In 1969, soon after "transcendental meditation" first caught the fancy of people in America, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, gave this talk at Boston's Northeastern University.
My dear boys and girls, I thank you very much for attending this meeting. We are spreading this Krsna consciousness movement because there is a great need of this consciousness throughout the world. And the process is very easy—that is the advantage.
First of all, we must try to understand what the transcendental platform is. As far as our present condition is concerned, we are on various platforms. So we have to first of all stand on the transcendental platform; then there can be a question of transcendental meditation.
In the Third Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, you'll find an explanation of the various statuses of conditioned life. The first is the bodily conception of life [indriyani parany ahuh). Everyone in this material world is under this bodily concept of life. Someone is thinking, "I am Indian." You are thinking, "I am American." Somebody's thinking, 'Tarn Russian." Somebody's thinking he is something else. So everyone is thinking, "I am the body."
This bodily standard of conditioned life is called the sensual platform, because as long as we have a bodily conception of life we think happiness means sense gratification. That's all. This bodily concept of life is very prominent at the present moment—not only at the present moment, but since the creation of this material world. That is the disease: "I am the body."
Srimad-Bhagavatam says, yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke: thinking we are the body means we have a concept of our self as a bag of skin and bones. The body is a bag of skin, bones, blood, urine, stool, and so many other nice things. So when we think, "I am the body," we are actually thinking, "I am a bag of bones and skin and stool and urine. That is my beauty; that is my everything." So this bodily concept of life is not very intelligent, and improvement of the body is not a right calculation of self-realization.
Those who are too engrossed with the bodily concept of life are recommended to practice the dhyana-yoga system, the yoga of meditation. That is mentioned in the Srimad-Bhagavad-gita. In the Sixth Chapter, verses 13 and 14, Krsna explains, "One should hold one's body, neck, and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me."
Earlier Lord Krsna gives preliminary instructions on how one should practice this transcendental meditation. One has to restrict sense gratification, especially .sex. One has to select a very solitary place, a sacred place, and sit down alone. This meditation process is not practiced in a place like this, a big city, where many people are gathered. One must go to a solitary place and practice alone. And then you have to carefully select your sitting place, you have to sit in a certain way . . . There are so many things. Of course, those things cannot be explained within a few minutes. If you are very much interested, you'll find a full description in Bhagavad-gita, in the chapter called "Dhyana-yoga."
So from the bodily concept of life one has to transcend to the spiritual platform. That is the goal of any process of self-realization. I began by saying that at first we are all thinking we are the body. Indriyani parany ahuh. Then, one who has transcended the bodily concept of life comes to the platform of mind. Indriyebhyah param manah. The word manah means "mind." Practically the whole population of the world is under the bodily concept of life, but above them are some people who are under the mental concept of life. They are thinking they are the mind. And a few people are on the intellectual platform: manasas tu para buddhih. Buddhih means "intelligence." And when you transcend the intellectual platform also, then you come to the spiritual platform. That is the first realization required.
Before you practice transcendental meditation, you have to reach the transcendental platform. That transcendental platform is called brahma-bhutah. Perhaps you have heard this word—Brahman. The transcendentalist thinks, "Aham brahmasmi: I am not the body; I am not the mind; I am not the intelligence; I am spirit soul." This is the transcendental platform.
We are talking of transcendental meditation. So, by transcending the bodily concept of life, transcending the mental concept of life, and transcending the intellectual concept of life, you come to the real spiritual platform, which is called the brahma-bhutah stage. You cannot simply say some words—"Now I have realized Brahman." There are symptoms. Everything has symptoms, and how you can know if someone has realized transcendence, Brahman, is explained in Bhagavad-gita [18.54]: brahma-bhutah prasannatma. When one is on the transcendental platform, the brahma-bhutah stage, his symptom is that he's always joyful. There is no moroseness.
And what does joyful mean? That is also explained: na socati na kanksati. Someone on the transcendental platform does not hanker after anything, nor does he lament. On the material platform we have two symptoms: hankering and lamenting. The things we do not possess we hanker after, and the things we have lost we lament for. These are the symptoms of the bodily concept of life.
The whole material world is hankering after sex. That is the basic principle of hankering. Pumsah striya mithuni-bhavam etam. Mithuni-bhavam means sex. Whether you look at the human society or the animal society or the bird society or the insect society, everywhere you will find that sex is very prominent. That is the materialistic way of life. A boy is hankering after a girl, a girl is hankering after a boy; a man is hankering after a woman, a woman is hankering after a man. This is going on.
And as soon as the man and woman unite, the hard knot in the heart is tied. Tayor mitho hrdaya-granthim ahuh. They think, "I am matter, this body. This body belongs to me. This woman or man belongs to me. This country belongs to me. This world belongs to me." That is the hard knot. Instead of transcending the bodily concept of life, they become still more implicated. The situation becomes very difficult. Therefore Krsna recommends in Bhagavad-gita that if you are at all interested in practicing yoga and meditation, in trying to rise to the transcendental platform, you must cease from sex.
But in the present age that is not possible. So in our method, Krsna consciousness, we don't say, "Stop sex." We say, "Don't have illicit sex." Of course, what to speak of transcendental life, giving up illicit sex is a requirement of civilized life. In every civilized society there is a system of marriage, and if there is sex outside of marriage, that is called illicit sex. That is never allowed for people in any civilized society, what to speak of those trying for transcendental life. Transcendental life must be purified of all mental and bodily concepts of self.
But in this Age of Kali, where everyone is disturbed, always full of anxieties, and where life is very short, people are generally not interested in any transcendental subject matter. They are interested only in the bodily concept of life. When one is always disturbed by so many anxieties, how can he ascend to the platform of transcendental realization? It is very difficult in this age. It was difficult even five thousand years ago, when Arjuna took instruction on meditation from Krsna in Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna was a royal prince; he was very much advanced in so many ways. Yet on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra he said, "My dear Krsna, it is not possible for me to practice this transcendental meditation, this dhyana-yoga process. I am a family man; I have come here to fight for my political interest. How can I practice this system, in which I have to go to a solitary place, I have to sit down, I have to cease from sex? It is not possible." Arjuna was so much more qualified than we are, yet he refused to practice this meditation process.
So reaching the transcendental platform by the hatha-yoga or dhyana-yoga system is not at all possible in this age. And if somebody is trying to practice such so-called meditation, he is not actually practicing transcendental meditation. You cannot perform this transcendental meditation in the city. It is not possible. That is very clearly stated in Bhagavad-gita. But you are living in the city, you are living with your family, you are living with your friends. It is not possible for you to go to the forest and find a secluded place. But Krsna says you must do this to practice transcendental meditation.
So here, in this age, if you want to rise to the transcendental platform, then you must follow the recommendations of the Vedic literature: kalau tad dhari-kirtanat. In this age, simply by chanting the holy name of God one can reach all perfection. We are not introducing this chanting system by our mental concoction, to make things very easy. No, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu introduced this process of transcendental meditation five hundred years ago. Also, the Vedic literature recommends it, and it is practical. You have seen that my disciples, these boys and girls, immediately experience a transcendental feeling as soon as they begin chanting Hare Krsna. If you practice, you will also see how you are rising to the transcendental platform. So chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the easiest process of transcendental meditation.
This transcendental sound vibration will immediately carry you to the transcendental platform, especially if you try to hear so that your mind is absorbed in the sound. This Hare Krsna sound vibration is nondifferent from Krsna, because Krsna is absolute. Since God is absolute, there is no difference between God's name and God Himself. In the material world there is a difference between water and the word water, between a flower and the word flower. But in the spiritual world, in the absolute world, there is no such difference. Therefore, as soon as you vibrate Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, you immediately associate with the Supreme Lord and His energy.
The word Hare indicates the energy of the Supreme Lord. Everything is being done by the energy of the Supreme Lord. Parasya brahmanah saktih. Just as the planets are a creation of the energy of the sun, so the whole material and spiritual manifestation is a creation of the energy of the Supreme Lord. So when we chant Hare Krsna we are praying to the energy of the Supreme Lord and to the Supreme Lord Himself: "Please pick me up. Please pick me up. I am in the bodily concept of life. I am in this material existence. I am suffering. Please pick me up to the spiritual platform so that I will be happy."
You haven't got to change your situation. If you are a student, remain a student. If you are a businessman, remain a businessman. Woman, man, black, white—anyone can chant Hare Krsna. It is a simple process, and there is no charge. We are not saying, "Give me so many dollars, and I shall give you this Hare Krsna mantra." No, we are distributing it publicly. You simply have to catch it up and try it. You'll very quickly come to the transcendental platform. When you hear the chanting, that is transcendental meditation.
This process is recommended in all the scriptures of Vedic literature, it was taught by Lord Caitanya and followed by His disciplic succession for the last five hundred years, and people are achieving good results from it today, not only in India but here also. If you try to understand what this Krsna consciousness movement is, you'll understand how transcendental meditation is possible. We are not sentimentalists; we have many books: Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Teachings of Lord Caitanya, Isopanisad. And we have our magazine, BACK TO GODHEAD. It is not that we are sentimentalists. We are backed up by high philosophical thought. But if you take up this simple process—chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—you are immediately elevated to the transcendental platform, even without reading so much philosophical literature. This Hare Krsna mantra is Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's gift to the conditioned souls of the present age, in accordance with the Vedic sanction.
So our request is that you give it a try. Simply chant, at home or anywhere. There is no restriction: "You have to chant this Hare Krsna mantra in such-and-such a place, in such-and-such a condition." No. Niyamitah smarane na kalah. There is no restriction of time, circumstances, or atmosphere. Anywhere, at any time, you can meditate by chanting Hare Krsna. No other meditation is possible while you are walking on the street, but this meditation is possible. You are working with your hands? You can chant Hare Krsna. It is so nice.
Krsna is the perfect name for God. The Sanskrit word krsna means "all-attractive." And rama means "the supreme pleasure." So if God is not all-attractive and full of supreme pleasure, then what is the meaning of God? God must be the source of supreme pleasure; otherwise how could you be satisfied with Him? Your heart is hankering after so many pleasures. If God cannot satisfy you with all pleasures, then how can He be God? And He must also be all-attractive. If God is not attractive to every person, how can He be God? But Krsna actually is all-attractive.
So the Hare Krsna mantra is not sectarian. Because we are chanting these three names—Hare, Krsna, and Rama—someone may think, "These are Hindu names. Why should we chant these Hindu names?" There are some sectarian people who may think like that. But Lord Caitanya says, "It doesn't matter. If you have some other bona fide name of God, you can chant that. But chant God's name." That is the instruction of this Krsna consciousness movement. So do not think that this movement is trying to convert you from Christian to Hindu. Remain a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. It doesn't matter. But if you really want to perfect your life, then try to develop your dormant love for God. That is the perfection of life.
Sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje. You may profess any religion, but to test whether your religion is perfect, or whether you are perfect, you have to see whether you have developed your love for God. Now we are distributing our love among so many things. But when all this love is concentrated simply on God, that is the perfection of love. Our love is there, but because we have forgotten our relationship with God, we are directing our love toward dogs. That is our disease. We have to transfer our love from so many dogs to God. That is the perfection of life.
So we are not teaching any particular type of religion. We are simply teaching that you should learn to love God. And this is possible by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
"Let us see this life in the context of eternity."
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Prabhupada dasa, a name that means I am a servant of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual guide of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This Society is a unique worldwide federation of temples, farms, schools, and asramas dedicated to the constant remembrance of Lord Sri Krsna, the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.' I myself have been a full-time member of the Hare Krsna movement for more than six years, and I am increasingly satisfied with my decision to become a devotee of Krsna. Every day I follow the schedule of devotional activities that all members of the movement follow, and I have no separate, "private" life outside my service to the Lord.
You might be surprised to learn, then, that I am feeling a deep sense of sadness, a sadness that pertains to all of you. Kindly allow me to explain.
I am sad because I see that many millions of you are continuing to spend your most precious human lives without trying to come in touch with the Soul of souls, Lord Krsna. I understand something of your mentality, for I used to think as you do and relish the same sensations you now place at the center of your life. But I am worried about how you will cope with death, the time when everyone has to leave the bodily vehicle. Will you be satisfied that you have loved enough? Will your loved ones follow you to your next destination, dark and unknown?
Now, perhaps you're just not interested in all this sort of talk. After all, you're probably working hard just to maintain your family in this era of inflation and recession. You see devotees like me with our robes and strangely shaven heads, our arms upraised as we dance in the streets or in front of the lavishly decorated Deity forms in the temple, always chanting the same prayer—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—and you can't even imagine becoming like us. It's all so strange!
But did it ever occur to you that we devotees are motivated in much the same way that you are? We are also hankering for blissful loving exchanges. But we are loving Krsna, the eternal, all-attractive Personality of Godhead, and we are urging you to learn the art of loving Him as well. Unlike us pathetically limited human beings. He possesses infinite beauty, strength, wealth, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. But please, before you discount this description as some fantastic exaggeration, remember that we are talking about God. Krsna is simply a most lovely name for God, a name that means "the all-attractive one." So Krsna consciousness means God consciousness, the revival of our dormant love for God. What more valuable asset do we have than our ability to love? So don't be fooled; don't squander your love on someone or something that will be destroyed by the inexorable force of time.
Mundane romance, based on the sex impulse, is going on even among the squirrels and pigeons in the park. The science of the soul, explained in books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, teaches that such creatures have gotten where they are by remaining overly absorbed in sex during their previous human incarnation. Now that we have achieved the human form, we should apply our reason. We should not merely rationalize our inappropriate absorption in sense pleasure. Because our intelligence is greater than the animals', we have the responsibility to use it properly. In human life we know, for instance, that our term in the body is limited; we know death is coming. Therefore, societies guided by spiritual values have always had some program for gradually renouncing mundane attachments as death approaches. The total lack of such a program in our present society indicates a profound ignorance about spiritual matters. But individually we do not have to allow ourselves to become victims of such wasteful ignorance. If we do, our fate will merely be increased ignorance. Natural law, the law of karma, will compel us to become embodied as drastically limited creatures, akin to those that are now buzzing around our patios, crawling along the wall, flitting across the sky, or licking our fingers.
Krsna, God, who is in our very heart, is simply waiting and watching, seeing what decision we will make in this highly responsible human form. While the beasts may absorb themselves wholly in looking .for food or a mate, in fighting, fleeing, or sleeping, we are meant for much more important tasks. We must inquire, "What am I, beyond this temporary, changing body? What is the ultimate reality, in which I am an eternal participant?" Our God-given, natural gift of advanced intelligence includes the unique privilege to ask and understand on this level. An ancient Vedic text called the Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad declares, "That man is a miser who quits his body like the cats and dogs, without understanding the science of self-realization and solving the problems of life [birth, old age, disease, and death]."
If we simply peer into the clear night sky, we can understand that much of reality must lie totally beyond our range of perception. We know that the animals' range of perception is minute, but then again, so is ours. Yet we are granted a broader perspective. We see the grand, natural order and can fathom, "There must be a supremely intelligent being who has created all of this." It is only the insidious preoccupation with superficial bodily sensations that makes us feel as if we are permanently at home in our bodies. It is this bodily fixation that dulls our sense of wonder, even to the point where we just brush aside as "chance occurrences" the miracles of nature, which irrefutably point to the existence of God. Then again the dumb complacency sets in, robbing our hours and years. Billion-dollar questions get pushed aside in favor of piddling concerns.
Let us snap out of all such complacent slumbers and meet the awesome challenge of knowing how tenuous, and at the same time how crucial, is the human span of life. Let us see this life in the context of eternity and resolve that we must not die without sufficiently understanding our eternal nature, our spiritual status in the eternal kingdom of God. No one can help us in this regard but Krsna or His representative, the pure devotee. Krsna advises that we become yogis, controllers and transcenders of our senses. But we can do this only by His mercy. He is our guide toward Himself, and He is indeed the ultimate goal of our myriad lifetimes. Now that we have human life we can finally give Him our love; this is all He wants. As soon as we cease loving the phantom shapes formed by temporary configurations of dead matter, as soon as we earnestly begin directing our love toward Krsna, He will be most pleased to swiftly deliver us from the ocean of birth and death.
I am therefore urging all of you to take up the responsibility and opportunity granted you by the vastly significant yet fragile human life. Please do not carelessly cultivate inappropriate "loves" of the kind that occupy our finny, feathered, or four-footed friends. I also request that you take up the simple process of chanting the holy names of the Lord. Why not try it? Krsna has arranged this most sublime process of self-realization specifically for the suffering souls in the present, difficult age. When we vibrate the Hare Krsna mantra, we are calling out to Krsna, "O my Lord, before I lose this valuable human life, please engage me in Your service and let me remain with You eternally. I don't want to forget You and have to enter another body to suffer in this material world." Such an earnest supplication at once invokes the full mercy of the Lord.
So, my dear fellow human beings, kindly relieve my sadness. When I see you continuing to direct your lives toward fleeting sensory contacts, despite countless frustrations, I deeply regret that you are remaining caught up in such illusory, wasteful pursuits. Therefore I vow that I will keep trying to induce you to serve Krsna and obtain His mercy. You may engross yourselves in serving so many people, so many things, but I will still beg you to give even one percent of your time for serving Krsna, for remembering Him as the Supreme Lord of everyone and everything, the Supreme Enjoyer, the Supreme Friend. I will keep begging you to take part in the chanting of the holy names of God, the only effective religious practice for this age, for I know it is the only way you can be eternally happy.
A Childhood Chariot Festival
Inspired by the huge chariot festival at Puri,
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Excerpted from Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami. © 1981 by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Srila Prabhupada's childhood was a rich mixture of devotion, education, and adventure. His father, Gour Mohan De, tried to fulfill his every wish, and when the five-year-old child wanted to put on a miniature Ratha-yatra chariot festival, Gour Mohan gladly helped him. Later the boy would live through local Hindu-Muslim riots and his own mother's premature death, all the while sustained by his father's strong character and his faith in Krsna.
Abhay was enamored with the Ratha-yatra festivals of Lord Jagannatha, held yearly in Calcutta. The biggest Calcutta Ratha-yatra was the Mulliks', with three separate carts bearing the deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra (Lord Krsna. His brother, and His sister). Starting from the Radha-Govinda temple, the carts would proceed down Harrison Road for a short distance and then return. The Mulliks would distribute large quantities of Lord Jagannatha's prasadam (sanctified food) to the public on this day.
Ratha-yatra was held in cities all over India, but the original, gigantic Ratha-yatra, attended each year by millions of pilgrims, took place three hundred miles south of Calcutta at Jagannatha Puri. For centuries at Puri, three wooden carts forty-five feet high had been towed by the crowds along the two-mile parade route, in commemoration of one of Lord Krsna's eternal pastimes. Abhay had heard how Lord Caitanya Himself, four hundred years before, had danced and led ecstatic chanting of Hare Krsna at the Puri Ratha-yatra festival. Abhay would sometimes look at the railway timetable or ask about how he could collect the money and go there.
Abhay wanted to have his own cart and to perform his own Ratha-yatra, and naturally he turned to his father for help. Gour Mohan agreed, but there were difficulties. When he took his son to several carpenter shops, he found that he could not afford to have a cart made. On their way home, Abhay began crying, and an old Bengali woman approached and asked him what the matter was. Gour Mohan explained that the boy wanted a Ratha-yatra cart but they couldn't afford to have one made. "Oh, I have a cart," the woman said, and she invited Gour Mohan and Abhay to her place and showed them the cart.
It looked old, but it was still operable, and it was just the right size, about three feet high. Gour Mohan purchased it and helped to restore and decorate it. Father and son together constructed sixteen supporting columns and placed a canopy on top, resembling as closely as possible the ones on the big carts at Puri. They also attached the traditional wooden horses and driver to the front of the cart. Abhay insisted that it must look authentic. Gour Mohan bought paints, and Abhay personally painted the cart, copying the Puri originals. His enthusiasm was great, and he became an insistent organizer of various aspects of the festival. But when he tried making fireworks for the occasion from a book that gave illustrated descriptions of the process, his mother, Rajani, intervened.
Abhay engaged his playmates in helping him, especially his sister Bhavatarini, and he became their natural leader. Responding to his entreaties, amused mothers in the neighborhood agreed to cook special preparations so that he could distribute the prasadam at his Ratha-yatra festival.
Like the festival at Puri, Abhay's Ratha-yatra ran for eight consecutive days. His family members gathered, and the neighborhood children joined in a procession, pulling the cart, playing drums and hand cymbals, and chanting. Wearing a dhoti and no shirt in the heat of summer, Abhay led the children in chanting Hare Krsna and in singing the appropriate Bengali bhajana, Ki kara rai kamalini.
What are you doing, Srimati Radharani?
Abhay copied whatever he had seen at adult religious functions, including dressing the deities, offering the deities food, offering arati with a ghee lamp and incense, and making prostrated obeisances. From Harrison Road the procession entered the circular road inside the courtyard of the Radha-Govinda temple and stood awhile before the Deities. Seeing the fun, Gour Mohan's friends approached him: "Why haven't you invited us? You are holding a big ceremony and you don't invite us? What is this?"
"They are just children playing," his father replied.
"Oh, children playing?" the men joked. "You are depriving us by saying this is only for children?"
While Abhay was ecstatically absorbed in the Ratha-yatra processions, Gour Mohan spent money for eight consecutive days, and Rajani cooked various dishes to offer, along with flowers, to Lord Jagannatha. Although everything Abhay did was imitation, his inspiration and steady drive for holding the festival were genuine. His spontaneous spirit sustained the eight-day children's festival, and each successive year brought a new festival, which Abhay would observe in the same way.
* * *
When Abhay was about six years old, he asked his father for a Deity of his own to worship. Since infancy he had watched his father doing puja (formal worship) at home and had been regularly seeing the worship of Radha-Govinda and thinking, "When will I be able to worship Krsna like this?" On Abhay's request, his father purchased a pair of little Radha-Krsna Deities and gave Them to him. From then on, whatever Abhay ate he would first offer to Radha and Krsna, and imitating his father and the priests of Radha-Govinda, he would offer his Deities a ghee lamp and put Them to rest at night.
Abhay and his sister Bhavatarini became dedicated worshipers of the little Radha-Krsna Deities, spending much of their time dressing and worshiping Them and sometimes singing bhajanas. Their brothers and sisters laughed, teasing Abhay and Bhavatarini by saying that because they were more interested in the Deity than in their education they would not live long. But Abhay replied that they didn't care.
In addition to the education Abhay received at the kindergarten, he also received private tutoring at home from his fifth year to his eighth. He learned to read Bengali and began learning Sanskrit. Then in 1904, when he was eight years old, Abhay entered the nearby Mutty Lall Seal Free School, on the corner of Harrison and Central roads.
Mutty Lall was a boys' school established in 1842 by a wealthy suvarna-vanik Vaisnava (devotee of Krsna). The building was stone, two stories, and surrounded by a stone wall. The teachers were Indian, and the students were Bengalis from local suvarna-vanik families. Dressed in their dhotis and kurtas, the boys would leave their mothers and fathers in the morning and walk together in little groups, each boy carrying a few books and his tiffin, the Indian equivalent of a lunchbox. Inside the school compound, they would talk together and play until the clanging bell called them to their classes. The boys would enter the building, skipping through the halls, running up and down the stairs, coming out to the wide front veranda on the second floor, until the teachers gathered them all before their wooden desks and benches for lessons in math, science, history, geography, and their own Vaisnava religion and culture.
Classes were disciplined and formal. Each long bench held four boys, who shared a common desk, with four inkwells. If a boy were naughty his teacher would order him to "stand up on the bench." A Bengali reader the boys studied was the well-known Folk Tales of Bengal, a collection of traditional Bengali folk tales, stories a grandmother would tell local children—tales of witches, ghosts, Tantric spirits, talking animals, saintly brahmanas (or sometimes wicked ones), heroic warriors, thieves, princes, princesses, spiritual renunciation, and virtuous marriage.
In their daily walks to and from school, Abhay and his friends came to recognize, at least from their childish viewpoint, all the people who regularly appeared in the Calcutta streets: their British superiors traveling about, usually in horse-drawn carriages; the hackney drivers; the bhangis, who cleaned the streets with straw brooms; and even the local pickpockets and prostitutes who stood on the street corners.
Abhay turned ten the same year the rails were laid for the electric tram on Harrison Road. He watched the workers lay the tracks, and when he first saw the trolley car's rod touching the overhead wire, it amazed him. He daydreamed of getting a stick, touching the wire himself, and running along by electricity. Although electric power was new in Calcutta and not widespread (only the wealthy could afford it in their homes), along with the electric tram came new electric streetlights—carbon-arc lamps—replacing the old gaslights. Abhay and his friends used to go down the street looking on the ground for the old, used carbon tips, which the maintenance man would leave behind. When Abhay saw his first gramophone box, he thought an electric man or a ghost was inside the box singing.
Abhay liked to ride his bicycle down the busy Calcutta streets. Although when the soccer club had been formed at school he had requested the position of a goalie so that he wouldn't have to run, he was an avid cyclist. A favorite ride was to go south towards Dalhousie Square, with its large fountains spraying water into the air. That was near Raj Bhavan, the viceroy's mansion, which Abhay could glimpse through the gates. Riding further south, he would pass through the open arches of the Maidan, Calcutta's main public park, with its beautiful green flat land spanning out towards Chowranghee and the stately buildings and trees of the British quarter. The park also had exciting places to cycle past: the racetrack, Fort William, the stadium. The Maidan bordered the Ganges (known locally as the Hooghly), and sometimes Abhay would cycle home along its shores. Here he saw numerous bathing ghatas, with stone steps leading down into the Ganges and often with temples at the top of the steps. There was the burning-ghata, where bodies were cremated, and, close to his home, a pontoon bridge that crossed the river into the city of Howrah.
* * *
At age twelve, though it made no deep impression on him, Abhay was initiated by a professional guru. The guru told him about his own master, a great yogi, who had once asked him, "What do you want to eat?"
Abhay's family guru had replied, "Fresh pomegranates from Afghanistan."
"All right," the yogi had replied. "Go into the next room." And there he had found a branch of pomegranates, ripe as if freshly taken from the tree. A yogi who came to see Abhay's father said that he had once sat down with his own master and touched him and had then been transported within moments to the city of Dvaraka by yogic power.
Gour Mohan did not have a high opinion of Bengal's growing number of so-called sadhus—the nondevotional impersonalist philosophers, the demigod worshipers, the ganja smokers, the beggars—but he was so charitable that he would invite the charlatans into his home. Every day Abhay saw many so-called sadhus, as well as some who were genuine, coming to eat in his home as guests of his father, and from their words and activities Abhay became aware of many things, including the existence of yogic powers. At a circus he and his father once saw a yogi tied up hand and foot and put into a bag. The bag was sealed and put into a box, which was then locked and sealed, but still the man came out. Abhay, however, did not give these things much importance compared with the devotional activities his father had taught him, his worship of Radha-Krsna, and his observance of Ratha-yatra.
* * *
Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully together in Calcutta, and it was not unusual for them to attend one another's social and religious functions. They had their differences, but there had always been harmony. So when trouble started, Abhay's family understood it to be due to political agitation by the British. Abhay was about thirteen years old when the first Hindu-Muslim riot broke out. He did not understand exactly what it was, but somehow he found himself in the middle of it.
Srila Prabhupada: All around our neighborhood were Muhammadans. The Mullik house and our house were surrounded by what is called kasba and basti. So the riot was there, and I had gone to play. I did not know that the riot had taken place in Market Square. I was coming home, and one of my friends said, "Don't go to your house. That side is rioting now."
We lived in the Muhammadan quarter, and the fighting between the two parties was going on. But I thought maybe it was something like two gundas [hoodlums] fighting. I had seen one gunda once stabbing another gunda, and I had seen pickpockets. They were our neighbormen. So I thought it was like that: this is going on.
But when I came to the crossing of Harrison Road and Holliday Street I saw one shop being plundered. I was only a child, a boy. I thought, "What is this happening?" In the meantime, my family, my father and mother, were at home frightened, thinking, "The child has not come." They became so disturbed they came out of the home expecting, "Wherefrom will the child come?"
So what could I do? When I saw the rioting I began to run towards our house, and one Muhammadan, he wanted to kill me. He took his knife and actually ran after me. But I passed somehow or other. I was saved. So as I came running before our gate, my parents got back their life.
So without speaking anything I went to the bedroom, and it was in the winter. So without saying anything, I laid down, wrapped myself with a quilt. Then later I was rising from bed, questioning, "Is it ended? The riot has ended? "
When Abhay was fifteen he was afflicted with beriberi, and his mother, who was also stricken, regularly had to rub a powder of calcium chloride on his legs to reduce the swelling. Abhay soon recovered, and his mother, who had never stopped any of her duties, also recovered.
But only a year later, at the age of forty-six, his mother suddenly died. Her passing away was an abrupt lowering of the curtain, ending the scenes of his tender childhood: his mother's affectionate care, her prayers and mantras for his protection, her feeding and grooming him, her dutifully scolding him. Her passing affected his sisters even more than him, though it certainly turned him more towards the affectionate care of his father. He was already sixteen, but now he was forced to grow up and prepare to enter on his own into worldly responsibilities.
His father gave him solace. He instructed Abhay that there was nothing for which to lament: the soul is eternal, and everything happens by the will of Krsna, so he should have faith and depend upon Krsna. Abhay listened and understood.
The biography of Srila Prabhupada continues next month with an account of his first meeting with his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.
Rice—A Gift From Krsna
by Visakha-devi dasi
Rice, one of the oldest grains known to man, has throughout history been a staple in the diet of nearly three fourths of the world's people, and it remains so today. Scientists have classified about seven thousand distinct varieties of rice, and they've analyzed how, when, and where the chief strains are best cultivated, how they benefit us nutritionally, and what elements they contain. Astonishingly, however, no scientist has ever been able to produce a single grain of it.
Why, despite having all the necessary chemicals in hand, can't the scientists produce rice, or, for that matter, any living organism? His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada often discussed this point in conversations with his disciple Dr. Thoudam D. Singh, an organic chemist. Srila Prabhupada explained that scientists will never be able to produce life, because life comes not from matter but from life itself, and ultimately from God, or Krsna. By analyzing the elements in, say, a grain of rice, scientists are starting from an intermediate point. Where do those elements come from? And where does the life within those elements come from? These questions remain unanswered by modern science, despite extensive research.
Devotees of Krsna, on the other hand, understand that both matter and life come from Him, as He Himself says in Bhagavad-gita (10.8): "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything comes from Me." So scientists cannot create anything, animate or inanimate; they can simply manipulate, the elements that Krsna supplies them.
Everything we require for our maintenance has come from Krsna. Therefore, out of a feeling of gratitude, we should offer our food to Him before we eat. Srila Prabhupada perfectly showed this gratitude in his daily life. "In my childhood," he once told one of his disciples, "I was taught by my parents never to waste Krsna's energy. They taught me that if even a small grain of rice was stuck between the floorboards, I should pick it up, touch it to my forehead, and eat it to save it from being wasted. I was taught how to see everything in relation to Krsna. That is Krsna consciousness."
But, one may ask, if Krsna is the source of everything, what is the point of offering our meager meals to Him? A similar question used to puzzle me when I was traveling in India some ten years ago, before I was a devotee. I used to see pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River and then taking palmfuls of water and offering them back to the Ganges. It struck me as odd that anyone would offer water to a river—especially water from that very same river!
Later I learned the principle behind offering. When we offer something to Krsna, we are not offering something that belongs to us, since everything already belongs to Him. What we offer Krsna doesn't enrich His opulence in any way. But when we offer whatever we have, even if just a dish of rice, we develop our devotion to Krsna, just as the pilgrims develop their devotion to the Ganges. Also, Krsna has arranged nature so perfectly that when we offer Him our food and then eat to our full satisfaction, we are nourished both physically and spiritually and we progress peacefully on the path back to Godhead.
One of the most basic ingredients in Lord Krsna's cuisine is rice, and it's used in limitless ways. Rice cooked with herbs, spices, seasonings, nuts, raisins, homemade cheese, dried beans, and succulent vegetables makes a consummate pilaff entree. Cooled, seasoned rice with yogurt folded into it makes an ideal side dish for a hot summer's day. Rice simmered with seasonings, dried beans, and vegetables produces a delicious all-in-one meal. And rice boiled with milk and sweet spices makes a creamy, scrumptious pudding. You can grind rice down to a flour, heat it into puffs, or roast it into flakes to make pancakes, dumplings, sweetmeats, and snacks.
The first step in any rice recipe, of course, is choosing the best rice. Easy-to-cook, parboiled, precooked, and instant rices are out for all Vedic dishes. They lack both taste and nutrition. Besides, better to offer what you've cooked for Krsna yourself. Most suitable is long-grain rice, of which there are three excellent varieties:
North Indian Patna, American Carolina, and Dehradun basmati (most preferred). The people who harvest, husk, and winnow basmati rice have shunned the bleaching, pearling; oiling, and powdering that produce a commercially appealing rice but diminish both its flavor and nutritional value. You can buy basmati rice in most Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores, or in gourmet food shops. (In the same places, you'll find the spices called for in the recipes that follow.) Before you cook basmati rice you must first pick out any small pebbles or other foreign objects, wash it in several changes of cold water, and then soak it for ten minutes.
There is a specific, formal process for offering food to Krsna that devotees follow in Krsna's temples. For your offering at home, however, you can begin with a few simple procedures. First, while preparing the dish, try to remember that it is for Krsna's pleasure. Second, never taste the preparation before offering it: Krsna should enjoy it first. Third, when the preparation is done, place a portion before a picture of Krsna; then chant Hare Krsna and pray for the Lord to accept the offering.
The rice dishes described below should be offered steaming hot and garnished with a sprinkle of golden ghee, purified butter. (Use melted butter for now; we'll explain how to make ghee in our next column.) These dishes can form the center of innumerable luncheon and dinner plates that include dal (a bean soup), vegetables, yogurt, relish, pickles, or salad. You'll be pleased to know that rice complements the protein in other foods: when you eat rice together with such foods as dried beans, nuts, or dairy products, the total food value increases by up to 45%—another perfect arrangement by Krsna.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Simple Rice and Green Pea Pilaff
Servings: about 4
1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
1. Lightly tap each cardamom pod to partially crush.
2. Heat the ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 1 ½-quart saucepan (nonstick cookware is ideal) over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the whole cloves, the cinnamon stick, the bruised cardamom pods, and the almonds and then stir-fry until the almonds begin to turn pale golden brown.
3. Add the rice and stir-fry for about 4 minutes. Pour in the water, fresh peas, and salt. Stir, raise the heat to high, and bring the water to a full boil. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently simmer, without stirring, for about 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until all the water is absorbed and the rice is tender and flaky. (If you're using frozen peas, defrost them in a strainer under hot running water. After the rice has cooked for 10 to 20 minutes [depending on the type], remove the lid and quickly sprinkle the peas on top of the rice. Replace the cover and continue cooking for about 5 more minutes.)
Rice and Cauliflower Pilaff [Gobhi Pulau]
Servings: 6 to 8
Ingredients for preparing cauliflower:
10 ounces cauliflower, cut into flowerettes 1 inch long and ¾ inch wide and then washed and thoroughly dried
Ingredients for preparing rice:
1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
To prepare the cauliflower:
1. Combine the grated coconut, minced green chilies, minced ginger, minced coriander or parsley leaves, and yogurt in a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. Scrape into a small bowl and mix in the turmeric, salt, and pepper.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Drop in the cauliflower flowerettes and stir-fry for 5 or 6 minutes, or until the cauliflower has begun to brown. Pour in the yogurt mixture and stir well. Fry until the vegetable is dry and half-cooked.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the contents to a small bowl. Wipe the pan clean.
To cook the rice:
1. Heat 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Fry the cassia or bay leaves, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, and crushed cardamom pods until the mustard seeds sputter and pop. Pour in the rice and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes.
2. Add the water and sugar, raise the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a full boil. Add the seasoned cauliflower, reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and simmer, without stirring, for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender and flaky. Turn the heat off and let the rice sit, still covered, for 5 minutes to allow the fragile grains of rice to firm up. Just before offering the dish to Krsna, remove the cover and fluff the piping hot rice with a fork. Garnish with a lemon or lime wedge or twist.
Lemon Rice (Nimbu Bhat)
1 cup basmati or other good quality, uncooked long-grain white rice
1. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy 1 ½-quart saucepan. Stir in the rice, salt, and ½ tablespoon of the ghee or vegetable oil and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer, without stirring, for 15 to 25 minutes (depending on the type of rice) or until the rice is flaky and tender and the water is fully absorbed. Set aside, still covered.
2. Heat the remaining 1 ½ tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Drop in the cashew nuts and fry until golden brown. Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and pour them over the surface of the cooked rice. Cover the rice again.
3. Toss the urad dal and the mustard seeds into the remaining ghee or vegetable oil and fry until the mustard seeds pop and crackle and the dal is richly browned.
4. Gently spoon the cooked rice into the fried spices and sprinkle with turmeric powder, lemon juice, and fresh parsley or coriander leaves. Gently fold in all the ingredients until mixed.
5. Remove from the heat and, before offering the dish to Krsna, garnish with a sprinkle of shredded coconut.
Is Lord Krsna just a messenger for a higher, impersonal truth?
by Dhrstaketu Dasa
Bhagavad-gita is the record of a conversation that took place between Lord Krsna and the great warrior Arjuna in approximately 3,000 b.c. Krsna, standing with Arjuna on a chariot between two massive armies poised for war, explained to him the details of spirit, matter, and the controller of both. For the past five thousand years scholars all over the world have struggled to understand the meaning of Bhagavad-gita, but many have failed to grasp the key to this understanding: recognition that Krsna, the original speaker of Bhagavad-gita, is a person, the Supreme Person.
In common usage the word person refers to an individual being, distinct from others. A person has form, qualities, and a history by which others can identify and describe him. A person can express himself and understand 'the expressions of others; he has feelings and desires and can share relationships. In the context of Bhagavad-gita, the word person refers not only to the limited mortals of this world but also to higher beings, such as demigods, and to God Himself.
It is on this issue of the personality of God that the two major classes of Bhagavad-gita scholars divide. The impersonalists, or mayavadis, believe that God has no form, qualities, or activities. They conceive of Him as a shapeless, impersonal entity, often as an all-pervading white light. And since the mayavadis believe that God, or the Absolute Truth, is without varieties, they also maintain that all varieties are false, or illusory. According to the mayavadis, whatever form, color, sound, taste, smell, or touch we perceive is unreal, and thus personality and personal relationships are also unreal. The impersonalists' ultimate goal is to lose all personal identity and merge with an impersonal God.
The personalistic Bhagavad-gita scholars reject the idea that God is a formless entity. On the contrary, the personalists, or Vaisnavas, maintain that God's personal form is the source of all others. Some varieties, they say, are temporary and in that sense illusory, but others are permanent and real. According to the Vaisnavas, God and His abode possess eternal forms that can be realized and attained. Thus the ultimate goal of the personalists is to perfect their relationship with God through service and love.
When these two groups—the impersonalists and the personalists—approach Bhagavad-gita, their conclusions naturally differ. The impersonalists believe that Krsna, the speaker of the Gita, is an ordinary man, a historical or even mythical figure. He is a mouthpiece, they say, for the higher, impersonal truth that is God. The impersonalists believe that the statements of the Gita should not be taken literally; rather, they should be interpreted in one's own way. To them, Bhagavad-gita is an allegory, a mere story containing hidden philosophical meanings, understandable by deliberation and interpretation.
Personalists, on the other hand, accept Krsna as the Supreme Godhead. Therefore they regard the statements in the Gita as the Lord's direct instructions for our benefit. Rather than interpret the words of the Bhagavad-gita, the personalists understand them according to their literal meaning.
Objectively speaking, there is no need to interpret the statements of Bhagavad-gita, because interpretation only covers their authority. The verses of Bhagavad-gita are as clear and bright as the sun, and interpretation is like a cloud that obscures their light. A statement needs interpretation when its meaning is unclear. For example, if I say, "The village is on the Ganges," someone may require an interpretation, because on the Ganges may mean either "on the bank of the Ganges" or (by some stretch of the imagination) "on the surface of the Ganges." In Bhagavad-gita, however, the meaning is simple and clear. There is no interpretation required. Still, people interpret it. Why?
First, though the meaning is clear, persons confused about spiritual life cannot understand even the simple concepts presented in Bhagavad-gita. Therefore they derive their own explanations of Krsna's words. Second, many cheaters and hypocrites twist and distort the meaning of the Gita to spread their own self-motivated doctrines. They know that Bhagavad-gita has been popular for thousands of years. Taking advantage of this popularity, they hope to gain an audience for their views, which they pass off before the public as commentaries on the Gita. Krsna Himself, however, neither sanctions their ideas nor gives any conclusive evidence in Bhagavad-gita to support them.
An interpretation of Krsna's words that ascribes to them a meaning different from their original grammatical and semantic sense can only mislead the reader. Krsna's teachings are meant for the enlightenment of anyone who hears them, but one must accept them as they are in order to receive their beneficial effect.
Where Is Your Love For God?
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 April 1974 in Hyderabad, India.
Srila Prabhupada: How do you instruct the people in general?
Devotee: I try to follow what Lord Caitanya taught, and what is taught in all Vedic literature: that people should understand their relationship with God, learn how to act in that relationship, and know that the goal of life is to come to the stage of pure love of God. So we acquaint people with the principles of devotional service and tell them how they can practice it.
Srila Prabhupada: But people will say, "We have not forgotten God. We go to church regularly. So how have we forgotten God?"
Devotee: Well, we don't encourage them to change their religion—
Srila Prabhupada: No. Your charge is that they have forgotten God. They will answer, "We have not forgotten God. We are going to church. How have we forgotten God?"
Devotee: Because they're not actively serving Him. We see that some people say they are theists but they don't do any practical service for God.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is the meaning of service?
Devotee: Service means acting in a relationship of love. But people are simply serving their stomachs—
Srila Prabhupada: "But if I haven't got love for God, why am I coming to church?"
Devotee: We are educating them about who God is. They go to church, but they don't know who God actually is.
Srila Prabhupada: "Whatever He may be, when I offer my prayers I remember God. I don't have a clear idea, but I have my own conception of God." So, what is the answer?
Devotee: But there are symptoms of service to God. We don't discourage Christians from worshiping God in church, but if they're actually serving God they should show symptoms of developing love of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is already answered: "If I haven't got love for God, why am I coming to church? I could use the time I spend in church to earn some money."
Devotee: But love is not based on sentimentality. Love is practical. We can judge how much a man is developing love for God by what his activities are.
Srila Prabhupada: "So what have you found in me that lets you conclude I have no love for God? What have you seen in me?"
Devotee: You go to church for only one hour all week.
Srila Prabhupada: "That may be—
Devotee: The rest of the time is not spent serving God.
Srila Prabhupada: "But that does not mean I do not love God."
Devotee: We are spreading love of God all over the world to people who have not developed that love, so if you have love for God you should willingly support this work.
Srila Prabhupada: But the Christians are also preaching. The Christian "missionaries will say, "We are going all over the world. We have made so many Christians. So why do you say that you are better than us? We are doing the same thing as you."
Devotee: If a person has love of God, though, his love is not simply confined to his own work. God is one, so why not help us?
Srila Prabhupada: "No, no. We are already preaching Christianity all over the world. The number of Christians is greater than the number of Krsna devotees. Our preaching is better than yours."
Devotee: We are only requesting you to chant Hare Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada: "That is only a process. You are requesting people to chant Hare Krsna; we are requesting them to pray: 'Give us our daily bread.' Your process is chanting; ours is prayer. So, there is no difference."
Devotee: But when we chant Hare Krsna, we are praying to God, "Please let me serve You."
Srila Prabhupada: "That is already settled. We are also serving: we are preaching Christianity."
Devotee: But we are serving twenty-four hours a day.
Srila Prabhupada: "That may be. You may be engaged in serving God twenty-four hours a day, and I may be engaged eight hours a day. But that does not mean I have no love for God."
Devotee: It has already been predicted in the sastra, the Vedic scriptures, that this method of chanting the holy name of God will be accepted by everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: "That may be in your sastra, but we follow our Bible. We go to church and sing hymns."
Devotee: The fact is that you do not know who God is; you do not know how God works.
Srila Prabhupada: "No. I know in my own way."
Devotee: They may give all these arguments, but we see that most Christians do not even follow the teachings in their own Bible.
Srila Prabhupada: Here you have come to the real point. If you love God, then why do you disobey Him? Your disobedience means that you do not love God. Jesus Christ says, "Thou shalt not kill." Then why are you killing so many millions of cows in the slaughterhouses? This is the charge I give to the Christians.
Devotee: But they say, "We are allowed to kill animals. Besides, I accept Christ as my saviour; therefore I'm saved. I'm following Christianity closely."
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. If you love God, then why are you disobeying His order? There is an open declaration by Jesus Christ: "Thou shalt not kill." But you are deliberately disobeying him. So where is your love for God?
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Ravana Killed, Rama Reigns in Washington
Potomac, Maryland—More than 1,500 devotees and guests gathered here recently to celebrate the installation of deity forms of Lord Ramacandra, His consort Sita, His brother Laksmana, and His servant Hanuman. For the United States this was the first formal installation of a Deity of Rama, an incarnation of Krsna who personifies perfect government leadership. The event included a bathing ceremony for the deities, a play, and a feast, and the climax came when everyone joined in burning an effigy of Ravana, a demon who once kidnapped Sita and perished at the hands of Rama.
A New Farm in Australia: 15,000 Acres
Riverina, Australia—The Australasian division of the Hare Krsna movement has acquired a spectacular farm in southeastern Australia. Lying on the Murray River about two hundred miles east of Adelaide, the farm has 15,000 acres (all of it arable), housing for fifty, and the largest shearing shed in south Australia (it's made of foot-thick solid oak beams and can hold five hundred to six hundred sheep).
The farm is virtually a gift to the movement from a wealthy businessman, who had originally intended to develop it himself as a self-sufficient community, a refuge from a world he saw heading for war and economic collapse. But his plans failed to materialize, and he began looking for some people who could develop the kind of community he had in mind. Then one day he saw an energetic group of devotees chanting Hare Krsna in downtown Melbourne. Struck by their enthusiasm and purity, and recalling an impressive chance encounter with Srila Prabhupada in 1976 on a flight from Melbourne to Auckland, the businessman began to think the devotees might be the ones to develop his farm. After a few meetings with some leading Australian devotees, he was convinced.
Under the guidance of His Holiness Prabhupada-krpa Gosvami, who oversees the movement's affairs in Australasia, the new farm promises to grow into a thriving center of spiritual life in a natural setting.
Two More Books In Nepalese
Kathmandu, Nepal—The devotees in the Kathmandu branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness now have two more books by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to distribute to the people of Nepal. The books are Sri Isopanisad (one of the 108 Vedic writings known as the Upanisads), which Srila Prabhupada translated from the original Sanskrit and explained with-extensive purports, and Beyond Birth and Death, a book comprising a series of lectures. The books, translated into Nepalese by Bhaktisiddhanta dasa, have won enthusiastic approval from the friends of the Hare Krsna movement in Nepal—chief of whom are the king and the royal family.
A Teacher for Krsna's Children
Bhurijana dasa develops a school in Pennsylvania for the first generation of Krsna conscious children in the West.
by Ravindra-Svarupa Dasa
I often make the three-hour drive from Philadelphia to Gita-nagari, the Krsna conscious farm community in the fertile Juniata Valley, about fifty miles north of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Two of my children board at the school there. But the visit is a great pleasure for many reasons. Gita-nagari has become a place of pilgrimage for me, a source of spiritual restoration. Coming out of the hard-surfaced city, that monstrous machine for making money and ragging the senses, where devotion to God hangs in as a tenuous and frail anomaly, I enter a complete community where the devotional spirit sustains and pervades every part of it. This, a peaceful rural village, is the natural setting for Krsna consciousness. From here the play of light over forested hills rising in steps to the sky and the vast moving composition of clouds are all redolent of Krsna. Here I see people living as people are meant to live. Gita-nagari is the homeland of the soul.
To me Gita-nagari is also the future. I become acutely aware of this when I visit the school to see how the first generation of Americans born into Krsna consciousness are being brought up in devotional service. And here I can fulfill one of the main objectives of my pilgrimage: to spend time with a devotee who is fully absorbed in creating that future, the headmaster of the school my children attend, Bhurijana dasa.
I first met Bhurijana and his wife Jagattarani in 1976, when my wife Saudamani and I took our five-year-old son Yudhisthira to enroll in the school for boys at Gita-nagari. It had only recently opened, starting from scratch with ten children, but we were happy to have a school close by where we could keep our eyes on Yudhisthira and watch what was happening. For although my wife and I were both fully committed to the Krsna consciousness movement and willing to follow the direction of Srila Prabhupada, our spiritual master, in the matter of raising and educating our children, we still had large misgivings about what the school might be like.
We were convinced of the need to set up a whole alternative school system for devotee children, but we also recognized that the beginnings of such an enterprise were bound to be difficult, full of false starts and mistakes. Most devotees were rather young and inexperienced, and trial and error was the only way to build a working system.
So although I immediately liked Bhurijana, one part of me measured him in a. more dispassionate and critical light. After all, I was turning my own child over to him.
Still, Saudamani and I quickly established close relations with Bhurijana and Jagattarani. At that time the boys' school was in a small two-story building with one big classroom, two smaller rooms with child-sized bunk-beds, and one room for Bhurijana, Jagattarani, and their two-year-old daughter, Vrndavana-lila. The school was modeled on the Vedic guru-kula system, in which boys at five years go to live in the house of their guru, or spiritual master. As a representative of Srila Prabhupada, Bhurijana was much more than the boys' academic instructor; he was their constant companion and exemplar, living closely with them to guide the formation of their character.
Character formation is one of the main goals of the gurukula system, and it requires that the students have continuous and intimate association with a teacher who instructs them by the example of his own conduct. This system naturally demanded a high standard of behavior from the teachers in Gita-nagari—not just from Bhurijana but also from Jagattarani, who saw to it that the boys were properly bathed, clothed, fed, rested, and so on. In effect, Bhurijana and Jagattarani had taken on a family of ten boys, and I was fairly awed by the heroic self-sacrifice they were rather cheerfully undertaking. While the gurukula style of education is immeasurably superior to the sort of American factory schooling I had been subjected to, I could see that it must be rough on the teacher, even if he's a saint. "You stay with ten boys all day long?" I asked Bhurijana in amazement on one visit. "How do you stand it?" "Some days," he said, "they drive me up the wall." I could believe it.
Bhurijana still speaks with the accent of his native Brooklyn, and as he entertained me with some remarkably funny descriptions of a few of the boys' antics and habits of mind, I could place his humor as the kind that has been called New York City's greatest cultural contribution to America, combining as it does a warm-hearted sympathy for its subject with the extremes of exacerbation. Bhurijana is very funny, and I could see how his sense of humor contributes to his composure. He is also a compulsive maker of outrageous puns. This gives his students no end of delight, and my son Yudhisthira can now spiel off a whole collection of "Bhurijana jokes."
"I joke around a lot," Bhurijana told me. "The hardest thing about being a teacher is that the children follow your example. So when one of the boys in geography class asked, 'If the people from Portugal are called Portuguese, then is a person from Portugal a Portugoose?' I realized I had gone too far."
Saudamani and I soon felt sufficiently at ease with Bhurijana to be frank about our misgivings concerning gurukula education. These were mostly about academics. My wife and I had between us garnered a large store of educational experience. We were both university graduates, and I had gone on to graduate school. She had taught in elementary school; I had taught college students as well as preschool children. With our dreadful experience of the low and ever-sinking standard of literacy in American schools, we thought that almost anything would be an improvement, but we were still concerned about the inexperience of devotee teachers and possessed by a nagging worry that the emphasis on spiritual development and character-building would lead to a neglect of academic learning. Moreover, I had already begun to formulate plans for our movement's own university. What kind of students would the lower schools be sending us?
Bhurijana straightforwardly confessed that he had almost no curriculum and few books. He was planning his lessons one step ahead of the students, developing curricula as he went along. Yet two features of the school particularly impressed me as so intelligently conceived that most of my apprehensions were set to rest. The first was the adoption of the old-fashioned method of the one-room schoolhouse, in which a single teacher can instruct children of all different grades. The students get individual assignments from their teacher, prepare their lessons at their desks, and then one by one bring their completed work to the teacher, who corrects it, instructs them, and sends them back with new assignments. Not only is this an eminently practical method for a small school, but it also frees each student to work at his own pace, without being slowed or rushed by the demands of mass instruction.
The second impressive feature was the method adopted for teaching the children to read. Before coming to Gita-nagari, Bhurijana, together with Jagadisa dasa, the superintendent for all the gurukula schools, had investigated various programs for teaching reading. They discovered a reading series written by Clarence Barnhart, of dictionary fame, and Leonard Bloomfield, one of the most respected linguists of the century. Bhurijana was enthusiastic: the children learned to read quickly and effortlessly.
"You don't have any trouble teaching the kids to read?"
"Not only don't I have any trouble teaching the kids to read," he replied, "but the kids don't have any trouble teaching the kids to read." Because the system was so logically constructed and simple to use, Bhurijana could assign an older child to lead a younger through the course of exercises. All Bhurijana needed to do was check the progress. The children made excellent reading teachers, Bhurijana said. Endlessly patient, they were not frustrated by slow learners. This tutorial system has become his standard practice; by now my own son has taught half a dozen children to read. By the end of the first grade, every gurukula student can read an adult book like Krsna or The Nectar of Devotion. In this, gurukula has far surpassed public education. "After using this simple system," Bhurijana recently told me, "you wonder what the whole big fuss is about teaching children to read."
Over the years I grew close to Bhurijana, coming to know him as the teacher of my child, a colleague in Krsna consciousness and in spiritual education, an exemplar of a wholly dedicated devotee, and a friend.
Bhurijana and I had both gone through college during the turmoil of the sixties, both majored in philosophy; we even turned out to have had a migrating professor in common. In 1964 Bhurijana, then Warren Weinstein, had found himself at the University of Buffalo, a freshman on state scholarship going through the motions of school, wondering what for. But in his sophomore year everything changed: the San Francisco Mime Troupe, psychedelic missionaries, visited campus; Bhurijana pilgrimaged westward with friends to the hippie holy lands; his hair grew longer; he bought a motorcycle. None of this helped his grades.
For Bhurijana the ensuing year was turbulent. There were more treks west, and Bhurijana and his cohorts turned U.B. inside out while everyone tried to figure out what was happening. It was also the time of the Great Spiritual Quest. Since childhood Bhurijana had been attracted to religion and to the feelings worship would awaken in him, yet his milieu could offer no direction for his spiritual strivings. Or in his words, "I was never materialistically inclined: I spent a lot of time at the beach."
But then in the heady days of the flower children, when the divine became something you could encounter, his early religious feelings came back to life. By his senior year the counterculture had become institutionalized in the U.B. Experimental College. When it offered a course on meditation, Bhurijana signed up, and sitting on the carpet in the back of a crowded room in the student union, he chanted Hare Krsna with Rupanuga dasa, the instructor, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, the Swami whom Allen Ginsberg used to chant with on the Lower East Side. Bhurijana kept on chanting mornings and evenings in his attic apartment, and when he returned for the next class he considered himself a devotee. His spiritual advancement had been moving at a pathetic crawl, if at all; now he found himself aboard a speeding train.
So Bhurijana became a double dropout: from straight society into the counterculture, from the counterculture into Krsna consciousness. And, in a strange way, by going further out, he came back in: he gave up drugs, his hair became shorter and shorter, and by the time his head was completely shaven—save for the distinctive tuft in the back—he was on the Dean's List.
In the spring of 1968 he hitched through the melting snow into New York City and spent the weekend at the Hare Krsna temple, seeing Srila Prabhupada for the first time. He wrote about this trip for a course on Utopian fiction. The students had been assigned to create their own Utopia, but Bhurijana began his paper:
"This Utopia is different from other Utopias because it is real." In Montreal he became Srila Prabhupada's initiated disciple, and repeating the name "Bhurijana" to himself, he hitched his way back to Buffalo for his last semester. He graduated wearing the twin lines of tilaka on his forehead.
Somewhat later, on New Year's Day of 1970, we find Bhurijana arriving, to his surprise, in Tokyo, a missionary going to a lonely outpost. In November he left to open a temple in Hong Kong, and by then he had decided he wanted a wife, a devotee wife. This request went back to the large Krsna community in Los Angeles, where, as it happened, a rising young Australian actress had recently cut short her career to join the temple. Jagattarani, known then as Janne Wesly, had made a name for herself in Australian film and television. But she had become increasingly uncomfortable in the roles she played and in the lubricious and meretricious atmosphere of film society. A growing desire for spiritual wholeness led her to visit regularly the small Krsna temple in Sydney; she loved its pure atmosphere. She would do her singing exercises with the Hare Krsna mantra. Then she got a starring role opposite Mick Jagger in a film about an Australian outlaw named Ned Kelly. This was a major production, and on her way to London for its premier she stopped off in Hollywood, staying in the house of one of the Beach Boys. In Hollywood she saw big-time film life, and when she visited the Los Angeles Krsna temple, its purity was a welcome refuge. She asked to stay for a week, and the day Ned Kelly opened with fanfare in London, she moved into the temple for good.
Four months later she was told about a good young devotee about to start a center in Hong Kong who wanted to get married. Would she consider going to serve there, so she could get to know him and, if things worked out, marry him? Her visa was about to expire anyway, so she decided to try it. The day before she left, an Australian reporter came to interview her at the temple. A few months later in Hong Kong she received from her mother a clipping out of Australia's most popular tabloid: WEIRD CULT FORCES FAMOUS ACTRESS TO MARRY JAPANESE MONK. It was her last press notice. By then she was Bhurijana's wife.
Now, ten years later, when I visit Bhurijana and Jagattarani in Gita-nagari, I am enlivened to see how fully they express their talents and aptitudes in devotional service. I generally find Jagattarani surrounded by a tumult of busy children, calmly sewing the ornate and intricate costumes for the children's plays she puts on, all the while directing the multitude of kids through a variety of simultaneous tasks, dominating the scene with striking stage presence, a star surrounded by bit players. Her room is heaped with beautiful hand puppets in various stages of completion. She and her husband put on elaborate puppet versions of scriptural stories, with lavish changes of scenery, rich sound effects, strobe lights, and smoke bombs. Jagattarani creates the puppets and the sets, and Bhurijana writes the scripts. Bhurijana frequently introduces the plays with two popular comic puppets, the sweetly naive Rasgulla and the cynical and gloomy Skurd, who comments on local affairs and members of the audience and brings down the house.
Bhurijana's responsibilities have steadily increased since I first brought my son to his school. He has a teaching staff of five; forty students, both boys and girls; one more of my children; and a large hew schoolhouse. He regularly visits half a dozen gurukulas on the East Coast, overseeing and advising, and a constant stream of teachers visit Gita-nagari to watch and learn. Bhurijana heads up the curriculum committee for the Hare Krsna movement's international system of twenty-two gurukulas. In fact, curriculum development has become his real love. "I have such a rare opportunity—the opportunity to build a curriculum from the bottom up and test it at every step. It is an educator's dream. Krsna fulfills your desires better than you could ever imagine. So many educators would give their very soul, even half their retirement fund, to have my situation."
Bhurijana has instituted a course of learning for the children that includes intensive Bhagavad-gita study, geography, history, mathematics, nature study, music, current events, Sanskrit, and English. His English curriculum is most interesting; it has developed remarkably, and the clever methods he has adopted to teach composition delight the children. They begin writing essays in the first grade and continue to write at every step. They learn how to observe, organize their impressions and ideas, structure paragraphs, expound thought logically; they learn how to generate ideas by directed free-writing, how to refine and polish their work by rewriting and editing. Bhurijana is training them to come out supremely literate and articulate, to become experts in understanding and in expounding the philosophy of Krsna consciousness.
For Krsna is the context and the goal of all study, all work, all play. Bhurijana continues to teach this daily by his own example. He still lives with the boys, rises early in the morning with them, and remains with them throughout the community's morning devotions in the temple. He has also built a camp for them in the woods, he takes them swimming and hiking, and he shows them the workings of the farm. "I have the idea," he says, "that they should remember their childhood as fun." Thus Bhurijana is creating a special childhood for these children. They are growing up happy, strong, intelligent, self-disciplined, and imbued with the spirit of devotion to Krsna.
The Sanskrit language is rich in words to communicate ideas about spiritual life, yoga, and God realization. This dictionary, appearing by installments in BACK TO GODHEAD, will focus upon the most important of these words (and, occasionally, upon relevant English terms) and explain what they mean. (For a guide to proper pronunciation, please see page 1.)
Bharata. The Vedic histories tell of three prominent kings who bore the name Bharata. One was the younger brother of Lord Ramacandra, the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as a perfect king. During the fourteen years that Lord Ramacandra was in exile in the forest of Danda-karanya, this Bharata, acting as a fully devoted brother, ruled the kingdom on Ramacandra's behalf. He refused, however, to sit on the throne, which he reserved for the shoes of Lord Ramacandra. The sage Valmiki has described these pastimes in the epic Ramayana.
Another Bharata was the son of King Dusyanta (or Dusmanta) and the famous beauty Sakuntala. He is fully described in the Mahabharata (Adi-parva). This Bharata became the king of the entire world, performed great sacrifices for the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord, and abundantly provided everything necessary for the welfare of his subjects. Although opulent beyond imagination, Bharata eventually retired from the throne to pursue a life of self-realization. It is from this Bharata that the Kuru dynasty descended, and therefore the members of this dynasty (including the Pandavas) are sometimes addressed as Bharata ("descendant of Bharata").
The third Bharata was the son of Maharaja Rsabhadeva. This Bharata also became king of the world, and it is because of him that the world became known as Bharata-varsa. This Bharata was a highly exalted soul who attained the stage of ecstatic devotion to the Supreme Lord. Nonetheless, while living a renounced life of meditation in the forest (for he too gave up his opulent kingdom to pursue self-realization) he developed a fondness for a deer cub whose mother had died. Because of this affection, he thought of the deer at the time of his own death. As Bhagavad-gita explains, one's thoughts at death carry one to the next body. Thus Maharaja Bharata, absorbed in thinking of the deer, had to take h»s next life as a deer.
Although born as a deer, the former King Bharata was able to remember his past life, by the grace of the Lord. Conscious of his mistake, he was careful to associate only with great sages. Thus when his life as a deer ended he was born as a spiritually advanced human being. In this human life he was known as Jada Bharata ("dull Bharata") because although extremely elevated in spiritual realization he outwardly behaved as though a great fool. Jada Bharata revealed his exalted spiritual understanding, however, when he instructed King Rahugana in Krsna consciousness. The history of this Bharata—from his life as the son of Rsabhadeva, to his life as a deer, and finally to his life of perfection as Jada Bharata—is described in the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Bharata-varsa. The present nation of India is known to its own people as Bharata, or Bharata-varsa. From the Vedic histories, however, we understand that the kingdom of Bharata-varsa formerly extended throughout the entire world. Its capital, Hastinapura, was located at the site of the present city of Delhi.
Bhima—One of the five heroic Pandava brothers, whose deeds are celebrated in the Mahabharata, the ancient epic history of India. Bhima is known for his herculean strength, voracious appetite, courage in battle, and pure devotion to Lord Krsna.
Bhisma—Another hero of the Mahabharata. Bhisma is one of twelve great authorities on the science of devotional service. Born the son of King Santanu and the goddess of the River Ganges, he was to have inherited the throne of the world, but in his youth, for the sake of his father, he renounced the right to the throne and accepted a vow of lifelong celibacy. Despite his deep affection for the Pandava brothers, for whom he acted like a grandfather, his duty obliged him to serve as a general for the opposing army in the Battle of Kuruksetra. When Grandfather Bhisma fell in battle and lay wounded on a bed formed by the arrows piercing his body, exalted persons from throughout the universe, including the Pandavas, great demigods and sages, and even Lord Krsna Himself, gathered at his side. After speaking at length for the enlightenment of all present, Bhisma, a perfect yogi, fixed his mind upon Lord Krsna and then passed away at a time of his own choosing. Bhisma's prayers to Lord Krsna appear in the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
We welcome your letters. Write to
You guys are really sad. For millennia religious sects have claimed to have the only way to God, and they have always been wrong. So are you wrong. As Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan says, "The ways to God are numberless as the grains of sand, unceasing as the rains of Dharma."
It's too bad that you close your minds to everything except what your Almighty Guru tells you. For example, I read in back to godhead Vol. 16, No. 6 (and elsewhere ad nauseum in ISKCON literature) that the practice of Raja Yoga is "unsuitable for the present age." Well, it's not. Just a little of the Raja Yoga practices can lead to advancement, as I can attest.
In your unthinking and bigoted narrow-mindedness you are as bad as Bible-beaters who still believe in the myths of Creation as presented in Genesis. The old beliefs are outdated. Why do you accept so blindly?
Sirs, you are correct that self-realization is the purpose of human life. But narrow-minded bigotry is not the most effective way to get there, nor is blind acceptance.
Richard L. Miller
Our reply (from Jayadvaita Swami, Senior Editor): If we understand you correctly, your idea is that everyone's path to God is equally valid. From this it would follow (if we are to avoid being narrow-minded and bigoted) that our own path—that of Krsna consciousness—must also be valid. And since part of the understanding we have gained on our path is that some paths are more suitable than others, and that some are utterly useless, this too must be valid. This, of course, leads to the conclusion that your original idea is invalid.
Now, to set matters straight, the devotees of Krsna, far from insisting that ours is the only path to God, agree that there are many, indeed innumerable, paths.
That the paths to God are innumerable, however, in no way implies that all paths are equal. Although numberless medicines may be available, a diseased person ought not to think that whatever medicine he takes will be as good as any other. Some medicines are good only for particular patients under particular circumstances, some are effective but slow, some have undesirable side effects, and some are just utterly worthless. That medicines are numberless hardly means that cough drops, eye drops, or snake oil are just as good for treating diabetes as insulin. Among the numberless medicines, one has to take the particular medicine that qualified physicians prescribe for one's particular disease.
Karma-yoga, hatha-yoga, jnana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga—these and several other paths are set forth in Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by Krsna Himself. Sri Krsna is therefore renowned as Yogesvara, "the master of all yoga."
Raja-yoga, or astanga-yoga, is also described in Bhagavad-gita by Krsna Himself, and devotees of Krsna therefore accept it as a legitimate path to God. Yet the requirements of this yoga are stringent—so stringent, in fact, that Arjuna, the original recipient of Bhagavad-gita, rejected the entire system as too difficult for him to practice. Arjuna lived in Dvapara-yuga, an age more conducive to self-realization than the age we live in now. An intimate friend of Krsna Himself, Arjuna was a prince of exceptional saintliness. Yet even he professed his inability to follow this system. How then can ordinary people like us expect to be able to follow it now?
What does raja-yoga require? In Bhagavad-gita Krsna tells us only its barest essentials, yet even these are most likely well beyond our abilities. For example, one must retire to a sacred place, like the pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas or on the banks of the Ganges, practice absolute celibacy, live in total seclusion, and absorb one's mind in unceasing meditation. The last time I sped through Wilmington on Amtrak, past the office buildings and factory smokestacks, it hardly seemed the sort of sacred, secluded place that raja-yoga requites. I can just imagine a raja-yogi in Wilmington, emerging from meditation only long enough to drop by the post office and send testimony of his advancement to BACK TO GODHEAD. Considering the spirit of your letter, this is testimony we shall be careful not to accept blindly.
Nor do we recommend that you accept Krsna consciousness blindly. For thoughtful, cautious souls who wish to examine and question philosophical ideas thoroughly before accepting them, we have published more than sixty large books through which to investigate what Krsna consciousness is.
Although we never insist that ours is the only way, it is the way the Vedic sages most emphatically recommend for the present age. The same Bhagavad-gita that sets forth the many paths of yoga recommends one path above all—the path of bhakti-yoga, or Krsna consciousness. In a former age, Satya-yuga, raja-yoga was the ideal means to attain perfection—but that was more than two million years ago. In contrast, bhakti-yoga—and, in particular, the chanting of God's names—is the method the Vedic sages prescribe as the only truly effective means of spiritual realization during our present age, the difficult time known as Kali-yuga, the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy. We are hopeful that broadminded souls, eyes fully open, will carefully examine it and then accept it.
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I picked up your magazine just by chance on my way from lectures. For the fun of it I got it from the man who was distributing them to the students. When I was back in my room I dropped it on the table and forgot it until this morning. When I was cleaning my table, I saw it. Flipping through it, I read the replies of Srila Prabhupada "On Education and the Good Life." In the Vedic understanding of four pillars of sinful life there is intoxication, a sin I commit every time I am under pressure (emotions and other psychological factors). I have been trying to cure it for years without success. The first paragraph of page 14, Vol. 16, No. 10 [in which Srila Prabhupada argues against intoxication, gambling, meat-eating, and illicit sex] has performed the miracle.
Thanks a lot. Continue to spread your Vedic understanding. The knowledge will cure so many people.
Michael Robins Alcanbi
Pennsylvania State University
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I just wanted you to know how glad I am that you're finally going to put some recipes in BACK TO GODHEAD. I've been reading your magazine for years (since 1974, in fact), but I've always wondered why you don't give any recipes in the magazine for those incredible dishes you serve at the Sunday feasts at your temples. I'm a photographer, and I travel a lot, so whenever I'm in Chicago or Los Angeles or New York I make it a point to visit the Hare Krsna temple on Sundays. I'm not a vegetarian, but I could easily see becoming one if I could learn how to cook like that! What's the secret ingredient?
OUR REPLY: The secret behind the cooking at Hare Krsna temples is that everything is done to please Krsna. Since Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita that He accepts only vegetarian dishes prepared and offered with love, devotees try to please Him by meeting this standard. Of course, there is a "secret ingredient" too: ghee, purified butter. Ghee is the cooking medium par excellence—but we don't have room to go into detail about it here. See our "Krsna's Cuisine" feature next month for a description of the glories of ghee, and how to prepare it and use it in your own kitchen.
The Ideal King Reigns in Washington
From time to time God incarnates on earth to impart His instructions and enact His pastimes. One incarnation is Lord Ramacandra, who appeared in India millions of years ago as the ideal king. His purpose was to teach us perfect government—God-centered government—and thus His moral, political, and religious teachings and activities were meant to instruct humanity and provide ideals to emulate. The Krsna consciousness movement is responsible for propagating these instructions and ideals in an effort to lead humanity toward God consciousness in every sphere of life, including government. There is much to be learned from Lord Rama about good government.
Last October, in a grand ceremony, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness began worshiping the Deity form of Lord Rama in Washington, D.C. The Montgomery County Sentinel reported the event as follows:
"Accompanied by the rhythmic pounding of drums and ringing of cymbals, this timeless mantra of India's ancient Vedic culture [Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare] resounds throughout the Potomac temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Three hundred devotees and observers somehow have squeezed themselves into the temple to watch the bathing of the deities, the first rite of the ancient festival. Light from crystal-decked chandeliers shines down on the crowd. Below, the smoke of sandalwood incense floats upward under the pandal, a multicolored tent hanging high over bowls of libations—among them honey, yogurt, and clarified butter—that would soon be spread on the marble incarnations of Lord Ramachandra, his consort Sita, his brother Laksmana and Lord Rama's monkey servant, Hanuman. This is the first installation of the deity form of Lord Rama in the United States."
The inspiration for worshiping Lord Rama in Washington, D.C., came from our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who wrote in a letter to the devotees there in 1976, "As for your desire to have Sita-Rama Deities, it is a very good idea. Rama is the ideal king, and it would be very suitable that He reign over the capital of America."
The actual day of the ceremony was vijayotsava, the anniversary of the day Lord Rama killed the great demon Ravana. The Ramayana, an ancient Vedic epic, describes how Ravana provoked the wrath of Lord Rama by kidnapping His chaste wife, Sita. (Please see back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 9.)
His Holiness Acyutananda Swami spoke about Ravana in a morning class:
"It is sometimes said that the people want the kingdom of God without God. Such an aspiration, however, is never to be fulfilled. That was Ravana's idea, also. He wanted Sita without Rama. Sita is the energy of the Lord, His personified opulence, and Ravana or demons like him want to enjoy all the opulence of the Lord without serving the Lord Himself. But they cannot enjoy such wealth for long, because fortune is fickle. You may know that when people acquire money by illegal means, that money is often taken away and they are put in jail. But even if such criminals are not caught by the police, because they have accumulated more wealth than their quota they cannot enjoy that money.
"Big millionaire and billionaire industrialists who get money by cheating and by creating factories for unnecessary commodities, and who advertise to the foolish, uneducated people that they should buy these commodities—such men are full of troubles themselves. For instance, they have to face so many court cases. One of the results of bad karma is to constantly be going to court. Wealthy people often face this disturbing nuisance; they know that they may lose their money at any moment. Because Ravana did not use his wealth in the service of God, he was doomed. Similarly, any Ravana-like person today will ultimately meet with defeat before Providence."
I also got a chance to speak before the guests and devotees:
"Just as Ravana was defeated by Rama and His devotees, so today's demons will be defeated by the grace of the Lord and the Lord's devotees. We will see victory, certainly. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, 'My devotee will never suffer defeat; he will never be vanquished.' The devotees become triumphant because they become eternal: they go back to Godhead. And the demon gets defeated and returns to this world again and again. There is always this contest between the devotee and the demon, but the conclusion is always that the demon is vanquished. Although it may temporarily appear otherwise, the devotee is always victorious in the end. At present, in this age of quarrel and hypocrisy (the Kali-yuga), the devotees have no political power. Yet we are worshiping Rama and spreading Krsna consciousness. Therefore we are sure, as Krsna says, that the devotees will be victorious, not only over the demons but over death—over the whole material universe."
The climax of the day was the burning of Ravana in effigy, a tradition throughout India on vijayotsava. The Sentinel described this event as follows:
"Everyone assembled at the outdoor theatre on top of a hill overlooking the temple. They sat on logs resting on a carpet of gold, yellow, orange and brown leaves. Overhead, green- and yellow-leaved trees shielded the audience from a grey sky. To the alternately delighted cheers and awed silence of the audience, Lord Ramachandra, painted an effervescent green, conquered the plotting king Ravana. While the play progressed, Krishna devotees below prepared a 30-foot effigy of Ravana to be shot by a flaming arrow and then beaten with sticks by members of the audience. Just as the effigy was doused with kerosene, the stick-bearing crowd came whooping down the hill screaming 'Kill the demon!' Then the figure, of Rama from the play took a bow and flaming arrow and struck the evil effigy. Suddenly, in the near darkness, Ravana burst into flame and devotees rushed to strike his brilliant figure. Shouts of 'Ravana is dead!' filled the air, and dancing and singing resumed as people clasped hands and moved back toward the temple."
Several film and TV crews were on hand to record the event. Said Cecilia Domeyko, a camerawoman working with a free-lance filming company called Documentary One, "I liked the burning of the effigy a lot. I thought it was great fun. The effigy was a symbol of the demoniac, and you were burning it. I think most people took it like that, because the fire is a universal symbol for purity, and so by burning the effigy you were burning evil."
All day and evening there were chanting of the holy names of God and feasting. Everyone enjoyed the festival, but devotees especially felt the auspicious possibilities of a new era.
I got another chance to speak at the conclusion of the evening: "We are going to worship the genuine king, Rama. And when we purify our hearts, the demoniac influence within us will be slain and religious principles will be introduced. The people will have to do it themselves—to install the Lord and the Lord's representative in the actual seat of government. Otherwise, the people will go on being misled and victimized by Ravana-like men who, as the Bhagavad-gita describes, perform horrible works of destruction among mankind."—SDG.