Questions and Answers
A conversation with
This conversation with guests took place at the Hare Krsna center in Los Angeles in the late sixties.
Guest: What is the outcome of the continual chanting of om?
Srila Prabhupada: Like the Hare Krsna mantra, om is a manifestation of the Supreme Lord in the form of sound vibration. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita. So, Hare Krsna and om have practically the same value, but chanting Hare Krsna is easier. Another reason we chant Hare Krsna is that it was specifically chanted by Lord Caitanya. * ["Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself in the role of His own devotee. He appeared in Bengal, India, five hundred years ago to teach love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.]
Om is generally chanted at the beginning of Vedic mantras: om tad visnoh paramam padam sada. . . . om purnam adah purnam idam. Om addresses the Lord, and Hare Krsna also addresses the Lord. But chanting Hare Krsna is easier, and it is recommended for this age. Otherwise, transcendentally, or spiritually, there is no difference.
Guest: What do you think of kundalini-yoga and raja-yoga?
Srila Prabhupada: Raja-yoga means "the king of yogas." But we are practicing the emperor of yogas, bhakti-yoga, so raja-yoga is included in it. In the Bhagavad-gita [6.47], Lord Krsna says,
yoginam api sarvesam
"Anyone who is always thinking of Me within himself is the topmost yogi." Therefore a person who is in full Krsna consciousness has surpassed all other kinds of yogic principles.
What is your understanding of kundalini-yoga? Do you know what it is?
Guest: It's very dangerous.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you want to practice such a dangerous thing?
Guest: I just wanted to know what you thought of it.
Srila Prabhupada: It is not possible to practice such a difficult process of yoga in this age. It is too difficult. So we recommend that you not waste your valuable time trying to follow something that is not possible for you. That is our recommendation.
Of course, if you want to maintain some "yoga hobby," that is a different thing. But you will never be successful, because kundalini-yoga is very difficult to perform. In the present age, bhakti-yoga, or Krsna consciousness, is recommended as the only possible way for self-realization. And it is very simple: Just chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Anyone can do it, in any part of the world. One may be of any age; it doesn't matter whether you're an old man or a child. The many children of our devotees are chanting Hare Krsna, and old men like me are also chanting Hare Krsna. And these young boys and girls, my disciples, are also chanting Hare Krsna. So it is universal.
My disciples are neither Hindus nor Indians, nor have they any knowledge of Sanskrit. But they have easily picked up this Hare Krsna chant, and they are getting the result. So chanting Hare Krsna is the easiest, most universal method of self-realization in the present age. No other yoga practice will be successful. It will simply be a waste of time.
Guest: May I ask this, Swami: Have you yourself reached the superconscious state, or the Christ-conscious state?
Srila Prabhupada: It is not very difficult. You can also do that. Just follow the easy process of chanting Hare Krsna. What is Christ consciousness? What did Christ teach? That you surrender to God. Isn't this his essential teaching?
Guest: Well, the understanding I have of Christ consciousness is when one's mind reaches the state where it is within all the atoms and all the flowers—
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna is within your self, within your heart, within the atoms—everywhere. So if Christ taught that God is like that, then there is no difference between Christ consciousness and Krsna consciousness.
Guest: When I say Christ consciousness, I mean to get your mind on the same level as the atoms—actually, on a higher level, beyond the atoms, as pure spirit. These two levels of consciousness, in the atoms and beyond—
Srila Prabhupada: Actually, there aren't two levels of consciousness. There is only one. Consciousness is like the sky, but when part of the sky is overcast with clouds, you divide it: "This is the friendly sky, and this is the unfriendly sky." The airlines like to advertise, "Fly in the friendly sky." Wherefrom has this "friendly sky" come? The sky is one, but the part of the sky that is covered with clouds we call "the unfriendly sky," and the part that is sunny we call "the friendly sky."
Similarly, everything, without exception, is spirit (sarvam khalv idam brahma), but the portion of spirit that is covered by ignorance—by the cloud of ignorance—is called matter.
What is material civilization? All our usual activities, minus God. And as soon as we add God to all our activities, our civilization is spiritual. So, all activities minus God means trouble, and all activities plus God means the spiritual world, all-pleasing. Krsna consciousness means all activities should be done with God in the center. That is the sum and substance of Krsna consciousness.
We are doing the same things as you. We are burning candles here, and you also burn candles at your home. This is an apartment, and you also have your apartment. What is the difference between this apartment and your apartment? Here there is a relationship to Krsna. So, you make everything in your life related to Krsna, and your life will become spiritual. That is the technique you learn in Krsna consciousness.
Actually, there is nothing but Krsna consciousness. We have artificially covered Krsna consciousness with something else, which is called maya, or illusion. You have to get out of this maya consciousness and stand in your original Krsna consciousness. Then your life is perfect. That is what we are teaching—nothing artificial or extraordinary. Nor is it very difficult. It is very plain and simple.
Guest: Is there a regression in your system of reincarnation? In other words, after his body dies can a man regress and become an animal or an insect of some sort?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. There are 8,400,000 different kinds of bodies, and after this life we can enter any one of them.
As far as my constitutional position is concerned, I am not the body: I am a spirit soul. We are changing our body even at the present moment. When you were born from your mother's womb, your body was very small. Now it has grown. You were a small boy, now you are a young man, and soon you will become an old man like me. So, your body is changing; this is a simple fact. And Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [2.13], tatha dehantara-praptih: "After death you will pass into another body." That body may be a human body, a dog body, a cat body, a plant body—it all depends on your consciousness at the time of death.
Guest: What is it that you take with you?
Srila Prabhupada: I will explain. Our change of body is taking place according to our mentality. For example, all these boys and girls and ladies and gentlemen sitting here in this room have different clothes, different bodily features, different modes of life. Why? Because of their different mentalities. Somebody likes to keep his hair dirty, somebody likes to cleanse it. Why? Because of a difference of mentality. Similarly, your next body will be determined by the state of your mind at the time of your death. If your mind is God conscious, you will get a body like God's. And if your mind is dog conscious, you will get the body of a dog.
So, it is a question of training your mind in such a way that at the point of death you can keep yourself Krsna conscious. Then you will get a body as good as Krsna's. This is the whole philosophy of Krsna consciousness. Krsna's body is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha: full of bliss, full of knowledge, and eternal. We should hanker after an eternal, blissful body full of knowledge. That should be our aim. And to fulfill that aim, we should practice Krsna consciousness.
Guest: When we get our next body, does our mind retain much of what it learned in the life before? Or does it start all over again and gain its knowledge through that body?
Srila Prabhupada: Death means forgetfulness. It is something like sleep. Or, sleep is partial death. When you sleep you forget your day's activities, and you also sometimes think that you have a different body or that you are floating in the air or that you have gone somewhere you have never been before.
Similarly, as soon as your body changes, your mind also changes. The mind's functions are thinking, feeling, and willing. We think, feel, and will according to circumstances. For example, now you have an American body, so you are thinking like an American, and someone else has a Russian body, so he's thinking like a Russian. Similarly, a soul who has a dog's body thinks like a dog. So the mind changes according to the condition of the body.
Guest: In the supreme state of Krsna consciousness, is it possible to remember your previous life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is possible. If you come to the supreme state of Krsna consciousness, you can remember. There are instances in the scripture. King Bharata died thinking of a deer, so his next body was a deer's. But he remembered, "I was such-and-such a person." Sometimes even ordinary people can remember their past lives. Occasionally the newspaper reports that a child is saying, "I have my home in another town," and when the child goes there he says, "Such-and-such boy is my son. Here in this box I kept such-and-such a thing." There are many instances of this.
Guest: Could you tell me why I have so much trouble concentrating when I meditate on the astral world?
Srila Prabhupada: Because your mind is always disturbed, full of anxieties. Therefore you cannot concentrate. But the process of chanting Hare Krsna automatically lets you concentrate. When you chant or I chant loudly, you hear "Hare Krsna," and your mind is immediately turned to Krsna. That is meditation.
After all, meditation means to concentrate on the Supreme. The Supreme is Krsna, and Krsna is nondifferent from His name. So when you hear the name Krsna, you immediately remember the person Krsna, and you associate with Krsna.
What will you accomplish by silent meditation? You'll think of your office or your home or your dog or your cat. That's all. Therefore, even five thousand years ago this silent meditation was not recommended. When Krsna advised Arjuna, "Take to this practice of silent meditation," Arjuna said, "Oh, it is not possible for me. I am a warrior. I have so many things to do. How can I concentrate my mind?" So Krsna excused him and recommended that Arjuna simply surrender to Him. But we are trying to be more than Arjuna. This silent meditation is simply a waste of time; it is not possible. Chanting the holy name of God is the only process of meditation for the present age.
Guest: I have known some people who have meditated on the astral world, and they've contacted the discarnate souls there. And when the mind is left open, these discarnate souls, which are not good, will take over the mind of a person. How can one avoid this?
Srila Prabhupada: By Krsna consciousness. You can avoid all these rubbish things by simply keeping your consciousness on Krsna. That's all. It is a very simple thing. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, satatam kirtayanto mam: "The great souls always glorify the Lord." Then there is no opportunity for engaging the mind in nonsense.
We are teaching our students to chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. They are becoming practiced at this. So even when they go onto the street, they chant Hare Krsna and are in samadhi [full concentration on the Supreme]. They don't have to struggle to attain samadhi: the samadhi is going with them. They aren't practicing breathing exercises or sitting exercises. No. They are ordinary boys and girls. But simply by chanting Hare Krsna, they are making spiritual progress. Their health, their character, their mode of living—everything is improving, developing.
Spiritual advancement means that one always acts in the mode of goodness. A man who is spiritually advanced cannot do all kinds of nonsense. That is contradictory. How can a pure thing produce impurity? Can one who is addicted to all kinds of nonsensical habits be practicing meditation and elevating himself? Is it possible? All this is bogus. As soon as one becomes purified, his character and his mode of living will be purified. That is the test of spiritual advancement.
If you're cured of a disease, there is no longer a fever; the temperature is at the normal point. You cannot say, "I'm cured, but my temperature is 105." Then your so-called cure is bogus.
Advancement in self-realization means purification from material contamination. That is real advancement. And Krsna consciousness is a practical means of purification. In your country, smoking, drinking, keeping boyfriends and girlfriends, meat-eating—all these are common affairs. How are my disciples avoiding all these things? None of them has been associating with me for more than a year, yet just see their character! You cannot induce them to smoke even one cigarette. Krsna consciousness is so purifying.
We don't say, "Go on with all your nonsense, and at the same time you can become spiritually advanced."No. You must actually show that you are advanced in spiritual consciousness. Yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana sarvair gunais tatra samasate surah: "All good qualities develop in a devotee of Lord Krsna." So, developing good qualities is the evidence of spiritual advancement.
Of course, it may be that because of your past bad habits you sometimes commit mistakes and fall down. But Krsna says, ksipram bhavati dharmatma: Even if a devotee falls down out of ignorance, still he'll very soon become purified. The process of Krsna consciousness is so powerful. When a fan is running and you turn off the switch, the fan will continue to move. But you can rest assured that it will stop, because the switch is off. Similarly, a person who has taken to Krsna consciousness immediately turns off the switch of his material life. And even though we can see that some of his material activities continue, they will stop very soon.
Guest: Do you think that drugs can help one attain Krsna consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is nonsense. They'll not help. We don't allow any kind of intoxication.
Guest: Do drugs interfere with the soul's advancement?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Drugs are artificial. Your situation is already artificially complicated by your body, and you want to make your situation more complicated? Do you mean to say that this is advancement? You have to get free of material contamination, not increase it.
Suppose you want to get free of a certain disease. You have to take the proper medicine and eat the proper diet. Similarly, to get free of material contamination you have to chant Hare Krsna, the proper medicine, and eat krsna-prasadam [food offered to Krsna], the proper diet. Then the disease of material contamination will be cured. This is the simple and practical method of purification.
When my disciples first came to me, what did I give them? A little fruit—krsna-prasadam—and the chanting of Hare Krsna. That was all. And now their faces, their activities, their habits, their character—everything has improved. What is the treatment? The medicine of Hare Krsna and the diet of krsna-prasadam. That's all. There is no surgical operation. You take to it and see the result.
Guest: What is the main qualification for attaining self-realization?
Srila Prabhupada: To become a devotee of Krsna. We are part and parcel of Krsna, but we have forgotten this. So when we come again to the understanding that we are part and parcel of God, that is our greatest qualification.
What is the greatest qualification of a good citizen? When an American thinks, "I am an American citizen; therefore I have to look after the interests of the United States," that is the best qualification of good citizenship. Similarly, when you transcend all artificial designations—"I am American," "I am Indian," "I am this or that"—and you understand, "I am part and parcel of the Supreme," that is the greatest qualification for becoming self-realized.
Guest: When you surrender to Krsna, do you still have any obligation to worldly affairs, to making the world a better place?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. My obligation is to give you an education in Krsna consciousness. That is the best service anyone can give to humanity. Why have I come to your country? I am an old man, but just to fulfill my obligation to my spiritual master, I have come here to teach Krsna consciousness. When one becomes Krsna conscious, he feels a very extensive obligation to humanity. Such a person is called mahatma, or "broadminded." He's not cripple-minded.
Krsna consciousness makes your mind broader. You become a mahatma. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [7.19],
bahunam janmanam ante
"After many lives of cultivating knowledge, one comes to the point of understanding that Vasudeva, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is everything—that He is the cause of all causes. Then one surrenders unto Him. But such a surrendered soul, such a mahatma, is very rare."
We do not expect that everyone can join this Krsna consciousness movement. But it is to be understood that anyone who does join has completed his cultivation of knowledge in his previous lives. Otherwise, he could not surrender to Krsna.
But there is another way to understand this verse. The verse says, bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: "One who has become wise after many, many births of cultivating spiritual knowledge—he surrenders to Vasudeva, or Krsna." So, you don't know whether you cultivated knowledge in your past life, but if it is a fact that surrendering to Krsna is the result of many, many births of cultivating knowledge, why not surrender immediately and become the most learned man? Take the opportunity.
Suppose you are accumulating, say, ten million dollars by depositing money in the bank little by little. Then somebody offers, "All right, immediately take ten million dollars." Would you refuse it? Therefore, if it is a fact that one comes to Krsna consciousness after many, many births, why not take to it immediately? Using a little intelligence, we should think, "Even if I did not cultivate knowledge in my past life, let me take to Krsna consciousness immediately."
This is the opportunity we are offering. Take Krsna consciousness. There is no tax. There is no loss. But everything is gained. Try it. At least make an experiment for a week or a fortnight. It is not difficult. You must simply be willing. That's all. Every one of us is independent—not fully, but a little. So, we can use our independence properly, or we can misuse it. Here is the offering: Take up Krsna consciousness. Now it is your choice. If you take it up, that will be good for you. If you don't, that is your misfortune.
Is there any difficulty in accepting our formula? I ask all of you, is there any difficulty? You have asked so many questions of me. Now I am asking. Is there any difficulty in accepting this formula?
Srila Prabhupada: So why don't you take it? Thank you.
Behind The Facade Of Health Care
Is the $300-billion-a-year American health-care industry curing us—or skewering us?
by Mathuresa Dasa
Planning your budget for the coming year? You're probably worried about the rising cost of health care. And rightly so: Americans spent more than $300 billion for health care in 1982. That's an average of nearly $1,300 for every man, woman, and child in the United States.
To make matters worse, both the U.S. government and private health insurers, who in the past have paid a big chunk of the nation's health bill, are getting cold feet. With hospital costs increasing three times faster than the rate of inflation, public and private insurers are taking steps to put a ceiling on what they'll pay for any given category of health care. For example, under the proposed new Medicare system, if two patients entered a hospital with ruptured hernias, Medicaid would pay the same fixed rate for both patients even if one stayed three days and the other six. The idea is to give hospitals an incentive to reduce the cost of the treatment and send the patients home as soon as possible. But critics of the proposed system say that such penny-pinching will also reduce the quality of health care.
So our higher health costs may lead to poorer health.
But take heart. Spokesmen for the health-care industry assure us that the bitter pill of rising costs has a positive side effect: It is forcing thousands of hospitals and health clinics, which formerly thrived on the open-handed policies of public and private insurers, to compete for customers. Profits now lie in increasing the number of patients, not in padding their bills.
In Oakland, California, the programs for professional football and basketball games carry ads for Peralta Hospital's SHAPE fitness clinic. In Chicago, Bethesda Hospital touts its small size with the slogan "Large enough to care for you, small enough to care about you." And in May-wood, New Jersey, a dental clinic recently offered free ten-speed bicycles to new orthodontic patients.
Although most publicity campaigns are still low-key, some hospital directors believe advertising is only a prelude to all-out price wars featuring discounts, rebates, free bonuses, and other gimmicks. Already, Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas has offered recuperative trips to exotic vacation resorts.
Just imagine! Enjoy pneumonia in a beach chair at Waikiki! Or how about bargain-basement radiation therapy for that malignant tumor in your liver? And if that doesn't catch your fancy, there's discount open-heart surgery.
Obviously, we need to stop and take a long look at today's health-care industry. Even if health care bargains do somehow alleviate our budget headaches, they aren't going to put an end to more essential afflictions: We'll still have to get sick, grow old, and die.
From the Bhagavad-gita we learn that no matter how much or how little we spend for health care, we're guaranteed to suffer the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. Giving credit where credit is due, we can't deny that advances in medicine have largely eradicated typhoid, smallpox, and other dread diseases. But knocking off a handful of enemy soldiers—at the expense of billions of dollars annually for research and treatment—doesn't mean we've won the war. Cancer still strikes two out of three families in the U.S. and is responsible for one death in five. Twenty-two million Americans (about one in ten) need treatment for arthritis. And the booming health-care industry itself is the most conclusive evidence that the miseries of material life are taking their toll now as much as ever. "Health care industry" is a misnomer. It is the disease industry, and the old-age, death, and birth industry.
At most, our hospitals keep misery out of sight, sandwiched between clean sheets in antiseptic wards, away from the mainstream of "normal" life outside. They bring birth, old age, disease, and death under one roof, but not under control. If they could do that, the health-care industry would go bankrupt.
What to speak of controlling disease and death, diagnosis and treatment are themselves often the cause of disease and death. Iatrogenic diseases, those caused by medical diagnoses and treatments, are an ever-present problem in modern health care. Infections developed during the course of treatment account for close to 300,000 deaths each year, and the total number of iatrogenic fatalities is nearly half a million.
Half of all iatrogenic complications are drug-related. The manufacturers of Butazoldin alka, a popular antiarthritis drug, warn that their product can cause headaches, vertigo, coma, hypertension, retinal hemorrhage, hepatitis, leukemia, and death! And Valium, the much-acclaimed antianxiety drug, has as its side effects nausea, fatigue, jaundice, constipation, headache, slurred speech, insomnia and—you guessed it—anxiety.
Of course, modern medicine promises to bring our miseries under control in the future. In a speech to the American Pharmaceutical Society last January, Dr. James A. Halperin, an officer in the Food and Drug Administration, predicted that man will eliminate infectious diseases by 1994 and stop the aging process by 2023. C. Everett Koop, the United States surgeon general, asserts that disease and death rates are gradually decreasing. And we've all heard that test-tube babies will soon eliminate the necessity of pregnancy and childbirth.
Such Utopian predictions are another aspect of the "out-of-sight" function of the health-care industry. To say that "the death rate is decreasing," for example, is a deceptive way of saying that the average life span is apparently increasing. Is there even one person, however, who won't eventually die? If not, the death rate is still one hundred percent. But hope springs eternal, and with our present suffering hidden behind hospital walls, we look at the future through the distorting lens of unwarranted optimism.
But the Bhagavad-gita recommends that we keep the miseries of life constantly in sight, because until we correctly diagnose birth, old age, disease, and death as inherent features of the physical body, we can't discover the actual cure for them—spiritual rejuvenation.
The physical body is a covering for the real self—the spirit soul—which is eternal, individual, and part of the Supreme Person, Lord Krsna. Like each of us, Krsna is an individual person, but unlike us Krsna is never encaged in a temporary, physical body. He is, rather, the creator and controller of the physical world. Both Krsna's body and His abode, the spiritual world, are eternal, full of unending happiness, and without a trace of birth, old age, disease, and death. Since originally we reside in this deathless, spiritual world, it's quite natural that we yearn for a life free of disease and other miseries. But the health-care industry can't help us attain this kind of life, because it's impossible to live an eternal, deathless, disease-free life anywhere in the temporary, physical world. The health-care industry has its place, of course, but to exaggerate its benefits is self-deluding.
Since we are all parts of Krsna, by our constitutional nature we're meant to serve Him, just as it is the nature of a finger, or any other part of the body, to serve the whole body. When we desire not to serve Krsna but to enjoy life on our own, Krsna sends us to this temporary world and provides us with a physical body. In that sense the body itself is a disease—a disease caused by the "germ" of our unnatural desire to forget Krsna.
The body gives us the chance to enjoy our external senses. But at the same time the temporary, limited nature of sense pleasures and the unavoidable miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death serve to remind us that this world is a foreign place for the eternal, pleasure-seeking soul.
To regain eternal life we must again take up our service to the Supreme Lord, following His instructions in the Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures. "For one who worships Me," Krsna says, "engaging in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death."
So, what are we going to do? Throw down our scalpels and stethoscopes, raise our hands to heaven, and forget all about our mortal bodies? Of course not. The human body, although temporary, should be kept as healthy as possible so that we can serve Krsna and gain release from all suffering.
But are today's health-care customers really concerned with health? If so, then why do the same Americans who spend $300 billion on health care also spend $25 billion on cigarettes and $46 billion on alcoholic beverages? According to Surgeon General Koop, smoking contributes to 30 percent of all cancer deaths and to 85 percent of lung-cancer deaths. Cancer is the number two killer in the U.S. Smokers are also more prone to other diseases, including heart disease, the number-one killer.
And the surgeon general also warns that regular consumption of alcohol increases the risk of disease of the liver, heart, stomach, and pancreas and is known to cause cancer of the mouth, larynx, and colon. Drinking has also been linked to brain damage and birth defects.
So if Americans are so health conscious, why don't they quit drinking and smoking? And with gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and AIDS—all direct results of promiscuity—ruining millions of lives each year, why can't people who consider their mortal bodies all-important give up illicit, extramarital sex?
Devotees of Krsna, because of the transcendental satisfaction they experience in their service to Him, easily refrain from smoking, drinking, and illicit sex. In addition, they completely avoid eating meat, which has also been linked to cancer and other diseases. The Vedic scriptures state that intoxication, meat-eating, and illicit sex are detrimental to spiritual progress. They dampen our desire to serve Krsna, block our return to the spiritual world, and thus delay our escape from birth, old age, disease, and death. In particular, the Srimad-Bhagavatam states that the only person completely incapable of spiritual advancement is the meat-eater.
Devotees are not under the illusion that they will be able to keep their bodies healthy forever, so the reason they give up intoxication, meat-eating, and illicit sex is not to preserve their physical health but to increase their spiritual awareness. Still, it is significant that the very activities the Vedic literatures single out as spiritually detrimental are also physically harmful. This is a clear indication that the human body is specifically designed for making a spiritual solution to suffering. As the Vedanta-sutra proclaims, "Human life is meant for spiritual advancement."
There are many ways to handle your physical health-care expenses. You can sign up for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, join a health maintenance organization, or take advantage of Medicare, Medicaid, or your local free clinic. And with health-care advertising coming into style, you'll be getting new offers every time you open a newspaper or switch on the TV.
So why not consider a spiritual health-care plan? So far, the health-care industry has offered us an unrealistic, unattainable objective: eternal, misery-free life in the physical body. But the objective of the spiritual plan—eternal, misery-free life in the spiritual world—is available to anyone who practices devotional service to Krsna. And devotional service to Krsna is a most enjoyable cure. Ask any devotee. In addition, on the spiritual plan you'll be able to free yourself from all physically destructive habits, minimize your visits to the hospital, and see the inevitable miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death for what they really are—reminders that the physical world is not, and never will be, our eternal home.
The unseen merciful hand of Lord Krsna helps a determined young student become one of Srila Prabhupada's first Indian disciples.
by Lokanatha Swami
I was born in Aravade, a small village in the Indian state of Maharashtra that differs little from more than seven hundred thousand others in India. After I graduated from high school, my family sent me to Bombay to study chemistry in college. But my college career was not to be.
In the year 1971, in late March, something happened to prevent me from following the program my family had so carefully laid out for me. For the first time, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was touring India with his foreign disciples. They had arrived in Bombay just before I had, and now they were going to have a pandal (a spiritual festival) at Cross Maidan.
The devotees publicized the pandal very widely, in newspapers and on billboards. In the advertisements, Srila Prabhupada's disciples were described as American, Canadian, European, African, and Japanese sadhus (saintly devotees). This was unprecedented. Previously, whenever the word sadhu had been applied to someone, it was understood that the person was Indian. There could be no other consideration. But these advertisements were talking about sadhus from all over the world. This was indeed a novelty for every Bombayite, and it especially fascinated me.
Intrigued, I went to the Hare Krishna Festival, which was quite well organized. The Hare Krsna sadhus were the biggest attraction for me. I appreciated their singing, dancing, walking, and talking. In fact, I liked everything about them, and I attended the function practically every evening. I would simply watch and listen. Though I knew English, I wasn't fluent, and speaking with foreigners was too difficult for me. I purchased a few magazines and a few booklets with the little money I had.
Srila Prabhupada spoke every evening. He discussed many issues relating to Krsna consciousness and made many points. But the point that had the greatest impact on me, and which attracted me to him and his society more than anything else, was the simple point that if you serve Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, you simultaneously serve everyone and everything else. Srila Prabhupada gave the analogy of what happens when one waters a tree. Just by pouring water on the root of a tree, one automatically waters all the leaves, branches, fruits, and flowers on the tree.
Srila Prabhupada had simplified my job. "Here is my chance," I thought. I had always wanted to serve others, and thus at different stages in my life I had contemplated becoming an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. Whenever I thought of my future, I would think of how I could serve others. Yet although throughout all these years I had mainly thought of service, I didn't know where to begin, and I had practically no resources in my possession. But now Srila Prabhupada had cleared my path by showing the easy way of serving the whole creation—through the simple medium of serving the Lord, the source of all that be. This idea greatly appealed to me.
As scheduled, the Hare Krishna Festival ended after eleven days, and everything went back to normal.
I continued going to college in Bombay. I shared a room with some people from my village, whom my family had asked to keep an eye on me. Once, several years before, I had left my studies and gone to join an asrama in a town nearby my village. I had almost made it to the asrama, but the unseen merciful hand of the Lord brought me back so that later I could join Srila Prabhupada instead.
After this incident, my family had anticipated my going away somewhere, sometime, and that is why they asked the villagers to watch over me. But how much could they watch me? I had gone to the Hare Krsna function practically every evening, and no one had noticed that. I would keep Hare Krsna magazines and booklets inside my big fat chemistry books and read them for hours. My roommates would marvel at how seriously I was studying chemistry. They couldn't detect that instead of absorbing myself in analyzing chemical solutions, I was probing into the ultimate solution to the problems of life.
Whenever my roommates went out, I would bolt the door and, with my arms raised, chant Hare Krsna and dance to my full satisfaction. Having seen the devotees chanting and dancing onstage at the festival, I was trying to imitate them. Thus, in hiding, I was following the process of Krsna consciousness: chanting, dancing, and reading over and over again the few pieces of literature I had.
I knew that the Hare Krsna devotees were living somewhere in Bombay, but after the function their small group had merged into the big city, and I was deprived of their association.
One year passed.
Then, in March 1972, ISKCON organized another festival, this time at Juhu Beach. During the course of the year, the devotees had purchased some land at Juhu, and the function was going to be held right on their premises. Once again, advertisements appeared in the newspapers and in other media, and news of the festival reached me by the causeless mercy of the Lord. I had been waiting for this news, and I was extremely happy to receive it.
Naturally, I attended the programs. I would go long before they began, borrow books, and read them. During the chanting I would join in wholeheartedly. The foreign devotees, in Indian dhotis and kurtas, and the Indian student, in imported trousers and shirt, would dance together.
Occasionally, during prasadam time, when I happened to be near the gate, the devotees would invite me to come and take prasadam with them. I was eager to observe their life closely, so I would take advantage of the opportunity and join them. They were all nice devotees. On top of that, they were all foreigners, and I was duly impressed.
A few days after the festival at Juhu ended, I sat down and composed an application for membership in ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness). I had decided to join the devotees, and to join any organization, I thought, one needed to fill out an application. I addressed my application to the president of ISKCON, Bombay. I wrote that I agreed to follow the four regulative principles—no meat-eating, no intoxication, no illicit sex, and no gambling. I also stated that I liked their dazzling aratis, ecstatic kirtanas, and sumptuous prasadam. (I had picked up all these terms from their publicity handouts.) I went to a typing institute and had the application typed out. ISKCON was an international society, so I thought everything had to be formalized and just right.
Then I went to the Hare Krsna asrama at Juhu and asked who the president was. It wasn't difficult to get to see him. His name was Giriraja dasa. He went through my letter-application, and on the spot he accepted me and embraced me. Not only that: he welcomed me in and immediately introduced me to all the asramites as a new devotee.
I quickly adjusted to my new lifestyle. I had a new home, a new uniform, new associates, a new program—almost everything was new to me. Nonetheless, I immediately embraced all of it and liked it. Although the devotees were mostly foreigners, I felt completely at home. I was determined to make this my life's commitment.
One week passed quickly. Then my elder brother arrived at the temple with one of my old roommates. Among the things I had left in my room was a handbill with the Hare Krsna address at Juhu on it. That's how they'd found me. It was no big surprise to them that I'd joined the devotees. They had been expecting something like this for some time, and now all they had feared had come to pass.
My brother wanted me to visit my family, especially for the sake of my mother. If I wouldn't go she might die, he said. But he assured me my family had no objection to my returning after the visit. I had always respected my brother, and here he was practically begging me to return home, saying that it was a matter of life and death for my affectionate mother and that I could return soon. Finally, I asked permission from Giriraja and left, wearing my new uniform of dhoti and kurta.
After I arrived in my village, people began saying that though I used to be such a nice boy, now something had gone wrong with me. The difference was that I was wearing a dhoti and kurta, chanting Hare Krsna, and avoiding the association of nondevotees. The townspeople considered all these things strange and abnormal.
My father requested me not to wear my new clothes and not to put on tilaka, even though he wore clothes similar to mine and occasionally wore tilaka himself. He was a devotee of Lord Vittala, a form of Lord Visnu, or Krsna, and devotees of Lord Vittala apply tilaka in a way similar to that of the Hare Krsna devotees. On special occasions my father would put on his tilaka, but he didn't want me to imitate him, because he was worried about what people would think. (If such is the reaction of Indian parents, I can hardly imagine the reaction of parents of devotees in other lands).
Thus my parents tried everything in their power to dissuade me from returning to the Hare Krsna devotees. They even went to astrologers to learn some way to "cure" me or to find out how long I would continue living this "strange type of life." They were really concerned.
More than a week passed, yet no plans were made for my return to the devotees, as per the original agreement between my brother and me. My parents kept telling me that some relative or other still had to come see me and that it wouldn't be proper for me to leave without meeting him. My family planned to enlist the relatives as agents to somehow or other talk me out of this sadhu business. My parents tried everything on me, but my mind was fixed on going back to the Hare Krsna devotees.
One day I saw my sister shedding tears. When someone asked her what was wrong, she replied, "Just see how in our house all the other boys are nicely engaged in playing cards, but my brother Raghunatha isn't sitting with them." Such was the cause of her tears. She was feeling sorry that I wasn't playing cards with the other boys but was instead busy chanting the holy names of God on my beads.
When my family all realized I wouldn't give up the life I had embraced, they came up with the proposal that I could continue the life of a sadhu but that I should do it in our village. They promised to build a small temple so I could do my devotional practices there. I rejected this idea, too, however, because I wanted to associate with the devotees. There is no question of leading a spiritual life without proper association, without the association of devotees who are practicing Krsna consciousness full-time. I didn't want to be just another bogus sadhu. India was already overcrowded and overburdened with them. I wanted to engage in the service of Krsna in the Hare Krsna movement. Srila Prabhupada had already cleared my path. He had given me my life's mission, and I was fully satisfied once and for all with that.
I had sold my heart to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Krsna. So, finally, my family accepted the inevitable. I returned to Bombay after about a month and moved back into the asrama. Since I had stayed in my village quite a long time, I wasn't sure how Giriraja and the other devotees would react to my return. When they saw me, however, I was surprised to find myself most welcome, just as before—and they were surprised to see me back in their midst. Their experience had been that many Indian devotees had come and gone, promising to return soon, but hardly any had actually returned. Thus they were surprised and pleased to see me. By the causeless mercy of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and Lord Sri Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, my return to the devotees became possible.
Although it may appear that my joining ISKCON disrupted my family's life and caused a disturbance in my small village, these negative effects were only temporary. In the years since I joined ISKCON, I and many other devotees have often visited Aravade and taught the principles of Krsna consciousness, and now my family—and my whole village—embrace ISKCON as a genuine religious movement. There are seven full-time devotees from there, my sister has enrolled her son into the ISKCON gurukula school in Vrndavana, and whenever I see my father he asks me for tilaka and proudly decorates his forehead with it. Also, my family and many other families in Aravade regularly chant Hare Krsna on beads. All in all, my whole village loves the Hare Krsna movement, and there is no disruption of any kind.
We welcome your letters.
I recently met some Hare Krishna devotees in Wellington, New Zealand. Now I attend their Sunday feast program, chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, and read Srila Prabhupada's books and BACK TO GODHEAD magazine, and I love it.
But I am a bit sad to hear how Srila Prabhupada and many of his disciples say that modern scientists are atheistic fools. I myself am a scientist and have studied seismology, plate tectonics, volcanism, etc., but I don't think that this has made me atheistic. Rather, I see how God is working within His own creation. and how He is the greatest artist and engineer.
I understand that the Hare Krishna movement is a genuine movement based on the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. But the Gita states that the intelligent and educated people—like scientists, doctors, and engineers—are the leaders of society, the brahmanas. Why do you exclude them from your movement?
Wellington, New Zealand
Our reply: It is certainly true that in his books and lectures Srila Prabhupada criticizes atheistic scientists who try to disprove the existence of God and the eternal soul. But there is good reason for this criticism. To explain the origin of the universe, these scientists put forward such ideas as the Big Bang theory, as if it were more scientific to believe that an explosion rather than a supremely powerful person has created the universe. And to explain the origin of life and complex living forms, these scientists rely on the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, which states that life is a product of matter and that complex biological form has developed by "natural selection," or, in other words, by chance. The theory of evolution directly opposes the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literatures, which emphatically state that life, or consciousness, is not a product of matter but a symptom of the eternal soul and that all form, complex or simple, has been created by God.
Since neither the Big Bang theory nor the theory of evolution have been conclusively proved—nor can they ever be proved—the "scientists" who adhere to such theories are not scientists at all: they're atheistic fools. Such fools misuse their intelligence to direct human society away from the path of God consciousness. Therefore, though they certainly are intelligent by mundane standards, they can't be called brahmanas. According to the Vedic literature, a brahmana is one who knows Brahman, the Absolute Truth. And the highest conception of the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krsna.
So rather than trying to deride God, modern scientists should use their intelligence, as you have. to understand how He is directing the phenomena of material nature. And beyond simply understanding how God is acting through nature, every scientist should glorify the Lord through his scientific specialty. This, says the Srimad-Bhagavatam is the true purpose of all learning.
* * *
Not long ago I had an opportunity to associate with a few devotees of the Hare Krishna movement. At first, being quite apprehensive. I decided that I would he safe from the clutches of these fallen souls as long as I maintained my distance and immersed myself in love of God and asked Jesus for assistance in delivering these unfortunate followers of this new-age cult.
To accomplish this, I knew that I must first delve into the heart of this movement and embrace just what I myself resisted most before I could ever raise a single soul. And so I exposed myself to these foreign teachings, knowing all too well that I might never return. But if I followed my heart, I knew, my love for Jesus would never lead me astray.
As our association became stronger, my doubts evaporated, and my apprehension was replaced by a love of God I had never before experienced within my own teachings.
Rev. Mark Shelley Kenzer
The Savory Samosa
Bursting with a harmony of flavors, this spicy vegetable-stuffed pastry is a classic favorite of Lord Krsna and His devotees.
by Visakha-devi dasi
After a long series of experiments, researchers at the Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco recently showed that the constituents of our food alter our moods and thoughts by changing the chemistry of the brain. Their statement: "The food that we eat has intimate effects on the brain, on our appetite, our mood, curability to sleep and to think." A practical proof of this is that the students at schools in Fulton County, Georgia, where junk foods have been banned in favor of natural and nutritious meals, are reportedly learning quicker, staying healthier, and even behaving better.
Devotees of Lord Krsna eat only prasadam (vegetarian food that's been offered to Krsna). What effect does prasadam have on the brain? Besides doing all the good things that any well-balanced vegetarian diet does, prasadam also gives us the ability to think clearly about the nature of matter, spirit, and God.
How? Not because it contains certain vitamins and minerals, or complementary proteins, or just the right amount of the right kinds of carbohydrates. Prasadam has all these things, but that's not why it's spiritually potent. Since prasadam isn't material, we can't analyze its spiritual potency in material terms. Only by appreciating the value of offering our food to Krsna can we understand how prasadam can make us spiritually intelligent—so intelligent, in fact, that we feel inclined to chant the holy names of God and dance in ecstasy.
Naturally, the average person will pooh-pooh this effect of prasadam, considering it the result of religious fanaticism, brainwashing, or mere sentimentality. But those with a little faith—the above-average—can take note of this statement from the foremost of all Vedic scriptures, the five-thousand-year-old Srimad-Bhagavatam: "In the present Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy, those who are intelligent will worship God by performing congregational chanting of His holy names."
Of course, one thing about prasadam that none of us needs any scriptural proof for is that it tastes great. And that's part of the meaning of prasadam—"the mercy of the Lord." Out of His mercy, Krsna makes Himself available to us in the form of delicious spiritual food. We can all enjoy prasadam to our hearts' content, whether we know its spiritual potency or not. And even if we're unaware of its spiritual potency, prasadam makes us spiritually intelligent, just as nutritious food makes us healthy even if we don't know it's nutritious.
This month we're featuring one of the most popular of all prasadam preparations: the deep-fried, stuffed savory pastry called samosa.
When you bite into a warm samosa, the first thing you'll notice is its wonderfully tender, thin pastry crust, golden-brown from deep-frying. Inside are peas, potatoes, or small chunks of cauliflower, seasoned not too little so that the samosa's bland, and not too much so that it's hot, but just enough to delight the palate. Many flavors harmonize as you taste the crust and filling together, all permeated by the rich, regal flavor of the ghee (clarified butter) that the samosa was cooked in.
Even though they taste great, however, there's no point in relishing samosas unless they've been offered to Krsna. That's when they become prasadam. Then when we cat them, besides being delicious they'll draw our thoughts from matter to spirit—and that will be the perfection of our eating.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Pastry with Cauliflower-and-Pea Stuffing
Yield: about 20 pastries 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches
1 ½ cups unbleached white pastry flour or all-purpose flour
Ingredients for the vegetable stuffing:
2 tablespoons ghee
Procedure for making the pastry:
1. Mix the flour, salt, and baking powder the mixing bowl.
2. Sprinkle warm ghee over the mixture and rub it between your fingertips until it's thick consistency of dry oatmeal.
3. Make a depression in the center of the mixture, add the yogurt and ¼ cup water, quickly stir, and gather into a ball.
4. Adding ½ teaspoon at a time, sprinkle up to 2 more teaspoons of water to cause the mixture to cohere into a stiff pastry dough.
5. Knead the dough on a smooth surface for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it's uniform and elastic. Then shape the dough into a ball, place it into a bowl, and drape it with a moist towel. Let it sit while you prepare the cauliflower-and-pea stuffing.
Procedure for making the vegetable stuffing:
1. Steam the peas and cauliflower flowerettes until tender.
2. Over a medium-high flame, heat 2 table-spoons of ghee in a 10- to 12-inch frying pan until a drop of water flicked into the pan sputters instantly. Toss in the minced ginger, chilies, and cumin seeds, and when the seeds begin to darken add the asafetida and white poppy seeds. When the cumin seeds have turned dark brown, stir in the steamed cauliflower and peas.
3. Reduce the flame to low, add all the remaining seasonings, stir, cover, and cook for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and fry, uncovered, until the vegetable is thoroughly dry. Remove, mash to a coarse consistency, and cool to room temperature. You'll need to mash the filling enough so that the vegetables are no longer so ragged that they can pierce through the thin pastry casings. If you mash the stuffing too much, however, there won't be enough to fill the 20 pastries. After a few practice runs you'll find the texture you like best, and you can adjust the amount of vegetable accordingly.
4. Divide the stuffing into 20 equal portions.
Procedure for shaping, filling, and frying the pastries (see illustrations):
1. Roll the dough into a cylinder 10 inches long, cut the cylinder into 10 equal pieces, and drape a moist cloth over them.
2. Take one piece of dough and make a smooth patty by pressing it under your palm. Dredge the patty with flour once on both sides and, with a rolling pin, flatten it into a thin, round disk 6 ½ inches across. Then cut the disk in half with a sharp paring knife.
3. Dip your finger into a bowl of water and moisten the straight edge of one semicircle. Now shape the semicircle into a cone, gently but firmly pressing the moistened edges together so they'll stay sealed.
4. Carefully place one portion of the vegetable stuffing into the pastry cone. Dip your finger into the howl of water and moisten the inside top edges of the cone. Then firmly press the moistened edges together, thoroughly sealing the stuffing inside the triangular pastry casing. Now place the samosa on the cookie sheet, seam-side down. Finish rolling, stuffing, and shaping the remaining samosas.
5. Over a medium-high flame, heat the ghee or oil in the wok until it's about 365 °F. (You can use a deep-frying thermometer if you have one.) Slip 4 or 5 samosas into the hot ghee or oil and fry for 3 to 6 minutes, or until the crust is crisp and an even golden brown. Transfer the samosas to a baking dish lined with a paper towel. Drain and offer to Krsna immediately, or keep warm in an oven preheated to 250° while you're frying the remaining samosas.
The Senses: Gratification or Purification?
This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in April 1975 during an early-morning walk in Mayapur, India.
Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes people argue that if there is no God, it doesn't matter what I do, and if there is a God, then He is controlling everything and it still doesn't matter what I do, because everything is predetermined anyway. In either case, I am free to do anything I like.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but why do you suffer?
Devotee: Well, it's all God's plan. I suffer according to God's plan.
Srila Prabhupada: No. It is not God's plan that you suffer; you suffer because you violate God's laws. He is controlling everything, but He has given you minute independence: you can either follow His laws or violate them. But you are so foolish that you do not understand you are suffering. Your position is like that of the cats and dogs, who also cannot understand that they are suffering.
Our point is that you are suffering because you have violated God's laws, and if you become obedient to God you will not suffer. But you are such a fool, such a rascal, that you do not even know that you are suffering.
Devotee: But the devotees also seem to be suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but they are not suffering like the nondevotees. Material life, which is the cause of suffering, is like a disease, and devotees are giving up this diseased condition of life for Krsna consciousness. If you are suffering from some disease, you cannot expect to be cured immediately. But one who is taking the medicine is very intelligent. His sufferings will soon be gone. But these nondevotee rascals will not even take the medicine—Krsna consciousness—so they will continue to suffer.
And for the most part, devotees enjoy. Why are you always chanting Hare Krsna and dancing unless you are enjoying?
Devotee: Sometimes I get a sick stomach, too.
Srila Prabhupada: That's because you have a material body. But your suffering is just like the movement of a fan that has been switched off. The fan is still moving, but the switch is off; so it will soon stop. Similarly, your suffering will soon stop, because you are acting on the spiritual platform. And after giving up this body, you will have a completely blissful life. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [4.9], tyaktva deham punar janma naiti:
"After giving up the body, a devotee doesn't take birth again in the material world." You are not going to get another material body, full of suffering. That is your advantage.
But these nondevotee rascals are going to continue getting body after body, all full of suffering. They will have to accept one body and suffer, and then again they'll have to give up that body and take another body and suffer. As long as one accepts a material body he will have to suffer, because having a material body means suffering. So those who are not Krsna conscious will change bodies one after another and continue to suffer the threefold miseries [those caused by the body and mind, those caused by other living beings, and those caused by natural calamities].
But devotees, even if they appear to be undergoing some suffering, will eventually give up the material body and remain in their spiritual body, free from all suffering.
Devotee: [taking the position of a materialist] That is simply your faith.
Srila Prabhupada: And it is your faith that you do not believe it. We are accepting the words of the Bhagavad-gita on faith, so we have a chance of getting promoted to the spiritual world. But you have no faith, so you are sure to continue suffering in the material world. We are at least willing to take the chance, but you are so foolish that you are not willing to take the chance. So your suffering is sure to continue.
Devotee: Indians often say, "Well, I will take the chance when Krsna wishes. His will is supreme, so whenever He wishes He will make me Krsna conscious."
Srila Prabhupada: In the Bhagavad-gita [18.66], Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all your nonsense and surrender unto Me. Become Krsna conscious." So, Krsna wishes that you surrender to Him. Why don't you obey His wish?
Devotee: Why does Krsna arrange for the pleasures of sense gratification if they only bring us suffering?
Srila Prabhupada: Again, the same answer: Krsna has given us minute independence—we can use our senses for either sense gratification or for serving Him, which is the real pleasure of the senses. The senses are meant for enjoyment, but if you try to enjoy your senses in a diseased way—by gratifying them—that is your misfortune, and you will have to suffer. You have to cure your disease by becoming Krsna conscious. Then you will enjoy unlimitedly.
We are not like the Mayavadis [impersonalists], who want to destroy the senses and become senseless. That is not our program. We want to purify the senses (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam tat-paratvena nirmalam). Suppose a man cannot see because he has glaucoma. The mayavada program is that if your eye is giving you trouble and you cannot see, pluck it out. That is not our program. We want to cure the disease so you can see very nicely. So, our senses should be cured of the material disease by our practicing Krsna consciousness. Then we will be able to enjoy real sense pleasure by using our senses in the service of Hrsikesa [Krsna], the master of the senses.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
English Punk-Rocker Lora Logic Now Sings for Krsna
London—Lora Logic, the English punk-rock singer and saxophonist, is now a full-time devotee in the Hare Krsna movement. The twenty-two-year-old Ms. Logic (now Syama-manjari-devi dasi) took formal initiation into Krsna consciousness from Srila Bhagavan dasa Goswami Gurudeva, one of the present spiritual masters in the Hare Krishna movement.
Commenting on her joining ISKCON, Syama-manjari said, "For the first twenty-one years of my life I was a devotee of maya [illusion], giving my life to drugs and rock music. I don't have a taste for them anymore, and for me to be happy there's nothing like Krsna consciousness."
Last June in Glastonbury, England, Syama-manjari joined with her old friend Poly Styrene and other devotees to give a taste of Krsna consciousness to thirty thousand people gathered for the Glastonbury Fair, one of England's biggest rock festivals.
Devotee musicians flew in from around the world to perform, and, dressed in authentic Vedic costumes, Syama-manjari and Poly Styrene premiered their latest Krsna conscious sound.
After one set, Syama-manjari commented, "Singing about Krsna is completely opposite to singing about material attractions—and the energy increases as you go on." Poly Styrene added, "Singing songs for Krsna is much nicer, because everyone's trying to serve Him and there's no false ego. It's just like being in the spiritual world."
His Holiness Dhrstadyumna Swami, who organized ISKCON's participation in the festival, predicted that the spiritual energy generated there will inspire many who attended to become devotees. He may be right, judging by this comment from one young man: "I've just had the ultimate ecstatic experience! The Hare Krsna devotees should take this festival over!"
Greek Isopanisad, Bhagavad-gita Published
Athens—For the first time, Greeks can read Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is in their native tongue. The Greek branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust has printed one hundred thousand copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is—Srila Prabhupada's most widely read work—along with an equal number of his Sri Isopanisads. Said Citraka dasa, president of the Athens Hare Krsna center: "Authentic Vedic information is finally becoming available here. This is a cause for jubilation!"
Forty-three Editions of
New Delhi—At a recent convention here on the Bhagavad-gita, India's internationally renowned classic of spiritual science, ISKCON devotees displayed editions of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is in forty-three languages. New Delhi's National Television Network and news agencies enthusiastically noted the large number of editions, and many of the dignitaries at the conference recognized ISKCON as the foremost distributor of the Gita throughout the world.
The head of ISKCON's delegation to the conference was His Holiness Lokanatha Swami, a regional secretary for India. Speaking strongly on the theme of unalloyed devotion to Lord Krsna, he warned against the pseudoreligionists who misuse the Lord's teachings for ulterior purposes. Later Lokanatha Swami met with National Minister of Transport Z. R. Ansari, who, although a Muslim, holds the Gita in high regard.
The five-day convention concluded with a sumptuous vegetarian feast of krsna-prasadam (food offered to Krsna) prepared by members of the New Delhi Hare Krsna center.
New Television Series Reaches Out to Millions By Cable
Los Angeles—Cable television is making Krsna consciousness available to millions of Americans in the form of Inside Hare Krsna, a thirteen-part series produced by ISKCON TV under the direction of Nrsimhananda dasa.
The host and hostess of the thirty-minute weekly talk show are Larry Laurent and Munya Surgi, professional broadcasters for the Cable News Network and friends of the Hare Krsna movement. Each week they volunteer their time to interview guests and focus on a particular aspect of ISKCON. In southern California, the series can be seen in half a million homes.
On the East Coast, Bhaktivinoda dasa is working to get Inside Hare Krsna on the air. The show, playing on Group W Cable, can already reach one-and-a-half million homes in Manhattan, and Long Island and New Jersey are next.
Time destroys mundane love for a formless "God"
by Ravindra-Svarupa Dasa
Because my family frequently moved when I was a child, I attended a succession of Sunday schools and vacation Bible schools. Consequently, I had occasion to ask a number of religious instructors a question that had me genuinely puzzled. I knew that God was so great and powerful that it cost Him virtually no effort at all to maintain and control this vast creation. He could do it with the tip of His little finger, so to speak. So, I wanted to know, what did God do with his time? How did He occupy Himself in His heavenly kingdom?
I kept on asking this question because no one could answer it. My teachers would first be startled—as though the question had never occurred to them—and then frankly nonplussed. After a while, of course, I stopped asking. It seemed to me that God must be sitting up there on His throne, just as bored in heaven as I was in Sunday school.
And there was this related question: What did we do in paradise? What made it such a desirable place to be? Here I was offered a variety of answers, hut the dominant image of the kingdom of God I retained from childhood is of a sort of perpetual suburban Saturday spent on the back patio in an interminable family reunion with pious resurrected relatives, while Jesus wanders in white robes from house to house through the back yards. I did not find this a particularly attractive prospect for eternity.
In my teens, I encountered a more sophisticated notion of paradise: Our beatitude there arises from our perpetual vision of God. This idea is enshrined at the conclusion of The Divine Comedy. When Dante at last comes directly before God in paradise, he encounters an awesome "Eternal Light" surrounded by nine concentric circles of circumnavigating angels. Dante became "wholly rapt" before this light and could only gaze upon it, "fixed, motionless, and intent."
This account had its interest for me, but staring at a bright light was nowhere near as alluring as the variety of relationships I was beginning to explore in the world around me. God and His kingdom were simply not attractive enough to compete with the offerings of the material world.
Yet obviously that must be wrong. For God, by definition, is the greatest and best of all. Consequently, He must be the supremely lovable being, the most attractive and alluring of all persons. Similarly, His kingdom must be the most excellent and most desirable of all neighborhoods. It follows, then, that if we really knew what God was like, and really knew what our relationship with Him in His own abode was to be, no other persons and no other relationships would claim our interest.
Just for that reason. God has in fact revealed to the world the intimate and confidential details concerning Himself, His own residence, and the relationships He pursues with His pure devotees there. This supreme revelation of Krsna—God in His highest and most attractive feature—is recorded in the Sanskrit text called Srimad-Bhagavatam.
It is established practice for experts in every field to organize knowledge of their subject into levels of increasing mastery and to compose textbooks for each grade, from the most elementary to the most advanced. So it is for knowledge of God, and the Srimad-Bhagavatam is among the most advanced texts in that science. It begins where the more widely known Bhagavad-gita leaves off.
The Bhagavad-gita establishes that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, that there is no truth higher than He, and that all different paths of religion are just a seeking after Him. Therefore, Krsna's final instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is that one should "abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me" (18.66). The Srimad-Bhagavatam opens with the statement that it is intended for those who have complied with Krsna's order, and it identifies the "religion" Krsna tells us to abandon as kaitava-dharma—religion contaminated by various sorts of material ambitions. Pure religion, according to the Bhagavatam, is service rendered to God without interruption or selfish motivation, and the Srimad-Bhagavatam itself is specifically intended for those who are serving God in this way. Such pure devotees are the most advanced students in the science of God. It is no wonder, then, that in the text meant for them we find the most complete disclosures of God.
In the Bhagavad-gita (4.11), Krsna states the principle by which He discloses Himself to us. "All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows my path in all respects." While all people on the path of religon may be progressing toward God, they are considered more or less advanced according to their degree of surrender to Him. And according to that degree of surrender, God reveals Himself.
For example, let us consider a level of spiritual advancement known as karma-kanda. A person on this platform (called a karmi) is allowed restricted material enjoyment according to the regulations given by God in scripture. The karmi is given to know that if he piously follows these regulations he will earn the reward of future enjoyment and that disobedience will bring him punishment. Thus it is a system of rewards and punishments that impels the karmi to follow God's orders. Such a person will make some spiritual advancement, because at least he acknowledges the supremacy of God and is restricted in his sense gratification.
Karma-kanda religion, in fact, was precisely the sort of religion I learned in Sunday school. We understood God mostly as the cosmic fulfiller of our needs and desires and as the supreme judge, whose great power over us inspired proper awe, veneration, and fear of disobedience. We envisioned God's kingdom as a place of uninterrupted (if somewhat dispassionate) material enjoyment, a reward for our good behavior. And we thought of God Himself as a voice issuing from on high, ordering, cajoling, and threatening. He was a benevolent but stern parent, remote but still attentive, toward whom we, His children, should feel both gratitude and fear.
Certainly, one sometimes comes across more advanced understandings in Judeo-Christian traditions, but the form of religion I have just described is by far the most common. And it is this sort of religion—religion contaminated by material desires—that we have to abandon if we are to approach closer to God and ultimately meet Him in His supremely attractive personal form, Krsna.
What Westerners find most startling about the revelation of God as Krsna is that Krsna has a humanlike form. They find it hard to believe that this is an advanced realization of God, since they have been taught that God is formless, featureless spirit, and they take Krsna to be an anthropomorphic fantasy. Furthermore, they see that Krsna disports Himself as a beautiful, youthful cowherd boy surrounded by a simple village community of relatives and friends. Where, then, is the power and majesty that properly belong to God? Where is the controller of the cosmos, the mighty judge of the living and the dead? How can a simple, charming cowherd boy inspire the fear, trembling, and sense of creaturliness that we should feel before God?
To be sure, the first lesson in religion is to appreciate the infinite greatness of God and to realize that we are only His infinitesimally small creatures. Unfortunately, this lesson can be very hard for us to learn, because we have come to this material world in rebellion against God. We do not wish to remain subordinate to God. Those who are the most envious of God deny His existence. There are others who acknowledge God's greatness, even though the tendency to be independent remains within their hearts. Their lack of complete surrender to God is shown by their engagement in materially motivated religion, and God reveals Himself to those in this early stage of spiritual advancement only in His might and majesty. Although they may know theoretically that God is a person. God keeps His personal features hidden from them. He remains aloof, inscrutable, inaccessible. In this way, God exacts the proper respect and veneration from those who still have the inclination to disobey Him.
But it is also part of God's greatness that He enters into more intimate and familiar relationships with those devotees who have become completely pure in heart and who serve Him solely out of love, without any expectation of return. To them He reveals His supreme personal form. Because this form resembles ours, the ignorant will call it anthropomorphic. But the truth is that our human body is theomorphic. We are made in the image of God. Of course, our copy of God's body is a temporary, material replica, while God's own body is spiritual and eternal. Speculators may think that a body, as such, is a bad thing and thus deny that God has form, but only a material form that grows old, becomes diseased, and dies should be rejected. The eternal, ever-youthful body of Krsna is not subject to those conditions. To reject God's form on the grounds that if God had a body it would be a material body like ours is to be guilty of anthropomorphism.
Krsna is reluctant to reveal Himself to everyone. For Krsna sets aside all lordliness and signs of dominion, allows His beauty to completely overpower His majesty, and simply engages in developing pastimes of love with His devotees. To facilitate intimate relationships, Krsna causes His devotees to forget that the beautiful, exquisitely charming object of their love is God. And so He dwells in His eternal abode, playing as a simple village cowherd boy, ever increasing the unending bliss of His devotees.
Pure devotees most appreciate God in this confidential, all-attractive feature, but others, seeing Krsna in His human form, react differently. Krsna mentions this in the Bhagavad-gita (9.11): "Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be." Out of envy, they will claim either that Krsna is an ordinary human being or that ordinary human beings are God.
In spite of this danger, Krsna Himself descended onto this planet five thousand years ago, bringing with Him His eternal associates, and for a time displayed His most confidential and intimate pastimes at the tract of land known as Gokula Vrndavana. More than anything else, God wants the fallen souls suffering in the material world to come back to Him, and therefore He decided to show the unparalleled sweetness of the limitlessly variegated loving relationships that He and His devotees enjoy without end in His supreme abode. The world already knew God as all-mighty and all-seeing; now it would know Him as all-attractive.
Learned devotees have carefully studied these pastimes of Krsna as they are recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other texts, and they have discovered five principal kinds of relationships devotees have with God. Each of these relationships has a particular taste that the devotee relishes. In Sanskrit that taste is called rasa. The five principal rasas, listed in order of increasing intimacy, are neutrality, or passive adoration, servitorship, fraternal love, parental love, and conjugal love.
In the rasa of neutrality the devotee is so overwhelmingly conscious of God's greatness that He can only adore Him passively. The devotee feels no impetus to render service, because he thinks that God is so great that there is nothing he can do for Him. Dante's description of the Beatific Vision as producing stunned, enraptured awe before God suggests that neutrality is his highest conception of a relationship with God. In the rasa of servitorship there are also feelings of subordination, but they are not so extreme as to prevent the devotee from actively serving his Lord. In the fraternal rasa the devotee associates with Krsna on an equal level, as a friend of the same age and sex. And in the parental rasa Krsna enjoys having His devotee act as His superior. Krsna becomes the child, and His devotee loves and serves Him in the position of His mother or father. Finally, the most intimate rasa is conjugal love; here, the devotee regards Krsna as husband or lover.
Just as Krsna's body is the prototype of our material body, so Krsna's transcendental relationships are the prototypes of material relationships, which are perverted reflections of the originals. Accordingly, we should not project the quality of material affairs onto the spiritual rasas. The sublime exchange of ecstatic emotions in spiritual bodies that takes place between Krsna and the cowherd girls of Vrndavana cannot be compared with the gross features of material sex. Moreover, the relationships with Krsna in the spiritual world never grow stale or come to an end like the relationships in this world. In the spiritual world, all rasas continue for eternity.
Here in the material world we find reflections of these relationships, and because we are always interested in tasting rasas, we constantly enter into them and try to perpetuate them. Our problem, however, is that we do not find the satisfaction we seek. We are inevitably disappointed. For all rasas in the material world are eclipsed. Here everything is changing, unstable, and temporary. We form relationships with our heroes, our friends, our children, and our lovers or spouses, and we start off with vast hope and great expectations. We all remember—ruefully—that intoxicating promise of endless love our first adolescent infatuation brought. And what can match the boundless hope a mother feels when she first holds her newborn? Yet none of these relationships deliver what they promise. As we grow older, we become "mature" by learning how to live with dead rasas, failed relationships, broken hearts. And, having discovered that my hero has feet of clay, or that my best friend has betrayed my trust, or having seen what was once the sweetest girl of my dreams stare at me over a lawyer's table with murderous hate, or having stood over the small grave of my child, I will find it hard, or even impossible, to love as I once hoped I could.
Our propensity to love tends naturally to expand without limit, yet in this world it meets with repeated impediments. The baffling of our urge to love becomes one of the most tragic features of life. The crux of the problem is that although we want to love. we are never more vulnerable than when we do. As soon as we love someone, we open ourselves to rejection, betrayal, separation, loss, and all the attending anguish and pain. Experience of these things has filled the world with bitter and disappointed people, cynics and misanthropes.
But even before we have suffered the pains of thwarted love, we aren't able to love fully and unconditionally. There is an essential incompatability between what we are and what we can love in this world, and in our hearts we know it. Our desire to love without limit and without end is a clear indication that we are ourselves eternal, spiritual beings. At the same time, whatever we can love in this world is temporary and material. Consequently, we cannot love without fear, and, consciously or unconsciously, from the outset we cannot help but withhold the full investment of our love.
A frequent theme in literature concerns a hero or heroine who loves recklessly and without restraint, inevitably undergoes the most intense sort of suffering, and finally meets with a tragic or pitiful death. We may take these stories as cautionary tales. Yet we really don't need them to remind us of the constant frustration of our being. There is no adequate object for our love in this world.
Therefore, out of boundless compassion for us. Krsna reveals His kingdom of transcendental, unrestricted love, in which He is eternally manifest as the ultimate object of affection—the most perfect hero, master, friend, child, and lover. His beauty is unrivaled, and His personality, expressed in infinitely varied exchanges of love, is ceaselessly fascinating. When we turn to Krsna, our loving propensity breaks loose at last from the tight confines of matter and opens up into an ever-expanding flow that never meets any resistance. That is why Krsna is perpetually inviting us to come to Him in His eternal abode and enjoy with Him forever the delights of an endless love.
Bhakti Flows West
Sri Caitanya's Children in America
An Indian scholar and devotee traces out the roots of Krsna consciousness in India and assesses the significance of its spread to the West.
Reprinted by permission of Grove Press, Inc. Copyright 1983 by Steven Gelberg
Shrivatsa Goswami belongs to a centuries-old lineage of Vaisnava priests connected with the famous temple of Radha-ramana in Vrndavana, India. He is the founder and director of the Shree Caitanya Prema Sansthana, a Vaisnava academic and cultural institute located in Vrndavana, and is a member of the Board of Editors of the Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies.
This is a condensation of an interview with Mr. Goswami conducted in Vrndavana in March, 1982. The full interview appears in Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West, a book recently published by Grove Press (paper, $7.95). The interviewer, and the book's editor, is Steven J. Gelberg, a senior editor of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust who is known within the Hare Krsna movement as Subhananda dasa.
Bhakti Tradition: Its Origins And Historical Development
Subhananda dasa: As we know, Krsna consciousness is rooted in the concept of bhakti, love of God, specifically krsna-bhakti, devotion to Lord Krsna, who is understood as the original and supreme form of Godhead. Let's look at the concept of bhakti in a broad religious context. Bhakti usually is taken to be a subdivision of Hinduism—as a specific, localized aspect of Indian religious tradition. Should bhakti be viewed in this way—as a sectarian or culture-specific phenomenon—or can it be understood in broader, more universal terms?
Shrivatsa Goswami: If I could answer your question in one sentence, I would say that we can translate the term religion as bhakti. By religion, I mean the human quest for realization of the Divine. That quest presupposes a relation of man to God. In the religious quest one is, in one manner or another, trying to relate himself to God. That relating to God is itself bhakti, and the religious experience itself is bhakti. You can call it "Hindu bhakti" or "Christian bhakti" or "Islamic bhakti." Any religious quest for God is, in essence, bhakti.
The highest mode of spiritual life is where no other motive remains except love. If you attain the sublime state of divine love, where there is no other guiding force, no other motive except love for the sake of love, then you have attained the realization of God as Bhagavan—Sri Krsna. That is the highest religious attainment.
Subhananda dasa: What about bhakti as a historical phenomenon? To what point in the religious history of India can we trace bhakti religion? As you know, many contemporary historians tend to describe bhakti tradition as an almost exclusively medieval phenomenon. Could you comment on that view?
Shrivatsa Goswami: Bhakti is an eternal human tendency; it is not merely some kind of historical movement arising out of peculiar social and cultural circumstances. Whenever or wherever there have been human beings, there has been bhakti in some form or another. Bhakti is like a river that takes different forms, sometimes widening, sometimes narrowing, and that moves this way and that way at different places and times. Sometimes it is fully manifested, and at other times it is eclipsed or subdued by various historical and cultural forces. It is like language. Sanskrit before Panini is different from Sanskrit after Panini. Words change, grammar and diction change. Fifteenth century English is not the same as twentieth century English, although the language is the same. So even language flows. It is a question of continuity and change. Bhakti is the same continuing stream, but it appears in different forms and degrees in different periods.
There are any number of scriptural, literary, architectural, and archeological evidences for the antiquity of bhakti. But if we view Indian religious history over the past two or three thousand years, it becomes apparent that bhakti tradition was strongest and most widespread in the medieval centuries—let's say from the eleventh century onward, beginning with the appearance of the great Vaisnava acaryas [spiritual teachers] like Ramanuja and Madhva. Many ancient bhakti strains crystallized into the medieval bhakti movement.
Subhananda dasa: To what extent was the medieval bhakti movement a popular reaction against an elitist, brahminical Hinduism?
Shrivatsa Goswami: The bhakti movement can be seen in some sense as a revolt against the ritualistic "high" tradition, the brahminical, scholastic tradition. We have to bear in mind, however, that this kind of revolt was natural. Religion is a process, a historical process; it is never stagnant. What was good for the Vedic period was not necessarily good for the fifteenth century. The tradition had to be brought into the present. Metaphysical realities, religious concepts, are eternal. But those primeval concepts have to be worked out, from age to age, in the form of practical religious life. You need timely expressions of ancient tradition. In order to accomplish this, you have to constantly review your religious practices.
So, at this time, there was oppression from the brahminical ritualistic tradition. It had become overly ritualistic, intellectual, and exclusivistic. But with the revival of bhakti and the dispensing of ritualistic formality, God became, so to speak, more accessible and immediate. The bhakti movement was democratic. It provided, you might say, equal opportunity for all people to work out their salvation. That was not possible in the stagnant brahminical tradition. In this sense the bhakti movement was a great revolution. It opened the gates of salvation to everybody. This was the great and unique contribution of bhakti, religiously and sociologically.
Subhananda dasa: Shrivatsa, could you now describe the development of the bhakti movement—or conglomeration of bhakti movements—from roughly the eleventh to the eighteenth centuries? Who were the major figures and what were the important movements during this devotional renaissance?
Shrivatsa Goswami: The medieval bhakti movement took birth in South India with the Dravidian saints, the Alvars and so on. Then a little later, Ramanuja, the first systematic philosopher of bhakti, appeared in the Tamil country. He was the first major acarya to declare bhakti, aside from jnana [philosophical speculation], a legitimate path to realize God. After Ramanuja, the next great devotional thinker was Madhva, who was born in Karnataka at the end of the twelfth century. After that, the movement got a big boost from different saints who appeared throughout India, including Maharashtra, during the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries. These centuries were very crucial for the growth of the bhakti movement.
Subhananda dasa: What were some of the distinctive religious practices and forms of worship within the devotional movements?
Shrivatsa Goswami: In general, the bhakti movements attempted to spiritualize, to make sacred, ordinary worldly activities. Take eating, for example. Eating is a common human activity. Everybody eats. But the eating of food was transformed into a religious activity by first offering the food in devotion to the Lord. The food thus became sanctified as prasadam, the mercy of God. Aesthetic values were made religious. Poetry, art, dance, song, and drama: all were dedicated to glorifying God by depicting His divine form, attributes, and activities. Artistic pursuits all became saturated with bhakti. So the whole of human existence became refined into spiritual existence. The dichotomy between the phenomenal and the spiritual was broken down, or, rather, these two realms were brought closer together.
Subhananda dasa: What about nama-sankirtana, congregational chanting of the names of God? In the Caitanya movement, of course, nama-sankirtana was the principal form of worship. Was this also the case with other bhakti movements?
Shrivatsa Goswami: Nama-sankirtana was definitely widespread, and music has always definitely been an important part of Vaisnava traditions. Almost all of these saints wrote and sang songs and hymns and wandered from place to place singing and preaching. I would say that singing was the mode of worship. You could say it was a "musical revolution."
The Caitanya Movement
Subhananda dasa: Of all the individual bhakti movements that appeared during this era, none, perhaps, was as widespread as Caitanya's krsna-bhakti movement, and none appears to have so successfully survived into the present. First of all, who was Sri Caitanya?
Shrivatsa Goswami: When we try to understand the personality of Caitanya, we can look at Him from many angles. If we wish to understand Him from a theological perspective, then we have to deal, first, with the concept of avatara [incarnation] in Indian philosophy. This concept is very basic to the religious history and life of India. You're familiar with the theological importance of the concept of avatara, so we don't need to speak about that in detail here, except to say that there are two worlds: the spiritual world and this material world, and for any religious purpose there has to be a point of contact, or a meeting ground, between the two. That contact or meeting ground is expressed through many concepts in Hinduism, such as avatara, sastra (scripture), mantra, and guru.
Caitanya was the Kali-yuga pavana-avatara, the supreme avatara of the age, the dual incarnation of Radha and Krsna who came to purify the world. In Indian theological matters, the pramana, or proof, for anything is scripture. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, being the scripture par excellence—the culmination of the scriptural tradition—gives proof about the avatar-hood of Caitanya. There are many direct and indirect references to Caitanya-avatara in scripture—references not only in works by Caitanya's biographers but in much earlier texts, especially the Bhagavatam.
Caitanya's movement actually started in the closed courtyard of Srivasa, in Navadvipa. Caitanya, Srivasa, Advaita Acarya, Nityananda, and several other Navadvipa residents who were all great devotees of Krsna would gather together and dance and chant, day and night, in the closed courtyard of Srivasa. Eventually, their spiritual ecstasy could not be confined to the courtyard of Srivasa. It burst out of the courtyard and into the streets of Navadvipa.
So, first the chanting was confined to the house of Srivasa, then it pervaded the town of Navadvipa, then it spread throughout the whole state of Bengal, and then it spread into Orissa and beyond. Wherever Caitanya went, nama-sankirtana spread like wildfire.
Subhananda dasa: Some modern students of Hinduism claim that Sri Caitanya was always so engrossed in devotional fervor and mystical ecstasy that He didn't get around to, or wasn't able to, formulate a systematic philosophy or articulate it to others.
Shrivatsa Goswami: This is one of the modern misconceptions about Caitanya, put forward by people who possess a very superficial understanding of Caitanya and His tradition. The main reason that Caitanya's role as philosopher and theologian is doubted is because Caitanya did not personally write out His system. From the traditional Indian point of view, it is not necessary for a religious or philosophical system to be written. The Vedas existed for thousands of years before they were compiled in written form. They were presented through oral tradition and transmitted from guru to disciple. In ancient India, people had the mental capacity for memorization and total recall of scripture. Oral transmission was the system of religious and philosophical education.
So, although Caitanya did not write philosophical treatises, He did evolve a philosophical and theological system, and He revealed it through lengthy discourses with Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Ramananda Raya, with Sanatana Gosvami in Benares, with Rupa Gosvami in Allahabad, and in shorter discussions in South India with Venkata Bhatta, the Tattvavadis [followers of Madhva], some Buddhist monks, and so on. All of these dialogues are recorded in Caitanya's biographies. The six Gosvamis heard, gathered, assimilated, systematized, and then wrote Caitanya's teachings in their many philosophical, theological, poetic, dramatic, and instructional writings.
So the whole Gaudiya Vaisnava system is based upon Caitanya's teachings, which evolved from His own experience. You cannot isolate philosophical thought from personal experience. There can be no "neutral" philosophy, just as there can be no "neutral" religion. Philosophy must have its roots in experience. What we have to understand at this point is that what we translate as "philosophy" is actually darsana. Darsana literally means "seeing." According to Sanskrit etymology, we can define darsana in two ways: the act, itself, of seeing or that by which we see, the process by which we come to the point of seeing. So, philosophy is an experience, a "seeing," an immediate realization, or direct encounter with something—and that something is ultimate reality, or God.
In the Western tradition, philosophy is a kind of armchair game having little to do directly with life or experience itself. Originally, this was not so. But as the philosophical systems evolved, philosophy moved away from its spiritual moorings. In the West, a philosophical system must be a systematic written treatment of a well-defined Weltanschauung, with logical treatises and so on.
But in Indian tradition it is the direct, intuitive experience that is primary and crucial. The Buddha did not write a single word. What teachings we have, we get only from his disciples; yet he has a very strong and well-developed philosophical system. It is the claim of spiritual experience that is important. One glimpse of Caitanya's experience ignited a series of explosions, and those explosions were the writings of the Gosvamis.
Bhakti Abroad: Caitanya's Children in America
Subhananda dasa: Shrivatsa, as a Caitanyaite and an observer of the Krsna consciousness movement, how do you view the significance, historical and cultural, of the spread of the Caitanya tradition to the West?
Shrivatsa Goswami: When I reflect on Srila Prabhupada's achievement, I become sort of a Hindu chauvinist. It is a great political achievement.
Subhananda dasa: How is it a great political achievement?
Shrivatsa Goswami: In that Indian spiritual culture has been spread throughout the world. What the Muslims could do only by the tremendous sword, and the Christians could do only with great financial resources and state power, has been done by one solitary man, without any ill effects.
Subhananda dasa: It's often taken for granted that Hinduism, in contradistinction to Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism, is not a missionary religion. Yet isn't it a fact that Caitanya Vaisnavism has always been a missionary tradition? Didn't Caitanya Mahaprabhu directly instruct His followers to spread Krsna consciousness?
Shrivatsa Goswami: Yes. Any truth is for spreading. Not only Caitanya, but look at Sankaracarya. What did he do? All his life he traveled throughout India and spread his message. The Buddha did the same. Ramanuja, Madhva—all the Vaisnava theologians and saints were missionaries like Caitanya. In addition to preaching Himself, Caitanya instructed His followers to preach the message of krsna-bhakti from door to door and from village to village. Caitanya said,
yare dekha, tare kaha 'krsna'-upadesa
"Whomever you meet, teach him about Krsna. Become a guru and liberate everyone in this land."
Subhananda dasa: Is there anything unique about ISKCON's missionary activities in the West, in light of this Caitanyaite preaching tradition?
Shrivatsa Goswami: One significant difference between historical Caitanyaism and ISKCON is that you have to deal with people who are not even in the broad category of Hinduism. Historically, the Caitanyaites were preaching to people who were already Hindus, even Vaisnavas. Most of those to whom they preached were already worshiping Krsna or Visnu, and they even studied the same scriptures as the Caitanyaites. Their preaching was mostly a matter of "polishing." But you ISKCON devotees have to deal with people who are completely "raw." That is a big difference. Srila Prabhupada's going to the West to preach krsna-bhakti was a very bold move. He was very courageous.
Srila Prabhupada also faced a unique twentieth-century situation in that materialism had become so predominant. In such a materialistic culture, what Prabhupada achieved was remarkable. He had remarkable results: he spread the spiritual message of Caitanya even in a culture that had no grounding in Hindu culture and that was so steeped in materialism.
Subhananda dasa: Why do you think he was so successful?
Shrivatsa Goswami: If you study the situation in detail, you have to take into account the American social and political situation, which might have created a favorable climate for his teachings. But these were auxiliary factors. They were not the primary factors. The primary factors that brought about this kind of revolution were the strong personal convictions and personality of Srila Prabhupada and the great spiritual philosophy he preached. These were unique. Krsna-bhakti is a universal phenomenon, and so it is only natural that it should travel throughout the entire world. And this long-awaited journey was made possible by Srila Prabhupada.
Subhananda dasa: Can you comment, Shrivatsa, on Srila Prabhupada's choice of texts to translate and make available in the West?
Shrivatsa Goswami: There is no doubt that he made a wise selection of texts to translate and comment upon. As for the Srimad-Bhagavatam, we've already discussed its importance to some degree. The Bhagavatam is of central importance not only for the Caitanya-sampradaya [sect], but for the whole Vaisnava and Hindu tradition.
Subhananda dasa: The importance of the Bhagavad-gita is, of course, understood.
Shrivatsa Goswami: Yes, the importance of the Gita is already widely known. As for the Caitanya-caritamrta—as a student of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, when I consider the Caitanya-caritamrta I bow down to the genius of Krsnadasa Kaviraja, because he shows his mastery not only in presenting the life of Caitanya but in presenting a beautiful, consummate philosophical summary of all the works of the Gosvamis. In the Caitanya-caritamrta one can find brilliant crystallizations of philosophical treatises, theological treatises, aesthetics, and poetry from the works of the Gosvamis. He provides hundreds of quotes from the works of the Gosvamis. So, through the nectar of Caitanya's life, Krsnadasa Kaviraja presents a full compendium of the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition. Srila Prabhupada has done a great service for all Vaisnavas, as well as for scholars, by translating and commenting on Caitanya-caritamrta.
What is significant is that for the first time these devotional texts are being made so widely available. If these texts are not available, what effect will they have? Making these Vaisnava texts available is one of Srila Prabhupada's greatest contributions. Apart from the masses, his books have also reached well into academic circles and have spurred academic interest in the Caitanya tradition. There's no escaping that. That is another positive effect of his writings.
The significance of making these texts available is not merely academic or cultural; it is spiritual. Jnana, knowledge, is spread, proper doctrines are made known, people come closer to reality. All problems arise from ignorance. If ignorance is destroyed, all problems are solved. That's why it is stated in so many philosophies, like that of Jiva Gosvami, that ignorance, ajnana, is the greatest enemy.
And that is the purpose of Lord and guru: to destroy ignorance. I don't mean jnana and ajnana in the technical Sankarite sense, but in the broadest metaphysical sense. That ajnana, most fundamentally, is ignorance of the Lord, of Krsna. That is the greatest ajnana. If you don't know Krsna, then how will you know anything? Krsna is everything; everything is related to Him. And by knowing Him, you come to love Him. If you don't love Him, you will love this material world, which is duhkhalayam, a place of misery, and asasvatam, temporary. So, to spread knowledge, as Srila Prabhupada has, is to make a definite contribution toward human happiness.
Subhananda dasa: Unlike most interpreters of the Indian tradition, who in their writings have highlighted the theoretical, philosophical component of the tradition, Srila Prabhupada draws the reader into the experiential dimension of Vaisnava spirituality. Not only did he generate interest, but he actually transformed lives.
Shrivatsa Goswami: That is true. In the Indian tradition there is no clear dichotomy, as there generally is in the West, between the intellectual/religious sphere and the practical sphere of life. So what Srila Prabhupada did was more reflective of the Indian tradition. His approach was more natural. Religion is not a "subject"; it is not an academic discipline like physics or chemistry. When I was in America, I used to tell university people that in India there are no academic departments of religion, except those very recently begun by Christian missionaries. In America, there are divinity schools everywhere, but in a religious country like India there is no "Department of Religion." Why is that? Because in traditional Indian culture, everything is religion.
Even linguistically, in Indian languages there is no separate word for "religion." Religion is not a separate category. The mode of being is itself religious. Religious conceptions dominate and pervade all dimensions of human life: family, business, statecraft—everything. The human being is intrinsically religious: homo religious. Srila Prabhupada did not try to turn Vaisnava tradition into an intellectual curiosity. He presented the tradition as it is—a spiritual mode of existence. His practical, experiential approach to the Vaisnava texts was the proper approach.
Subhananda dasa: Do you think there is anything in the Western culturation or mentality that can significantly hinder the Western ISKCON devotees from attaining the highest spiritual goals?
Shrivatsa Goswami: I do not feel that the Western Vaisnavas are handicapped by their own cultural or ethnic backgrounds. There is nothing to prevent them from following on the path of Caitanya and achieving the highest goals. They are fully entitled to that through having adopted the Caitanya Vaisnava path and through having come under the guidance of Srila Prabhupada and the present gurus as well, if they are teaching truly according to the highest spiritual goals. The emphasis should always be on the purity of the philosophical and spiritual side of the tradition. The externalities ultimately are not so important. The emphasis should be on the spiritual side of the movement. This is the crucial thing.
Subhananda dasa: Ultimately, then, the real test of the authenticity of ISKCON is the spiritual authenticity of its members.
Shrivatsa Goswami: Yes, the criteria should be spiritual. The evidence of the legitimacy of the Hare Krsna movement is that it has established the Caitanya tradition in the West, in a part of the world where formerly it had not existed. The criterion of fidelity is how well it will be able to establish its authority in the West. The question of authenticity, or fidelity, doesn't concern the Caitanyaites in India. The question doesn't arise for us. It arises only in that place where the tradition has not yet been established.
Any new movement that arises—even if it arises within a familiar cultural background—will face opposition, as you see at the beginnings of the Caitanya movement in India. It faced very stiff opposition: intellectual, social, and political. Obstacles were faced by Caitanya Himself, what to speak of ISKCON.
So the real criteria of fidelity, or authenticity, of the Hare Krsna movement will be the faith, steadfastness, and total commitment of its members. Its religious and spiritual authenticity will be proved only by its strength. You may write a hundred books on the legitimacy and authoritativeness of the Hare Krsna movement, but that may not prove very much. But if there are ten devout Caitanyaites in the West, the movement is legitimate and authoritative. The number is insignificant. But the integrity, the sincerity, and the faithfulness of the devotees is the only proof, and sufficient proof, of the movement's authenticity.
When, in the West, someone comes to know that I am a Caitanyaite, he immediately asks me what I think of ISKCON. It is a question that I have to deal with any number of times. I consistently answer with one remark: the strength of the movement is not that they've published and sold nearly a hundred million copies of the Hindu scriptures, or that they have magnificent temples throughout the world, or that they have attracted ten thousand or a hundred thousand devotees to the movement worldwide. But even if there is one sincere devotee in the movement, the movement is very significant and important. And I sincerely believe that in this movement there are many sincere devotees, some very sincere devotees. And because of their force the movement is existing. It is not surviving due to money or power. It is the spiritual power and the spiritual existence of those sincere devotees that is sustaining the movement. That is my strong belief.
Bhagavad-gita: A Great Book, East and West
While reading Mortimer Adler and Carl Van Doren's classic. How to Read a Book, I was disappointed to note that the authors omitted the Bhagavad-gita from their long list of recommended Great Books for Reading. The reason for the omission: the Bhagavad-gita is not a book of the Western world.
"We are not particularly knowledgeable outside of the Western literary tradition," admit Adler and Van Doren, "and our recommendations would carry very little weight. . . . There is also something to be said for knowing your own tradition before trying to understand that of other parts of the world." The authors even go so far as to issue a warning. "Many persons who today attempt to read such books as the Bhagavad-gita," they say, "are baffled."
While this attitude is not unusual for Western scholars, I see it as narrow-minded and prejudiced. If the goal in reading great books is to gain understanding, why should we shun perhaps the greatest book of all merely because it's "Eastern"? Actually, one who is advanced in knowledge realizes that the concept of "West and East" is artificial and ultimately invalid. The Bhagavad-gita is meant specifically to enlighten us with knowledge beyond the "West-East" limitations.
The Bhagavad-gita educates us about the self beyond the body. Whether Eastern or Western, black or white, male or female, the body is an external covering of the real self, the eternal spiritual soul. The Bhagavad-gita's clear explanation of the individual soul and his relationship to the Supreme Soul led Henry David Thoreau to exclaim, "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, in comparison to which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial." Ralph Waldo Emerson, another Westerner bold enough to go beyond his tradition, wrote:
I owed a magnificent day to the Bhagavad-gita. It was the first of books; it was as if an empire spoke to us, nothing small or unworthy, but large, serene, consistent, the voice of an old intelligence which in another age and climate had pondered and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us.
Not only rare individuals like Thoreau and Emerson, but millions have transcended the narrow material identification in pursuit of better knowledge. For example, people from all over the world come to America for a technological education. Certainly such persons aren't thinking they must confine their education to their own traditions. Similarly, vacationers, students of art, connoisseurs of cooking, purchasers of automobiles, and many others feel no difficulty in going from West to East or East to West or North to South—to wherever the prospects are better. Certainly in seeking the Absolute Truth, the most important and universal experience of all, we should not bypass the Bhagavad-gita, thinking, "It's not in my tradition," or that it is "baffling."
Adler and Van Doren's caution about the Bhagavad-gita is, in one sense, commendable. They admit that they are not authorities on the Bhagavad-gita and that one can be misled "because of the inherent difficulty of such works." But that does not mean that there are no able guides who can unlock the mysteries of the Bhagavad-gita. Because the Bhagavad-gita is widely read and respected both in India and in the West, sometimes persons who are uninformed and unscrupulous take advantage of the Gita's popularity to push their own philosophies, thus misleading innocent readers. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, therefore, has presented Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Srila Prabhupada's commentaries faithfully draw from the great devotee-scholars of the past, and since Prabhupada is himself a pure devotee of Krsna, Bhagavad-gita As It Is allows Lord Krsna's message to shine forth, untainted by mundane interpretation. Received in its pure form, the Bhagavad-gita is not difficult, baffling, or in any way inappropriate for the Western mind.
The Bhagavad-gita explains that we transmigrate from one body to another, life after life; we may be born in the West or in the East, in the human species or in the animal species. And in whatever material body we find ourselves, we always incur suffering from material nature. As long as we continue to identify ourselves as belonging to a particular culture based on our bodily designation, we will continue to transmigrate and suffer within the material nature. Only when we realize our transcendental self in relation to God, or Krsna, can we be free from all suffering. Thinking of oneself as a Westerner (or Easterner), therefore, is a dangerous misconception.
Once, Srila Prabhupada was invited to speak before a group of academicians on the topic "East and West." Srila Prabhupada, however, disdained the topic, explaining that in the realm of Absolute Truth such distinctions are inapplicable. The sun, for example, cannot be said to be Western or Eastern; the sun is the sun, wherever it appears. Similarly, gold is gold, whether it is mined in America or India. And certainly the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the God of all living beings, regardless of their culture or tradition.
Srila Prabhupada did acknowledge one significant difference between East and West. From his own experience, he said, he had found that in the West even a university professor knew nothing about the science of life after death, whereas in India, even the common man was aware that his present life is due to his past karma and that his present actions determine his next life.
This knowledge—the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita—is universal. Lord Krsna spoke to all humanity; He never said He was instructing only Hindus or only Easterners. Of course, the Bhagavad-gita was first introduced in India, and so that culture is enriched with a tradition familiar with the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita.
Yet Bhagavad-gita is for all people. Humbly, we should put aside our Western chauvinism and exclusive Great Books lists and accept the timeless wisdom of Lord Krsna's Bhagavad-gita.—SDG