Supreme Enchanter of the Soul
Cupid's arrows can no longer pierce our hearts when we become attracted to Krsna.
A lecture by
In this material world everyone is attracted by sex. This is a fact. As the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, yan maithunadi-grhamedhi-sukham hi tuccham: "The happiness—the so-called happiness—of household life begins from maithuna, or sexual intercourse."
Generally, a man marries to satisfy sex desire. Then he begets children. Then, when the children are grown up, the daughter marries a boy and the son marries a girl for the same purpose: sex. Then, grandchildren.
In this way, material happiness expands as sry-aisvarya-prajepsavah. Sri means "beauty," aisvarya means "wealth," and praja means "children." People think they are successful if they have a beautiful wife, a good bank balance, and good sons, daughters, daughters-in-law, and so on. If one's family consists of beautiful women and riches and many children, one is supposed to be a most successful man.
What is this success? The sastra [scripture] says this success is simply an expansion of sexual intercourse. That's all. We may polish it in different ways, but this same sex happiness is also there in the hogs. The hogs eat the whole day, here and there—"Where is stool? Where is stool?"—and then have sex without any discrimination. The hog does not discriminate whether he has sex with his mother, sister, or daughter.
So, the sastra says we are encaged in this material world only for sex. In other words, we are victims of Cupid. Cupid, or Madana, is the god of sex. Unless one is induced by Madana, one cannot be engladdened in sex life. And one of Krsna's names is Madana-mohana, "He who vanquishes Cupid." In other words, one who is attracted to Krsna will forget the pleasure derived from sex. This is the test of advancement in Krsna consciousness.
Another meaning of madana is "to intoxicate or madden'." Everyone is maddened by the force of sex desire. The Srimad-Bhagavatam says, pumsah striya mithuni-bhavam etam tayor mitho hrdaya-granthim ahuh: "The whole material world is going on because of the attraction between male and female." A man is attracted by a woman, a woman is attracted by a man, and when they are united in sex their attachment for this material world increases more and more. After marriage, the man and woman seek a nice home and a job or some land for farming, because they have to earn money to get food and other things. Then come suta (children), apta (friends and relatives), and vittaih (wealth). In this way the attraction for the material world becomes tighter and tighter. And it all begins with our attraction for madana, the pleasure of sex.
But our business is not to be attracted by the glimmer of this material world; our business is to be attracted by Krsna. And when we become attracted by the beauty of Krsna, we will lose our attraction for the false beauty of this material world. As Sri Yamunacarya says,
yad-avadhi mama cetah krsna-padaravinde
"Since I have been attracted by the beauty of Krsna and have begun to serve His lotus feet, I am getting newer and newer pleasure, and as soon as I think of sexual intercourse my mouth immediately turns aside and I spit."
So, Krsna is Madana-mohana, the conquerer of Madana, or Cupid. Madana is attracting everyone, but when one is attracted by Krsna, Madana is defeated. And as soon as Madana is defeated, we conquer this material world. Otherwise, it is very difficult. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [7.14],
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
This material world is very difficult to overcome, but if one surrenders unto Krsna and catches His lotus feet very strongly—"Krsna, save me!"—Krsna promises, "Yes, I'll save you. Don't worry, I shall save you." Kaunteya pratijanihi na me bhaktah pranasyati: "My dear Arjuna, you can declare to the world that I will protect My devotee who has no other desire but to serve Me."
Unfortunately, people do not know that our only business is to take shelter of the lotus feet of Krsna. We have no other business. Any other business we may do simply entangles us in this material world. The aim of human life is to get out of the clutches of the material world. But, as the Bhagavatam says, na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum: "People do not know that their ultimate goal in life is to realize Visnu, or Krsna."
So, it is very difficult to turn people to Krsna consciousness in this age. Still, Caitanya Mahaprabhu [Caitanya Mahaprabhu is Krsna Himself in the role of His own devotee. He appeared in Bengal, India, five hundred years ago to teach love of God through the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.] has ordered us to distribute this knowledge all over the world. So let us try. Even if the people do not take our instruction, that is no disqualification for us. Our only qualification is simply to try our best. Maya [illusion] is very strong. Therefore to take the living entities out of the clutches of maya is not a very easy thing. My Guru Maharaja had so many temples all over India, and sometimes he would say, "If by selling all these temples I could turn one man to Krsna consciousness, my mission would be successful." He used to say that.
Our purpose is not to construct big, big buildings, although that is sometimes required for spreading Krsna consciousness and for giving shelter to people. But our main business is to turn the faces of the bewildered conditioned souls toward Krsna. That is our main purpose. Therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura and other Vaisnavas have warned us to be careful about constructing too many big temples, because our attention may be diverted toward material things. In other words, we may become forgetful of Krsna.
Of course, ultimately nothing is material. Thinking something is material is simply an illusion. Actually, there is nothing but spirit. How can there be anything material? The Supreme Lord is the Supreme Spirit, and since everything is coming from Him, what we call the material energy is also coming from Him and is thus ultimately spiritual.
But the difficulty is that in this material world, Krsna's inferior energy, there is the possibility of forgetting Krsna. People are engaged in so many activities—we can see this very clearly in the Western countries—and they are inventing so many modern facilities, but the result is that they are forgetting Krsna. That is material—this forgetfulness of Krsna.
Actually, there is nothing except Krsna and His energies. As Narada Muni says, idam hi visvam bhagavan ivetarah: "This world is Krsna, Bhagavan." But to those in ignorance it appears different from Bhagavan. For a maha-bhagavata, a pure devotee, there is no conception of material and spiritual, because he sees Krsna everywhere. As soon as he sees anything we call material, he sees it as a transformation of Krsna's energy (parinama-vada). Lord Caitanya gave the following example:
sthavara-jangama dekhe, na dekhe tara murti
A pure devotee may see a tree, but he forgets the tree and sees the energy of Krsna. And as soon as he sees the energy of Krsna, he sees Krsna. Therefore, instead of seeing the tree he sees Krsna.
Another example is the sun and the sunshine. As soon as you see the sunshine, you can immediately think of the sun. Is that not so? In the morning, as soon as you see the sunshine shining in your window, you can immediately remember the sun. You are confident the sun is there, because you know that without the sun there cannot be any sunshine. Similarly, whenever we see something, we should immediately think of Krsna with reference to that particular thing, because that thing is a manifestation of Krsna's energy. And because the energy is not different from the energetic, those who have understood Krsna along with His energies do not see anything except Krsna. Therefore for them there is no material world. To a perfect devotee, everything is spiritual (sarvam khalv idam brahma).
So, we have to train our eyes to see Krsna everywhere. And this training is devotional service to Krsna, which is a process of purification:
As soon as we are in Krsna consciousness, we give up our false designations, and our seeing, touching, smelling, and so on become nirmala, or purified, by being engaged in the service of Krsna. Then we can immediately see Krsna everywhere. As long as our eyes are not purified we cannot see Krsna, but as soon as they are purified by the process of devotional service, we will see nothing but Krsna.
So, Cupid is one of the agents of the illusory, material energy, but if we are perfectly in Krsna consciousness Cupid cannot pierce our heart with his arrows. It is not possible. A good example is Haridasa Thakura. When Haridasa Thakura was a young man, a nicely dressed young prostitute came to him in the middle of the night and revealed her desire to unite with him. Haridasa Thakura said, "Yes, please sit down. I shall fulfill your desire, but just let me finish my chanting of Hare Krsna." Just see! It's the dead of night, and in front of Haridasa Thakura is a beautiful young girl proposing to have sex with him. But still he's steady, chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But he never finished his chanting, so her plan was unsuccessful.
So, Cupid cannot pierce our heart when we are fully absorbed in Krsna consciousness. There may be thousands of beautiful women before a devotee, but they cannot disturb him. He sees them as energies of Krsna. He thinks, "They are Krsna's; they are meant for His enjoyment."
A devotee's duty is to try to engage all beautiful women in the service of Krsna, not to try to enjoy them. A devotee is not pierced by the arrows of Cupid, because he sees everything in relationship with Krsna. That is real renunciation. He does not accept anything for his own sense gratification but engages everything and everyone in the service of Krsna. This is the process of Krsna consciousness.
Thank you very much.
Krsna's Bread-and-Butter Economics
The roots of peace and prosperity lie in working the land, protecting the cow, and loving Krsna.
by Suresvara dasa
Being a bread-and-butter man, whenever I used to visit a Hare Krsna farm I'd marvel at the farm-fresh bread and butter. Unbelievable. Good enough even to offer to Lord Krsna. Now that I've moved to a Hare Krsna farm myself, Krsna has given me a good look at this simple treasure's source—the land, the cows, and, naturally. Himself.
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At dawn, the sunglow reveals the cows grazing in the upper pasture. A young man on an ox-cart carries the morning's milking down a dirt road to the kitchen.
Inside, a young woman labors over a ten-gallon churning pot. She pulls on the end of a rope wound around a wooden paddle, and the rotating paddle churns the cream. Soon the cream expands and thickens into whipped cream. Her hair loosening, the woman keeps working the rope to and fro. After twenty minutes the whipped cream turns golden, and small buttery lumps begin to appear. The woman strains as the butter thickens (to and fro. Hare Krsna!), and when finally she hears splashing, she stops. She wipes her brow and sees that the cream has separated into buttermilk and butter.
"These women trying to shape up in health spas—they should churn butter and chant Hare Krsna," chides Caranaravinda dasi, a real country cook. "The Lord would be pleased, and they'd be in better shape than Jane Fonda."
For another twenty-five minutes, Caranaravinda squeezes out the remaining buttermilk and shapes the butter into large golden spheres, their rich color a measure of the lush pasture. Filling up a huge bucket are butter balls weighing a pound each. To get a similar stock from the Land O' Lakes Indian princess, you'd have to pay upwards of $70. But this butter, although costing only pennies a pound, is priceless, because a devotee has churned it especially for Krsna.
"Mother Yasoda* [*A great devotee of Lord Krsna who played the part of His mother when the Lord sported in Vrndavana village some fifty centuries ago.] used to graze her cows on grasses that would specially flavor the milk for Krsna," says Caranaravinda. "Whatever milk was left over she'd turn into yogurt, and whatever yogurt was left she'd churn into butter. The extra butter she'd clarify, and clarified butter, the perfect cooking medium, keeps for years. She used every drop of milk. And so do we."
To get bread for the butter, the devotees harness the bull. Bulls, gelded and trained as oxen, help to plow the wheat fields, sow the seed, and cultivate and harvest the crop. And they even grind the grains. Walking in a circle, four oxen turn a drive-shaft that activates a pulley. And while a man pours wheat kernels into the hopper, the ox-powered drive-shaft and pulley turn a grinder that crushes the kernels into flour.
Besides food, cows and bulls provide other valuable gifts. After the cow has died a natural death, the skin makes first-rate shoe leather, the horns can be blown, the tail can become a whisk, and for those who insist on eating meat, the carcass remains. Even the urine of a cow is a time-tested medicine for curing liver diseases, and cow dung contains methane gas, perfect for cooking, lighting, and heating—all the prime energy needs of a simple home. Surplus methane-generated electricity may be sold to the power company (it's legally obliged to buy), and dung minus methane still has all the nutrients necessary to make the grass grow green.
And let's not forget the land. Besides providing grasses and grains for the cows and an immense variety of food for us humans, the land yields minerals, jewels, and flowers. The land gives us fiber for our clothing, raw materials for our shelter, and even herbs for our medicine. Indeed, long before the pharmaceutical industry and its hidden persuaders hooked us on their pills, people knew how to forage healing herbs in their own backyards.
Unfortunately, today even many fanners have forgotten how to be self-sufficient. One dairy farmer I know sells his own cows' milk for $1 a gallon while his wife pays $1.80 for the man-handled, store-bought stuff. Most vegetable farmers trade their harvest for inedible paper. This paper money buys complex machinery that they hope will save them time and bring in more paper money. But greed never pays. In a recent national study of 130 stressful occupations, the job of farm manager ranked twelfth. Farmers are going out of business at the rate of one thousand per week, because the cost of farming has become greater than the profits. And since the industrialization of agriculture, the number of American families who live on farms has shrunk from 30% in 1920 to 2.5% today.
Nevertheless, Secretary of Agriculture John Block claims the industrialization of agriculture has "enabled the vast majority of Americans to engage in other economic activities that have produced the vast array of necessities and consumer goods which make possible the high standard of living Americans enjoy today."
"But have people really become healthier or happier," challenges Hare Krsna Governing Body Commissioner Rupanuga dasa, "by developing such a high-tech, dependent, urbanized life-style? Has the quality of life really improved? Has it been a fair trade, fresh water for the recycled chemicals and sewage called city water? Or clean air for the manmade gaseous substances now substituting for air? Or fresh fruits, vegetables, and milk for the canned, preserved, frozen, flavorless, watered-down products sold as eatables in the markets?
"Is it prosperity to have two locks on the door instead of one, special hot-lines to the police, fire, and riot squads, and a gun in every house? Or motorcycles and cars screeching into the morning hours? Or high-school seniors graduating with their brains 'washed' by fifteen thousand hours of television? And ten thousand Russian megatons inspired by American expertise now aimed at Americans' living rooms? The answer must be a resounding NO! if we are to be honest."
Although Lord Krsna gave us the land and the cows as our natural economic base, we don't find much talk about them in Business Week, Money, or Fortune. We find, instead, the latest bank rates and high-tech investments, bargains in wines and personal computers, and speculation that gold may soar to $4,000 an ounce by 1986.
But others, like financial adviser Howard Ruff and survivalist Sally Harrington, are more down to earth. In a world spinning toward political, economic, and ecological disaster, Ruff explains why grains and beans are at least as good an investment as silver and gold.
"You spend hundreds of dollars every year to insure your cars against the accident you fully expect not to have," says Ruff, "and you can't eat the cancelled checks. Your money is wasted unless you're 'lucky' enough to have an accident. Food storage is the insurance you can eat."
Adds Harrington, "Wheat, if kept dry and protected from rodents and insects, will last for two or three thousand years. Some that was found in King Tut's tomb was still edible, and it even germinated."
Of course, in this world nothing is forever, not even land and cows. That's why the devotee's real wealth is in the heart, where Lord Krsna lives. Whether a devotee serves Krsna on a farm or in the city, he aims all his activities at reawakening his awareness of Krsna and his love for Him. Because both the Lord and the soul are eternal, this Krsna consciousness is also eternal and is the devotee's actual wealth.
But even if right now our hearts aren't aware of Krsna, He can make us aware through bread and butter. That same tongue which we seek to gratify at all costs, if it tastes simple foods offered to Krsna and vibrates His transcendental names, can open up a whole world in which everything—the light of the sun, the fragrance of the earth, and, yes, bread and butter—becomes a blissful occasion for remembering Him and an impetus for returning to His eternal kingdom.
God's personal abode, our real home, is free of any taint of scarcity. "That abode of Lord Krsna is full of palaces made of touchstones," writes the Hare Krsna movement's founder and spiritual guide. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. "The trees there yield anything one desires, and the cows give unlimited quantities of milk. There the Lord plays His flute. His eyes are like lotus petals, and the color of His body is like that of a beautiful cloud. He is so attractive that He excels thousands of Cupids."
That's Lord Krsna, the source of everything, and the real treasure.
We welcome your letters.
I'd like to say your magazine is fantastic. Every page is nectar, from cover to cover. My favorites are Srila Prabhupada's lectures and "Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out," but truly the whole magazine is great. The artwork I feel cannot be matched, nor the photographs, editorials, or anything else. I'd like to go on forever, telling you how much I love Prabhupada and the teachings he has brought forth. They have changed every aspect of my life for the better.
Farmingville, New York
* * *
I'm hoping you can make something clear to me. As I read Srila Prabhupada's books (especially Lord Caitanya's pastimes), everything seems to whisper, "Just chant, just chant, just chant Hare Krsna!" So I'm feeling great. I can become a devotee at home, within my present situations, job, etc. But then, as I read on and on, I learn that I must be initiated by a spiritual master. So I become discouraged, because if I don't live at a temple how can I have a spiritual master as you do? I feel I can't go back to Godhead unless I actually live at a temple.
Can you please clear up my confusion once and for all so I may get on with my journey back home, back to Krsna? Do I have to give up my present situation? Do I have to be initiated and live at a temple in order to become a pure devotee, in order to see Krsna face to face and become His eternal servant? Or do I just keep chanting?
Desert Hot Springs, California
Our reply: It's true that to reach the perfection of Krsna consciousness you have to take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. This is stated throughout the Vedic literature. In the beginning, before initiation by a spiritual master, you may develop some faith in devotional service to God and in the chanting of His holy names. Then you may associate with devotees and become attracted to the idea of returning to the spiritual world. But if you don't accept initiation from a pure devotee of Krsna and carefully follow his instructions and his example, you won't be able to make further progress.
This doesn't necessarily mean, however, that you have to give up your job and home and live in a temple. You can observe the principles of Krsna consciousness, including accepting a spiritual master and following his orders, while living at home. Living in a temple gives you the undeniable advantage of being in the company of Krsna's devotees constantly, but it's not absolutely required. Initiation by a bona fide spiritual master is.
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.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
Abortion's Trial—And Error
by Mathuresa dasa
Despite being a layman in the matter of law, I would like to step forward and apply a few commonsense legal rules of thumb to one of this century's most fiercely debated issues: abortion.
Even most proabortionists would agree that, biologically speaking, life begins at conception, when the sperm mixes with the ovum in one of the fallopian tubes. But the abortion debate hinges on the question not of when life begins but of when human life begins. When does the fertilized egg, fetus, or child in the womb become a human being, a person entitled to full protection under the law?
There is little consensus on the answer to this essential question. Scientists, philosophers, and theologians show up on both sides of the debate, some claiming that human life begins at conception, others asserting that it doesn't begin until birth, or even later. Various medical authorities have designated each stage of pregnancy between conception and birth as the beginning of human life. Implantation, when the fertilized egg becomes embedded in the wall of the uterus (about a week after conception); the start of a regular fetal heartbeat (about thirty days after conception); the point at which brainwaves appear on an electroencephalograph (about forty-five days); and viability, the stage at which the fetus can survive outside the womb—all are likely candidates for the start of human life.
Faced with this broad range of conflicting opinions, the U.S. Supreme Court admitted in the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade that it was unable "to resolve the difficult question of when [human] life begins." The Court confirmed that if the fetus were indeed a person, his right to life would have to be guaranteed. But who was to answer the crucial question? Justice Blackmun, author of the majority opinion, wrote: "When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."
At this point the lawyer in me begins to stir. Justice Blackmun's statement clearly acknowledges that the fetus might be a person. It would seem to follow that we shouldn't risk destroying it until we find out for sure. Every Perry Mason fan knows that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt." This protects the defendant from unjust punishment, especially if his life is at stake. Although we are not trying to decide whether the fetus is innocent or guilty but whether it is human or not, the same principle applies: to protect the fetal "defendant" we have to assume he's a person. If we go ahead and allow abortion, we risk being guilty, as the prolifers say, of murder.
Anyone at all familiar with the abortion issue knows, however, that Roe v. Wade was the landmark decision that overturned all existing abortion laws and cleared the way for mass abortions. Even though the Court had indirectly admitted that the fetus might be a person, the decision made abortion legal from the day of conception right up to the day of birth. In a concession to antiabortion forces, the Court allowed the states to forbid abortion after the sixth month of pregnancy—unless pregnancy threatens the woman's health. The Court failed to define "health," however, thus leaving a gaping loophole in would-be state restrictions. According to the World Health Organization, health is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, not simply the absence of illness and disease." On the basis of this or other broad definitions, any woman, with the assistance of an obliging doctor, could have her pregnancy diagnosed at any stage as a threat to her health.
The Roe v. Wade decision was so contradictory that even some leaders of the proabortion movement were a little dismayed. Why hadn't the Court gone ahead and defined human life as beginning at birth? Instead, it had admitted that human life might begin in the womb—and then legalized abortion anyway. The liberalization of abortion laws was welcome, but the logical grounds for the Court's decision were flimsy at best.
On the other side, leaders of the anti-abortion movement, outraged by the decision, sought to nullify it by introducing a constitutional amendment called the Helms-Hyde bill. This bill attempted to answer the question the Court had so carefully skirted: "For the purpose of enforcing the obligation of the states under the fourteenth Amendment not to deprive persons of life without due process of law, human life shall be deemed to exist from conception." The bill was defeated in Congress, and Roe v. Wade remains the standard for abortion up to the present day.
But critics, President Reagan among them, continue to underline the decision's basic flaw. In a 1981 press conference Reagan said: "Until we make to the best of our ability a determination of when life begins, we've been opting on the basis that 'Well, let's consider they're not alive.' I think that everything in our society calls for opting that they might be alive."
From the Vedic viewpoint, the Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, while untenable, was not surprising. The Srimad-Bhagavatam, the topmost Vedic literature, explains that when a society considers sensual enjoyment the goal of life, the result is bound to be madness. According to the Bhagavatam, the desire for unrestricted sensual pleasure drives materialistic societies to perform activities that defy even common sense and betray a collective mentality more base than that of the dogs and pigs. To attain the goal of sensual pleasure, a materialisitic society can sacrifice everything else, including life itself.
Modern materialistic societies have invested virtually all their time and energy in the pursuit of sensual pleasure, especially sex, and the unborn child is a most serious threat to that investment. Justice Blackmun put it like this: "Maternity, or additional offspring, may force upon a woman a distressful life in the future. Psychological harm may be imminent. Mental and physical health may be taxed by child care. There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing the child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it."
Justice Blackmun would have been more direct if he'd said that the child in the womb interferes with a carefree life of sexual intercourse without responsibility and consequences. Pregnancy is long and troublesome; birth is usually painful and expensive. The newborn child requires constant care and attention and creates a financial burden for the parents—or for the government—that may last for twenty years or more. And more often than not the unborn child is a social embarrassment as well: seventy-five percent of the women who have abortions are unmarried; sixty-six percent are between fifteen and twenty-four years old.
Faced with this threat to its considerable investment in sexual enjoyment, a materialistic society arranges to eliminate the child before he leaves the womb. When a society is caught in the passionate grip of sexual attraction, its decision to sanction abortion doesn't rest ultimately on philosophical, theological, or scientific considerations. No, abortion is just plain good business. In a society suffering from madness, even the highest judicial body may either ignore the fact that abortion could be murder, or just not care.
Here again it doesn't take a lawyer to expose a flagrant violation of a very basic principle of justice. From merely reading the morning papers, one can learn to what lengths the American judiciary will go to select an unprejudiced jury. This is especially true when the defendant is both well known and disliked. John W. Hinckley, for example, was so infamous that the court had to devote an extraordinary amount of time to finding impartial jurors. Many attorneys believe trials are frequently won or lost during jury selection.
And yet, in the trial of perhaps the best known and most disliked defendant of all—the unwanted fetus—no one has tried to find an impartial jury. Why has the fetal defendant been judged nonhuman despite strong evidence to the contrary? Because the "jury"—in this case, a society insanely addicted to sex—is strongly biased against him. It has everything to gain by judging the child nonhuman, everything to lose if he's judged human.
To set the abortion issue straight, therefore, we need to select an impartial jury—a group of men and women to whom the unborn child is not a threat. The jurors must be persons who have the highest reverence for human life, who feel that although the mother's physical and mental health may be strained by bearing and raising offspring, these hardships alone are no justification for destroying the child in the womb. In other words, an impartial jury must consist of men and women who, understanding that the highest goal of human life is self-realization, have permanently set aside the maddening, piggish life of sense enjoyment.
Out of the Korean Jetliner Tragedy: A Peace Formula
by Satyaraja dasa
During a family get-together at my brother's house last September, the topic of discussion was the Korean jetliner downed by the Soviets on August 31. Although the tragedy is now history, the repercussions continue. President Reagan's comments left little doubt that future dealings between the United States and the Soviet Union would be more strained than ever. Said Reagan: "What can be the scope of legitimate mutual discourse with a state whose values permit such atrocities?"
Certainly negotiations for new arms agreements will be impeded. Fresh talks on cultural exchange and consular agreements, which had been regarded as a sign of warming relations between the superpowers, will be held up. And prospects for a Reagan-Andropov summit next spring have dwindled. To quote former White House National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, "How will it be possible for Reagan to sit down at the table with a man responsible for the deaths of thirty or so Americans?"
As I heard these words coming from my brother's TV, I pictured Reagan sitting at a table with Andropov and contrasted this with my own experience a few minutes earlier, when I had been sitting at the dinner table with my family. There had been disagreements, to be sure, but like most families we were always forgiving and for the most part downright warm and loving.
I concluded that if everyone were to acknowledge God as the father of all living entities, we would all sit peacefully together at the same table, so to speak, as one happy family. It seemed simple. Perhaps too simple, I thought, as I began discussing the idea with my brother.
Soon my whole family was involved, and they all admitted that universal recognition of the Supreme Father would unite the entire world as one great family, ending enmity between individuals, races, sexes, religions, and nations—at least theoretically. But how could it become a tangible reality?
My family members were naturally skeptical. They spoke of separation of church and state and pointed out historical evidence that religion has not only failed to unify the world but has rather caused conflict. Witness the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Hindu-Muslim riots in postwar India, the perennial fighting in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants, and the endless hostility between the Jews and their Moslem neighbors.
I explained that the Krsna consciousness movement is a worldwide, nonsectarian organization dedicated to reminding people of their relationship with God. Krsna consciousness emphasizes the spiritual nature of all beings and their eternal, loving relationship with God. Because the teachings of Krsna consciousness reveal elaborate details about the nature of the soul and the proprietorship of the Supreme Lord, a student of these teachings doesn't become bewildered by conceptions of "my land" and "your land." All land belongs to Krsna, and since we are all members of His universal family, we should all have access to His land—as long as we use it in His service. To use everything in the service of God, the proprietor of everything and father of everyone, is the central point of the philosophy of Krsna consciousness.
After a long discussion, my family agreed that the peace formula of the Krsna consciousness movement is sound and that it will work if enough people adopt it. Whereas at first they accepted it in theory but doubted its practicality, they now saw that having accepted it theoretically they had to adopt it in their own lives. In this way the formula for peace based on God consciousness would gradually gain wider and wider acceptance.
Now my whole family is reading about Krsna and understanding more and more deeply the peace (individual and collective) that is possible through Krsna consciousness. They know that although their activities may seem insignificant in the face of international strife, they are far more effective than big political talks that ignore the supreme proprietorship and fatherhood of God. Thus my family is taking steps toward the establishment of world peace. After all, as it is often said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Penetrating the clouds of mystery
by Mandalesvara dasa
Is God a person who lives far away in His own spiritual land? Or is He very near, residing in the hearts of everyone? Or is He just plain everything?
What would you say to these questions? Or, to put it another way, what do you think of when you think of God?
You're not alone if you find these questions hard to answer. Most people have only vague notions of what God might be like. People I've asked often say that while they think of God as having certain personal characteristics, such as beauty, power, and wisdom, they also think He must be everything or be within everything, like an all-pervasive energy—"The Force." This is a revealing disparity, because it indicates that while many people believe God is a person, they realize that thinking of Him as a person in the strictest and most literal sense would limit Him. They're afraid they might end up with an anthropomorphic conception of God, a "God" who is subject to all (or at least some of) the limitations and imperfections of ordinary persons.
In Christianity, for example, we have descriptions of God as Father—certainly a personal epithet. But what does our father who art in heaven look like? On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel there's Michelangelo's painting of God as an old man creating Adam, who, by the way, looks healthier and more handsome than God.
So as I was saying, most educated people don't like to think too strictly of God as a person. Unintelligent, simple folk may do that, or an artist, in his fertile imagination, may fancy some personal form of God. But sophisticated worshipers, priests, and theologians don't like to take that phrase "God the father" too literally; they'd like to avoid the stigma of being considered aboriginal.
There was a time in my own life also when my conceptions of God as a person proved inadequate. Back in 1966, during my sophomore year of college, I took my first philosophy course, Introduction tot Philosophy. From that point I began to reexamine all I had been taught, and my ideas of God and religion quickly began to change. I wanted like anything for God to be everywhere, in everything and every situation, because at every turn I was beset with ugly reality. Time was a relentless destroyer—seasons changed, leaves fell, a flowers faded, memory failed, dust accumulated, and true love proved false. The rust of time showed on every building, on every creature, and corroded every philosophy and art. It hung in the air and entered the blood through the lungs. Nothing endured, except . . , I endured. I had to. How could I be destroyed? I wanted to live, to exist through the fall, through the winter, and to again behold the spring, on and on eternally. The earth would die, the sun would burn out, certainly my body would disintegrate, but I would endure. I was eternal.
And the spiritual essence I intuited within all transient phenomena was also eternal. And that essence was also I. The sense of "I," however, was illusory, I concluded, a temporary phenomenon of the temporary, ever-fluctuating, rusting world around me, a world I had come to regard as illusion. From my readings and specula-: tions I concluded that I existed, but not as a unique, individual entity. In reading Sankara's Crest Jewel of Discrimination, I came across the Sanskrit phrase tat tvam asi: "You are that." My reading convinced me that by meditation and study "I" was to break out of the subject-object dichotomy, out of the illusion of selfhood and ego, and merge into the all-pervading, eternal, spiritual reality that was the only true existence and the only true identity. All else was illusion.
My situation wasn't unusual—to realize that the casual understanding of God that I'd grown up with was superficial, sentimental, and philosophically weak. I was trying to increase my awareness of God. I wanted a Theology, a Metaphysics, a Weltanschauung that I could believe in, not just a religious sentiment that would crumble in the crucible of academic scrutiny.
So in my own unformalized way I came up with a layman's version of what the Vedic literature refers to as Brahman realization. This is the first of three classically discussed levels of God realization, each level more clear and accurate than the former. Perhaps I can best explain this with an analogy.
I used to live in Los Angeles, and on a clear day, usually just after a heavy rain, I could see in the distance, just beyond the city, the San Gabriel Mountains. But usually they looked hazy and nondescript, appearing more like clouds or aberrations in the atmosphere. Then one Sunday I took my wife and three-year-old son on a picnic to Mt. Wilson. We got into the car and started driving, and soon we could see the mountains quite clearly. Within another fifteen minutes or so, we were actually driving along the Angeles Crest Highway, seeing the homes, ranches, and little crossroad villages. The San Gabriel Mountains were no longer a distant, nondescript presence on the horizon but a tangible reality, full of life and activity. People lived there and worked there. We hiked along a footpath, climbing over boulders, discovering pockets of snow, and experiencing the unusual vegetation. We even visited the Mt. Wilson Observatory. Things we had previously only been able to speculate about we were now able to see firsthand.
So in this analogy, my sophomoric version of God as an all-pervasive, eternal spiritual existence is like my hazy view of the San Gabriel Mountains through twenty miles of smog. The mountains appeared as a nondescript presence on the horizon. The second level of God realization (technically known as Paramatma realization) is like a closer, clearer look at the mountains. But the final level (Bhagavan realization) is like a picnic, a hiking trip, and a tour of the Mt. Wilson Observatory all in one. I've already discussed the first level, now to understand the second level consider the following scenario. . . .
High in the Himalayas a skinny, wizened yogi of indecipherable age sits cross-legged, his eyes half-closed in meditation. His diet is simple, light, and highly regulated. He has long ago given up all touch with civilization, and his mind is peaceful. No hankering to return to the comforts and sensory titillations of the city disturbs him. He is completely free from sexual interests. He has no family affection to distract him, no financial cares or responsibilities. He has no affection for the country of his birth, so he is without patriotic sentiments and obligations. He has no worldly ambition and doesn't even care to inform others of his mastery of the yoga discipline he has been practicing for so many years. He could, of course, return to civilization and display his prowess. He could become a famous guru, exhibit his mystic powers, attract many followers, and perhaps advertise himself as an incarnation of God. But he knows that such materialistic desires are the downfall of the serious student of yoga.
What's he doing? He's trying to go beyond the limitations of the hazy, distant, impersonal Brahman conception of the Absolute Truth. He's been trained to meditate within. The process is extremely difficult, requiring unswerving determination, perfect health, patience, great mental power and clarity, and a long life. Now, at long last, he has detached himself from all material conditioning and awareness and, in spiritual joy, beholds within his heart the perfect form of eternity, knowledge, and bliss, the four-armed Visnu-murti, Lord Paramatma.
Our consummate yogi, absorbed in meditation on this feature of the Absolute Truth, is more advanced in his understanding than a transcendentalist fixed only in Brahman realization. Whereas all-pervasive Brahman is the bodily effulgence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Paramatma is His personal expansion. The Supreme Person is inconceivably powerful, and He has expanded Himself in innumerable forms, each one perfect and complete. This is Paramatma, the witness, controller, and friend within the heart of every living being. In our San Gabriel Mountains analogy, our Paramatma-realized yogi is like a person who is near enough to the mountains to clearly see them, though not in detail. He has realized the Absolute Truth, but not in fullness. He has yet to realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This final realization is referred to in the Vedic literature as Bhagavan realization.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead (Bhagavan) is Krsna, and one who understands this has surpassed the other, incomplete stages of God realization. Bhagavan realization, however, is not possible by philosophical speculation or yogic meditation. Rather, it is possible only when one receives special favor from the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, through His representative, the pure devotee.
A pure devotee of God has already attained the stage of Bhagavan realization and has no business within the material world except for executing the mission of the Lord by disseminating the Lord's special favor to others. The Bhagavan-realized person has entered the absolute, spiritual world, where he eternally engages in the transcendental service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. But he descends to this material world to give others the opportunity to come to the highest level of God realization and thus perfect their lives.
Once a transcendentalist has completed the arduous path of realizing the Absolute Truth as impersonal, all-pervasive Brahman (step one) and as Lord Paramatma in the heart (step two), then he must surrender to a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to one who has already fully realized Bhagavan and who is at one with the Absolute Truth, being engaged in His absolute devotional service. Thus, by taking guidance from such a Bhagavan-realized person, a transcendentalist can complete his course and come to the third and final level of God realization.
But what if one is not already advanced in philosophical speculation and yogic meditation? Is he at a disadvantage for realizing the highest truth?
No. The favor of the pure devotee is so powerful that anyone who receives it can enter the spiritual reality of serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Bhagavan-realized pure devotee of God serves as a spiritual master, guiding the aspiring transcendentalist toward perfection. He instructs him in the science of the Absolute Truth and acquaints him fully with the transcendental forms, qualities, activities, and names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although these are beyond the material world and beyond the purview of the material mind and senses. This is the special power and authority of the pure devotee of the Supreme Person: being of the transcendental world, he can introduce that eternal reality to any sincere, submissive servant, especially by training him in the chanting of the Supreme Lord's transcendental names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Because the Bhagavan-realized spiritual master perfectly understands his eternal position as the servant of God, he can perfectly impart this understanding to his student, elevating him to the position of transcendental, loving service. Thus the student learns that although he is one with God, that oneness is in quality, not in quantity. The Lord is great, but he is small. The Lord is master, but he is servant.
Now the whole picture of the Absolute Truth comes into focus, and the lower stages of God realization are seen in their proper perspective—in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Take, for example, those impersonalistic views I formulated back in college. I had a conception of God as all-pervasive spiritual reality, and I asserted that I was spiritual and eternal, persisting through all the changes of this material world. This much was right. But on certain key points I was wrong.
And where I was wrong, boy was I wrong! In my eagerness to go beyond the ephemeral, I had rejected not only the false ego that I was this material body—born in south Mississippi, son of Mr. and Mrs. George C. Bosworth—but I had also rejected the prospect of real ego. I see now that the little spiritual learning I had then was a dangerous thing. Although to deny my material identity was good, to disregard the possibility of spiritual identity was like throwing out the baby with the bath water. In seeking an egoless state, I was courting spiritual suicide. I was denying that I had any individual spiritual identity and denying that God could be an individual. Thus, in an attempt to make God unlimited, I had restricted Him: "God can't have a personality, a form, desires." And not only was I restricting God, but I was trying to usurp His position.
That's right. You see, with no distinctions between me as spiritual self and God as an individual spiritual person, then all was one and one was all. In other words, I thought I was God! And believe me, the books I was reading were really feeding me that line. While espousing humility and service, these so-called gurus were flattering me into thinking I was God. (But where's the possibility of being humble if you're thinking you're the Supreme?)
And as for worship, that was all right, but on a higher level it made no sense. After all, the idea that I was a separate identity from God was supposed to be illusory, so why all the hullabaloo over worship? Worship was for the less intelligent, the anthropomorphists, the aborigines. Of course, worship could be helpful—as long as you kept your wits about you and didn't fall back into the subject-object dichotomy. Thus my new-found sophistry gradually twisted all my praise of God into the devotionless, even disrespectful utterances of a sycophant. Tat tvam asi: "You are that." Yes, I was it. I was really it.
You might well wonder why the scriptures bother to describe the impersonal feature at all. Why not skip on over to the highest realization, the Supreme Personality of Godhead? Well, there's a reason. The first lesson in spiritual life is to understand that God and spiritual reality are the exact opposite of material reality. If God is presented to our grossly materialistic mentalities as a person, we'll think that He's an ordinary person (anthropomorphism). So the scriptures describe God as being without form and qualities, because He is without material form and qualities. But the natural tendency of the neophyte is to do as I did, and throw the baby out with the bath water.
From Vedic literatures, like Bhagavad-gita, and from the teachings of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I now understand what true spiritual oneness is. You don't have to subscribe to the philosophy of anthropomorphism to hold a personal conception of God. Anthropomorphism refers to human beings' theoretically ascribing personal characteristics to the Supreme. This is only speculative imagination, however, and cannot help one realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When one attains the highest stage of God realization, Lord Krsna reveals Himself as a person; it is not a question of imagining God as having personal attributes, as in the painting by Michelangelo. God creates man in His own image, not vice versa. God's image is fully spiritual, transcendental, eternal; man's image is material and temporary.
And you don't have to succumb to the vain self-flattery and covered blasphemy of impersonalistic philosophy to achieve liberation from illusion and to affirm that God is unlimited and that there is spiritual oneness. As one in the highest stage of God realization understands. God is a unique, individual person, and at the same time He is everything.
Consider the analogy of fire. Although it's in one spot, say your fireplace, it permeates and pervades the entire room by its energies: heat and light. Heat and light are simultaneously fire and not fire. Similarly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although an individual person in His spiritual abode far beyond the material creation, is present everywhere by His energies: matter and spirit. His energies are simultaneously one with Him and different from Him. There is no meaning to the Supreme without His energies and no meaning to His energies without Him. In fact, nothing exists but the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His energies. A person in the highest stage of God realization, therefore, sees simultaneous spiritual oneness and spiritual diversity.
So, getting back to my original questions, if you said God was everything, you were right—partly. And if you said God was an individual person, you were also partly right. But just how God reconciles these apparent contradictions and manifests Himself everywhere without losing His individual personality is a transcendental mystery that can be understood only by one engaged in the Supreme Lord's loving service under the guidance of a Bhagavan-realized spiritual master.
Now, if you said that God is living within everyone's heart, again you were partly right. Lord Krsna expands Himself not only by His energies but by His personal transcendental form of Paramatma as well. Lord Paramatma, in the heart of every living being, is Krsna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but the Paramatma-realized yogi doesn't fully realize this. Because he doesn't have the benefit of devotional service, he may consider himself one with Paramatma, much as the Brahman-realized person considers himself one with Brahman. Only by the grace of a pure devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead can the Paramatma-realized yogi (or anyone else) enter into the Lord's transcendental service and understand Him in full.
The Paramatma, however, is eager to fully reveal Himself—His transcendental names, activities, and forms—to the sincere transcendentalist. Vedic literature, therefore, describes an external manifestation of the Lord in the Heart, and this is the Bhagavan-realized spiritual master. By submissively hearing and serving the spiritual master, one contacts the Paramatma and becomes qualified to receive His directions and enlightenment from within the heart. Thus one engaged in devotional service under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master has already achieved Paramatma realization. But without taking guidance from God's representative from without, one should not expect to receive direct revelation of God from within.
So if you're serious about God realization, the key is to seek the shelter of a Bhagavan-realized spiritual master. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (4.34), "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire submissively and render service unto him. The God-realized souls, having seen the Truth, can impart knowledge unto you." So don't expect to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead without the guidance of the spiritual master. Even if you study the scriptures very carefully, you won't be able to avoid the pitfalls of impersonalism. And don't take that just as my advice, thinking that what happened to me years ago can't happen to you. Take it as the conclusion of the revealed scriptures: Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita that only by devotional service, under the guidance of the spiritual master, can one understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Under the spell of material illusion we have forgotten our eternal relationship with Lord Krsna as His servants. Thus we are suffering birth and death repeatedly, life after life, in the material world. Sometimes we try to find happiness in gross sensual activities, as an animal or animalistic human being; sometimes we tire of this futile attempt at imitating God and take to philosophical speculation, culminating in declaring ourselves to be God; and sometimes we seek happiness through yogic asceticism and meditation. But only when we take up the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are we able to end our material illusion and suffering for good and achieve the full, intimate understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.
On Service, the Soul, and the Supreme
The following exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a Jesuit priest took place in May 1975 at the Hare Krsna center in Melbourne.
Priest: Do you have what I might call a training in contemplation?
Srila Prabhupada: We worship God in nine ways. One is smaranam, remembering God's activities. That is contemplation.
Priest: You know, in Christian mysticism we have a process of contemplation that St. Theresa of Avila described in her book Interior Mansion. Anybody is able to make an ordinary prayer, but the real mystic prayer is not given to everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: Our mystic prayer is to think of God's activities. Anyone can do it.
Priest: Ours is not so much thinking of God's activities as just being open to receive love, getting to that real stillness and quiet in which—
Srila Prabhupada: No. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is not stillness. Stillness is the neutral stage of love of God, when you stop your material activities.
Priest: Could you further describe this neutrality?
Srila Prabhupada: It is simply the stage of realizing that God is great. That is neutrality. But real devotional service begins when one understands, "Because God is so great, I should serve Him. Why am I uselessly rendering service to this world? Why not render service to God?" That stage is called dasyam, or servitude. That is the beginning of bhakti-yoga.
Material activity simply entangles us in the repetition of birth and death. This is called pravrtti-marga, "activity for sense enjoyment." Everyone is busy working for sense enjoyment. The tiger is busy. The hog is busy. The dog is busy. And if a man also becomes busy for sense enjoyment like the tigers and hogs and dogs, then in his next life he may become one of those species of life.
Priest: When one reaches a higher stage of activity, when he really loves all mankind—
Srila Prabhupada: That is a concoction—mental speculation. Why should you love only mankind? Why not love the tigers, the dogs, and all other species of life?
Priest: Because human beings are my brothers and sisters.
Srila Prabhupada: But the tigers and dogs are also your brothers and sisters, because you all have a common father—God. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [5.18],
Priest: What does that mean?
Srila Prabhupada: That a truly learned man sees every living being with equal vision. In other words, he doesn't make any spiritual distinction between you and a dog. You have a soul that is covered by a human body, and a dog has a soul covered by a dog's body. But both of you are souls—part and parcel of God.
Priest: Would you say that souls are of different values?
Srila Prabhupada: No, all souls are of the same value.
Priest: That I find hard to accept, because, as I understand it, the soul of man is immortal but the soul of an animal is not. An animal's "soul" is not really a soul at all but a principle of life, something Aristotle called a psyche. Therefore, man has higher value than the animals.
Srila Prabhupada: No, spiritually they are of equal value, although materially their bodies may be of different gradations. It is just like the different gradations of motorcars. A man sitting in a Rolls Royce thinks he is very important, and a man sitting in a Ford or Chevrolet thinks he is poor. But as men both of them are equal. Similarly, the body of a human being and the body of a dog are just different machines, but the souls are of the same quality—part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, Krsna.
Priest: That is hard to understand—that my soul and your soul are part of the Supreme Soul—because the Supreme Soul is infinite and we are finite. Therefore we cannot, added up together, make God.
Srila Prabhupada: No, I don't say that. We are finite, and God is infinite. If all souls were combined together, they would still be finite, not infinite. Ninety billion zeroes cannot make one. So, I don't say that combined together we shall be equal to God. But the quality of God is there in all souls. God is like the vast ocean, and we are like drops of ocean water. The drops contain the same chemicals as the vast ocean, but in minute degree.
Priest: So we have God's qualities in imitation.
Srila Prabhupada: Not imitation. Actually, all souls do have God's qualities, just as a particle of gold has the same qualities as the gold in the mine. A small fragment of gold is certainly gold, but it is not equal to all the gold in the gold mine. So our philosophy is acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, "the inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference of God and His energies." In other words, we are one with God in quality but different from Him in quantity.
God has creative power, and we also have creative power. But God has created millions of planets that float in space, and we have created the 747 that floats in the air. Yet we want to take more credit.
Priest: That is the sin of pride.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is false pride. Modern scientists are taking false pride in their accomplishments and saying there is no need of God—"There is no God. We can do everything." This is their foolishness.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Pope John Paul II Gets Polish Books on Krsna
At the Vatican recently, Pope John Paul II received from Kirtiraja dasa Polish editions of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Said the pontiff: "Thank you very much. They're very beautiful."
Eight-Day Superfestival Held in Italy
Viareggio, Italy—A spectacular eight-day festival celebrated here and at Villa Vrndavana, ISKCON's rural center near Florence, combined the third annual Italian Ratha-yatra Chariot Festival, the installation of Italy's first Radha-Krsna Deities (Sri Sri Radha-Vrajasundara), and the appearance-day celebration of His Divine Grace Bhagavan dasa Goswami Gurudeva, an ISKCON spiritual master and Governing Body Commissioner.
With more than one thousand devotees present, it was the largest Hare Krsna assembly ever to gather in Europe.
The boulevard Viareggio, after which the city is named, literally means "The Avenue of Kings," and while a crowd of 100,000 watched Lord Jagannatha ("Lord of the Universe"), Srimati Subhadra, and Lord Balarama ride in three majestic carts along the parade route, the full meaning of the road's name was realized.
The carts moved slowly and gracefully in what appeared to be an ocean of devotees, flags, and festoons bobbing up and down to the rhythm of the blissful chanting. People left their homes and office workers put aside their duties to catch a glimpse of the deities as they passed by.
In a speech broadcast throughout Italy by radio, Srila Gurudeva asked that Hare Krsna devotees be given a chance to run the Italian government, which has changed hands forty times since the end of World War II. "You've tried all the others," he said. "Why not try this God consciousness movement? Even if you give us only one week, you'll see the difference."
During the day of the Ratha-yatra festival, at least 100,000 people saw the procession, 10,000 took prasadam (food offered to Krsna), and devotees passed out more than 200,000 pieces of transcendental literature. The country's top national newspapers and TV stations covered the event.
The next day, the transcendental festivities moved to ISKCON's temple in Florence. Known as Villa Vrndavana, the building was once owned by the renowned political theorist Machiavelli.
In a huge tent outside Villa Vrndavana, while devotees chanted and danced with overwhelming enthusiasm, Srila Gurudeva installed the Deities Sri Sri Radha-Vrajasundara, bathing Them with yogurt, milk, honey, and fruit juices. After the bathing ceremony devotees carried Their Lordships into Their beautiful new marble temple, designed and built by the world-famous interior designer Matsya-avatara dasa (Marco Ferrini), a disciple of Srila Gurudeva's.
Srila Gurudeva's appearance-day celebration, an initiation ceremony for one hundred and fifty of his new disciples, and a Vedic wedding also highlighted the festivities at Villa Vrndavana.
Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise
Spicy, yogurty karhi sauce offered to Lord Krsna: complete protein for pennies, and priceless spiritual benefit.
by Visakha-devi dasi
You probably know that protein is an essential substance in your body, but you may not know all the reasons why. It's needed not only for building and repairing tissues but also for synthesizing enzymes that start the body's many chemical reactions, for serving as building blocks for hormones and antibodies, for supplying energy, and for many other things. Various proteins take part in every life process, and some are lost through these processes. So to maintain our health, we must eat enough protein daily.
How much of what kinds of protein to eat is a question anyone concerned about his health must answer. And because of the wide variety of protein-rich foods, the question can look complicated. While all living bodies—from human beings down to viruses—are built of proteins, these proteins are of innumerable kinds, which are determined by the patterns and ratios of the amino acids that make them up. Because the proteins in animals are similar to those in humans, animal flesh provides all the amino acids we need in the proper proportions. So animal proteins are generally classified as "complete," while plant proteins, which have amino acids suitable for plants' needs, are classified as "incomplete." At first glance, then, what the meat lobby says seems true: "Meat is the best source of complete protein, so you should eat plenty of meat to stay healthy."
However, when we combine various kinds of vegetarian foods, the amino acids of their incomplete proteins complement each other, and then these incomplete proteins become complete. Nutrition researchers have shown that a daily diet rich in a variety of whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products will easily provide enough protein (along with all other essential nutrients). The proof that the researchers are right is that millions of vegetarians the world over easily fulfill their protein needs and enjoy radiant health.
This month we're presenting an excellent vegetarian source of protein: karhi sauce. It contains yogurt, a complete protein, and chickpea flour, an incomplete protein that becomes complete in conjunction with yogurt. You can eat karhi sauce as an alternative to dal (the bean soup that's a protein staple in Krsna's cuisine), and, as with dal, you won't have to worry about ingesting the toxins, pesticides, carcinogenic wastes, and cholesterol-producing fats that meat contains. Yet from karhi sauce you'll get complete protein, just as you would from meat.
But getting enough protein and other nutrients isn't the only health reason for eating karhi sauce. Once you've offered it to Lord Krsna, karhi sauce has many properties you can't know about just by reading books on health foods and nutrition.
If we simply keep our bodies healthy, that's good, but incomplete. It's like keeping a birdcage in excellent shape but neglecting to feed the bird inside. What you'll soon have is a beautiful cage—and a very sick bird. Similarly, if we keep our body in tip-top condition but neglect the spirit soul inside, then we're actually in the most unhealthy condition imaginable, because we're doomed to undergo the syndrome of birth, old age, disease, and death, in body after body. So physical health without spiritual health is useless.
There are many ways to become spiritually healthy, and one of the most pleasurable is by eating krsna-prasadam (food that's been offered to Krsna). In this connection, Srila Prabhupada explains, "Prasadam means 'favor.' One should consider prasadam a favor of Krsna. Krsna is very kind. In this material world we are all very attached to tasting various types of food. Therefore, Krsna eats many nice varieties of food and offers the food back to the devotees. Not only are your demands for various tastes satisfied, but by eating prasadam you make advancement in spiritual life. Therefore, we should never consider ordinary food to be on an equal level with prasadam." So, when we eat karhi sauce that's been offered to Lord Krsna with love and devotion, we become healthy physically and spiritually. Such a spiritualized dish is actually complete.
Eating karhi-sauce prasadam will make us not only healthy but also wealthy. First, it's a lot cheaper than meat, especially if you make your own yogurt. So you'll save a lot on your weekly grocery bill if karhi sauce rather than meat is your major source of protein.
But more importantly, you'll become spiritually wealthy, that is, more and more attracted to Krsna and everything related to Him. When this attraction increases to the highest pitch, it's called prema-dhana, "the treasure of love of God." This love destroys all material miseries and immerses one in an ocean of transcendental bliss, eternally. What could be more valuable than that?
Finally, eating karhi-sauce prasadam will make us wise. A developed moral sense is one aspect of wisdom, and eating the flesh of slaughtered animals destroys our finer moral sentiments; it's most immoral. So by substituting karhi sauce for meat as your source of protein, you'll become wise by avoiding the crime of animal slaughter.
But beyond this, you'll attain spiritual wisdom. By eating krsna-prasadam, we easily and happily become attached to Krsna, His devotees, and His devotional service. And when by serving Krsna we realize that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the cause of all causes, we'll be actually wise—spiritually wise. At this point, we'll always chant the holy names of the Lord, serve Him and His devotees, and eat nothing but His prasadam. Then our health, wealth, and wisdom will be complete.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Braised Green Peppers in Creamy Yogurt Gravy
(Bada Mirch Dahi Karhi)
Preparation time: about 1 hour
Ingredients for paste seasoning:
½ tablespoon coriander seeds
Ingredients for the chaunce and vegetables:
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
Ingredients for the karhi sauce:
2 ½ cups plain yogurt or thick cultured buttermilk
To prepare the paste seasoning:
Combine the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, black peppercorns, and coconut in a blender and grind to a coarse powder. Add the chilies, ginger, and water; then cover and blend for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the ingredients are reduced to a smooth paste. Set aside.
To prepare the chaunce, vegetables, and karhi sauce:
1. Wash, core, and seed the peppers, and then cut them crosswise into thin disks.
2. Sieve the chickpea flour into a 1 ½-quart mixing bowl. Add a little of the water or whey to make a smooth batter. Pour in the remaining water and the yogurt, salt, turmeric, and paste seasoning. Then whisk to thoroughly mix all the ingredients.
3. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan heat the ghee or vegetable oil over a medium-high flame until a drop of water flicked into the pan sputters instantly. Add the black mustard seeds and urad dal, and fry until the seeds pop and sputter. Drop in the sweet nim leaves and immediately add the sliced green peppers. Now stir-fry until the vegetables are half tender and slightly brown.
4. Pour the yogurt sauce into the frying pan and, while stirring constantly, allow the mixture to come to a boil. Reduce the flame to medium or medium-low and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the gravy thick.
5. Remove from the flame, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and keep warm until you're ready to offer the dish to Krsna.
Follow the above recipe, but omit the green peppers and substitute ¾ pound eggplant cut into ½-inch cubes. Increase the ghee to 3 ½ tablespoons so you can slightly brown and partially cook the eggplant.
Green Peas in Coconut-Yogurt Gravy
(Mattar Dahi Karhi)
Preparation time: about 1 hour
Ingredients for the paste seasoning:
½ cup (packed tight) dried coconut, either powdered or ribboned
Ingredients for the karhi sauce:
4 tablespoons chickpea flour
Ingredients for the chaunce:
2 ½ tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
To prepare the paste seasoning:
Place the coconut and cumin seeds in a blender, cover, and pulverize to a coarse powder. Add the chili, ginger, and liquid. Then cover and blend until the ingredients are reduced to a smooth paste. Scrape all the paste into a small bowl and set aside.
To prepare the karhi sauce:
1. Sieve the chickpea flour into a 1 ½-quart mixing bowl. Add a little of the water to make a smooth, thick batter. Pour in the remaining water and the yogurt, salt, and turmeric, and churn until smooth.
2. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat the ghee or oil over a medium-high flame until a drop of water flicked into the pan sputters instantly. Drop in the mustard seeds and fry until they sputter and pop. Then add the sweet nim leaves and the coconut paste, and fry for about 2 minutes.
3. Pour in the karhi sauce and, while stirring frequently, bring to a boil. Reduce the flame and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the steamed vegetables and simmer until thick. Remove from the flame, cover well, and keep warm until you're ready to offer the dish to Krsna.
Omit the green peas and add 1 cup of corn kernels or chopped steamed broccoli.
A Political Activist becomes a monk in
by Melvin R. McCray
Reprinted with permission from The Princeton Alumni Weekly
I saw John Favors for the first time in the fall of 1970, at the introductory meeting of Princeton's Association of Black Collegians. As ABC's president, he delivered an impassioned speech on the role of blacks at Princeton. Though only five feet nine inches, he was an imposing figure in his leopard-print dashiki and matching fez-like hat, with walking stick, pipe, bushy afro, and full beard. At that time he called himself Toshombe Abdul, and he spoke with the force and dynamism of Malcolm X.
Favors reminded us that we were products of the black community and argued that blacks were now being admitted to Ivy League universities mainly because of the demonstrations and riots of the '60s. He insisted that those struggles gave us a responsibility to return to the community and help rebuild it. His audience of 200 black students, mostly freshmen, was enthralled by his charismatic delivery and filled McCosh 30 with thunderous applause.
I barely recognized Favors when I ran into him nine years later at a vegetarian restaurant in New York City. His face and scalp were cleanshaven and he was dressed in an orange robelike garment. He held a cloth pouch in one hand and a long cloth-covered staff in the other. Much to my surprise, John Favors, alias Toshombe Abdul, had become Bhaktitirtha Swami of the Hare Krishna movement. He had set aside the politics of the revolution and adopted the life of a monk in what is formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).
My curiosity aroused, I questioned him at length about this metamorphosis. My first impression was of a man who had swung from one tangent to the other with no consistency of purpose, his joining the Hare Krishnas being just the latest in a series of dramatic personality changes. But as our conversation progressed, I realized that this was not the case. There was, in fact, an inner constancy that guided his transition from revolutionary to spiritualist. His was a story of evolution rather than abrupt transformation.
Favors was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 1950, the youngest of six children in what he describes as an impoverished but deeply religious family. The combination prompted him to adopt "a very humanitarian, socialisitic posture." As a teen-ager he was active in local politics. He tutored in neighborhood centers, and at the age of 14 he became president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's midwest student division.
After graduating from Cleveland's East Technical High School, Favors received a scholarship to attend the Hawken Academy for an additional year of college preparation. By the time he arrived at Princeton in 1968, he had developed an enthusiasm for intellectual inquiry and a desire to improve the material circumstances of his fellow man in general and blacks in particular. "Because I had seen so much poverty," he says, "I was interested in doing something for myself and others."
During the turbulent late '60s and early '70s, Princeton saw its share of civil disobedience. In the spring of 1969, a coalition of students barricaded themselves in the New South building to protest the university's investments in South Africa. A year later students clashed with local police while demonstrating at the Institute for Defense Analysis. In the fall of 1970, black students occupied Firestone Library to press their demand for a Third World Center. During the early years of the new decade, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Dick Gregory, and Huey Newton all addressed large audiences at Princeton.
Favors joined the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, the Black Panther Party, and other activist groups. He developed an ideology that stressed his African roots, and he began traveling extensively in black nationalist and socialist circles in the U.S. and abroad. It was during this time that he adopted the name Toshombe Abdul.
Eventually Favors became disenchanted with political activism, feeling that it was bringing little or no progress. "I traveled to a few other countries and saw how so many revolutionary leaders who had good intentions became exploitative once they got into power. Sometimes they were more exploitative than the previous regime. I saw racism and class struggles and started to realize that it's not just one political paradigm versus another that is going to bring man equanimity, peace of mind, and a more just order."
He concluded that other approaches must be tried to attack such seemingly unsolvable problems as the depletion of natural resources, the widening gap between rich and poor, the threat of nuclear war, and man's inhumanity to man. "If you put a very exploitative man in a socialist environment," Favors decided, "he's still going to find some way to exploit. What we really need is for man to have a change of consciousness." So Favors, a psychology major, began doing research on hypnosis, mental telepathy, clairvoyance, and dreams. He also studied the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Emerson, Thoreau, and Schopenhauer on sense perception, consciousness, and the nature of reality.
Favors turned next to Eastern religions, attracted by their emphasis on expansion of consciousness and purification of the senses as well as their ideal of service to God and man. He started reading the Vedas and the Bhagavad-gita, the scriptures of Hinduism, and was intrigued by what he calls their "scientific" approach to the mastery of life. He wondered if these mystical philosophies could succeed where political action had failed in bringing about a more just world order.
While still at Princeton, he undertook formal lessons with Sri Chinmoy, Swami Satchidananda, and other Indian gurus who related Hindu philosophy to the Western world. Favors continued his political activism at the same time that he began pursuing these spiritual inquiries: "I would leave a Black Panther rally or an ABC meeting and go to New York and study meditation for a couple of days with some swamis."
The conflicting demands of his double life came to a head at graduation, in June 1972. He was awarded a scholarship to attend the University of Tanzania, where he could become more directly involved in third-world political and social activities. "But I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to continue working in politics," he says, "or whether I wanted to become more contemplative and introspective." He put off this decision by taking a job in the office of New Jersey Public Defender Stanley Van Ness, where he worked on penal-reform projects, while also taking lessons in Vedic philosophy at the Hare Krishna temple in New York City. "It gave me a chance to scrutinize the different polarities in myself, the political and the spiritual."
Favors believed that Hare Krishna devotees were following the original Vedic teachings more closely than any other sect, but he was not convinced yet that he wanted to commit himself to a totally spiritual life, nor was he sure the Hare Krishnas would be the right choice for him. "The first time I saw a Hare Krishna," he says, "was up in Harvard Square at a football game. It was very cold, and a group of them were standing on the corner chanting. I looked at them and thought, 'This is the epitome of absurdity.' I presumed they were rich white students just out looking for some different kind of drug or alternate experience. But when I passed by again two hours later, they were still on the corner chanting in the cold. I knew then there was something extraordinary about them. Years later I was shocked to find that those people ringing cymbals and playing drums in the street possessed an intense philosophy about God."
Though Favors was doing quite well financially, and felt his job directing prison programs was an important one, he still was dissatisfied. After working with Van Ness for a year he decided to leave. "He knew I was a little unusual," Favors says, "because I would go to parties and never drink or eat meat. I told him that I was becoming a member of a religious organization, and that we had a school in Dallas where I was being called to do some teaching. It was an unusual situation. Just overnight I knew I had to leave. I knew at that point my whole life was going to change. I gave all my possessions away. I took a razor and shaved my head. The next morning I got on a plane and went to Dallas."
Americans have come to know the Hare Krishnas by their street chanting, airport book-selling, and portrayal in the media as a religious cult. It is not generally known that they are an international organization with several thousand members and centers in many of the world's major cities. Even less is known about their religious beliefs, based on the 5,000-year-old Vedas, which teach the worship of one supreme God and many of the same concepts presented in the Ten Commandments. The name Krishna means "all-attractive one," and is used to describe the supreme qualities of God. The chant—"Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare"—is a prayer which means, "O Lord, please engage me in Your service."
The religion of the Hare Krishnas is basically the same as the Hinduism practiced by 600 million Indians. The notable difference is that the Krishnas follow the Vedic interpretations of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who founded the Hare Krishna movement to spread Krishna consciousness to the English-speaking world. He arrived in America in 1965, at the age of 69, and began teaching that the Vedas specify the Hare Krishna mantra as the most effective method of spiritual realization in this age. The chant, therefore, is at the core of the sect's religious practices. Not all followers of Vedic scriptures, however, give such prominence to this particular mantra over other Vedic chants.
The negative reaction of most Americans to this religious doctrine was understandable, given the country's deep-rooted cultural biases against such beliefs, dress, and behavior. Many parents and the religious community as a whole remain alarmed at the proliferation of cultlike religious organizations that attract large numbers of young persons. Favor's decision to join the Hare Krishnas was received with chagrin by most of his family, friends, and classmates.
At first he taught academic courses in the ISKCON school in Dallas. Later he was assigned to the organization's Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the largest publisher of books on Hindu philosophy and religion in the world. Its primary function is to print and distribute more than 70 volumes of translations of and commentaries on the Vedic scriptures by Swami Prabhupada. In fact, with over 60 million volumes distributed, ISKCON derives most of its income from the sale of these books.
For his first seven years in the organization, Favors undertook a rigorous study of Indian philosophy and Sanskrit literature. Meanwhile, he was moving up rapidly in the ISKCON hierarchy. "I was sort of taken under the wings of the leading swamis," he says.
Then, in 1979, Favors became a sannyasi, which means renunciant, or monk. He's one of two black swamis in the Vaishnava order and one of two dozen leaders directing the work of the Hare Krishna movement. At that time he was renamed Bhaktitirtha Swami, which means "one in whom others can take shelter." Not all Hare Krishnas are encouraged to become monks; in fact, most marry and raise families. Even within the hierarchy, priesthood is a radical step. "I've been celibate for ten years," he notes. "One may ask how it is that a young man who is at his prime, when sexual tendencies are very active, could take to such a lifestyle. But obviously enjoyment must be there. When you are developing a higher taste, then it becomes easy to give up something else."
For the last four years he has been helping to direct ISKCON's activities in Africa—especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Favors has received enthusiastic support from the Africans he has met, which he attributes to his spiritual posture. "Once you are out of America," he says, "there is a whole different mood of how a spiritualist is treated. In America people may say, 'Look at this weird guy.' But in Africa they know immediately that my dress indicates a very high priest. I can meet with ambassadors, chiefs, princes, and I can get funds just based on the programs and the posture that I represent." Backing up his words is the fact that most of the land ISKCON operates on in Africa has been donated by government or private sources.
Some of Favors's classmates might question the validity of spreading a religious philosophy from India among Africans. Why should Krishna consciousness be any more relevant than indigenous African religions or for that matter the Western religious doctrines which are taught there? According to Favors, the Vedic religion has been acceptable to the Africans he has encountered because of its similarity to their own. "To a certain extent, the principles we follow are not much different from what a spiritualist in Ghana or a person in the Yoruba tribe would follow: the same hierarchy, the same concepts of life after death, and the same knowledge of pyschic centers.
"Africans feel that Vedic teachings clarify beliefs they have long held. Our contribution is a scientific explanation of phenomena they have accepted for centuries without understanding. Rather than propose a change of culture, as the Christian missionaries did, Krishna consciousness suggests that people simply add an understanding of the scientific process of devotional service, as described in the Bhagavad-gita."
Favors feels that African culture is being eroded by influences from the West, and the Vedic religious philosophy can strengthen native practices. "I am trying to get Africans to realize what great teachings they have—teachings that deal with man's relationship to man in a very pure way. But Africa and all of the third world is becoming more and more Western in consciousness, so we are telling them, 'Don't take this materialism as a priority."'
Encouraged by the warm reception he has received in Africa, Favors is planning a number of major projects, including hospitals, more schools, and expanded food-distribution systems. He is actively recruiting people to run these programs from both inside and outside the Hare Krishna organization.
Looking back on his experience at Princeton, Favors says, "The educational experience I had was good in that it allowed you a certain amount of freedom and creative thinking. My experience at Princeton helped me to see that I didn't want to be a materialist, but it was my education in the Hare Krishna movement that convinced me spiritual life is a meaningful, viable alternative not only for me—but for everyone."
"Now I Know Why"
A young journalism student's path to Krsna consciousness takes her from curiosity to conviction.
by Krsnamayi-devi dasi
It was 4:15 in the morning. On the north side of Chicago, not even the birds were up. But I was. And not only was I up, but I was chanting and dancing around a room with thirty other people, all members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
To most Americans, the scene would have appeared odd, to say the least. The men wore either white or saffron Indian dhotis, and we women were dressed in bright saris. On our foreheads we all wore tilaka, the white, V-shaped clay markings indicating devotion to God, and around our necks we wore strands of beads indicating dedication to God and the spiritual master.
Samsara davanala lidha-loka ... It was mangala-arati, the ceremony that begins each day for Hare Krsna devotees. The men, filling the front of the room, faced the Deity forms of Lord Krsna and His consort, Srimati Radharani. Some men played Indian drums, producing exotic, throbbing rhythms. Others clashed small hand cymbals with a regular one-two-three, one-two-three. The women, clustered at the back of the room, clapped and danced to the rhythm of the drums, cymbals, and chanting. Vande guroh sri-caranaravindam . . ,
Several times that morning I asked myself, Why am I here? I was a "normal" college junior doing well in school. I wasn't consciously searching for any kind of supreme truth, the way I'd always heard people did before they got involved with the Hare Krsnas. Yet, although it was spring break, I wasn't in Fort Lauderdale or any of the other fun spots that cater to college students. I was at the Chicago Hare Krsna temple.
Why? Why was I involved in worshiping God, Krsna, in this way? Well, as yet even I didn't know the answer to that one. I didn't know if I was acting out a fantasy, if I was just curious, or if I really wanted to believe as the devotees did. All I knew for sure was that I enjoyed spending time with them and that I respected them for their strong faith and their courage in sticking with beliefs society frowns on as alien.
The story of my interest in the Hare Krsna movement goes back to when I was a seventeen-year-old freshman at Southern Illinois University, in Carbondale. When those strange-looking people with the orange robes and shaved heads first appeared on campus, I had no idea who they were. But I was curious. So I overcame my timidity and talked to them. Then I reported what I'd found to my friends, and a well-meaning roommate threw at me the frightening word cult.
But I, always the rebellious one in our family, wanted to see for myself whether the reported "brainwashing" would take place for me. It never did. And because I had expected a bit of magic, I was a little disappointed. But I did keep talking to the devotees whenever they came to Carbondale, and though their beliefs were hard to understand at first, after a year or so of questioning and studying the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, I began to find it more acceptable; it all began to make sense. And I found my admiration for the devotees growing—for their spiritual knowledge, their strength of character, and their high moral standards.
After two years of chance meetings with devotees, I learned that a small Hare Krsna center was opening in town. I was thrilled. I loved the prasadam (the spicy, sanctified food they served), the beautiful saris the women wore, and the feeling of being part of a worldwide, growing movement. The center soon gathered a few followers, including myself. But my following was only tentative, sporadic, and very cautious. Playing at being a devotee was fine, I thought, but I certainly wasn't ready to give up my plans of being wealthy and worldly-wise.
Then, during spring break, the center's director, Damodara Pandita, decided to take his wife and their two-year-old son to the Chicago temple for a week. A few people went with them, and I followed several days later with some friends.
The group of us making the trip got in late at night—late, that is, for devotees, whose days start at 3:30 a.m. Damodara Pandita was waiting for us at the temple and took us two blocks down an alley to the apartment we were to share with his wife. Since she was staying there just temporarily, it was bare except for bunk beds along the walls.
When 3:30 came, I was already awake. I excitedly jumped out of bed and took my turn in a quick shower, tied my hair back into a braid, carefully applied the clay tilaka markings, covered my head (as a sign of chastity), and stepped out into cold, predawn Chicago.
It's one thing to be told that the early-morning hours are best for spiritual practices. It's quite another to experience it. I could almost touch the stillness in the damp, thick air as we walked through the alley. The late spring air chilled us, and soon we were walking faster and faster, finally breaking into a run the last few yards before we reached the temple building.
After scurrying up three flights of stairs, we entered a dimly lit room as big as a basketball court. We clanged a bell hanging by the door to announce our presence to the Deities, sank to our knees and offered obeisances by touching our foreheads to the checkerboard marble floor.
The Deity forms of Radha and Krsna smiled down from a lighted chamber along one wall of the room. Ancient Vedic scriptures say that if the Deities are installed in the temple with the proper ceremonies, God will consent to reside within Them. But bowing down before the Deities is one thing some people can't understand; it seems degrading. But I enjoyed it. Thanks to rituals learned during childhood judo lessons, I had never thought myself too good to bow to a superior. And God, I thought, is as superior as you can get.
When the mangala-arati ceremony was over, it was time for individual chanting. Each devotee carries around his or her neck a cloth bag containing a string of 108 japa beads, similar to a rosary. While turning each bead between the thumb and second finger, the devotee chants the mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Hare means "O energy of God," and Krsna and Rama are names of God. Chanting is a spiritual call for the Lord and His energy to give protection to the conditioned soul and engage him in the Lord's service. And, since God is absolute. He and His names are nondifferent. I actually felt His presence while chanting.
When all 108 beads have been told, a "round" is done. Sixteen rounds are required every day from each initiated devotee. But I, with a poor early-morning attention span, was having a difficult time concentrating. I looked around at some of the older devotees, a few of whom had been in the movement for ten or twelve years, and saw them chanting easily and with pleasure. Some paced as they chanted, some sat still, and some rocked back and forth, but all had looks of deep concentration on their faces. Inspired (and not wanting to appear too much of a novice), I closed my eyes and began again. This time it was easier, and I started to savor the words of the chant.
I opened my eyes and looked around, feeling a warmth slowly spread through my body. The temple seemed almost like home. I knew that an outsider might see it as segregated—men were generally aloof from the women—but that was because distractions had to be minimized so one could concentrate on spiritual life. Both sexes seemed to want it that way. And when we did get together, to watch video tapes or to discuss the day's activities, I sensed comfortable relationships without the strain of flirting.
After a ceremony in which we worshiped the guru, we had a forty-five-minute philosophy class on an ancient Sanskrit spiritual classic called the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The morning ended with a delicious breakfast of fruit, cereal, chickpeas, and hot milk.
After breakfast, a six-year-old girl devotee and I started walking back to the apartment together. Halfway down the alley, we were surprised by two little boys who popped out of their backyard and began to scream at us. "We believe in Jesus Christ," they yelled, making faces, "not your blankety-blank old God!" The little girl looked at me, bewilderment and hurt glistening in her wide eyes. "But I believe in Jesus, too," she said. I held her hand tighter. How do you explain religious prejudice to a child? "Don't worry, it's okay," I told her. "Those boys are just envious because they're not as happy as you are. They don't look very happy, do they?" She agreed they didn't, and we walked on.
The boys weren't acting like followers of Christ, I thought. Where was the mercy, the compassion, the love he taught? I could see these clearly in the devotees, and they expressed them toward people of all faiths. I knew that devotees regard Christ as an empowered representative of God and that they actually worship him as a pure devotee, a spiritual master. It's too bad most people can't understand that devotees of Krsna aren't enemies of Christianity.
Devotees don't eat meat (following "Thou shalt not kill" closer than the vast majority of Christians), and they don't use intoxicants, have illicit sex, or gamble either. What genuine Christian could fault the devotees for abstaining from these sins? I had to admire the devotees for their self-control, even though I wasn't ready to follow all those regulations at that time.
All in all, I could see why the Hare Krsna religion was attracting so many admirers. Its purity, combined with incidents like the one with the little boys, made me want to defend it for all the goodness I knew to be there. I still had my doubts about parts of the philosophy, but just being around devotees made it easier to believe. More than anything, I realized suddenly, I wanted to belong to this movement. Maybe not just then, but someday.
At the end of my visit, as I expected, the devotees invited me to stay. But I felt an insistent need to get back to journalism school, my boyfriend, my job, and my plans. I just wasn't ready to make that kind of commitment.
So I left. But even though I drove out of Chicago, I didn't really leave the movement. I kept visiting the St. Louis temple (it was the closest one to Carbondale), and one by one my doubts and questions were answered, especially when on one of my visits I met my spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Ramesvara Swami.
Back at school I worked my way up to a position as editor on the student newspaper, and after graduation I went on to work for several professional newspapers in the Midwest. Krsna consciousness always remained a part of my life, and gradually the desire grew in me to make it even more so. Then, one day in St. Louis, I made my decision. I was confident that moving into the temple community and serving Krsna full time was the right thing to do.
Six months later, Srila Ramesvara Swami awarded me formal initiation and gave me the name Krsnamayi-devi dasi, meaning "servant of Radharani." My parents and some of my friends were astonished, but I never regretted my decision. I haven't given up my plans to be a writer—in fact, the first articles I ever sold to a national magazine were written after I had become a full-time devotee. Only now my writing is devotional service to Krsna, and it's much more satisfying than writing for prestige.
Days still start before the birds are up. Only now I know why I'm up that early and why I'm chanting before the beautiful Radha-Krsna Deities at the Dallas temple, where my husband and I live with our newborn child. I'm not just pretending to be a devotee anymore; I'm living a life based on the deep understanding that I'm a servant of God and that all I do should be done with devotion as an offering to Him.
And that kind of life is becoming more and more satisfying every day.
When you're out of your element,
by Drutakarma dasa
For years, Frederick J. Fish lived a very ordinary life beneath the waves of the blue Pacific Ocean off Malibu. But one day he noticed that up on the beach there were finless creatures who appeared to be having more fun. So he rode in on a wave and hopped up on the sundrenched sand. Soon he was all fixed up to enjoy himself—beach chair, FM radio, a cold drink, sunglasses. But something was wrong. Gradually Fred's feeling of discomfort turned to panic. Finally, gasping for breath, he realized, "I'm out of my element!"
* * *
According to the sages of ancient India, we're all out of our element. Originally, we all lived blissfully in the spiritual world, rendering transcendental loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna. Since this material world is not our real home, no amount of material gratification can satisfy us.
People often ask. If we were so blissful, why would we choose to leave the spiritual world? The answer is that we mistakenly thought we could enjoy greater happiness away from the Supreme Lord. In the spiritual world, God is the center of everyone's attention. Everyone cooperates to serve Him. When a living being attempts to assume the position of God, he is forced to enter the material universe, where he can live out his fantasies of being the supreme enjoyer.
In the material world, a person tries to enjoy himself by becoming friends with the best sort of people, by picking the most attractive sex partner, by doing everything possible to guarantee a good future for himself and his family members. He dresses as sharp as he can, drives the most expensive car he can afford, takes vacations in posh resorts, buys a house in a good neighborhood. He gets a color television, a personal computer, a second home in the country. He eats at the best restaurants, savors his favorite intoxicants, and goes out to see first-run movies. But these material things can never completely satisfy the yearnings of the soul.
In a recent interview, Alfred Ford (Ambarisa dasa), great-grandson of Henry Ford and now a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, spoke of the hopelessness of trying to buy happiness: "At a very early age, perhaps because I was born and raised in a very opulent situation, I began to notice that wealth alone can't make people happy, and that everything in the world, even the 'good things,' are temporary."
Sometimes people think that because devotees of Krsna reject material happiness they must lead extremely dull lives. Actually, transcendentalists are the most discriminating connoisseurs of pleasure.
A person serious about enjoying himself will naturally reject inferior pleasures and concentrate upon superior ones. In fact, he should be interested in finding the highest pleasure possible. Logically, a pleasure that never ends is superior to a pleasure that does. Also, pure pleasure is superior to pleasure mixed with some kind of unpleasantness. Finally, a pleasure that constantly increases is superior to one that is static, or that diminishes after a time.
Using this standard, we can see that any kind of pleasure derived from a material object is inferior to the spiritual pleasure obtainable from serving Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose very name means "the reservoir of all pleasure." Any person or object we try to enjoy in this material world will eventually be destroyed by the force of time, and the body with which we try to enjoy the material objects will also be destroyed. But the pleasure that comes from serving Krsna is eternal, because both the Lord and the soul are eternal.
Furthermore, pleasures derived from material objects and relationships are always mixed with pain. For example, there is some pleasure in sexual relationships between a man and a woman, but that is always followed by the burdens and difficulties of marriage, divorce, jealousy, envy, pregnancy, abortion, venereal disease, unfaithfulness, and so on. But the pure spiritual relationship of the soul with Krsna is purely blissful. The Nectar of Devotion, Srila Prabhupada's summary study of a devotional classic called Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, describes the condition of one who has achieved love of God: "At that time one's heart becomes illuminated like the sun, and from his pure heart there is a diffusion of ecstatic love more glorious than the sunshine."
Finally, attempts to enjoy a material situation inevitably yield diminishing returns. The first ice-cream cone may taste delicious. The second may be just as good. But the third will be hard to eat, and the fourth may make you sick. At the very sight of the fifth, you'll feel nauseous. But love for Krsna is like an ever-expanding ocean of transcendental bliss, and devotees pray to remain always immersed in its waves.
The Vedic literatures recommend a very simple process by which anyone can enter into this ocean of bliss: the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This mantra is composed of Sanskrit names of God. Being Absolute, God's name is nondifferent from God Himself and possesses all His transcendental energies. Five centuries ago Krsna appeared as Lord Caitanya and taught His followers: "The chanting of the holy name of God expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life." That's where we really belong, not washed up on the beach of material existence.
What It's Like to Be a Devotee of Krsna
Because of their unusual dress, the men's shaved heads, the behavior of chanting and dancing, and the preaching of a philosophy little known to most, devotees of the Hare Krsna movement appear strange to many Westerners. Yet if a person is somewhat broad-minded, he'll see that in many ways Krsna conscious people are like other people.
In certain important ways, however, a devotee does see things differently from other people, and this unique difference is the most valuable thing a devotee has to share with the rest of the world. To live in Krsna consciousness is to live in continuous awareness of God—certainly something worth sharing.
According to the Vedic scriptures and the realizations of saints throughout history, everyone is originally God conscious, or Krsna conscious, but in this material world most of us are forgetful of this consciousness. A devotee is much like anyone else except that, having dedicated his body, mind, and words to God, he now experiences transcendental awareness.
When I think back to my life before I met my spiritual master, before I learned about devotional service from him, I think my past would have been better, happier, had I then had the benefit of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and engaging in devotional service. So many anxieties could have been relieved. Wasted years could have been spent with real purpose and hope. Acts I now understand to be harmful to myself and others could have been avoided. Comparing my life then with my life now, I want to testify that my new life is immeasurably better. The missionary desire I now feel to tell this to others is a result not only of the written order of the scriptures but also of my personal experience of the benefits of spiritual life.
Here are some examples of what it's like to live in God consciousness:
1. When a devotee does even ordinary things, like drinking water or seeing the sun, he's aware of the presence of God. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states, "I am the taste of water. I am the light of the sun." When a devotee drinks water, therefore, he is aware that the water is the energy of Lord Krsna, and the original pure taste of water reminds him of Krsna. Because the devotee's conception of God is personal, he thanks the Lord for quenching his thirst. And when he perceives the sun in the sky, he remembers the source, understanding that only the Supreme Being can create such a mighty powerhouse of energy. These are simple practices for remaining God conscious, but if one adopts them they can have profound effects.
2. A devotee has a vision of equality, based on spiritual awareness. When he perceives human beings in different social classes—rich or poor, educated or uneducated—he sees them equally, because he sees within each human being (and even within the lower forms of life) the eternal spiritual soul. Mundane philosophers have tried to reach equal vision by relative means, but unless one understands equality on the basis of spiritual vision, there will always be conflicts of interest. Attempts at equality among the sexes or among the races and attempts to extend humane feelings even to the animals are best practiced not as ends in themselves but as by-products of self-realization and God consciousness.
3. A devotee sees his life as temporary. He knows that his body, his family, his worldly pursuits, and even the world itself are impermanent; therefore he avoids the frustration of trying to enjoy that which is temporary and miserable. While living peacefully in this world, he makes his material life moderate in its aims, concentrating his energy on attaining awareness of God and self-realization.
"I'm glad to hear it works that way for you," a nondevotee may say, "but that doesn't mean it will work for me. I would appreciate it if you wouldn't assume that yours is the only path to happiness. Let everyone find his or her own path."
To this statement I would reply by first acknowledging that each one of us is a person with free will and individual choice; therefore, we may or may not adopt the life of Krsna consciousness. But ultimately all paths must be judged by the standard of God consciousness, which devotees of Lord Krsna understand to be the prime necessity for everyone. One cannot even begin the life of God consciousness without recognizing the direction of a supreme intelligent being, that Supreme Controller who is the source of everything and the director of all destinies. We can either follow the directions of the Supreme or disobey Him, but in either case we are under His control. A devotee in God consciousness is one who acknowledges God's laws and obeys them.
As for how one should serve God, that may be expressed in as many different ways as there are different lives. One can serve Krsna as a professional, as a shaven-headed monk, as a businessman, as a laborer, or in whatever state one finds himself and through whatever tendency one develops for self-expression. But one must understand that, regardless of his occupation, only through knowing, serving, and loving God can one realize his full human potential.
In trying to describe what it's like to be a devotee, I know I haven't fully conveyed the unique experience. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gives a full description of Krsna consciousness in his extensive writings, yet he also concludes that Krsna consciousness has to be experienced to be truly understood. We therefore invite people to chant the holy names of God, to hear the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, and to associate with devotees. If instead a person tries to judge or analyze Krsna consciousness from a distance, his attempt will be like trying to taste honey by licking the outside of the jar. Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." And in examining different qualities of life one should certainly give some serious attention to the experience and the philosophy of Krsna consciousness.—SDG