To find the lasting happiness we're looking for,
A lecture by
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for kindly participating in this Krsna consciousness movement, which is spreading bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavata-dharma means "the activities performed in relationship with the Supreme Lord." The Lord is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the devotee is bhagavata, one who acts in relationship with Bhagavan.
Actually, everyone is related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, just as a son is always related to his father. That relationship cannot be broken at any stage. But sometimes it happens that the son, out of independence, goes out of his home and forgets his affectionate relationship with his father. In your country it is not a very extraordinary thing; at the present moment many sons are going out of their fathers' affectionate homes.
Similarly, we are all sons of God, but out of independence some of us have left the spiritual world and are trying to forget our affectionate relationship with Him. Of course, we are not fully independent, but we do have minute independence. Because God is fully independent and we are born of God, we have the quality of independence in minute degree. Therefore we have the freedom to remember our relationship with God or to forget it.
So, although we living entities are part and parcel of God, when we want to live independently of Him we begin our conditioned stage of existence. We must accept a material body, which is conditioned in so many ways. One conditioning is that the body must undergo six changes. The body is born at a certain date, it grows, it remains for some time, it produces some by-products, it dwindles, and at last it vanishes. These are the six changes of the body. Another conditioning is that the body is subject to so many tribulations, called the threefold miseries: miseries caused by the body and mind, miseries inflicted on us by other living entities, and miseries caused by natural disturbances. And above all, our whole conditioning is summarized into four principles—birth, old age, disease, and death. These are the conditions of material life.
So, in order to get out of these conditions placed on us, we must revive our original consciousness—Krsna consciousness, or God consciousness. (When we speak of Krsna, we mean the Supreme Lord.) It is natural for us to revive our Krsna consciousness, because Krsna is our Supreme Father. Every one of us can say, "I am the son of such-and-such gentleman; such-and-such gentleman is my father." So it is natural to remember our father and our relationship with him.
Unfortunately, sometimes we forget our Supreme Father, Krsna, and we want to live independently; we want to enjoy life according to our whims. But by such independence we are never satisfied. In search of illusory happiness, we must transmigrate from one body to another to find facilities for sense enjoyment. But in every body, in every species of life, we must suffer birth, old age, disease, and death, as well as the other miseries of conditioned life.
The human form of life is an opportunity to revive our original relationship with the Supreme Father, Krsna, and get free of this miserable conditioned life. Then we will exist in our spiritual body, without being covered by this material body. We have a spiritual body within this material body, and that is our real identity. Now we are covered by two kinds of material bodies: the subtle body and the gross body. The subtle body is made of mind, intelligence, and ego—false ego. And the gross body is a mixture of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. These two kinds of bodies are always changing, but our spiritual body remains unchanged.
Generally, we can see the gross body but not the subtle body. I know that you have a mind and intelligence, and you know I have a mind and intelligence. But I cannot see your mind, your intelligence, or your determination. I cannot see your thoughts—your thinking, feeling, willing. Similarly, you cannot see my subtle body. You can see only my gross body made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and I can see your gross body.
When the gross body breaks down, we are carried away by the subtle body, and that process is called death. If our father dies, we may say, "Oh, my father has gone away." Why do we say that our father has gone away? The body is still lying there. But actually our father has gone away, because the spirit soul has been carried away by the subtle body. Similarly, at night while we are sleeping in our nice apartment, our subtle body may take us away to the top of a mountain. We may dream we have come to the top of a very high mountain and that we are falling down, but actually our gross body is sleeping in a comfortable apartment. The subtle body has carried us to the mountain.
So, death means a change of gross body. The gross body and subtle body are like our coat and shirt. Generally, when you enter your home you remove your coat but keep your shirt on. Similarly, at death we give up our gross body but keep our subtle body. That is death. And then, by the laws of nature, we are carried by our subtle body into the womb of a mother, where we develop another gross body with materials supplied by her. When the body is ready, we come out from the womb of the mother and begin working again with the subtle and gross bodies.
By practicing Krsna consciousness, we can transcend both the gross body and the subtle body and come to the spiritual world. And as soon as we are free of the gross and subtle bodies, we attain our real body, our spiritual body. So, Krsna consciousness is the highest benediction for human society, because it allows one to transcend the gross and subtle material bodies and come to the platform of one's spiritual body. That is the highest perfection.
Human life is meant for transcending the bodily concept of life. This age is called Kali-yuga. It is not a very good time: simply disagreement, fighting, quarreling, misunderstanding. This age is full of all these things. Therefore, to come to the spiritual platform by meditation or mystic yoga is very difficult in this age. Formerly it was not so difficult; people were easily trained up by the Vedic process. But now people are generally not interested in spiritual matters. They are simply interested in the gross body or, if one is a little advanced, the subtle body. Although there has been advancement in education, there is no education concerning the spiritual body. Therefore people are simply concerned with the gross and subtle material bodies.
As expressed in a song by Narottama dasa Thakura, one of our predecessor acaryas, or teachers: hari hari viphale janama gonainu. He says, "My dear Lord, I am simply wasting my valuable human life." Countless living entities have taken birth as human beings, but most of them do not know how to utilize their life. They utilize it just like the animals—simply making arrangements for eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. That's all. The animal eats his natural food, and we make arrangements for eating unnaturally—that is our advancement. In the animal kingdom every animal has a particular type of food. Take the tiger, for example. A tiger eats flesh and blood. If-you give a tiger nice oranges or grapes, he'll not touch them, because they are not his food. Similarly, a hog eats stool. If you give a hog nice halava [buttery-sweet toasted farina], he'll not touch it.
Just as every animal has a particular type of food, we human beings also have our particular type of food. What is that food? Fruit, milk, grains, vegetables. Consider our teeth. If you eat a fruit, you can easily cut it into pieces with your teeth. But if you eat a piece of flesh, it will be difficult to cut with your teeth. But a tiger has the particular type of teeth that can immediately cut flesh into pieces.
So, we are advancing in education, but we do not even study our teeth. We simply go to the dentist. This is our advancement of civilization. The tiger never goes to the dentist, yet its teeth are so strong that they can immediately cut flesh into pieces. He doesn't require a dentist, because he doesn't eat anything that is unnatural for him. But because we eat any damn thing, we require the help of a dentist.
The human being has a particular purpose in his life—to study and discuss bhagavata-dharma and thus try to understand Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is very easy. How can we do it? We simply have to hear about Krsna. Krsna is Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and we are part and parcel of Krsna. Suppose I had left my home a long time ago and forgot my father. Then somebody reminded me: "Do you know such-and-such gentleman? He is your father. Long ago you played in such-and-such a way, and your father helped you." In this way, if you simply talked of my father, I would remember him and my home.
Similarly, we have all forgotten our relationship with our Supreme Father, Krsna, but if we simply hear about Him from authorized sources, we will begin to remember Him. It is a simple process:
srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
"Krsna is our best friend, and He is dwelling within our heart as the Supersoul. When we submissively hear about Him, He cleanses away all the dirty things in our heart, such as lust and greed."
We should simply hear about Krsna. We have forgotten Krsna, our Supreme Father, on account of material contamination, but if we hear about Him attentively we will begin to remember Him. You have kindly come here to listen to talks about Krsna, so this is a very good opportunity for you. You are all young boys and girls, and you are very fortunate. Your fathers and grandfathers have not come here, but you have come. So just continue hearing about Krsna and your life will be successful. You haven't got to do anything else. You don't have to acquire an M.A. or a Ph.D. No. God has given you two ears, and if you kindly hear about Krsna from a realized source, your life will be successful. Thank you very much.
A devotee editor fights religious bias.
by Satyaraja dasa
Sometimes people accuse the Hare Krsna movement of being a new cult. We find that both sad and humorous down at the Journal of Vedic Heritage. That's the monthly newspaper I work for. It's one of the four most widely read Hindu newspapers in the greater New York metropolitan area. There are fifty full-time Indian employees on the staff, but I, an American Hare Krsna devotee, am editor in chief. Have my employers been duped into hiring a brainwashed cult member to edit their paper?
Of course not. Anyone who knows Indian culture and philosophy knows that the Hare Krsna movement isn't a cult. The other men and women on the paper, all born in India, marvel at the stories I bring back—accusations of brainwashing, accounts of brutal deprogramming tactics, reports of outrageous lawsuits. They find it difficult to believe that right in the mainstream of Western civilization—a civilization that prides itself on its learning and technological advancement—anyone could be so culturally isolated. And yet I must admit to my Indian co-workers that because many Americans and Europeans are unaware that the Hare Krsna movement is rooted in the world's oldest and most consistent religious tradition, the movement is often mistaken for a cult.
To the Indians I work with, the Hare Krsna devotees are sadhus (holy people) who have seriously embraced the practices of Vedic devotional theism. And since my co-workers—people from India—accept the Hare Krsna movement as part of an authentic religious tradition, how can the typical Western-born casual observer disagree? Who knows better what is Indian than an Indian? In fact, if the Indians on the staff of the Vedic Heritage thought the Hare Krsna movement were a cult, I'd be out of a job!
As editor in chief of the Journal of Vedic Heritage, I must not only write editorials but also edit and rework articles by noted Hindu scholars and theologians. Clearly, my employers wouldn't trust me with these sensitive tasks if they thought the Hare Krsna movement dubious in any way.
One can trace the modern-day Hare Krsna movement back to antiquity. The movement is based on India's ancient Vedic texts, the most time-honored and comprehensive of the world's scriptural classics, and was founded by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a scholar, pure devotee of Krsna, and religious leader of unassailable character and integrity.
In 1965, at the age of sixty-nine, Srila Prabhupada sailed alone and penniless from India to the United States and. after a year of great personal struggle and sacrifice, founded and incorporated the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in New York City. His movement then expanded rapidly throughout the United States and the rest of the world.
By the time Srila Prabhupada passed away in 1977, he had established more than one hundred Krsna conscious temples, asramas, farms, and schools worldwide, and the public chanting of Hare Krsna had become a colorful, familiar sight on the streets of most major cities. To date, the movement has distributed well over a hundred million copies of the sacred literatures of India in some thirty languages.
In its theology and practices, the Hare Krsna movement participates fully in the rich religious and cultural tradition from which it originates, and this has been confirmed not only by Indian laymen but by numerous scholars and religious leaders throughout the world. A. L. Basham, one of the world's foremost Indologists and the author of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica's "History of Hinduism" article, had this to say: "From the point of view of spreading knowledge of Indian religions, you [ISKCON] have done a great deal in the Western world. Yours ... is the best form of it." ** (Steven J. Gelberg, ed., Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West (New York: Grove Press, 1983), p. 175.)
Writing on ISKCON's work in India, J. Stillson Judah, former professor of the history of religions at Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union, wrote, "India has long received Christian missionaries from the West, and conversely, the United States is used to the visits of Hindu swamis and yogis. It may appear unusual, however, that in recent years hundreds of American devotees of Krishna have been sent to India as missionaries to the Indians. There they have been trying to revive and spread the message of Krishna Consciousness among the Hindu population." ** (J. Stillson Judah, Hare Krishna and the Counterculture (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974), p. 43.) The Hare Krsna center in Bombay now has more than ten thousand members. It hardly seems ISKCON would have been so successful had it not been genuinely representing Vedic culture.
The renowned O.B.L. Kapoor, who has held many important posts in the Indian educational system (for a time he was head of the philosophy department and dean of the faculty of arts at B.R. College in Agra), has written, "Sankirtan [the congregational chanting of the Lord's holy names] has been in vogue throughout the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent since the time of Sri Caitanya and before, and now it is being spread all over the world by the Hare Krsna movement." ** (O.B.L. Kapoor, The Philosophy and Religion of Sri Caitanya (New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, Ltd., 1976), p. 190.)
Further, on September 30, 1976, at the annual convention of the American Academy of Religion, two hundred American and Canadian scholars signed a petition asserting the Hare Krsna movement's authenticity. So among Western scholars of philosophy and religion, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness has become widely known and accepted.
But people in general need to be educated. Cultural isolation is a dangerous thing. And when someone points his finger at a traditional form of Indian religion and claims that its adherents are "brainwashed" or that they are victims of some new "cult" employing "mind control," the problem requires immediate attention. As Harvard theologian Harvey Cox put it, "A glance at some of the groups usually included in the cult category should raise questions right away about the category itself. The Hare Krsnas, for instance, represent the coming to America of Vaisnavite 'bhakti,' a centuries-old Indian devotional tradition." ** (David G. Bromley & Anson D. Shupe, Jr., Strange Gods: The Great American Cult Scare (Boston: Beacon Press, 1981), p. xiii.)
Indians themselves offer the greatest affirmation of the authenticity and significance of the Hare Krsna movement. Throughout America, Europe, and the entire civilized world, ISKCON temples have become places of worship for many Indians abroad. The ISKCON temples are their "India" away from India.
Famous politicians and musicians of India have endorsed ISKCON's work. Sri Lal Bahadur Shastri, the late prime minister of India, said, "His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is doing invaluable work, and his books are significant contributions to the salvation of mankind." Lata Mangeshkar, the world's most prolific recording artist and winner of the Padma Busham Art Award, India's highest national award, said, "As an artist, I am most grateful for Srila Prabhupada's efforts toward bringing about a religious cultural revival of Indian classical arts in all parts of the world. By the blessings of Lord Sri Krsna, many talented disciples of Srila Prabhupada have virtually mastered the arts of bhajana and kirtana [devotional music] and classical dance."
Finally, Dr. Rasik Vihari Joshi, chairman of the department of Sanskrit at the University of Delhi, once stated, "Indian religion and Indology will both forever remain indebted to Srila Prabhupada for making Vaisnava thought and philosophy available around the world through his translations of and commentaries on Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Words fail to express my joy and appreciation for these excellent editions."
As for my own milieu, down at the Journal of Vedic Heritage I see a profound appreciation for ISKCON's work every day. We regularly print articles confirming that ISKCON's conception of Indian spirituality is indeed authentic. And since I started working on the Vedic Heritage, Saraswati Vimala Didi, the paper's publisher, has said, "Our newspaper has improved a thousand times. I think that ISKCON has properly trained our young editor."
We welcome your letters.
This is just to let you know how very much I enjoyed your article on brainwashing in the July issue of your magazine.
I am the parent of a devotee, and I must admit I was pretty upset when she became involved in the Krishna movement and moved into ISKCON Potomac. I was advised to have my daughter deprogrammed. I read up on deprogramming and its ramifications. I also felt my daughter had and has freedom of choice, freedom of religious beliefs. I decided to do nothing. My philosophy is "live and let live."
Now, four years later, I am thoroughly convinced I made the right move. My daughter has married a devotee, and they are awaiting a child. I myself am not a devotee, but I respect my daughter Jagannatha's lifestyle and beliefs. To me, it's a matter of human dignity, respect, and values.
Actually, what is brainwashing? I am a teacher and have great respect for the mind. I also believe in spirituality. Whether we call God Krishna or something else, He is fair and just and very tolerant. To me, that is what is important—tolerance and understanding and love.
Your article substantiated my own feelings and beliefs, and I just wanted to let you know this. Keep up the good work.
Mrs. Carol B. Berman
* * *
In your July issue you ran an article called "Man/Machine Interface," in which you criticize Time magazine for making the computer "Machine of the Year." But do you feel that computers are of no value in our society? It's my guess that even you employ some computers for mailing, banking, and such. Sure we must "keep our eye on them," but they are useful to us.
State College, Pennsylvania
Our reply: "Man/Machine Interface" didn't criticize computers per se—only the overestimation of them by Time and overdependence on them by others. However fast and efficient a computer may be, it can't act independently. It must be built, programmed, and maintained by human beings. Even the most ordinary humans (who will never be chosen for Time's Man-of-the-Year award) can think and act by their own wills. This puts them far above the most advanced computer. And even the greatest humans are nothing compared with the Supreme Lord, Krsna, who creates and maintains everyone and directs our "independent" actions.
But you're right in pointing out how useful computers are—even in devotional service to Krsna. Here at the BACK TO GODHEAD offices in Philadelphia, we use a computer to keep track of our subscribers. Some of our writers use word processors, and the very words you're reading were typeset by a computerized typesetter. Like everything else, therefore, computers are part of Krsna's energy and should be used to glorify Him.
As the article explained, however, we can exist quite happily without computers, but they can't exist without us. Ultimately we should feel dependent not on computers or anything else of this material world but on Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Rainmakers, Big and Small
BACK TO GODHEAD's farm correspondent
by Suresvara dasa
Few of us realize as the farmer does how completely we're at the mercy of nature. Even if the farmer lives not by selling crops but by selling cows for slaughter, still he's keenly aware how much he relies on the bounty of the fields to fatten his herd. After he cuts his alfalfa, for instance, he needs two days to "make hay while the sun shines," then more rain to make his crop grow for another cutting. And even if he irrigates his land, his river or well will go dry if rain stops falling.
Since our very life depends on regular rainfall, how, we might ask, does rain come to us?
Every child knows that the sun evaporates moisture from the earth's surface, especially the ocean, and draws it into the sky to form clouds. When this moisture condenses, the clouds pour rain on the earth. Sometimes nature stocks this water on mountain peaks in the form of snow and ice. Ideally, this snow and ice melt gradually throughout the spring, summer, and fall. The water then flows down through the great rivers and glides down to the salty ocean again.
Rain, then, begins and ends in the ocean. But where did the ocean come from?
"Scientists say that water is a combination of hydrogen and oxygen," writes Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual guide of the Hare Krsna movement, "but when they see a vast ocean they are puzzled about where such a quantity of hydrogen and oxygen could have come from. They think that everything evolved from chemicals. But where did the chemicals come from? We actually see that chemicals are produced from living entities. For example, a lemon tree produces many tons of citric acid. The citric acid is not the cause of the tree; rather, the tree is the cause of the acid. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the cause of everything. He is the cause of the tree that produces the citric acid. He is the cause of the chemicals."
Jaded by an impersonal, mechanistic view of nature, materialistic scientists deny that rain is ultimately an energy of God. Ultimately, they say, we cannot be certain about rain or anything else. And ultimately, if all we do is listen to them, they certainly seem to be right.
During a bad drought in California a few years ago, one scientifically-minded politician proposed towing in icebergs from the Arctic. In the meantime rain mercifully came. And when it did I happened to be in Santa Barbara, where I met a man named Zeus. He worked with the local weather bureau.
"Man is a function of his genes and environment," Zeus told me, "but [whispering] he has incredibly more potential to control them than he knows."
"And now man is also going to control the weather?" I asked.
"Going to! Why, just last week we seeded some clouds over Catalina, and it rained buckets."
I pointed to the tempest outside. "Can you make it stop?"
Zeus opened his eyes and mouth wide, raised a forefinger high—and sneezed and sneezed and sneezed. He could no more stop the rain than he could the common cold.
Zeus's cloud-seeding—a technique of stimulating rainfall by distributing quantities of dry-ice crystals or silver-iodide smoke through clouds—has proved about as reliable as 1983's weather. Meteorologists have blamed the record floods and droughts on ocean currents, volcanic dust, sunspots, and even planetary alignments. But the fault, dear reader, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.
When a Krsna conscious farmer hears that strong winds, rain, and high seas have washed out California's fun in the sun—destroying celebrities' beachfront Dionysian dens and cocaine condos—or that the Southern Hemisphere's worst drought in two hundred years has hurt the cattle industry in Australia and New Zealand, he thinks about the connection between what we do on earth and what goes on in the sky. He meditates on the Vedic literature's description of nature's reaction to grossly sinful activities like illicit sex, intoxication, abortion, and animal slaughter. And he takes as his almanac the words Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, speaks in the Bhagavad-gita (3.14): "All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rains, and rains are produced by performance of sacrifice."
Lord Krsna prescribes the chanting of His holy names as the best sacrifice (10.25), loving surrender unto Him as the supreme goal (18.66), and food production, cow protection, and trade as the farmer's service to Him (18.44).
Krsna's farmer knows that since the Lord is the creator, He is the actual proprietor. The Lord supplies the rainfall, the sunlight, the moonlight, the earth, the air, and even our material bodies so that we may serve Him. When we ignore the Lord and, like thieves, try to exploit His property for our own purposes, nature—under His direction—sends floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, and a million other calamities. But although Mother Nature is so powerful, Krsna's farmer lives in her lap, unafraid, and depends on the seed-giving Father.
At the Hare Krsna farm in Hyderabad, India, several years ago, Srila Prabhupada told his disciples that they didn't need to dig so many wells. He said that if they simply performed Hare Krsna kirtana (congregational chanting of the Lord's holy names, with the accompaniment of musical instruments and dancing) and if they simply distributed prasadam (food offered to Lord Krsna), sufficient rain would fall.
"So one day we performed a big kirtana and distributed prasadam," recalls Tejas dasa. "At first there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but all of a sudden these clouds appeared—and it was the heaviest rain we'd ever experienced in our whole lives. The reservoir behind the temple got totally filled up. We felt ecstatic, and we went out and chanted Hare Krsna for two hours in the rain. Here was real proof of the power of remembering Krsna."
Materialists, of course, don't believe in this spiritual method of getting rain. But whether they believe it or not, the fact remains that they can't control the rainfall. They may joke about "rain dances," but the best they can come up with is seeding clouds and towing icebergs. For all their satellites, computers, and radar, all they can do is try to tell us where nature will kick us next. "And this year," notes a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "the kick has been particularly hard."
The irony is that really, we're kicking ourselves. To exploit nature's resources, for example, we maintain big factories, which pump enormous amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere. Sometimes these pollutants precipitate as "acid rain," which damages trees and plants, spoils the soil, and poisons our lakes and streams.
Such shenanigans exasperate the farmer, who already feels scorned and exploited by the urban technocracy. "Don't complain about farmers with your mouth full," reads one country bumper sticker. But the farmer himself is not without blame. He depends on those factories to make his tractors and chemical fertilizers, which maul and exhaust the land for quick profits. Of course, tractors and fertilizers are useless without rain. But as the farmer rides around in his air-conditioned tractor and tunes in to the tidings of Fun City, he too forgets his dependence on God.
Recently, I was in a farm supply store when a man walked in to buy some seed.
"This seed guaranteed to grow?" he asked.
"Guaranteed," the storekeeper assured him, "provided the good Lord sends the rain."
"Hey, I don't need that stuff," the man said. "I got my sprinkler system. And when those crops come in, and I get them on my table, I ain't even gonna invite the Lord for dinner."
"What about the sun?" the storekeeper challenged.
The man laughed and backed down, but as he left the store, he said he was confident that someday science would provide us with a new improved sun.
"Everybody talks about the weather," as the old saying goes, "but nobody does anything about it." And Krsna's farmer knows it's foolish to try. He just works hard for the Lord, and whatever comes he takes as the Lord's mercy. Rain or shine, he remembers Krsna, and harvests peace, prosperity—and love for Him.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
In Sanskrit, man means "mind" and tra means "freeing." So a mantrais a combination of transcendental, spiritual sounds that frees our minds from the anxieties of life in the material world.
Ancient India's Vedic literatures single out one mantra as the maha (supreme) mantra. The Kali-santarana Upanisad explains, "These sixteen words—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—are especially meant for counteracting the ill effects of the present age of quarrel and anxiety."
The Narada-pancaratra adds, "All mantras and all processes for self-realization are compressed into the Hare Krsna maha-mantra." Five centuries ago, while spreading the maha-mantra throughout the Indian subcontinent, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu prayed, "O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name You have invested all Your transcendental energies."
The name Krsna means "the all-attractive one," the name Rama means "the all-pleasing one," and the name Hare is an address to the Lord's devotional energy. So the maha-mantra means, "O all-attractive, all-pleasing Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your devotional service." Chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, and your life will be sublime.
Kentucky Fried Chickpeas
These zesty dishes have more taste and nutrition than chicken, but none of the bad karma.
by Visakha-devi dasi
Next time you see one of those cheery commercials for Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken, here's something to think about: In the United States, 98% of all table chickens are raised in highly automated, factorylike plants where the birds undergo agonizing suffering from the time they're hatched to the time they're slaughtered. Up to 50,000 chickens are crowded into a single shed, subjected to artificial periods of light and darkness so they'll eat more and grow faster, "de-beaked" with a hot iron instrument to prevent feather-pecking and cannibalism brought on by extreme stress, and finally crated up and hauled off to the slaughterhouse after a truncated life of only eight or nine weeks.
By way of contrast, consider the lowly chickpea, or garbanzo bean. Some years ago, at the Hare Krsna center in Mayapur, West Bengal, each day a few other women devotees and I would go for a swim in the nearby Jalangi River. On the way we'd walk through acres of bushy chickpea plants. They grew profusely on that open land, helped by the bright sunshine, fertile soil, plentiful water, and clean air—a peaceful and invigorating atmosphere. One morning we saw some Bengali boys picking and eating the green chickpeas. So we picked some ourselves, offered them to Lord Krsna, and ate them. Delicious. Even raw. And we didn't kill a thing.
Since then I've learned that chickpeas are a good source of protein and iron, as well as fiber, vitamins A and b6, riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, calcium, phosphorous, sodium, and potassium. But the best thing about the chickpea is that, unlike chicken or any other animal flesh, we can offer it to Krsna. And by eating chickpeas that have been offered to Him, we don't incur any bad karma.
Those of us familiar with the laws of karma know that people who kill animals will themselves have to be killed in a future life. That's because, according to the law of karma, whatever we do is seen and recorded by higher authorities, who then mete out our just punishment or reward. Or, as the Bible says, "As you sow, so shall you reap."
Every living entity, whatever body he's in, is part and parcel of the Lord, and He doesn't tolerate the abuse of any of His creatures at the hands of man. If we can keep healthy by eating chickpeas and other grains and vegetables, what justification could we possibly have for torturing and slaughtering chickens and other animals? This unnecessary violence goes against one of the Lord's cardinal orders—"Thou shalt not kill"—and we must pay for our disobedience by suffering in our next life.
And in this life we pay for it by getting horrible diseases, suffering in wars, and losing our natural qualities of mercy and sensitivity toward others, both human and animal. Our intelligence becomes clouded. That's why we can think it's OK to treat our pet dog with tender loving care at one moment, and the next moment to make a meal out of the flesh of a slaughtered animal. In fact, because of our unfortunate habit of eating meat, we find violence and callousness to violence increasing side by side in our daily lives.
But simply becoming a vegetarian isn't enough either, because, as Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, "One who cooks [vegetarian or nonvegetarian] food for his own pleasure eats only sin." The solution is to eat only krsna-prasadam, vegetarian food offered to Lord Krsna. That's the only food that's completely karma-free.
In his commentary on the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada writes on this point as follows: "If one eats food without offering it to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he is a thief and is liable to be punished. All property on the surface of the globe belongs to God, so one has the right to use goods only after offering them to Him. This is the process of accepting prasadam. Unless one eats prasadam, he is certainly a thief."
Each of us can learn how to offer our food to Krsna, and thus avoid the karma we would incur by eating meat or unoffered vegetarian fare. It's a simple process and a happy one.
Here are a few recipes for chickpea dishes I'm sure you and your family will enjoy. To get the full benefit of the protein in chickpeas and to make a satisfying, well-balanced meal, serve them with wheat bread, rice, or milk products like yogurt and butter. With such an offering, Lord Krsna will be pleased, you and your family will be healthy, and fewer chickens will find their way into Colonel Sanders's hellish emporia.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Savory Chickpeas in Tomato Glaze
(Tamater Kabli Ghana Usal)
Preparation time: 2 to 3 hours (30 to 40 minutes if you use a pressure cooker)
1 ¼ cups whole dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1. Place the chickpeas in a 1-quart bowl, pour in 3 ½ cups of water, and soak overnight (about 8 hours) at room temperature.
2. Drain the soaked chickpeas in a colander, place them in a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan, add 4 to 5 cups water and a dab of ghee or vegetable oil, and bring to a full boil over a high flame. Reduce the flame to medium low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 2 to 3 hours, or until the chickpeas are butter-soft but not broken down. If you're using a pressure cooker, combine the same ingredients in the cooker but use only 3 ½ cups of water. Cover and cook under pressure for 30 to 35 minutes.
3. Remove from the flame (reduce pressure if necessary), uncover, and stir.
4. Over a medium to medium-high flame, heat 3 ½ tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a heavy 3-quart saucepan for 30 to 60 seconds. Stir in the minced ginger, seeded green chilies, cumin seeds, and black mustard seeds, and fry for about 30 to 45 seconds, or until the cumin seeds turn golden brown.
5. Drop in the curry leaves and, 1 or 2 seconds later, stir in the diced tomatoes. Add the turmeric powder, half the minced fresh herbs, chat masala, and garam masala. Stir-fry over a medium flame for 3 to 5 minutes, sprinkling in water when necessary, until the ghee or oil separates from the sauce and the texture is smooth and even.
6. Use a slotted spoon to add the chickpeas, and then transfer to the saucepan 2 to 3 tablespoons of the water in which you cooked the chickpeas. Reduce the flame to low, cover, and gently simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and, if necessary, adding small quantities of the cooking water to keep the mixture from sticking to the saucepan.
7. Remove from the flame and add the salt, 1 ½ tablespoons of butter or ghee, and the remaining fresh herbs. Before offering to Krsna, garnish each portion with a wedge or twist of lemon or lime.
Tender Chickpeas in Coconut-Yogurt Sauce
(Kabli Ghana Usal)
Preparation time (after ingredients are assembled): 15 minutes
1 ¼ cups whole dried chickpeas
1. Place the chickpeas in a 1-quart bowl, pour in 3 ½ cups of water, and soak overnight (about 8 hours) at room temperature.
2. Preheat the oven to 200°F.
3. Peel the potatoes and dice them into small cubes.
4. Drain the soaked chickpeas in a colander, place them in a heavy 3- to 4-quart saucepan, add 4 to 5 cups of water and a dab of ghee or vegetable oil, and bring to a full boil over a high flame. Reduce the flame to medium-low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and gently boil for 2 to 3 hours, or until the chickpeas are butter-soft but not broken down. If you're using a pressure cooker, combine the same ingredients in the cooker and use 3 ½ cups of water. Cover and cook under pressure for 30 to 35 minutes.
5. Remove from the flame (reduce pressure if necessary), uncover, and stir.
6. Place the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, black peppercorns, and white poppy seeds in a heavy frying pan and dry roast for about 10 minutes over a medium-low flame. Transfer to an electric coffee mill and pulverize to a powder. In a blender, combine the yogurt, seeded minced chilies, ginger, freshly powdered spice mixture, ½ cup of the cooking water (or fresh water) and the coconut. Then cover and blend on medium-high speed for about 1 minute or until the ingredients are reduced to a smooth sauce.
7. Over a medium-high flame, heat 1 ½ to 2 cups of ghee or oil in a 10-inch karai, 12-inch wok, or 3-quart saucepan until the temperature reaches 365 °F. Carefully lower the cubed potatoes into the hot ghee or oil and fry until crispy and golden brown. Remove, drain, and set aside in the preheated oven on a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Remove any containers of ghee or oil from the cooking area.
8. Over a medium to medium-high flame, heat 4 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil in a 3- or 4-quart saucepan for 30 to 60 seconds. Drop in the black mustard seeds and fry until they crackle and sputter (30 to 45 seconds). Stir in the curry leaves, add the chickpeas (use a slotted spoon), then pour in the coconut-yogurt sauce, salt, and turmeric. Reduce the flame to medium low and, stirring frequently, cook uncovered until the sauce diminishes to half its original quantity. Fold in the fried potato cubes.
9. Before offering to Lord Krsna, garnish each serving with the fresh minced herbs and a wedge or twist of lemon or lime.
When you reach it,
by Mandalesvara dasa
My first encounters with concepts about God came during my strong Protestant upbringing, as I grew up in a southern Mississippi family of faithful church-goers. Later, in the sixties, I met up with a lot of ideas about God while studying and questioning life and religious philosophies as a ministerial student at Oklahoma Baptist University.
I could tell you about the ideas I sampled and savored in reading Aquinas, Buber, Altizer, Tillich, and so on, but in those days, truths for me weren't so much in the books I read as in the flow of life around me. As much as anybody else trying to make it through the sixties, I was affected and molded by what I saw going on all around me. Books were only part of the milieu.
Ideas of God bombarded me: from the folk philosophy of the Flower People, the lyrics of certain popular songs, my readings in Eastern literature, and my daily interactions with people trying to realize God and the Divine. In the myriad of seemingly ordinary events and situations I would find spiritual significance. I didn't need a church or a sermon to think and speculate about the nature and existence of God. In fact, I came to find the traditional religious setting uninspiring.
My exposure to the popular voidistic, impersonalistic, and psychedelic philosophies led me to believe that God was perhaps a clear light or an unending emptiness, or that I was God. Persons I knew claimed to have seen God during their yogic meditations or psychedelic experiences. Meanwhile, religious leaders I had grown up revering—Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and others—were also allegedly seeing and conversing with God. I found little agreement, however, as to who God was, what He looked like, or what His plan for His creatures was—if in fact He was even alive (the God-is-dead philosophy was rampant) or in any way connected with all of us down here.
My philosophical odyssey went on for the four years of college, until one day I saw my first picture of Lord Krsna. "This is God," the Hare Krsna devotee told me. You can just imagine my surprise. In that picture (similar to the one at left) Lord Krsna was running in fear from someone the devotee told me was His mother.
The mother of God? "But God is the father of everyone," I reasoned. "How can He have a mother? And how is it that He's afraid? 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,' the Psalmist says. How can God be afraid? How can the 'Rock of Ages' be running in fear from His mother?"
I was bewildered. You may remember that to Moses God appeared in a burning bush: "I am that I am!" And to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. You may also remember the Cecil B. De Mille version of all this in The Ten Commandments: When God summoned Moses up onto Mt. Sinai, Moses was in terror of the awesome might of Yaweh, who spoke in a rumbling voice out of the smoke and flames: "Thou shall not kill!" That had been my favorite part. God was great and had nearly scared the pants off Charlton Heston.
More than twelve years have passed now since I saw my first picture of Lord Krsna running from Mother Yasoda, and my questions have been satisfactorily answered. I know now that although God is one. He reveals Himself variously according to His own purposes—sometimes as the most attractive child, sometimes as the most terrifying destroyer.
Ultimately, God is a person—Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead—who eternally engages in pleasure pastimes with His most intimate devotees in the spiritual realm. So intimate are those ecstatic exchanges between the Lord and His eternal servitors that He even plays as the perfect son of one of His devotees who desires to relate with Him as a mother. And as the ideal child. He sometimes steals the heart of His mother by His naughty behavior and then runs in fear of her, charming her and the entire universe with His captivating beauty. These dealings are the quintessence of love of God, which is the perfection of all religion and the culmination of wisdom.
Now, if we accept that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, we should also accept that a fearsome, wrathful God is only the beginning of God-realization. Every authorized scripture in the world describes the unlimited might of the Supreme, teaches humanity to obey His laws and commandments, and warns against disobedience. So, fear can be a handy impetus for obeying God—when one has not yet awakened his love for God.
Of course, all religions teach us to love God also, and that is the essence of religion. But from the beginning of God realization—fear of God—to the perfection—pure love of God—is a long path of increasing obedience. Therefore, when God instructs Moses on Mt. Sinai that the first commandment is to love God, that commandment is set amid threats and warnings: "For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children into the third and fourth generation of them that hate me" (Deut. 5:9). In other words, "You should love Me. But if you can't, then at least fear Me and obey Me. Through obedience you will eventually develop love for Me."
This is God's kindness, for only by obeying His commandments can we learn to love Him and become happy. God in His highest, most attractive and lovable form is not a burning bush, a pillar of fire, or a pillar of cloud—you can't love those things—and He doesn't speak in menacing tones, such as at Sinai, when the Israelites exclaimed, "If we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die" (Deut. 5:22).
It's only when men are very sinful that this show of force is necessary to keep them in line. But there is no scope for loving God out of fear. Love of God is natural and spontaneous, and it begins to awaken only when one has become practiced at obeying Him. The more we develop obedience to God, the more we will develop our love and devotion for Him—and the more personal and intimate will His revelation to us become. As Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita, "As they surrender unto Me, I reciprocate with them accordingly."
For the perfect devotees, those whose hearts are free of all desire save to satisfy the desires of their beloved Lord—for them the Lord becomes the constant friend, the darling child, or the dearest lover. He takes more pleasure in His devotee's chastizing Him for being naughty than He does in chastizing sinful people for their naughtiness. In fact. He doesn't personally involve Himself with anyone but His pure devotees; punishing the sinful is deputed to His representatives.
So, by Krsna's mystical power of yogamaya, a pure devotee like Mother Yasoda forgets that He is Almighty God. This is hardly the forgetfulness of the errant soul, who denies the existence of God and must be frightened into accepting His authority. Rather, this forgetfulness is a blessing, for it lets the pure devotee serve God in the way most pleasing to them both.
Scientific Proof of the Soul
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and an Indian doctor took place in September 1973 at the Hare Krsna center in London.
Doctor: Can you scientifically prove that the soul exists? I mean, is it purely a matter of belief, or—
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is a scientific fact. Our science is perfect, because we are receiving knowledge from the perfect source, Krsna. And modern so-called science is imperfect, because the scientists' knowledge is received from imperfect sources. However great a scientist you may be, you have to admit that your senses are imperfect.
Srila Prabhupada: So, imperfect senses can give only imperfect knowledge. What you are calling scientific knowledge is bogus, because the men who have produced that knowledge are imperfect. How can you expect perfect knowledge from an imperfect person?
Doctor: It's a question of degree.
Srila Prabhupada: My point is that if you are unable to give perfect knowledge, what is the use of taking knowledge from you?
Doctor: Yes, I accept that view. But how do you prove that the soul exists?
Srila Prabhupada: You take information from the perfect source, Krsna, or from Krsna's representative, who repeats the words of Krsna. That is our process of proof. Evam parampara-praptam: "Transcendental knowledge must be received in disciplic succession." We don't accept knowledge from a rascal; we accept knowledge from Krsna, the Supreme. I may be a rascal, but because I am receiving knowledge from the perfect source and repeating that, whatever I say is perfect. A child may be ignorant—he does not know what is what—but because he has learned that a certain article is called "table," when he says "Father, this is a table," his words are perfect. Similarly, if you hear from the perfect person and believe that, then your knowledge is perfect. Krsna says tatha dehantara-praptih: "After death the spirit soul enters another material body." We accept it. We don't require proof from a so-called scientist, who's imperfect.
Doctor: So the question of belief comes first.
Srila Prabhupada: It is not belief; it is fact.
Doctor: Yes, but how do you prove that fact?
Srila Prabhupada: That Krsna says so is proof.
Doctor: [very sarcastically] "It has been said by Krsna." But—
Srila Prabhupada: That is our Vedic proof. Whenever we say something, we immediately quote from the Vedic literature to support it. This is our process of proof, which is just like that in the law court. When a lawyer is arguing in court, he must quote from previous judgments. Then his argument will be accepted by the judge as legal proof. Similarly, as soon as we say something, we immediately support it by quoting from the Vedic literature. That is the way of proof in spiritual matters. Otherwise, what are the scriptures for? If they are merely products of mental speculation, what is the use of these books?
Of course, the Vedic literature also presents the Absolute Truth with all logic and reasoning. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says,
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"The soul is changing his body from childhood to youth and from youth to old age. Similarly, the soul enters another body at death." Where is the illogical presentation? This is scientific. For an intelligent man, this is scientific proof. And if he's still dull-headed, what can be done?
Doctor: But the soul is invisible. How can you be so sure it exists?
Srila Prabhupada: Just because something is invisible doesn't mean we can't know it exists. The subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego is also invisible to you, but you know that the subtle body is there. We have two kinds of bodies: a gross body of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and a subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego. You can see the body of earth, water, and so on, but can you see the subtle body? Can you see the mind? Can you see the intelligence? Yet everyone knows you have a mind and I have a mind.
Doctor: These are something abstract, you know.
Srila Prabhupada: No, not abstract. They are subtle matter, that's all. You simply have no eyes to see them.
Doctor: Well, at present we have three methods for studying the intelligence—
Srila Prabhupada: Anyway, you accept that the subtle body exists even though you cannot see it. That is my point. Similarly, the soul exists even though you cannot see it. The soul is covered by the subtle and the gross bodies. What is known as death is the annihilation of the gross body. The subtle body remains and carries the soul to a place where he can again grow another material body just suitable for fulfilling the desires of his mind.
English guest: You mean the subtle body and the soul are the same thing?
Srila Prabhupada: No, the soul is different from the subtle body. The soul is finer than intelligence. These things are all explained in the Bhagavad-gita [3.42]:
indriyani parany ahur
First of all, in the gross understanding, we are aware of only the senses of the body. Those who are like animals think that the senses are all in all. They do not understand that the senses are controlled by the mind. If one's mind is distorted, then his senses cannot work; he is a madman. So the controller of the senses is the mind. And above the mind is the intelligence. And above the intelligence is the soul.
We cannot see even the mind and intelligence, so how can we see the soul? But the soul has his existence, his magnitude. And if one has no understanding of the spirit soul, he is no better than an animal, because he is identifying himself with his gross and subtle bodies.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Deities at New Vrindaban Get a Palace of Their Own
New Vrindaban, West Virginia—The hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit Srila Prabhupada's Palace of Gold each year can now enjoy an additional transcendental attraction. Within easy walking distance down the road from the world-famous Palace (a memorial to ISKCON's founder and spiritual guide. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada) stands the newly constructed temple of Sri Sri Radha-Vrndavanacandra, the marble Deity forms of Lord Krsna and His eternal consort, Radha, who preside here at ISKCON's largest farm community.
The five-thousand-square-foot main hall in the temple features a stained-glass skylight, ornately molded columns, gold- and silver-plated altar platforms, or simhasanas, and an altar floor intricately inlaid with onyx. Original paintings of Lord Krsna's pastimes grace the walls.
On Radha-Vrndavanacandra's right stand the Deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai, and on Their left stands the Deity of Nathaji, Krsna as the lifter of Govardhana Hill. For the first time in North America, devotees will worship Nathaji in full opulence. ISKCON life members Atmaram Desai, Revati Desai, and Bhagirath Vyasa, who are among the one thousand members who helped fund the temple construction, brought Nathaji from India two years ago.
Over the July Fourth weekend, thousands of devotees and guests came to New Vrindaban to attend a four-day festival celebrating the opening of the temple. Radha-Vrndavanacandra were moved the three and a half miles to Their new home in a fifteen-foot-high, hand-carved chariot of teakwood, silver, and brass. Chanting Hare Krsna and dancing, the celebrants followed the chariot as it rode up the hill to the new temple. Leading the procession were Srila Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada (leader of the New Vrindaban community) and Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami Gurupada—two of the present spiritual masters in the Hare Krsna movement.
Seventh Annual Los Angeles Chariot Festival Draws 250,000
Los Angeles—Following a religious tradition observed for thousands of years in Jagannatha Puri, India, the devotees of the Hare Krsna temple here celebrated their seventh annual Ratha-yatra Chariot Festival recently.
Organized and supervised by Srila Ramesvara Swami, one of ISKCON's present spiritual masters, the two-day festival drew an estimated 250,000 participants. Thousands chanted Hare Krsna and danced along the Venice Beach parade route, and some helped pull the three multicolored sixty-foot-high chariots that carried the beautifully decorated Deity forms of Lord Jagannatha ("Lord of the Universe"); His brother, Balarama; His sister, Subhadra; and a molded form of Srila Prabhupada.
After the procession, twenty thousand celebrants enjoyed a free, sumptuous feast of pineapple halava (a buttery-sweet fried-grain dish), potato salad, mint lemonade, and coconut candy.
More than a dozen exhibits depicted various aspects of Krsna consciousness. Along with a photo montage of Srila Prabhupada, there was a life-size figure of him writing his books. A reincarnation booth featured a diorama showing how the soul travels from fetus to corpse and on to a new body, and at another booth guests received answers to their questions about ISKCON and the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. The most popular exhibit was entitled "In Search of the Kingdom of God." Inspirational photos and paintings showed how futile it is for man to try to understand God on his own, without higher guidance.
The guest performers at the festival were Dr. L. Subramaniam, master violinist, and Alla Rakha, the world's leading tabla drum player.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
Honor Among Thieves
by Mathuresa dasa
The incident sounded controversial enough: a "briefing book" drawn up to help President Carter prepare for his 1980 campaign debate with Ronald Reagan allegedly found its way to the opposing camp. But when Reagan shrugged off the briefing-book controversy as "much ado about nothing," a lot of people agreed with him.
Reporters asked 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern how he would have responded to an offer of papers mapping out an opponent's campaign strategy. "It would take a strong character to reject it," McGovern conceded. "I'm not going to say what I would have done. I will say that I hope I would have said, 'No—we don't resort to that stuff around here. Send it back.' But I don't know." McGovern's reply seemed to reflect a general mood: a national poll showed that more than 50% of the American public think intelligence-gathering is a normal—if somewhat unethical—aspect of political campaigns.
Following in the wake of Watergate and ABSCAM, the briefing-book news can't be expected to raise too many hackles. Watergate featured burglary, invasion of privacy, and use of CIA and FBI agents for political surveillance and obstruction of justice. And videotapes of U.S. congressmen accepting $50,000 bribes from a phony Arab sheik highlighted the ABSCAM affair. At least so far, the briefing-book caper has fallen short of its predecessors in providing the excitement and intrigue needed to make it a major-league scandal.
And besides, even serious cases of corruption sometimes fail to anger the American citizen. Tolerance of human frailty is part of the American heritage. "If men were angels," wrote James Madison in The Federalist, "no government would be necessary." And, he continued, "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." In framing the U.S. constitution, Madison and the other founding fathers made sure that America had both a strong federal government and a network of checks and balances to prevent any one branch of government from exercising too much power. They frankly acknowledged, in other words, that men are not angels.
America's founding fathers did not know how to eliminate corruption, but they tried diligently to contain it. In the democratic system, if a leader gets too nonangelic you can vote him out of office at the next election. Before democracy, when monarchs ran things, changing leaders was messier. "The only balance attempted against the ancient kings," wrote John Adams, "was a body of nobles; and the consequences were perpetual alternations of rebellion and tyranny, and the butchery of thousands upon every revolution from one to the other." In a democracy, "revolution" is relatively peaceful: you no longer have to resort to bloodshed to depose self-interested leaders; you can depose them legally every few years.
But is this much of an improvement? "Perpetual alternations"—from one leader to another, one party to another, election after election—still hamper attempts for just and efficient government. And because the democratic system allows that men will be men, not angels, it is somewhat sanctimonious to criticize leaders for petty theft.
Furthermore, it is not only the leaders who are at fault but also the people in general. According to India's ancient Vedic literature, everything belongs to the Supreme Person and when we use anything without recognizing this we are thieves (Isopanisad, Mantra 1). The funds a congressman or senator may embezzle are not rightfully his, but they don't belong to the people or the government either. The earth had been existing for a long time before men carved it up into nations. And the earth will continue to exist long after the passing away of these nations, with all their leaders, citizens, and political ideologies. So who is the actual owner, and who is merely a temporary tenant?
We may grow indignant when we catch an elected official with his hand in the public till, but distributing the same money to the people in the form of education, welfare, medical care, public parks, and so on, without centering these projects on the understanding and glorification of Krsna, is just as corrupt. If a band of thieves robs a bank, the leaders of the band may try to claim a larger share of the loot, much to the dismay of their accomplices. But whether they divide the loot evenly or not, there is no question of honesty or justice among thieves.
Modern nations, which may at most pay lip service to the Supreme Person, are collective arrangements to launder property usurped from Him. Whatever the form of government, if a constitution claims that the natural resources of a section of the earth belong to a certain group of human beings and are solely meant to further their "pursuit of happiness," such a document is nothing but a forged title to stolen property. When someone steals a car, he has to change the serial number and forge a new registration to make his ownership appear legitimate. In the same way, men try to convince themselves that the earth's resources are theirs alone by creating constitutions that deny the proprietorship of God, the only true owner.
In the context of this great theft and laundering of the Supreme Person's property, the Watergates, ABSCAMS, and briefing-book capers are insignificant. These small scandals are part of the large one—instances of thieves fighting over loot. First we have to return the stolen property; then we can talk about honesty and justice.
Stress Management with a Difference
by Mandalesvara dasa
A recent news brief in the Vegetarian Times reported, "Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found that repeating phrases or words can be a valuable technique in helping to reduce stress.
"In a recent study, 32 participants engaged in certain relaxation exercises. Half of the group were instructed to practice their relaxation exercises twice daily and were told to repeat a word or phrase while engaging in the exercises, while the other half were given the same exercises but were told to remain silent.
"According to the researchers, the chanting group showed a significantly higher elevation of measurable chemicals in the blood that normally occur during relaxation than did the non-chanting group."
Chanting produces what Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson calls "the relaxation response." It doesn't matter what you chant, Benson says. You can pick any sound or word that appeals to you. "As long as one can become passively unaware of the outside world, the method is not important."
We're glad to see that the leaders of the academic world are discovering some of the benefits of chanting. But we'd like to respectfully submit to Dr. Benson and his co-workers that it's very important what sound you chant, because some sounds can give you benefits far beyond mere relaxation. Of all the sounds you can chant, the names of God are the best, because they not only relax you but also liberate you from birth and death and bring you life's ultimate treasure—love of God.
The Impossible Dream: Don't Bet on It.
by Dravida dasa
They were ordinary folks: he a 59-year-old retired steelworker, she a night waitress in a cheap restaurant for 36 years. They lived in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, in their mobile home, enjoying the seashore and an occasional visit from their granddaughter, Michelle. Then, last July 22, they became celebrities: Nicholas and Marvein Jorich hit the jackpot in the Pennsylvania State Lottery and were more than $8.8 million richer.
"I've dreamed of this for 36 years!" exclaimed Mr. Jorich. (That's how long he's been married, and how long he worked in the steel mill.)
Of course, he won't get all the money right away. After taxes, he'll net about $336,000 a year for 21 years—if he lives that long. Still, the Jorichs' bonanza has given a lot of other ordinary folks something to dream about. The lines are much longer now at the lottery windows throughout the state, and the Bureau of State Lotteries couldn't be happier.
Lotteries are just part of the booming gambling industry. John Scarne, considered by many the world's foremost authority on gambling, surveyed more than 100,000 people in this country and concluded that Americans bet a total of nearly $1 trillion annually. That's one third of the gross national product!
Most of the money is wagered on sports, casino games, horse races, lotteries, and bingo, and the ratio of illegal to legal bets is about 7 to 1. With 60% of American adults involved in gambling, and with 80% of all Americans in favor of legalizing it, many states are knocking down any last barriers and getting in on the take by levying taxes and running lotteries or off-track betting parlors.
As I passed the corner lottery window the day after the Jorichs' big hit, I noticed the long line and began to reflect on the effects of gambling and why devotees of Lord Krsna take a vow to give up all forms of it. The words of Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita came to mind: "Those who are too attracted to wealth and sense pleasure, and who are bewildered by these things, cannot have the resolute determination to attain self-realization." As for wealth, the people on the lottery line didn't seem to have much—they looked like middle- and lower-middle-class working people. And as for pleasures, I was sure theirs were run-of-the-mill. But they could dream. Millions of dollars falling into their laps and transforming their lives. And that dream was the problem.
Would $8.8 million save any of these hopelessly hopeful people from getting old? From getting sick? From dying? Would winning the jackpot release any of them from the laws of nature, which dictate that they, as spirit souls, must return again and again in body after body to fulfill their unfulfilled desires and suffer the results of their karma? Only self-realization and pure devotion to Krsna can do that, not hitting the "lucky" number. So in reality the odds against their dream coming true by winning big in the lottery aren't one in several million, but zero in infinity.
For a devotee of Krsna, gambling is out of the question. Along with illicit sex, meat-eating, and intoxication, he rejects it at the time of formal initiation. He understands that it's simply an impediment on the spiritual path. Gambling inflames greed and the desire to enjoy material pleasures, precisely the things a devotee wants to minimize so he can develop "resolute determination to attain self-realization." Gambling also destroys truthfulness and straightforwardness, two essential qualities for a devotee, because it's based on a network of lies and half-truths—that you can beat the odds, that the game is honest, and that if you win, the money will solve all your problems. Most important of all, gambling is a flagrant misuse of money, which all belongs to God and is meant to be used in His service.
Yet if I had told all this to the impatient people who stood in the lottery line that sweltering July 23, chances are none of them would have refrained from buying their tickets. Their only concern was the Big Dream, the multimillion-dollar jackpot in the sky. They didn't know that while they were betting on a sure loser, the devotees already held the winning ticket: the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gita, the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, and the other aspects of Krsna consciousness that would one day qualify them to enter the spiritual world and enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in the company of their Lord.
An Indian Saint in America
A scholar's portrait of the founder and spiritual guide of the Hare Krsna movement.
Professor Thomas J. Hopkins is chairman of the department of religious studies at Franklin and Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. A noted scholar of Hinduism, he is the author of The Hindu Religious Tradition, a standard college text. His special interest in bhakti (devotional) Hinduism led him, in 1967, to encounter the recently established Krsna consciousness movement and its founder, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and Dr. Hopkins became the first serious academic observer of the movement.
In the following excerpt from an interview, Dr. Hopkins reflects upon Srila Prabhupada's stature as spiritual leader, saint, and scholar. 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, ISKCON's Director for Interreligious Affairs, who is known within the Hare Krsna movement as Subhananda dasa.
Reprinted by permission of Grove Press, Inc. Copyright 1983 by Steven Gelberg
Subhananda dasa: Perhaps you could say something about the historical importance of Bhaktivedanta Swami's [Srila Prabhupada's] bringing of the message of Krsna consciousness to the West.
Thomas Hopkins: Bhaktivedanta Swami was the inheritor of a revitalized Caitanyaite tradition [The Caitanyaite tradition, or the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition, was founded by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Lord Krsna Himself taking the role of His own devotee. He appeared in Bengal, India, five hundred years ago and taught love of God through the congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.] as it came down from Bhaktivinoda and Bhaktisiddhanta. Let's backtrack a bit and take a quick look at his life in India before coming to the United States. He was born in Calcutta in 1896 and received an English education at Scottish Churches' College in Calcutta. After college he went into business and ran a pharmacy for many years in Allahabad. After his initiation in Allahabad by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, he turned his attention increasingly to the religious duty set by his teacher: to preach the message of Caitanya to English-speaking people.
He founded the magazine BACK TO GODHEAD in 1944 to serve as a vehicle for this purpose and produced a series of English expositions of sacred writings. His long-term goal, however, was a translation and commentary on the Bhagavata Purana [Srimad-Bhagavatam]. He began work on this project after being initiated into the renounced order, sannyasa, in 1959, and by 1965 he had completed and published the First Canto of the Bhagavata in three volumes. At that point, armed with a message and a mission, he set sail for New York City to bring Krsna consciousness to the West.
Bhaktivedanta Swami's success story is an unlikely one, to say the least. He was seventy years old when he arrived in America. It was his first trip outside India; he had no money and no local means of support. But he did have a revitalized and spiritually rich Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition that had been imbued, by both Bhaktivinoda and Bhaktisiddhanta, with a spirit of universality and of relevance to the modern world. But it must be admitted, certainly, that not just anybody could have inherited and transmitted that legacy. Other disciples of Bhaktisiddhanta had tried and failed to bring the devotional message of Caitanya to the Western world.
And after Bhaktisiddhanta passed away, his organization, the Gaudiya Matha, was torn asunder by internal power struggles and other kinds of upheaval. Bhaktivedanta Swami, obviously, was a very special person, a spiritual leader of rare power. His success in bringing the message to the West and planting it in a place where it took root and flourished without compromising his tradition has to be seen as largely an effect of his tremendous personal spirituality and holiness and his incredible determination.
It's an astonishing story. If someone told you a story like this, you wouldn't believe it. Here's this person, he's seventy years old, he's going to a country where he's never been before, he doesn't know anybody there, he has no money, he has no contacts. He has none of the things, you would say, that make for success. He's going to recruit people not on any systematic basis but just by picking up whomever he comes across, and he's going to give them responsibility for organizing a worldwide movement. You'd say, "What kind of program is that?"
There are precedents, perhaps. Jesus of Nazareth went around saying, "Come follow me. Drop your nets, or leave your tax collecting, and come with me and be my disciple." But in his case, he wasn't an old man in a strange society dealing with people whose backgrounds were totally different from his own. He was dealing with his own community. Bhaktivedanta Swami's achievement, then, must be seen as unique.
Bhaktivedanta Swami's personal example of devotion was not only impressive, but it was compelling, as evidenced by the way in which so many young Westerners were drawn to him. What got people chanting the Hare Krsna mantra in the beginning was confronting Bhaktivedanta Swami and being just overwhelmed by the man and feeling, "I want to be near this person; I want to become like this person." And his approach was one of taking people on and saying, "Here's how."
I don't think any devotional tradition has ever really been successful without some kind of model devotee to provide an example of devotion and of holiness. The role of the holy man is really inseparable from the devotional traditions. There's just no way you can convey the quality of devotion without an example of devotion. Devotion, in the sense of spontaneous devotion, is not something you can teach people intellectually or convey by reciting a set of abstract principles, saying, "Now, being devotional means being such and such. Number one you do this and number two you do that."
Of course, devotion does not arise out of nowhere. The devotional path is indeed a path. The devotee follows various religious regulations and disciplines that gradually revive the natural devotion of the soul, of the heart. But it is difficult to adhere to such disciplines, or to know how to adhere to them, if there is no good example of a devotee to follow. The devotional tradition makes this point constantly: association with saints inspires saintliness, association with devotees inspires devotion. The association of genuine devotees can exert a powerful effect upon one's consciousness.
I can clearly remember the quality of Bhaktivedanta Swami. He wasn't a great singer in the sense of having a superstar's recording voice; his was the voice of a man seventy years old. Yet when he chanted and when he sang, the whole enterprise took on a different quality, and he would shape the experience for other people. You could see him shaping the experience for other people. If the chanting became routine, if it began to lose its spirit, he would change the beat, change the meter, or introduce some new element into the kirtana to bring people's minds back to what they were doing.
So you could see him very consciously and very patiently shaping people's devotional practices and their sense of who they were, and bringing them to the standard. He would guide people not by saying "That's wrong" or "We don't do it that way in India" but by providing, as people became ready, new examples and new levels of attainment so that one never reached the end of the process. There was always another level to reach. No one ever seriously expected to reach his level, and yet he never set that level so far beyond where people were that they would view it as unattainable. He was a master at making that kind of contact.
Bhaktivedanta Swami was certainly one of those people who had that capacity to guide and direct and to discipline. He wasn't afraid to set standards. Regarding his effectiveness in dealing with counterculture youths, from the very beginning it seemed to me to be obvious that he was providing a sense of direction to people to whom no one had ever really given that kind of guidance. Their parents and other authority figures had simply told them, "Do whatever you want. It's your life; go out and do whatever you want with it." That's not much to go by. Bhaktivedanta Swami's approach was quite different. If you wanted to live your life the way you wanted to live it, that was all right with him, but not where he was!—and not in the temple and not in the community of disciples. In the temple there were standards, and there was a wise, compassionate, and understanding person who knew what was what. There was never any question of where he stood on things. He never pulled any punches or watered down his position to lull people into submission or acceptance.
Subhananda dasa: The concept of submission to a spiritual master is, of course, very deeply rooted in Eastern spiritual traditions. But in the West there's a very strong distrust of the very idea of guru—a spiritual authority to whom one submits oneself for spiritual guidance. The typical Western response is to view that kind of submission as a sort of abandonment of rational, critical thought and of personal autonomy. How is it, then, that Bhaktivedanta Swami's young disciples were able to transcend the Western apprehension about absolute spiritual authorities and accept his authority as a spiritual master?
Dr. Hopkins: I think it's partly because that fear of submitting oneself to an authority is not really fear of submission to authority per se. Rather, it's a fear of being taken, of submitting to a false authority or a deficient authority. All three of the major American religious traditions have some emphasis on the notion of submission to authority. Roman Catholic tradition involves submission to the ultimate authority of the pope, and to the priest as an immediate authority. The Jew makes his submission to the Law, and to the rabbi who interprets and speaks for the Law. In the Hassidic tradition, one makes submission to the rebbe, who certainly is a respected spiritual authority—no question about it. He has authority and he enforces discipline. In the Protestant tradition, you have submission to the word of God, the Bible. The idea of submission is certainly not absent in the Western religious tradition.
What I think most of the young people in the counterculture were rebelling against was the fact that authority had let them down. Authority was not doing its job, as it were. Their parents were saying one thing and doing something else. The government was saying one thing and. Lord knows, doing all sorts of other things. The principles of democracy were being contradicted by what was happening in American society. If there's anything that Americans—especially—are afraid of, it's being taken. If there's anything that bothers an American, it's being sold a bill of goods. And when you find out that every authority figure in your life has sold you a bill of goods, you begin to question the whole idea of authority.
But even though many young people in the counterculture might have viewed themselves as rejecting authority per se, in fact they were rejecting false or imperfect authority. When they finally found somebody who had a kind of authoritative quality and who could be trusted, their attitude towards authority changed. Bhaktivedanta Swami came across to them as someone who really did live the way he said you ought to live and who really did follow the standards he said were the standards to follow. And he did so in a way that was not just up to par but was beyond par. The actual quality of his life tended to alleviate their distrust and rejection of authority.
I feel that many adults made a mistake by taking the counterculture youth at their own word when they said they wanted no authority, direction, or discipline. Bhaktivedanta Swami never made the mistake of taking that seriously; he never catered to that spoken statement. He always saw what people really needed and spoke to that.
Subhananda dasa: Unlike Bhaktivedanta Swami, most people who have come to the West in the role of spiritual mentors have tended to demand very little from their followers in the way of submission and obedience, and to set very low standards of personal conduct and discipline. Their attitude toward the personal morals of their disciples is generally laissez faire—as it often is toward their own personal morals. Very few, for instance, have even attempted to set up or enforce strict rules encouraging sexual restraint or abstention from intoxicants (as is considered important in most of the traditions and disciplines these teachers represent). Why is it, then, that Bhaktivedanta Swami was able to demand, and receive, from his students a high standard of personal conduct and spiritual discipline?
Dr. Hopkins: I think what he did was simply to say, "Okay, here is something of value, and here's what you have to do to get it." And, what he offered was genuine and sufficiently attractive so that people were prepared to pay the price. Many of his students had previously sought spiritual life elsewhere and had been disappointed—especially with the form of religion handed to them by their nominally Christian or Jewish parents. I had a number of conversations with devotees about their home synagogues, for instance, in which they described surrealistic encounters with their rabbis. When they tried to raise the question of spiritual life and spiritual experience, they got only blank stares and responses like, "What is that? We don't do that here." So they didn't feel that they were getting much from their rabbis. When they finally found someone who offered them tangible spiritual life, they were prepared to pay the price to receive it. For most people, those who were serious, the price wasn't too high to pay.
There were, and there probably still are, a lot of people who always were disciples on the outside—friends of the movement, interested participants—but who were never willing to make the movement to discipleship for one reason or another. For many people, the demand of discipleship was more than they could meet. But everyone I met was respectful of that demand and viewed the problem not in terms of what was demanded but in terms of his or her inability to meet the demand.
Subhananda dasa: From what you observed during your various visits to the temple in New York in its early days, is there anything you remember in particular about Bhaktivedanta Swami's dealings with his disciples? Anything which particularly stands out in your mind?
Dr. Hopkins: The one thing that I remember, the thing that I am constantly struck with, was the total confidence with which Bhaktivedanta Swami had people doing things. Take the example of his disciple Brahmananda. Bhaktivedanta told him, "Go and start a magazine. Start a printing and publishing enterprise." And Brahmananda replied, "I don't know how to do it." And Bhaktivedanta said, "Well, find out. Krsna will help you." This sort of exchange occurred numerous times, with numerous disciples. He inspired a sense of confidence in people because he himself was absolutely confident and convinced. He had no doubt that what he told people to do they would be able to do. He had much more confidence in people than they had in themselves, to say the least.
His confidence, however, was not in others or in himself exactly, but in Krsna. That's the other thing that was so impressive about the man himself. He never put himself forward as having the power to make things happen. He never said, "Go and do this because I will give you the power. I will inspire you to do great things." He always said, "Krsna will give you the power. Krsna will guide you." It was a confidence not in himself or in the other person but in Krsna, and that was effective. He wouldn't have been so effective, I think, if he had said, "You've got to have confidence in yourself," because that's pretty hard to do if you don't have confidence in yourself; nor if he had said, "Have confidence in me," which, although better, you don't quite know how that works. But, on the other hand, "Have confidence in the Lord of the Universe"—well, that's a different matter.
Bhaktivedanta Swami's success as a religious leader of the institutional kind, as distinct from a religious leader removed from any institutional context, lies largely in his ability to engage people in religious activities of a practical nature or, conversely, practical activities with a religious purpose. This is one of the strengths of the whole bhakti tradition. It has tended not to become otherworldly in the sense in which the term is very often taken: utter indifference to the world and to action within the world—reclusiveness, inactivity.
The Bhagavad-gita is really one of the great theoretical and practical statements on how to resolve the conflict between spirituality and materiality. The Hindu tradition in general has managed to combine the religious and otherworldly concern for salvation and release from the world, with the need to perform worldly action. The Gita is one of the great solutions. What Bhaktivedanta Swami did was to take that theoretical solution and apply it practically within a religious institution in a way that most other movements or traditions have not tried to do or have not been able to do. To help people discover what their own nature is, what their own psychological proclivities are, what their natural abilities are, and then to put them to work in some kind of practical way, and to show them how to perform those activities with devotion to God—this is what the devotional tradition is all about.
Bhaktivedanta Swami never tried to construe the teachings of the Gita to encourage some kind of otherworldly religiosity. His teachings were always in practical terms: one can worship Krsna by starting a magazine, one can worship Krsna by producing devotional art, or by cleaning the temple, or by cooking a feast for public distribution, or by repairing the temple car. It is activity performed as devotional service to Krsna that is the practical essence of the devotional tradition and that releases enormous amounts of energy once you get over the hurdle of thinking, "How can I do this?"
Subhananda dasa: Could you say something about Bhaktivedanta Swami's attention not only to devotional practice but also to the philosophical and theological foundations of devotional practice—the balance between devotion and scholarship?
Dr. Hopkins: One of the things that originally attracted me to the Hindu tradition, and to the devotional movements in particular, was that they never did separate the devotional life from the intellectual life.
One of the things that is most striking about the Bhagavata Purana, for instance, is not just the quality of its devotional statements but also the rigor of its thought. It is not just a kind of romantic devotionalism devoid of intellectual content. It's a very systematically conceived, very scholarly statement of the devotional life. That combination of emotion and intellect, which has been so often separated in religious traditions, is very consistently kept together in the devotional movement.
Many traditions lack this balance. Take, for instance, Sankara and his intellectually powerful Advaita philosophical tradition. There you have a very strong intellectual tradition but almost no concern for the development of spiritual emotion. On the other side, you have certain Christian, especially Protestant, movements—charismatic or pentacostal movements—which have tremendous emotional engagement but very little attention to the life of the intellect. The Vaisnava devotional movement, on the other hand, has always kept these two things together.
The best example I can think of is Caitanya and His followers the six Gosvamis. Caitanya was the devotee par excellence. His biographers describe the incredible intensity of His devotion to Krsna, His dancing and chanting in spiritual ecstasy. His visions, His deep mystical raptures. Yet He also traveled throughout India and debated—successfully—with some of the leading religious intellectuals of His day, and He also held long discourses on devotional theology with certain followers, including Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami, and Ramananda Raya.
The six Gosvamis themselves were great devotees of Krsna and great mystics in their own right, yet simultaneously they were tremendous intellects. They collectively wrote a great number of theologically and philosophically sophisticated texts on bhakti [theistic devotion], among which are some of India's greatest spiritual classics, such as Rupa Gosvami's Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. Jiva Gosvami was probably the greatest devotional philosopher among them, and his contribution is acknowledged universally.
The intellectual and theological achievement of the Gosvamis was to give a rational, intellectual structure to spiritual emotion. Their writings systematically analyze the different stages of the devotional path, such as vaidhi and raganuga, and the various levels and nuances of spiritual devotion and devotional ecstasy—the various rasas and bhavas and so forth. They gave these things meaning within a broad intellectual and theological context, rooted both in the popular and the classical traditions. There is an intellectual integrity and rational structure to the practice of bhakti. It's not just a gut, emotional thing. It's mind and emotion together in a spiritual context. Historically, the real power of the Vaisnava devotional tradition has been in its refusal to separate the intellect and the emotions.
If you look at the points at which any religious tradition is really powerful, they are usually those points at which these various elements have been kept together. If you look at the lives of the great Hassidic rebbes, for instance, you see that they were people of intellect and spirituality, and also practical wisdom. They didn't separate these different elements. Also look at the greater saints of the Roman Catholic tradition, someone like St. Theresa. She was certainly a great mystic, certainly a person of deep spiritual emotion, but she was one hell of an organizer! She put together an entire monastic order, with its own complete institutional structure. She knew not only how to pray to God, but also how to keep books—and she didn't see any conflict between them.
This is the quality that certainly came across with Bhaktivedanta Swami. I was in a conversation with him one time where he was really doing all of those things at once: he was giving a disciple some practical instruction in the devotional life, he was explaining some devotional point and summoning up a philosophical explanation for the devotional life, and at the same time he was explaining to someone how to keep tax records straight. And those were not contradictory things; they were all part of the same devotional process.
Any movement or any tradition that loses hold of one of those strands is going to have difficulty. And if it loses hold of more than one, it's in real trouble. It becomes rudderless, free-floating. If the tradition becomes exclusively intellectual, then you lose a whole sense of emotional life and practical action. If you're strictly devotional, you lose a sense of the coherent meaning of what you're doing, and it becomes an emotional trip forever. And if you're strictly practical, you lose a sense of what it's all about in terms of inner meaning.
Subhananda dasa: While we're on the subject of integrating devotion and intellect, perhaps you could say something about Bhaktivedanta Swami's own literary and scholastic contributions, particularly in the form of his many writings—translations, commentaries, and summary studies on the important texts of the tradition.
Dr. Hopkins: As far as his scholastic and literary work is concerned, the first point that should be made is that he has made certain important texts of the Indian devotional tradition accessible to the Western world that simply were not very accessible formerly. This is very significant. What few English translations there were of the Bhagavata Purana and the Caitanya-caritamrta were barely adequate and were very hard to get hold of. When I was working on my doctoral dissertation and wanted to get hold of a copy of the Bhagavata Purana, the only place where I could obtain a copy of the text and translation was from Harvard's Widener Library. I had to borrow it from interlibrary loan and have a microfilm copy made of it. Nowadays, if you want to take an airplane trip anywhere, you go to the airport and there's somebody trying to sell you a copy of the Bhagavata Purana. Bhaktivedanta Swami has really made these and other major texts of the Vaisnava tradition accessible in a way that they never were before, and so he's made the tradition itself accessible to the West. This is an important achievement.
Subhananda dasa: You say that he made Vaisnava tradition accessible through his books. In what way did he do that? What I mean to ask is, to what degree do you see him presenting the tradition verbatim, as it were, and to what degree do you see him interpreting the tradition, in the sense of updating or modernizing it?
Dr. Hopkins: He has done both. He has been very loyal to the tradition, yet he has communicated the tradition in terms that are comprehensible to a contemporary Westerner. As far as fidelity to tradition is concerned, Bhaktivedanta Swami's commentaries are very traditional. His commentaries very closely follow those of the important Vaisnava commentators, and the Gaudiya Vaisnava commentators in particular. His commmentry on the Bhagavad-gita, for instance, is based largely on the Gita commentary of Baladeva Vidyabhusana, to whom he dedicates his work. His commentary on the Bhagavata Purana relies heavily upon several major commentaries, such as those of Sridhara Svami, Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, and Jiva Gosvami, all of whom he quotes and cites frequently. His commentary on Caitanya-caritamrta is based on the Bengali commentaries of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. This is something that needs to be stressed, because unless you know the tradition you won't realize the extent to which he's representing it. What you're getting in Bhaktivedanta Swami's commentaries is a lot more than what appears: you're gaining access to the whole classic tradition of Vaisnava scriptural commentary. It's clear that Bhaktivedanta Swami is not commenting on these texts off the top of his head. He's very strongly rooted in the Vaisnava tradition.
On the other hand, in the tradition of great commentaries, he takes the tradition one step further in application. When you're writing a commentary, of course, you don't just start off and do your own thing. You follow the tradition and you bring the text into the present, but you don't really give a new interpretation to it. There are commentaries which may attempt—and I suppose every commentary in some sense always attempts—a new interpretation, subtly or not. But the main purpose of the commentary is not to give a new interpretation but to give a new application of the teaching, so that you have the same teaching applied to a new audience—an audience that may not have access to the original or earlier commentaries. It's putting the teaching into a new social, intellectual, and linguistic context so that it becomes as accessible now as the previous commentaries were in their time. A good commentary brings the text into the present. It's classically been the purpose of commentaries to take the text and to give it meaning in terms of people's lives so that they're not just dealing with mere intellectual statements. Writing a commentary is not a merely intellectual or academic exercise—it has a practical goal: to engage people with a living spiritual tradition.
Subhananda dasa: In this light, then, what is significant about Bhaktivedanta Swami's commentaries?
Dr. Hopkins: What is significant is that his commentaries are the first that have been written specifically for the comprehension of the Westerners and to others not familiar with the total Indian cultural and theological context. If you try to read the commentaries of Jiva Gosvami or Sanatana Gosvami or any of the other great teachers, you find that you have to know quite a bit in order to read them with understanding. They contain a good deal of technical terminology, and they were written with the assumption that the reader was familiar with traditional Indian philosophy, culture, and aesthetics. Anyone who doesn't come out of that particular cultural background is going to miss at least half of what's being said.
Bhaktivedanta Swami has managed, successfully, to bridge an enormous cultural gap and to give practical application to teachings that were originally designed for people in a very different cultural setting. That's not easy to do, by any means. I think he's been very successful. The very existence of a genuine Vaisnava movement in the West is compelling evidence of his success as a commentator.
A young man's search for identity
by Amrtamsa Dasa
I grew up in Connecticut in the fifties and sixties. Always "the observer," dissatisfied with the status quo, I saw my parents' lifestyle as boring and futile. They had to bear the burdens of clothes for the kids, schooling for the kids, toys for the kids, and lip from the kids, and their only reward was a yearly summer vacation. I understood that there had to be more to life than this, so I began investigating my inner potential without depending on the established social order.
I also became disillusioned with my religious training as a Catholic—no one seemed to have solid philosophical convictions. One Sunday, for instance, I was on my way to a softball game, but before I could get out the door my mother stopped me: "Aren't you going to Mass?"
"Well," I replied, "the purpose of Mass is to love your neighbor as you love God. So how can I reject my friends now?"
Mother made no philosophical retort, and that was the end of my going to Mass.
My two brothers entered the priesthood, but they lost heart. They didn't find the purity of thought, word, and deed they were looking for. To me, the philosophy that God put us here for a specific purpose appeared unrealizable; no guide or teacher exemplified that higher purpose.
As for "higher education," I saw the colleges as training grounds for a kind of life I had already rejected. I couldn't accept such a process of so-called learning.
My life, therefore, became less a scrutiny of people and ideals and more a search for beauty in nature. Having read books by Rachel Carson, Tom Wolfe, Herman Hesse, and Carlos Castenada (whose drug-induced visions were, to me, boring phantasmagoria), I decided to get firsthand realizations from practical experience. I resented the much-advertised culture of gross materialism, symptomized by industrial pollution and hellish factories that corroded people's enthusiasm for striving for anything beyond the basic necessities and the crassest kind of sense pleasures. In search of an older, more natural culture, I frequented art museums, and thus I developed the desire to use photography and painting to capture delicate moments of the fleeting seasons and record the artistry etched on nature by time. I wanted to show the beauty of nature to people who, sunk in the rut of work-a-day existence, never explored the world.
I enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Photography and became absorbed in nature. In the mountains and at the sea shore, I saw the extremes that living creatures undergo to survive—from lichen gripping boulders high in the cold, wind-swept mountains to the gasping sand-fleas flailing their legs to uncover themselves from the sand dropped on them by the pounding waves of the ocean. I felt fortunate not to be trapped in such horrible conditions of life.
But upon returning to the city, I would see that people had willingly placed themselves in similar extreme situations. With the unspoiled beauty of nature only a few hours' drive away, people foolishly packed themselves together in the physically and mentally polluted atmosphere of the city. I grew disgusted with the prevailing alienation and unhappiness in society and with how people were being taught to accept this crippled condition as normal.
My desire to accomplish something for society and for myself intensified as I came to realize that in practically no time at all, compared with eternity, my life would end.
But what could I do? All occupations seemed to end ultimately in death. Choosing an occupation meant assuming a certain false identity and becoming entangled in a great endeavor to artificially push myself forward as a certain sort of person. Becoming a photographer or an artist wouldn't solve the problem of death any more than becoming a doctor, lawyer, or movie actor would. The doctor may refuse to die, but surgery and drugs can't hold back the white sheet being drawn over the cadaver. The lawyer may dig up some appeal from his vast library, but when his time comes he'll be helplessly ushered out of the courtroom of life. And the actor may play the role of a powerful man, but in his final act his make-up will streak as sweat pours off his feverish dying body.
* * *
After I'd finished photography school and been employed in a photo shop for a couple of years, I came to the conclusion that my intelligence and creativity were being suffocated. So I arranged that my employer lay me off. I passed a winter alone in a cottage on Cape Cod, recording nature with my paintbrush and camera. How pleasant this simple life was: eating vegetarian foods, breathing fresh air, seeing the sparkling ocean and clear sky, and hearing the sounds of wildlife. But as I painted or clicked away from sunrise to sunset, through sunshine and snow and fog, alone in my cottage, I began to feel a little unsettled without a culture to identify with.
On a visit to Boston I met Larry Burrows, a friend of a friend. We were reading the same book on vegetarianism. One morning, as we shared breakfast, he explained to me that I was not my body but an eternal spirit soul. A little while later he left for Hawaii, to live on a Hare Krsna farm.
I wrote to him and he sent me a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. As I read this book I felt that God had heard all my intimate prayers and was now revealing to me His highest teachings. All my scattered thoughts about life were assembled, clarified, and given a meaningful direction by the mystically familiar teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. It contained the most complete and intellectually satisfying philosophy I had ever read. My mind was doing backward somersaults.
Between letters to Larry, I visited Manhattan, where my brother Tony was studying to be a mortician. While he was at school I walked to Washington Square Park. A flat-bed truck with a colorful canopy pulled up to the perimeter of the park. It was full of Hare Krsna devotees, and one of them (Kapindra dasa) offered me a BACK TO GODHEAD magazine. One article was by a mathematician with a Ph.D.; I was impressed to see that what I'd read in the Bhagavad-gita wasn't simply sentimental; it was scientific.
In his last letter Larry had suggested I might like the Hare Krsna temple in Boston. So the following weekend I attended the Sunday program there.
A devotee greeted me at the front door amid inundating clouds of frankincense. Within the temple, shaven-headed men prayed, sang, danced with arms upraised, and played drums and cymbals. Later a devotee spoke on the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, and I asked some questions. During the feast I politely declined most of the cooked dishes, since I was accustomed to raw foods. I spent the night and attended the morning services, chanting Hare Krsna on beads for the first time.
Back in Connecticut, I was surprised to find an unabridged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in the public library. Larry had sent me the abridged version, which I found fascinating, but I found the unabridged edition even more interesting and I read it day and night for a week until I finished it. During that week, my aunt passed away suddenly, and the firsthand experience I gained of people's emotions during the ritualistic funeral helped me understand Lord Krsna's teachings in the Gita about "mourning for that which is not worthy of grief." On this verse Srila Prabhupada comments, "The body is born and is destined to be vanquished today or tomorrow; therefore the body is not as important as the soul. One who knows this is actually learned, and for him there is no cause for lamentation, regardless of the condition of the material body."
Chapter by chapter, Bhagavad-gita broke down my misconceptions about what I thought I might be and helped me understand that in reality I am an eternal servant of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Here was the most special of all occupations. Krsna was in fact God, and my real identity in life was to be His eternal loving servant. One evening as I sat alone on my living room floor reading the Bhagavad-gita, I felt inspired. Setting aside the Gita, I lay down on the floor, stared at the ceiling and, feeling protected, prayed, "Krsna, I am Yours. Do with me as You like."
The following weekend I visited the Boston temple again. I met Aja dasa, the temple president, and asked him if I could join the Hare Krsna society and help spread the philosophy of Krsna consciousness for the benefit of all suffering souls.
He allowed me to stay, and I have never left, for I've experienced the higher pleasure—a pleasure one automatically feels by serving Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Just as a fish is satisfied only in water, or the hand functions only after feeding the stomach, the spirit soul can enjoy the topmost pleasure only by serving Krsna with devotion. The knowledge contained in Srila Prabhupada's books—Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta, and others—can reawaken one's transcendental love for Krsna. Therefore, intelligent people should seriously hear and propagate the philosophy of Krsna consciousness contained in these books, for that knowledge will destroy the pangs of material existence and bring them eternal happiness.
Dream and Reality
I had a dream. I was traveling, trying to reach some distant destination, but I kept being delayed. My airplane arrived at the first stop on time, but when I tried to connect with a further flight I was unable to go on.
I found myself in an airport terminal with thousands of travelers, all experiencing similar delays and anxieties. Some began to despair of immediately catching onward flights, so they checked into hotels. Everyone tried to be cheerful, and yet everyone was anxious to travel on. Then I found myself even more seriously detained when I contracted a serious disease; even if a flight were available, I would not be allowed to travel ahead with the others.
But suddenly there was hope, and my chances for travel were being renewed. But first I would have to pass a series of tests . . . Here my dream ended.
As a devotee of Krsna, I was able to immediately interpret my dream from the viewpoint of Vedic knowledge. My anxious attempts to travel on to my destination were symbolic of the soul's transferring from one body to another at death. As spirit souls, we are seeking the destination of eternal, blissful life in the spiritual world, but because of our karma, or the reactions to our past deeds, we have to take birth in this world again and again. Thus we're all frustrated travelers.
My disease and the other strong detainments in my dream were symbolic of the powerful, alluring material nature, which holds us within the cycle of birth and death. The hope of getting another chance to travel, yet facing the challenge of new tests before reaching the ultimate goal, represent the experiences shared by all conditioned souls as they evolve life after life—getting renewed opportunity especially at the stage of human life, wherein self-realization and liberation are possible.
While interpreting one's dreams may be interesting, the characters and situations in the dream should not be accepted as literal. In fact, most of us dismiss our night's dreaming as vague and mythical. We may dream we are seriously ill and in an airport, but when we awaken we find ourselves resting comfortably in bed. Our first concern, therefore, is with the waking world. As William Carlos Williams put it, "The particulars of morning are more to be desired/ than night's vague images."
With the aid of Vedic knowledge, however, we can go beyond both dreaming and waking, having understood that both conditions are illusion. When we understand that the real self is eternal, we will know that all material designations, whether dreamed or "real," are temporary and therefore untrue. At night we may dream we have grown wings and are flying over a golden mountain, and when we wake we may dismiss this as a myth. But who are we really when we are awake? Is our real identity Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so who has just woken up? Are we actually a man or a woman just because our body has a particular sex? Are we Americans just because we were born in a particular land?
According to the science of self-realization, all the designations we accept as the realities of our waking life are but temporary coverings of the permanent self. Since time immemorial we have been transmigrating life after life, taking birth in various species. Forgetful of our true, eternal identity as the servant of Krsna, we assume one temporary identity after another according to our present material body.
We may wonder why we can't remember our past identities, but the reason is not very hard to understand when we consider our experiences in this present life. In our dreams we assume various temporary identities, forgetting our identity as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so sleeping in bed. And even in the waking world we experience so many changes of bodily identity, from infancy to childhood to youth to adulthood to old age . . . And death means a completely new change of identity. But through all our changes of temporary identities, we retain our permanent identity as spiritual souls.
If we accept the temporary designations as the reality, we are dreaming, just as if we were in our beds asleep. Shakespeare was not describing the world of dream but the human existential condition when he wrote: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player/ That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/ And then is heard no more."
The Vedic knowledge implores us, "Wake up! Wake up, sleeping soul!" A human being who has not realized his eternal nature is actually no better than a sleepwalker, a person who appears to be alive and active but who is actually in an almost unconscious state. Life in the plant and animal species is of this low level of consciousness, but the human being has the potential to break from his slumbering forgetfulness of his real identity and life's real purpose. But if he continues his sleepwalker life and does not awaken, he will meet with great danger. The "sleepwalker" will fall into the abyss of repeated birth and death.
As the Vedic sage Rsabhadeva states in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, "As long as one does not inquire about the spiritual values of life, one is defeated and subjected to miseries arising from ignorance. He does not know that due to his past misdeeds he has already received a body that, although temporary, is the cause of his misery. Therefore I think it is not befitting an intelligent man to involve himself again in the activities of sense gratification, by which he perpetually gets material bodies one after another."
My symbolic dream may be offered, therefore, as a metaphor to describe the condition of every living being. We are meant to travel, within this lifetime, beyond mere animal satisfactions for the temporary body. We do not have to be continuously detained from reaching our heart's desire, nor do we have to be plunged into the repeated miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. But our freedom can be attained only when we begin awaking from the sleep of material illusion. The transcendental literature, institutions, and devotional practices (bhakti-yoga) of the Krsna consciousness movement are intended for just this purpose.—SDG