You won't find the answers in today's educational institutions.
A lecture in Bombay on September 25, 1973,
"Arjuna said: O my dear Krsna, I wish to know about prakrti [nature], purusa [the enjoyer], and the field and the knower of the field, and of knowledge and the object of knowledge."
Arjuna wanted Krsna to answer six questions: What is prakrti, this material nature? Who is the purusa, the enjoyer of material nature? What is the ksetra, the field of activities? Who is the ksetrajna, the one who is enjoying or acting on the field? And what is jnana, knowledge, and jneya, the object of knowledge?
So, Krsna replied, idam sariram kaunteya ksetram ity abhidhiyate: "This body is the ksetra, the field of activities," and etad yo vetti tam prahuh ksetra-jnah iti tad-vidah: "The ksetra-jna is the one who knows this body." The first purpose of the Bhagavad-gita is to teach us that we are not the body but the knower of the body. Generally everyone thinks, "I am this body." But that is not a fact. One should know, "I am not this body but rather the knower of the body."
For example, I am sitting on this seat. I am not this seat: I am the person sitting on this seat. Similarly, when somebody asks me what I am, if I identify myself as something having to do with this body, that is foolishness. In the sastra [scripture] it is said, yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih yat-tirtha-buddhih salile na karhicij janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah. Go means "cow," and kharah means "ass." So the person who identifies his body as his self is like a cow or an ass.
According to the Ayur-veda, the body is a bag of three elements: mucus, bile, and air. Or, we can easily understand that this body is made of flesh, bone, blood, urine, stool, and so on. If you analyze the body, you'll find that these are its ingredients. But only one who is ignorant would say that these ingredients are his self.
So, in spiritual life one must first understand fully, "I am not this flesh, blood, urine, and other things in this body. I am separate from them. I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Lord." That is real knowledge.
All over the world education is being given to students, but this knowledge is absent from the educational institutions. Therefore everyone is identifying the body as the self and identifying things in relationship with the body as "mine." As the sastra says, sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma-ijya-dhih: "Foolish men think that their wives and other relatives are theirs and that the land of their birth is worshipable."
At the present moment, throughout the whole world everyone is identifying himself with his body and worshiping the land in which his body was born. And persons in relationship with the body are thought to be kinsmen. But according to the sastra, anyone who thinks in this way is like an ass or a cow. Therefore, according to the Vedic literature, the present society is a civilization of cows and asses. In other words, it is an animalistic civilization.
No one can be happy in a society of animals. In the jungle there is always a struggle for existence, fighting between one animal and another. Still, compared to human society the jungle is peaceful. At present, throughout the whole world we have become less than the animals because people do not know who they are or what is the ultimate goal of their life. People do not know these things. Therefore to dispel this ignorance Arjuna inquires, "What is the field of activities and the knower of the field? What is knowledge, and what is the object of knowledge?"
So, first Krsna replies that this body (ksetra) is our field of activities. There are different types of body-8,400,000 forms-which nature supplies according to our desire. And how does nature supply these forms? Krsna explains this in another place in the Bhagavad-gita [9.10]: mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram. "Under My supervision, nature produces the bodies of all moving and nonmoving living entities."
The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart (isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese 'rjuna tisthati). Lord Krsna is situated both outside and inside everyone. We simply need to make our eyes perfect in order to see Him. Krsna is not impossible to see. He can be seen-but only by one who has the proper eyes to see Him. As the Brahma-samhita [5.38] says, premanjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti / yam syamasundaram acintya-guna-svarupam: "Those who have developed Krsna consciousness, love of Godhead, can see the beautiful Supreme Personality of Godhead within their hearts."
Now, in the Brahma-samhita Krsna is described as acintya-guna-svarupam, "the reservoir of all inconceivable, transcendental qualities." We cannot conceive of Krsna's qualities. For example, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, patram puspam phalam toyam yo me bhaktya prayacchati tad aham bhakty-upahrtam asnami: "If one offers Me a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water with devotion, I will eat it." How is Krsna eating? That we cannot see. But He is eating. Therefore His qualities are acintya, inconceivable.
Our conception of eating is that we can eat through the mouth. Whatever eatables are offered to us, we pick them up and put them into our mouth. This is our process of eating. But because Krsna is acintya, inconceivable, His eating process is different from ours. As stated elsewhere in the Brahma-samhita, angani yasya sakalendriya-vrtti-manti. "Every limb of His body can work as any other limb." With our eyes we can see; if we close our eyes we cannot see. But even if Krsna closes His eyes, He can see everything with His hand. Now, this is inconceivable.
So, we offer the food to Krsna, and He eats it by seeing it. He can eat through His eyes, just as we can eat through our mouth. Then you may argue, "If He has eaten the food, why is it lying as it was offered in the beginning?" That is answered in the Isopanisad [Invocation]: purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate. "If the complete whole is taken from the complete whole, still the complete whole remains." In other words, Krsna can take the whole plate of food, but still the whole plate remains. That is His inconceivable, transcendental quality.
Krsna consciousness is a great science, a spiritual science. Unfortunately, we have no educational system to understand this spiritual science. Especially in this age, everything is godlessness. Therefore people are not happy. The purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement is to make people happy by teaching them how to become Krsna conscious. That is our mission.
Similarly, that is the mission of all devotees, such as Arjuna. Arjuna is Krsna's personal friend; he always lives with Krsna. There cannot be any ignorance on the part of Arjuna. But still he asks questions just for our benefit. And Krsna answers his questions.
Why should Krsna's answers be taken so seriously? Because He is the supreme authority, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we receive knowledge from the supreme authority, then it is perfect knowledge. Suppose you get some knowledge from your superior, one who is more educated than you, more experienced. Then you accept that knowledge as authoritative. In this material world there may be somebody who is authoritative, but he cannot be the ultimate authority. The ultimate authority is Krsna (isvarah paramah krsnah).
So, if we receive knowledge from the ultimate authority, our knowledge is perfect. And if we receive secondhand knowledge from the ultimate authority, that is also good. "Secondhand knowledge" is knowledge from one who has received knowledge from Krsna and who repeats what he has received. That knowledge is also perfect. But one who speculates—"It may be like that, it may be like this"—that knowledge is imperfect.
In the modern world all knowledge is speculative, hypothetical. There is no perfect knowledge. So if you want to be in perfect knowledge, you have to take knowledge from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna. And Krsna is delivering that knowledge in the form of Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna is asking questions so that people may receive perfect knowledge from Krsna and thus perfect their lives.
Now, Arjuna asked Krsna, "What is jnana knowledge?" And Krsna answered, "To know the body and the owner of the body—that is knowledge." In the ordinary sense, if you understand that this is a house and that the proprietor of the house is such-and-such gentleman, then your knowledge is perfect. Similarly, if we understand what this body is and who the proprietor of this body is, then our knowledge is perfect.
Krsna says that one proprietor of this body is the soul, but that there is another proprietor. For example, there is an occupier of a house and also an owner. There are so many tenants in every apartment house in Bombay, but there is also a proprietor of each house. Similarly, in this body we are not actually the proprietor: we are simply the occupier.
Suppose I give you my motorcar to use. You are not the proprietor: you are the occupier, or driver. The owner is different. Similarly, Krsna says, ksetra-jnam capi mam viddhi: "Indirectly I am the proprietor of the body." That is why Krsna's name is Hrsikesa. Hrsika means "senses," and isa means "controller." This body is made of senses, and the actual proprietor of the senses is Krsna, Hrsikesa.
We are given our senses to use. For example, we are using our hand. But if the hand is paralyzed for some reason or other, we cannot repair it. This is not possible. Because the proprietor has withdrawn the power of the hand to act, it is no longer workable, although I may claim that it is my hand. Actually, it is not my hand; it is Krsna's hand. That is knowledge. As long as we are thinking "I am this body" or "This is my body," we are not in perfect knowledge. When you understand that your body is actually Krsna's body, then you are in perfect knowledge.
It is not that Krsna is the proprietor of only the human bodies. There are 8,400,000 different types of body, and Krsna is the proprietor of every one of them. That is also explained in the Fourteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita [14.4]: sarva-yonisu kaunteya . . . aham bija-pradah pita "I am the seed-giving father in all species of life." The father gives the seed, and the mother gives the body. Similarly, Krsna, the supreme father, has given the seed of every living being, and material nature has supplied the body.
So, Krsna has given us this body through the agency of material nature. This body is just like a machine (yantrarudhani mayaya). We are seated in this machine, and we are traveling under the influence of maya, Krsna's illusory energy. We are wandering throughout the whole creation. Sometimes we are getting a human body, sometimes the body of a demigod, sometimes the body of a rich man, sometimes the body of a poor man, sometimes the body of a cat, sometimes a dog, sometimes a tree, a plant, or an aquatic. This is our position.
Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [2.13], dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara/ tatha dehantara-praptih: "As we are changing our body at every moment—from childhood to boyhood, from boyhood to youth, and from youth to old age—we similarly get another body at death." But we do not know that we are going to get another body in our next life. We think that this body is all in all—that there is no rebirth.
Therefore the knowledge contained in Bhagavad-gita is required—how we have gotten this body, and how we can get a better body in our next life. This is real knowledge, not the knowledge of how to eat, how to sleep, and how to have sex. That knowledge is there in the animals (ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca). Where to find one's food, where to sleep, how to have sex, how to defend oneself—these things animals also know. So if we devote our time only to these four principles of bodily want, then we are no better than the cats and dogs.
Real knowledge begins when I know what I am, what this body is, and why I am suffering. We should ask, "I want to Supreme Authority happy; so why am I always afflicted with so many kinds of suffering?" This is the genuine question. But people have become so foolish that they do not inquire into how to make a solution to their suffering, how to solve the problems of life. They are blind, and they are being led by blind men (andha yathandhair upaniyamanah).
People hope that by making some arrangement in this material world, they will be happy. But that is not possible. The people in Europe and America have made sufficient material arrangements for living very happily, but they are still disappointed, confused.
So, materially you cannot be happy. You must first have full knowledge of what you are, what your body is, and who the supreme controller of both is. Then you'll be happy; then your life is successful. But if you live like the cats and dogs, trying to adjust things like the cats and dogs, you will waste your life. Therefore kindly try to understand the Bhagavad-gita, which is full of knowledge given by the perfect source, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
There is no deficiency in knowledge given by the Supreme Lord. In knowledge received from imperfect persons, there must be deficiencies because all imperfect persons are subject to four defects: their senses are imperfect, they make mistakes, they become illusioned, and they have a tendency to cheat. From people with so many defects you cannot get perfect knowledge. You have to receive knowledge from the perfect person—the Supreme Lord—or His bona fide representative. Then your life will be successful.
Therefore Arjuna is putting so many questions to Krsna in the Thirteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. Especially in this chapter Krsna answers the questions What is this body? and Who is the knower of the body? In the third verse Krsna says, ksetra-jnam capi mam viddhi: I am also the knower of each body." The Mayavada [impersonalistic] philosophers say that there is only one spirit within the body. No, there are two—the individual soul and Krsna.
The individual living soul is the occupier of his body, but Krsna is the proprietor. And Krsna has an interest in every body. He is like a landlord. A landlord has many houses. Suppose I occupy one of his houses. Then I will have an interest in that particular house. But the landlord has an interest in all his houses. Similarly, Krsna has an interest not only in my body or your body but in each and every body in every species of life (sarva yonisu). These things are to be understood very clearly.
Krsna is related not only with the human society but also with the animal society, the dog society, the cat society, the demigod society, the aquatic society, the tree society, the plant society, the insect society. Everywhere Krsna is present as the Paramatma, the Supersoul.
So this subject matter is very interesting. Of course, the Bhagavad-gita is the ABC's of spiritual knowledge. Unfortunately, people are neglecting even the ABC's. So it is our duty to propagate the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita. We are doing our best, and we wish that everyone, especially Indians, should cooperate with this movement.
Thank you very much.
A veteran reporter confronts some key environmental issues.
by Mathuresa Dasa
Tom Hacknead, a veteran reporter for the Daily Trash in Los Angeles, felt restless. He'd been covering events at the city morgue for twenty years and needed a change. One Monday morning an article in Newsbleak magazine on environmental catastrophes caught his eye. "That's it!" he thought, "I'll become an environmental expert and focus on the dying biosphere instead of on dead people."
From Newsbleak, Tom learned that a blanket of pollution created by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil was enveloping and slowly suffocating the earth. To halt the buildup of this blanket, experts advised (Tom always quivered with excitement at the word "expert") that we rely more on nuclear energy, which generated radioactive waste instead of carbon dioxide.
Trouble was, Newsbleak continued, the disposal of radioactive wastes was an "explosive issue," since no one wanted any buried in his back yard. "Of course not," Tom mused, with a veteran's humor and insight. "Burying the stuff would turn the earth into a radioactive mattress! And to round things out, we still have that good old-fashioned pillow of smog." Tom was getting a feel for his new turf.
The alternatives to nuclear energy and of fossil fuels, Tom read, were renewable sources like solar energy and hydropower. This information had a mysterious ring to it. What with the L.A. smog, and his office at the Daily Trash having no windows, Tom hadn't seen any sun for ages. He couldn't imagine that sunlight could power his hair dryer or his tanning lamp. As for hydropower, Tom contemplated the faucet in the men's room down the hall but couldn't grasp the concept.
Determined to track down an expert on solar energy and hydropower, Tom called his Aunt Maud in Nevada. "Sure," she told him, "one of the world's leading authorities on sunlight and water is my Daddy's cousin Ezra. He lives about a hundred miles from Reno."
Tom packed his hair dryer and tanning lamp in the trunk of his car. He arrived at the home of Ezra Zukes Livvin late Tuesday afternoon. Ezra Zukes ("E. Z." to his friends) was sitting on his front porch, softly chanting the Hare Krsna mantra on a string of prayer beads. Tom introduced himself as Maud's nephew, accepted a seat beside E. Z., pulled out his pen and pad, and started right in with his questions.
"Mr. Livvin, how long before we'll have generators that can harness the sun's energy efficiently enough to replace, say, nuclear power?"
"How long?" E. Z. looked surprised. "Why look, I've got a whole field full of solar generators that put nukes to shame. Didn't you see?"
Tom noticed for the first time thousands upon thousands of six-foot spikes driven into a field the size of a couple of city blocks. "You built all those yourself?" he asked. "That must have been hard work."
"Not so hard," said Ezra. "I didn't build them. Threw them in last May. Not so hard."
Tom imagined Ezra throwing the spikes from his porch, landing each one perfectly perpendicular, and fairly evenly spaced, across the entire field. "And these things transform sunlight into usable energy?" Tom queried.
"These things are called corn, Mr. Hacknead," said E. Z., a little impatient. "I plant them, water them, harvest them, and...
"Water?" said Tom, his ear sharp for every nuance. "Does that have anything to do with hydropower?"
"Sure," said Ezra, "corn needs sunlight and water to grow. Lord Krsna provides the sunlight. In the Bhagavad-gita He says 'The splendor of the sun, which dissipates the darkness of this whole world, comes from Me.' "
Tom figured Krsna must be another one of Aunt Maud's cousins. "But what about this hydropower?" he pressed, eager to get his story.
"Rain's the best kind of hydropower," said E. Z. "In the Ninth Chapter of the Gita Krsna says, 'O Arjuna, I give heat, and I withhold and send forth the rain.' " E. Z. chuckled, "Around here, Krsna mostly withholds the rain, so I irrigate. But the water still comes from Him."
"And what do you do with the corn power you produce, Mr. Livvin?"
"Feed it to my oxen and the rest of my herd. And I use the oxen, in turn, to plow my corn fields, wheat fields, and my favorite-the zucchini patch. The Gita says that plowing and cow protection are the first duties of the business community, before trade, banking, nuclear power, and all that. Who needs nukes? With just solar energy and hydropower, I generate corn power, wheat power, ox power, milk power, and zucchini power."
Tom found Ezra's expertise intimidating, but drawing on his experience interviewing coroners, he pushed on. "Now, finally, about these oxen . . ."Tom tried in vain to remember, from a grade school course on mammals, what an ox looked like. "Let's see-aardvark, anteater, oxymoron, unicorn.. ."
"C'mon, I'll show you," said E. Z. with a sigh, leading Tom across a yard to a red and-white barn.
Stepping inside, Tom drew back. "My goodness," he gasped, "that dog's enormous!"
"That's a calf," said Ezra. "Isn't she pretty?"
Tom had never heard of a calf-dog before. Talk about pollution and waste disposal! he thought. What do you do with a mutt this size? The sidewalk outside Tom's apartment building in L.A. was always littered with dog feces, but mostly from miniature poodles. Calf-dog indeed!
"How do you dispose of the, uh, droppings from these . . ." Tom began.
"I spread them on my fields," said Ezra. "On your fields," Tom repeated, muffling his surprise. And then, disguising his clinching question with a burst of congeniality, he chortled, "Well, yes, I don't suppose their droppings would be radioactive."
"Nope," said Ezra. "Best fertilizer there is."
"Well, thank you for your time, Mr. Livvin," said Tom, heading for his car. "You're welcome. Hare Krsna. Stay longer if you like," said Ezra.
"Thank you, but no," replied Tom. "I have an article to write."
Piling into his car with his pen and notepads, Tom headed for the highway back to Reno and L.A. What a difficult new subject the environment was. But boy, did he have a story for the Trash.
We welcome your letters.
If the Hare Krsna members believe that all sin and evil will be compensated by nature's laws, and that according to the law of karma any good or bad will be met with good or bad reactions in this life or the next, then what is the need for hell? In Christian terms, all sinful people must go to hell and be punished, but according to ISKCON, all sinful people receive reactions to sin in the form of disease, death, poverty, separation from home, friends and family members, etc., in either this life or the next. Or they are sent to lower or higher planets. So do all sinful people go to hell, or do they undergo karmic reactions, or both?
OUR REPLY: One problem in understanding karma is that we tend to take the analogy with Newton's second law too literally. It is not correct to say that a karmic action, like a physical action, has an "equal and opposite reaction." Srila Prabhupada explains that karmic reactions for both good and bad works are compounded. He gives this example: If I do something good by giving someone, say, $100 in this life, I will have to come back in the next life to collect, say, $400. There's interest. The same thing happens with sinful acts. In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is explained that cow-eaters must take birth as cows and be killed for as many times as there are hairs on the cow's body. This may sound extreme, but consider the other side. If one performs even fairly insignificant pious activities, the results are unimaginable. For instance, there are amazing benefits from fasting completely on even one Ekadasi day. So the reactions are not "equal and opposite."
Therefore, there is suffering in hell and in the next life because it is all punishment for the same sins. Srila Prabhupada explains it like this: "On the planet of Yamaraja, the sinful man is given the chance to practice living in the hellish conditions which he will have to endure in the next life, and then he is given a chance to take birth on another planet to continue his hellish life. For example, if a man is to be punished to remain in hell and eat stool and urine, then first of all he practices such habits on the planet of Yamaraja, and then he is given a particular type of body, that of a hog, so that he can eat stool and think that he is enjoying life" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.30.29, purport).
You will notice that Srila Prabhupada says, "to continue his hellish life." So it is all part of the same "sentence" for his illegal, sinful activities.
Another consideration is that the situation we find ourselves in is partly a punishment for sinful actions, but it is also due to our own desires. Those desires are nurtured by our sinful acts and sinful association, and we could even say that they are a worse reaction than the physical suffering of hell—because our desires keep us bound up in material existence. In other words, our desires are part of our karma, and even though we may pay our debt in hell for sinful acts, we don't automatically get free from desires there. We still have to get another body to work through those desires. Of course, it is all very entangling, and we usually forget about our suffering and go to hell again.
Lord Kapiladeva says, "If, therefore, the living entity again associates with the path of unrighteousness, influenced by sensually minded people engaged in the pursuit of sexual enjoyment and the gratification of the palate, he again goes to hell as before." The only solution is to become Krsna conscious and avoid wrestling with the tricky laws of karma.
Your recent eye-catching and mindopening ads for Back to Godhead, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Bhagavad-gita make for a real transcendental experience as I go through the magazine savoring every page. Looking forward to the arrival of the magazine has become a thrill. I have been wanting to write to you earlier, but my dear husband, Mohandas, was seriously ill. The last article he enjoyed utmost before he passed away was "Won't You Join the Dance?" [Vol. 23 No. 2-311 eagerly await your magazine and depend on my devotee friends for spiritual strength.
Sarala Mohandas Baliga
Tap into the reservoir of pleasure. By chanting the names of God, you'll immediately be in touch with the source of all pleasure. The name Krsna means "the all-attractive person," and Rama means "the supreme pleasure." Hare is a word addressing Hara. God's devotional energy, to whom we pray to be engaged in the Lord's service. Because God is unlimited and absolute. He is fully present in the sound of His names. So, just as darkness cannot stand in the presence of light, miseries cannot affect us when we chant God's names.
Because we are spiritual and eternal, our natural state is one of unrestricted happiness. But forgetting our original positions as loving servants and devotees of Krsna, we suffer the pains of material life. By chanting God's names, we become purified of all material desires, which separate us from Krsna. and we regain entrance into the eternal, blissful, spiritual realm.
The spiritual realm is not restricted by time and space; it's always within reach. And you can experience it. Chant the Hare Krsna mantra—and taste the pleasure.
The yoga taught by Lord Caitanya is
by Krpakara Dasa
Nowadays when people think of yoga, they generally conjure up images of half-naked Indian yogis with long hair and beards sitting in the lotus position in the Himalayas, or they might picture the familiar scene of people contorting their bodies into various postures at a hatha-yoga studio. These popular images fall far short of the complete picture of yoga given in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Lord Krsna instructs Arjuna, His friend and disciple, in the various yoga systems.
The word yoga, the origin of "yoke," means to link with the Supreme. Thus Lord Krsna's purpose in outlining the various processes of yoga in the Bhagavad-gita is to show Arjuna the ways in which different types of yogis try to attain Him. Krsna explains the four main types of yoga: karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga.
The basic understanding of all yogis is that actions in this world incur reactions that keep one bound up in material existence. Each type of yoga attempts in its own way to elevate the practitioner above karma and into the transcendental realm, where one can realize the Supreme.
Karma-yoga entails working in this world in an ordinary occupation but offering the fruit of one's labor to the Supreme Lord. By working for the Supreme in this way, one incurs no reaction for one's work, and through such selfless action, one will become purified and develop real, spiritual knowledge.
The cultivation of spiritual knowledge is known as jnana-yoga. The jnana-yogi, understanding the futility of working for material results, occupies himself with studying Vedanta, or Vedic philosophical works on the nature of the Absolute Truth. Dhyana-yoga is a mechanical process, divided into eight steps, that helps control the mind and senses with the aim of concentrating on the Lord in the heart. The bodily exercises people often equate with yoga are only one part of the bona fide system of dhyana-yoga, which is very difficult to practice in this age. We may look spiritual with our long hair and beard, or we may become fit by the yoga exercises, but breath control and yoga postures alone will not bring us to the goal of yoga.
Many people who practice yoga today have no intention of making spiritual advancement. They simply want to improve their health or sexual abilities. And even if one is sincere, meditation even for short periods is extremely difficult in this age. To really perform dhyana-yoga, one must be celibate, strictly control the mind, and refrain from all sensual activities.
The Vedic scriptures recommend that in this age everyone should practice bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Supreme Lord. Bhakti-yoga is in fact the goal of all yoga processes. In the Gita, Lord Krsna states that of all yogis, one who is engaged in His service is the highest.
Lord Krsna descended five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu to propagate bhakti in this age. Lord Caitanya introduced the essential element of bhakti; the chanting of the Lord's names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Bhakti-yoga is based on this chanting. Other important aspects of bhakti-yoga include hearing the Lord's glories, remembering Him, offering Him prayers, and worshiping Him in His Deity form in the temple. Anyone in any condition of life can practice one or more aspects of bhakti-yoga, even while engaged in worldly responsibilities. A housewife, a businessman, or even a child can chant the names of the Supreme Lord and make spiritual progress. No wonder it is said in the scriptures that the demigods pray to take birth on earth in this age so that they may practice the easy process Lord Caitanya has given.
After Lord Caitanya's departure, His principal disciples, the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana, further expounded the science of bhakti, emphasizing the principle of yukta-vairagya, or using everything of this world in the service of the Supreme Lord. Following this principle, one offers everything to the Lord for His pleasure and then enjoys His remnants as prasadam, or "mercy." Thus one's senses are not artificially restrained, but they are offered spiritual engagement. In bhakti-yoga, the devotee enjoys life by chanting, dancing, and eating sumptuous sanctified food. As the devotee works for Krsna and hears more and more about Him, he begins to see Him in everything. He thus experiences a higher, spiritual pleasure in life. This is the beauty of bhakti-yoga: one can perform it while remaining in any position of life.
Bhakti-yoga must, however, be performed under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, one who knows the art of dovetailing activities in Krsna consciousness. Bhakti-yoga is not unscientific or sentimental, as other yoga practitioners may suggest. It is appropriate for the modern age, and it has been carefully set down for our benefit in many exact spiritual literatures by the six Gosvamis and their followers. One of the Gosvamis' prominent followers is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Hare Krsna movement, who has left a legacy of spiritual books. Though writing with the practical needs of modern society in mind, he in no way compromised the lofty principles of yoga. By a careful application of his relevant teachings, anyone can rise—even in this materialistic age—to the highest goal of life: Krsna consciousness.
The media's constant reminders of the unavoidable horrors of death give us legitimate cause for fear. How does a devotee of Krsna react to the dangers of this world?
by Harikesa Swami
Fear: the emotion caused by the expectation of danger or unfavorable circumstances, or by the consideration that at any moment our material stability will crumble. We are all familiar with the feeling of fear; it is as natural as eating, sleeping, or mating. Indeed, fear underlies the hundreds of arrangements we make daily to avoid expected pain. And why shouldn't we be afraid? After all, this world is a temporary, miserable place. Consider these pressing topics that dominate the news media: drought, car accidents, destruction of the ozone layer, increase in the world temperature, poisons in our food and air, wholesale slaughter at a weekend air show, AIDS . . . As soon as we take birth, we carry with us the natural fear of death. For one who has taken birth, death is certain. No one can avoid it. Perhaps we are not always aware of the imminence of death, but an underlying fear of death dominates our lives. To understand that death is a major concern for all, one need only consider the vast network of social laws, medical care, safety regulations, and so on we have set up to protect ourselves from death. And we fear for others' welfare as well. A mother's protective care of her child is an example of our natural fear for the safety and security of our loved ones. Of all forms of danger, death is the most mysterious and therefore the cause of the greatest fear. Lord Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita that we have died—or changed our bodies—at the end of each of our many lives within this material world. By nature's arrangement, however, we have forgotten the experience of death, and thus it remains a great, unknown, fearful event.
Yet since the problem of death is unsolvable, we tend to put it aside with a fatalistic shrug: "I can't do anything about it anyway, so what's the use of worrying about it now?" Once Maharaja Yudhisthira, the great emperor of the world during the time of Krsna's appearance, was asked to describe the most wonderful thing he had ever seen. His answer was simply "Although everyone has seen that his father has died, his grandfather has died, and his great-grandfather has also died, he thinks that he will never die." Since we are eternal spirit souls, we cannot die, but as long as we are ignorant of this fact, there is no avoiding the danger of death.
The attempt to ignore death does not really salve our consciousness. The media's daily presentation of the theme of violent or catastrophic death underlines man's conscious and unconscious preoccupation with his own demise. The news magazines' main business is to sell their product. What better way than through the presentation of themes that are simultaneously shocking and yet deeply relevant? Striking deep into our psyche, the news media probe our own convictions that death is an unavoidable horror. Feeding off our hidden paranoia, the media's reportage of the misfortunes of others acts to stir up wonder within our hearts.
Sometimes' we try to take shelter in the understanding that the reported events are not directly affecting us and therefore are not to be feared. Unfortunately, such rationalizations are not sufficient to conquer all fearful situations. Who can say that the destruction of the environment is someone else's problem? Cancer, heart disease, and other modern ailments of the body or mind are very real dangers that likely will soon become part of our lives. If someone in our family becomes afflicted by disease, his suffering pains us as well. And since many diseases are inherited, the suffering of our parents or grandparents maybe a warning indicator pointing to our own future distress.
The major problems of the world also affect each of us. The severe droughts, eroding ice caps, thinning ozone layer, and the famous AIDS virus—all burden our consciousness with more nagging doubts about our own capacity to survive. There is no use trying to hide on an island of self-created security, for the troubles of the world become our own sooner or later. The Vedic literature speaks about fear as one of the basic ingredients of material life. Whether one be a bird, beast, worm, insect, fish, human being, or something higher, fear of death, fear of pain, fear of loss, and hundreds of other fears constantly plague our lives. Franklin Roosevelt once tried to soothe the minds of those distressed by the economic conditions of the Great Depression by telling them, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." Such positive words may pacify those who ascribe to the philosophy that ignorance is bliss, but for the rest of us there seem to be an awful lot of other things to be feared as well. Or as another political pundit remarked, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you!" In other words, there is more to fear than fear itself, since there are actually dangerous conditions brewing that could cause our personal or collective destruction.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam states, padam padam yad vipadam: "There is danger at every step." No one can say that he will live forever, and no one can guarantee himself a painless life. Money cannot solve all problems; even opulent paranoiacs like Howard Hughes have to die. Fear follows us like our shadow. And like our shadow, sometimes we are aware of it, and other times we choose to ignore it. One may ignore his death, his old age, or his disease, but these facts of life do not ignore us. One may be forgetful of his appointment in court or his payments to the bank, but the harsh reminder of reality soon comes in the form of law enforcement. We may attempt to forget the problems of life through the various forms of intoxicant freely available in modern society, but we are invariably rudely awakened by the next disaster reported in the media.
One may try to avoid fear by considering it simply a mental concoction or the product of a deranged mind. Going to a psychologist to learn the art of facing fear with some attitude of detached resignation will not solve the problems of life. Despite our mental situation, disease is disease, old age old age, and death the invariable end. One may temporarily succeed in forgetting the fearful conditions, but as soon as they begin to cause trouble, the suffering is the same. Everyone becomes at least somewhat fearful during periods of pain. The conclusion is that as long as one remains within the confines of the materialistic mentality, fear will be a constant factor in life.
Devotees of Krsna, on the other hand, are trained to understand the root cause of fear and thus are given a means to conquer fear at its source. Most devotees join the Krsna consciousness movement with a good understanding of the problems of the material world. Indeed, most join because they understand that there is no material solution to the many problems of life. Vivid worldly experiences help us understand the indications of the Vedic literatures. By reading the words of Lord Sri Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita, we come to realize that fear is part of material existence. It arises from our false conception of our own identity and of our relationship with this world.
Surely a fearful situation stirs up emotions within the body of a devotee, but a devotee relates to these material reflexes in a Krsna conscious manner. Therefore, even if faced with his own violent death, he can climb out of the deep well of horror and remain determined that he will serve Krsna even in his next life. It has been seen over the last twenty-odd years in ISKCON that sometimes a devotee will die unexpectedly, perhaps in an automobile accident. But because a devotee knows there is danger at every step, he responds to danger by taking shelter in the holy name of Krsna. Although the adrenalin level in his body surely increases proportionately to the dangers facing him, his consciousness remains fixed in the conviction that Krsna will carry him over this danger. Even if the devotee dies in some unexpected way, Krsna, being kind upon His dear servant, brings him back to His own spiritual abode. Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (8.5), "And whoever, at the end of his life, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt."
In one sense fear is a state of mind. Factually there is nothing to fear, since Krsna guarantees protection to all souls surrendered to Him. For one who knows that the body is temporary and the soul eternal, what meaning does death have? For him, death is simply a change of dress. The Srimad-Bhagavatam states that one who learns the art of depending on Krsna will find that the ocean of dangerous conditions in the material world shrinks to the amount of water in the hoof print of a calf. By Krsna's mercy and protection, therefore, even the fear of death has a transcendental value and purpose: it can inspire us to turn to Him.
Queen Kunti, Krsna's aunt and the mother of the Pandavas, expressed this uncommon understanding of the value of fear. She said, "While we were living in the forest, having been banished from our kingdom by political intrigue, and all kinds of fearful conditions appeared before us, we would become at once relieved by remembrance of Your lotus feet. May those fearful conditions come to us again and again so that we may remember You again and again." For her, fear was an impetus to expand devotional surrender. From that point of view, it was a welcome addition to life, not something to be avoided at all costs. Just see the difference in mentality between a devotee and a nondevotee!
Rather than fearing death, an advanced devotee looks forward to serving Krsna in his transcendental, spiritual form. A materialist wants to cling to his body even after its usefulness is finished, because he sees death as the end of all existence. A professor in Moscow told Srila Prabhupada, "Swamiji, when the body is finished, everything is finished." When one has such a fatalistic philosophy of life, death is certainly a great disaster. Gone are the days of enjoyment of the various delightful spices of life, for when death comes, everything is taken away.
A devotee can never be fooled into complacency by the materialists' shallow and unsubstantiated arguments. Persons brainwashed by the propaganda of the scientific community may unconditionally accept death as the end of existence, but no devotee can agree with such foolish idealism. The materialist may wish that death will end his suffering, but the devotee knows that this attempt to deny the ultimate existence of life's miseries is simply the result of thousands of lifetimes of conditioning in this material world.
A devotee becomes peaceful through knowledge. He understands the meaning of life, and he understands that death is simply a change of body. Just as he is not bewildered by the changes of body he experiences within this lifetime, he is not bewildered by the change of body at death. He constantly strives to purify himself of his dependency on the facilities of the material world that are meant to pamper the needs of his material body. Living simply, but thinking on a highly evolved platform of spiritual awareness, the devotee gradually transforms his consciousness to the highest level of ecstatic relationship with Krsna, the supreme controller and enjoyer.
For a devotee, the greatest fear is to forget Krsna, or to somehow lose the opportunity to serve Him. Therefore a devotee never indulges in the obsessions of the materialists. The constant reminders of the temporality of life spur him on to greater philosophical and devotional heights. A devotee considers the creation of maya to be like the glittering of fool's gold: although it captures the eye, it has no value. This material world is a phantasmagoria, like the creation of a showman in a haunted house in an amusement park. But the devotee sees clearly and remains aloof from the plans and designs of the material civilization. This sometimes creates doubts in the minds of materialists, who cannot conceive of someone being factually detached from the material world. Despite the occasional opposition created by such doubtful and small-minded persons, the devotees continue to advance on the path of devotional service to the Lord.
What is fear ultimately? It is the platform of forgetfulness of one's original relationship with Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As soon as one thinks he is anything other than the eternal servant of the Supreme Lord, he immediately falls into a situation of intense fearfulness. The material world is meant to be a fearful place, for its purpose is to awaken us to our original, constitutional condition of spiritual life. When one surrenders to Krsna in pure love, material fearfulness goes far away. Material fear, therefore, has no place within the spiritual realm.
The bhavausadhi, or the medicine for the pangs of material existence, is to chant the holy names of the Lord: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Please chant Hare Krsna and be happy.
But that doesn't mean I renounce common sense or ignore the strict spiritual system of checks and balances.
By Rohininandana Dasa
Every morning in each Hare Krsna temple, devotees assemble to hear the Srimad-Bhagavatam class. As we gradually make our way through the different volumes, we cover a wide variety of topics related to spiritual life. One day a speaker was reluctant to read the verse and purport because he felt they were unsuitable for the youngsters present. We were reading the Fifth Canto, and Sukadeva Gosvami was describing various sexual deviations and their hellish results. Some devotees favored continuing, while others wanted to skip a few verses.
One devotee reminded everyone of Srila Prabhupada's desire that children also hear Srimad-Bhagavatam. He further qualified his opinion by saying (seemingly self-righteously), "You may have your ideas, but I blindly follow my guru."
Knowing this phrase and its connotations to be the cause of some doubt to many persons interested in Krsna consciousness, I began reflecting upon what it means to "blindly" follow one's guru. Many times, usually after explaining the relationship between guru and disciple, we are asked, "But do you mean to say that the disciple is supposed to do everything the guru asks?" At this point it becomes apparent that the questioner is entertaining mental visions of the worst kind—subservient, starry-eyed disciples begging pennies on a street corner for yet another Rolls-Royce for their guru. Or worse still—scenes of a large commune where hundreds of bewildered followers blindly take their own lives at the whimsical demand of their now insane leader. How does the acceptance of a genuine spiritual master, with the implicit faith and service attitude this entails, differ from the naive submission and consequent exploitation often involved in other "spiritual" relationships?
To my mind, the question is not whether we are prepared to do anything the guru asks of us, but whether a soul surrendered to his guru has, or retains, any intelligence, discrimination, or free will. "Blind" following can be the cause of perfection or havoc, depending on how it is understood.
A Lesson from the Mahabharata
In the Mahabharata (the history of greater India), there is an interesting incident concerning Arjuna, the perfect disciple, and Krsna, the Supreme Lord and perfect guru. During the Battle of Kuruksetra, King Yudhisthira was severely defeated in single combat with Karna and retreated from the battlefield to rest. Upon hearing of Yudhisthira's serious wounds, Arjuna was worried and ordered Krsna to take his chariot to his brother's tent. Yudhisthira was suffering intense pain, fatigue, shame, and anxiety because of the superior strength of Karna. All his hope for victory lay in Arjuna, but he was afraid that even Arjuna did not possess the ability to defeat such a strong enemy.
When Arjuna and Krsna entered the tent, Yudhisthira assumed that Karna must have been killed, because Arjuna was known as Vijaya—"one who never leaves the battlefield without defeating his enemy." Relieved of his fear, Yudhisthira rose up on his bed and began to glorify Arjuna and Lord Krsna. After some moments, Arjuna explained the actual situation: he had left the battlefield out of concern for Yudhisthira.
Immediately the pressure felt by Yudhisthira exploded in a torrent of disappointment and bitter regret. He cursed Arjuna and accused him of being a hero in name only. He said that Arjuna was unfit to carry such a powerful weapon as the famed Gandiva bow. He told him that he should give it to a warrior who could wield it more effectively.
Arjuna reacted by fiercely unsheathing his sword, but Lord Krsna stopped him with His hand and inquired, "How is it that you are about to attack your older brother?" Arjuna replied with a warrior's pride, "O Krsna, I have a secret vow that I will immediately slay anyone who suggests that I give up my Gandiva bow to another."
Lord Krsna reasoned, "Arjuna, how can you kill your king and older brother, decorated as he is with all saintly qualities, just because of a few words spoken in anxiety, frustration, and anger?"
"But Krsna," Arjuna objected, "what about my vow?" Krsna answered, "You are a fool, for you do not know how to properly apply religious principles. Do not be a fanatic, but consider the time and circumstance."
Krsna told Arjuna a story: There was once a saint who made the solemn vow to never tell a lie. One day some innocent people came by his asrama fleeing from a gang of ferocious bandits. The bandits soon arrived and demanded, "Did you see them? Which way did they go?" The saint honestly pointed to the citizens' hiding place. The dacoits then butchered the defenseless people and took away their wealth. As a result of his blind foolishness, the saint had to suffer for the sufferings he had callously caused. Therefore a person must have proper discrimination when applying the principles of religion; the subtleties of the rules of honesty, ethics, morality, and nonviolence are sometimes difficult to discern.
Arjuna was relieved to hear Krsna's brilliant judgment, but still he could not forget his vow. Again Lord Krsna helped him out: "There are various kinds of deaths according to scripture," He continued. "One form of death is for a superior person to be insulted and dishonored by his junior."
Arjuna took the hint and began to revile Yudhisthira for his attachment to gambling and his lack of ksatriya (warrior) qualities. He blamed him for the whole war. Because Yudhisthira was a humble devotee, he already felt guilty for the mass killing. He meekly listened to Arjuna's rebukes. Arjuna, his anger expended, then fell at his brother's feet and begged forgiveness. They warmly embraced, realizing how Krsna had saved them yet again. Previously, when Krsna had spoken the Bhagavad-gita, He had tried to convince Arjuna that his duty—and therefore the topmost morality for him—was to fight and kill. In this instance, however, Krsna advised Arjuna differently. Although Lord Krsna is the supreme autocrat, we see that He always instructs according to reason and scriptural evidence.
Srila Prabhupada wanted his disciples to use their discrimination. He would often ask their opinion before making a decision, and he would sometimes challenge their convictions: "Why do you say Krsna is God? How do you know? What's wrong with not being Krsna conscious?"
Sometimes he would take the role of an atheist or coax a disciple to do so. He would argue with logic and common sense. He wouldn't accept answers like "So-and-so said" or "It says in the scripture." He wanted us to know exactly why we do what we do and say what we say.
Srila Prabhupada often told us to "do the needful." The needful, however, will inevitably vary according to different situations. Srila Prabhupada often demonstrated that preaching is a higher principle than an inflexible attachment to rules and regulations. There are as many different situations as waves in the ocean, and each requires Krsna conscious consideration. Witlessly brandishing dogma is not conducive to progress.
To have blind faith in one's guru is required, but such faith should not encourage foolish loyalty to persons like Bhisma and Drona, who had chosen the side of irreligion. Arjuna's blind faith in them was a barrier impeding the correct course of action.
Faith is obviously an essential ingredient for any endeavor, especially in spiritual life. The guru teaches his students about transcendental subjects inaccessible to the material mind and senses. After one has thoroughly ascertained, by using a high degree of intelligent discrimination, that a spiritual teacher is bona fide, one must eventually take initiation. The spiritual master is Lord Krsna's representative and should therefore be accepted to be as good as God. A disciple who has implicit faith in the scriptures and the words of his guru will realize the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The disciple has to surrender his will to that of his guru, just as after accepting a person as your doctor, you have to be obedient to his commands. Spiritual life means to surrender your soul, or your self, to the shelter and guidance of your spiritual master.
Checks and Balances
Now, although we have to surrender to the spiritual master, are there any checks and balances by which we can protect ourselves from possible exploitation from unscrupulous "gurus"? Let us carefully consider: In everyday life the spiritual master does not baffle his disciple with apparent contradictions. But there are concepts presented by the guru that may contradict the disciple's ideas, conditioning, or even sensory perception. Our background is materialistic and often atheistic. We are prone to be rebellious toward the authority of the Supreme Lord, and we are full of the four defects of conditioned life: we make mistakes, we're illusioned, we have a tendency to cheat, and we have imperfect senses. So it's not surprising if the guru says things that contradict our preconceived opinions.
The real qualification of the guru is that he speaks according to guru, sastra, and sadhu. These are the checks and balances of the system of receiving transcendental knowledge. "Guru" means that the guru must always speak in line with his own guru. In London, Srila Prabhupada said that it's not difficult to be a guru. All we have to do is follow our guru's instructions, repeat his message, and not become proud. "Sadhu" means authorized saintly persons, past and present. And 'sastra" means the genuine scriptures.
If a guru appears to make a statement or give an order contrary to any of these principles, the disciple may inquire, "My dear spiritual master, I cannot understand your statement; please explain it according to the principles of guru, sastra, and sadhu. "In an extreme case, Bali Maharaja attained perfection by refusing to follow his guru's order that he not surrender to Lord Visnu. The Mahabharata enjoins us to reject a guru who does not know what is to be done or not to be done. It is the duty of a disciple to bring up any doubts he has. Many times in the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna says things like "This is my doubt, O Krsna, and I ask you to dispel it completely." It's the duty of an expert guru to dispel every doubt of his disciple.
If a disciple does something against the principles of guru, sadhu, and sastra and tries to justify his misdemeanor by saying "My guru told me to do it," his action is no less censurable. A guru who fell down from the principles of spiritual life began to urge his disciples to take drugs along with the chanting of the holy names for "better results." His sincere and intelligent disciples refused to follow such an erroneous order, but those who took spiritual life cheaply or who were blind sentimentalists eagerly began abusing their bodies and minds with different kinds of drugs, pretending that it was all spiritual. Some of them even said, "I'll follow my guru to hell," forgetting that the purpose of accepting a guru is to go back to Godhead. Their position was as foolish as that of a demented patient who declares, "I don't care if my doctor is going to cause my disease to increase; I'll still follow his direction." A sincere disciple may be prepared to go to hell with his guru—but to preach, not as an inmate!
Now let us consider the place for blind faith and blind following. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master, told Srila Prabhupada on different occasions to preach in the West. He said it would be good for him and good for those to whom he preached. He also instilled in Srila Prabhupada the importance of book distribution. He had a vision for spreading Krsna consciousness, and Srila Prabhupada meticulously followed his order. Srila Prabhupada used to say, "Whatever success may come is due to my Guru Maharaja—I blindly follow his order."
Blind faith means not to allow material considerations to interfere with the order of one's guru. The story of the printing of Caitanya-caritamrta by Srila Prabhupada's disciples (described in Srila Prabhupada Lilamrta, Volume 6) serves as a striking illustration. When Srila Prabhupada ordered his disciples at the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust to print seventeen books in two months, they initially replied that it was an impossible task. Srila Prabhupada chided, "Impossible is a word found in a fool's dictionary." So they set to work, fully enlivened by the powerful order of their spiritual master. When the huge task was completed in the allotted time, everyone knew that both the order and its execution were the causeless mercy of Krsna's pure devotee.
The guru is the representative of the Supreme Lord, who is the source of all intelligence, and so it is not surprising for a sincere and dedicated disciple to feel and realize the guru's divine grace. Blind following means, therefore, that your undaunted eyes are fully open, but you're not proud of your achievements, thinking you have greater vision than your guru.
In fact, pride, familiarity, and consequent negligence in executing the directions of the spiritual master are serious impediments to spiritual advancement. To protect us, Srila Prabhupada writes, "A disciple should always remain a fool before his spiritual master." But Srila Prabhupada also expected his disciples to behave intelligently and with common sense. Therefore, just as a disciple should feel like—but not be—a fool, he should follow his guru blindly but not be blind.
So we should use our brains and not dogmatically say "So-and-so said" as an absolute truth in every circumstance. Should a child listen to the unpleasant descriptions in the Fifth Canto? Well, the general principle is that everyone should hear the Bhagavatam because it is Krsna Himself in the form of sound, but there's still room for some discrimination.
In a lecture in 1972, Srila Prabhupada said that originally all Vedic literature was especially meant to instruct those men who would disseminate the information to others in a manner suitable to their understanding. When instructing others, sensitivity and tact are obviously required. Not everything said bluntly to an adult should be repeated verbatim to a child. Otherwise, in the name of religion, a child's rights to develop as a balanced, mature individual may be violated. Because of a clumsy or opinionated presentation, the child may end up with the impression, for example, that all sex is abominable, resulting in hell, or that sex means the abominable sex described in the Fifth Canto. Who knows what lasting impression will come to his mind?
Srila Prabhupada has said, "A devotee is as thoughtful as a nondevotee is speculative." We should present the truth according to our own realization, giving due consideration to the audience and the circumstances.
The Original Manifestation of God
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
My dear Lord Krsna,
Out of the multi-addresses and many appearances
I pray to You as Krsna
Dear Supreme Lord Krsna,
This series systematically explains some of the important philosophical concepts that form the foundation of the Vedic culture and the Krsna consciousness movement.
Lesson Three: Reincarnation
by Pavanesana dasa
PART II: Lord Krsna explains reincarnation in the beginning of the Bhagavad-gita (2.13): "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death." Each of us once had the body of a baby, and now we have the body of an adult. But these two bodies are entirely different. They don't look alike, and all the chemical ingredients have changed. Nonetheless, our mothers still know us as the same person.
When we are thirty or forty years older, again our body will look different. But we will remain the same person. So what is it that remains the same? It is our real self, the spirit soul. In this way we can observe reincarnation to a certain extent even in this lifetime.
When a person dies, we generally say, "He's gone," even if he's lying right next to us. Why do we say he's gone? Who has gone? And where has he gone? Because the body is still lying there, we should understand that it is the soul that has left. The person we thought we knew was never identical with his body. In fact, no one had ever seen the real person.
A beautiful actress may be adored by millions, but as soon as she is dead, no one will be attracted to her, although her body still looks the same. Obviously, her body was not the real object of attraction.
Even if you try to inject certain missing chemicals into the body, you can never make it alive again once the soul is gone. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.20, 22),
For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.
Now, a scientist or a hard-core materialist may ask, "But where is the evidence for the soul and reincarnation? No one has ever observed these directly."
This challenge presumes that all scientific "facts" have been directly observed. This, of course, is not true. Millions of children are taught that life comes from matter, that it all started with the "big bang" or the "primordial soup." Then by chance, chemicals began to organize themselves and gradually evolved into the highly sophisticated human form.
We can confidently state that no one has ever observed this process, since supposedly it took place before any human observers existed, and certainly no one lives the billions of years necessary to witness such a process. The theories that life has evolved from chemicals have never been proven. No one has ever observed matter producing life.
We can, however, observe daily how living creatures produce matter: hair, perspiration, fingernails, and so on. Therefore, reincarnation is more compatible with observable phenomena than is the theory of chemical evolution. Matter is clearly dependent on spirit. We can see the body changing while the person remains the same, and we can see life producing matter.
Misled by theories of modern science, people have no knowledge of the soul and the universal laws of reincarnation. They think that death is the end of our existence, and that therefore we should try to enjoy this life as much as possible. This kind of philosophy encourages cruelty, selfishness, crime, and irresponsibility. People don't know that while they may get away with cheating worldly authorities, and in this way avoid reactions for their activities, they cannot escape the subtle law that every action produces a reaction.
Understanding reincarnation can inspire us to lead more responsible lives of morality, honesty, and love for our fellow human beings, because we know that we will be held responsible for our activities in our next life.
Reincarnation explains many puzzling phenomena. For example, how was Mozart able to melt people's hearts with his piano playing when he was only five years old, whereas someone else cannot play nicely despite many years of practice? The answer is simple: Mozart had been practicing in at least one lifetime before.
This argument may not be strictly scientific, but it makes more sense than to say that our abilities come about by chance. Of course, some people refuse to accept reincarnation without empirical proof. To this we can say that reincarnation is not something that can be verified in a laboratory. Many other accepted phenomena cannot be explained that way either. Love, remorse, resentment altruism—these cannot be verified in the laboratory, but we all know they exist.
To flatly reject reincarnation is a dogmatic attitude. At least a person should admit that he simply doesn't know whether it exists or not. After all, there is no proof that it does not exist.
If a materialist takes the chance of living a life against universal laws, against the injunctions of holy scriptures, against the advice of self-realized persons, he runs the risk of having to take birth as an animal or in some other undesirable circumstances. And even if everything is finished at death, he cannot guarantee that he will be happy by living irresponsibly, with no concern for his future life.
In the Bhagavad-gita (16.23) Lord Krsna gives this advice:
He who discards scriptural injunctions and acts according to his own whims attains neither perfection, nor happiness, nor the supreme destination.
A devotee, however, cannot lose. If reincarnation is a fact, he is assured of a better destination in the next life. And even if reincarnation were not true, the life of a devotee is still a happy life.
Besides these considerations, devotees understand that Krsna consciousness is a spiritual science that enables one to realize the truth of the philosophy. By practicing bhakti-yoga, the devotee becomes free of all doubts concerning the nature of the soul and its activities. And his realizations are confirmed by the authoritative Vedic scriptures and the testimonies of thousands of great saints and sages.
Human life is a crossroads, a chance to either elevate or degrade ourselves. After millions of births in lower species, it is the greatest misfortune to spoil the unique opportunity human life awards us: to once and for all stop the cycle of birth and death and attain our original, blissful position in the spiritual world.
The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Devotees Host Religious Freedom Conference
San Diego—Devotees and scholars convened here recently for a two day conference on religious freedom, called "Cultures in Conflict: the Hare Krsna Movement in America."
Amarendra dasa, of the ISKCON Office of Legal Affairs, and Mukunda Goswami, ISKCON's minister of public affairs, organized the conference to publicize the George v. ISKCON case. Larry Shinn, author of The Dark Lord and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Bucknell University, was the keynote speaker.
The first topic of the conference was "Views from Within." Speakers included Ravindra-svarupa dasa (Ph.D.), ISKCON's Governing Body Commission chairman for 1988; Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami (Ph.D.), director of the Bhaktivedanta Institute; and Hridayananda dasa Goswami.
Other topics were ISKCON's academic contribution and freedom of religion. Professors, attorneys, and psychologists talked about America's tradition of religious tolerance and the anticult movement's interest in the George v. ISKCON case.
A press conference on the first day resulted in newspaper, TV, and radio coverage. An article in the San Diego Tribune quoted Dr. Shinn: "Courts are allowing psychiatrists to tell us what religion is." The San Diego Union carried his statement that "Religious freedom is being sacrificed to the psychology of fear."
Indian Government Donates Land to ISKCON
Bangalore, Karnataka—Devotees here recently consecrated newly acquired land given by the Karnataka government. Governor Sri P. Venkatasubaiah addressed the assembled guests at the ceremony.
The Karnataka government allotted the six-and-a-half-acre parcel to ISKCON to establish the Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu Cultural Center and Educational Complex. Madhu Pandita dasa, temple president in Bangalore, said, "After ISKCON's ten years in the city, the new land provides us a great opportunity to expand our activities here."
The picturesque land is on a hill within the city. The planned cultural/educational center will include a temple, school, guesthouse, and marriage hall, and will preserve the natural woodlands, parks, and waterfalls.
Their Lordships Sri Sri Krsna Balarama, the presiding Deities of the Bangalore temple, rode in a Ratha-yatra procession to the land, where a week-long festival took place.
BI Lectures on Indian Campuses
Bombay—Bhaktivedanta Institute (BI) members Rasaraja dasa and Rajahamsa dasa have been to the top universities throughout India, giving a series of lectures on Krsna consciousness. The program began in October 1987, when the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, invited devotees to hold their Bhagavata Science Series.
The series includes four lectures: "Causality and Change," an analysis of modern science; "Can Machines Think?" a critique of artificial intelligence; "Matter and Antimatter," an explanation of consciousness; and "Meditation for the Modern Age," an introduction to Bhagavad-gita and the chanting of Hare Krsna.
During the four-day seminar, devotees sold hundreds of books published by BI and the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Seeing the overwhelmingly positive response, the institute invited the devotees back. The second lecture series included "Concepts of Time and Space," covering Vedic physics; "Introduction to Vedic Cosmology," explaining Vedic astronomy; and "God and His Energies," more studies from Bhagavad-gita.
Rasaraja, a Ph.D. chemist, and Rajahamsa decided to take the series to other Indian universities. Through the year, they lectured in India's prominent scientific institutes, including IIT, Kanpur; IIT, New Delhi; the National Physical Laboratory (where 150 scientists attended a one-day seminar); Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Birla Institute of Science and Technology, Pilani; the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; and other colleges in Bombay.
At each engagement devotees sold hundreds of books, circulated questionnaires to participants, and received many positive responses.
They accumulated five thousand names for the BI mailing list. Some seminar participants report that they now chant regularly, and three colleges have started Bhagavad-gita clubs.
In Madras, Rasaraja and Rajahamsa addressed another concern: "Value Education," or ethics. Worried about the moral decline of Indian schoolchildren, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad invited Rasaraja and Rajahamsa to address a gathering of 120 high school principals and moral science teachers. The VHP wanted a way to present Vedic philosophy in the context of Western empirical science, since Indian law prohibits religion in public schools.
The main thrust of the one-day workshop was to enable teachers to see how religious knowledge can be scientifically taught. The teachers responded positively and asked the devotees to design a curriculum for moral education. The Bhaktivedanta Institute of Bombay is working on a book called Morals in the Age of Science, which will be part of the curriculum.
The ISKCON Office for Soviet and East European Affairs announced that fifty-four devotees from the Soviet Union have received permission to travel to India to attend this year's Vrndavana-Mayapur festival. The Soviet devotees will travel from Moscow to Calcutta dressed in dhotis and saris. Kirtiraja dasa of the Committee to Free Soviet Hare Krishnas said, "After experiencing such repression and persecution at the hands of the Soviet authorities, the devotees never dreamed it possible that they could go to India for the festival." Indian press, radio, and television will greet the devotees when they arrive in Calcutta.
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Devotees in Durban, South Africa, were honored by the South African Red Cross Society for their assistance during the devastating floods there last year. At a presentation ceremony, Indradyumna Swami accepted a certificate that expressed "the warmest thanks for the valuable services rendered to the cause of humanity." The devotees worked tirelessly every day for more than a month, distributing a total of thirty thousand meals to the areas most affected by the floods.
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Srila Prabhupada's Sankirtana Pada-yatra is attending the Kumbha-mela in Allahabad, India, during January and February. By the time the great religious festival is over, as many as twenty million people will have attended. ISKCON has setup a camp at the fair, and devotees from around the world are chanting, preaching, and distributing prasadam and Srila Prabhupada's books.
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With a $2 million grant from the Dutch government and $400,000 from the Rotary International Club, the Bhaktivedanta Institute is directing a large-scale health care project in the tribal areas of the Vishakhapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh, India. Working with Hare Krishna Food For Life, the Institute hopes to eradicate goiter, anemia, and night blindness in these areas, where the incidence of these diseases is near fifty percent.
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In January, a hundred ISKCON devotees from India and elsewhere held a 500-kilometer pada-yatra (walking pilgrimage) in the northeastern states of India, including Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, and Tripura. The aim of the pada-yatra was to promote peace by encouraging people to take up sanatana-dharma, or service to the Supreme Lord, as the prime duty of life.
Plain living, high thinking. Get out of the city—away from the noise, pollution, and the anxiety and madness of city life. Come back to a simpler, more natural way of life. Live close to the earth, close to God. The Hare Krsna movement has thirty-four farm communities throughout the world. These are sacred places where your spirit can unfold. And at the same time, they're realistic, practical places, where you can build a sane, stable life for yourself and, if you're married, for your family.
To find out more, get in touch with the ISKCON farm community nearest you.
Own a full set of Srila Prabhupada's books. Now you can have a full library of the Vedic classics in your home. Translated and explained by the world's foremost scholar and devotee, these books open up new realms of spiritual life. Each book is a deluxe, beautifully illustrated hardbound volume. And now we make it far easier for you than ever before to get a full set of Srila Prabhupada's books. For details, write to the Back to Godhead circulation office listed on page one.
God can be seen, but, as in
by Dhananjaya Pandita Dasa
Many intellectuals seem to agree with Karl Marx's statement that religion is the opium of the people. A common misconception in these times is that God is an anthropomorphic projection, a psychological crutch for those who are helplessly bewildered by the problems of life and who haven't the guts to face reality. This unfortunate misconception prevents people from learning that God's existence is an objective fact.
To demonstrate that God's existence is every bit as objective as a brick wall, we will have to define what we mean by objective. According to Webster's dictionary, the word objective means "of or having to do with a known or perceived object, as distinguished from something existing only in the mind of the subject." To say that something objectively exists means that it has its own independent existence and is not the product of someone's imagination. So how do we demonstrate that God's existence is not the product of our imagination?
"Show me God," many people say. I hear this all the time. "OK, if God exists, prove it. Show me God right now"—as if seeing something were the only test of its existence. All right, you can see God, but seeing God is not a cheap thing. The problem is that people expect to instantly see God on demand. You can see God as directly as you are seeing this page, but it takes time. You have to become qualified.
Besides, why do we have to see something to believe it? "Seeing is believing," we say, but actually we believe in many things we don't see. It's only when we don't want to believe something that we make the rules more difficult and say we have to see it to believe it.
If we hear on the radio that there is a raging fire in a chemical factory on the other side of town, we accept it. We don't say, "Show me the fire." We accept it because we trust the radio announcer. Besides, we haven't got time to drive all over town verifying everything for ourselves. The fire is an objective fact even though we didn't see it ourselves.
Death is also an objective fact. Would anyone dare to propose that death is a product of our imagination? I don't think so. But on the other hand, none of us has yet seen our own death. So how can we know that our death is certain, if we haven't seen it? We can know by extrapolation. Everyone in the past has died, without exception. So it is reasonable to conclude that for us, too, death is an undeniable fact.
What about the existence of the atom? Surely nobody would complain that knowledge of the atom is merely one person's subjective belief. But can we show someone an atom? Well, we can demonstrate that atoms exist, but it takes time. You can't just walk into a particle accelerator laboratory and right up to a bunch of scientists who are busily adjusting knobs and staring into computer screens and demand that they instantly prove to you the existence of atoms simply by showing them to you.
First of all, atoms are too small to see, even with an electron microscope, so there is no possibility that anyone can show you an atom. And even if the scientists of whom you impudently demanded immediate proof of the atom were to actually give you the proof, which might be some bewildering equations and numbers on a computer printout, you wouldn't even be able to understand it. You'd say, "Where's the atom? I don't see any atom." You don't see the atom because you haven't been trained to interpret the data that demonstrate the existence of the atom. You have some childish idea that for something to exist factually and objectively, you have to be able to see it.
We can perceive the atom only by inference. Because of the behavior of matter under precisely controlled conditions, we can understand that the atom must exist. But without these conditions and without having studied chemistry and physics, we can never understand the proof of the existence of an atom.
So why pull out a double standard when it comes to proving the existence of God? We accept as a fact the fire on the other side of town without having seen it. We accept that we are going to die, even though we haven't seen our death. We accept the scientists' declaration that there are atoms, even though the scientists themselves have not seen them. Why then turn around and say that anyone who accepts the existence of God is groping for a psychological crutch because of a weakness of character?
There is a process for understanding everything, and there is an appropriate process for understanding God. You must enroll in an authorized course of study. Use the textbooks that have proven to be the most effective manuals for spiritual education and are recommended by the experts in the field. Follow the proper procedures under controlled conditions, if you want direct perception of God Himself. It is as systematic and predictable as any science.
Yet there is a difference between the process by which we can understand God and the process of understanding matter—because God, Krsna, is a person.
Because matter is not alive, we can shove it around any way we want without difficulty. But who says controlled manipulation is the only process for getting knowledge? Is it even reasonable to assume we can apply to our search for the Supreme Lord the same methods we use to investigate matter? After all, Krsna, God, is a person who thinks and feels and desires just like us. But unlike us, He is unlimited. He knows everything. He is eternal. He controls everything. But He is a conscious person nonetheless.
Now, if you want to know something about a person, the best way to find out is to ask him. If you want to know, say, why a person is wearing a locket around his neck, you'd probably be well advised not to take the same approach we use for examining matter. You probably wouldn't do well to walk up to the person, and without saying anything to him, grab the locket and start examining it, trying to pry it open. You'd probably get a knee in the ribs if you tried that. With persons, it helps to be personal. You try to please them, and if they want they can tell you all about themselves.
Lord Krsna is a person, and He's our superior. Why should He immediately respond to our demand that He appear on the spot? If I were to call you up on the phone and say, "I command you to immediately come to my home," would you feel obliged to do it? I doubt it.
Krsna Himself tells us how to know Him in Bhagavad-gita (18.55), bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yas casmi tattvatah: "One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service." The process for understanding Krsna is to please Him. Then, if He wants to, He can give us knowledge of Himself. But how exactly do we go about pleasing Krsna? What do we do? What do we say? How do we know if we are doing the right thing?
As in any field, to learn quickly without getting lost or sidetracked we need a teacher. We need someone who knows the science of God, someone who can guide us through our studies. Don't just pick any person who "looks spiritual." We want someone who has been practicing the process for a long time and is an expert. He should know all the standard spiritual texts. And most important, he should love Krsna above all else. A person obsessed with love for Krsna will have no interest in catering to the demands of his body. He is not looking for pleasure from his tongue, his eyes, his ears, or his genitals, because he is absorbed in a higher pleasure. A spiritual teacher must also be free from anger and attachment—no fits of rage because someone dented his fender in the parking lot. And even if his house burns down, his wife runs off with another man, and he inherits a million dollars—all in one day—still he should be calm and peaceful, because one who knows Krsna is with Krsna, beyond this world. A tall order for you or me. But these are the qualifications of a genuine spiritual master.
Yet even if you find such a spiritual master, you as a student also have to be qualified. You have to follow the instructions of the teacher. If you do so, then you will see Krsna. If you don't, you won't.
Then you too will be able to honestly say, "Krsna is an objective fact. I know, because I have seen Him," as many have said before. People who will not accept God unless we can immediately show them God are just like blindfolded men demanding to see the sun without removing their blindfolds. Unfortunately, with such an attitude, such persons will never know that God is an objective fact.
This is the continuation of a conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples in New Vrindaban, West Virginia, on June 26, 1976.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, some people will agree that a real civilization trains its citizens to find happiness in spiritual principles and godly living. Some may also agree that in a real civilization, one part of the populace learns the role of material providers. Yet these same people may disagree that still another part of the populace should learn the role of protectors and find happiness in fighting.
"What is so godly about fighting?" they may ask. "Why train the so-called militarily-inclined to find happiness in fighting? This is a selfish type of happiness. You're not considering that their fighting will cause misery. What about all the maimed and the killed and their families? You ought to consider all this misery caused by your socalled protectors."
Srila Prabhupada: Some people may think in this way. But such people are rascals; they cannot think at all. We haven't got to reply to any of them, because they are rascals. They can talk all nonsense. We don't have to care about their nonsense. Take a child—he's talking so many foolish things. Sometimes we reply, "Yes, yes, we know." But we don't take seriously anything—anything—spoken by a child. So these rascals may go on talking so many things, but we don't care about any of them. We have to do our own business. Let the dog bark; the caravan will pass. So it is not that we have to care about the barking of the dogs. Let them bark.
[To disciple:] Continue reading.
Disciple [reading from Bhagavad-gita 16.6, 8]: "O son of Prtha, in this world there are two kinds of created beings. One is called the divine and the other the demoniac. I have already explained to you at length the divine qualities. Now hear from Me of the demoniac.
"They say that this world is unreal, with no foundation, no God in control. They say it is produced of sex desire and has no cause other than lust."
Purport, by Srila Prabhupada: "The demoniac conclude that the world is phantasmagoria. There is no cause and effect, no controller, no purpose: everything is unreal. They say that this cosmic manifestation arises due to chance material actions and reactions. They do not think that the world was created by God for a certain purpose. They have their own theory: that the world has come about in its own way and that there is no reason to believe that there is a God behind it. For them there is no difference between spirit and matter, and they do not accept the Supreme Spirit. Everything is matter only, and the whole cosmos is supposed to be a mass of ignorance. According to them, everything is void, and whatever manifestation exists is due to our ignorance in perception. They take it for granted that all manifestation of diversity is a display of ignorance. Just as in a dream we may create so many things which actually have no existence, so when we are awake we shall see that everything is simply a dream. But factually, although the demons say that life is a dream, they are very expert in enjoying this dream. And so, instead of acquiring knowledge, they become more and more implicated in their dreamland. They conclude that as a child is simply the result of sexual intercourse between a man and woman, this world is born without any soul. For them it is only a combination of matter that has produced the living entities, and there is no question of the existence of the soul. As many living creatures come out from perspiration and from a dead body without any cause, the whole living world has come out of the material combinations of the cosmic manifestation. Therefore material nature is the cause of this manifestation, and there is no other cause. They do not believe in the words of Krsna in Bhagavad-gita: mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram. 'Under My direction the whole material world is moving.' In other words, among the demons there is no perfect knowledge of the creation of the world; every one of them has some particular theory of his own. According to them, one interpretation of the scriptures is as good as another, for they do not believe in a standard understanding of the scriptural injunctions."
Text 9: etam drstim avastabhya nastatmano 'lpa-buddhayah prabhavanty ugra-karmanah ksayaya jagato 'hitah: "Following such conclusions, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and who have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world."
Srila Prabhupada: This is the right description of the modern age. Exact—hm? Etam drstim avastabhya. And what is that next word?
Srila Prabhupada: Nastatmanah: "They have lost their soul." Nastatmanah: "They have no information of the soul. Nastatmanah: "God and the soul are forgotten."
"There is no God," these modern rascals say. "There is no cause of this creation; there is simply a big chunk." Like that. Nastatmanah—they have lost their very self.
Nastatmanah alpa-buddhayah: these soul-killing rascals have no intelligence. Just like cats and dogs. "If these four principles are available—eating, sleeping, mating, and defending—then has, everything's complete. Our human life is a perfect success." But no. If you are interested only in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, then alpa-buddhayah—you are a stupid animal. (To be continued.)
Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the origin of everyone and everything. While His expansions and representatives oversee His creation, Krsna Himself eternally enjoys with His devotees in Goloka Vrndavana, His home in the spiritual world. Though uninformed or envious persons accuse Krsna of being licentious, there is no question of impropriety in His loving exchanges with His devotees, who are, after all, expansions of Himself. Furthermore, the Lord and His devotees are bound by pure love, without a tinge of the lust that taints material relationships.
We are all meant to become part of the intimate pastimes of the spiritual world, and we can gain entrance into them when we give up all traces of envy of Krsna and take pleasure in hearing about His spotless pastimes.
Finding Spiritual Friends
Just as a person who desires to improve his tennis will seek out tennis experts and enthusiasts, so a person interested in spiritual life will want likeminded friends. But where do we find them? And even if we meet students of self-realization and God consciousness, does it mean we will automatically develop loving friendships with them? The scripture states, "Seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." And so it is with spiritual friendships.
The surest way to find God conscious companions is to join with the topmost pure devotees, saints, and sages. Although most of them lived many centuries ago, we can be with them now in their writings, their teachings, and through their living followers. Although the pure devotees of a past age are not walking the earth today, we can become kindred spirits with them and benefit in a very personal way in their association.
According to Vedic knowledge, there are two ways to become intimate with advanced spiritual persons. One way is through their direct association, such as cooking with them, walking beside them, sitting and talking with them, and so on. This is called, in Sanskrit, vapuh. The effect of a friendship with an advanced devotee is described by Bhaktivinoda Thakura in Harinama Cintamani:
If one stays near a pure Vaisnava [devotee of Krsna] for some time, one can receive the bhakti [devotional energy] flowing from his body. If one can bind that energy within one's heart, after one develops strong faith bhakti will develop.... Thus if one lives close to a Vaisnava, devotion will soon appear within one's heart.
When we are not in the presence of a spiritual friend but we associate with him by hearing and following his instructions, that is called vani. Of the two, the experts state that the vani form of relationship is stronger and everlasting, whereas vapuh, although especially sweet, is subject to time, death, and other forms of human separation. Either in the form of vapuh or vani, spiritual friendships are very influential. As one Vedic teacher said, "Association is very important. It acts just like a crystal stone, which will reflect anything put before it." The influence we receive through teachings and writings can act negatively or positively. For example, the nineteenth century German poet Goethe poured out his youthful anguish in a novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther, and the tragic result was that several young men committed suicide after reading Werther As submissive readers can become degraded or doomed by poisonous writings, so the opposite is true: we can gain the highest goal of life, revival of our blissful, eternal relationship with God, by faithfully associating with pure souls through their biographies or recorded teachings.
But we cannot live only in books. We live in a world of people—family, friends, fellow workers, neighbors. As we traverse the spiritual path, we naturally want companions. For the inner life, we want close friends, not just formal or official relationships with people who are strangers to our soul. Personal association is so important that the Vedic scriptures caution us against living with those who are averse to godly life. In fact, when Lord Caitanya was asked by a follower to define a Vaisnava, He replied, "He is one who avoids the association of materialistic people, sense enjoyers, and nondevotees." On another occasion, when Lord Caitanya asked His learned disciple Ramananda Raya what was the most painful experience, Ramananda Raya replied, "Apart from separation from the devotee of Krsna, I know of no unbearable unhappiness." And it is stated in the Brhad-bhagavatamrta, "Out of all kinds of desirable things experienced in the life of a living entity, association with the devotees of the Lord is the greatest. When we are separated from a devotee, even for a moment, we cannot enjoy happiness."
We can increase our chances of forming spiritual friendships by visiting a place such as a temple of Krsna. But devotees are not found only in temples. Neither do they belong to a particular religious sect, live in a particular part of the world, or belong to a particular sex or age group. They are known by their genuine symptoms, which are described in the scriptures. Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.25.21) states:
The symptoms of a sadhu are that he is tolerant, merciful, and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime.
In The Nectar of Instruction, written in the sixteenth century, Rupa Gosvami analyzes devotees in three categories and advises us to honor all devotees. He describes the neophyte class as those who sometimes chant God's names but don't strictly follow all the rules of spiritual life. Devotees in the intermediate stage strictly follow rules and are fixed in their convictions about devotional service to God. Above all are the pure devotees, who harbor no envy toward any living creature, and who see everyone as a servant of God.
We should see all the devotees as our friends, and yet there is an art for selecting proper persons with careful discrimination. Rupa Gosvami further explains that there are six kinds of loving exchanges among devotee friends:
Offering gifts in charity, accepting charitable gifts, revealing one's mind in confidence, inquiring confidentially, accepting prasadam [spiritual food], and offering prasadam are the six symptoms of love shared by one devotee and another. The art and etiquette of friendships in Krsna consciousness can be best learned from genuine devotees.
If one has not developed a good spiritual friendship among the people he works and lives with, then he should pray for this and seek it out. We cannot keep aloof from spiritual friendships and at the same time please the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Krsna says, "He who says he is My devotee is not My devotee. But he who is a devotee of My devotee is actually My devotee." Similarly, Narottama dasa Thakura, a great Vaisnava poet, wrote, "No one has ever become liberated without the association of devotees."
But perhaps my readers are already aware of the importance of spiritual friendships. And perhaps you already have connections with spiritual friends. In that case, let us simply remind each other not to neglect these valuable ties. Let us go to our friends and share the happiness of God-centered love. As described by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (10.9): "The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me."—SDG