In Fact and Fantasy
A conversation in Los Angeles in June 1972 with
Devotee: Darwin tried to show how the origin of living species could be fully explained by the purely mechanical, unplanned action of natural forces. By the process he called "natural selection," all the higher, complex forms of life gradually evolved from more primitive and rudimentary ones. In a given animal population, for example, some individuals will have traits that make them adapt better to their environment; these more fit individuals will survive to pass on their favorable traits to their offspring. The unfit will gradually be weeded out naturally. Thus, a cold climate will favor those who have, say, long hair or fatty tissue, and the species will then gradually evolve in that direction.
Srila Prabhupada: The question is that in the development of the body, is there any plan that a particular kind of body—with, as you say, long hair or fatty tissue—should exist under certain natural conditions? Who has made these arrangements? That is the question.
Devotee: No one. Modern evolutionists ultimately base their theory on the existence of chance variations.
Srila Prabhupada: That is nonsense. There is no chance. If they say "chance," then they are nonsense. Our question remains. Who has created the different circumstances for the existence of different kinds of animals?
Devotee: For example, a frog may lay hundreds or thousands of eggs, but out of all of them only a few may survive to adult-hood. Those who do are more fit than the others, who do not. If the environment did not favorably select the fittest, then too many frogs—
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, frogs and many other animals lay eggs by the hundreds. A snake gives birth to scores of snakes at a time, and if all were allowed to exist, there would be a great disturbance. Therefore, big snakes devour the small snakes. That is nature's law. But behind nature's law is a brain. That is our proposition. Nature's law is not blind, for behind it there is a brain, and that brain is God. We learn this from the Bhagavad-gita [9.10]: mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram. Whatever is taking place in material nature is being directed by the Supreme Lord, who maintains everything in order. So the snake lays eggs by the score, and if they are not killed, the world would be overwhelmed by snakes. Similarly, male tigers kill the cubs. The economic theory of Malthus states that whenever there is overpopulation, there must be an outbreak of war, epidemic, famine, or the like to curb it. These natural activities do not take place by chance but are planned. Anyone who says they are a matter of chance has insufficient knowledge.
Devotee: But Darwin has a huge amount of evidence—
Srila Prabhupada: Evidence? That is all right. We also have got evidence. Evidence must be there. But as soon as there is evidence, there should be no talk of "chance."
Devotee: For example, out of millions of frogs, one may happen to be better adapted to living in the water.
Srila Prabhupada: But that is not by chance! That is by plan! He doesn't know that. As soon as one says "chance," it means his knowledge is imperfect. A man says "chance" when he cannot explain. It is evasive. Therefore, he is without perfect knowledge and therefore unfit for giving any knowledge. He is cheating, that's all.
Devotee: Well, Darwin sees a "plan" or "design" in a sense, but—
Srila Prabhupada: If he sees a plan or design, then whose design? As soon as you recognize a design, you must acknowledge a designer. If you see a plan, then you must accept a planner. That he does not know.
Devotee: But the "plan" is only the involuntary working of nature.
Srila Prabhupada: Nonsense. There is a plan. The sun rises daily according to exact calculation. It does not follow our calculation; rather, we calculate according to the sun. Experiencing that in such-and-such season the sun rises at such-and-such time, we learn that according to the season the sun rises exactly on the minute, the second. It is not by whimsy or chance but by minute plan.
Devotee: But can't you say it's just mechanical?
Srila Prabhupada: Then who made it mechanical? If something is mechanical, then there must be a mechanic, a brain, who made the machine. Here is something mechanical [points to a Telex machine]: Who made it? This machine has not come out by itself. It is made of iron, and the iron did not mold itself into a machine; there is a brain who made the machine possible. So everything in nature has a plan or design, and behind that plan or design there is a brain, a very big brain.
Devotee: Darwin tried to make the appearance and disappearance of living forms seem so natural and involuntary that God is removed from the picture. Evolutionary theory makes it appear as if combinations of material ingredients created life, and then various species evolved one from another naturally.
Srila Prabhupada: That is foolishness. Combination means God. God is combining. Combination does not take place automatically. Suppose I am cooking. There are many ingredients gathered for cooking, but they do not combine together by themselves. I am the cooker, and in cooking I combine together oil, spices, rice, dal, and so on; and in this way, nice dishes are produced. Similarly, the combination of ingredients in nature requires God. Otherwise, how does the moment arise in which the combination takes place? Do you place all the ingredients in the kitchen and in an hour come back and say, "Oh, where is my meal?" Nonsense! Who will cook your meal? You'll starve. But take help of a living being, and then we'll cook and we can eat. This is our experience. So if there is combination, then who is combining? They are fools not to know how combination takes place.
Devotee: Scientists now say life arose out of four basic elements: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Srila Prabhupada: If the basic principle is chemicals, who made the chemicals? That question should be asked.
Devotee: Isn't it possible that one day science will discover the source of these chemicals?
Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of discovering: the answer is already known, although it may not be known to you. We know. The Vedanta says, janmady asya yatah: the original source of everything is Brahman, Krsna. Krsna says, aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate: "I am the origin of everything" [Bg. 10.8]. So we know that there is a big brain who is doing everything. We know. The scientists may not know; that is their foolishness.
Devotee: They might say the same thing about us.
Srila Prabhupada: No, they cannot say the same thing about us. We accept Krsna, but not blindly. Our predecessors, the great acaryas and learned scholars, have accepted Krsna, so we are not following blindly. We claim that Krsna is the origin, but what claim can the scientist make? As soon as he says "chance," it means that he has no knowledge. We don't say chance. We have an original cause; but he says "chance." Therefore he has no knowledge.
Devotee: They try to trace back the origin by means of excavation. And they have found that gradually through the years the animal forms are evolving toward increasingly more complex and specialized forms, from invertebrates to fishes, then to amphibians, then to reptiles and insects, to mammals and birds, and finally to humans. In that process many species, like the dinosaurs, appeared, flourished, and then disappeared forever, became extinct. Eventually, primitive apelike creatures appeared, and from them man gradually developed.
Srila Prabhupada: Is the theory that the human body comes from the monkeys?
Devotee: Humans and monkeys are related. They come from the same—
Srila Prabhupada: Related? Everything is related; that is another thing. But if the monkey body is developing into a human body, then why, after the human body is developed, why doesn't the monkey species cease to exist?
Devotee: The humans and the monkeys are branches of the same tree.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and both are now existing. Similarly, we say that at the time the evolutionists say life began, at that time there were human beings exisiting.
Devotee: They find no evidence for that.
Srila Prabhupada: Why no evidence?
Devotee: In the ground. By excavation. They find no evidence in the ground.
Srila Prabhupada: Is the ground the only evidence? Is there no other evidence?
Devotee: They accept only the testimony of the senses as evidence.
Srila Prabhupada: But they still cannot prove that there was no human being at the time they say life originated. They cannot prove that.
Devotee: It appears that in certain layers of earth there are remains of apelike men—
Srila Prabhupada: Apelike men or manlike apes are still existing now, alongside human beings. If one thing has been developed by the transformation of another thing, then that original thing should no longer be in existence. When in this way a cause has produced its effect, the cause ceases to exist. But in this case we see that the cause is still present, that there are still monkeys and apes . . .
Devotee: But monkeys did not cause men; both came from the same common ancestor. That is their account.
Srila Prabhupada: We say that we all come from God, the same ancestor, the same father. The original father is Krsna. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [14.5], sarva-yonisu kaunteya, "Of as many forms as there are," aham bija-pradah pita, "I am the seed-giving father." So what is your objection to this?
Devotee: Well, if I examine the layers of earth, I find in the deepest layers no evidence—
Srila Prabhupada: You are packed up with layers of earth, that's all. That is the boundary of your knowledge. But that is not knowledge; there are many other evidences.
Devotee: But surely if men were living millions of years ago, they would have left evidence, tangible evidence, behind them. I could see their remains.
Srila Prabhupada: So I say that in human society bodies are burned after death, cremated. So where does your excavator get his bones?
Devotee: Well, that's possible, but—
Srila Prabhupada: According to our Vedic system, the body is burned to ashes after death. Where, therefore, would the rascal get the bones? Animals are not burned; their bones remain. But human beings are burned, and therefore they cannot find their bones.
Devotee: I'm just saying that it appears, through layer after layer of deposits in the earth, that biological forms tend to progress from simple and primitive forms to more and more complex and specialized ones, until finally civilized man appears.
Srila Prabhupada: But at the present moment both simple and complex forms are existing. One did not develop into the other. For example, my childhood body has developed into my adult body, and the child's body is no longer there. So if the higher, complex species developed from the simpler, lower species, then we should see no simple species. But all species are now existing simultaneously.
When I see all 8,400,000 species of life existing, what is the question of development? Each species exists now, and it existed long ago. You might not have seen it, but you have no proper source of knowledge. You might have missed it. That is another thing.
Devotee: But all the evidence shows otherwise. Five hundred million years ago there were no land animals; there were only aquatics.
Srila Prabhupada: That is nonsense. You cannot give a history of five hundred million years! Where is the history of five hundred million years? You are simply imagining. You say historical evidence, but where is your evidence? You cannot give a history for more than three thousand years, and you are speaking about five hundred million. This is all nonsense.
Devotee: If I dig far into the ground, layer by layer—
Srila Prabhupada: By dirt you are calculating five hundred million years? It could be ten years. You cannot give the history of human society past three thousand years, so how can you speak of four hundred or five hundred million years ago? Where were you then? Were you there, so you can say that all these species were not there? This is imagination. In this way everyone can imagine and say some nonsense.
We accept evolution, but not that the forms of the species are changing. The bodies are all already there, but the soul is evolving by changing bodies and by transmigrating from one body to another. I have evolved from my childhood body to my adult body, and now my childhood body is extinct. But there are many other children. Similarly, all the species are now existing simultaneously, and they were all there in the past.
For example, if you are traveling in a train, you find first class, second class, third class; they are all existing. If you pay a higher fare and enter the first-class carriage, you cannot say, "Now the first class is created." It was always existing. So the defect of the evolutionists is that they have no information of the soul. The soul is evolving, transmigrating, from one compartment to another compartment, simply changing place. The Padma Purana says that there are 8,400,000 species of life, and the soul evolves through them. This evolutionary process we accept: The soul evolves from aquatics to plants, to insects, to birds, to animals, and then to the human forms. But all these forms are already there. They do not change. One does not become extinct and another survive. All of them are existing simultaneously.
Devotee: But Darwin says there are many species, like dinosaurs, that are seen to be extinct.
Srila Prabhupada: What has he seen? He is not so powerful that he can see everywhere or everything. His power to see is limited, and by that limited power he cannot conclude that one species is extinct. That is not possible. No scientist will accept that. After all, all the senses by which you gather knowledge are limited, so how car you say this is finished or that is extinct? You cannot see. You cannot search out. The earth's circumference is twenty-five thousand miles; have you searched through all the layers of rock and soil over the whole earth? Have you excavated all those places?
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore our first charge against Darwin is this: He says there were no human beings millions of years ago. That is not a fact. We now see human beings existing along with all other species, and it should be concluded that this situation always existed. Human life has always been there. Darwin cannot say there was no human life.
Devotee: We don't see any dinosaurs existing.
Srila Prabhupada; You do not see because you have no power to see. Your senses are very limited, so what you see or don't see cannot be authoritative. So many people—the majority of people—say, "I don't see God." Shall we accept, then, that there is no God? Are we crazy for being devotees of God?
Devotee: No, but dinosaurs—
Srila Prabhupada: But simply by dinosaurs being missing you cannot make your case. What about all the other species?
Devotee: Many, many others are also extinct.
Srila Prabhupada: Say I accept that many are extinct—because the evolutionary process means that as an earlier species gradually changes into a later species, the earlier vanishes, becomes extinct. But we see that many monkeys are still here. Man evolves from the simians, but simians have not disappeared. Monkeys are here, and men are here.
Devotee: But still I'm not convinced. If we make geological investigations all over the world, not just here and there, but in many parts of the world, and in every case we find the same thing—
Srila Prabhupada: But I say you have not studied all over the world. Has Darwin studied all the continents on this planet? Has he gone down into the depths of the seas and there excavated all the layers of the earth? No. So his knowledge is imperfect. This is the relative world, and here everyone speaks with relative knowledge. Therefore we should accept knowledge from a person who is not within this relativity.
Devotee: Actually, Darwin hit upon his theory because of what he observed on his voyage in 1835 to the Galapagos Islands, off the coast of South America. He found there species that exist nowhere else—
Srila Prabhupada: That means he has not seen all the species. He has not traveled all over the universe. He has seen one island, but he has not seen the whole creation. So how can he determine what species exist and don't exist? He has studied one part of this earth, but there are many millions of planets. He has not seen all of them; he has not excavated the depths of all the planets. So how can he conclude, "This is nature"? He has not seen everything, nor is it possible for anyone to.
Devotee: Let's just confine ourselves to this planet.
Srila Prabhupada: No, why should we? Nature is not only on this planet.
Devotee: Because you said that on this planet there were complex forms of living beings millions and millions of years ago.
Srila Prabhupada: We are not talking about this planet, but about anywhere. You are referring to nature. Nature is not limited or confined to this planet. You cannot say that. Nature, material nature, includes millions of universes, and in each and every universe there are millions of planets. If you have studied only this planet, your knowledge is insufficient.
Devotee: But you said before that millions of years ago on this planet there were horses, elephants, civilized men—
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, yes.
Devotee: But from hundreds of different sources there is no evidence.
Srila Prabhupada: I say they are existing now—men, horses, snakes, insects, trees. So why not millions of years ago?
Devotee: Because there is no evidence.
Srila Prabhupada: That doesn't mean—! You limit your study to one planet. That is not full knowledge.
Devotee: I just want to find out for the time being about—
Srila Prabhupada: Why the time being? If you are not perfect in your knowledge, then why should I accept your theory? That is my point.
Devotee: Well, if you claim that millions of years ago there were complex forms of life on this planet . . .
Srila Prabhupada: Whether on this planet or on another planet, that is not the point. The point is that all species exist and keep on existing by the arrangement of nature. We learn from the Vedic texts that there are 8,400,000 species established. They may be in your neighborhood or they may be in my neighborhood—the number and types are fixed. But if you simply study your neighborhood, it is not perfect knowledge. Evolution we admit. But your evolutionary theory is not perfect. Our theory of evolution is perfect. From the Vedas we know that there are 8,400,000 forms of bodies provided by nature, but the soul is the same in all, in spite of the different types of body. There is no change in the soul, and therefore the Bhagavad-gita [5.18] says that one who is wise, a pandita, does not see the species or the class; he sees oneness, equality. Panditah sama-darsinah. One who sees to the bottom sees the soul, and he does not find there any difference between all these species.
Devotee: So Darwin and other material scientists who have no information about the soul—
Srila Prabhupada: They're missing the whole point.
Devotee: They say that all living things tend to evolve from lower to higher. In the history of the earth—
Srila Prabhupada: That may be accepted. For example, in an apartment building there are different kinds of apartments: first-class apartments, second-class apartments, third-class apartments. According to your desire and qualification, as you are fit to pay the rent, you are allowed to move up to the better apartments. But the different apartments are already there. They are not evolving. The residents are evolving by moving to new apartments as they desire.
Devotee: As they desire.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. According to our mentality at the time of death, we get another "apartment," another body. But the "apartment" is already there, not that I'm creating the "apartment."
And the classes of "apartments" are fixed at 8,400,000. Just like the hotel-keeper: He has experience of his customers coming and wanting different kinds of facilities. So he has made all sorts of accommodations to oblige all kinds of customers. Similarly, this is God's creation. He knows how far a living entity can think, so He has made all these different species accordingly. When God thinks, "Come on, come here," nature obliges. Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani [Bg. 3.27]: Nature is offering facility. God, Krsna, is sitting in the heart of the living entity as Paramatma, and He knows, "He wants this." So the Lord orders nature, "Give him this apartment," and nature obliges. "Yes, come on; here is your apartment." This is the real explanation.
Devotee: I understand and accept that. But I'm still puzzled as to why there is no geological evidence that in former times on this planet there were more complex forms.
Srila Prabhupada: Why are you taking geological evidence as final? Is it final? Science is progressing. You cannot say it is final.
Devotee: But I have excavated all parts of the world, and every time—
Srila Prabhupada: No. You have not excavated all parts of the world.
Devotee: Well, on seven continents.
Srila Prabhupada: Seven continents is not the whole world. You say you have excavated the whole world, but we say no, not even an insignificant portion. So your knowledge is limited. Dr. Frog has examined his three-foot-wide well, and now he claims to know the ocean. Experimental knowledge is always imperfect, because one experiments with imperfect senses. Therefore, scientific knowledge must be imperfect. Our source of knowledge is different. We do not depend on experimental knowledge.
Now you see no dinosaurs, nor have I seen all the 8,400,000 different forms of life. But my source of knowledge is different. You are an experimenter with imperfect senses. I have taken knowledge from the perfect, who has seen everything, who knows everything. Therefore, my knowledge is perfect.
Say, for example, that I receive knowledge from my mother: "Here is your father." But you are trying to search out your father on your own. You don't go to your mother and ask; you just search and search. Therefore, no matter how much you search, your knowledge will always remain imperfect.
Devotee: And your knowledge says that millions of years ago there were higher forms of life on this planet.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes, because our Vedic information is that the first created being is the most intelligent, the most intellectual person within the universe—Lord Brahma, the cosmic engineer. So how can we accept your theory that intellect develops by evolution? We have received our Vedic knowledge from Brahma, who is so perfect.
Dr. Frog has studied his three-foot well, his little reservoir of water. The Atlantic Ocean is also a reservoir of water, but there is a vast difference. Dr. Frog cannot inform us about the Atlantic Ocean. But we take knowledge from the one who has made the Atlantic Ocean. So our knowledge is perfect.
Devotee: But wouldn't there be evidence in the earth, some remains?
Srila Prabhupada: Our evidence is intelligence, not stones and bones. Our evidence is intelligence. We get Vedic information by disciplic succession from the most intelligent. It is coming down by sruti, hearing. Vyasadeva heard from Narada, Narada heard from Brahma—millions and millions of years ago. Millions and millions of our years pass, and it is not even one day for Brahma. So millions and billions and trillions of years are not very astonishing to us, for that is not even one day of Brahma. But Brahma was born of Krsna, and intelligent philosophy has been existing in our universe from the date of Brahma's birth. Brahma was first educated by God, and His knowledge is passed down to us in the Vedic literature. So we get in the Vedas such intelligent information.
But those so-called scientists and philosophers who do not follow this system of descending knowledge, who do not accept knowledge thus received from higher authorities—they can't have any perfect knowledge, no matter what research work they carry out with their blunt senses. So whatever they say, we take it as imperfect.
Our method is different from theirs. They are searching after dead bones, and we are searching after living brains. This point should be stressed. They are dealing with dead hones, and we are dealing with living brains. So which should be considered better?
The Birth of God
"Of course, it is bewildering, O soul of the universe,
by Mandalesvara dasa
Continuing a special series of articles commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of Lord Caitanya's appearance in Mayapur, West Bengal. By His life and teachings, He inaugurated the Hare Krsna movement.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who was born 499 years ago in West Bengal, India, to Jagannatha Misra and Srimati Sacidevi, and who propagated the chanting of the names of God, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
You won't find that last part stated in the encyclopedias and history books where Lord Caitanya's name and biographical sketch are given, but after all, what can encyclopedias and history books teach us about the science of God? Perhaps persons whose interest in God and spiritual life is but superficial might find satisfaction in some academic biographical sketch. But those who want to know the truth about the identity of Lord Caitanya and the transcendental nature of His birth and activities will have to consult the Vedic literature. Although usually associated with the grand civilization of ancient India, the Vedic literature is for all people and for all times. Provided we study it respectfully and intelligently under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, it is fully applicable today. And there's really no other way of understanding the deep, mystical concepts of the science of God.
Often, when people hear that we accept Lord Caitanya as God, they immediately pose certain questions about Him, trying, understandably, to get a handle on what to them is a new religious concept. They want to know where and when He was born, what His teachings and activities were, and so on.
You've had the experience—you try to fit a new idea into your scheme of things. So you may try to evaluate Lord Caitanya in terms of, say, what was going on in Europe at the time: Renaissance, Reformation, Columbus, or what have you. The natural tendency will be to see Lord Caitanya as a social or historical phenomenon, a product of His times and a reaction to them, just as was Luther, Thomas Aquinas, or any other important religious figure. When you hear that Lord Caitanya was born fifteen centuries after Christ, you conclude that Lord Caitanya's is a new religion. And when you remind yourself that you never discussed Lord Caitanya or read about Him in school and haven't really heard of Him before, you conclude that He is of minor significance.
But wait a minute. To understand a personality of the stature and magnitude of Lord Caitanya, you will have to break from your conventional ways of considering new ideas. You will have to broaden your outlook and admit information from new sources (new to you, that is). True, you need at first a few quick answers, some superficial facts. To be sure, someone did the same for me fourteen years ago, when I first began integrating myself into the spiritual movement started by Lord Caitanya and disseminated by His pure devotee, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. But superficial facts, although handy for a fill-in-the-blank quiz, tell us little of the transcendental nature of Lord Caitanya's birth and activities. That's why, as I was saying, we have to consult the Vedic literature.
Birth of the Unborn
According to the Vedic literature and to the rigorous philosophical and devotional tradition known as Gaudiya-Vaisnavism, Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna Himself. The main distinction between Lord Krsna and Lord Caitanya is that when Krsna appears as Himself, He reveals Himself as God, whereas when He appears as Lord Caitanya, He plays the part of a pure devotee of God. To understand the transcendental nature of Lord Caitanya's birth, therefore, we can do no better than to refer to the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Lord Krsna explains the transcendental nature of His own birth. In other words, although in the Gild Lord Krsna is speaking of His own transcendental birth, since He and Lord Caitanya are one and the same, the philosophy stated there is as applicable to Lord Caitanya as it is to Lord Krsna.
In the Gita the Lord says that He does not actually take birth; He is unborn (ajah), although He appears in the material world at various times. What to speak of God, even ordinary beings like you and me do not take birth. Just as God is eternal, so we, being part and parcel of Him, are also eternal. Of course, birth is a common, everyday occurrence, but what is that birth, really? You, I, and all other living beings are eternal spirit souls, transmigrating from one body to another, one species to another—birth after birth. And in each birth we forget entirely our previous material identity. Thus, in one life we may be an American, in the next a Russian; in one life we may be a human being, in the next an animal or plant. Yes, unborn and eternal we are, but we take birth again and again in the sense that we assume completely new material identities again and again.
Lord Caitanya, however, exists beyond this world of birth and death, in His own eternal identity. When He takes birth within this material world, therefore, His birth is not like ours; He appears in His transcendental form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge.
The transcendental body of Lord Caitanya is described in the Sanskrit language as avyayatma. Avyaya means "eternal, indestructible," and atma refers to body, mind, and also soul. So, here we have an important distinction between our birth and the birth of Lord Caitanya. Although we are eternal, we inhabit a temporary material body. For Lord Caitanya, however, body and soul are one; both are spiritual. Therefore, of the Lord it is said, ajo 'pi sann avyayatma: He is unborn, and His body is not material, but is transcendental and eternal.
Perhaps we can better understand the Lord's transcendental birth with an analogy: the sun. The sun is always present in the sky, but it is not always visible to us. At sunset the earth comes between our eyes and the sun. Then twelve or so hours later, at sunrise, we can again see the sun. So although the sun may appear to be coming and going—taking birth and dying, according to some primitive peoples—it is always present. And like the sun, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is also always present. But because of our limited position, sometimes we see Him and sometimes we do not. When we speak of Lord Caitanya's appearing some five hundred years ago, we say He took birth. But actually, He had always been existing in His eternal, spiritual form and always will be. Thus the Lord's birth is transcendental. In the Vedic literature the Lord is addressed as follows: "Of course, it is bewildering, O soul of the universe, that You take birth, though You are the vital force and the unborn" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.30).
Now what about the fact that Lord Caitanya appeared as an infant and then grew to childhood, to youth, and to manhood? Does this mean that His body was ordinary, temporary, and material? No, not at all. The Lord is never afflicted by the material energy and is not subject to material laws. We, however, are under the illusion of matter, so much so that we view the Lord's birth and activities as material. Again, for a clear understanding let's refer to our analogy of the sun.
Which is greater, a cloud or the sun? The sun, of course. In fact, the sun creates the cloud. And yet at times a cloud may appear to cover the sun. This does not, however, attest to the sun's limitation but to ours. We, not the sun, are covered by the cloud. Similarly, matter is a creation of God, and like a cloud, it prevents us from seeing Him. What to speak of God, even our very selves we cannot see, for we too are spirit (although at present, because of the covering of material illusion, maya, we can see only matter). When, for whatever reason, we judge the form or the activities or the birth of God to be material, that is because we, in our finite position, cannot see beyond the cloud of matter. It is our vision, and not the Lord, that is material.
Now what this should all come down to is the humbling realization that we are eminently unqualified to see or to know spirit, to comprehend the eternal form of God, to understand the transcendental birth of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. This metaphysical handicap plagues all living beings and would prevent us from ever rising out of our suffering repeated birth and death. But compassionately, Lord Caitanya appeared on earth five centuries ago so that we, despite our limited senses and mind, could perceive His gorgeous form, hear His incomparable teachings, grasp His transcendental meaning, and thus be lifted out of the muck of material illusion. To consider His birth material, therefore, would be imprudent.
Another analogy: The chief of state may enter a government prison, but that does not make him a prisoner. Only a fool would scoff, "Ha! The president is a prisoner, like me." Not only is the president not a prisoner, but he has the authority to free one who is. Similarly, because of our rebelling against God since time immemorial, this material world has become our prison, and we are incarcerated within these material bodies, serving a life-after-life sentence. When Lord Caitanya, the supreme ruler of this prison (as well as of the eternally liberated realm beyond) comes here to free us, it behooves us to acknowledge His exalted position and not, like so many coarse prisoners, try to drag Him down to our level. By properly understanding the birth of Lord Caitanya, we will attain the perfection of life. Therefore Lord Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9), "One who understands the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode."
Lord Caitanya's taking birth seemingly like an ordinary infant is one of the most relishable topics for the Lord's pure devotees . Of course, most people tend to fixate on a conception of God as the Almighty, the Creator. But hurling worlds into orbit and-parting seas do not constitute the greatest glories of God. A much higher and more intimate understanding of God is revealed in His humanlike birth and activities. Certainly Lord Caitanya did not need to take birth as an infant; He could have simply manifested Himself, without any so-called mother or father. After all, He is the father of all living beings and of all existence. Ages ago, when the Lord appeared as the half man, half lion, Nrsimhadeva, He burst forth in one explosive moment from a stone pillar; towering and terrifying, He shook the entire universe with His power and rage. But in His appearance as Lord Caitanya, a golden infant on the lap of His enraptured mother, He was no less God. In fact, experts in the bhakti science have ascertained that the Lord's appearance as the child of two of His most exalted devotees displays the greatest mercy, both for His parents and for those so fortunate as to hear about His birth and childhood pastimes.
Lord Caitanya came to this prison of the material world not like you and me, forced by the inexorable law of karma, but of His own free will. This is always the case when God descends. Forty-five centuries before Lord Caitanya, Lord Krsna had enunciated the essence of spiritual instruction in His Bhagavad-gita: "Give up all religious duties and spiritual paths and simply surrender to Me." Lord Caitanya also came to teach surrender to Krsna, but, by perfectly playing the role of a pure devotee of Krsna, He not only taught surrender but also demonstrated it, specifically through chanting the holy names of God. Lord Caitanya had other reasons for appearing, but these are beyond the scope of our present discussion. His propagation of the chanting of the holy names, however, was central to His mission.
According to the Vedic literature, Lord Caitanya appeared during this present degraded age called Kali-yuga to establish the specific religious principle for all humanity. As the Sanskrit scriptures say, He came to establish the yuga-dharma, "the religion for the age." And the yuga-dharma is the chanting of the holy names of God: kalau tad dhari-kirtanat. It is most fitting, therefore, that on the night of Lord Caitanya's birth, the holy name also advented.
On that night there occurred a full lunar eclipse, and as was the custom among strict followers of Vedic culture, millions of sincere devotees of God took their sacred bath standing waist-deep in the sea or in a holy river such as the Ganges. Throughout the duration of the eclipse, everyone remained standing in the water and, as was also the custom, chanted the holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Even those who did not understand began mocking the chanting, until practically the whole of India resounded with the holy names.
This, of course, was no coincidence, but was an arrangement by the Lord to indicate the special significance of His birth: "I have come out of My mercy to lead the world back to Godhead. Everyone chant the holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
Vedic knowledge can elevate a simple religious
by Kundali dasa
The Bible has nearly a hundred verses that praise the power, glory, and excellence of God's hallowed name. The Bible's authors obviously considered the holy name of the Lord very important. If we ask, however, why the name of the Lord is so glorious and praiseworthy, the Bible offers no explanation. The Vedic scriptures, on the other hand, not only glorify the holy name but also offer a systematic philosophical explanation of it and instruct us in its practical realization as well.
One may argue that for the person who faithfully accepts the authority of scripture, no rigorous theological explanation of the Lord's holy name is required. This is certainly true. Nevertheless, it is a fact of our times that very few such persons exist. Most people do require some philosophical groundwork to support their religious convictions. Rarely indeed do we come across a person who accepts the scriptural injunctions with unshakable faith and yet doesn't come off as an unreasonable, frothy-mouthed dogmatist or a syrupy sentimentalist.
Moreover, with the prevailing popularity of atheistic science, God and religion have become almost synonymous with superstition and tomfoolery. This situation has come about primarily because religious folk, especially in the Western world, are unable to put forward well-reasoned philosophical and scientific arguments to support their conclusions. Consequently, the task of convincing people in general about the efficacy of the holy name is more difficult than ever. We need a religious system that is both philosophically sound and scientifically verifiable. Without such a system, it is virtually impossible to combat the obstacles to faith in God and His holy name imposed by atheistic science and various speculative philosophies.
Clearly, a scriptural tradition that can stand the tests of philosophic scrutiny and scientific investigation would be superior to one that can't. If, therefore, an objective analysis reveals one scriptural tradition to be more thorough and convincing than the others, then we should accept it, without being swayed by sectarian leanings. The idea is not one-upmanship; the idea is to destroy ignorance with the torch of knowledge. After all, light from any source is still light.
Nevertheless, experience tells me that persons with a sectarian religious outlook will write off my statements as sectarian. That attitude has a certain merit for such people: it makes their view the correct one, a priori, thus saving them the toil and bother of any further investigation. Others, however, will want to shelve partisan feelings and reservations pending a thorough analysis of the Krsna conscious precepts on this important matter.
The Vedic scriptures describe a complete theology of the holy name, encompassing its attributes, its effects, its practice, and its propagation. One fundamental precept of that theology is that because God is unlimited He has innumerable names. In other words, for each of His unlimited attributes and pastimes He has a name. For instance, He is called Jagannatha, the Lord of the universe; Paramatma, the Supersoul; Isvara, the supreme controller; and Krsna, the all-attractive person. In the Western tradition God also has many names: Yahweh, Jehovah, Shadday, Adonai, and Elohim, to name a few. They mean "the possessor of infinite wisdom," "the possessor of infinite intelligence," "the Supreme Lord," "the Almighty," and "God" respectively. These names are unfamiliar to most of us because translations of the Bible use in the main only "Lord" and "God."
Another fundamental Vedic precept regarding the holy name is that the Lord and His names are identical. Unlike us, He is fully present in His transcendental names. How is that possible? The Lord is by definition unlimited and absolute. That means His name is also unlimited and absolute. To put it another way, God is perfect and complete and so is everything in relation to Him, including His holy name. "Perfect and complete" means that all the qualities we attribute to God are also found in His divine names.
That the Lord and His names are nondifferent and equally potent is confirmed in the Siksastaka, an eight-verse prayer composed by Caitanya Mahaprabhu.* He explains that any of the Lord's names can bestow all good fortune upon a sincere chanter because the Lord, out of His mercy, has invested all His transcendental potencies in the sound of His name. Through His names He has made Himself easily available to everyone. Accordingly, the holy name is called the sound incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The essential elements of this aspect of the theology are summed up in the following verse from the Padma Purana:
The holy name of Krsna [God] is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krsna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. It is not a material vibration under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krsna Himself. Since Krsna's name is not contaminated by any material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with the mundane world. Krsna's name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krsna and Krsna Himself are identical.
Being identical with Krsna, the all-pure, the holy name can purify anyone who comes in contact with it. The example is sometimes given that just as the powerful sun can purify urine and filth and not become contaminated, so contact with the supremely pure holy name of God can purify the heart of even the most sinful, abominable person. This purifying power of the holy names is explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.2.18-19):
As a fire burns dry grass to ashes, so God's name, whether chanted knowingly or unknowingly, burns to ashes, without fail, all the reactions of one's sinful activities.
If a person unaware of the effective potency of a certain medicine takes that medicine or is forced to take it, it will act even without his knowledge because its potency does not depend on the patient's understanding. Similarly, even though one does not know the value of chanting the holy name of the Lord, if one chants it, knowingly or unknowingly, the chanting will be very effective.
These two verses clearly indicate that the chanting of God's hallow'd names is not only the most purifying activity, but it is also nonsectarian. It is a universal and absolutely beneficial spiritual exercise. The merciful holy name makes no distinction of gender, caste, culture, or creed. Lord Caitanya therefore praised the chanting process as "the prime benediction for humanity."
How does it work? What are is effects? Regular hearing and chanting of the Lord's holy names removes selfish desires from the heart. The pure, spiritual desire to render loving service to the Supreme Lord replaces them.
When an irrevocable desire for loving service is established in the heart of a sincere chanter, pernicious qualities such as lust, anger, envy, greed, lamentation, and illusion are destroyed. In that purified state he realizes the Personality of Godhead. In other words, he sees the Supreme Lord face to face. As the Bible says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8). Because the power of the holy name is verifiable in this way, the Vedic literatures describe chanting as vijnana, a scientific process.
Ultimately, perfection in chanting the holy name promotes the chanter to the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. There, in a spiritual body, he engages in direct devotional service to the Lord forever. This attainment is the professed goal of all the world's major religions.
In addition to giving direct realization of the Lord and elevation to His transcendental abode, the chanting of the holy names of the Lord can immerse the chanter in a profound state of spiritual rapture. Sometimes these ecstatic states produce transformations in the body of an elevated devotee. Weeping and stammering are two of the symptoms of ecstatic love of God, Advanced devotees, however, do not wish to draw attention to themselves, so they try to contain these manifestations of their ecstasy.
The scriptures warn us against imitating exalted states of devotional ecstasy, explaining that a steady state of intense transcendental bliss is possible only for those who have progressed through all the antecedent stages in the chanting process. Lord Caitanya taught us how to derive the maximum benefit from chanting the holy name:
One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than a straw in the street; one should be more tolerant than a tree, devoid of a] sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a humble state of mind one can chant the holy names of the Lord constantly.
Following this teaching. Srila Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, has advised us that "the great chanting for deliverance" should be done "like the genuine cry of a child for its mother." Calling on the name of the Lord in this manner is sure to deliver the sincere chanter back home, back to Godhead. It should be noted, however, that the chanting still goes on even after one attains the liberated state.
Like the Bible, the Vedic scriptures attach utmost importance to the glorification of God's divine names. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, "Of sacrifices I am japa, chanting of the holy names." The Srimad-Bhagavatam says that although this quarrelsome age is an ocean of faults, it has one saving grace: by chanting the holy names of the Lord one can become free from material bondage and go back to the spiritual world. And the Brhan-naradiya Purana emphatically states that there is no means of God realization in this age save and except "chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name, chanting the holy name of the Lord."
As for propagation of the holy name. the scriptures declare that chanters who work to this end are the nearest and dearest among the Lord's devoted servants. They are described as the most munificent welfare workers in human society because their contribution is for everyone's eternal well-being. Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore ordered that the chanting of the holy names be distributed to every town and village on the globe.
In pursuance of His order, the Krsna consciousness movement is determinedly preaching the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra all over the world. This particular combination of names—Hare Krsna. Hare Krsna. Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama. Hare Rama, Rama Rama. Hare Hare—is recommended because it is especially effective in purifying the heart. However, any genuine name or combination of God's names will produce the desired effect.
From the preceding discussion, a discerning reader can easily understand that the philosophy of Krsna consciousness gives profound depth and meaning to the familiar phrase "hallowed be Thy name." The natural result of this understanding is that one feels inspiration to dedicate oneself to the practice and propagation of the holy name. Gradually, with perseverance and practice, one will get first-hand realization of its meaning.
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Father Emmanuel Jung-claussen, a Benedictine monk from Niederalteich Monastery, took place in the spring of 1974 in Frankfurt.
Srila Prabhupada: What is the meaning of the word Christ.
Father Emmanuel: Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning "the anointed one."
Srila Prabhupada: Christos is the Greek version of the word Krsna.
Father Emmanuel: That is very interesting.
Srila Prabhupada: When an Indian person calls on Krsna, he often says, "Krsta." Krsta is a Sanskrit word meaning "attraction." So when we address God as "Christ," "Krsta," or "Krsna," we indicate the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. When Jesus said, "Our Father, who art in heaven, sanctified be Thy name," that name of God was "Krsta" or "Krsna." Do you agree?
Father Emmanuel: I think Jesus, as the son of God, has revealed to us the actual name of God: Christ. We can call God "Father," but if we want to address Him by His actual name, we have to say "Christ."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. "Christ" is another way of saying Krsta, and "Krsta" is another way of pronouncing Krsna, the name of God. Jesus said that one should glorify the name of God, but yesterday I heard one theologian say that God has no name—that we can call Him only "Father." A son may call his father "Father," but the father also has a specific name. Similarly, "God" is the general name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose specific name is Krsna. Therefore, whether you call God "Christ," "Krsta," or "Krsna," ultimately you are addressing the same all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Father Emmanuel: Yes, if we speak of God's actual name, then we must say "Christos." In our religion, we have the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We believe we can know the name of God only by revelation from the Son of God. Jesus Christ revealed the name of the father, and therefore we take the name Christ as the revealed name of God.
Srila Prabhupada: It doesn't matter—Krsna or Christ—the name is the same. The main point is to follow the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures that recommend chanting the name of God in this age.
I have come to the West only to request you to please chant the name of God. And the Bible also demands this of you. So let's kindly cooperate and chant, and if you have a prejudice against the name "Krsna," then chant "Christos" or "Krsta"—there is no difference. Sri Caitanya said: namnam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktih. God has millions and millions of names, and because there is no difference between God's name and Himself, each one of these names has the same potency as God." Therefore, even if you accept designations like "Hindu," "Christian," or "Muhammadan," if you simply chant the name of God found in your own scriptures, you will attain the spiritual platform. Human life is meant for becoming self-realized—learning how to love God. That is the actual beauty of man. Whether you discharge this duty as a Hindu, a Christian, or a Muhammadan, it doesn't matter—but discharge it!
Father Emmanuel: I agree.
Srila Prabhupada [pointing to a string of 108 meditation beads]: We always have these beads, just as you have your rosary. You are chanting, but why don't the other Christians also chant? Why should they miss this opportunity as human beings? Cats and dogs cannot chant, but we can, because we have a human tongue. If we chant the holy names of God, we cannot lose anything; on the contrary, we gain greatly. My disciples practice chanting Hare Krsna constantly. They could also go to the cinema or do so many other things, but they have given everything up. They eat neither fish nor meat nor eggs, they don't take intoxicants, they don't drink, they don't smoke, they don't partake in gambling; they don't speculate, and they don't maintain illicit sexual connections. But they do chant the holy name of God. If you would like to cooperate with us, then go to the churches and chant "Christ," "Krsta," or "Krsna." What could be the objection?
Father Emmanuel: There is none. For my part, I would be glad to join you . . .
Srila Prabhupada: I think the Christian priests should cooperate with this Krsna consciousness movement. They should chant the name Christ or Christos and should stop condoning the slaughter of animals. This program follows the teachings of the Bible; it is not my philosophy. Please act accordingly and you will see how the world situation will improve.
Servant of the Senses
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Dr. Chaturbhai P. Patel took place in Bombay on March 23, 1974.
Dr. Patel: The other morning, when a young lady told you, "I am practicing medicine and serving people," you said, in effect, "You are a tool."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. She is not serving. Of course, as they say, "Everyone is serving"—serving money. Everyone is serving, but unless he gets paid, no service. That is not service. Everyone in the material world is serving somebody. Because by nature he is a servant.
Dr. Patel: He's serving everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. As the English proverb says, "Everyone's servant is no one's servant." Anyway, service is required. You cannot live without serving. That is not possible. Every one of us is serving somebody. But the result of this material service is disagreeable. I have given before the example that Mahatma Gandhi gave so much service. But the result was he was killed. He was killed. That person who killed him did not think, "Oh, this old gentleman has given so much service to us. Even if I do not agree with him, how can I kill him?" But people are so very ungrateful—you see?—that whatever service you may render, they'll never be satisfied.
Dr. Patel: Gandhi's service—he was doing his prescribed duty.
Srila Prabhupada: No, actually. But first of all, let us define service. What is service? Service means there is a servant and a master. And service is the transaction between the servant and his master. But we have created so many unprescribed masters. The wife master, the family master, the country master, the legislative master, this master, that master—you see? And we are giving service. "Oh, it is my duty. I am giving service." But ask any of these masters, "Are you satisfied?" He'll say, "What have you done?"
Dr. Patel: The master won't be satisfied.
Srila Prabhupada: No. These self-created masters will never be satisfied. And really, by serving them we are trying to serve and satisfy our own senses. I am giving service to my wife because I think she will satisfy my senses. Therefore I'm not giving service to my wife—I'm giving service to my senses. So ultimately, we are servants of our own senses. We are nobody's servants. This is our material position. Yes, ultimately, we are servants of our senses.
Constitutionally, I am a servant, but at the present moment, being conditioned by the material nature, I am giving service to my senses. But my senses are not independent. They are totally dependent. For instance, I am now moving my hands, but if the true master of my hand, Krsna, paralyzes it—no more moving. Nor can I revive the moving capacity of my hand. So although I am claiming I am master of my hand, master of my leg, and so on, actually I am not. The master is different.
One of Krsna's other names is Hrsikesa, "the creator and master of all senses." Therefore we should transfer our service to Lord Krsna. Hrsikena hrsikesa-sevanam bhaktir ucyate: we have tried in so many ways to serve our senses, but when we engage our senses in serving the master of the senses, we get the spiritual satisfaction of bhakti, devotion. Devotional service to Krsna is also service, but it is not service to the inert senses—it is service to the living master of the senses. This is real satisfaction. So constitutionally I am a servant. I cannot become the master. My position is that I have to serve. And if I don't serve the master of the senses, then I will have to serve the senses and go unsatisfied.
Dr. Patel: Now, the fact remains that each man does have prescribed duties to wife, family, country, and government.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Dr. Patel: We have different kinds of bodies and senses, also, and that gives us different duties. One man has to act as a priest or teacher, another as an administrator or military man, another as a farmer or merchant, and still another as a laborer or craftsman. And when a man does his duty without expectation of any fruits, this is as good as devotion to the Lord.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Not expecting any fruits is not enough. You must do more than that. You must give the fruits unto Krsna. Give the result of your prescribed duties to Krsna. You can earn a million dollars, but don't simply take it all yourself or lavish it on your family. Give this fruit to Krsna. That is real service.
Just like you are working as a medical practitioner. So give your earnings to Krsna. Then you become perfect. We simply have to see that by our work Krsna is satisfied. Krsna says yat karosi: "Never mind what you are doing." Tat kurusva mad-arpanam: "Give Me it." [Srila Prabhupada laughs.] And people say, "No, no, no, sir. I am serving You, but the money is in my pocket."
Dr. Patel: Everything is Krsna's. How can you give anything? Even a leaf?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes, yes. Just like these boys and girls are giving. They are giving their whole life. They do not ask me for money: "My dear sir, please give me some money; I will go to the cinema." They are serving, and they have given everything. This is service. They are not poor. They're earning, but everything for Krsna.
If you divide your income partially—"Some percentage for Krsna, some percentage for my sense gratification"—then Krsna says, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: "As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly, proportionately." If you have spent cent percent of your energy for Krsna, Krsna is cent percent for you. And if you have spent one percent for Krsna. He is one percent for you. Responsive cooperation.
This movement has advanced so much all over the world because we have these boys and girls who have dedicated everything for Krsna. Therefore it has so quickly advanced. They do not think of anything personal. Only how to serve Krsna. Samsiddhir hari-tosanam: the highest perfection is to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
ISKCON a Popular Part of Whole Life Expo
Some thirty thousand people gathered at the Penta Hotel in Manhattan in November for the annual Whole Life Expo. Many saw an exhibit by ISKCON or tasted food offered to Krsna (prasadam). ISKCON devotees had two booths, one for distributing prasadam and the other for showing Krsna conscious videos and distributing Krsna conscious literature.
ISKCON Opens Temple In South Africa
Chatsworth, South Africa—Thousands attended Diwali celebrations here recently at the nearly-completed Sri Sri Radha-Radhanatha temple. The temple, covering more than four hilltop acres, is the joint effort of ISKCON devotees and South Africa's Indian community.
A color picture of the new temple appeared on the front page of a Durban Daily News supplement, and the Durban Sunday Tribune featured a full-page photo. The Daily News also stated that the temple is destined to become a popular landmark in South Africa.
Singer Annie Lennox Advocates Krsna
The Bahamas—In a cover-story interview here on diet and society for the December issue of Vegetarian Times, Annie Lennox, the lead singer of the Eurythmics, expressed her understanding of the philosophy of Krsna consciousness.
Ms. Lennox quoted Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON's founder and spiritual master, to explain the impact of meat-eating on society in terms of the law of karma—the moral law of action and reaction. She said that someone once asked Srila Prabhupada "that if God was compassionate and kind, why was He allowing all those young men to go to Vietnam and become slaughtered? And he answered that when men stopped slaughtering animals, then we would stop having to send our sons to war."
"In the Krsna consciousness movement," Ms. Lennox also said, "one discovers that the cow was revered because it provides so many wonderful kinds of foodstuffs—milk, cheese, butter, and yogurt. . . . From a Krsna consciousness point of view, devotees offer their food [to Krsna], and in this way they stop the karmic reaction of killing, because obviously, when you're pulling the vegetables out of the ground you're killing them."
Asked about her involvement with Krsna consciousness, Ms. Lennox replied, "It's a very positive and new involvement. The philosophy makes a great deal of sense to me in many ways. ... It started to interest me when I saw that I could integrate it with my activities. At the moment it's an exploratory stage for me. I'm trying to follow principles, which are not so hard, actually. They make a great deal of sense."
Devotees Dine Author Umberto Eco
Brooklyn, New York—Umberto Eco, the author of the international best seller Name of the Rose, met Srila Ramesvara Swami. one of ISKCON's present spiritual masters, at the Hare Krsna center here in November. During this visit Professor and Mrs. Eco saw Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, the presiding Deities, and enjoyed a luncheon with Srila Ramesvara Swami, BACK TO GODHEAD writer Ravindra-svarupa dasa, his wife Saudamani-devi dasi, temple president Laksmi-Nrsimha dasa, and public affairs director Nayanabhirama dasa, who arranged the meeting.
Mr. Eco enjoyed being entertained during lunch by boys from ISKCON's school in Lake Huntington, who chanted verses from the Bhagavad-gita.
Mr. Eco, professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, was a visiting professor at Columbia University last autumn. He lives in Milan and looks forward to visiting the Hare Krsna restaurant there when he returns. When he comes back to America this summer, he hopes to visit the Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center in Detroit.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
A Mantra To Cure Madness
by Krsna-ksetra dasa
Recently, the front page of the International Herald Tribune carried the headline "One in 5 Americans Is Mentally ill, Study Finds." The article described a government-sponsored survey consisting of extensive interviews by the National Institute of Mental Health with ten thousand adults. Findings were based on strict criteria for mental disorder, and a mentally ill person was determined as "one in need of professional help." The article said, "Nationwide projection of the data indicated that 18.7 percent of the adult population suffers from at least one disorder of mental health. Anxiety disorders were found most common, affecting 8.3 percent of adults. Substance-abuse disorders, including alcohol abuse, were next at 6.4 percent."
Whether determined by statistical study or by commonsense observation, whether in America or in any other modern culture, clearly mental illness is on the rise—a fact we take more or less for granted as a part of today's way of life. Mental disorder is listed in the Vedic scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.10) as one of the common characteristics of people in the present age: "In this iron age of Kali, men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed."
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the Hare Krsna movement, proposed using a Vedic standard in determining mental disorder. His criterion was that anyone who identifies with the temporary material body, and thus works only for the satisfaction of the body and its extensions, disregarding the needs of the soul, is to be considered mentally ill. This definition of mental derangement fits practically everyone, indicating that the study by the National Institute of Mental Health found only the tip of the iceberg.
While the National Institute of Mental Health recognizes our growing need for professional help, today's psychologists and psychiatrists are not fully qualified, because they lack a proper understanding of the spiritual malaise at the root of all mental disturbances. That malaise is ignorance of the spirit soul, our eternal self.
A sane proposal, therefore, is that mental health officials consult pure devotees of Lord Krsna. The devotees are aware of the Vedic literature's sure and simple prescription for regaining full mental health: chanting the holy names of God. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (12.3.51) states, "Although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is that simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom."
To mental health officials, this proposal may sound like religious wishful thinking, if not downright madness. And certainly they should not accept such a proposal without careful investigation. To conduct an investigation, psychotherapists could include in every therapy session fifteen minutes of chanting the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. We predict that they would be astounded at the results.
That's a headline we're waiting to read: "Chanting 'Hare Krishna' Increases Mental Health, Study Finds."
by Mathuresa dasa
Taking notice of the rising concern over sexual abuse of children, thousands of schools across the country have initiated programs to teach students how to deal with sexually aggressive adults. The programs frequently include skits starring "Uncle Harry," a character created by the Child Assault Prevention Project (CAP). In one skit Uncle Harry offers Sally, his seven-year-old niece, a Michael Jackson T-shirt if she'll give him "one of those kisses I like." Sally refuses—"I think I hear Aunt Mary coming home," she says—and threatens to tell Mom and Aunt Mary about Uncle Harry's passes.
Most programs encourage children to report any unusual physical advances by an adult, even if the adult has threatened the child. "An offender will scare a kid," says a CAP worker, "and tell him his parents won't love him anymore. So you have to diffuse this strategy ahead of time."
Millions of children have seen skits and attended classes by CAP and other groups, and these programs seem to be starting to have an effect. In California, where the state government has passed an $11.25-million bill to fund programs for combatting sexual abuse of children, reports of offenses have shot up forty-four percent. And in Maryland's Montgomery County, which has recently increased the anti-abuse curriculum in its public schools, reports have quadrupled.
On the one hand, these statistics are cause for optimism. Kids are learning to talk, to object, to resist. On the other hand, an increase in the reporting of sexual abuse of children doesn't exactly mean that abuse is decreasing, that offenders are getting discouraged. Is "Uncle Harry" really going to listen to a seven-year-old's threats, or worry about being incriminated by a child's testimony? Not always.
To put an end to sexual abuse of children, we need to look more closely at the nature of sex desire. The Manu-samhita, part of the ancient Vedic literatures of India, compares sex desire to fire. Like fire, sex desire increases when supplied with "fuel." For example, a man and woman may feel satiated immediately after sexual intercourse; they may feel that their sexual fire has been extinguished. But that feeling is temporary. In time they will try to increase the frequency and intensity of their encounters—to enjoy unlimitedly.
That, of course, is impossible. Since one's physical capacity for sex is limited, the expansive fire of sexual desires can never be fulfilled. In other words, a primary product of sex enjoyment is dissatisfaction.
In the attempt to alleviate this dissatisfaction, one common tactic is to change partners. If we can't increase the frequency of sex, then at least we can increase the number of our mates. This tactic has, over the past few decades, resulted in the decay of the institution of marriage. Close to fifty percent of all marriages now end in divorce, with millions of men, women, and children getting severely burned in the process.
Changing partners only adds more fuel to the fire of sex desire, forcing frustrated individuals to seek further alternatives. If more sex with more partners proves dissatisfying, then what next? Well, how about changing the kind of partner? How about bisexuality, homosexuality, bestiality, incest? Get the sexual fire hot enough, and anything goes—even child abuse.
So although a growing number of programs such as CAP evidences a sincere concern among teachers and parents, it also evidences a surprising naivete. Attempting to stop child abuse by getting kids to tell Uncle Harry to cut it out is like trying to stop a forest fire with a garden hose. We need to significantly reduce the size of the fire if we seriously expect to protect our children from getting burned.
Although someone might propose that it is possible to fan the fire of sexual desire without becoming child molesters, that is a risky proposal. Until we learn that sex, like fire, has to be restricted and controlled, we can expect the conflagration of sexual abuse of children to continue blazing.
High Tech's High Priests
by Satyaraja dasa
According to an article in a recent issue of Omni, science may soon be able to create an "immortal soul" by using the latest in computer technology.
New forms of intelligence are being encoded by computer scientists. Research is progressing on computer vision, speech recognition, tactile sensing, and other functions that resemble human physiology. But the scientists' main goal is to duplicate what they claim is the distinguishing quality of the human species, the ability to think. And this achievement, they theorize, will allow them to create an immortal soul, an undying superperson.
Some scientists believe the coming generation will see such tremendous advances in computer science that the microchip and the neuron will become virtually interchangeable. Our brain's memory banks, they say, will neatly interface with a highly sophisticated computer program and will enter all their stored data, byte by byte, into a computer. The result: storable, copiable electronic clones of our "selves" that we can manipulate like any other software. Thus researchers are hoping to create, or at least to capture, an individual soul.
The philosophical and theological implications of all this are horrendous, as is so often the case when Science and Technology poke their noses into the realm of Spirituality. "In a philosophical sense, immortality would be a technical possibility," says Hans Moravec, a computer scientist at Pittsburgh's Carnegie-Mellon University. "The idea of personal death would disappear. We would design our successors. It may sound sacrilegious right now, but so did space travel in the twenties. Eventually these ideas will gain the same sort of acceptability." Once again a scientist is implying that everything can be explained mechanistically and reduced to numbers. And that science holds all the cards—and all the keys to the secrets of life and death.
All science fiction aside, however, science has not created so much as an ant (what to speak of an eternal ant) and has not been able to prevent death—not by any stretch of the imagination. Ironically, although computer scientists take it as a given that "the ability to think" is the distinguishing quality of the human species, anyone who has closely observed other life forms should see that the distinction is not so much in the ability to think but in what one thinks about. A human being can ponder spiritual questions, but animals are limited to the material sphere; they cannot understand what it means to be an eternal spirit soul.
Neither can some scientists. But the difference between a scientist and an animal is that the scientist is human, and thus he has the potential to understand spiritual matters. If he approaches the right source, that is.
The ancient Vedic scriptures of India give detailed information about the nature of the immortal soul. If the scientists are so concerned about creating an immortal soul, let them approach the guidelines chalked out by the original creator, Lord Krsna.
If they study the Vedas, they will find that the soul is already eternal, that knowledge is sustained, birth after birth. As Lord Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (2.17), "That which pervades the entire body [consciousness] you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul." And further, "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change" (Bg. 2.13).
Thus the Vedic literature gives precise information about the eternal soul. Here are some more examples: "If we divide the tip of a hair into one hundred parts and then take one part and divide this into another one hundred parts, that ten-thousandth part is the dimension of the soul" (Svetasvatara Upanisad 5.9). And in the Mundaka Upanisad (3.1.9): "The soul is atomic in size and can be perceived by perfect intelligence. This atomic soul is floating in the five kinds of air [prana, apana, vyana, samana, and udana], is situated in the area of the heart, and spreads its influence all over the body."
As long as we think we are the body, remaining unaware of our true, spiritual identity, we are in ignorance. And the results of this ignorance may manifest in many ways, such as in the popular notion that the material body, which is by nature temporary, can be made eternal. Nonsense. Whether you're a computer or a human being, your body must perish.
Still, our desire for immortality indicates that some essence is eternal within us, something that gives us the idea of infinity. What is that "something"? Well, fiddling with computers won't help us find it. Studying the Vedic literature will.
The Commonsense Vegetarian
Here's a way of eating that makes sense—and saves dollars.
Adapted from The Higher Taste, a guide to vegetarian gourmet cooking, based on the teachings of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
The principal reason members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness are vegetarian is that they eat only food that has been offered to Lord Krsna, and Krsna won't accept offerings of nonvegetarian food. The devotee offers food to Lord Krsna as an expression of love for Him, and by eating the remnants of those offerings the devotee enjoys a transcendental reciprocation with the Lord. That is the perfection and the highest benefit of vegetarianism.
By God's arrangement, however, a vegetarian benefits in many other ways as well. Economically, for instance. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. feeds more than ninety percent of its grain to livestock—cows, pigs, lambs, and chickens. This practice, however—using grain to produce meat—is incredibly wasteful. As the USDA's Economic Research Service showed, we get one pound of beef for every sixteen pounds of grain.
In his book Proteins: Their Chemistry and Politics, Dr. Aaron Altshul notes that in terms of calorie units per acre, a diet of grains, vegetables, and beans will support twenty times more people than a diet of meat. At present, about half the harvested acreage in America goes to feed animals. Were we to utilize the earth's arable land primarily for producing vegetarian foods, the planet could easily support a population of twenty billion or more.
The wastefulness of meat production is not a new discovery. In Plato's Republic, Socrates recommended a vegetarian diet because it would allow a country to make the most intelligent use of its agricultural resources. Socrates warned that if people began eating animals, there would be need for more pasturing land. "And the country which was enough to support the original inhabitants will be too small now, and not enough?" he asked Glaucon, who replied that this was indeed true. "And so we shall go to war, Glaucon, shall we not?" To which Glaucon replied, "Most certainly."
In the present day also we are faced with the possibility of mass conflict based on food. In August of 1974, the CIA published a report warning that in the near future there may not be enough food for the world's population "unless the affluent nations make quick and drastic cuts in their consumption of grain-fed animals."
Now, getting down to our own pocket-books, many vegetarian foods are dollar for dollar a better source of protein than meat is. A typical hundred-gram portion of meat contains about twenty grams of protein, whereas an equal amount of cheese or lentils yields about twenty-five grams. And one hundred grams of soybeans yields thirty-four grams of protein. Now, compare the costs. Sirloin steak runs at least $3-$4 a pound, whereas many vegetarian protein foods can be had for a small fraction of that amount. Becoming a vegetarian could save an individual shopper hundreds of dollars each year, and the total annual savings to America's consumers would be in the billions. Considering all this, it's hard to see how anyone could afford not to become a vegetarian.
The recipes we're featuring this month are for pakoras—deep-fried, batter-dipped vegetables that are perfect as snacks, as hors d'oeuvres, or as part of a full-course meal. For frying, you can use your favorite nut or vegetable oil, but since pakoras taste best when cooked in ghee (clarified butter), we've included a ghee recipe. Offer these delicious savories to Krsna while they're still hot, along with a sour-cream dip or spicy tomato chutney. Then enjoy the results of your offering: the satisfaction of pleasing Krsna, and the taste of the food He Himself has tasted. You'll reap not only the nutritional and economic benefits of being vegetarian, but also an incalculable spiritual benefit.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
1. Place five pounds of unsalted butter into
a large, heavy saucepan. Heat over a medium-high flame, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts and comes to a boil.
2. When the surface of the butter is covered with a frothy white foam, reduce the flame to very low. Simmer, uncovered and undisturbed, until a thin layer of crusty solids have formed on the surface and the gelatinous protein solids have collected on the bottom of the pan. The cooking time will be about three hours. The ideal finished ghee is of a transparent light amber color. Ghee becomes dark when cooked too long.
3. Skim off the thin surface crust and strain the ghee, one ladle at a time, through several layers of cheesecloth. Remove as much clear ghee as you can without disturbing the milky solids on the bottom of the pan. Ghee solids may be saved and used in breads and vegetable dishes. (If you use salted butter, the ghee solids are extremely salty and are best discarded.)
4. Be sure to cool ghee to room temperature before covering. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, or refrigerate. Ghee that has been properly cooked, filtered, and stored will last for months.
Procedure for assembling and frying pakoras:
1. Mix all the batter ingredients with water to make a medium-thick batter. Beat until smooth.
2. Heat ghee or oil in a wok or frying pan to about 350°F. Dip the vegetable pieces, one at a time, into the batter until they are evenly coated, then place them in the hot ghee or oil. Fry 5 or 6 pieces at a time, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until they are crisp and golden brown.
3. Remove with slotted spoon and drain. Offer to Krsna immediately or keep warm, uncovered, in a 250 °F oven for up to one hour.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 ½ cups chickpea flour
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup chickpea flour
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup chickpea flour
Preparation time: 1 hour
1 cup chickpea flour
Mix batter and let sit for 30 minutes.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup chickpea flour
Green Banana Pakoras
(Kacha Kela Pakoras)
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup chickpea flour
Peel the cooled, steamed bananas and slice into 1/3-inch pieces.
(Tamatar Pakoras )
Preparation time: 30 minutes
1 cup chickpea flour
Preparation time: 30 minutes
6 ripe tomatoes, cut into small pieces
1. In a skillet heat ghee, then add mustard seeds, chili, and ginger and cook until mustard seeds finish popping.
2. Add tomato pieces. Cover and cook on medium heat for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes become a chunky sauce.
3. Remove from flame and put sauce in a blender on low speed for five seconds.
4. Return sauce to skillet and add salt, sugar, and coriander powder. Cook for 3 minutes uncovered. Offer to Krsna hot or cold.
A New Spirit in San Diego
Devotees of Krsna have become widely appreciated as a vital and colorful part
by Drutakarma dasa
San Diego, famous as a port for the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet, as a resort town with a subtropical climate that draws winter tourists to its parks and beaches, and as a developing center for high-tech industries, began its history in 1769 as the first Spanish mission in California. Exactly two centuries later, in 1969, devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness opened their first center and began their own missionary activities. During the past fifteen years they have made a profound impact upon the cultural life of the city.
What is it that so many San Diegans find attractive about the Krsna consciousness movement? The food is one thing. Like many other Southern California residents, people in San Diego are becoming increasingly aware of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. Through many food-related programs the members of San Diego's Krsna consciousness community are at the forefront of the trend against meat-eating. The Indian spiritual tradition represented by the Krsna consciousness movement rejects animal slaughter as needless, unethical violence.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says, "If one offers to Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water, I will accept it." Since time immemorial devotees have prepared vegetarian foods and offered them to Lord Krsna as an act of devotion. Food so offered becomes spiritual in quality, and it is customary to distribute this consecrated food, called prasadam, to the general public.
Thus for many thousands of San Diegans, the first taste of Krsna consciousness has been a plate of the delicious spiritual vegetarian food served at the movement's cultural festivals, nightly dinners, Sunday feasts, or two very popular Govinda's natural foods restaurants.
"A nonvegetarian who strolls into Govinda's, a comfortable, unpretentious establishment, may feel quite virtuous when he contemplates the eye-catching array of beautifully fresh and green vegetables spread out on the salad bar." wrote David Nelson, restaurant reviewer for the San Diego edition of the Los Angeles Times. Describing the entrees, he stated, "Most are colorful and all are impeccably fresh. Sesame seeds and wedges of beautifully red tomato floated atop the split yellow pea soup. . . . The most delicious foods here are the homemade breads, which are brought out hot several times during the course of the evening. . . . Indian music plays quietly over the sound system, and, for those so inclined, there is a video room in which guests may watch videotapes about various aspects of Indian culture." The boutiques and gift shops adjoining each restaurant offer transcendental literature, Indian fashions, silk paintings, oriental rugs, incense, and even Indian spices and bulk grains and flours for those interested in duplicating their favorite Govinda's restaurant recipes.
Here are some sample comments from suggestion cards filled out by Govinda's customers: "It's a pleasure to come to a restaurant where you can be assured of nutritious well-prepared food in an atmosphere of respect for God. Keep up the good work!" . . . "I'm really against exploiting animals for food, and I'm glad to find an all-vegetarian restaurant with such good food and reasonable prices." . . . "Great! There should be as many Govinda's as 7-11's."
Gunagrahi Goswami, who founded the restaurants, says, "I'm happy that so many people here in San Diego are enjoying the elegant vegetarian dining experience we're working so hard to offer them at Govinda's. And we're also providing an opportunity for them to learn more about Krsna consciousness. A good many of our patrons become very interested in the spiritual aspects of our approach to eating. They learn how people definitely suffer a bad karmic reaction to killing animals. They inquire about how to prepare and offer their own food as a spiritual offering to Lord Krsna."
The devotees of Krsna are particularly concerned with the plight of San Diego's homeless and hungry. Through ISKCON's Hare Krishna Food for Life program, which now operates throughout the world, the members of the San Diego Krsna consciousness community are providing free noon meals to thousands. Leroy Martin, a district chief of the County of San Diego Department of Social Services, reported, "There is a tremendous amount of poverty in our community. Clients are seen in our office on a daily basis who have not eaten and are hungry." Speaking of the Hare Krsna movement's free-food program, he noted its "reliability and efficiency." He added, "Clients and community members anticipate them being here....Some clients stated that they had walked a considerable distance specifically for the noon meal." Mr. Logan observed that Hare Krishna Food for Life "is able to provide meals at a lower cost because of an all-volunteer staff." He concluded. "I would strongly recommend that the Hare Krishna Food for Life free meals program he expanded, I would also support their request for additional funds to operate their program. I think the Hare Krishna Food for Life workers have done an excellent job. Clients and community residents have appreciated their service."
But the most heartfelt words of appreciation come from those who actually receive the meals. Says Kenneth Cooley, thirty-three and unemployed, "This is great. If you people hadn't come today. I would not have had anything at all to eat."
Recently Hare Krishna Food for Life qualified to receive government food supplies. Large trucks regularly arrive at the Food for Life kitchen to drop off supplies that will he used to prepare meals for the hungry. A typical load: two thousand pounds of butter, a thousand pounds of powdered milk, and two hundred pounds of peanut butter.
With the enthusiastic endorsement of Mexican officials, Hare Krishna Food for Life volunteers from San Diego are also distributing free meals in the barrios of Tijuana. There the emphasis is on children. Mrs. Rosario Cecelia, head of a Tijuana neighborhood council, says, "There are many mothers in this neighborhood with six or more children who do not get enough food for themselves or their children. There is no way we can thank you enough for your help."
A Major Cultural Center
During the course of each year, tens of thousands of San Diego residents enjoy the Sunday evening Festival of India at the Hare Krsna movement's temple in Pacific Beach. This unique, multifaceted cultural experience brings alive the art, music, dance, drama, and philosophy of ancient India's timeless Vedic culture. Stepping into the temple room, which is beautifully decorated with intricate bas-relief sculpture, classic Indian art, brilliant chandeliers, and a bubbling marble fountain, guests feel transported from San Diego to the enchanting, vibrant atmosphere of the spiritual world.
Often, the highlight of the evening is a talk on the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita given by the resident spiritual master, Srila Ramesvara Swami, a member of the Hare Krsna movement's Governing Body Commission and a pioneer in spreading Krsna Consciousness through book publication and distribution. Recently devotees delivered sixty thousand packages of free books to homes in the San Diego area. "We're making a valuable contribution in the city's cultural life," says Srila Ramesvara Swami. "We're offering people the most complete understanding of vegetarianism and reincarnation. We are explaining to people how world events that affect every one of us, including the issues of war and peace, the environment, and the economy, are under the control of karma. We're offering a means for people to elevate their consciousness and more perfectly understand God and their personal relationship with Him."
For many years, devotees have also held a nightly vegetarian dinner. The guests include many students from the nearby San Diego campus of the University of California and quite a number of young professionals. "Krsna consciousness always has had a special attraction for the students." explains the temple president, Badarinarayana dasa. "But now as we ourselves enter our thirties and forties, marry and raise families, and become involved in activities that require the same skills and talents that are required in business and the professions, we find that we're naturally attracting more people of our own age group. We have a lot of what you call 'yuppies' coming to the temple these days."
"San Diego is now the eighth biggest city in America," he adds. "After Houston and Phoenix, it's the fastest growing. It's Southern California's answer to Silicon Valley. But there's still a very relaxed vacationland mood here. People are competitive, but they're also interested in enjoying themselves.
"So what Krsna consciousness has to offer them is a powerful technique of meditation that fills the spiritual vacuum created by our overly materialistic society. The very word Krsna means 'the reservoir of pleasure,' and by understanding our spiritual identity and our relationship with Krsna, we can share in that higher pleasure. This elevates the quality of our enjoyment of life."
Tom Sepa, a career consultant who regularly attends the evening dinner, says, "The food is great, and the fact that it's free from karma makes it even better. I like the people here. It's a great alternative to the nightclub scene. I'm not into going to bars. The temple is part of my social life. I feel when I come here I can be myself without having to get involved in the usual games. I'm also glad for the opportunity to learn more about the teachings of Krsna consciousness. I've gotten a lot of peace of mind from coming here."
Joanne Wooding, thirty-eight, who works as a secretary, says, "I've been coming to the temple for a couple of months. I immediately felt right at home. I've been a vegetarian for several years, so when I moved to San Diego a few months ago I found it difficult to eat anywhere or have any kind of social life, mainly because of the difficulties involved in being around people who eat meat. I really enjoy being with the Hare Krsna devotees. I feel a lot less stress in my life since I've been visiting here. Instead of feeling I'm all by myself, I get a lot of reinforcement for my lifestyle. I used to be an animal rights activist, but I began to feel uncomfortable with a lot of people who make political agitation to save the whales and seals but who are themselves flesh-eaters. So I very much appreciate the Hare Krsna people's policy of protecting all of God's creatures."
"I always enjoy coming here," says Barb Manning, twenty-five. "I'm very impressed with the delicious food, the peaceful atmosphere and the graceful service. I especially like how nice and clean it always is. Sometimes I stay after dinner and take part in the chanting and the philosophy class. The altar is very attractive, and I enjoy looking at the Deities. The temple is a place where I can come and meditate upon God as a real person. Coming here has made me more conscious of my spiritual life."
Many of these newcomers have become members of the temple's growing congregation, the Friends of Lord Krishna (FOLK). While keeping their own jobs and homes, they practice Krsna consciousness and contribute a portion of their income to the temple, much as any member of the more established churches would do.
Larry Gatpandan, who paints airplanes at the Naval Air Station on North Island, is a member of FOLK. "Krsna consciousness," he says, "has a very satisfying spiritual philosophy, a very clear conception of God's personal nature and of how we can use our talents and abilities to serve Him.
"I've also learned to practice the world's oldest and most powerful system of meditation—the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra on meditation beads. By doing this on a regular basis, I've developed a sense of inner satisfaction and peace of mind. I'm a better person because of it, a better husband, a better father.
"Now, when the people I meet learn that I'm a member of the Hare Krsna religion, they aren't as surprised as people used to be. It's a sign of the times, I suppose, that the movement is expanding into the general population. The Hare Krsna people are even on television now."
It's a fact—regular Krsna conscious television programming is available to San Diego residents through local cable networks. Currently running is Inside Hare Krishna, a highly popular thirteen-part series giving a general introduction to the lifestyle, philosophy, and cultural contributions of the Hare Krsna movement. Jody Catlow, community programming director for the Southwest Cable Network, says, "The quality of the devotees' productions is so excellent that we'll take whatever they give us."
San Diego also serves as the Hare Krsna movement's headquarters for adjacent areas of the Southwest. Gunagrahi Goswami, in a large motorhome he has outfitted as a traveling temple, periodically embarks on journeys that take him and his traveling companions far and wide for the special purpose of visiting people who are interested in Krsna consciousness but live far from any temple.
A highly visible sign of the authenticity of the Krsna consciousness movement is the regular attendance by members of San Diego's Indian community at temple functions. Tirumalesa Duvvuri, an aeronautical engineer with the Cal-Space company, says, "Krsna has been worshiped in temples throughout India for thousands of years. For myself and my family, I am very grateful to the Krsna devotees for giving us the chance to worship God in the way to which we have been accustomed."
The San Diego Hare Krsna center regularly hosts visiting classes from local universities and colleges. Professor Lance Nelson, of the University of San Diego's department of religious studies, recently wrote to the temple, "The love of Krsna, which runs so deep in the heart of India, has produced some of the most elevated expressions of religious devotion in human history. We in San Diego are enriched in having representatives of this tradition like yourself as a part of our community. My students were particularly impressed by your lifestyle of dedication to spiritual ideals. Your example is an inspiration for those of us who are overly caught up in modern mass society, which tends to emphasize conspicuous and unnecessary material consumption at the expense of that which really counts, our relationship to God. I look forward to my next visit with you."
Watch Your Language
Misconceptions about the aims and methods of spiritual life are common in the West. Part of the blame may be laid upon those Indian svamis and yogis who first traveled to America at the turn of the century and introduced ideas and techniques that deviated from the standard spiritual practices given in the Vedic literature. And before them, American transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau were creating confusion, even as they fanned America's interest in Indian spirituality.
In the 1960s, when America was more open to new spiritual ideas, a second wave of Indian missionaries arrived, movements sprang up, and terms like yoga, karma, and mantra entered the American language. Beat-generation writer Jack Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums and Allen Ginsberg wrote "Wichita Vortex Sutra," neither of which had much to do with the Vedic literature, from which the very words dharma and sutra had been borrowed. The rock 'n' roll culture of the hippies also popularized terms of Vedic spirituality, simultaneously creating new misconceptions. And recently anticultists have misinterpreted Vedic spirituality as a sinister technique of mind control.
To clear up some of these misconceptions, I would like to offer some definitions and explanations of the basic, most-often misrepresented Vedic concepts. My definitions are not actually mine but come from the Vedic literatures introduced in the West by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Mantra Meditation. While introducing a commercialized idea of meditation, some prominent purveyors of mantra meditation have put forward the notion that a mantra is a word or sound that has no particular meaning. One version of this idea—by now well known in America—is that one may simply meditate on any phrase at all, whether it be from the Vedic literature or not. This concept of mantra meditation even appears in certain psychotherapeutic methodologies, and patients are advised to think of any sound—"door," "cat," "God," "om"—and the results will come.
Actually, mantra meditation refers to the process of purifying the mind by absorption in the sound vibration of God's holy name. The names of God are identical with God Himself, and by chanting His holy names we enter into blissful, purifying union with Him. This cannot be achieved by simply repeating any old sound.
Yoga. Often people think of yoga as a kind of physical exercise. According to the Yoga-sutra of Patanjali, that part of yoga involving physical exercise is only a preliminary measure. By practicing the yoga postures (asanas), one gradually comes to control the restless senses. Then one comes to control the mind, and finally the yogi meditates on the form of Krsna in the heart. Some modern yogis, however, teach only the asanas, as if by physical exercises one could reach the Absolute Truth .Some have slandered yoga by transmogrifying it into a sex cult. Books such as Naked Yoga are not uncommon, and yoga often commingles with erotic massage among groups interested in peddling illicit sex as a form of "divine love." Ironically, the first principles of yoga—as described in the Yoga-sutra and Bhagavad-gita—are celibacy and sense control.
Yoga means "to link with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna." Certainly the yoga exercises performed in popular yoga classes cannot lead to this goal. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that the best yoga is to think of Him and serve Him always. This is called bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of devotion, and it is the form of yoga most recommended for this age.
Reincarnation. The idea of reincarnation appeared originally in the Vedic literature, although many of us first encountered it in the writings of certain Greek philosophers or some of the early Christian thinkers. In recent years, many books have appeared about people remembering their past lives. Past-life recollection is rare, however, and is the subject of much speculation. It is not integral to the Vedic science of reincarnation.
Reincarnation is part of the science of the soul, the self. The first lesson taught by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita is that we are not the body but are eternal souls. At the end of this life, we will reincarnate, or take birth in another body, according to our past activities. The main purpose of life is to get free from birth and death. To do this, one must first understand that he is passing through different lives. Then he must change his activities in this life so that he can get free from material desires and go back to Godhead. Reincarnation, therefore, is a very serious study. The current interest in reincarnation is good—provided it leads to the right understanding.
Today's sensational and inaccurate literatures on the subject become a disservice, however, when serious thinkers are repelled from what they have come to see as a kind of occultism or dilettantism. Reincarnation should be properly studied through the Bhagavad-gita and not through different fads or through persons who have no authorized direction.
Karma. In the 1960s this term became a popular word in American hip jargon. We see such places as The Good Karma Restaurant; we have John Lennon's song Instant Karma; and we have rock bands like Bad Karma.
Karma is thought of as similar to fate; you can't do anything about it. And this much is true: Karma is an unbreakable law of nature that awards happiness and suffering to all living beings according to their pious or sinful acts. For example, animal slaughter and abortion are sinful, and persons implicated in these acts will reap suffering. This suffering may also come as a massive bad reaction throughout an entire nation.
Ultimately, there is no good karma, because karma of any kind will force one to accept another material body to suffer birth, disease, old age, and death. But by the true practice of bhakti-yoga and mantra meditation, one can get free from all karma, become liberated, and go back to Godhead.
Seeing the distortions that these concepts have undergone, we can understand that one of the main purposes of the misleaders has been to fashion spiritual concepts into a commercial product. To sell yoga, they have adulterated it with health, beauty, and sexual pleasure. To sell meditation, they have devised the use of meaningless sounds and "personalized mantras" that one must purchase. Fifteen-minute "meditation sessions" are advertised as facilitating business success and sexual prowess. And to sell the deep, philosophical concept of reincarnation, purveyors have made it into a game. And always the motive is to sell a book or service or product.
In one sense, it is very good that these ideas have come into Western culture, since to even think of karma or meditation has its good aspects. But these ideas must be corrected. They belong to a valuable philosophy and way of life, but if we do not understand these terms, we cannot practice that philosophy properly.—SDG