The primordial soul can break the endless chain of birth and death
A lecture in Mexico City in January 1975
yam hi na vyathayanty ete
"O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation." (Bhagavad-gita 2.15)
The first thing we have to understand on the path to liberation is that the living being is not the body but is within the body. For example, the driver is not the motorcar but is within the motorcar. Now, that "driver"—the soul within the body—is immortal. And it is transmigrating from one body to another.
This transmigration from one body to another is not a very good business. For example, if you are living in some apartment and you have to change immediately for another, do you not get disgusted? Naturally, we desire to get some permanent apartment. Similarly, nobody wants to die. Even if a person is in the most wretched condition of life, if you propose to him, "Let me kill you," he'll not agree; he'll protest. Therefore the psychology is that every living being wants to live; no one wants to die.
But actually, we are not subject to death or birth. Somehow or other, by chance or coincidence, we have acquired this material body. Actually, it is not by chance: we wanted to lord it over the material nature, and therefore we have gotten this material body. Everyone in this material world, whether a human being or an animal, a bird or a beast, is trying to be the lord of the universe. Therefore, if we actually want relief from this constant transmigration from one body to another, we must change this mentality of trying to lord it over the material nature.
We get our next life as we prepare for it in this life. If I like, I can go to the higher planetary system; if I like, I can go to the lower planetary system; if I like, I can go to either beastly life or godly life. As I desire, I'll go. The Lord is situated in my heart and in your heart, and He sees our activities. He also understands what our desires are. According to our desires, Krsna offers us a "machine"—this body. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [18.61], yantrarudhani mayaya: "The spiritual soul is riding on the machine of the body." Just as in our car we can travel here and there, on this machine of the body we can go anywhere within the universe.
As human beings, we should ask, "Why am I wandering in so many places, in so many species of life, and in so many planets? Can this wandering not be stopped for a permanent life?" This should be our consideration. Therefore Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, brahmanda brahmite kona bhagyvan jiva/ guru-krsna-prasade paya bhakti-lata-bija. The living entity is wandering in various species of life, on various planetary platforms. This is very disgusting. But if one is fortunate, he comes in contact with a pure devotee of Krsna.
The Krsna consciousness movement is meant for giving this opportunity to everyone. We are opening centers all over the world, inviting people to come and understand the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. And we have so many books. So you should take advantage of this movement and save yourself from the botheration of repeated birth and death.
To execute this process of Krsna consciousness, there may apparently be a little difficulty at first. For example, we prescribe to our members, "No intoxication." So, one who is habituated to drink, to smoke, to take coffee, tea, and so on—he'll feel some discomfort. Similarly, we say, "No meat-eating." Those who are meat-eaters may find it a little difficult to give up this habit. We also say, "No illicit sex," and one who is habituated to illicit sex life will feel some difficulty. So, there are so many things that in the beginning may appear to be a little difficult to give up, but actually they are not difficult to give up. It is because you are habituated to these sinful activities that you feel some difficulty.
So, if you are actually anxious and serious to stop the repetition of birth and death, then you must take to Krsna consciousness. Without Krsna consciousness, nobody can stop the repetition of birth and death. Therefore Krsna advises in this verse that you accept a little difficulty to become Krsna conscious: yam he na vyathayanty ete. Although one may feel some difficulty at first, if he sticks to the principles of Krsna consciousness he becomes fit for going back home, back to Godhead.
In the Vedic literature it is stated, durdantendriya-kala-sarpa-patali: "The senses are just like dreadful, untamable poisonous snakes." But there is a means for subduing those snakes: protkhata-damstrayate. A snake may be very dangerous, but if somehow or other you can extract his poisonous fangs, then he is no longer dangerous. So our strong, snake-like senses can become bereft of their poisonous fangs if we become Krsna conscious. And the simplest method of becoming Krsna conscious, offered by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Caitanya says, ceto-darpana-marjanam: By chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, our heart will be cleansed. And as soon as our heart is cleansed, we can understand our real position and how to take steps to relieve all of our suffering. Ending suffering is called bhava-maha-davagni-nirvapanam, "extinguishing the blazing fire of material existence."
In the present verse of the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna uses the word dhiram, which means "very sober." In a previous verse Krsna said, dhiras tatra na muhyati: One who is sober is not bewildered at the time of death. So, if one is dhira, it means that although there may be a cause of disturbance, he is not disturbed. Although there is a cigarette available, I promised that I would not smoke, and therefore I shall not smoke. Although there is facility for illicit sex, I'll not do it. That attitude is called dhira.
So, to advance in spiritual life we have to become dhira. As Krsna says here, sama-duhkha-sukham dhiram. As soon as we become dhira, sober, the so-called material pains and pleasures will not disturb us. Then we are fit for becoming immortal. Everyone is immortal, but we have now fallen into such a material condition that we think we are mortal. But the Vedic injunction is aham brahmasmi, "I am as good as the Supreme Being." He is an eternal living being, and I am also an eternal living being. So, qualitatively we are one with God, but quantitatively He is great, we are small.
We have to realize these things. Then we can become eternal, immortal, qualified like God, and can get out of the material clutches. And for this we have to become tolerant of the sensations of pain and pleasure. For example, suppose you have some itch. You are feeling that you should scratch it, but if you refrain from scratching it, the itch will go away. On the other hand, if you go on scratching, it will increase. Anyone who has some experience of itching knows it is very pleasing at the time of scratching, but the next moment it is not very pleasing. The scratching creates a disturbing condition.
Therefore the sastra [scripture] says that we should try to control the "itching" of our senses. Then we are dhira. And as soon as you become dhira, you are a first-class candidate for solving all the problems of your life and going back home, back to Godhead. This is the Krsna consciousness movement. Please try to understand it.
Now, any questions?
Devotee [interpreting from Spanish]: He says that if we are originally in the spiritual world, full of knowledge and bliss, why do we accept an inferior position in this material world?
Srila Prabhupada: That I have already explained. Although you have God's qualities, you are very small. God is like a big fire, and we are like the sparks in the fire. If a spark comes out of the fire, the spark is extinguished. So, because we are very small, as soon as we come out of the "big fire," out of touch with God, we become "extinguished"—we lose our illuminated, God-like qualities. And if somehow or other you again get in touch with God, you revive your original, illuminated quality. At the present moment we have somehow or other fallen into this material condition, and so we have lost our godly qualities. But we can cure that. A diseased man loses his appetite, but by treatment he can reawaken his appetite and eat properly. Similarly, since we are very small, we have fallen under the clutches of maya, illusion, but we can revive our original position by the process of Krsna consciousness.
Question: Is the Supersoul the same as the soul, or a part of the soul?
Srila Prabhupada: No. The soul is part of the Supersoul, who is an expansion of the Supreme Lord. In genuine yoga practice, the soul tries to search out the Supersoul: dhyanavasthita-tad-gatena manasa pasyanti yam yoginah. The yogis—real yogis, not bogus yogis—meditate upon the Supersoul. The Supersoul is simply witnessing the activities of the soul and giving sanction for all his mischief. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita [13.23]: upadrastanumanta ca. Without God's sanction (anumanta), without the Supersoul's sanction, you cannot do anything. The Supersoul does not desire that we engage in all these mischievous activities, but because the soul insists on doing these things, the Supersoul says, "All right, do them at your own risk." Suppose a thief is planning to steal something. The Supersoul orders, "Don't do it," because without God's sanction he cannot steal. But when the thief persists, the Lord says, "All right, do it at your own risk." This is the position of the soul and the Supersoul.
Question: How can the soul achieve perfection? It seems that he has to reincarnate slowly, through many bodies, to achieve perfection.
Srila Prabhupada: No. When you are diseased you can be cured quickly if you take the proper treatment. That's all. Disease is not hopelessness. Otherwise, why do people go to a physician for treatment? Similarly, out of ignorance you are now in this miserable condition, but if you are treated by a bona fide spiritual master, you'll be cured. Originally, every one of us is pure. Now we have become contaminated by material conditions. But there is a process for eradicating this material contamination. Then we will again become pure. And as soon as we become pure, there is no more birth, old age, disease, and death. Finished.
Question: How can we emerge from maya [illusion]?
Srila Prabhupada: Just become Krsna conscious, and maya will not touch you. It is just like taking a vaccine. If you take the injection, then the infection will not touch you. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita [7.14]:
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
[To a devotee:] Find this verse and read the translation.
Devotee [reading]: "This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is very difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."
Srila Prabhupada: Any more questions?
Question: What are the symptoms of one who has become Krsna conscious?
Srila Prabhupada: First, he's chanting Hare Krsna. Unless one is Krsna conscious, why would he take the trouble to chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare? This is the first symptom—he likes to chant Hare Krsna. A further symptom is that as soon as you see him, you remember Krsna. In other words, if you see someone who reminds you of Krsna, that means he's Krsna conscious. That is the statement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. So, wherever our men go, people say, "Hare Krsna!" Just by seeing them. Therefore our men are Krsna conscious.
Question: Why is it that when the soul comes into contact with material nature, he becomes contaminated?
Srila Prabhupada: Because he wants to enjoy material nature. And one who is not attracted to enjoying material nature remains uncontaminated. For example, everyone is going to restaurants to eat something palatable, but we are not going. Everyone is going to the cinema, but we are not going. Therefore we remain uncontaminated.
There are two kinds of men: those who are attracted to material enjoyment, and those who are not attracted. Those who are not attracted are called nitya-siddha, eternally liberated, and those who are attracted are called nitya-baddha, eternally conditioned. The number of liberated persons in the spiritual world is many times that of the conditioned souls in this world. This material world is like a prison house. The population outside a prison house is very great, and within the prison house there are a small number of criminals. So, there are innumerable living entities, and some of them become attracted to material enjoyment. Most do not. One who does not want to serve Krsna but wants to serve his senses instead is put into this material world, and he's given all facilities to enjoy. But he becomes entangled in the cycle of birth and death. This is the position of the conditioned souls. Yes?
Question: How do we develop a desire for devotional service?
Srila Prabhupada: If you are serious, come to us. We shall teach you. If you want to be a learned man, you must go to the university. You cannot learn at home. Anything more?
Question: How can we feel the transmigration of the soul?
Srila Prabhupada: Have you ever dreamt that you were in a different land? At night when you dream, you forget everything—your father, your mother, your address. While dreaming, you create some body and you see yourself differently, in a different place. And during the daytime you forget your dream land and your dream body. So, every day, every night, you are experiencing transmigration, but you have no intelligence to understand it. Therefore, tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet: You have to go to a bona fide guru, and hell enable you to understand these things.
Question: How can we achieve samadhi?
Srila Prabhupada: Samadhi? If you fully absorb yourself in some thought, that is samadhi. Become absorbed in thought of Krsna; that is the best samadhi.
Now let us chant Hare Krsna.
A Journey For The Sake Of Our Fathers
Following Vedic tradition, sons come to
by Jayadvaita Swami
This is not the place where Buddha attained enlightenment. That's Bodhgaya, about twelve kilometers south.
But Gaya itself, as a place of pilgrimage, has an importance of its own. Pious Hindu sons from all over India come here to make offerings and give prayers for the sake of their father after he has passed away.
The temple here is small and crowded, and at first we see only aimless crowds milling about from chamber to chamber. But gradually we make out the order of things: the temple priests guiding groups of pilgrims from function to function, place to place. Some pilgrims sit beneath thatched shelters by the riverside, chanting mantras. Some offer sandalwood chips into a fire in a temple shrine. And ultimately, on behalf of their fathers, all the pilgrims pour water on the temple's main object of worship, a stone imprint of the lotus feet of Lord Visnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The idea is this: We all perform both pious and sinful acts, which in the next life (or lives after that) bring both good and bad results. This is the familiar idea of karma—you reap what you sow. Pious acts in this life, good results in the next; sinful acts, bad results.
Since most of us are neither entirely pious nor entirely sinful, the fruits we can expect are mixed—some bitter, some sweet. The laws of karma take all our acts into account, so even the most pious soul may sometimes get stuck with a bitter dose of fate. And the most bitter is that he may have to suffer as a ghost or be sent to the worlds of hell.
According to Vedic writings, the soul travels life to life from one body to the next. Sometimes I may be born into a wealthy family, sometimes a poor one, sometimes heavenly circumstances, sometimes hellish. And sometimes, caught in a sort of twisted karmic loop, I may be denied any body at all. It is then that I must live as a ghost—a disembodied spirit.
This is far from liberation. A liberated soul is free from all material desires, so he's also freed forever from material existence. But the disembodied soul—the ghost—is still bound by material desires. He's frustrated, however, because he has no body with which to fulfill them. While other souls make progress, the ghost may hang stranded in his twisted loop for many generations.
Or consider the hellish worlds. Even some places on earth are so miserable, so wretched, that we speak of them as hellish. Similarly, the Vedic writings tell of entire planets where pain and suffering prevail. These are the worlds of hell.
In the Vedic conception, hell is not eternal. Just as on earth one may have to live for many years in poverty or disease, one may have to suffer for thousands of years in hell. A pious son, therefore, to save his father from the possibility of hellish or ghostly life, goes to worship Lord Visnu at Gaya.
Visnu, or Krsna, the Supreme Lord, is supremely pure. He alone awards liberation from all material miseries. When a pious son makes an offering to Lord Visnu and then by ritual and meditation gives the remnants of that offering to his departed father, the father is purified of sins, and if he is suffering from ghostly or hellish life, he is released.
To perform this offering is the traditional Vedic duty of a son. A pious son, therefore, is called putra, or "one who can deliver his father from hell."
Dipping in the waters of the Phalgu River outside the temple, I naturally think of my own father, the memory dimmed by nearly twenty years, yet persisting nonetheless. And as other pilgrims bob in the water around me, it strikes me that each must also be thinking of his father. We're afloat in the river full of thoughts and affections flowing back over generations.
Generations have come here before us—our fathers thinking of theirs. And if we're Krsna conscious our thoughts flow back not only to our father, grandfather, or great-grandfather but all the way back to the original father, Krsna. As all rivers have a source, the source of all generations is the original person, Krsna, worshiped here in Gaya as Lord Visnu.
By coincidence we're here in Gaya on the appearance day of Lord Nrsimhadeva, Lord Visnu's incarnation as half lion, half man. Nrsimhadeva came to protect the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a five-year-old boy, and to kill Prahlada's demonic father, Hiranyakasipu. This is a long history, but the point that concerns us here is that after saving Prahlada from the tortures of his demonic father, Lord Nrsimhadeva offered Prahlada any benediction he might ask.
"My dear Lord," Prahlada said, "I don't want to do business with You, like a merchant. I just want to serve You, You don't have to offer me any benediction."
But when the Lord insisted, Prahlada replied, "All right. My father was demonic, so You have killed him. Now please give him liberation from the cycle of birth and death."
Lord Nrsimhadeva, however, told Prahlada that such a request was unnecessary. "Because you are My pure devotee," He said, "ten generations of your forefathers and ten generations of your descendants will automatically be liberated."
This is a kind of extra inducement from the Lord. Krsna says, "Give up all other duties and surrender to Me." But we may think, "If I surrender, then what about my mother and father and my family duties?" So Krsna gives a special promise: "Just surrender to Me, and your family will get the highest benefit."
A Krsna conscious person knows that ties in bodily relationships—whether father and son, brother and sister, or whatever—have no lasting meaning, because the body itself never lasts. The soul travels from lifetime to lifetime, body to body, and only for the stretch between one birth and the death that follows do we think of a particular family as "mine."
Still, a devotee has sympathy and affection for all living beings. This naturally includes those whose karma has in this life cast them in the role of his father and mother and friends.
But affection for friends and relatives shouldn't stand in the way of spiritual advancement. If we're trying to get to the root of all existence—and this is the real goal of human life—we shouldn't let ourselves get lost in the branches of a family tree.
Spiritual life means finding the root of everything. The Bhagavad-gita says that after many lifetimes of searching, we at last find that this root is Visnu, Lord Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. It is then that we surrender to Him, saying, "Krsna is everything!"
As by watering a root we automatically give water to the leaves and branches, by serving Krsna we give the best service to all living beings, including all the branches and twigs of our family tree.
A devotee of Krsna, therefore, is the best kind of son. He not only journeys once to Gaya to pour water on the footprints of Lord Visnu, but he gives full devotion to the feet of the Lord in all the activities of his life.
Drink And Be Merry
If your spiritual life seems dry,
by Visakha-devi dasi
Browse through the beverage section of almost any American cookbook, small or encyclopedic, and you'll notice that caffeinated and alcoholic drinks predominate—iced teas and coffees, punches and liqueurs. In Lord Krsna's cuisine, although there's a surprisingly large and satisfying selection of beverages (like the panis, chays, sharbarts, lassis, and dudhs pictured below), the drinks are healthful and don't contain alcohol or caffeine.
Nimbu pani, for example, a drink many people in India take six times a day, is the juice of fresh lemons mixed with water and sweetened. Besides refreshing and cooling us, this simple drink offers other surprising benefits. The distinguished naturalist Maude Grieve, in her classic A Modern Herbal, states, "It is probable that the lemon is the most valuable of all fruit for preserving health." Richard Grossman, contributing editor for Health, writes, "Lemon juice may well be the most antiseptic juice known to man. . . ." It calms the nerves and contains a broad spectrum of nutrients that have eradicated scurvy and are diuretic and diaphoretic. Lemons have been used to prevent and treat colds, the flu, malaria, sore throats, and laryngitis.
Other fruits, like peaches, pears, apples, pineapples, and of course the king of fruits, mangoes, make ambrosial beverages. Mangoes offer solace from the summer heat, especially in India, where the heat is intense and the mangoes are memorably sweet and succulent. Some say the appreciation Indians have for mangoes and mango drinks rivals the appreciation the French have for wine and the Germans have for beer. The home of more than one thousand varieties of mangoes, India produces sixty-five percent of the world's mango crop.
Another uncomplicated drink, and a favorite of India, is lassi (made from yogurt or buttermilk). Like nimbu pani and phal ka ras (fruit drinks), lassi is a cooling refresher that offers surprising health benefits. At Nebraska University and Lincoln University, researchers have found evidence that yogurt helps check the growth of cancer cells. In addition, as Dr. M. P. Varshney writes, "Consumption of yogurt is found to reduce the level of cholesterol." Taken regularly, yogurt "helps restore the 'flora' in the intestines to a normal state by not only protecting useful bacteria, but also by developing fresh healthy ones." There is also evidence that the regular intake of yogurt increases longevity.
Dudh (milk) is described by Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, as "the most wonderful of all foods," because it nourishes the cerebral tissues that enable one to understand spiritual knowledge. In addition, milk enhances our material well-being, since it contains high-quality protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and calcium.
Drinking doesn't have to mean taking intoxicants, stimulants, or chemically flavored and colored carbonated junk. It can and should mean taking pure water, natural fruit juices, herb and spice teas, and milk and milk products. All these. Lord Krsna states, "increase the duration of life, purify one's existence, and give strength, health, happiness, and satisfaction" (Bg. 17.8).
(Recipes from The Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking, by Adi-raja dasa)
Salty Yogurt or Buttermilk Drink
Preparation time: 10 minutes
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground
Reserve a pinch of the ground cumin and mix all the other ingredients together with a whisk or electric blender. Pour the mixture into a glass (with or without crushed ice). Garnish with the pinch of ground cumin. Offer to Krsna and serve chilled or at room temperature.
A tasty variation for namkin lassi is made by adding 1 ounce of fresh mint leaves. Put several mint leaves aside for the garnish. Mix all the other ingredients (except the ice) in an electric blender until the mint leaves are chopped fine. This should take about 30 seconds. Then add the ice and blend again until the beverage becomes frothy. Pour the mint lassi into a glass, garnish with mint leaves, and offer to Krsna.
To make plain lassi, combine the yogurt or buttermilk, the cumin, and the water. Beat it to a smooth consistency with a whisk or electric blender. Pour the lassi into a glass filled with crushed ice and offer to Krsna.
Sweet Yogurt or Buttermilk Drink
Preparation time: 10 minutes
3 cups plain yogurt or cultured buttermilk
Mix all the ingredients together with a whisk or an electric blender until the surface of the lassi becomes frothy. Offer to Krsna chilled, either by adding crushed ice or refrigerating.
As an alternative to rose water and cardamom, try 2 tablespoons of lime or lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of flavored syrup, or 2 ounces of crushed red berries, ripe banana, or ripe mango.
Rose-flavored Cold Drink
Preparation time: 20 minutes
1 ¼ pounds sugar
Make a syrup by cooking the sugar and water in a saucepan over a gentle flame until the sugar dissolves. Cool. Then add the rose water and food coloring. Just before offering to Krsna, put 2 tablespoons of the syrup into a glass and fill it up with ice water and crushed ice. The amount of syrup can be increased or decreased according to taste.
Cumin and Tamarind Drink
Preparation time: 40 minutes
6 ounces tamarind, broken into small pieces
Boil the tamarind in the water for 15 minutes. Then extract as much juice and pulp from it as possible by forcing it through a strainer—several times if necessary. Add water, ginger, cumin, garam masala, brown sugar, and salt to the tamarind juice, mix well, and let stand for 15 minutes. Then filter it through a piece of cheesecloth. Chill. Just before offering to Krsna, dilute with the ice water, put crushed ice into a glass, and garnish with mint leaves and a slice of lemon.
Anise Milk With Raisins and Pistachios
Preparation time: 25 minutes
4 ounces raisins
1. Cover the raisins with warm water and soak them for 10 minutes. In a saucepan, boil the anise seeds in the 1 ½ cups of water for 5 minutes. Lower the flame and simmer for 10 minutes more.
2. Blend the pistachio nuts, drained raisins, ground cardamom, and milk in an electric blender and set aside. Strain the anise water and stir the sugar into it. Then add it to the milk mixture, stir well, and chill. Garnish a glass of thandai with a sprig of mint leaves and offer it to Krsna.
Meeting The Challenge
"I learned self-discipline and a reverence for duty, honor, and country.
By Nagaraja Dasa
I first met Hare Krsna devotees in the fall of 1969, during my first year at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Some classmates and I were enjoying a rare weekend away from the Academy when we saw a group of devotees chanting in downtown Denver. The men's shaven heads, the flowing Indian robes, the unusual rhythmic drum beat, and the unfamiliar chant took us by surprise. "Maybe they're from another planet," we joked. We concluded they must be hippies, and we wanted to talk with them. Despite six months of military indoctrination and despite the sharp dichotomy between the military and the hip culture, we still held our old ideals and the ideals of our civilian contemporaries.
"Are you guys stoned?" I asked one of them. "Stoned?" he replied. "I gave up drugs a long time ago. Drugs are artificial. Once you've experienced the pleasure of Krsna consciousness, you don't need drugs."
His answer surprised us. We thought all young people took drugs. We were even a little envious of those who could enjoy a life of unrestricted merrymaking while we slaved through a year of rigid discipline—upperclassmen screaming at us at every turn, relentless drill instructors, predawn runs with rifles. We yearned for a life without rules and regulations. Though we had voluntarily accepted the rigors of life at the Academy, we still felt some attraction for the intoxicated bliss of the hippies. But this Hare Krsna devotee was saying that he had already been through all that and was now experiencing a pleasure that far surpassed drug-induced ecstasy. That might be true, I thought, but it's hard enough being a social outcast with short hair. How could I think of becoming a Hare Krsna with no hair at all!
My conservative upbringing forced me to reject the Hare Krsna devotees as eccentric and radical. I took their Back to Godhead magazine, but it seemed too strange. I never read it.
I was raised by devout Catholic parents in a small town in a part of Vermont called the Northeast Kingdom. I imbibed the traditional American middle-class values and wanted to be a success.
As I grew older my idea of success changed. In grade school I liked being an altar boy and thought of becoming a priest. Despite attending a Catholic high school, however, my aspiration for a religious life faded. It was the late sixties, and I was influenced by the countercultural ideas of the hippies. But my desire for success was strong, and I began to think of going to college and entering the professional world.
After graduating from high school, I entered the Air Force Academy. Life at the Academy was demanding. We were training to become "whole men," ready to meet the challenge of preserving peace in our volatile times. We were learning self-discipline and a reverence for duty, honor, and country. But I had an itch for a more basic constitutional right: liberty. I wanted to be free to do my own thing. But I also equated freedom with financial security and decided to remain at the Academy, inspired by the financial rewards that would come after graduation.
By the time I graduated from the Academy, however, I had begun to wonder just what kind of success I wanted. The Academy had provided plenty of opportunity. I had set and achieved many goals. I wasn't an underachiever. But I doubted the ultimate value of all my goals and accomplishments.
On graduating from the Academy in June of 1973, I was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to an Air Force base in Sacramento as a civil engineer. I worked in an office with fifteen civilian military engineers, some of whom had been there for twenty years. I soon realized I didn't want to end up like them. I heard their conversations and thought how empty their lives must be. And I was following the same path. Why should I work so hard just to come to this—more work, more bills, more family problems? And the senseless habits, like smoking, drinking, and watching television for hours. None of my coworkers were happy. When they arrived in the morning, I could see it in their faces. I could see it at the end of the day as they stood holding their coats, waiting impatiently for the bell to release them from their drudgery.
And these were the higher echelons, the white-collar workers with their airs of success and security. "But they're suffering as much as anyone else," I thought, "and I don't want to end up like them."
I began to think more seriously about life. I remembered moments of philosophical questioning in the past. In high school I would sometimes challenge the Sisters teaching the daily religion class. I was often dissatisfied with their answers. They would say it was a matter of faith, but I wasn't convinced of the reasonableness of that faith. I read Edith Hamilton's Greek Mythology in my senior year and thought it was just as believable as the Catholic doctrines. I thought there must be more to religion than mere faith.
At the Air Force Academy, a full academic load, combined with the rigors of military training and extracurricular activities, had left little time for philosophical introspection. Nor was liberal thinking encouraged at the Academy. After all, they wanted officers, soldiers, not philosophers.
As an engineer, I found that the relative freedom of my nine-to-five job gave me more time to think about the meaning of life. I was still looking for answers, though I noticed that most people had stopped asking questions. They had concluded, probably out of frustration, that no one knew more than anyone else, that everyone was guessing. But I was determined not to live in ignorance.
I began reading many books that dealt with the problems of human existence: Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we suffering? Is there a God? I had already abandoned most of the religious beliefs I had held in childhood. I wasn't even sure God existed. I tended to believe He didn't, and most of the books I read reinforced that belief. I'd had my fill of religious dogma. I now favored the secular Western philosophers, who rejected God, and the Eastern mystics, who concluded that everything was God. In my speculative quest I reached a tentative conclusion: Everything is relative. There is no right or wrong, no absolute morality. Everyone is right, because everyone is acting according to his own nature.
I wanted the freedom to act according to my nature. Armed with my philosophical convictions, I went to the personnel office on the base and asked for a discharge. The lady at the desk replied frankly, "You're an Air Force Academy graduate. You have a five-year commitment to the Air Force. There's no way you can get out early—except desertion." Well, I thought, maybe everything isn't relative. I realized then that even though I could say that everything is absurd or relative or meaningless, I couldn't base my life on such a philosophy. It simply was not practical.
I was also beginning to feel uncomfortable with my life and my cynical philosophy. Though I was ostensibly searching for the truth, I was still attached to petty mundane habits like smoking and drinking. I didn't like depending on those substances for pleasure.
I kept trying to find life's meaning—reading, writing, and, at times, out of desperation (and despite my agnostic tendencies), praying. I should have been satisfied with my college degree, promising career, apartment, sports car, stereo, girlfriend—but I wasn't. I felt an unfulfilled need to know the truth of life.
Then one sunny June day in Sacramento, in 1974, I was browsing in a flea market when a young lady handed me a book titled Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure. That evening as I began to read it, I remembered the Hare Krsna devotees I had seen chanting on the sidewalk some four and a half years earlier in Denver. Maybe I'll find out why they don't need drugs, I thought. To my great pleasure I found much more. I found convincing answers to philosophical problems I had wrestled with for years. I wanted to learn more.
The next day I drove eighty miles to the Hare Krsna temple in San Francisco. I told the young lady at the door that I had received one of their books and wanted to hear more about Krsna. "Oh, a pure soul," she said. "Please come in."
I thought that was an odd statement. A pure soul? I'd just put out a cigarette on the temple steps. My hostess explained that serious inquiry about God is rare. When God sees such sincerity in a person, He reveals Himself. She had called me a pure soul because of my desire to learn about Krsna.
I spoke with the devotees for several hours that day and attended the Sunday festival. I had never before encountered such a satisfying philosophy. It seemed to connect the loose ends of the various philosophies I had sampled. It answered questions I had carried with me since my high school religion class. It even awakened and strengthened the faith in God I had imbibed in childhood.
Krsna consciousness was also practical. That was shown by the devotees themselves. They weren't frustrated cynics jeopardizing their philosophical convictions by living in an absurd world. They were happy people, living with joy and enthusiasm in a world they knew be longed to Krsna. Their lives were meaningful because everything they did was connected to the Absolute Truth, Krsna, who gives meaning to everything.
While speaking with the devotees, I felt sure that Krsna consciousness was the truth for which I had been searching. Real success, I thought, is to become a pure devotee of God. But I doubted that I could live like the devotees—rising early, following strict religious principles, renouncing materialistic endeavors. Their lives seemed too austere.
I knew, however, that I had to try. The philosophy seemed so right. As I got into my car to drive back to Sacramento, I instinctively reached for a cigarette. "All right," I said to myself, "but this is your last one."
Within a week I had turned my small apartment in the officers' quarters into a temple, where I followed a morning schedule of reading, chanting, and meditating similar to the devotees' morning devotional program in San Francisco. I began chanting sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna mantra on beads daily and following the four regulative principles given in the Vedic scriptures: no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling. I found that the self-discipline I'd learned at the Academy helped. I accepted the challenge of Krsna consciousness with the kind of vigor with which I used to attack an obstacle course.
The thrill of becoming a devotee, however, was my greatest source of inspiration. I began to experience, as the devotees had said I would, that living as a devotee of Krsna is not dry or difficult. It is a joyful life. As I began to practice Krsna consciousness, I felt a satisfaction that had eluded me throughout my years of material achievements.
I spent the next six months—on the base during the week and at the temple on weekends—studying the many books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I learned that I could practice Krsna consciousness while remaining in the Air Force. But as I studied I became convinced that I wanted to live with the devotees and assist them in their mission of distributing the knowledge of Krsna consciousness to others. By giving Americans Krsna consciousness, I could serve my country better than I ever could as an Air Force officer.
When, in an irresponsible way, I had previously tried to get out of the Air Force, my request had been denied. When I decided to dedicate my life to serving Krsna, however, Krsna made all the arrangements, and in January of 1975 I was awarded an honorable discharge. As I drove off the base and headed for San Francisco, I felt free—free to live and serve with the devotees of Krsna.
"Freedom" to Talk Foolishly
This is a continuation of a conversation that took place between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples at ISKCON's farming village in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, on June 24, 1976.
Srila Prabhupada: Thanks to modern so-called education, people have become asses—no sense of the distinction between the body and the soul.
Are our children here getting enough milk?
Disciple: Yes, as much as they want.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Children must get at least two cups of milk a day. If they drink plenty of milk, their body becomes stout and strong, and they develop a keen brain for understanding the distinction between their body and their soul.
Do people see how our simple, natural way of life benefits society? Do they see we are not killing our children through abortion, but rather maintaining them with buckets and buckets of milk? Is this not a better civilization?
Just consider. Due to selfishness, or fear of "overpopulation," people are killing children—mothers are killing their own children. Is that civilization?
Disciple: In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna says that those in the mode of ignorance take irreligion to be religion, and religion to be irreligion.
Srila Prabhupada: Religion? For these modern rascals, there is no religion. And there is no morality. For instance, here we have so many children, but never do we say, "We cannot maintain these children—kill them." We never say that.
So many children? Never mind. Let them all be trained as Krsna conscious, God conscious citizens. Let them live comfortably and drink their milk.
So, which is the better civilization? Running around in motorcars—put-put-put-put-put—and killing your own child. Is that civilization?
Disciple: In a sense, many of the children here are not even our own. When, say, a mother with no husband comes here to live with us, naturally we also welcome her children.
Srila Prabhupada: That is compassion. We welcome children—and the modern rascals kill children. So why do people not see the distinction between our traditional civilization and their so-called modern civilization?
Disciple: They don't have any good argument against our civilization and our compassion, except that they want to be free to do as they like. No hindrances. Complete freedom.
Srila Prabhupada: But they're not free. Rather, they're fools. They're not free. Who can be free of nature's law? But still they're thinking, "We're free." This is simply foolishness.
If you were actually free, that would be another thing. But by nature's law you are not free. You are responsible for even your tiniest act. Commit even the tiniest misdeed, and you are responsible.
So where is your freedom? Ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate: "Identifying falsely with his material body, the bewildered soul thinks himself freely doing activities that the body and nature's modes carry out by themselves." Of course, because the soul wants to think himself the independent doer, because he wants to take credit and be "responsible," he becomes responsible. Because he chooses to act not on God's account but on his own account, he becomes accountable.
Again, where is your freedom? The Lord's material energy—this energy we call "nature"—goes on working, with or without your approval. If you are free, then why is your body growing old and preparing to die? If you are free, then do not die.
No one wants to die—unless he's a madman. So how can these modern rascals think they're free when they have to die? What is the answer?
Disciple: They will spout some nonsense. "I accept death as part of life."
Srila Prabhupada: Death is "part of life"?
Disciple: Yes. "It's natural."
Srila Prabhupada: Well then, rascal, when there is some danger of death, why do you go away? Sit down and die. [Laughter.]
In truth you don't accept death. You're simply bluffing, talking foolishly. You don't want to die. That is a fact. You're talking foolishly—"I accept death"—but you don't accept it. No, not at all. But because you have no choice, then you say, "I accept death." The real fact is this: You do not wish to die. Unfortunately, you find you have no alternative. "Oh, then I accept. All right." [Laughter.]
So you can talk like that—foolishly. [Laughing.] But an intelligent man does not want to die. He wants to become spiritually realized and then return to the spiritual world and live with God. He wants to find the way to avoid death forever.
Disciple: One time a college student bragged to me, "Death? I'm not afraid of death." But when I made as if to strike him, naturally he cringed in fear. "See?" I told him. "You are afraid."
Srila Prabhupada: Even a dog is afraid of death. What to speak of a man. When animals are taken to be slaughtered, they wail with fear. Even animals are afraid of death. So of course man is afraid of death. Everyone is afraid of death.
Disciple: Sometimes people say, "We're enjoying life. Why are you always bothering us about death?"
Srila Prabhupada: Why? Because I love you. And I am intelligent enough to understand that when you die, when you leave your body, you may get a degraded body and spend your next life as a dog. I have concern for you: "Please, friend, don't become a dog."
Let's say a child is flying a kite from the roof of some building, and a gentleman sees him—running carelessly this way and that, coming closer and closer to falling over the edge. Naturally the gentleman will say, "Hey! You're going to fall!" That is his duty.
Now, the child may scream, "Leave me alone! Why are you bothering me? [Laughter.] Why are you bothering me?"
"Because I am a human being," the man will say, "and you are a foolish child. Therefore, I am bothering you."
(To be continued.)
A look at the worldwide activities of the
ISKCON's Pada-yatra Continues
Uttar Pradesh, India—ISKCON's walking tour of holy India (pada-yatra), which met it's goal of traveling 4,500 miles from Dvaraka, on the west coast, to Mayapur, West Bengal, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is now proceeding westward. The goal is Vrndavana, Uttar Pradesh, where Lord Krsna enacted His childhood pastimes fifty centuries ago.
Along the way pada-yatra participants have been holding public festivals, congregational chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, and free distribution of prasadam (vegetarian food offered first to Lord Krsna and then distributed for the spiritual nourishment of everyone). Pada-yatra participants also visit many of India's sacred pilgrimage sites.
The pilgrims arrived in Mayapur in March of this year, just in time for the special celebrations commemorating the five-hundredth anniversary of the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Shortly after the celebrations, the pada-yatra began the 1,850-mile journey to Vrndavana.
During May and June the pilgrims journeyed west through the state of Bihar. In Patna, the capital of Bihar, the mayor and other dignitaries came out on the road to receive the procession. During two days of programs in Patna's prestigious Krishna Memorial Hall, the mayor and several cabinet members spoke highly to the crowds of the social and cultural significance of ISKCON's pada-yatra.
As the pada-yatra moves through India, the devotees continually chant the holy names of God as prescribed by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. They also visit many places of Lord Caitanya's pastimes.
The main holy place in Bihar is Gaya, where Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu first met His spiritual master and received the inspiration to begin the Hare Krsna movement. The devotees visited here, as well as nearby Bodh-gaya, where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, having realized the futility of material life. At Bodh-gaya the pilgrims were received by the head monk of the main Buddhist temple, who showed the devotees the place of Lord Buddha's trance, beneath the sacred Bodhi tree.
In Uttar Pradesh, the next state along the route, the pada-yatra visited Varanasi, where Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu had instructed Sanatana Gosvami, who gave up his position as a government minister to become one of the leaders of the Krsna consciousness movement in the late sixteenth century. Also, in Varanasi Lord Caitanya had debated with the renowned monist Prakasananda Sarasvati, converting him and his sixty thousand disciples to Krsna consciousness.
The pada-yatra participants spent the four months of the rainy season in Allahabad and began walking again at the end of September.
Island Temple Opens In Northern Ireland
Lisnaskea, Northern Ireland—Guests from all over Ireland, as well as from England and the United States, traveled to the lake island of Inish Rath here last July to celebrate the opening of a new ISKCON temple. The installation of beautiful four-foot-high Radha-Krsna Deities highlighted the festivities.
The seventy full-time devotees in Ireland worked for two years restoring the island's Victorian mansion and converting it into a temple. An ornate gold-leafed and silver-plated altar built at ISKCON's community in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, arrived just in time for the opening ceremonies.
The twenty-two-acre island is situated a quarter of a mile from the shore of Lough Erne. The temple's forty-foot barge carried guests to the island, where the temple grounds include spacious lawns, rose gardens, a four-hundred-year-old tree, a covey of peacocks, and a pond with a fountain. About half the island is wooded.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
by Dvarakadhisa-devi dasi
Again the doorbell. I opened to find a small green monster pressing the button with his webbed finger. He was accompanied by a chubby fairy princess and an impish gremlin with braces. I'd been welcoming strange visitors all evening, so I was prepared when a webbed hand thrust forward a battered orange sack and I heard a disconcertingly familiar voice exclaim, "Trick or treat!"
Marvin! Who could be tricked? That obnoxious child who delighted in provoking the neighborhood dogs into frenzies of distressed yipping. His faded sneakers peeped from beneath his monster scales. But I could see he was taking his role seriously, glaring at me with menace from behind his plastic mask. Tonight, for a couple of hours, he was a creature from another planet.
Marvin's mother lingered casually on the sidewalk, apparently unalarmed by her son's hideous transformation. That baby she had nurtured, that toddler she had guided, that eight-year-old she endured, had accepted a frightening new role for the evening. Yet from her perspective, Marvin remained dependent on her care, and as they started on their way to the next home, I heard her warning him to be careful crossing the street.
Ironically, Marvin's role-playing does not end when he and his mother return home. Even after the costume is left in a messy green heap on the floor, Marvin still doesn't become his real self. He continues to play a role—as his mother's darling, his sister's persecutor, and as the most valuable shortstop in his league. In a few years he will be wearing a different costume. He'll be a little taller, a little stronger. And he'll have new ambitions and tastes. The new Marvin will like fast cars and blondes more than earthworms and baseball, and in a few years he will give up those things for a home in the suburbs. His body will change completely. His outlook on life, his pleasures, his deepest desires will be transformed again and again with the passage of time. Yet Marvin will remain the same person, playing out a succession of roles appropriate to his psychophysical changes.
Who is Marvin really? We can't say he's a little boy, any more than we can say he's a little green monster; these are temporary identities. The real Marvin must be that constant presence that endures throughout the most drastic of physical changes, a source of energy unaffected by bodily designations. This is evident when Marvin finally dies. All of the physical components lie there, unchanged yet now immobile, except for that one missing ingredient—Marvin.
Marvin is a spirit soul. In his original, pure state he is free from the inconvenience of bodily change. Indeed, he has a spiritual identity—an identity that is not only real and tangible but, unlike material identities, permanent.
Identifying with the changing body is a characteristic of material contamination. We truly believe the body to be the self; thus the invariable difficulties of disease, old age, and death always plague us. It's an unnatural condition that never quite satisfies the needs of the spirit soul. Just as Marvin cannot actually live like a ferocious reptilian monster, we cannot be satisfied with a life punctuated by cancerous growths, volcanic eruptions, or financial deprivation.
To become liberated from the illusion that the body is the self and the material world is a comfortable home is a worthy goal of human life. To understand the reality of our existence, to see beyond the temporary coverings of the body, and to act in a way that transcends the influence of maya's* [*The illusory energy of God that deludes living entities into forgetting their spiritual nature.] tricks will give significance to a life that would otherwise simply be another masquerade.
As I watched Marvin and his crew dart across the street, a crowd of goblins and witches and robots headed up my walk. 'Trick or treat!" they called.
Tricked, I thought, by layer upon layer of illusory roles. How much fun it is to pretend different temporary identities. But how disastrous to have not even an inkling of your permanent identity.
The Solution To Toxic Waste
by Mathuresa dasa
Of the thousands of chemicals manufactured, used, or stored in the United States, the U.S. government's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists four hundred three as hazardous. These select substances are either poisonous, corrosive, flammable, or explosive. You can't touch, inhale, drink, or otherwise ingest them without posing a serious risk to your well-being. U.S. industries daily generate more than 1.5 billion pounds of these substances in the form of waste materials. That comes to more than a ton a year for every man, woman, and child in America.
These hazardous waste materials get dumped daily at thousands of authorized sites around the country, as well as at many unauthorized sites, like sewers, swamps, and drainage ditches. The EPA says that about two thousand of the legal dump sites pose a serious threat to the environment, thus qualifying for clean-up money from the EPA's Superfund. But clean-up takes time. Congress has put about $5 billion into the Superfund annually since 1981, and clean-up has been completed at only a handful of sites, some of which have begun to again leak toxic chemicals.
On a different front, U.S. authorities are moving quickly to deal with another hazardous substance—milk. The nation's dairy cows, eleven million in all, are producing far too much. Surplus milk and milk products corrode milk prices, cripple dairy businessmen, and threaten to poison both the food industry and the economy at large. The government has decided that instead of spending millions of dollars each year to buy up surplus milk products, it would be cheaper to slaughter some of the cows that produce the "toxic" surpluses in the first place.
This is truly absurd—destroying one of the essential ingredients of prosperity and calling it economic progress. From the Vedic perspective milk and grains are the primary economic necessities of human society. By insuring that these two commodities are always abundantly available, a society can naturally and securely meet its most basic economic need. In such a stable economy there would certainly be no need for a government-supported dairy industry.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has $2 billion in hand to purchase entire herds from farmers who agree to get out of the dairy business. The USDA will brand an "X" on the jaw of each cow purchased to mark it for slaughter and to make sure it doesn't slip back into production. USDA officials estimate that the new program will eliminate about one million cows.
The Humane Society of the United States has vehemently objected to this cruel program. But not to the slaughter, mind you. Only to the branding. In a mass mailing from its Washington headquarters, the Society points out that branding can have traumatic effects on the poor cows. To mark the animals for slaughter, they say, it's better to tag them or to stamp them with dye.
How one can humanely tag an animal for slaughter I don't know. The Vedic literature clearly states that each body in each species—from the humans down to the ants—is the residence of an individual spiritual person, or soul. Unnecessary killing of anything is inhumane—what to speak of the wholesale slaughter of an animal whose only "crime" is to produce generous quantities of milk. (A spokesperson for the Humane Society's mid-Atlantic division recently issued the routine warm-weather warning to dog owners: Don't leave your pet in a closed car, even for a short time and even with the windows partly opened. Just imagine, in the time it takes to shop for meat and other barbecue supplies at the supermarket, your dog could suffer a heat stroke out in the parking lot.)
Since the EPA gets $5 billion dollars to deal with 403 toxic chemicals, isn't it rather wasteful that the USDA is spending $2 billion just for milk? As a matter of fact, the whole cow-elimination program is just plain backwards. What the USDA and EPA should jointly do is increase "toxic" milk production by outlawing cow slaughter, while at the same time encouraging farmers to create an enormous "toxic" grain surplus. These two economic toxins will send food prices plummeting, which in turn will knock the bottom out of the entire life-threatening industrial economy, thus putting an end to the production of most of those four hundred three toxins. What better way to get rid of hazardous wastes than to stop producing them?
True, we'd all have grains and dairy products coming out our ears. But that's a minor problem. I, for one, would gladly exchange my yearly ton of chemical poisons for an equal weight of milk, bread, and butter.
Our Nuclear Self-Help Plan
by Kundali dasa
My wife doesn't approve of my writing this, but I'm doing it anyway. It shows you how differently two Hare Krsna devotees can view the same situation.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) recently announced a change in its nuclear war emergency plan. The new plan is to build six hundred nuclear bomb shelters across the U.S. between 1988 and 1992, at a cost of 1.5 billion dollars, for the exclusive use of local, state, and federal officials in case of a nuclear war. As a result, you can expect to see a lot of new aspirants for government positions over the next few years.
The old plan called for civilians living near likely nuclear targets to evacuate in orderly fashion along specified routes to safe sites designated by FEMA officials, in half an hour, the amount of time we'll have before the first bombs hit. Logistical difficulties abounded. Can you imagine the orderly evacuation of a city of one million—in half an hour? What to speak of New York City's ten million plus?
The new plan is much more practical. Should a nuclear war happen, government officials on all levels will have six hundred shelters to hide in, while the rest of the nation relies on, in FEMA's words, "self-help."
Sensitive to reproof from people who say Hare Krsna devotees hold a morbid, negative outlook, I tried to see some positive aspects of the new plan. I found a few.
For example, certainly a nuclear shoot-out would amount to the biggest national emergency of all time. You wouldn't really expect our leaders to scatter all over the countryside at such a critical time, would you? Under the new plan our leaders can convene and carry out their official functions with hardly any interruption. And after the war, with hale and hearty local, state, and federal officials present, well have considerably less chance of a breakdown in civic decorum, an important consideration after a pitched nuclear battle, when a limited supply of breathable air, drinkable water, and other vital commodities may bring out the worst in people. Imagine the bedlam if we didn't have enough coats to go around for the nuclear winter. To have our elected leaders handle these difficult situations would, no doubt, be a welcome relief.
Now here's the part my wife didn't want me to include: her reaction to my positive outlook. When I told her about my seeing some positive things in the new plan and how I was trying to appreciate its good points, she didn't think I was at all funny.
"I'm not trying to be funny," I said plaintively. "I'm trying to break out of the stigmatized view that Hare Krsna devotees are too negative. Let's see the positive side for a change."
She wasn't interested. "It seems 'self-help' is 1986 Orwellian newspeak for 'every man for himself,'" she blurted, her face flushed with indignation. "What about my son?" (It'll be years before he's old enough for a government post.)
"Well, I can always get a job with the government," I offered, trying to ease the tension.
"What kind of decent job can a Hare Krsna monk get in government?"
"Some say there are no decent jobs in government, but I could look into it. There must be something I can do."
"Don't bother," she sighed wearily. "I think the best we can do in this mad world is pray to Krsna to kindly protect us."
"You have a point there," I agreed. "We shouldn't be in any anxiety: Krsna is our shelter. The people at FEMA don't know it, but He is actually our only shelter—from nukes or any other form death may take."
Many ages ago God appeared on earth as the most benevolent ruler
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Millions of years ago, according to Vedic sources, the Supreme Lord appeared on this planet as the warrior Ramacandra to execute His will and display the pastimes of the Personality of Godhead. The pastimes of Lord Rama are revealed in the famous Vedic scripture called the Ramayana, written by Sri Valmiki. The Ramayana is written down as a historical epic, but it contains the essential information of the original Vedas. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata (of which the famed Bhagavad-gita is a chapter) are especially recommended for the present age, even more so than the highly intricate Vedas or the philosophical theses of the Vedanta-sutra—all of which are prone to misinterpretation in this fallen Age of Quarrel.
The Ramayana tells of how Lord Ramacandra appeared on earth in human form. He was of greenish hue. His bodily luster like fresh green grass.
What is written in the Ramayana, we should note here, is best understood as it is. When the pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are narrated, there can be no question of allegory. Allegory means a given text conveys a truth higher than the literal one. But the highest realization of spiritual perfection is that the Absolute Truth is a person. This precludes the possibility of going beyond Him to some higher truth. Although out of kindness to His devotees Lord Rama appeared as a man. He is the Supreme Lord, and His birth is transcendental in every respect and free of all material taint. His history is, therefore, marvelous and filled with wondrous feats, as we'll see.
Ramacandra was the son of King Dasaratha. He was the darling of His father and mother, Queen Kausalya, as well as the hero and darling of all Ayodhya, the capital of what was then the single world kingdom.
Growing old, King Dasaratha desired to confer the kingdom on his eldest son, Rama. As a joyous Ayodhya prepared to, coronate the beloved prince, one of the queens of King Dasaratha, Queen Kaikeyi, plotted to remove Rama from the kingdom so that her own son, Bharata, would take the throne. Persuaded by a crooked maidservant that Ramacandra would have Kaikeyi's son killed if He became king, Queen Kaikeyi I took advantage of two boons she had received from her husband in gratitude for service she had rendered to him. She called her husband to her rooms and requested the following boons: Let Ramacandra be banished to the forest for fourteen years. And let Bharata be installed as king. When King Dasaratha heard these requests, he fainted away in shock.
As an ideal ksatriya king, Dasaratha would stand by his promise to grant two boons to his queen, even when it meant a fate worse than death. His religion was truth, and he had to keep his promise.
When Lord Ramacandra received the awful news. He only replied, "Very well. I shall go from here and proceed to the Dandaka Forest for fourteen years with an unwavering mind."
The wife of Rama was the beautiful and chaste Sita. Lord Ramacandra had gained Sita when, in the assembly where Sita was to choose her husband. He had broken a bow that was so heavy it had to be carried by three hundred men. Rama thus satisfied Sita's father, Janaka, and married Sita, who was endowed with transcendental qualities. It is understood that, as Lord Ramacandra was Visnu, the Supreme Lord Himself, so Sita was actually Laksmi, the goddess of fortune. Being the daughter of the royal saint Janaka, she was accustomed to life as a princess. Yet when Ramacandra informed her that she must stay in the kingdom under the protection of Bharata during His exile, Sita replied with an offended air: "If You repair to the forest, I shall go in front of You and make smooth the path by crushing the thorns under my feet. I shall not leave Your company, nor will You be able to dissuade me. I shall feel no sorrow in passing a long time with You."
Laksmana, Ramacandra's beloved brother, had been there while Rama was speaking with Sita. He caught hold of Ramacandra's lotus feet, as it was unbearable for him to be separated from Rama. Rama tried to dissuade him. But nothing could turn Laksmana. Laksmana was determined to accompany Sita and Rama to the forest for their long exile.
Forest life for a royal prince was supposed to be an abominable insult, but Ramacandra managed to cheer Sita by pointing out the beauty of the natural setting. A forest is said to be a place in the mode of goodness, just suitable for cultivation of spiritual life.
While Rama, Sita, and Laksmana were exiled in the forest, the horrible Ravana entered their lives. Ravana was a great demon who had almost everything. Through long performances of austere penances he had gained great power. For the sake of war-mongering he had conquered the demigods Kuvera and Indra. He reigned on the island of Sri Lanka and possessed vast wealth and opulence. He and his "Rovers of the Night" roamed about killing and eating hermits engaged in spiritual practices in the forest. Ravana also had made a career of violating beautiful women wherever he found them, and he had a harem of hundreds who had surrendered to his material influence of wealth and strength.
Ravana believed himself to be unvanquishable. He disdained God. Perfect materialist that he was, he challenged even the existence of God. He challenged everything good and listened to no cautious counsel about the bad reaction that follows sinful acts. In challenging Rama by the abduction of His wife Sita, however, Ravana was choosing death, and he rushed headlong toward his inevitable fate.
To implement the abduction of Sita, Ravana called on his warlord, Marica. Ravana asked Marica to take the form of a golden deer and frisk in front of Sita. When Sita should wish to have the deer for her own, Rama and Laksmana would follow it and Sita could be abducted.
Thus Marica, in the form of a wonderful deer with silver spots and the sheen of jewels, appeared before Sita in the forest. He drew the mind of Sita, who asked Ramacandra to catch him for her. Ramacandra was, of course, cognizant that this might be the Raksasa magic of Marica, but He decided to go after the deer. If it proved to be Marica, He would kill him. After firmly ordering Laksmana to stay with Sita, Ramacandra pursued the deer. It became elusive, even invisible. Finally Rama resolved to kill it. He shot one deadly shaft, which entered Marica's heart like a flaming snake.
But with his last breath, Marica cried out loudly, "Alas, Sita! Alas, Laksmana!"
Waiting with Laksmana in the cottage, Sita heard the cries and believed them to be Rama's. She told Laksmana to go at once to help Rama. Although Laksmana dismissed the idea that Ramacandra could be in danger, Sita insisted that Laksmana go and find Him. In that way Ravana was able to find Sita alone, and he carried her off by force.
On a chariot pulled by asses, Ravana, often heads and twenty arms, flew through the sky clutching Sita. This act completely sealed Ravana's doom. Not only would he die for capturing another man's wife, but he would not even be able to enjoy her in the meantime, not even for a moment.
Unable to forcibly have his lust satisfied, Ravana could only threaten Sita that if after twelve months she did not turn to him, he would cut her into pieces and have his cooks serve her to him for a feast.
In the absence of Sita, Ramacandra was plunged into unalloyed grief. Laksmana attempted to draw off Rama's despair, but He was paid no attention. Finally the brothers found signs of Sita, pieces of her clothing from her struggle with Ravana and ornaments that had fallen from her as she had risen up in Ravana's chariot. Rama and Laksmana also received information from the dying Jatayu, ancient king of the birds, who had tried to stop Ravana as he had flown away. Jatayu informed Ramacandra and Laksmana that Ravana had kidnapped Sita. For help in getting her back, Jatayu recommended they form an alliance with Sugriva, the king of a race of monkeys.
Sugriva did indeed help, mobilizing his forces and sending them out in search of Sita. After months of futile searching, the armies began to lose hope. Some returned, and some dispersed to foreign lands. It was Hanuman, the chief counselor to the king, who learned of the kingdom of Lanka, far away in the Indian Ocean.
Hanuman resolved to travel through the air in search of Sita. Being the son of the wind-god, Vayu, Hanuman had the faculty for flight. In one leap he crossed the ocean to Lanka.
Reducing himself to the size of a cat, Hanuman steadily entered the capital of Ravana, carefully noting all the details. As a servitor, he was very concerned that at any moment he might be caught and ruin the project. "If I lose my life," thought Hanuman, "great obstacles will crop up for the fulfillment of my master's project." To this very day, Hanuman is eulogized by all saints and scholars of Vedic science as the ideal servitor for his unwavering dedication to Lord Ramacandra.
Hanuman searched all over for Sita, finally locating her in the heart of the dense Asoka forest. He assured her that he was from Ramacandra and promised her that They would soon be reunited. As Hanuman left, the island of Lanka, he single-handedly destroyed thousands of raksasa warriors and set fire to the entire city.
In millions, the army of the monkeys mobilized and marched to the ocean. The Lord then had His faithful servants, like Hanuman and Sugriva, hurl huge boulders into the sea, and by the Lord's supreme potency they floated on the water, forming a bridge to Lanka. The army then marched into Lanka under the very nose of the lord of the Raksasas. Soon hand-to-hand combat began, and great heroes from both sides fought to the death day after day. Finally, one by one, the great Raksasa chieftains fell before the unlimited powers of heroes like Hanuman, Laksmana, Sugriva, and Ramacandra. At the last, Lord Ramacandra slew Ravana with a brahmastra weapon released from His bow.
Valmiki tells of the origin of this weapon. It was handed down by Lord Brahma and passed from sage to sage. The brahmastra was smeared with fat and blood, and smoked like doomsday fire. It was hard and deep-sounding, and when shot by Ramacandra it cleft Ravana's heart in two, depriving him of his life.
Rama was then reunited with Sita, and the fourteen-year exile having ended, they returned to Ayodhya on a flower-bedecked airplane.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains the Lord's appearance as Ramacandra thus: "The comparative studies on the life of Krsna and Ramacandra are very intricate, but the basic principle is that Ramacandra appeared as the ideal king, and Krsna appeared as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although there is actually no difference between the two. A similar example is that of Lord Caitanya. He appeared as a devotee and not as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, although He is Krsna Himself. So we should accept the Lord's mood in His particular appearance, and we should worship Him in that mood. Our service should be compatible with the mood of the Lord. Therefore, in the sastras there are specific injunctions. For example, to worship Lord Caitanya, the method is chanting Hare Krsna."
Sri Valmiki declares that he who always listens to this epic becomes absolved from sins. He who listens with due respect meets with no obstacles in life. He will live happily with his near and dear ones and get his desired boons from Ramacandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
On Thoreau and Vedic Thought
From leads obtained during my visit to the Thoreau Lyceum in Concord, Massachusetts, I have now gathered a few more articles and books that link Thoreau's life and philosophy with the Vedic tradition. My readings have confirmed the feelings I had while at Walden Pond that Thoreau was striving in his own way to practice yoga. Without a bona fide spiritual master, however, he was unable to understand the real goal of yoga.
In an article published in the New England Quarterly (Sept. 1964), Frank Macshane puts together convincing evidence from Thoreau's writings that Thoreau was heavily influenced by Indian spiritual thought. Macshane claims that most readers think of Thoreau's Oriental themes as incidental, whereas actually they are at the heart of his life and writings:
[In Walden] there are many overt references to the sacred texts of India, as in, "how much more admirable the Bhagavad-gita than all the ruins of the East!" And Thoreau himself followed certain Hindu customs: "It was fit that I should live on rice, mainly, who loved so well the philosophy of India." ... Flute playing, his own and that of John Farmer, is also reminiscent of the God Krishna's favorite musical pastime. Most significant of all are the many references to the river and the definite equation of Walden Pond with the sacred Ganges.
Macshane argues that Thoreau went into seclusion not with the usual Christian idea of repentance and resignation from life, but with the aim of releasing himself from petty daily affairs to contemplate his personal nature. "What he did," writes Macshane, "is precisely described in the sixth book of Bhagavad-gita: 'The yogi should retire into a solitary place and live alone. He must exercise control over his body and mind....'"
"Rude and careless as I am," Thoreau wrote in his journal, "I would fain practice yoga faithfully."
Macshane describes the goal of yoga as union with Brahman, or God. He also thinks the Vedic literature teaches one to follow the yoga most fit for one's nature. He concludes that Thoreau's interest in Hindu philosophy was monistic and that Thoreau valued the freedom of "following his own inclinations with dignity."
According to Macshane, Thoreau's experiment of living by Walden Pond has a sacramental feature, which Thoreau followed in the mood of a yogi:
Every morning he would go down to the pond, for all the world like a Hindu in Benares, for his morning ablutions. This bathing in the lake he characterized as "a religious exercise and one of the best things which I did."
Macshane depicts Thoreau as a jnana-yogi, due to his intellectual inclinations. He also describes him as a karma-yogi, owing to his renunciation of worldly acts in favor of loftier pursuits. Macshane equates Thoreau's strict dietary control, solitude, and chastity with the practices of astanga-yoga.
Although Macshane has only a vague understanding of bhakti-yoga, he makes an interesting presentation of Thoreau, who was so devoted to nature, as a bhakti-yogi: "Throughout those sections devoted to the pond itself, the animals, the fish, and even the earth, there is a constant note of praise and indeed of worship."
Thoreau's nature worship was not a simple pantheism. He did not see God as identical with nature or with the self, but as the transcendent creator. As Thoreau wrote in his journal: "The red-bird which is the last of Nature is but the first of God," and, "If Nature is our Mother, is not God much more?"
In a 1967 Back to Godhead article, Hayagriva dasa described both Emerson and Thoreau as striving toward Krsna consciousness.
In Walden Thoreau wrote in even greater length about the Gita, and it is clear that the words of Krsna figured prominently in the transcendentalist movement. The transcendental ideal was to obtain union with God through "plain healthy living," avoidance of the frills of society and all forms of artificial intoxication, avoidance of dogmatic "church religion," and abandonment to the direct revelation of the Supreme, who usually spoke through His nature, or prakrti, revealing His supreme purusa, or what Emerson called the "over-soul." For the transcendentalist, direct contact with nature was as good as direct contact with the divine, for it served as a springboard to direct realization of Him. Nature was a wise, familiar, and loving guru.
Even if we consider Thoreau a yogi, we should be aware that he was grasping only the lower rungs of the ladder of yoga and therefore failed to realize the personal nature of the Supersoul, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. In one sense we cannot blame him for this. After all, the Vedic texts available to him did not give Vaisnava commentaries. Perhaps if he had met a pure devotee, he would have surrendered. In any case, he never gained such an opportunity.
My study of Thoreau's Vedic leanings brings to mind two conclusions. First, no matter how great a thinker or individualist one may be, no one can rise above material desire and reach to the ultimate truth without a Vaisnava guide. Even after a life of renunciation and philosophical speculation, one can only approach an inkling of God realization: "If Nature is our Mother, is not God much more?"
Seeing Thoreau stranded in his own thought makes me appreciate more the transcendental welfare work begun by His Divine Grace A C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and continued by his followers in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. There are always persons, like Thoreau, with strong leanings toward spirituality, and specifically toward Vedic knowledge. These persons may have inherited this inclination from past lives. In any case, at least in this life they are attracted. To bring such sincere souls to the realization of their heart's desire and to connect them in loving service to Krsna, devotees of the Lord must vigorously preach, reaching out to budding transcendentalists, whether they be living in forest retreats or in cities.
In this way we can make useful the emotions and associations that come to mind when we think of the almost Krsna consciousness of Henry David Thoreau, who loved the Bhagavad-gita:
The sweltering inhabitants of Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta drink at my well. In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water and lo! there I meet the servant of the brahmana, priest of Brahma and Visnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas or dwells at the foot of a tree with his crust and water jug. I meet his servant, our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water mixes with the sacred water of the Ganges.
Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
In Sanskrit, man means "mind" and tra means "freeing." So a mantrais a combination of transcendental, spiritual sounds that frees our minds from the anxieties of life in the material world.
Ancient India's Vedic literatures single out one mantra as the maha (supreme) mantra. The Kali-santarana Upanisad explains, "These sixteen words—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—are especially meant for counteracting the ill effects of the present age of quarrel and anxiety."
The Narada-pancaratra adds, "All mantras and all processes for self-realization are compressed into the Hare Krsna maha-mantra." Five centuries ago, while spreading the maha-mantra throughout the Indian subcontinent, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu prayed, "O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name You have invested all Your transcendental energies."
The name Krsna means "the all-attractive one," the name Rama means "the all-pleasing one," and the name Hare is an address to the Lord's devotional energy. So the maha-mantra means, "O all-attractive, all-pleasing Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your devotional service." Chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, and your life will be sublime.