His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, came to America in 1965, at age sixty-nine, to fulfill his spiritual master's request that he teach the science of Krsna consciousness throughout the English-speaking world. In a dozen years he published some seventy volumes of translation and commentary on India's Vedic literature, and these are now standard in universities worldwide. Meanwhile, traveling almost nonstop, Srila Prabhupada molded his international society into a worldwide confederation of asramas, schools, temples, and farm communities. He passed away in 1977 in India's Vrndavana, the place most sacred to Lord Krsna. His disciples are carrying forward the movement he started. Advanced disciples throughout the world have been authorized to serve in the position of spiritual master, initiating disciples of their own. And these disciples in turn, become linked with Srila Prabhupada through the transcendental system of disciplic succession.
Back to godhead is the monthly journal of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. When Srila Prabhupada began the Society (in New York City, in 1966), he put into writing the purposes he wanted it to achieve. They are as follows:
1. To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.
2. To propagate a consciousness of Krsna, as it is revealed in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
3. To bring the members of the Society together with each other and nearer to Krsna, the prime entity, thus developing the idea within the members, and humanity at large, that each soul is part and parcel of the quality of Godhead (Krsna).
4. To teach and encourage the sankirtana movement, congregational chanting of the holy names of God, as revealed in the teachings of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
5. To erect for the members and for society at large a holy place of transcendental pastimes dedicated to the personality of Krsna.
6. To bring the members closer together for the purpose of teaching a simpler, more natural way of life.
7. With a view toward achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, books, and other writings.
When the transmigrating soul finally reaches human life,
A lecture in New York in April 1973
catur-varnyam maya srstam
"According to the three modes of nature and the work associated With them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable." (Bhagavad-gita 4.13)
This is a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. Most of you know this book—Bhagavad-gita. It is a very famous book of knowledge. And we are presenting the Bhagavad-gita as it is. That is the mission of the Krsna consciousness movement—to present Bhagavad-gita as it is, without any adulteration.
So, here Krsna says there are four classes of men in human society (catur-varnyam). Catuh means "four," and varna means "division of society." Varna can also mean "color." Just as there are various divisions of color—red, blue, yellow, and so on—human society should be divided according to people's quality.
There are three main qualities in this material world—goodness, passion, and ignorance—just as there are three primary colors—red, blue, and yellow. And as you can mix these three primary colors to make unlimited colors, when you mix the material qualities, three multiplied by three becomes nine, nine multiplied by nine becomes eighty-one, and so on. In this way there are 8,400,000 different species, or forms of living entities. Nature manufactures these different types of bodies according to how the living entities associate with the three qualities.
The living entities are part and parcel of God. God is like a big fire, and the living entities are just like sparks. The sparks are also fire. If a spark falls on you, your garment will bum, but the spark is not as powerful as the big fire. Similarly, God is all-powerful, and we are minutely powerful. We are part and parcel of God, and therefore our power is very, very small, infinitesimal. God has created so many universes, while we cannot account for even one universe. In this one universe there are millions and trillions of stars and planets floating in outer space. But when we float one sputnik in the sky, we take so much credit and think we have become very, very great scientists. We don't care for God. This is foolishness.
One who is intelligent knows that God is floating millions and trillions of planets in the sky, and that we have done nothing in comparison to that. This is intelligence. But we have become very proud of our scientific knowledge, and therefore at the present moment we defy the existence of God. Sometimes we even say, "I have become God." This is all foolishness. We are nothing in comparison to God.
Still, because we are part and parcel of God, we can study God simply by studying ourselves. It is like studying a drop of sea-water to understand the sea. If you analyze a drop of seawater chemically, you'll find so many chemicals in it, and in this way you can understand the composition of the sea. The drop has the same composition as the sea, but in minute quantity. That is the difference between ourselves and God. We are small gods—tiny, sample gods.
Therefore we should not be proud; we should know that all our qualities are taken from God. That is why, in answer to the questions What is God? What is the Absolute Truth? the Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: "The Absolute Truth is He from whom everything emanates." So, everything is coming from God. He's the original source of everything.
Now, what is our position? According to the Vedic information, there are innumerable living entities: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. Like us, God is a living entity, but He's the chief living entity. He's like a father with innumerable sons. Formerly, fathers used to have one hundred sons. Now the fathers have no such power. But five thousand years ago King Dhrtarastra begot one hundred sons. Now the scientists are saying we are overpopulated. But that's not a fact. What is the question of overpopulation? How many of us are having one hundred children? So, there is no question of overpopulation.
And even if there were overpopulation, eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman: "One living entity. God, can maintain innumerable other living entities." If God can create. He can also maintain. This is a fact. I am traveling all over the world, and I have seen so much vacant land upon the surface of the globe; there is enough land for ten times the present population to be easily maintained. But we do not know how to use the land. In Africa, in Australia, in your America, enough land is lying vacant, but because we have encroached upon Krsna's land, there are difficulties. China is overpopulated. India is overpopulated. But if we take to Krsna consciousness, these difficulties will be over.
Krsna consciousness means to understand that everything belongs to Krsna, God. Actually, that is a fact. Since God is the origin of everything, everything belongs to Him (isavasyam idam sarvam). But we do not accept this. Out of illusion, we claim God's property as our own. For example, the Americans are claiming that this land is for Americans only. And other nations are doing the same. But actually, all the land belongs to God. The land, the sky, the water, the products of the land—everything belongs to God. And we are children of God, so we have a right to live at His expense, just as small children live at the expense of their father.
We can live by the arrangement of God, but we should not claim His property as ours. This is the idea of spiritual communism explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Present-day communists think only of the human beings; the animals are being sent to the slaughterhouse. But the human beings and the animals are born from the same land, so they are both nationals. A national is one who is born in a particular land. So why are the animals not considered nationals?
Because people have no Krsna consciousness, they cannot think so broadly. They think nationalism applies only to human beings, not to the animals or the trees. But when you become Krsna conscious, you understand that not only the human beings but also the trees, the plants, the reptiles, the aquatics, the beasts—each and every one of them is part and parcel of God. According to their karma they have received various bodies. This is described in the Bhagavad-gita [13.22]: karanam guna-sango 'sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu. And also in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [3.31.1]: karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye. By our karma we create our next body.
So, this Krsna consciousness is a great science. People do not know how things are taking place—why there are so many species of life, why one person is happy and another is distressed, why one is rich and another is poor, why there are so many planets, why some living entities are demigods and others are human beings and others are animals. There is no cultivation of this knowledge in the modern educational institutions. Perhaps we who are trying to propagate this science of Krsna consciousness are the only group of men who are cultivating this knowledge.
Human life is meant for cultivating this transcendental knowledge. By the process of evolution we have passed through so many kinds of bodies and have now come to this human form. Now is our opportunity to get out of the cycle of birth and death. This is our real goal of life. But unfortunately no educational institution is teaching how the transmigration of the soul takes place. The professors may have big, big M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, but they do not know the actual position of the living entity or what his real problems are.
The real problems are stated in the Bhagavad-gita [13.9]: janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi—birth, death, old age, and disease. These are our real problems. Nobody wants to meet death, but wherever there is birth, there must be death. Anything that is born must die. And old age. As long as you live, you have to change your position, and one position you must come to is old age. Now we have become old, and there are so many complaints, so many diseases. So, everyone must become old, everyone must become diseased, and everyone must die. These are the real problems of life.
We are trying to mitigate all the miserable conditions of our life. That is the struggle for existence. The scientists are trying to discover so many processes to counteract distress. But the real difficulties—birth, death, old age, and disease—these they are avoiding, because they cannot do anything about them. The so-called scientists cannot solve these problems, although sometimes they become falsely proud and declare, "Through science we shall become immortal." This was tried long ago by atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu, but they failed. It is not possible to stop birth, death, old age, and disease by any material means.
The only process for stopping birth, death, old age, and disease is Krsna consciousness. If you become Krsna conscious, you will get a spiritual body, which is not subject to these distresses. Actually, you already have your spiritual body. It is upon the spiritual body that the material body has developed. Just as your coat is cut according to your material body, your material body is cut according to your spiritual body.
The gross and subtle bodies are coverings for the spiritual body. The gross body is made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and the subtle body is made of mind, intelligence, and ego. This is the spiritual body's "shirt and coat," The spiritual body, or soul, is now encaged in the material body, and our business in the human form of life is to uncover the soul. In the animal form of life we cannot do this. But in the human form we can understand, "I am not this body. This body is an encagement for me, the soul, and because I have this body I am subjected to birth, death, old age, and disease. Now, in the human form of life, let me get out of this encagement."
So, if we take up the process of Krsna consciousness and get out of this cycle of birth and death, our human life is successful. The Krsna consciousness movement is teaching people how to get out of the material body, revive the spiritual body, and in the spiritual body go back home, back to Godhead. That is the mission of this movement.
Unfortunately, people are so attached to the material body that they are prepared to become cats and dogs in the next life rather than go back home, back to Godhead. This is the problem. Why this problem? Because human society is in chaos. There must be a division of four classes in society.
One class must be brahmanas, the most intelligent men, a second class must be ksatriyas, the administrators, a third class should contain the vaisyas, the farmers and merchants, and the fourth class must be the sudras, the laborers. Human society requires intelligent men for teaching and consultation, and also good administrators, good producers, and good workers. That is the division of brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras.
To keep smooth facilities for progressive human life, there must be these four divisions in society. If you say, "We don't require brahmanas," then you'll suffer. That is just like thinking, "My head is very expensive—always eating—so let me cut it off." Then you'll be dead. Similarly, you must have your arms, you must have your belly, and you must have your legs. You cannot say, "I do not need this part of the body." No. Similarly, the four divisions of society must all be there. Otherwise, society will be chaotic, or dead.
At the present moment the difficulty is that there is no brahmana class and no ksatriya class. There are only vaisyas and sudras, the belly and the legs. That is why society is in a chaotic condition. All four classes must exist for society to function properly. Although comparatively the head is the most important part of the body, still you cannot neglect the legs. All the parts form a cooperative combination. All of them are required. But at the present moment there is only the mercantile, industrialist class and the workers. There is no brain. There is no intelligent class to explain how to conduct society, how to perfect human life, how to fulfill the mission of human life.
So, the Krsna consciousness movement is creating the brain of the human society—brahmanas. A brahmana is one who knows God. And keeping God in view, the brahmanas teach others to become God conscious. Without becoming God conscious, human society is simply animal society. Animals cannot become God conscious, however you preach among them. It is not possible, because they have no brain to understand God. And if in human society there are no brahmanas who can teach about God, who can elevate persons to God consciousness, then that so-called human society is also animal society. Simply eating, sleeping, sex, and defense. These are the businesses of the animals. In their own way the animals eat, sleep, enjoy sex, and defend themselves. So, if one engages only in these activities, he is an animal, not a human being. And the mission of his human life will not be fulfilled.
Therefore, society must be organized into these classes of men, as Krsna recommends—catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah. Guna-karma-vibhagasah means "divided according to qualities and work." In India, these four classes of men are present, but in name only. Actually, India is also in a chaotic condition, because nobody is following the prescription given in the Bhagavad-gita. A person's qualities and activities may be lower than a sudra's, but if he has been born in a brahmana family he's accepted as a brahmana. Therefore, India's condition is so chaotic.
Krsna consciousness is a scientific process. You Western people should try to understand that. Our boys and girls who have joined this movement understand this, and they are executing the principles very nicely. If you take up Krsna consciousness, you will become a brahmana by quality and work, and then the Western nations—especially America—will become first class. You have the intelligence, you have the resources, and you are also inquisitive—you take to good things. And if you take up Krsna consciousness seriously, you'll become the foremost nation in the world. That is my request.
Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.
The Pastimes of Scholarship
As an innovative schoolteacher, an erudite scholar,
by Sesa 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.
Navadvipa dhama, the holy land of Lord Caitanya's pastimes, is situated approximately sixty miles northwest of Calcutta. There, as the Ganges delta begins to form, the river's different branches encircle a thirty-two-square-mile area and divide it into nine islands. Navadvipa means "nine islands." Here, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya, resided for the first twenty-four years of His appearance in this world.
Navadvipa has traditionally been known as a center of learning. Formerly many Sanskrit scholars would gather in Navadvipa to discuss the Vedic literature, and because these scholars were also great devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the topics they discussed would always center on Lord Krsna's instructions in the Bhagavad-gita or on His activities recorded in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Today the city of Navadvipa retains this tradition of scholarship and devotion to Krsna, and many learned devotees of Lord Caitanya inhabit this place of pilgrimage where the Lord enacted His pastimes of scholarship.
According to the Vedic social system, it is the responsibility of the brahmanas, or scholars, to guide society spiritually and intellectually. The duties of a brahmana are to study the Vedic literature, to teach the Vedic literature, to worship the Deity, to engage others in worshiping the Deity, to accept charity, and to give charity. Lord Caitanya was born into a brahmana family, and at an early age. He took up the first brahminical duty of studying the Vedic literature. The Lord's deep study was the principal activity of His youth. Indeed, Srila Vrndavana dasa Thakura, who wrote the Caitanya-bhagavata, a biography of Lord Caitanya, devotes six chapters to describing the Lord's pastimes as a young scholar.
The grammatical rules and definitions of the Sanskrit language are extremely intricate, and one is advised to study this subject matter for twelve years before progressing to more advanced topics, Sanskrit grammar is considered the gateway to education, because once one has mastered this subject matter, all the Vedic scriptures and other Sanskrit literatures become easily understandable. But Lord Caitanya immediately learned these rules after hearing them only once. Because He soon began to win grammatical competitions among the students, the title pandita, meaning "a greatly learned person," was given to the Lord, who became known as Nimai Pandita. As His reputation as a scholar grew, He began to attract students who wanted to study Sanskrit grammar under His direction. Thus the Lord began to fulfill the second of brahminical duty, that of teaching, even though He was only eleven years old.
Lord Caitanya would often sit on the bank of the Ganges discussing literary topics with His students. One evening a great scholar named Kesava Kasmiri met Lord Caitanya there. Kesava Kasmiri, who belonged to a very respectable brahmana family from Kashmir, had been traveling to centers of learning all over India, debating the Sanskrit Vedic literatures with scholars. The art of debate in the Sanskrit language is extremely rigorous. All subjects must be examined in terms of five categories, including adherence to the purpose of the original text, reason, examples given in terms of various facts, whether or not a clearer understanding of the subject is being brought forth, and support by authoritative quotation from the scriptures. A man of vast learning, Kesava Kasmiri was the undefeated champion in this type of debate. Thus he carried the title Digvijayi, which means "one who has conquered everyone in all directions." The champion debater had now come to Navadvipa with hopes of increasing his reputation by defeating the scholars there.
Formerly debates were not just academic exercises. Rather, the loser was obligated to become a disciple of the winner. This fact worried the Navadvipa scholars. Actually, it was their plan to match Lord Caitanya with Kesava Kasmiri. They thought that if the Lord was defeated, they would have another chance to debate the scholar, because, after all, Lord Caitanya was only a boy. But if the Lord defeated the scholar, their position would be even more glorified because of the fact that a mere boy from their scholarly community had defeated the champion.
Kesava Kasmiri knew of Lord Caitanya's reputation as a scholar of Sanskrit grammar, but being very proud of his own brilliant career, he considered himself far superior to the Lord. Thus, when they met on the bank of the Ganges, Kesava Kasmiri spoke rudely to the Lord. Very cleverly, he criticized Lord Caitanya, implying that the "grammatical jugglery" the Lord taught His students did not require great expertise. Lord Caitanya, who acts in many different ways to benefit the conditioned souls, replied to the scholar so as to increase his artificial pride. The Lord presented Himself in a subordinate position and requested the scholar to demonstrate his poetic skill by composing verses in glorification of the Ganges.
Kesava Kasmiri was a great devotee of the goddess of learning, Sarasvati, and being favored by her, he was quite confident of his intellectual abilities. Upon the request of Lord Caitanya, he immediately composed one hundred verses glorifying the Ganges, and he eloquently recited these verses before Lord Caitanya and His students.
After hearing Kesava Kasmiri's forceful presentation, Lord Caitanya spoke in such a way as to curb the pride He had previously inflated. Sarcastically praising the poetry, the Lord, who had memorized all one hundred verses, repeated the sixty-fourth verse and asked Kesava Kasmiri to explain it. The scholar, although astonished that Lord Caitanya had memorized even one of the rapidly recited verses, explained the meaning of the verse. Lord Caitanya then asked him to explain the qualities and faults of the verse.
The proud scholar became anxious. "You are an ordinary student of grammar," he said. "What do you know about literary embellishments? You cannot review this poetry because You do not know anything about it." Lord Caitanya once again humbly submitted Himself before Kesava Kasmiri and replied, "Certainly I have not studied the art of literary embellishments. But I have heard about it from higher circles, and thus I can review this verse and find in it many faults and many good qualities. Let Me speak, and please hear Me without becoming angry."
Lord Caitanya then fully explained five literary ornaments and five faults in the verse. The Lord analyzed the faults of the verse in terms of its improper composition, contradictory meanings, and redundancy. He next praised the verse for its ornaments of alliteration, analogy, and meaning. The Lord concluded, "I have simply discussed the five gross faults and five literary embellishments of this verse, but if we consider it in fine detail we will find unlimited faults. Lord Caitanya's explanations were so thorough, even though He had heard the verse only once, that Kesava Kasmiri was struck with wonder. When he attempted to reply to the Lord's comments, he could find no words to express himself. His confidence and intelligence were baffled. Insecurity quickly replaced his pride.
Kesava Kasmiri had become very proud, thinking himself undefeatable because of his vast learning, but his pride simply bewildered him. The actual position of the living being is one of dependence on the Supreme Lord. In the Bhagavad-gita the Supreme Personality of Godhead explains that all knowledge, remembrance, and forgetfulness come from Him. Kesava Kasmiri's pride made him ignorant of this truth, but Lord Caitanya showed him great mercy by curbing this pride and thus opening the opportunity for the scholar to receive transcendental knowledge.
Returning home, Kesava Kasmiri worshiped Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, desiring to understand how he had displeased her and had thus been defeated by a young boy. That night mother Sarasvati appeared to the scholar in a dream and revealed to him Lord Caitanya as the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Kesava Kasmiri thus understood his position as the eternal servant of the Lord. The next morning, Kesava Kasmiri went to see Lord Caitanya and immediately surrendered unto Him. The Lord thus bestowed His mercy upon the scholar, freeing him from the pride that had bound him to material life. Thereafter Kesava Kasmiri gave up the profession of winning championships and became a great devotee of the Lord.
After this incident Lord Caitanya shone as the foremost of Navadvipa's scholars. Indeed, He began to debate and defeat all kinds of scholars in discourses about the Vedic scriptures. But because of His gentle behavior, none of them were unhappy.
By sixteen years of age, the Lord was operating His own school. Befitting His mission as the incarnation for this age, the Lord taught Sanskrit grammar through Krsna consciousness. He explained the rules and definitions in relation to Krsna, thus inducing His students to chant the holy names of God. The Lord's purpose was for the students and all of us to realize that there is nothing in our experience other than Krsna.
During this time, Srila Isvara Puri visited Navadvipa. Isvara Puri was the most beloved disciple of the great sannyasi follower of Srila Madhvacarya, Srila Madhavendra Puri. Lord Caitanya became acquainted with Isvara Puri at this time and heard from him the recitation of his book Krsna-lilamrta. Later, while in Gaya, the Lord again met Isvara Puri, and accepting him as His spiritual master, received initiation from him.
In spite of Lord Caitanya's reputation as a scholar, Isvara Puri chastised Him. "You are a fool," he said. "You are not qualified to study Vedanta philosophy, and therefore You must always chant the holy name of Krsna. In this age of Kali there is no other religious principle than the chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all Vedic hymns." Receiving this order from His spiritual master, Lord Caitanya immediately exhibited ecstatic symptoms of love of God.
Isvara Puri, acting as Lord Caitanya's spiritual master, and Lord Caitanya, acting as the ideal disciple, thus instructed us that only through proper initiation is it possible for the conditioned souls to love God. In the Bhagavad-gita the Supreme Personality of Godhead instructs us to approach a bona fide spiritual master if we seriously desire transcendental knowledge and love of God. The secret of success in spiritual life lies in this system of disciplic succession. One may be a greatly learned scholar or an illiterate fool, but by following Lord Caitanya and receiving instruction from a bona fide spiritual master, everyone can attain that love of God which the Lord's sankirtana movement is distributing.
Biographers of Lord Caitanya have divided His life into three periods. The first twenty-four-year period, during which Lord Caitanya resided at home in Navadvipa, consists of the birth, childhood, youth, and marriage pastimes of the Lord. This twenty-four-year period is known as the adi-lila.
At the end of his twenty-fourth year, Lord Caitanya entered the renounced order, sannyasa. During this period of His life, the madhya-lila, or middle pastimes, the Lord traveled continuously for six years. From His headquarters at Jagannatha Puri, in Orissa, He made pilgrimages to South India, Bengal, and Vrndavana.
For the last eighteen years of His life. Lord Caitanya remained continuously at Jagannatha Puri, where he enacted His antya-lila, or final pastimes. There, in the company of His intimate associates. He personally relished love of Godhead by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra and dancing in ecstasy.
Thus far in this series of articles, we have discussed the first twenty-four-year period, the adi-lila, the pastimes at the beginning. This month's article completes our treatment of the adi-lila.
"Please Give Me A Sign"
A prayer in Istanbul's Blue Mosque
by Visakha-devi dasi
John, a slight, fair-complexioned traveler who'd left home to broaden his perspective on life, found himself stranded in Istanbul. With nothing to do until money arrived from a friend, he'd gone to the magnificent Blue Mosque, an awe-inspiring monument with huge stained-glass windows, to offer a sincere prayer to God—the first such prayer of his life.
The devout Moslems were used to sightseers visiting their mosque, but they were surprised to see this young man kneeling as they did, with outstretched arms and palms turned upward. While growing up in London, John hadn't concerned himself with the once-a-week affair of religion, but throughout ten months of travel he'd been moved by the God consciousness of people's lives. While in India, he'd heard worshipers of Siva, Visnu, Durga, and Buddha declare their god supreme; in Europe Jesus was the only way; and now in Turkey it was Allah. In his mind John had resolved the conflicting beliefs by deciding, "God is the creator." And so on that clear winter's morning he prayed, "O almighty creator, if there is a God, there can only be one. And if You are there, please give me a sign."
Living simply, carrying only a few possessions, abstaining from drugs and other intoxicants, and making friends as he went, John had lived simply as he traveled. After his prayer he continued in that way, but his perception changed. He saw that God was fulfilling his desires, protecting and providing for him: although he had no money and never begged, still he never went hungry. More significantly, from the day of his prayer he strongly felt God's presence within himself and others. But after just a month or two that feeling faded, and John returned to India to find the truth through spiritual knowledge.
My husband and I met John about a year and a half later. By coincidence the three of us had moved into the Calcutta Hare Krsna temple around the same time—July 1971. Everyone liked the affable, unassuming newcomer named John, who by then had traveled the length and breadth of the Indian subcontinent. My first service in the temple was to oversee the publication of a book honoring His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). September 1 was the anniversary of Srila Prabhupada's appearance day, and all the devotees were writing appreciations of him. John wrote,
I left home for the holy land of India in search of the truth through spiritual knowledge. From the Himalayas to Cape Comorin I traveled, meeting sadhu and saint. Is my search in vain? Am I looking for something beyond God? For still I am not satisfied.
John told me that during his search in India he'd been influenced by impersonalists who led him to believe that the Absolute Truth was ultimately formless and without senses. Following that lonely path, he had tried to cut out all relationships. (Sometimes he had even been unable to bear to be with his twin brother, Roy, who was traveling with him.) After a year, all he had gained was a cold, hard heart, and in frustration he had finally given up his search. Then just two or three days later, he had met the devotees.
"From that I realized that by my own endeavor I could never understand God," he said. "Only when I accepted guidance from a pure devotee did God reveal Himself. As soon as I read the books of Srila Prabhupada, he broke all my ice, all my rigidness and speculation, and instead he showed me the beautiful person, Krsna. When you understand the supreme person, then there's love and reciprocation, sharing between others, and you become joyful."
In October John's wish was fulfilled. Srila Prabhupada came to Calcutta, and not only did John bow his head at Srila Prabhupada's feet, but he also heard him lecture, talked with him personally, and, in the beginning of November, received initiation from him. Srila Prabhupada gave John the name Jananivasa dasa, meaning "the servant of God, who lives in everyone's heart."
At that time the devotees were holding a festival in Calcutta's Desha Priya Park. Srila Prabhupada was speaking every morning and evening to a crowd of thousands (on the weekend, ten thousand), and during the day the devotees were chanting Hare Krsna, singing devotional songs, and performing ceremonies of formal worship of the Deities of Radha-Madhava.
Madhava is a name for Krsna meaning "He who surpasses the sweetness of honey," and Radha means "She who worships Krsna best." Radha is the Lord's eternal consort. These eighteen-inch, effulgent brass Deities were presiding over the festival from Their altar in the center of the festival stage. Along with the pujari (priest), Jananivasa slept near the Deities to guard Them at night, and during the week-long festival he assisted the pujari by collecting flowers and leaves to decorate Radha-Madhava's altar.
In the Bhagavad-gita Srila Prabhupada explains that the Absolute Truth may be worshiped with or without attributes. As the Deity in the temple. He is worshiped in His original, personal form, with attributes. But the form of the Lord, though represented by a statue made of such material substances as metal or stone, is not actually material.
To illustrate this point, Srila Prabhupada gives the analogy of a mailbox. We may find a mailbox on the street, and if we post our letters in that box, they will naturally go to their destination without difficulty. But any old box, or an imitation not authorized by the post office, will not do the work. Similarly, God has an authorized representation in His Deity form, who is an incarnation of God and who will accept the devotee's sincere service. Although God is unknowable and unlimited. He mercifully appears in a form just suitable to our vision, in the form of the Deity. So the Deity is not an idol but the all-spiritual form of the Lord Himself. That is the all-powerful nature of the Lord.
In March 1972 Their Lordships Sri Sri Radha-Madhava, Srila Prabhupada, and twenty devotees, including my husband and myself, went to Mayapur. This rural village, located on the bank of the Ganges ninety miles north of Calcutta, is Lord Caitanya's birthplace. Jananivasa had already moved to ISKCON's recently acquired land in that open, flat farming area, where all of us, along with Srila Prabhupada, celebrated the appearance anniversary of Lord Caitanya.
The beautiful Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava were to reside in the peaceful, spiritual atmosphere of Mayapur, presiding over our fledgling project, which was destined to become the world headquarters of ISKCON. Twenty-eight-year-old Jananivasa was becoming increasingly attracted to the beautiful forms of Radha-Madhava. He felt that serving Them directly was an ideal way to become Krsna conscious, and within his mind he prayed, "My dear Radha-Madhava, please allow me to stay here and serve You twenty-four hours a day for as many days as I live. Please take over my life and guide me."
* * *
In the years that followed, my husband and I regularly returned to Mayapur for the annual festival on Lord Caitanya's appearance day, and Jananivasa was always there, as he had been throughout the year, devotedly serving Sri Sri Radha-Madhava by bathing Them, dressing Them, offering Them delicious meals throughout the day, and so on. Then in 1975, suddenly (so it seemed to me) there were two Jananivasas: his identical twin brother (now named Pankajanghri dasa) had joined him in the worship of Radha-Madhava after being initiated by Srila Prabhupada in England. (Jananivasa started wearing white clothes and his brother saffron, just so we could tell them apart.) Srila Prabhupada told one of his Mayapur managers, "I have noticed those two brothers. They are wonderful devotees. They never speak nonsense, they're gentle, and they're always meditating on Sri Sri Radha-Madhava."
Jananivasa told me about a conversation he had had in the temple with a middle-aged Bengali guest who had asked him, "Are Radha-Madhava made of brass or gold?"
"Well, what are you made of?" Jananivasa replied.
After a pause, the gentleman answered, "Flesh and blood."
Jananivasa told him, "As long as you think you're made of flesh and blood, then you'll think the Deity is made of one metal or another. But if you can understand that you're not the body, that you're spirit soul, and also that the soul is part and parcel of God, then you'll understand that you're of the same nature as Krsna."
The man wasn't sure that he had understood, so Jananivasa continued, "Do you accept that God is in your heart?"
"So what's He made of there, brass or gold?"
The man didn't know.
"On the basis of the revealed scriptures," Jananivasa said, "we can understand that God's form is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge. That form, which is present in the heart of every living entity, is made of pure spirit, and that is what the Deity in the temple is also made of. You can't see the Deity in your heart," he explained as the gentleman nodded in agreement, "you don't know who He is. So the Lord comes in a form you can see. Radha-Madhava appear to be material, but They are purely spiritual, and to the extent that you realize your nature is spiritual, to that extent you will understand that Krsna Himself is personally on the altar."
The last time I met Jananivasa, it had been more than thirteen years since he first set foot in the holy land of Mayapur. In his usual thoughtful and unhurried manner, he attributed his steadfast service to the faith and conviction he got by reading Srila Prabhupada's books. Before Jananivasa became a devotee, he had been sincerely looking for the truth, but he'd been plagued with doubts and confusion. Prabhupada had answered Jananivasa's questions and cleared away his doubts as no one else had. So Jananivasa had embraced Krsna consciousness with heart and soul. "When a person comes in touch with perfect knowledge, he understands that he's an eternal servant of God', he's subordinate to God," Jananivasa said. "Then he asks God to engage him in His service. That's the meaning of the maha-mantra we chant daily: 'O my Lord, please engage me in Your service.'"
When John had offered a prayer in the Blue Mosque, he had asked God just for "a sign." But eventually he got many signs. He met the Lord's pure devotee, he heard the Lord's words in the revealed scriptures, he began chanting the Lord's holy names, and he became dedicated to His service. And Jananivasa's undeviating determination and growing enthusiasm for that devotional service are a sustained sign from God of His divine presence.
Toward the end of our conversation, Jananivasa said, "You should do an article a year from now. Then the temple extension will be finished, and we'll be installing the eight gopis [Radha-Madhava's personal and most intimate associates]. After that, I'm planning to hold a festival each day of the year for the pleasure of Radha-Madhava, Srila Prabhupada, and all the devotees and guests. We'll make it so wonderful that anyone who comes will forget his material problems and become absorbed in the Lord's pastimes. We can even have several festivals going on simultaneously—a swing festival, a procession, water pastimes, feasting ..."
Structuring a Sane Society
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and members of the United Nations World Health Organization took place in Geneva on June 6, 1974.
W.H.O. member: There is one thing that I cannot reconcile. As an Indian, the question bothers me very, very often. I believe in a great many things that you said about returning to a simpler, more natural way of life. And about finding satisfaction in our spiritual dimension. There's no question about that. I'm not what you would call a "Westernized Indian."
But what I cannot reconcile is the fact that we who had this spiritual knowledge and all our cultural guidelines, which you have just now said are the solutions to all our problems—with all these guidelines, we have not been able to keep our society free from so many evils that have come about. I'm referring not only to the poverty but also to the unemployment and to the hunger and to so many other things.
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not because of our cultural guidelines, but because of bad leaders who do not follow them. It is due to these bad leaders.
W.H.O. member: They are our own people. They—
Srila Prabhupada: They may be our own people. They may be our own father. Prahlada Maharaja was a devotee of the Lord, and yet his father was Hiranyakasipu, an utter demon. So what can be done? Most people are good, and yet so often we see that their leader is a godless demon.
W.H.O. member: Yes, Hiranyakasipu had to be destroyed.
Srila Prabhupada: So he was destroyed. By God's grace he was destroyed. And every one of these modern demonic leaders—they will be destroyed. These demonic leaders will not stay. They'll be destroyed. But everything takes time.
At the present moment, our leaders are not very good. Blind. They have no knowledge, and yet they are leading. Andha yathandhair upaniyamanas: the blind leading the blind—into the ditch. These leaders have killed the world's original, spiritual culture, and they cannot give anything in its place.
W.H.O. member: So has your movement involved itself in social philosophy, then?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This movement is most practical. For instance, we are recommending no meat-eating. And the leaders do not like it. We are not very favorable to their propaganda. So the leaders don't like us. After all, they have allowed slaughterhouses, and beef shops anywhere and everywhere, and we are saying, "No meat-eating." So how will they like us? That is the difficulty. "It is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss." But still we are struggling.
And the alternative we are recommending is also practical. These God conscious farming villages have proved successful. The inhabitants are finding their life happy and abundant. Nature's bounty supplies fruit and vegetables and grain. And the cows supply milk, from which you can get yogurt, cheese, butter, and cream. So with all these ingredients, you can make hundreds and thousands of delicious preparations. And you feel fully satisfied. That is the basic principle.
W.H.O. member: That is an example of a successful enterprise, but would you speak about something now that has not been tried before?
Srila Prabhupada: The "new thing" is that these people living in God conscious farming villages do not have to travel away for their daily bread. That is the new thing for modern society.
At present, most people have to travel some distance to the factory or office. I happened to be in Bombay when there was a railway strike—oh, people were suffering so much. You see? From five o'clock in the morning, they were standing in a queue for catching a train. Of course, during the strike hardly any trains were running. So people were in so much difficulty. And if one or two trains were running, so many people were trying to squeeze themselves into the cars. Smashing themselves in. They were even on top of the train.
Of course, in the more industrially advanced countries, the people go to the factory or office in cars—and risk being killed in highway crashes.
So the question is. Why should one be induced to go so many miles away from his home simply for earning his livelihood? This is a very bad civilization. One must obtain food locally. That is a good civilization.
W.H.O. member: I understand that your goal is to have everybody become self-sufficient in regard to food. But if all the people are engaged in the production of food, then who will be providing other things?
Srila Prabhupada: We don't say everyone should be engaged in food production. According to the Bhagavad-gita, naturally you will have a section of men who will produce food, a section of men who will give spiritual direction, and a section of men who will manage as the government or king. And the rest of the people are laborers who help all the other sections.
Not that everyone will be a cultivator. No. There must also be a brain department, a management department, and a worker department. These groupings are natural within any society. And all of them should work together for spiritual cultivation.
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Philadelphia Mayor Dedicates Food for Life Center
Philadelphia—Mayor W. Wilson Goode recently cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Hare Krishna Food for Life center here. The Mayor said, "I would like to express my appreciation to the Hare Krsnas for their involvement here—for this shelter and their food program. With the help of private groups like the Hare Krsna movement, we can help more than two thousand persons per day in this city." Mayor Goode then cut the ceremonial cake and served the first lunch plate to a homeless woman.
Located at 1408 South Street, the Food for Life center was purchased and renovated with private donations. The program has fed the needy since March 1983 and now serves more than seventy-five free lunches a day, five days a week, to homeless persons. The facility, which now shelters twenty men a night, has received more than $20,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Administration through the Philadelphia Committee for the Homeless.
U.S. Congressman Speaks at New Vrindaban Ceremony
New Vrindaban, West Virginia—Representative Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.) was the keynote speaker at the recent groundbreaking ceremony here for the Temple of Understanding. Mollohan stated that the $50 million temple will mean great progress for the economy and people of Marshall County, where the community is located.
In a fitting introduction for a temple meant to promote nonsectarian worship of the Supreme Person, Representative Mollohan said, "In a real sense, the facilities that will grace these hills symbolize what it means to be in America, where freedom of religion and freedom of speech are the stalwarts of a democracy that was snatched from the bosom of tyranny at the cost of men's lives and defended again and again against very real threats to liberty.
"I think it is imperative for us to consider how fortunate we all are that the freedom of America has allowed these works to be completed and will allow the development of this project and more."
Srila Kirtanananda Swami Bhaktipada, leader of the New Vrindaban community and one of ISKCON's spiritual masters, emphasized the broad spiritual meaning of the Temple of Understanding. "Krsna consciousness is for everyone," he said, "because we are not talking about something sectarian or foreign. We refer to the dormant love of God in all of our hearts and to our eternal nature as servants of God. We want to see people become perfect Christians, perfect Jews. When people learn how to relate to each other as servants of God, our troubled society will see a new dawn of peace and prosperity."
Asked whether he expects every visitor to convert, Srila Bhaktipada, leader of the five-thousand-acre, six-hundred-member community, said, "You must follow the truth wherever you find it. If they are Christians, let them go and become better Christians."
New Vrindaban's ornate Palace of Gold, dedicated to ISKCON's founder-acarya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has drawn 200,000 visitors a year to Marshall County since the memorial was completed in 1979. Plans for the new Temple of Understanding are a testimony that the community is quickly becoming the most famous national pilgrimage site in the West for ISKCON and Indians in general. Twenty times larger than the Palace of Gold, and the second-tallest building in the state (216 feet high, second only to the state Capitol), the temple will join the ranks of the Taj Mahal and Vatican.
Pickles to Relish
The wide array of pickled fruits and vegetables in Lord Krsna's
by Visakha-devi dasi
For centuries, people throughout the world have known that extremely salty, acidic, or sweet foods don't spoil. And for centuries people have employed various techniques to preserve, or pickle, their foods. While in the West brine or vinegar are the traditional pickling agents, in Lord Krsna's cuisine we use sugar, oils, salt, spices, and sunshine.
The two most popular types of pickles in Lord Krsna's cuisine are lemon and green mango, but virtually any fruit or vegetable that isn't too soft makes tasty pickles—carrots, gooseberries, hot peppers, ginger root, radishes, even turnips. Whichever fruit or vegetable you prefer, get garden-fresh, high-quality selections, slightly underripe and without blemishes or soft spots. Lemons and limes should be fresh and young, with smooth skins and lots of juice.
As for the oil, mustard oil is traditional; it lends a distinctive pungency to the pickle. Peanut and sesame oils make milder-tasting pickles and are good for variety.
Srila Prabhupada was fond of pickles and often enjoyed them with his noon meal. And when he traveled he would have his servant bring a supply along. Yamuna-devi dasi (who was Srila Prabhupada's cook for years) told me how Prabhupada spoke about pickles one hot summer morning in 1972. He was in Vrndavana, India, sitting on a veranda and observing four women who were quietly working. These women were visitors to Vrndavana, pilgrims, and Prabhupada watched as they set up a small makeshift kitchen to cook lunch for their families. "Do you know what aam achar is? he asked Yamuna. "It is mango pickle. When one is traveling, one can always take some puris [fried flat-breads] and achar.
"Formerly, when people used to travel by bullock cart, they would stop in a shady place, collect some wood and gobar [dried cow-dung patties], make a small fire, and cook a simple dal [dried-bean soup]. While the dal was cooking, they would mix some whole wheat flour, ghee [clarified butter], and water to make a soft dough. Then they would shape the dough into balls and place them on the embers to cook. Next, they flavored the dal with spices fried in ghee. And finally they took the cooked breads [called baatis] from the embers, dipped them into a small pot of warm ghee, and tossed them into the dal. This was their simple noon meal: puris, hot dal with baatis, and achar that they had brought from home. A meal so tasty that even the wealthiest people traveled to the countryside to relish it with the villagers."
The pickles we're presenting here have a sharp and exhilarating taste. They stimulate the appetite, enhance the flavors of the food they accompany, and introduce an amazing variety of taste into any meal. The flavors range from piquant to sweet to pungent. These pickles are appropriate for almost every kind of lunch or dinner, from the simplest to the most elaborate.
Lord Krsna also enjoyed eating pickles with His meals, as one of the great spiritual masters of the nineteenth century describes in a song about Krsna's lunching pastimes in Vrndavana. The song names some forty or fifty kinds of dishes that the Lord and His friends delighted in, including "twelve kinds of sour preparations made with tamarinds, limes, lemons, and oranges. . . ."
Pickles enable us to relish some of the innumerable tastes that the Lord has provided. Srila Prabhupada writes, "Actually all tastes are within the earth, and as soon as seeds are sown in the ground, various trees sprout up to satisfy our different tastes. For instance, sugarcane provides its juices to satisfy our taste for sweetness, and oranges provide their juices to satisfy our taste for a mixture of the sour and sweet. Similarly, there are pineapples and other fruits. At the same time, there are chilies to satisfy our taste for pungency. Although the earth's ground is the same, different tastes arise because of different kinds of seeds. As Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, 'I am the original seed of all existences.'
"Complete arrangements for the production of all the necessities of life are made by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. People should therefore learn how to satisfy Lord Krsna. Indeed, our prime business is to satisfy the Lord."
This is the art of Krsna consciousness: taking what Krsna has provided and using it in His service. This art satisfies both the Lord and ourselves. And as our devotion and attachment to Krsna evolve, we will feel a pleasure and fulfillment in life unlike any we have ever known before.
(Recipes by Yamuna-devi dasi)
Plain Lemon or Lime Pickle
(Nimbu Achar )
4 smooth, thin-skinned lemons or limes
1. Wash the lemons or limes in hot water and dry them.
2. Slice the lemons or limes, remove the seeds, and save any draining juice.
3. Mix the salt and the draining juice. Arrange the slices in a jar and pour the salt mixture over the top.
4. Seal with a tight-fitting lid and place in the hot sun, bringing the jar inside at night, for two weeks. Shake the jar daily. The slices will gradually shrink to nearly half their original size.
5. The pickle is ready to offer to Krsna when the skins are tender and a buff color. One- or two-year-old lemon pickle is a great delicacy.
Spicy Lemon or Lime Pickle
(Masala Nimbu Achar )
3 cups water
1. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a small saucepan; then remove from the flame. Place the lemons or limes in the hot water and soak them for five minutes. Remove, cool slightly, and then dry each lemon or lime.
2. Slice each lemon or lime into 8 or 12 wedges; remove the seeds.
3. Combine the garam masala, turmeric, salt, and brown sugar. Pack the lemons or limes and spices in alternate layers until all of the ingredients are used. Cover with a tight-fitting lid and keep in the hot sun, bringing the jar inside at night, for at least a week before offering it to Krsna. Shake the jar daily. This pickle is good for at least a year.
Spicy Lemon or Lime Pickle in Oil
(Masala Nimbu Achar)
3 cups water
1. Boil the water in a three-quart saucepan; then remove the pan from the flame. Place the lemons or limes in the hot water and soak them for five minutes. Remove, cool slightly, and dry each lemon or lime.
2. Cut each lemon or lime into 16 wedges; remove the seeds and collect the draining juice.
3. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small frying pan over a medium-low flame. Add the split green chilies, fennel seeds, mustard powder, chili powder, garam masala, turmeric, and salt. Fry for about 2 ½ minutes. Remove the pan from the flame and cool.
4. Combine the seasoning, lemons or limes, and the collected juice, and pack into a pint jar. Seal with a moisture-proof lid and set in the summer sun for at least seven days. Shake the jar each day and bring it inside at night. On the eighth day, pour in 2 more tablespoons of the oil and shake well. This pickle can then be offered to Krsna. It can be stored for several months.
Plain Green Chili Pickle
(Har Mirch Achar)
This is one of the hottest pickles and should be relished only by the connoisseur, as it may scald the untempered palate.
8 ounces small, hot green chilies (the mild Jalepeno chili is recommended)
1. Wash and dry the chilies.
2. Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add all of the ingredients and fry over a low flame until the chilies become slightly limp.
3. Remove from the flame and cool to room temperature. Pack into a pint jar and set in the hot sun, bringing the jar in at night, for at least five days. Then offer it to Krsna. This pickle will grow hotter with age.
(Phoolgohi Achar )
3 cups water
1. Boil the water in a 3-quart saucepan. Toss in the flowerettes and parboil for about 2 minutes. Remove and drain in a colander.
2. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Add all of the ingredients and stir-fry for 30 seconds.
3. Pack all the ingredients into a pint jar. Secure the lid tightly and then cool. Set the jar in the hot sun, bringing it in at night, for at least seven days before offering it to Krsna.
(Gajar Achar )
7 ounces fresh, sweet carrots
1. Cut the carrots into thin strips and place them in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of salt over them and marinate for 2 hours; wash and drain well.
2. Grind the mustard seeds, cumin seeds, and fenugreek seeds on a stone mortar or in an electric coffee mill. Add the remaining spices and salt, and blend well.
3. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over a medium flame. Remove from the flame, cool for fifteen seconds, and then toss in all of the spices and stir.
4. Pack the carrots in a pint jar. Pour in the spices, cover with a moisture-proof lid, and set in the hot sun for one week, bringing the jar inside at night. Then offer to Krsna.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
by Mathuresa dasa
The Bhagavad-gita informs us that we are each an individual spirit soul, completely different from our temporary, physical bodies. The body changes from childhood to youth to old age, but we, the individual souls, remain the same, observing these changes. During our lives we are forced to suffer old age and disease, and at the end we die. At death, we leave our present bodies and transmigrate to another womb, there to develop another body and start all over again in one of the millions of species.
According to the Gita and other Vedic scriptures, the purpose of human life is to escape from this painful cycle by rendering devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna. Through devotional activities we cure ourselves of false identification with our bodily coverings. Thus at the end of this life we are not transferred into another womb; rather, we go to the spiritual world to enjoy eternal life as Krsna's servants.
The trouble is, most people aren't aware of the painful cycle of birth and death, so they have no desire to escape it. They see no need in giving up their materialistic activities and taking to devotional service. In fact, even when people come face to face with the reality of repeated birth and death, still they are often hesitant to do the needful and give up their materialistic ways for spiritual life.
I found some evidence of this hesitancy in an incident that followed in the wake of last December's disaster in Bhopal, India, where 2,500 died and thousands more were blinded or crippled by leaking methyl isocyanate gas at the Union Carbide plant there.
Although Union Carbide has stopped manufacturing methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, Union Carbide and other companies continue to produce the deadly gas at five sites in the United States. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a sixty-seven-page report last February indicating the chances were extremely remote that methyl isocyanate could leak from any of these sites. Two sites, however, one in Woodbine, Georgia, the other in Middleport, New York, were cited for serious violations of OSHA standards. Union Carbide owns the Georgia plant. The one in Middleport, from which isocyanate has leaked five times since 1982, is owned by FMC Corporation.
The largest leak in Middleport was a forty-gallon release on November 15, just two weeks before Bhopal. Police evacuated the area near the plant, and eleven persons, nine of them children, were treated for eye irritations at the local hospital. OSHA, however, says "the Middleport plant has never had an uncontrolled isocyanate reaction," which must mean that the stuff has never blown into town the way it did in Bhopal.
Speaking over the phone to a reporter, an employee at the Middleport FMC plant said, "I'd get fired if they knew I talked to you. Sure I worry sometimes. That thing in India, it was terrible. I went home that night we heard about it, and my wife and I just looked at each other. But I need the job."
There you have it. The man is staring untimely death in the face and yet he's unable to relinquish the work that put him in such a precarious position. He needs the job, of course. How many of us would react any differently? But we should react differently. We are faced not just with death, but with repeated birth, death, disease, and old age. But who knows? Maybe some people will never give up materialism for serving Krsna, even after fully understanding the calamitous result of such a choice.
Another Middleport FMC employee was defensive: "If the government says we're safe, we're safe. They know what they're doing."
He might be right. Maybe he can stick to his job and not get fatally gassed. In any case, anyone who sticks to material life is assured a fate worse than fatal.
by Tota-Gopinatha dasa
Recently, someone left a copy of BACK TO GODHEAD magazine in the Meditation Room of the Howard County General Hospital (HCGH) in Baltimore. Rev. Cliff Harrison, chairman of the hospital's ministry committee, did not appreciate the anonymous gift. In fact, in a letter to the Baltimore chapter of ISKCON, Reverend Harrison wrote that "such materials will be immediately removed." He referred to an official hospital policy, which states, "HCGH is a nonsectarian institution committed to ... individual choice of religious preference." Policy further provides that "standard Bibles will be kept at each nursing station" and that "distribution of religious pamphlets, literature, etc." is forbidden.
Now, if the hospital allows only one scripture, how is freedom of religious preference to be exercised? If, as Reverend Harrison claims, HCGH is nonsectarian, why should it not allow spiritual writings other than the Bible? Do only standard Bible followers require hospitalization? The First Amendment provides for equal treatment of every religion, without prejudice. In the spirit of religious freedom, we humbly suggest that HCGH provide sufficient shelf space for literature from various religions. A small spiritual library in the Meditation Room could offer a real choice without violating anyone's privacy. ISKCON of Baltimore hereby offers HCGH enough standard Bhagavad-gitas to accompany the Bibles at the nursing stations. This should go a long way in helping the hospital maintain its commitment to what Reverend Harrison referred to as "individual choice of religious preference."
Behind The Mask
by Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi
This year they're lining up to see Cher in the movie Mask, which has already won her much acclaim, including the award for best actress at the Cannes Film Festival last May. Mask is the story of tough young Rusty Mason and her relationship with her horribly deformed son. The boy is a victim of a rare disease that twists his facial features and swells them to twice their normal size, creating the impression of a hideous mask.
The story is true. Real-life Rusty was a fast-living divorcee with a passion for motorcycles and drugs—certainly an unlikely heroine for a sensitive, moving film. But her courageous acceptance of fate and her uncompromising love for her son marked her as a person of rare insight and compassion. In a society obsessed with superficial glamour and physical beauty, Rusty displays an awareness of deeper values. She accepts her son's grotesque appearance philosophically. "People used to ask me if I felt cheated," she relates. "I just told them that questioning it would drive you crazy. Why me? Well, why not me?"
This can be valuable advice for those trying to survive in a world that often seems unbearably cruel. When tragedy strikes we may be driven to ask in bitterness, "What have I done to deserve this? How can there be a merciful God if I'm forced to suffer so much?" Instinctively we seek a scapegoat—society, our spouse, or God Himself—as if that would lessen the pain. Pride makes it difficult for us to accept that we may have brought the suffering upon ourselves.
In truth, however, we do bring about our own suffering. Although Mask only hints at the deeper understanding of fate, a full picture is revealed in the Vedic scriptures. All living entities accepting the material world as their home are controlled by the laws of karma. Karma refers to the reactions that automatically follow every action we perform. If you inflict suffering upon another living entity, in due course that suffering returns to plague you. And if you are charitable, good fortune inevitably befalls you. To understand this subtle law, as precise and unavoidable as the law of gravity, is to see order in an apparently senseless world. Why do some people live charmed lives while others combat one calamity after another? Simple: everyone gets what he deserves.
Obviously, for the law of karma to work, the living entity must have had an existence prior to his present life. And, indeed, transmigration of the soul is the first tenet of the spiritual science taught in the Vedic literature. The very circumstances of our birth—our parents, our physical beauty, our wealth, our opportunities—are the results of karma. Thus even the apparent innocence of childhood can be marred by suffering and grief resulting from sins performed in a previous lifetime.
This process of continuous action and reaction may seem unrelentingly harsh, robbing us of free will and making us mere puppets in the hands of fate. But we always have the choice of remaining in the karmic cycle or transcending it. For those of us who are weary of the torturous cycle of karmic reactions and want to return to the spiritual realm, the Vedic scriptures provide the process. As Lord Krsna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (3.31), "One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions."
Since the law of karma is enforced by the Supreme Lord through His material nature, it is only by His grace that one can break free of it. Actually Krsna's plan is that we become so frustrated in our attempts at material enjoyment that we seek relief and protection at His lotus feet. And as He promises, such a person attains the eternal happiness of serving Him in the spiritual world.
The story of Rusty Mason can be inspiring for people struggling to cope with the traumas of life. Rusty was brave in the face of misfortune and wiser than most in her acceptance of life's indignities. Yet how much more inspiring are the realizations of the truly transcendental soul, one who lives with the knowledge of this world's flickering pleasure and pain, and who understands the great treasure of spiritual insight. By Lord Krsna's grace, such transcendentalists are here among us to teach us a way of life that insures no more tragedies.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Immerse yourself in God's names. Japa is a simple, age-old practice. You softly chant the Hare Krsna mantra (names of God) while fingering a string of 108 beads. Pause long anough on each bead to say the entire mantra once. The touch of the beads combines with the sound of your voice to help you meditate. And because God and His holy names are one, you enter a blissful, anxiety-free meditation on the Absolute.
And what a versatile meditation it is! You can practice alone or with others—anywhere, anytime.
Says, Srila Prabhupada, who introduced the chanting throughout the world, "The transcendental vibration established by the chanting of Hare Krsna is the sublime method for reviving our original, pure consciousness. By chanting this transcendental vibration, we can cleanse all misgivings from our hearts and feel ecstasy coming through from the spiritual stratum."
Fritjof Capra's bestseller points to apparent parallels between
by Kundali dasa
Over the past six or seven years I've met many people, mostly college students, who've read Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics, a bestseller about the apparent parallels between Eastern mysticism and modern physics. Capra, a high-energy physicist with a long-standing interest in Eastern philosophy, finds it significant that physicists' descriptions of the paradoxical subatomic reality they seem to have discovered echo the descriptions of reality given by the mystics of various traditions, namely, the Vedic tradition of India, the Buddhist tradition, and the Taoist tradition of China. He cites the following two references to typify the kind of agreement he sees between the Oriental and the Occidental world views. The first is from Robert Oppenheimer's Science and the Common Understanding:
If we ask, for instance, whether the position of (he electron remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no.'
Next, turning to the Eastern tradition, he cites a translation of the Isa Upanisad, Mantra Five:
It moves. It moves not.
In general, Capra's thesis seems sensible, though I'm sure sticklers for details would take exception to his lumping together Vedic mysticism. Buddhism, and Taoism, as if all three shared the same conclusions. Anyway, details notwithstanding, Capra's attempt to describe quantum physics as a too (a way of knowing ultimate reality) on a par with Eastern mysticism has been hailed by some as the long-awaited marriage of science with religion. Some enthusiasts say it heralds a change in the West from a scientific world view to a spiritual one. This, I've been told, augurs well for the Krsna consciousness movement, because the devotees may then get the recognition they deserve for having been on the right path all along.
People I've spoken with are usually surprised to find out that Capra's understanding of the most popular texts on Vedic mysticism, the Bhagavad-gita and the Upanisads, differs markedly from the Krsna conscious understanding. This revelation has led me into some lengthy discussions with a few of Capra's readers. One encounter I had with a student, in which we minutely went over all the fine points of translation and interpretation, lasted almost five hours. In the end, the student agreed that Capra had unwittingly adopted some of the most common misconceptions about the Vedic teachings, consequently presenting an incomplete description. More importantly, the student was convinced that Krsna consciousness presents the full conclusion and that it leads further into ultimate reality than the tao of physics.
To single out Capra for his failure to understand the Vedic tradition would be unfair, for he is not alone. His impersonalistic interpretation is similar to many other misinterpretations and speculative conceptions of ultimate reality common in the West. Most readers, then, will glimpse the familiar within the tenets of Capra's philosophy, which is but a recent variation on a very old theme.
Capra's understanding of the Vedic view is that the varieties of things and events in this world are but different manifestations of the same ultimate impersonal reality, the same ultimate substance. This ultimate reality, called Brahman and sometimes referred to in the West as "the white light," permeates everything and everywhere, ebbing and flowing in what Capra describes as "the cosmic dance of subatomic energy." It is a reality devoid of variety. Capra quotes the Katha Upanisad (3.15):
What is soulless, touchless, formless,
He also quotes from the Bhagavad-gita (13.12): "Brahman, supreme, beginning-less, beyond what is and what is not."
And the Chandogya Upanisad (6.9.4.): "That which is the finest essence—this whole world has that as its soul. That is reality. That is Atman. That art thou."
The goal of Vedic mysticism, according to Capra, is to break free from karmic bondage to this world; to break free from the illusion that this world of form and events is reality; to merge into eternal oneness with Brahman; to become one with the cosmic dance. This experience Capra touts as the very essence of the Vedic ideal:
To be free from the spell of maya, to break the bonds of karma, means to realize that all the phenomena we perceive with our senses are part of the same reality. It means to experience, concretely and personally, that everything, including ourself, is Brahman.
Finally, Capra regards Vedic mysticism's personal conception of God, with His name, form, paraphernalia, entourage, and so on, as "manifestations of the same divine reality, reflecting different aspects of the infinite, omnipresent, and—ultimately—incomprehensible Brahman."
The Vedic Version
As I've already indicated, the impersonal interpretation of the Vedic philosophy is not entirely wrong. But it is incomplete. The Vedic literature does describe an impersonal Brahman existence, but not as the ultimate level of reality. The Bhagavad-gita, Upanisads, and other Vedic texts describe Brahman as the level between this mundane world and the ultimate personal reality. In the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says, brahmano hi pratisthaham: "I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman."
Elsewhere in the Gita He says, "There is no truth superior to Me" (7.7); "Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter" (8.20); nd "I am the source of both the spiritual and material worlds" (10.8).
In the Upanisads also, we find these statements about existence beyond Brahman:
O my Lord, O primeval philosopher, maintainer of the universe, destination of the pure devotees . . . please remove the effulgence of Your transcendental rays so that I can see Your form of bliss. (Isa Upanisad, Mantra 16)
Lord Govinda [Krsna] is beyond the duality of the material world, and He is nondifferent from His form, which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge. (Gopala-tapani Upanisad)
Of all eternals, there is one who is the chief eternal. Of all conscious living entities, there is one who is the chief conscious entity. That supreme living being, the Personality of Godhead, maintains the others and fulfills their desires according to their needs. (Katha Upanisad, 2.2.13)
In addition to these verses, there are many more that mention the paravyoma, a reality beyond the Brahman realm. Some passages give detailed descriptions of the things and events there. Take for example these verses from the fifth chapter of the Brahma-samhita (29, 33, 40):
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending cows yielding all desires among abodes built with spiritual gems, and who is surrounded by millions of wish-fulfilling trees. He is always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of laksmis [goddesses of fortune], or gopis [transcendental milkmaids].
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is adept at playing on His flute, who has eyes like blooming lotus petals, whose head is bedecked with a peacock's feather, whose figure of beauty is tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and whose unique loveliness is charming millions of Cupids.
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, round whose neck is swinging a garland of flowers beautified with the moon locket, whose two hands are adorned with the flute and jeweled ornaments, who always revels in pastimes of love, and whose graceful threefold-bending form is eternally manifest.
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who eternally sees, maintains, and manifests the infinite universes, both spiritual and mundane. His transcendental form is full of bliss, truth, and substantiality, and is thus full of the most dazzling splendor. Each of the limbs of that transcendental figure possesses in itself the full-fledged functions of all the organs.
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is inaccessible to the Vedas, but who is obtainable by pure unalloyed devotion of the soul. He is without a second, not subject to decay, and without a beginning. His form is endless, He is the beginning, and He is the eternal supreme being, yet He is a person possessing the beauty of blooming youth.
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is endowed with great power. The glowing effulgence of His transcendental form is the impersonal Brahman, which is absolute, complete, and unlimited and which displays the varieties of countless planets, with their different opulences, in millions and millions of universes.
These stanzas clearly describe a reality different from the gross world of our senses, and from the subtle world of Capra's cosmic dance. They describe a realm of variegated, nondeteriorating spiritual elements and gems, a realm beyond the Brahman liberation so highly regarded by the impersonalists, a realm that can be attained only by unalloyed devotion of the soul for the Supreme Soul. The Bhagavad-gita describes these devoted souls as the topmost mystics.
It is interesting to note, as Ravindra-svarupa dasa, a frequent contributor to BACK TO GODHEAD, points out in a scholarly essay, "The Devotee and the Deity: Living a Personalistic Theology,"* [*Published in Gods of Flesh/ Gods of Stone: The Embodiment of Divinity in India, eds. Joanne Punzo Waghorne and Norman Cutler (Chambersburg, PA: Anima, 1985).] the three levels of reality described in Vedic mysticism correspond to the three-part dialectical pattern of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis employed in Western philosophy. With the mundane world of form as the thesis and the formless Brahman as its antithesis, a third and final stage of synthesis is indicated. This synthesis would logically necessitate the integration of form and the formless, a feat any materialistic mind would find absurd and paradoxical. Even in their wildest speculations, impersonalists cannot reconcile the contradictory feature of being simultaneously with and without form. Yet the Vedic literature regards the synthesis of form and formless as a tangible accomplishment.
Ravindra-svarupa explains how this synthesis works:
It is not necessary to regard the union of "form" and "formless" as intractable mystification without utterable content. Let us be more precise about the beginning and define form explicitly as "material form." Thus, its negation, formless, means "no material form." Now we can see our way clear to the final synthesis, the affirmation that sublates the negation: "spiritual form." This is the higher unity of "form" and "formless": there is form but no [material] form.
The verses of Brahma-samhita describe this realm of higher unity, and its concrete and personal realization is the goal and essence of Vedic mysticism.
Why Impersonalists Are Thwarted
"But," you may well ask, "if this is all on the level, why would scholars and scientists of the caliber of a Fritjof Capra interpret the Vedic tradition in an impersonalistic way?" The answer is that they do not study the subject matter in an authorized way. Either they hear explanations from some self-styled guru who puts forward his speculations as realized truths, or they try on their own to understand the apparently contradictory statements of the Vedic texts. This leads to interesting conjecture, but little else.
The prescription of the Vedic literature itself is that the serious student of spiritual life should approach a bona fide guru as the first step in gaining Vedic knowledge. A bona fide guru is one who comes in disciplic succession from the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself and who teaches by his example how to execute spiritual life.
In Bhagavad-gita (4.34) the Supreme Lord, Krsna, advises,
Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.
The same advice is given in the Mundaka Upanisad(1.2.l2):
To learn the transcendental science, one must approach a bona fide spiritual master in disciplic succession, who is fixed in the Absolute Truth.
Similarly, the Svetasvatara Upanisad (6.23) states,
Only unto those great souls who simultaneously have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed.
The impersonalists' practice of quoting the Vedic literature as authority with regard to ultimate reality and not heeding its advice to approach a genuine guru in disciplic succession is likened to a patient's taking medicine without following the instructions on the label. If you have to take a particular medicine, you should not do so according to your whim, or according to another's whim. You should take it according to the directions on the label or according to the directions of a qualified physician. Similarly, the Vedic prescription for understanding ultimate reality must be followed if one is to understand the Vedic message.
Without the guidance of a bona fide guru, one is compelled to speculate about the meaning of Vedic statements that apparently contradict each other, such as sometimes describing the ultimate reality as having form and at other times as being formless. With nothing but their mundane experience to go on, impersonalistic speculators mistakenly assume that all the Vedic references to variegated things and events pertain only to this world, never to transcendence. Thus they have no choice but to interpret the descriptions of ultimate reality—Krsna, His abode, and so forth—as allegorical, or as products of the impersonal Brahman.
This unfortunate mistake is not made by those who take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master. The bona fide spiritual master not only clears up problems in the proper philosophical understanding of Vedic mysticism, but he also elevates the sincere disciple to the platform of full experiential realization of the highest reality, the Absolute Truth, Lord Sri Krsna and His associates.
Of course, it may serve our purpose momentarily to forego accepting a bona fide guru, as the impersonalists do, and to interpret the Vedic tradition in our own way. But that will be of no value in the long run. The knowledge in the Vedic literature is intended to guide us out of the temporary material world, back home, back to Godhead, back to the variegated and eternal spiritual sky, which lies far beyond the impersonal Brahman and far beyond the reach of the too of physics.
Preaching about Preaching
Many people have a negative attitude toward preachers and preaching. Consider, for example, the following dictionary definition of preaching: "to give religious or moral instruction, especially in a drawn-out, tiresome manner." Bearing this in mind, future generations in the Krsna consciousness movement may want to de-emphasize the words preacher and preaching. But those who follow in the footsteps of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, regard preaching in a positive way. To them, a preacher in ISKCON has a divine spark given him by his spiritual master, a spark of desire and power to spread the teachings of Krsna consciousness. For the devotees, the word "preaching" denotes glorious, selfless adventures on behalf of the Supreme Lord. Preaching is the compassionate work of giving Krsna to others. The devotees will never, therefore, give up their understanding of the word in favor of the more commonly held view.
On a level deeper than that of word usage, many people in the world today abhor the very idea of propagating spiritual knowledge. They think that if spiritual lessons must be taught at all, they should be restricted to the temple or church, to those who voluntarily submit themselves to such sermonizing sessions. They say spiritual instructors should not intrude on the hallowed ground of art, philosophy, or entertainment.
A friend recently recommended I read The Art of Fiction, by John Gardner, for new perspectives on the craft of writing. In his book, Gardner makes the point that all writers have a serious responsibility toward their readers.
To write so that no one commits suicide, no one despairs; to write, as Shakespeare wrote, so that people understand, sympathize, see the universality of pain, and feel strengthened, if not directly encouraged to live on.
Good advice. Gardner goes on to say, however, "It does not mean, . . . that writers should write moralistically, like preachers.
Granted, every writer needn't get on a soap box to deliver his message. But if a writer has received from good authority and with personal realization information that can free one from death and suffering, should he not in all honesty present that knowledge to others? Gardner himself admits that life is a predicament: "All human beings have the same root experience (we're born, we suffer, we die, to put it grimly)"—so why should writers be advised that they should not "like preachers" tell people how to live?
Elsewhere in his book, Gardner warns writers to be very careful not to merely use straw men "as preachers do" to make their points. Here Gardner seems to have made "the preacher" into a straw man. Inadvertently, he has failed to follow his own advice, becoming like one of the very "preachers" he disdains. A preacher, however, is not a puppet to be set up and knocked down for a good laugh. There are preachers, and there are preachers. Krsna was a preacher; Buddha was a preacher; Christ was a preacher. Their discourses, meditations, and sermons are worthy of the best in art and philosophy, despite the fact that those discourses are infused with compassionate messages meant to direct people's lives. So just as there are good writers and artists as well as bad ones, so too there are varieties of preachers. And if a writer's moral instructions can deliver others from suffering and death, why regard such lessons as if they were a cardinal defect?
Granted, Gardner was specifically giving advice for writers of fiction, and if we consider the elements and methods of fiction writing, his advice is essentially sound. But in the process of advising us on the writer's craft, he has insensitively stereotyped the preacher as one who makes up slow arguments, who uses words artlessly, and who is excessively moralistic. This is a common misconception about preachers and preaching.
Perhaps at the root of much of this kind of criticism is a distrust of anyone who claims his message is absolutely true. I asked Srila Prabhupada some questions on this subject one morning in January of 1977 in Bhubaneswar, India. His answers were conclusive.
"We have to give life its meaning," I said, trying to paraphrase the existentialist's position. "That's the glory of man. They say he finds no meaning in life but gives his own meaning to what is actually meaningless. They say that man should face up to that uncertainty and just live his life without taking meaning from the scriptures or from anybody."
"Why then are they distributing meaning?" said Srila Prabhupada. "Let people live in their own way. Why are you anxious to give some meaning? If by taking your instruction I stop following others, that means I'll have to follow you. So what is the benefit? I stop following others, but I have to follow you."
Srila Prabhupada continued to point out the inherent hypocrisy and contradiction of one person advising others to reject prima facie all claims to authority. When I told him that many people thought it dangerous to accept the authority of the spiritual master, he said, "But you ask me to surrender to you. So why shall I not surrender to a spiritual master instead?" He pointed out that in either case one must accept the opinions and viewpoints of another. Srila Prabhupada concluded, "Too much authority may be wrong if the authority is wrong. But if the authority is right, then it is better to accept."
Another devotee told Srila Prabhupada that many people seem to prefer the eclectic method of learning, consulting many authorities without surrendering fully to any one. But Srila Prabhupada replied that if you could get everything in one place, just like a shopper who fulfills all his needs at a supermarket, then why object to only one authority?
So the Krsna conscious preacher speaks only on behalf of the Supreme Lord and His bona fide representative, and he speaks only what he has received from them. In this way the sanctity and integrity of his message is preserved. And far from delivering a dry lesson in morality, the Krsna conscious preacher invites everyone to approach Krsna, who is all-attractive, and to enjoy transcendental exchanges with Him in a consciousness far beyond the anomalies and disturbances of material life. Through the words of His preachers, Krsna Himself is appealing to those who have forgotten Him. He is reviving their memories of who they are and who He is and inviting them to return to their original position in spiritual life and pure consciousness. Delivering this wisdom to all is the compassionate work of all Lord Krsna's preachers.—SDG