."
That was the moment when I at last understood his use of the word utility. He was defining art as any work that brings the performer, as well as all who come in contact with the work, away from the cycle of birth and death and closer to God. In other words, true art is yoga. By this definition of art as yoga, Srila Prabhupada was not denying the need, in painting, for rules of composition or balance in color and design. Rather, he was expanding the meaning of art beyond the traditional forms of painting, sculpture, music, drama, poetry, and so on to include every field of human endeavor—a notion described in Bhagavad-gita (2.50):
A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore, strive for yoga, which is the art of all work.
In the simple acts of devotion—the offering of foods to the Lord, the humble recitation of His holy names, the striving for a saintly life—one can also perceive God. The same inspiration is communicated by the art of work as by a work of art. In effect, Krsna in the Gita exhorts all members of society to become artists by performing their work as an offering of love to Him.
"In other words," I asked, "would we say that anyone who works on behalf of Krsna, according to Krsna's direction, is an artist?"
"Yes. A devotee knows the standard of utility. He knows how to put things in their proper place to inspire love for Krsna in himself and others.
Srila Prabhupada stopped speaking, and a thoughtful silence filled the room. I began thinking back to my first days in the movement, when I had met a young Scottish devotee named Digvijaya. No one knew how to "put things in their proper place" better than Digvijaya. He was the cook in the old London temple. A simple country boy with a knack for detail, Digvijaya cooked liked nobody's business and kept an immaculate kitchen that boasted rows of pots sparkling from the hours of patient scrubbing he had put into them. Attracted by his fastidious habits and feats of cookery, I would sometimes go down to the basement work area and help him prepare an offering for the Deities.
"You like to work for Krsna in the kitchen, don't you?" I rather clumsily asked him one evening. Digvijaya looked a little flustered and went on with his cooking. Finally he looked up and said, "Actually, I don't consider myself advanced enough spiritually to serve Krsna directly. I'm happy just cooking for His pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada. And if he offers the preparations to Krsna on my behalf, I know they will be accepted."
This was a young man whose culinary skills could hold their own with many professionals', yet he was obviously humble about his work. During our talk he had revealed to me the secret of spiritual cooking: don't speculate. "The best recipes have been around for thousands of years," he said. "What Krsna likes has already been tried and tested, and then recorded in the scriptures. A spiritual chef," he had concluded, "is one who learns how to make a dish just as Krsna has always liked it, since time immemorial."
Now, two years later, Srila Prabhupada was confirming the same principle as the essence of spiritual art. Don't speculate. Your work is meant to be an offering of love for Krsna, not a product of artistic ego. So let Krsna guide your efforts.
"Real art, then," I said, "means simply to do something for Krsna's pleasure?"
"Yes," Srila Prabhupada replied. "That is also the definition of love: to do something for the pleasure of the beloved."
"But what about artists as a class of people? What about art as a specific field of creative endeavor—art in the classical sense—painting, sculpture, music? Does spontaneity play no part in Vaisnava [devotional] art? And how do the artists derive inspiration if everything is already laid out in the scriptures?"
"All these questions will be answered when you visit the artists who paint for my books."
Many months later I had that opportunity. At the devotee artist studios (then in Los Angeles), much was like what I had seen in dozens of other studios: paintbrushes, canvases, some reference books. But there were new elements as well. Music played constantly in the background—devotional songs that set a mood for the work at hand. Sometimes two or even three artists at a time worked to complete a painting, each contributing his or her best effort, either in background design, facial details, jewelry, architecture, or whatever. The artists, in their discussions, constantly referred to one or another Vedic scripture. Clearly they had studied their subjects well, and they drew details for the work from the ancient texts.
I asked one young man where he had received his training. He had graduated from a well-known art school, he said, and after becoming a devotee he had gone to India. What was an artist's training like in India? "Oh, very intense," he said. "An artist in the devotional tradition never attempts a sculpture or painting of Krsna unless his teacher has sanctioned both the work and his readiness to execute it. The forms of Krsna are divine; when depicted by one who is not in the proper devotional mood, they are offensive."
I noticed a young woman prepare her brushes by washing them in a sink down the hall. There was a bathroom closer by, but, she explained, through the agency of these brushes Krsna would appear on canvas, and so she preferred not to wash them in the bathroom. Before applying the first strokes to her canvas, she folded her hands and offered Sanskrit prayers before a picture of her spiritual master.
The artists were trained technicians in their craft. In the sculpture workshop a heavyset man with a clean-shaven head applied filler to a bust of Old Age, a character in a diorama depicting birth, death, and rebirth. He looked at the bust, and, for my benefit, broke down the visual impression into colors, contrasts, perspectives, relationships, planes, and other aspects that had escaped my untrained eyes.
Yet beyond the technical prowess, these artists were seeing Krsna, not only in the immediate form of the sculpture or painting but also in the thousand and one details of life's every moment that escape the notice of materialistic men. These artists knew the true value of their resources. The very tools of their trade acted as an inspiration for their work. Krsna was in the earth and clay, in the water and paints. He was the light of the sun that illuminated their studios. Nothing in their work was separate from Him, and by His presence the work itself became transformed into an act of meditation and prayer:
I asked several of the artists what they felt was the most important part of their work. Though one or two spoke of abstract concepts—like detachment from the finished product—the majority agreed that the most important part of their work was a strong daily program of morning sadhana, the devotional and meditative practices that begin around 4:30 a.m. and end by 8:30 in every temple of the Krsna consciousness movement. Without that regularity of spiritual discipline, they all agreed, they could never put brush to canvas or chisel to stone.
Over the course of the last few years, my deepening appreciation for spiritual art has cast in a different light the culturally based ideas of art that I grew up with. Instead of a progressive development in the arts, the contents of our museums seem to evince man's increasing estrangement from his Spiritual roots. The further we divorce ourselves from the notion of a higher being and a life beyond matter, the more abstract and cerebral and sterile our artistry grows. And what usually passes as spiritual is in fact merely a negation of what we take to be material: form, personality, recognizable elements of creation. As a result, the spiritual reality—a world filled with spiritual variety, spiritual form and personality—remains hidden from our view. That spiritual reality, says the Bhagavad-gita, is revealed in proportion to one's renunciation of such concepts as "I am the creator" and "I am the artist" and one's acceptance of one's role as a servant of God.
No matter how innovative, lyrically spontaneous, or technically adept, the artist with no spiritual training or vision can never transcend in his work the limitations placed upon him by his alienation from God. Because such an artist is competing with God, he can never become a pure medium for the expression of God's infinite creativity.
On the other hand, even an untrained devotee artist can become such a medium. This is true because the transcendental quality of a work of art is a result not of technical skill but of the artist's purity of devotion, his desire to glorify God through his work. Properly guided, even an unskilled devotee artist can bring out the Supreme Spirit for all to see, as exemplified by the following anecdote told to me by one of the artists in Los Angeles.
Once, while traveling by plane, Srila Prabhupada chanted Hare Krsna around his beads with a drawing of Krsna pinned to the back of the seat in front of Him. This is a common practice among devotees who travel, but it was striking that Srila Prabhupada had chosen this particular drawing to meditate upon. It was done in crayon—the straightforward, untutored work of a child. It had little aesthetically redeeming value. But to Srila Prabhupada it was finer than a Rembrandt, more meaningful than a Degas, more intriguing than a Picasso, because it was Krsna drawn by the loving (albeit naive) hand of His young devotee. In that simple sketch was abundant subject matter for Srila Prabhupada's artistic contemplation: devotion, sincerity, earnest labor, and a six-year-old's humble offering of love to God.
On Abortion and "Rabbit Philosophy"
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place on an early-morning walk in December 1973 at Venice Beach, California.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes we argue that although the laws of nature are very powerful, we can overcome such things as disease and death if we surrender to Lord Krsna, since He is controlling nature. But skeptics say we can gradually come to control the laws of nature on our own, without God.
Srila Prabhupada: No, we are forced to accept the laws of nature. How can anyone say he has conquered the laws of nature?
Devotee: Well, the doctors and biologists have conquered so many diseases.
Srila Prabhupada: But people are still becoming diseased. How have the doctors stopped disease?
Devotee: In Africa and India, for instance, they are inoculating everyone against smallpox, and they've saved many thousands of children from dying.
Srila Prabhupada: But the children will grow up and get old and die eventually in any case. So death has not been stopped. And besides, why do they bother about these children? They don't want overpopulation, so logically the doctors should let them die. But the doctors are illogical. On one side they want to check the death of children, and on the other side they recommend the use of contraceptives and kill the children in the womb by abortion. Why? Why are they killing? To check the increase in population. Then when children are dying in another part of the world, why are they anxious to save them?
Devotee: Once the child is born, they want to save him. But when the child is still in the womb they feel they can kill him. They say he is not yet a human being.
Srila Prabhupada: But the child is already born as soon as a woman becomes pregnant. Pregnancy means the child is already born. How can they say there is no child? What is this nonsense? When a woman is pregnant, why do we say she is "with child"? This means the child is already born. Therefore, I say this abortion business is simply rascaldom.
Devotee: Well, they've rationalized it.
Srila Prabhupada: How?
Devotee: Sometimes they say they're just doing what they feel is best. And of course they deny that there's any such thing as karma to punish them later. It seems like they have a kind of "rabbit philosophy." When a rabbit closes his eyes so he doesn't see the wolf bearing down on him, he may actually think he's safe.
Srila Prabhupada: So, the abortionists believe in rabbit philosophy. It is not a man's philosophy. It is rabbit's philosophy, frog's philosophy, ass's philosophy. And they have been described in Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.19): sva-vid-varahostra-kharaih samstutah purusah pasuh. The leaders, who often support abortion, are rascals, and they are glorified by another set of rascals and fools—the people in general. Because the whole population is made up of rascals, they elect a rascal as their leader. Then, being dissatisfied, they throw the first rascal out of office and elect another rascal. This is called punah punas carvita-carvananam: chewing the chewed. The people do not know whom to elect. Therefore they have to be educated to choose a leader who is God conscious, who is actually fit to be a leader. Then they will be happy. Otherwise, they will go on electing one rascal and rejecting him, electing another rascal and rejecting him, and so on.
In America there is a slogan "In God we trust." So, we don't say, "Elect me president." We simply say that the standard for a leader should be that he knows who God is and that he trusts in Him. And if people actually want to know who God is, they can read Bhagavad-gita. They should read it with intelligence and try to understand, and then for further progress they may study Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is not that we are theorizing. We are taking our information about God from authorized books.
Devotee: In our leaflet about politics, we list the qualifications of a leader. First we say he must follow the four regulative principles: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no indulging in intoxicants. And the one positive injunction we give is that the leader chant the holy name of the Lord. But someone might argue that these requirements violate the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
Srila Prabhupada: If you believe in God, why should you have any objection to chanting the holy name of God? If you say, "In God we trust," then you must know the name of God and the address of God. Then you can actually trust Him. And if you don't know these things, then learn them from us. We are giving you God's name, address, qualities—everything. And if you say there is no God, then what is the meaning of "In God we trust"?
Devotee: They have made propaganda to separate church and state, but they've also separated God and country.
Srila Prabhupada: Those who are making this propaganda do not understand what God is. God cannot be separated from anything, because everything is God (maya tatam idam sarvam). If they study the Bhagavad-gita they will understand that God is present everywhere. It is not possible to separate anything from Him. Just as your consciousness is present in every part of your body, so the supreme consciousness, God, is present everywhere in the universe. Krsna says, vedaham samatitani: "I know everything that has happened." Unless He is everywhere, how can He know everything? What do you say?
Devotee: This is logical, Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada: How can you separate God from the government? You may reject any so-called church, any so-called religion that agrees, "Yes, God and the state should be separate." And that is God's instruction—that we reject such so-called religions. Sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all kinds of so-called religion and simply surrender to Me," Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita. People may say they believe in God, but you can know they are ignorant of what God is when they try to separate God from government.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Mayor Praises Vancouver Ratha-yatra
Vancouver—The Ratha-yatra Festival of the Chariots, celebrated here annually for the last five years by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, has apparently won the hearts of British Columbia's officialdom. After this year's gala procession of chariots carrying carved Deity forms of Lord Jagannatha (Lord of the Universe), His sister Subhadra, and His brother Balarama, Mayor Michael Harcourt praised the festival with these words:
"On this great occasion of Ratha-yatra ... I should like to offer my best wishes on behalf of the city of Vancouver. . . . The Vedic culture is one of the oldest known to mankind, and this Ratha-yatra is one of its most ancient and colorful festivals. It is a joyous occasion for all peoples, regardless of race, religion, or creed. In Canada, especially, the East Indian community has contributed a great deal to the development of a great multicultural Canadian nation. Festivals such as this, preserved and taken from the heart of the Indian culture, show the great spiritual heritage that India has to offer to the rest of the world. Therefore, I am happy to convey my greetings and best wishes to ISKCON on this auspicious Ratha-yatra Festival."
The premier of British Columbia, Bill Bennet, sent his best wishes for the festival through Peter Hyndman, minister of consumer and corporate affairs.
Hare Krsna Ministry Counsels the Living and the Dying
Washington, D.C.—The volunteer ministrations of a Hare Krsna devotee to terminally ill Hindu patients and their families at Children's Hospital here so impressed directors of the intensive-care unit that they sponsored an interfaith conference on death and dying with the devotee as principal speaker.
Conference coordinator Cheryl Finkelstein told Alankara dasa, of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), "We have been very impressed with your work in crisis situations. You project a kind of rapport and professionalism that we have never experienced before, although many other members of the clergy come here in the same role of counselor. You have taught us all a lot."
At the conference, which also included a Roman Catholic nun, a Muslim clergyman, and a Jewish rabbi, Alankara explained that the Vedic literature gives the most scientific and practical knowledge available anywhere about the soul and the experience of death. "Life does not end at the death of the body," he said. "The self, or soul, is eternal and enters into a new body after the death of the old one. According to the Vedic literature, the sense of hearing is the last to fail at death, and the dying person feels the most excruciating pain at the lamentation of his family members. Therefore we encourage the family to read from the scriptures by the patient's bedside. The patient should hear the glories of God and, if possible, chant His names. This spiritual process helps the patient overcome fear as he faces death and gives him a chance to escape the cycle of birth and death altogether."
Alankara's talk prompted this appreciation from Dr. Alien Fields, director of the intensive-care unit: "Your talk has given us new light on the care of the dying, and as time goes on I hope to see many of the practices you outlined incorporated by clergy of all faiths."
Srila Prabhupada's Books Win Acclaim from Costa Rican Professor
San Jose, Costa Rica—Recently Rodrigo Cordero Viquez, Professor of General Studies at the University of Costa Rica, gave this assessment of the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
"It has been both an honor and a pleasure for me to study the scholarly translations of Vedic literature by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I consider His Divine Grace a worthy successor to the exalted school of metaphysics enunciated by Srila Vyasadeva. By reference to the profound commentaries of such an eminent author, Western philosophers will better understand the thinking of intellectuals of the stature of Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger, and modern statesmen will gain the necessary knowledge by which to establish a just and united society."
Krsna Is Requesting
Back To Godhead introduces a new feature:
by Visakha-devi dasi
When guests visit a temple of Krsna for the first time, they're often puzzled by the ceremonial offering of vegetarian dishes to the Deity form of the Lord. And their puzzlement, in a way, is well founded. After all, what does the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Lord want with our plate of rice and vegetables? Has He suddenly become hungry? But He has created countless tons of rice—and every other edible. And besides. He is self-sufficient. Krsna doesn't need to ask anyone for anything.
Yet He asks. Not exactly for our rice and vegetables, but for our love and devotion. In Bhagavad-gita (9.26) Lord Krsna says, "If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it."
When we hear that Krsna wants us to offer our food to Him, we should know that He is inviting us to reawaken our eternal loving relationship with Him. We may comply at first in a mood of tender, pliable faith mixed with a sense of duty. Later, as our realization matures, we offer our food with affection and love. Just as a man offers the best thing he has to his beloved, so the devotee, out of love, offers Krsna the best of himself—his life, wealth, and intelligence—and his most delicious vegetarian food.
In the West, religion has deeply influenced the development of art, music, architecture, and literature. In India Krsna consciousness has permeated all these pursuits and the art of cooking as well. With vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, and water one can prepare hundreds of thousands of superlative dishes, each suitable for offering to God.
Six hundred and fifty recipes for such dishes have found their way into a forthcoming vegetarian cookbook by Yamuna-devi dasi. A disciple of Srila Prabhupada for fifteen years, Yamuna learned many recipes directly from him. In addition, she spent four years in India studying the techniques and ingredients involved in Krsna conscious cooking, a refined art that has been passed down from generation to generation for many centuries.
I first met Yamuna in March of 1971, when my husband Yadubara and I were traveling in India as itinerant photographers. That summer he and I, not yet devotees of Krsna, resided and photographed in Vrndavana, the holy village about ninety miles south of Delhi where Lord Krsna passed His childhood some fifty centuries ago.
One day Yamuna and her husband arrived in Vrndavana on pilgrimage. To find relief from the summer heat, she and I would occasionally spend the afternoon sitting neck-deep in the Yamuna River. (Srila Prabhupada had named my friend "Yamuna" after this sacred river, which figures prominently in Krsna's childhood pastimes.) Here Yamuna would express her Krsna conscious thoughts to me and patiently tolerate my negative and skeptical viewpoints. A few months later she watched happily as Srila Prabhupada gave me formal spiritual initiation, and in the years that followed Yamuna and I traveled extensively throughout India, sometimes together and sometimes separately.
During this time (the early and mid '70s) Yamuna often cooked for Srila Prabhupada, and she was always eager to learn new recipes from expert local cooks. She would carefully note down how a dish was made so that later on she could make it for her spiritual master. Meanwhile, I was busy photographing Srila Prabhupada during his many morning walks, classes, informal meetings, and public appearances.
Some three or four years later, after Yamuna and I had returned to America, we met again. This time my mission was to shoot pictures of her dishes to illustrate her cookbook. After several months of intensive studio work I finally completed the photographs, and then it was time to test the recipes one last time. Since Yamuna had already tested them, she wanted others to try: one experienced cook, Sruti-rupa-devi dasi (who had also cooked for Srila Prabhupada in India), and one utterly inexperienced cook—me (who had never cooked for anyone, anywhere).
Sruti would go into the kitchen with a stack of recipes to test, effortlessly put the dishes together (or so it seemed to me), and emerge a little while later with a lovely full-course luncheon for us all to taste and rave about. But when my turn came, I felt like a freshman chemistry student on his first day in the lab. I would struggle to distinguish mustard seeds from cumin seeds, urad dal from mung dal, garam masala from asafetida. I didn't know how to mix spices, how to knead dough, or how to use any of the kitchen machinery (blender, grinder, and so on).
Nonetheless, I found myself in the kitchen every day with a stack of recipes to test and Yamuna somewhere in the vicinity, ready to instruct, correct, encourage, and cajole me, and sometimes to reprove me for making careless mistakes. One month and more than two hundred recipes later, I wasn't an expert cook (I'm still not), but I could follow her wonderful recipes well enough to make dishes that, she assured me, would please Srila Prabhupada and Krsna.
I've just returned from another stay with Yamuna, this time for six months, during which I helped her in some small way to complete her cookbook. Now she's put introductory paragraphs before many of the recipes to explain their special attractive features, and she's added detailed introductions to each of the twenty chapters in the book. As her cookbook nears completion, we will be whetting your appetite for it by presenting some of its choicest recipes in BACK TO GODHEAD, along with articles about the art and philosophy of cooking for Krsna. We'll discuss transcendental vegetarianism from the economic, esthetic, ethical, and ecological viewpoints, and we'll see why it's healthy for the body and the soul. And, of course, we'll he looking for your comments as you begin trying out the recipes from Yamuna's cookbook and adopting the principles of Krsna consciousness in your own life.
Bhakti-Yoga—A Method of Nonmechanistic Science, (Part III)
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.
The term science refers to knowledge we can reliably verify by practical methods. So to study a subject scientifically, we must clearly understand how to use our senses to obtain trustworthy knowledge of what we are studying. This article, which concludes a series from the forthcoming book Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, examines how a person can take advantage of his innate transcendental senses to obtain direct knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, who is the ultimate object of study in the science of bhakti-yoga.
One of the basic principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that the Absolute Truth is not an impersonal void but rather the Supreme Person, full of variegated attributes. The Supreme Person, Krsna, possesses unlimited personal qualities, and He also performs unlimited transcendental activities in reciprocation with the innumerable jivatmas (living beings) who enjoy His association in a state of pure consciousness. The goal of one who practices devotional service is to revive that state of pure consciousness and enter Krsna's personal association.
Service to Lord Krsna can take many forms, but since becoming aware of our relationship with Krsna requires that we first hear about Him. the process of hearing (sravanam) is fundamental. Hearing about the attributes and pastimes of Krsna reminds the materially conditioned jivatma of his own natural relationship with the Lord. Gradually, as the jivatma continues hearing, his desire to know about Krsna increases, and simultaneously his attachment to the affairs of the material body and mind diminishes.
The philosophy of bhakti-yoga holds that knowledge of the Absolute must descend directly from the Absolute. Krsna is the original source of all material forms, and He is also the source of the literature of bhakti-yoga. This literature consists of scriptures that are either directly produced by Krsna Himself or else written by persons who are directly linked with Krsna in a transcendental relationship. Bhagavad-gita is a scripture of the former type, and Srimad-Bhagavatam and Caitanya-caritamrta are scriptures of the latter type. As we have already pointed out (BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol. 16, No. 9), the subject matter of bhakti-yoga is preserved and disseminated by a community of gurus and sadhus (highly advanced souls), whose role in the regulation of transcendental knowledge is like that of the community of experts in a scientific field.
All literature is simply information encoded in sequences of symbols, and unlimited amounts of information about Krsna can be encoded in this form. But since Krsna is all-pervading, information about Him differs from information describing ordinary configurations of matter. In our everyday experience we encounter patterns of symbols arranged according to the conventions of a language so as to represent certain events in a limited region of time and space. When we hear or read this information we are able to interpret the coded patterns, and as a result we become aware of a mental image of the events. But this mental image is something quite different from the events themselves.
In contrast, when a jivatma perceives information describing the Supreme Person, the resulting mental images actually bring the jivatma into direct contact with the Supreme Person. Since Krsna is all-pervading, images and sounds representing Krsna are nondifferent from Krsna Himself, and the jivatma can directly understand this identity when free of his material conditioning. Such understanding cannot, of course, be simply a matter of manipulating material symbols; it directly involves the higher sensory and cognitive faculties of the conscious self.
Since this point is quite important, let us explore it in greater detail. According to the philosophy of Bhagavad-gita, nothing is different from Krsna and yet nothing is Krsna except His own primordial personality. This seeming paradox is resolved in the following way: Krsna is the cause and the essence of all phenomena, and in this sense all phenomena are identical with Him; yet the phenomena of this world are merely external displays projected by Krsna's will, and His real nature is His eternal personality. The Absolute is highly specific, and therefore only certain symbolic patterns, and not others, can represent Krsna. By means of these patterns Krsna can make Himself available to the conditioned jivatma, and thus these material configurations are, nondifferent from Krsna in a direct personal sense. Such configurations remind the jivatma of Krsna, by whose mercy the jivatma soon revives his own higher vision and can see the Lord directly.
This explanation may convey some idea of how the embodied jivatma, restricted entirely to material modes of sense perception, can begin to perceive the transcendental Supreme Person. In the initial stages of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma's perception of Krsna may seem to be completely dependent on the interactions of matter, but the essence of the jivatma's experience is not material. We can begin to understand this by considering that matter itself is a manifestation of Krsna and that material perception is simply a limited, impersonal way of seeing Him.
In the highest stage of realization, the reciprocation between the jivatma and Krsna has nothing to do with the material manifestation. This relationship does not depend on the material body of the jivatma in any way, and it continues after the body has ceased to exist. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, the material manifestation represents only a minor aspect of the total reality. There is a higher realm, inaccessible to material sense perception but nonetheless full of variegated form and activity. Since we are concerned here with how a materially embodied person can acquire knowledge, we shall not discuss this higher realm in detail. (Readers interested in this subject may consult Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta.)
The process of sravanam, or hearing, is complemented by the process of kirtanam, or glorifying the Lord by singing or reciting His names, qualities, and pastimes and by discussing these with others. We have argued (back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 10) that the process of bhakti-yoga is scientific in the sense that it is a practical method of obtaining verifiable knowledge about the Absolute Truth. In the science of bhakti-yoga, however, the researcher approaches the Absolute with an attitude of reverence and devotion, in stark contrast to the aggressive and exploitative approach prevalent in modern science. By glorifying Krsna, the jivatma can awaken his natural love for Krsna, and then Krsna will be fully accessible to him on a personal level.
One important form of kirtanam is the chanting of Krsna's names. Krsna has innumerable names, and there are innumerable ways to chant them, but by far the most common way of performing kirtanam is to chant the Hare Krsna mantra:
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
The Sanskrit term mantra refers to a pattern of sound that has a purifying effect on the mind. The Hare Krsna mantra consists of two names of the Supreme Person (Krsna and Rama) and one name of His energy (Hara). Grammatically the mantra is in the vocative case, so it is, in effect, an address to the Lord and His energy.
The names that constitute the Hare Krsna mantra are examples of patterns of symbols that directly represent the absolute person and therefore have an absolute, inherent meaning. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, Krsna's holy names are nondifferent from Krsna Himself, and one who chants and hears these names is brought into personal contact with Him. A person who has awakened his higher sensory capacities can actually perceive Krsna in His name. For others, the chanting of Krsna's names purifies them by reminding them of Krsna, and thereby brings about this awakening.
One can obtain the results of chanting the holy names of the Lord by using any names that are actually connected with the Supreme Person and that are not mere concoctions of the material imagination. In His Siksastaka (Eight Verses of Instruction), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great teacher of bhakti-yoga who appeared in India in the fifteenth century, describes the significance of chanting the holy names of God:
O My Lord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as "Krsna" and "Govinda," by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting. (Siksastaka 2).
From this statement we see that the conditioned jivatma, benumbed by his preoccupation with the material mind and senses, will initially feel little desire to chant the Lord's holy names. Yet by regularly chanting the holy names and following the regulative injunctions of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma gradually awakens his transcendental taste for the name and attains the stage of loving reciprocation with Krsna.
Since the goal of one who chants the names of God is to develop love for Him, one must chant with an attitude compatible with this emotion. Caitanya Mahaprabhu described this attitude as follows:
One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others, can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord. (Siksastaka 3).
Generally a person who has no direct knowledge of the Supreme Person cannot understand at first what it might mean to love the Supreme. But such a person can lay the groundwork for this understanding by adopting a nonexploitative attitude toward the Supreme Person and His creation. Indeed, this attitude is the key to success in bhakti-yoga. For one who wishes to exploit the Supreme, the Supreme will remain unknowable. But if one truly gives up the desire for such exploitation, then the Supreme Person will reveal Himself by His own mercy.
Once, in a letter to Max Born, Albert Einstein declared that his goal was to capture the Absolute Truth. Unfortunately, Einstein went about it the wrong way. The Absolute Truth cannot be forcibly captured by a minute part of the Absolute, but according to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, the Absolute can be captured by love. Once one attains this love, direct knowledge of the Absolute becomes readily available. Yet, ironically, the development of this love is incompatible with the desire for knowledge or power. Knowledge is indeed a by-product of the process of bhakti-yoga, but it cannot be the goal of that process, for the key to the process itself lies in a fundamental reassessment of one's innermost goals.
Although superficially this reassessment may seem simple, carrying it out requires a deep insight into one's own psychology. By bringing the inner self into personal contact with the Absolute, the process of bhakti-yoga enables one to attain this insight. Only by this means can one capture the Absolute—once all desire to conquer the Absolute has been forsaken.
We welcome your letters. Write to
In reference to your article "Spiritual Strategies for the Age of Iron" [by Ravindra-svarupa dasa, in BTG Vol. 15, No. 8]:
One must be happy to see the attempt to build a cogent case for spreading knowledge of the Lord. But it would have been more appreciated if some falsehoods had not been introduced to meet various aptitudes of people who may read the article.
Bhagavan Vyasa is Krsna Himself, and hence he is not "sent by" Krsna. I suggest that the learned author of the article read the Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya of Acarya Sri Madhva, who happily is in the same disciplic succession as the devotees of the Hare Krsna movement, and be benefited by a study of his works. Vyasa did not "master all the knowledge of the Vedic culture." He is verily its director and is aware of that knowledge at all times. Narada is the son of Brahma, while Bhagavan Vedavyasa is Visnu Himself. Hence, Bhagavan Vedavyasa has nothing to learn from Narada.
None can circumvent the Vedic dharma and reach the highest goal. Devotion to the Lord helps one to observe the Vedic dharma willingly. Vedic dharmas do not become obsolete at any time, for the Vedas are eternal and the dharmas prescribed by it are also eternal.
There is no authority to say that Caitanya is Krsna Himself! Srimad-Bhagavatam is clear that the Lord takes avatara [incarnates] only in three yugas. Hence, the Bhagavatam itself is verily the spiritual form of Lord Sri Krsna in this Age of Kali. Caitanya is doubtlessly a great devotee of Lord Sri Krsna.
If the author would only read the Mahabharata-tatparya-nirnaya and Bhagavata-tatparya-nirnaya of Acarya Sri Madhva, the true position of the scriptures on these points will be clear to him.
Yours in the service of the Lord,
K. Raghupathi Rao
I am glad that you have so carefully read my article and that you appreciate our attempt to spread knowledge of Krsna all over the world.
It is true that Srila Vedavyasa, being directly empowered with all Vedic knowledge, did not have to learn either from guru or from scripture. But Srimad-Bhagavatam specifically describes Vedavyasa as kala, an empowered plenary portion of the Lord. This is technically called a saktyavesa-avatara. So it is not incorrect to refer to him as "sent by the Lord." Moreover, he accepted Narada Muni as guru just to teach by his own example the necessity of accepting a spiritual master; for the same reason, Sri Krsna Himself became the disciple of Sandipani Muni. These are divine pastimes, and they are not unimportant. I have described them as they are given in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
I do not find support in the scriptures for the idea, implied in your letter, that the value of devotion to God lies in its helping one willingly observe the Vedic dharmas. On the contrary, we should observe Vedic dharmas only to bring us to the level of devotional service. Service to Krsna is not a means to something else; it is the goal of all the Vedas. As stated in Bhagavad-gita (15.15), vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah: all the Vedas are just meant for knowing Krsna.
When one has attained the devotional service of Krsna, one may give up all other dharmas. This is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.11.32):
ajnayaivam gunan dosan
"Occupational duties, dharmas, are described in the religious scriptures. If one analyzes them, he can fully understand their qualities and their faults and then give them up completely to render service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. A person who does so is considered a first-class man."
Similarly, in Bhagavad-gita (18.66) Sri Krsna orders:
"Abandon all varieties of dharma and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." Krsna here promises that we need not fear we will incur some sin by giving up prescribed dharmas, for He will protect us. And one who practices Krsna consciousness need not follow any other Vedic practice, since "all purposes served by the small pond can at once be served by the great reservoirs of water" (Bg. 2.46).
Even those who were born outside of Vedic culture and had no chance to undergo the standard purificatory procedures (samskaras), to observe the various injunctions of varnasrama-dharma, or to practice penances, austerities, and sacrifices prescribed for spiritual elevation can still come to devotional service. If they do, they must be considered to have sufficiently performed all such practices. As clearly stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.33.6-7), even a person born in a family of dog-eaters immediately becomes eligible to perform Vedic sacrifices if he once utters the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, chants about Him, hears about His pastimes, offers Him obeisances, or even remembers Him. Persons who chant the Lord's holy name are considered to have executed all kinds of austerities and sacrifices, bathed at all holy places of pilgrimage, studied the Vedas, achieved all the good manners of the Aryans, and fulfilled everything required.
Vedic dharmas, such as the varnasrama-dharma, may be helpful to devotional service, and therefore they should be instituted wherever possible. Yet one may come to devotional service without going through such dharmas, which are unnecessary after one has attained it. For devotional service is the goal of all dharmas. On these points the scriptures are quite clear.
Even though the Vedas are eternal, different practices are prescribed for different times. Thus the Visnu Purana (6.2.17) says:
dhyayan krte yajan yajnais
"Whatever one may achieve by meditation in Satya-yuga, by performance of sacrifice in Treta-yuga, or by the worship of Krsna's lotus feet in Dvapara-yuga one may also obtain in the Age of Kali simply by chanting and glorifying Lord Krsna." The same text appears in the Padma Purana and the Brhan-naradiya Purana, and one very similar in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.52). For that reason, various Vedic practices become nonfunctional, obsolete in a relative sense. This is confirmed by Acarya Sri Madhva, who, in his commentary on the Mundaka Upanisad, quotes the Narayana-samhita:
dvapariyair janair visnuh
"In the Dvapara-yuga people should worship Lord Visnu only by the regulative principles of the Narada-pancaratra and other such authorized books. In the Age of Kali, however, people should simply chant the holy names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
Thus it is well established that in our age there is no means of deliverance except the chanting of the holy names of the Lord.
It is not true that the Lord descends only in three ages. At the name-giving ceremony of Lord Krsna, Gargamuni specifically says (Bhag. 10.8.13) that in the four different yugas the Lord descends as the yuga-avatara in four different bodily colors—white, red, black, and yellow—to teach the yuga-dharma, the path for each age. The Lord is indeed, as you say, called "tri-yuga," one who appears in three ages, but this is explained by Prahlada Maharaja (Bhag. 7.9.38). He is known as tri-yuga because in the Kali-yuga He is covered; that is, He does not assert Himself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The white, red, and black incarnations appeared in previous ages. So from these verses we see that the Lord descends in Kali-yuga in a yellowish color, as the yuga-avatara to spread the yuga-dharma of the chanting of the Lord's glories. These are all features of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was covered in that He came as the Lord's devotee, and not as the Lord Himself.
Great authorities such as Srila Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, and Sri Jiva Gosvami have all accepted Sri Caitanya as Krsna Himself. This is not asserted whimsically or out of sentiment. An incarnation of God is known because the scriptures describe His personal features and His activities. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Karabhajana Muni (one of the nine Yogendras) explains all about the different yuga-avataras to Maharaja Nimi, and he describes the yuga-avatara for the present age as follows:
This means that in the Kali-yuga the Lord teaches the yuga-dharma of sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy name. He is accompanied by His associates. Krsna-varnam means both that He is Krsna Himself and that He is repeating the syllables krs-na. Yet His radiance or luster (tvisa) is not black (akrsna); that is, it is golden.
There are many other scriptural texts that clearly describe Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. For example, from the Vayu Purana: kalau sankirtanarambhe bhavisyami saci-sutah. "In the Age of Kali when the sankirtana movement is inaugurated, I shall descend as the son of Saci-devi." And from the Brahma-yamala:
"Sometimes I personally appear on the surface of the world in the garb of a devotee. Specifically, I appear in the Kali-yuga to start the sankirtana movement." There are similar statements in the Krsna-yamala and the Ananta-samhita.
So there is no lack of authority for saying that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself, descended in the Kali-yuga to teach the world the process of salvation through the chanting of the holy names. I simply ask you to read Sri Caitanya-caritamrta by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, which has been translated into English from the Bengali, with purports, by Srila Prabhupada. No one who reads this book can doubt the true position of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, by whose grace the sankirtana-yajna is now performed all over the world, delivering even the most fallen in the present Age of Kali.
In a society of robots,
Last April a meeting took place in Milan, Italy, between a researcher in artificial intelligence and Srila Bhagavan Goswami, one of the disciples of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada who has become a spiritual master for new disciples. What follows is an excerpt from their conversation.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: How many scientists are working in the field of artificial intelligence?
Scientist: Well, there is a large contingent at M.I.T, and also at Stanford. And then there are smaller numbers at institutions across the United States. And, of course, the Japanese and the Russians have put a lot of effort into this field. So, I would say from one thousand to two thousand scientists are working on artificial intelligence full time.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: So it is a very highly skilled field. Out of billions of people, only a few million are scientists, and out of those, only two thousand or so are working on artificial intelligence. Two thousand scientists engaged in creating artificial" intelligence, for which natural intelligence is the template.
Scientist: Okay. Template is a correct term.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: Yes. But since natural intelligence is the template for artificial intelligence, who has made natural intelligence? Where does natural intelligence come from? If it takes two thousand scientists to make artificial intelligence, is it logical to think it takes no scientist to make natural intelligence?
In artificial intelligence there is logic. Agreed?
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: So, since the template for artificial intelligence is natural intelligence, that means there must also be logic in natural intelligence.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: And since behind the logic of artificial intelligence there must be a programmer, a director, what is the sense in saying that behind the logic of natural intelligence there is no purpose, no director? That is our challenge. There is nothing wrong with your science, if by your science you appreciate how great God, or Krsna, is. For instance, those who work in the field of artificial intelligence can see that we can never come near to creating natural intelligence.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: You may take one tiny part of the creation and master it. Krsna will allow you that. But even that takes great intelligence. That is why sincere scientists always agree with the motto "The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know."
Scientist: I agree.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: By science one should demonstrate the existence of God, not try to disprove it. We are not against science, but we urge that everything be used in the pursuit of the Absolute Truth—to gain greater appreciation of God. The scientist should be the greatest worshiper of God, because he can know in the greatest detail the mastery of God. The ideal scientist is like the artist who tries to duplicate the beauty of a flower through sculpture, painting, or poetry but still knows his work of art is just an imitation of God's creation. In other words, one should appreciate how great the original creator is and not try to artificially take His position.
Scientist: Yes. I see your point.
Srila Bhagavan Goswami: A scientist likes to analyze things in a certain way. There is nothing wrong with that, provided his analysis ultimately leads to his establishing his relationship with God, who for Him is the Supreme Scientist. For someone else God is the Supreme Artist; for someone else, the Supreme Poet, and so on. Everyone is attracted to something in this material world that gives him his idea of the Supreme, but where do all these ideas of perfection come from?
Obviously, our ability to build an intelligent machine is far from perfect. Mechanically, you may make artificial, cybernetic intelligence, but can you make one machine love another machine? Can you make one machine be compassionate toward another machine? So we are limited by nature. We shouldn't become proud savants, thinking we can do everything because we can do one little thing imperfectly. Knowledge should make us humble, not proud.
No matter how hard the scientists work, they are a long way from creating a person. You make the little connections on your computer board and tie in one circuit to another and program in some information, but when you compare that mechanical circuit to the little neurons in the brain, which do you find is the superior creation? Both circuits are doing basically the same thing, but which is the superior creation? Who is the real mastermind, the artificial intelligence researcher or God?
We should ask ourselves why this logic doesn't prevail among scientists. It is because so many scientists are envious of God. That is why this logic is not apparent to them. By envious we mean that they are trying to figure out by their science how we can manipulate and enjoy this material world. But actually the real law of nature is that we are the subordinate enjoyers; our enjoyment is relative, dependent on God's enjoyment. We are dependent, relative truth, and God is independent, Absolute Truth. Relative truth depends on the Absolute Truth and is meant to serve the Absolute Truth. But when we don't want to accept that position, everything becomes illogical. Instead of appreciating the creator of our natural intelligence and using that intelligence to serve Him, we use it to create a robot with artificial intelligence.
We already have natural intelligence. Why not try to perfect that natural intelligence? Why try to make robots with artificial intelligence? Besides, people are already robots, because they are acting with artificial intelligence. Their intelligence is artificial because their goal of life is artificial: to enjoy this material world. That is artificial intelligence, and those who act with that intelligence are robots.
People are being manipulated by the modes of nature just as you manipulate your robots. A robot just doesn't go and do whatever it wants. You manipulate it. Similarly, those who are acting with artificial intelligence are being manipulated by the modes of nature—ignorance, passion, and goodness. These robotlike people are forced to act according to the attraction and repulsion of the senses and the sense objects. Everyone is moving mechanically: "I hate this." "I like that." "I eat this." "I don't eat that." Even though they know smoking cigarettes is not good, they smoke. Robots. No feeling. A robot performs mechanical acts without feeling. So people can kill animals, even their own children, because they are acting mechanically, with no feelings. They can go through the mechanical processes—eat, sex, kill, sleep—but without real feeling. So the problem is that there are too many robots already. That is why there is no feeling in society.
Just like robots, people want to have a relationship with matter. A robot cannot relate person-to-person; it must relate matter-to-matter. So when people don't see that the actual active principle in a human being is consciousness, the soul within the body, then they relate to themselves and others like robots. Even if you program one robot to love another, and the first robot embraces the second, is there any feeling? Similarly, if a person simply relates to another person as if he were his body, this relationship is on the robot platform.
In Sanskrit this kind of relationship is called sparsa, and sense gratification is called samsparsaja-bhoga, "the enjoyment that comes from rubbing skin." Basically, the same elements that are in skin are in your robot. But when a body, a bag of skin, is lying dead, no one wants to rub it; everyone wants to get rid of it. So actually it is the active spark of life, the soul within the body, that we are attracted to. Without you, the robot is useless, and without the soul in the body, the body is useless. That soul, the active principle in the body, is the real person.
Krsna explains all of these ideas in Bhagavad-gita, which is a great science. He says, adhyatma-vidya vidyanam: "Of all sciences, I am the science of the soul." There are so many sciences, but out of all of them the supreme science is that which teaches how to discover the self, the real person, and how to liberate this person from birth and death. This science takes real intelligence. And that intelligence comes from Krsna. So the real thing is not to create artificial intelligence, which is already there in the billions, but to lift people up from artificial intelligence to real intelligence, from robotic character to real human character. This is a greater service.
The Experience of Dying:
A recent article of mine contained an ancient account from the Srimad-Bhagavatam dealing with Ajamila's frightening near-death experience. Several readers have since written me to say that this view of death as horrifying contradicts the accounts of near-death experiences recorded by Dr. Raymond Moody, author of Life after Life, and other researchers. Of course, there are researchers, such as Dr. Maurice Rawlings (of the Diagnostic Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee) and Dr. Philip Swihart (of the Midwest Colorado Mental Health Center), who have recorded near-death experiences fully as horrifying as Ajamila's. But it seems that people who describe such ordeals have a much harder time remembering them than people who describe pleasant experiences. Thus they're not reported as often.
The Vedic literature agrees, of course, that death is not always terrifying. For the successful transcendentalist entering the spiritual world, death is a glorious experience. For the sinful person, however, death is ultimately a painful and horrifying passage into a hellish life of suffering. In either case, understanding death and rebirth is essential for everyone. We appreciate hearing from our readers, many of whom accept that there is life after death and who want to understand the subject of reincarnation scientifically.
The science of how, when, and under what conditions one should leave the body has been presented in the Vedic literature as the science of yoga. Formerly, expert yogis knew this science so well that they could determine the exact time they would leave their body. Bhagavad-gita tells which months and times of day are auspicious or inauspicious for the soul's departure. Yogis would practice for many years and then, at an astrologically auspicious moment, give up the body and enter one of the higher planets or the spiritual world, according to their specific desire.
Bhagavad-gita also describes the bhakti-yogis, who do not need to wait for a particular auspicious moment to leave the body. Because the bhakti-yogis are always absorbed in meditating on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, every moment is auspicious for them. They are therefore ready to leave their body at any time Krsna desires. The Vedic literature relates accounts of both pleasant and unpleasant experiences at the time of death, and some of our readers who were disturbed by the article on Ajamila may be relieved to read the Srimad-Bhagavatam's account of the passing away of Bhismadeva.
A contemporary of Lord Krsna, Bhisma was a great general as well as a yogi and a pure devotee of the Lord. As a yogi, he knew the art of leaving the body at will. After the Battle of Kuruksetra, Bhisma lay severely wounded, pierced by many arrows. But by his yogic prowess he was able to keep his life within his body. He had chosen to keep body and soul together a while longer so that he could impart some invaluable instructions to his nephew Yudhisthira, who would ascend the throne after the battle. After instructing Yudhisthira, Bhisma entered into deep meditation on the Supreme Lord, Krsna, and thus transcended all pain.
Being a pure devotee of Lord Krsna, Bhisma was neither afraid of death nor interested in elevating himself to the heavenly planets in his next life. Nor was he anxious simply to gain liberation from the material world. His only concern at the time of death was to be rapt in thoughts of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. As Bhagavad-gita explains, one's thoughts at the time of death determine one's next life. And Bhismadeva, in his pure devotion, thought simply of being always engaged in loving service to Krsna. In response to the great devotion Bhisma had for Krsna, the Lord personally came to his side as he lay on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra during the last hours of his life.
Fixing his attention on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhismadeva said, "Let me now invest my thinking, feeling, and willing, which were so long engaged in various subjects and occupational duties, in the all-powerful Lord, Sri Krsna. . . . He has appeared on this earth in His transcendental body, which resembles the bluish color of the tamala tree. . . . May His glittering yellow dress and His lotus face, covered with paintings of sandalwood pulp, be the object of my attraction. . . . Let my mind thus go to Sri Krsna" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.32-34).
Bhisma, a perfect yogi, fully absorbed his mind in Krsna meditation (samadhi) by remembering the various transcendental pastimes of the Lord. First he remembered Krsna fighting on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, defending His devotee Arjuna. Krsna's flowing hair had turned ashen from the dust raised by the horses' hooves, and beads of perspiration had wet His face. Bhisma next remembered the Lord as Arjuna's chariot driver, standing with a whip in His right hand and a bridle rope in His left. Bhisma prayed that at the moment of death his mind would be fixed on Lord Krsna's lotus feet.
Next Bhisma remembered Lord Krsna in Vrndavana, enchanting the milkmaids with His graceful gestures and loving smiles. Then Bhismadeva recalled Lord Krsna in the great assembly of world leaders, where the elite royalty had accepted and worshiped Him as the most exalted of all, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Finally Bhisma meditated on Krsna as the Supersoul within everyone's heart. (Although one, Lord Krsna is simultaneously present everywhere as the Supersoul.)
Srimad-Bhagavatam records these Krsna meditations of Bhismadeva's, and just as they benefited Bhisma, they can benefit us. Anyone can fix his mind on Lord Krsna by hearing these descriptions.
Because Bhisma was such a great personality, many eminent Vedic figures joined Lord Krsna in witnessing his death. And everyone who saw his glorious death understood that he had reached the ultimate destination of life: returning back home, back to Godhead. The Bhagavatam (1.9.44) relates, "Thus knowing that Bhismadeva had merged into the unlimited eternity of the Supreme Absolute, all present [on the battlefield] became silent, like birds at the end of day."
The lives of Ajamila and Bhisma were vastly different, yet their ultimate goal was the same. As I described in the article about Ajamila, he beheld with horror the messengers of death coming to take him, but because he was fortunate enough to chant the name of God at the last moment, he was saved. So the essential thing is to remember Krsna at the time of death. Regardless of outward circumstances, whoever dies remembering Krsna with sincere devotion and helpless prayer will transcend the cycle of birth and death and enter the spiritual world. And this is truly the harmonious and peaceful destination that the subjects of Dr. Moody's research might hope for.