All religious scriptures prescribe pious acts,
A lecture at Kumbha-mela in Allahabad, India, on January 16, 1971
na niskrtair uditair brahma-vadibhis
"By following the Vedic ritualistic ceremonies or undergoing atonement, sinful men do not become as purified as by chanting once the holy name of Lord Hari. Although ritualistic atonement may free one from sinful reactions, it does not awaken devotional service, unlike the chanting of the Lord's holy names, which reminds one of the Lord's fame, qualities, attributes, pastimes, and paraphernalia." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.2.11)
There are twenty kinds of ritualistic religious scripture, out of which Manu-samhita is considered to be the greatest. These scriptures prescribe many methods for getting oneself released from the reaction of sinful activities.
Anyone who is engaged in karma is performing sinful activities. A karmi is one who is working for his own benefit. Everyone is working so hard not for others' benefit but for his personal benefit. That is called karma. And whenever you perform karma for your personal interest there must be some sinful activity. Therefore every karmi is a sinful man. This is the clear understanding. No karmi can live without being sinful.
Therefore how can one work and avoid sin? Take the example of the government. The government gives you license, say, for business. Every businessman is given some license: the municipality gives a license; the sales tax department gives a license. There are so many rules for obtaining licenses that a businessman has to follow. There are rules and regulations because all these departments know it very well that any businessman or karmi is sure to commit sinful activities. Therefore there are so many regulations just to stop him as far as possible from sinful activities. Similarly, there are twenty kinds of dharma-sastra, which tell how one can live faithfully and religiously. The directions are there in the scriptures written by Parasara, Manu, and many other sages.
So therefore it is said here, na niskrtair uditair brahma-vadibhih. Brahma-vadi means those who are trying to lead persons to realize Brahman. The whole direction of the Vedic injunctions is to lead us to understand this point: "I am not this material body; I am spirit soul." And in order to understand this factual position, there are so many directions in the dharma-sastra, or religious scriptures.
You'll find in a later chapter of this volume of Srimad-Bhagavatam that Yamaraja will say, dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam: "Originally, the regulator of religious principles is the Supreme Personality of Godhead." Therefore Krsna is sometimes addressed as dharma-setu. Setu means bridge. We have to cross over. The whole plan is that we have to cross over the ocean of nescience in which we are now situated. The material existence is an ocean of nescience, and one has to cross over it Then one gets real life.
This present life is not real life. People are so foolish. They do not take it very seriously because they do not know that they are eternal. That is ignorance. Bhagavad-gita begins from the knowledge that the living soul is eternal: na hanyate hanyamane sarire. But people are in ignorance. They take it as a matter of fact that this life, this body, is all in all; and after death there is no more body, so who cares for sinful activities? That is another ignorance. And in order to give them direction, there are so many religious scriptures.
Therefore it is said, dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah: "If one is not following the principles of religious scriptures, one is no better than an animal." It doesn't matter whether it is Hindu religion or Christian religion or Muslim religion. It doesn't matter. But a civilized human being must follow some religious principles. That is the aim of human life. And anyone who does not follow any religious scripture is simply an animal. That is the position of the present world. We may claim to be Hindu or Muslim or Christian, but nobody cares for religion. They are simply karmis. Therefore they are all sinful.
Now, here the Visnuduta says, "The directions given in the religious scriptures to get out of the reactions of sinful activities are not sufficient." For example, in the Christian religion there is the direction that if anyone is sinful he should go to a priest and confess that "I have committed these things." And if the priest, who is supposed to be a representative of God or Christ, excuses the sinner because of his confession, then the sinful activities become null and void. But this verse says that this direction cannot purify the sinful man because the same man who has confessed that "I have committed these sins" comes out of the church and again commits the same sins. Therefore he is not purified.
This is not only in the Christian religion. In every religion there are some prescribed methods for purification. Because it is accepted that every man is sinful, therefore in religious scriptures there are certain methods of purification. But here the Visnuduta says that these prescribed methods, although they are authorized, cannot purify the heart of the follower of that religion.
You can see also in the Hindu and Muslim religions that even if they perform the ritualistic ceremonies, they do not cease from committing sins. They are just like a rascal patient. He goes to the physician, who gives him some medicine and some direction. The physician says, "You take this medicine. Do not do this. Do not eat so many things. You eat like this." So the patient takes the medicine, and for the time being he follows. But again he commits the same mistake, and again he goes to the physician—"Doctor, please give me medicine." This is going on. So this kind of treatment is not accepted by the Visnuduta.
Therefore it is said here, "Such prescriptions for performing ritualistic ceremonies are not sufficient to purify a person." But if one chants the holy name of God, the Hare Krsna mantra, once only, one is purified. The purification of chanting harer-nama [the name of Hari, or Krsna] is that as soon as you chant the holy name of Krsna, immediately you will see the form of Krsna, you will realize the qualities of Krsna, and you will remember the pastimes of Krsna. That is the result of pure chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra.
Srila Jiva Gosvami has said that a pure devotee who chants the Hare Krsna mantra experiences immediately Krsna's name, form, qualities, pastimes, and so on. Simply by chanting Krsna's name, you will feel the form of Krsna: "Here is Krsna. Here are His qualities. Oh, Krsna is so qualified. He is so kind. He is so magnanimous." You will remember so many of His qualities. Then you'll remember His pastimes: "Oh, Krsna instructed Arjuna. Krsna played with His cowherd boys. Krsna had very nice talks with the gopis and with His mother, Yasoda." These things will be remembered.
This is the factual perfection of chanting. Although Ajamila became fallen in later age, in his early life he was a brahmacari [celibate student]. He was being trained by his father, and he knew the pastimes, the form, the names of Narayana. But by bad association, for the time being he forgot Then as soon as he chanted the name of Narayana, he remembered all these—Narayana's form, pastimes, and so on. Therefore he was saved. Try to understand this.
One should know that offenseless chanting means remembering the form of Krsna. Therefore Mayavadis. those who are impersonalists. cannot think of the form of the Lord, nor of His pastimes. They do not believe in the pastimes of the Lord. They think these pastimes are maya [illusion]. Krsna's transcendental pastimes—they think they are maya. Because they are impersonalists, they think His form is maya. Therefore Krsna says, janma karma ca me divyam: "My birth and activities are transcendental." The rascals cannot understand the activities and pastimes of Krsna. They think they are maya. But they are divyam, transcendental, not of this material nature. Krsna-lila is not of the material nature. Krsna says that anyone who knows this factually, in truth, he only is immediately liberated.
Here it is said that simply by chanting "Narayana, Narayana," if immediately you remember the nature of the form of Krsna, the nature of His pastimes, the nature of His entourage, then you immediately become liberated. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita:
jamma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."
Therefore chanting is so easy and sublime. One who is offenselessly chanting the Hare Krsna mantra will always remember Krsna's form, Krsna's pastimes, Krsna's qualities, Krsna's entourage. He will remember all these things, and that remembering will make him liberated. By offenseless chanting one is liberated.
We should therefore be very careful not to commit offenses. So long as you chant the Hare Krsna mantra, you remain liberated. Actually, Srila Rupa Gosvami has said that chanting is possible only by the liberated soul: ayi mukta-kulair upasyamanam. When Rupa Gosvami glorifies the holy name, he says, mukta-kulair upasya: "Those who are liberated can chant the pure holy name of the Lord." And Pariksit Maharaja also has stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, nivrtta-tarsair upagiyamanat: "The holy name of Krsna can be chanted by persons who are nivrtta-tarsaih." Nivrtta means those who have completely ceased from material desire. They can chant. The holy name of God, Krsna, can be chanted by persons who are completely liberated from all kinds of material desire. That is the pure stage of devotional service.
Srila Rupa Gosvami states,
"One who has become completely freed from all kinds of material desires can engage in pure devotional service." Jnana, the cultivation of knowledge, and karma, the cultivation of pious activities, are also on the material field. To become very pious does not mean that one is liberated. A good man is also a conditioned soul. He is bound up by his good condition. A brahmana. for example, has acquired good qualities, but that does not mean that he is a devotee. You will find many good men, but you will rarely find a pure devotee. So a good man is not necessarily a devotee. Try to distinguish. A good man is good for this material existence, but a devotee is different from a good man.
For example, Arjuna was engaged in killing. People may think, "Oh, Arjuna is not a very good man: he is killing his grandfather; he is killing his nephews and devastating the whole family. Oh, he is not a good man." Sometimes people comment like that But Krsna says, bhakto 'si me sakha ceti: "You are My very dear friend."
Just try to understand. In the estimation of the material world, Arjuna is not a good man, because he is killing his own kinsmen. But in the estimation of Krsna, he is a dear friend and devotee. So that is the difference between a devotee and a good man of this world. A devotee is naturally a very good man, but when he acts just like a bad man on behalf of Krsna, he does not fall down. He still remains a pure devotee.
There is a class of persons known as sahajiyas. They think, "Krsna's rasa-lila is very nice, but Krsna's fighting with the demons and killing the demons—that is not very nice." But they do not know the Absolute Truth. Krsna is good in any circumstance, whether He is enjoying the company of the gopis or He is killing the demons. That is the Absolute Truth.
So these things should be understood. So if you remember any krsna-lila, any of Krsna's activities, by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, then you are liberated. Immediately you are liberated. This we learn from the authoritative description of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
On the other hand, it is said here, na niskrtair uditair brahma-vadibhih: those who are very much anxious to realize Brahman—the Brahmavadis—have prescribed so many ritualistic methods, but these methods are not sufficient because they cannot elevate a person to the standard of a pure devotee.
This Kumbha-mela arrangement is a prescription by the Brahmavadis. There is a prescription that one should go during this time and live on the bank of the confluence of the Ganges and Yamuna for at least three days. Then he becomes eligible to enter into the heavenly kingdom. The people who have come here are ambitious to enter into the heavenly kingdom. But a devotee does not care for the heavenly kingdom. A devotee doesn't care a fig for any planet within this material world. Devotees know the benefit of entering into the heavenly kingdom: There is no benefit
Suppose I may get a life span of thousands of years and enjoy a very high standard of life, with women, money, wine, and so forth. But what is the benefit? There is no benefit.
I was very glad to read an article sent by one of my disciples in Boston. He has written, "What is this society and family? It is all hellish. We do not wish to live without Krsna." This is a very nice statement. That is real realization: "We do not like to live without Krsna."
So anyone who has realized, "Any amount of material happiness is to be kicked out. I don't care for it. I simply care for Krsna, how Krsna will be happy"—that person is a pure devotee. Anukulyena krsnanusilanam. Anukulyena means "favorably." We should simply try to please Krsna favorably, not unfavorably like Kamsa. Kamsa was also Krsna conscious, always thinking of Krsna, but unfavorably. His business was how to kill Krsna. He was thinking of Krsna, but he was thinking. "How can I kill Krsna?" That is called pratikula, "unfavorable."
Pratikula is not bhakti. When you think of Krsna against His desire, against the principle of satisfying Him, that is not bhakti. although that is also Krsna consciousness. An enemy of Krsna's is also thinking of Krsna. That does not mean that he is a devotee of Krsna. He is Krsna conscious unfavorably. Therefore it is not bhakti. You have to act favorably.
So Arjuna became a devotee because he acted favorably for the satisfaction of Krsna. It was not favorable to material life, but it was favorable to Krsna. That should be your business: how Krsna should be satisfied. And therefore naturally it is concluded that you have to satisfy his representative. Therefore we have sung just now, yasya prasadad bhagavat-prasadah: if you satisfy Krsna's representative, then He is satisfied.
For example, in an office the proprietor has a head of a department If you satisfy the head of the department, the proprietor is satisfied. The report goes to the proprietor—"This clerk is working very nicely." So your promotion and increase in pay are already there.
So a pure devotee's business is how to satisfy Krsna. And as soon as he chants the Hare Krsna mantra, immediately he remembers the whole plan of how to satisfy Krsna. Therefore he's liberated.
Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare
Due to our manipulation of material activities, a great deal of dust has collected over our mind's clear mirror, and as a consequence we are unable to see things in perspective. This vibration of transcendental sound (the Hare Krsna mantra) will cleanse away this dust and enable us to see clearly our real constitutional position. As soon as we come to understand "I am not this body; I am spirit soul, and my symptom is consciousness," we will be able to establish ourselves in real happiness. As our consciousness is purified by this process of chanting Hare Krsna, all our material miseries will disappear. There is a fire that is always blazing over this material world, and everyone is trying to extinguish it, but there is no possibility of extinguishing this fire of the miseries of material nature unless we are situated in our pure consciousness, in our spiritual life.
—His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Millions of years ago,
by Lokanatha Swami
The Srimad-Bhagavatam relates how, many millions of years ago in the heavenly planets of this universe, a fierce battle for supremacy was raging between the devas (demigods) and the asuras (demons). The demons were headed by Bali Maharaja, a descendant of the great demoniac king Hiranyakasipu. Lord Indra, the king of the demigods, had committed an offense against the great sage Durvasa Muni, who then cursed the demigods to become poverty-stricken. The demigods became bereft of all influence and strength, their lives lost all auspiciousness, and in due course they were defeated by the asuras. The demigods then appealed to Lord Visnu for help.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead told them to make a truce with the demons. The Lord suggested that they work together to churn the ocean of milk to produce the nectar of immortality, which could be distributed equally among the devas and asuras.
Lord Visnu always protects the righteous demigods, and He wanted to stop the demons from expanding their influence all over the creation. Lord Visnu told the demigods to follow the logic of the snake and the mouse in dealing with the demons. A snake and a mouse were once caught in a basket The snake said to the mouse, "Look, I could eat you very easily, but it's more important for me to get out of this basket. So why don't you make a hole so that we can both escape?" The mouse agreed and started working. But as soon as the hole was big enough, the snake ate the mouse and came out of the basket.
The Lord had no intention of giving the nectar to the demons, because they were crooked and troublesome, and to distribute the nectar to such persons would be unwise.
"There are two kinds of created beings." Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita. "One is called divine and the other demoniac." Srila Prabhupada comments that those who are born with divine qualities follow the injunctions of the scriptures and obey the Lord and His representatives, whereas others act according to their whims to satisfy their own senses.
Following the instructions of Lord Visnu, the demigods approached the leaders of the demons, and an agreement was reached, after which they all left for the ocean of milk to start the churning. Lord Visnu helped them by carrying Mandara Mountain on the back of Garuda, His eagle carrier. When they arrived at the ocean of milk. He placed the mountain in the middle of it. The mountain was to be used as a churning rod. Then Garuda, because of his enmity toward snakes, was requested to leave so that Vasuki, who is honored by the devas as Nagaraja, "the king of the serpents," could come and be used as a churning rope.
The demons insisted that they should hold the front part of the snake during the churning, while the devas, on the encouragement of Lord Visnu, held its tail. As they began pulling the "rope" to produce nectar, smoke and blazing fire emanated from Vasuki's many mouths, causing great suffering for the asuras.
As the demons and demigods continued churning, the huge Mandara Mountain began sinking into the ocean of milk because it was without support. The Lord then took the form of a tortoise, entered the ocean, and held the mountain on His back to allow the churning to continue. It is described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam that the tortoise, known as Kurma-avatara, accepted the turning of the mountain to scratch His back and thus felt a pleasing sensation.
The churning of the ocean first produced a poison that spread in all directions. The demigods became afraid and sought the shelter of Lord Siva. Being compassionate. Lord Siva gathered the poison in his palms and drank it. He held it in his throat, and his neck became marked with a bluish line, which is now considered an ornament of Lord Siva, who is known as Nilakantha, "one who has a bluish neck."
While Lord Siva was drinking the poison, some of it fell from his hands. Various plants, scorpions, cobras, and similar creatures drank those drops of poison and thus acquired their venom.
After the poison, different opulent items were produced, and these were distributed among the members of the two churning parties. First a surabhi cow appeared, and she was taken by the great sages. A white horse named Uccaihsrava was produced, and it was taken by Bali Maharaja. When Airavata, the king of elephants, was generated, Indra took it for himself. The Kaustubha-mani, the most valuable gem, appeared and was offered to Lord Visnu to decorate His chest. Then came the Parijata tree, which was offered to the devas.
Next the apsaras, beautiful women dancers who entertain in the courts of the demigods, were produced, followed by Laksmi the goddess of fortune, who preferred to become the consort of Lord Visnu. Then came Varuni, the goddess of liquor, and the demons took possession of her. The ocean also produced Balacandra, the crescent moon. Because of its cooling effect, Balacandra was offered to Lord Siva to wear on his head, since he was feeling dizzy from having drunk the poison. Then a conch shell named Pancajanya and a bow named Haridhanu ("the bow of Hari") appeared and were taken by Lord Visnu.
Finally, a very wonderful male person appeared. His name was Dhanvantari. In his hands he carried the amrta-kumbha, a jug filled to the brim with nectar. Before the appearance of the nectar, for which the demons and demigods had been working so hard, there had been no disputes. But upon seeing Dhanvantari holding the jug of nectar, their most cherished object, they all lost self-control and patience. The demons immediately snatched the pot away by force, and a fight ensued.
According the Skanda Purana, at one point during the fight, Jayanta, the son of Indra, took the pitcher and ran away toward the heavenly planets. The demons followed him there, and the fierce fighting continued.
From time to time. over a period of twelve days of fighting, some of the nectar was spilled, and it fell on four places on earth: Nasika, in Maharashtra; Ujjain, in Madhya Pradesh; and Haridwar and Allahabad, in Uttar Pradesh. A day in heaven equals one year on earth. Therefore, to commemorate the auspicious dropping of the nectar on earth, festivals, or melas, are held at each of these sites once every twelve years, (e.g., Allahabad 1977, Nasika 1980, Ujjain 1983, Haridwar 1986, Allahabad 1989, etc.). The same nectar still comes to these sites during certain planetary configurations. Even today millions of people come to partake of this nectar, or amrta, to become immortal by bathing in the holy rivers and drinking the sacred water. At Nasik, the pilgrims bathe in the Godavari River; at Ujjain, in the Ksipra; at Haridwar, in the Ganges; and at Allahabad, in the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna, and Sarasvati.
The asuras finally defeated the devas and carried off the pot of nectar, leaving the devas morose. The Lord told them, "Do not be aggrieved. By My own energy I shall bewilder the demons by creating a quarrel between them. In this way I shall fulfill your desire to have the nectar."
Soon after, the demons began quarreling among themselves over who would get to drink the nectar first While they were fighting. Lord Visnu assumed the form of an extremely beautiful woman, known as Mohini-murti. When the demons saw the beautiful features of Mohinidevi, who was glancing at them and slightly smiling, they were all completely enchanted. The beauty of the form assumed by the Personality of Godhead surpassed the beauty of the goddess of fortune. The demons, completely overwhelmed by Her charm, asked Her to serve as an arbitrator. She accepted the position on the condition that no one would oppose Her or protest against whatever She would do or say.
The asuras agreed and handed the amrta-kumbha over to Her, requesting Her to distribute it. Although they had easily snatched the pot from Dhanvantari and were in a position to keep it for themselves, they stupidly lost it, being bewildered by the Lord's incomparable, genuine beauty. Mohini-murti Herself had even openly warned them of the trick.
Mohini-murti made the devas and asuras sit in separate lines, and She delivered the nectar to the demigods while speaking sweet words to the demons. One demon, named Rahu, understood Her trick. He dressed himself like a demigod, sat down in the line of the demigods, and received the nectar. The sun and moon detected him and disclosed his identity to Mohini-murti, who immediately took up Her disc, which is razor-sharp, and severed his head before he could swallow the immortal beverage. Although his body from the neck down died, his head remained alive because of the nectar in his mouth.
After giving the nectar to the demigods, Mohini-murti revealed that She was Lord Visnu. The Lord then returned to the spiritual world on the back of Garuda.
Allahabad's Triveni Sangam
ALLAHABAD, one of the major cities of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, is situated at the confluence of three sacred rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati. The present name of the city was given by Emperor Akbar. It means "the city of Allah." In Vedic literature this city is known as Prayaga or Prayaga Raja. Prayaga refers to a place at the confluence of sacred rivers where great sacrifices are held. There are fourteen prayaga's on the Ganges, and Prayaga Raja, "the king of confluences," is the most important The Mahabharata relates that Lord Brahma once performed an elaborate sacrifice at Prayaga Raja.
The Ganges, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati rivers manifest on this planet at the top of the Himalayan range. Only the Ganges and the Yamuna are visible at Allahabad. For ordinary persons, the Sarasvati is not visible. The personification of the Sarasvati River is the daughter of Lord Brahma, Sarasvati, or Vidyadevi, by whose blessings one gets vidya, or knowledge. In previous ages the entire course of the Sarasvati was visible, but because of the influence of Kali-yuga, it has become subterranean. It can still be seen in the Himalayas, flowing for about a hundred kilometers before it goes underground. Although the Sarasvati River is not visible at Allahabad, it is understood that she is present there as the transcendental sound that flows from the mouths of the many saints who attend the Kumbha-mela to deliver spiritual knowledge for the benefit of the pilgrims.
The Yamuna, whose personification is the daughter of the sun-god, is considered to be one of the seven branches of the Ganges and is very intimately connected with Krsna's pastimes in Vrndavana. Her bluish color resembles Krsna's complexion.
The Ganges emanates from the lotus feet of the Lord and flows through all the planetary systems. She was formerly only in the heavenly regions, but a king named Bhagiratha requested her to descend to earth to liberate his sixty thousand ancestors. The Ganges agreed, being pleased by the king's severe penances. In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says, srotasam asmi jahnavi: "Of flowing rivers. I am the Ganges."
There are hundreds and thousands of places of pilgrimage on the banks of these sacred rivers, whose waters arc considered to be immortal nectar.
ALLAHABAD has been visited in every age by either the Lord Himself or His pure devotees, making this holy place significantly holier. During Treta-yuga, Lord Ramacandra, Laksmana, and Sitadevi spent some time at Bharadvaja Muni's asrama near the Triveni-sangam (the confluence of the three rivers). This was the first place Lord Rama visited after departing from His capital, Ayodhya, to enter into exile.
It is not recorded whether or not Lord Krsna visited Prayaga during Dvapara-yuga. But His intimate devotees the five Pandavas (Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, and Sahadeva) spent some time there. Their visit to Prayaga is mentioned in the Vanaparva section of the Mahabharata, which deals with their pastimes while in exile in the forest.
Approximately five hundred years ago. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu visited Allahabad and on ten successive days bathed in the Triveni-sangam. His visit is described in the Caitanya-caritamrta. He was there during the yearly Magha-mela. When the Lord went to see the temple of Bindhu Madhava, He was followed by thousands of people, all hankering for His association. It is mentioned in the Caitanya-caritamrta that although the river was low at that time and therefore could not flood Allahabad, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu inundated the whole area with the waves of the chanting of the holy names of the Lord: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By performing the sankirtana-yajna at this confluence, a place meant for sacrifices, He set the example for all future pilgrims coming to the Kumbha-mela. It was also here at the time of Kumbha-mela that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu instructed Rupa Gosvami.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada lived for some time in Allahabad as a married man. and he was initiated here by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura at the Rupa Gaudiya Matha. After his success in propagating the holy name of the Lord in the Western countries. Srila Prabhupada returned to India with some of his Western disciples and took part in the Ardha Kumbha-mela (six years after the Purna Kumbha-mela) in 1971. In 1977, despite his ill health, he attended Kumbha-mela again. He spent four days there, preaching to guests and encouraging his disciples to hold large chanting festivals and distribute thousands of books.
During that time, Srila Prabhupada said, "Although most of the pilgrims come for liberation, the devotees have come only to preach. Being engaged in Krsna's service, we are already liberated; we are not interested in liberation. We have come to preach devotional service."
You'll see just about everything at the Kumbha-mela.
by Jagannatha-Krsna Dasa
What could sixteen million saints and sadhus, sannyasis (renunciants) and businessmen, housewives and farmers, teachers and students, scientists and the superstitious, poets and politicians. mystics and beggars all have in common? The quest for immortality. What else could bring together such a multitude of individuals on one congested riverbank for forty days?
Besides being the largest gathering of human beings anywhere on earth, the Kumbha-mela can evoke the deepest spiritual sentiments of the Lord's pure devotees.
The Kumbha-mela is by far the largest religious phenomenon in which the collective destiny and spiritual urges of the human race find expression. Kumbha is a Sanskrit word meaning "pot" "pitcher," or "jar," and mela means "festival." Kumbha-mela gets its name, therefore, from the pot of immortalizing nectar around which the festival has grown.
Held at the confluence (sangam) of the three most holy rivers in India, the Ganges, the Yamuna, and the subterranean Sarasvati, the Kumbha-mela lures the faithful for a dip in the holy waters that relieves them of lifetimes of karmic reactions. There is a scriptural understanding that bathing on the astrologically propitious "peak" holy days extinguishes uncountable sins, relieving the pilgrim of his or her entanglement in the complex cycle of birth, disease, old age, and death. One can thus transcend the mortal world of perpetual reincarnation, of duality and suffering, and hasten one's return back home, back to Godhead.
A veritable sea of swaying bodies and heads moves inexorably to the confluence. Accompanied by the cacophonous clamor of bells, cymbals, horns, whooping, the shouting of invocations, and the constant blaring of devotional songs over a ubiquitous P.A. system, armies of ascetics and cityfolk alike cry out, "Bolo Ganga-mayi ki jaya! Sri Yamunamayi ki jaya! [All glories to the Ganges and Yamuna!]" creating a thunderous symphony of reverential incantation.
During the sacred bathing period, caste and racial divisions and the demarcations of various cults and sects dissolve, as one person assists the other in cleansing the body and the soul.
The Mela serves as a melting pot for more than eight thousand groups and religious institutions. Here they exchange philosophical ideas and share spiritual realizations. Some say the Mela is a symbol of Hindu unity, offering a means of transmitting the spiritual and ascetic values of ancient Vedic culture to the masses of devotees.
Cornered by Buddhism, Jainism, and Islam in the eighth century. Hindu civilization (more appropriately called Vedic civilization) was thought to be in danger of extinction. Therefore Sankaracarya, India's ninth-century religious reformer (and, according to the Puranas, an incarnation of Siva), instituted at the Kumbha-mela regular summit meetings of spiritual leaders as a buttress for the survival of Vedic theism. Some say that it was Sankaracarya who started the Kumbha-mela, but scriptural references about the Mela predating Sankara prove such a theory inaccurate.
The Mela has become a forum by which the saintly and self-realized impart by example mystical and moral codes to the devoted. Alongside enlightened spiritual masters, however, fakes and frauds abound.
The Kumbha-mela has had a magnetism for saints and scholars for thousands of years. As early as 302 B.C. the great Greek historian Megasthenes documented his seventy-five-day stay at Prayaga (Allahabad), during a Mela that boasted an attendance of two and a half million. Later, in the seventh century A.D., the pious emperor Harsha invited the eminent Chinese mendicant Hieun Tsang to join in the festivities. In his journals Tsang praised the emperor's exemplary spiritual leadership:
"The festival concluded with Harsha's lavishly distributing all of his accumulated wealth to the needy, down to his robes, and returning to his palace in clothes borrowed from his sister."
Other, more recent celebrities recorded their realizations:
Mark Twain wrote in More Tramps Abroad (1895):
These pilgrims had come from all over India: some of them had been months on the way, plodding patiently along in the heat and dust, worn poor, hungry, but supported and sustained by an unwavering faith and belief. It is wonderful, that the power of faith like that can make multitude upon multitudes of the old and weak and the young and frail enter without hesitation or complaint upon such incredible journeys and endure the resultant miseries without repining. It is done in love or it is done in fear. I do not know which it is. No matter what the impulse is, the act born of it is beyond imagination, marvellous to our kind of people, the cold whites. There were "facquirs" in plenty with their hair caked with cow dung. There was a holy man who sat naked by the day and by the week on a cluster of iron spikes and did not seem to mind it. And another man stood all day holding his withered arms motionless aloft and was said to have been doing it for years. All these performers have a cloth on the ground beside them for receipt of contributions, and even the poorest of the poor give a trifle and hope that the sacrifice will be blessed to them. At last came a procession of naked holy people marching by and chanting, and I wrenched myself away. . . . The memory of that sight will always stay with me, but not by request.
Mohandas K. Ghandi irritated over how the original zeal and pristine mood of the Mela had in some ways dissipated and given way to an exhibition of hollow spirituality, remarked in 1915, "The swarm of sadhus who descend seem to have been born to enjoy the good things in life."
Like any fair, the Kumbha-mela isn't without its dangers. For some it can be a pseudo-spiritual jamboree, where money-hungry pandas (ritualistic priests) will dance for your patronage and promise you heavenly benedictions; and where commerce confidently competes with transcendence. Boatmen navigating overloaded taxis to the sangam grab at the gullible as well as the savant, guaranteeing untold pious credits in exchange for their extortionary fees.
The Mela is an ancient crucible of rite and spectacle, of colorfully immoderate religious pageantry, murky beliefs, and flamboyant Hindu fervor. That fervor, historically and inordinately mixed with the pandemonium of so many pilgrims, has sometimes wreaked tragedy. In 1760, in a hysterical dash for atonement at the Triveni ("three rivers") sangam during the zenith bathing hour, the gathering exploded into a small-scale war. Maddened sects of sannyasis owing their allegiance to either Visnu or Siva clashed over the right to bathe first. Swashbuckling, ash-covered svamis brandishing iron tridents, maces, swords, and chains punctured and pummeled errant pilgrims infringing on their priority. Ever since then, the Naga-babas, or naked Siva-worshipers known for their fiery protocol, have taken the elite position of being the first to dip.
At Prayaga the celebration occurs during the month of Magha (January-February), and the highest merit is attached to bathing on the new-moon mornings. Jupiter is then in the house of Taurus, and both the sun and moon are in Capricorn.
Years in preparation, the 1989 Purna ("full") Kumbha-mela has been a major expense for the Indian government. Festival arrangements require a major cityplanning commission to provide for an estimated sixteen million pilgrims. The government provided 1070 hectares of land (2,644 acres) to accommodate the temporary city.
Sridhara Swami of ISKCON Bombay describes the elaborate construction: "Like a sand castle on the seashore that is soon to be washed away by the waves, the Kumbha-mela puri (city) manifests, with hundreds of thousands of residential tents, hospitals, shopping areas, 170 kilometers of drinking-water piping, and even a temporary railway station."
Nine pontoon bridges and over a hundred miles of temporary roads crisscrossed the Triveni area.
Sri J. N. Dvivedi, the official in charge of the entire Mela and an avid ISKCON supporter, allocated five acres of the choicest land to the Hare Krsna devotees. Replete with spacious stages, colorful pandals (circus-size tents), bathrooms, showers, kitchens, and luxury and economy residential tents, the ISKCON site was a powerful magnet for both the seasoned pilgrim and the newcomer.
The sangam was a fifteen-minute walk from camp. and the Hare Krsna devotees participated in the festival by enthusiastically chanting the Lord's holy names and distributing tens of thousands of transcendental books and more than 250,000 free plates of krsna-prasadam. The cooking was done in six mammoth cast-iron woks, each four feet in diameter and weighing about four hundred pounds.
The managerial pillars of the ISKCON camp, Bhakti Raghava Swami, Ayodhya-pati dasa, Tattva-darsana dasa, and Adridharana dasa, worked tirelessly to coordinate and maintain the colossal endeavor. Hundreds of devotees were busy around the clock in different ways, joyfully cooking, distributing books, chanting, and accommodating the two thousand guests residing at the ISKCON colony.
The magnum opus of the ISKCON site was the multimedia exhibits. Eight larger-than-life museum-quality diorama sculptures depicting different pastimes of the Lord in His various incarnations attracted tens of thousands of awe stuck audiences daily. By observing these art forms of Krsna, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and Lord Ramacandra, pilgrims witnessed the glorious nature of pure devotional service propounded by the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya, an ancient lineage of Krsna conscious teachers.
Devotees from around the world went to great pains to share Krsna conscious multimedia projects with the pilgrims. Krsna-prema dasa and his wife, Nitya-trpta-devi dasi of Italy orchestrated a nine-projector, computer-monitored visual production that showed on a thirty-foot by sixty-foot screen. Called "Krsna Vision," it depicted the history and character of Srila Prabhupada and the purpose of ISKCON. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims were mesmerized with this electrifying presentation of the wisdom of Krsna consciousness. Many pilgrims stayed in the Krsna Vision tent nearly all day long relishing the multifaceted artistic portrayal of Krsna consciousness created by the intense musical sensations of Krsna-prema and the dynamism of Nitya-trpta's camera wizardry.
Many guests and pilgrims, and even those with their own tents, declared that the ISKCON site was the most exciting and meaningful one at the fair and that it offered the most edifying transcendental association. ISKCON's question-and-answer booth was a welcome respite for the many bewildered and curious pilgrims. One visitor remarked that the ISKCON question-and-answer booth was the only one of its kind, and that to hear the answers of Dina-bandhu dasa, ISKCON Vrndavana's temple president, was like finding water in the desert.
The all-pervading public address system never rested once throughout the six weeks of the festival. For most it was an annoyance that disturbed sleep and harassed the eardrums. But one intelligent 1SKCON sannyasi, Nava-yogendra Swami, took advantage of this surfeit to spread Krsna consciousness. He was able to get use of the P.A. system to broadcast the chanting of the holy names for several hours each day.
One visitor, Mrs. Jaya Srivastava, professor of mathematics at Colorado State University and a world leader in the field of statistics, remarked,
I am very pleased that ISKCON is so positively influencing India and the world. Man does not live by bread alone but by every word of God. Therefore this gathering is wonderful because it attracts the minds of millions to the spiritual side. And without that we're just as Srila Prabhupada said: "merely sophisticated animals"—eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Material problems will always be there, so we need to do something to elevate ourselves spiritually. Therefore ISKCON is praiseworthy, organizing such an opportunity for millions to become purified. Even if I were an atheist, I would still praise ISKCON.
The ISKCON devotees who participated in the Kumbha-mela expressed their appreciations for the enthusiastic devotional service rendered by Srila Prabhupada's followers. Their appreciations reveal that they were experiencing what Srila Prabhupada had pointed out to be the essence of the Mela. In 1977, on hearing an ISKCON life member dispute the detailed history and alleged purpose of the Kumbha-mela, Srila Prabhupada interrupted sternly—"This is not very important. The real significance of the Kumbha-mela is sadhu-sanga, the association of saintly persons, devotees."
This series systematically explains some of the important philosophical concepts that form the foundation of the Vedic culture and the Krsna consciousness movement.
Lesson Nine: Mantra Meditation
by Pavanesana Dasa
PART II: Krsna, or God, is absolute: there is no difference between His name, His body, His qualities, His paraphernalia, and so on. He can perform any activity with any part of His transcendental body.
We conditioned living entities are not absolute. We are spirit souls, but we now have material bodies, which are different from us. Our bodies have names, which are again different from our bodies. If someone calls your name from ten miles away, that doesn't mean you are there. You and your name are different.
Because Krsna is absolute and He and His name are identical, when you chant Hare Krsna, Krsna is actually there. You may not realize that right away, but by regular chanting you will gradually understand that you are directly associating with God.
The Padma Purana states:
The holy name of Krsna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krsna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krsna's name is complete, and it contains all transcendental tastes. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krsna Himself. Since Krsna's name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya (the illusory energy). Krsna's name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krsna and Krsna Himself are identical.
The chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is the perfect reciprocation between the spirit soul and the supreme soul, Krsna. Although our relationship with Krsna is eternal, in the material world it becomes covered. It can gradually be uncovered by chanting.
Imagine pouring water into a cup full of ink. The more water you pour, the less ink will remain in the cup. Ultimately, only pure water remains. Similarly, the chanting of Hare Krsna is a process of gradual purification. If you keep chanting regularly, all material contamination will gradually disappear, and you will be able to perceive your original, spiritual nature, which is called sac-cid-ananda, or an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge.
Chanting is not a cheap process. If you want to purchase a jewel, you can easily buy a cheap imitation. But if you want the real thing, you have to invest a lot of money. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. To obtain anything valuable, you have to work. So don't expect any sudden, flash results. But by chanting steadily, you will make progress and ultimately attain the goal of life, pure love for God.
Although a person afflicted with jaundice tastes candy as bitter, candy is the best cure for jaundice. Once the patient is cured, he can again taste candy's sweetness. In Upadesamrta, Srila Rupa Gosvami gives an analogy in this regard:
The holy name, character, pastimes, and activities of Krsna are all transcendentally sweet like sugar candy. Although the tongue of one afflicted by the jaundice of ignorance cannot taste anything sweet, it is wonderful that simply by carefully chanting these sweet names every day, a natural relish awakens within his tongue, and his disease is gradually destroyed at the root.
If you chant regularly, the effects will be perceivable in your life. You'll gradually become free from negative qualities like anger, lust, greed, hatred, and envy.
And you'll develop good qualities like compassion, cleanliness, patience, truthfulness, tolerance, and peacefulness. You'll not be easily disturbed by material success or failure, because by chanting you'll understand that real success has nothing to do with the material body, which will perish sooner or later. You'll be happy in adverse circumstances because your happiness will come not from the temporary material body but from the soul. You'll even become free from the fear of death, because you'll understand clearly that as spirit soul you are eternal.
The chanting of Hare Krsna is the ticket to the spiritual world and the end of the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. While materialistic people are willing to work hard in a desperate attempt to squeeze happiness out of matter—like chewing already-chewed gum—you can use the same energy to obtain permanent, spiritual pleasure. No one can ever take that pleasure away from you, and the only price is your sincere desire to obtain it
In the Padyavali, a collection of prayers by great devotees, we find the following statement about the effect of chanting Hare Krsna: "As the rising sun immediately dissipates all the world's darkness, so the holy name of the Lord, if chanted once without offenses, can dissipate all the reactions of a living being's sinful life. All glories to that holy name of the Lord, which is auspicious for the entire world."
Srila Prabhupada gave the following explanation of chanting Hare Krsna:
This transcendental vibration of chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare is the sublime method of reviving our Krsna consciousness. As living spiritual souls we are all originally Krsna conscious entities, but due to our association with matter since time immemorial, our consciousness is now polluted by the material atmosphere.
Certain activities are conducive to pure chanting of Hare Krsna and therefore to one's advancement in spiritual life. There are also detrimental activities. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two; otherwise, one's attempt to make spiritual progress will be like trying to light a fire while pouring water on it.
The following are considered by Vedic authorities to be favorable for one's spiritual advancement:
1. Patient, enthusiastic determination to advance spiritually by chanting Hare Krsna.
Unfavorable activities include:
1. Greedy endeavor for material accomplishments.
One must also carefully avoid offenses in relation to the chanting of the Lord's holy name. The Padma Purana lists the following:
1. To blaspheme the devotees who have dedicated their lives for propagating the holy name of the Lord.
For thousands of years, persons aspiring to awaken their original, pure consciousness have practiced the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra. By chanting you loosen your ties to material bondage—birth, old age, disease, and death. You prepare for the ultimate test—death—which will determine whether you have used your human intelligence to further entangle yourself in the labyrinth of karmic reactions or to leave the prison of this material world and return to your real home, the spiritual world, where innumerable spirit souls enjoy an eternal life in bliss and knowledge in the company of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Krsna's Cafe Gains Soviet Public's Interest
Leningrad, U.S.S.R.—Cafe Sankirtana, the Soviet Union's first Hare Krsna vegetarian restaurant has established itself in this culturally progressive city. A broad clientele of students, artists, scientists, philosophers, and other professionals are attracted to the atmosphere of the restaurant. The devotees dress in dhotis and saris, and they chant devotional songs every evening. Paintings of Krsna decorate the walls.
Keeping its prices low to accommodate the most customers, Cafe Sankirtana offers a prasadam menu of rice, dal, sweet balls, halava, barfi, sabji, lassi and turmeric cookies. The cafe is open seven days a week and has become very popular with the intelligentsia. The cafe serves more than a hundred people a day, and many customers donate services and food. Guests express their appreciation by buying Srila Prabhupada's books, writing favorably in the guest book, and lingering in the transcendental atmosphere to discuss spiritual philosophy.
The cafe had to overcome some obstacles in the beginning, as when the government sent Health Department inspectors to close it down. But neither they nor the fire department could find any real faults. They did, however, manage to enjoy prasadam and the purifying environment of the restaurant, leaving cheerfully and favorably impressed. The cafe has also drawn the attention of Leningrad's TV station, which recently broadcast a positive program about the successes of Lord Caitanya's first Soviet restaurant.
Armenian Devotees Offer Food Relief to Quake Victims
Armenia, U.S.S.R.—Reaching out to quake victims here, Hare Krsna devotees successfully organized massive food relief programs. In Yerevan, the state's capital, they established a bakery, producing varieties of bread and traditional Indian sweets to send to stricken cities such as Leninakan and Kirovakan.
Daily cooking fresh bread, kicchari (rice-and-vegetable stew), and more than three hundred liters of hot soup, the devotees touched the shattered lives of thousands of survivors, bringing them spiritual and material solace from the havoc of the catastrophe. A van and a truck were donated, and the Leninakan authorities provided ISKCON with a cafeteria building located in the center of town.
For two months the devotees served residents, Soviet and foreign relief workers, police, military personnel, and even the local prosecutor. All the devotees and team members wore badges exclaiming "Hare Krsna," and most of them wore dhotis or saris, despite the relentless cold. Many recipients responded enthusiastically by accepting books on Krsna consciousness in Armenian, Russian, and English.
The last Soviet Hare Krsna prisoner of conscience to be released from a labor camp, Agvan Arutunyan, gained freedom just in time to come to the aid of his fellow Armenians.
New Radha-Krsna Temple for Italy
Milan, Italy—Devotees recently purchased property for a temple complex here. Located in the Milan region near.Bergamo city, the temple compound comprises two large buildings and several smaller ones. The temple room easily accommodates three hundred guests, and two prasadam halls seat a hundred guests each. Besides ample office space for the Italian Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and the temple management, there are two spacious kitchens and thirty-five residential rooms.
According to temple president Madhusevita dasa, in the near future the devotees expect to install Deities of Radha-Krsna next to Gaura-Nitai, who are already being worshiped here. The devotees are also planning to begin publishing a monthly Italian Back to Godhead to increase their already exceptional book distribution.
The Hare Krsna Pro-Life Committee participated in an anti-abortion demonstration on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America. The demonstration was held in front of San Diego's Twenty-Four-Hour Pain Treatment Building which houses an abortion clinic. Eight devotees carried banners reading "Abortion is Bad Karma," "Roe v. Wade Did Not Repeal the Law of Karma," and "The Fetus is a Person with a Right to Life."
The devotees, whose presence pleased the protest's organizers and drew media attention, chanted the holy names and distributed leaflets propounding the Vedic conclusions. Krsna-kumari-devi dasi was interviewed by the Reader, San Diego's most popular weekly newspaper. The interview resulted in a half-page article, with subsequent dialogues in the paper's Letters to the Editor section that helped define ISKCON's position on the controversy.
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Thirteen million British TV viewers will get a chance to see "Cooking with Kurma," the thirteen-part series on Vedic vegetarian cooking produced by ISKCON Television (ITV). The series will be aired on London Weekend TV and broadcast throughout the London area. Other TV networks, including South Africa's first cable network, are also purchasing broadcasting rights for the show.
"Our intention was to make Srila Prabhupada's recipes available to everyone through the video medium and create interest in Vedic culture and philosophy," says Nrsimhananda dasa of ITV, who is looking forward to marketing the video in the United States.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
Soothing a Satanic Society
by Ranchor dasa (London)
The trouble with saying what you really think is that you've often underestimated the strength of people's reactions. Instead of receiving congratulations for your forthright expression of the truth, you suddenly get swept into a whole fresh controversy you never intended to instigate.
Such is the case. it seems, with Salman Rushdie and his Satanic Verses, the year's top-selling hardback book. Reportedly Dr. Badawi, an eminently reasonable Islamic theologian and influential leader in Britain, spent most of a shared railway journey trying to convince Rushdie as a friend that it would be madness to publish the book. But the author would have none of it He was convinced that the world was ready to hear him and made his motto "Publish and be damned." So he did, and he was. Badawi has now offered Rushdie asylum in his house.
In seems that Rushdie's offense is two-fold. He has blasphemed the Prophet and other great Islamic teachers and questioned the traditional account of the founding and early days of Islam; and he has abandoned the faith of his birth, Islam, and become what everyone now knows as an apostate.
Curiously, at the recent summit of Muslim countries it was the latter offense that was stressed the most, which suggests that the writer is being held up as a ghastly warning to others who, being assailed by doubts as to the authenticity or purity of their religion, may choose to follow his path. Perhaps this added persuasion will be needed to keep all within the fold, in view of the unsavory insights into the workings of modern Islam this whole episode has afforded us.
Putting heretics to death is nothing new, of course, as a glance at English history will soon tell us. I grew up as a choirboy in Westminster Cathedral, with the salutary reminder of John Southworth's body. Pieced back together after having been hung, drawn, and quartered, it now lies resplendent in ceremonial vestments inside a glass case in a side chapel dedicated to the Forty Martyrs, some of the four hundred or so men and women who were put to death for their beliefs during the sixteenth-century religious turmoil in England.
The spectacle of this historical period exercised a morbid fascination for me and my companions living at the choir school in the depths of that great establishment. Some of our favorite readings, in between angelic anthems, were the gory accounts given in pamphlets sold at the back of the cathedral of the various methods of torture and execution employed at the time.
What makes the over-zealous reaction to Rushdie's book so disturbing, then, is certainly not that it represents a break with tradition. The difference is that the goal posts have moved; no longer are we living in a society where everything revolves around religion and religious authority; no longer can one grow up secure in the knowledge that God created the world in seven days and who is there to prove otherwise! or that Christianity must be the true religion because there is no other; or that Mohammed must be the true prophet of God because nobody dares say anything else.
In the face of the endless barrage of contradictory and senseless propaganda released by our latter-day mentors—the television, press, and secular education—a child of today cannot even be sure whether it is right to be good or good to be right, or, indeed, what is right itself.
Small wonder that Salman Rushdie, born and educated in modern India, transported to England in his youth, cut off from his family roots, and hailed as a great writer, was moved to question the archaic assumptions of his childhood religion. Surely those with any intelligence in today's atheistic and impious world are going to be assailed by doubts as to the truth of their religion or any religion. And having decided that they do want to be religious, why should they feel bound by the religion of their family, the one they just happen to have been born into? And why should they not inquire into other traditions—evaluate and compare, discuss and debate, even write books about their doubts if they feel so moved? Rushdie made a tactical error in publishing Satanic Verses: that is indisputable. Maybe he acted insensitively. But he is not to blame for doubting, or even for criticizing: he had the courage to say openly the secret thoughts that others suppress.
Two Vaisnava lessons come to mind from all of this. One is the importance of freedom of choice. Spiritual life cannot be forced. A society may force its cultural norms on its members, and those may often be quasi-religious, such as the acceptance of a particular form of religion as all-important, or, as in Britain today, the virtual lack of any meaningful religious values, both of which represent undesirable extremes. But true spiritual values cannot be compulsory: they must be freely accepted. Therefore, enshrined in the world's greatest book of spiritual instruction, the Bhagavad-gita, are Krsna's words: "Thus I have explained to you the most confidential knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do."
Nowhere does Krsna approve of force in religious matters. He even goes out of His way to warn that the wise should not unsettle persons addicted to inferior activities. It is said, however, that Lord Caitanya. who is Krsna Himself on His mission of spreading the chanting of the holy names, did bring weapons with Him: His devotees and the holy names themselves. In other words, Lord Caitanya conquers not by force but by love, and He kills not the person but his ignorance and envy.
The second lesson is that there must be sound philosophy to back up one's religious faith. As Srila Prabhupada writes, "Religion without philosophy is sentiment or sometimes fanaticism." Religious leaders cannot simply demand of their followers that they must believe—or else! It is the leaders' responsibility to give instruction and education that will satisfy the doubts of the people. If they cannot give satisfactory answers, then they will have to admit defeat, either because their teachings are faulty, or because they could not save their followers.
At no time has this been more of a necessity than the present day. Modern society influences everyone to challenge religion. Therefore the religious leaders of the world, whatever their persuasion, have to respond to this challenge in such a way as to convince the unfortunate people of this age of the absolute necessity of spiritual life. Moreover, they must themselves behave as spiritual examples, displaying all the qualities of true devotees of God, so as to inspire those thus convinced to find the strength of their convictions. This mood of a devotee is summarized in Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu's famous prayer.
One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord.
Some Muslims have done a great disservice to true religionists by their display of intolerance in the name of religion, and they have certainly misrepresented much that is good in the Islamic tradition. By the arrangement of providence, however, good may yet come of their actions if people are encouraged to discriminate between what is true practice of spiritual life and what is simply religious opportunism and bigotry.
True religious life revolves around the principle of love: love for God and love for fellow man. In these times of doubt, fear. and suspicion, religious leaders could do worse than to demonstrate a little of this quality of love, taking Lord Caitanya's words as a starting point. The secrets of spiritual life in the age of Kali are clearly intimated: associate with others in a mood of humility and tolerance, and together chant the names of God. This will prove to be the solution to man's spiritual quest in these satanic times.
The rich theology of the Vedic literature
by Drutakarma dasa
Kimberly picks up a tape by a rock band known for its satanic image and clicks it into her Walkman. Putting on the earphones, she turns the volume way up.
"Maybe I was just made evil," says Kimberley to herself. That leads to another thought. "Maybe some people are made good. Like Heather. Everything always seems to go right for Heather. God seems to like her."
Kimberley's not a theologian, but she's contemplating something that Western theologians have discussed for centuries without reaching any definite conclusions. The question is this: Does God choose certain individuals or groups for salvation? In other words, are there chosen people? And, alternatively, are certain persons selected for condemnation?
The technical term for the matter under discussion is predestination, a word which implies that our final destination, be it heaven or hell, is programmed into our souls from the beginning of our existence. Thus the question of predestination is closely connected with the concept of free will.
A lot has been spoken and written about all this, but most of it is highly speculative. Not surprisingly, many of the views expressed contradict each other.
Speaking of the Judeo-Christian tradition, C. T. McIntyre writes in his article on predestination in The Encyclopedia of Religion, "Advocates of all positions have appealed to the scriptures, although the scriptures do not contain doctrines of free will and predestination, nor even these words."
It would be too bad, however, if we had to rely on theological speculators to answer such questions. It's hard to trust them, because the human mind is so limited and prone to error. That's why God gives scriptures in the first place.
According to the sages of India. God has given different scriptures to different people at different times and places according to their level of understanding. Some scriptures therefore give more information than others. The Bible and the Koran, for example, give only very limited information about the soul and the important questions of free will and predestination. The Vedic scriptures of India, however, give more detailed information, which will help us examine these questions without going off into the insecure realm of imagination and speculation.
The basic message of Vedic literature on the question of predestination is that the choosing is done by the individual soul and not by God. We are choosing people, not chosen people.
God says He is neutral. In Bhagavad-gita (9.29), Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says, "I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all." We could say that God is the original equal opportunity employer.
Yet Krsna goes on to state in that same passage of the Gita, "But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him." God exhibits no special favoritism to any particular person or group. But if someone voluntarily behaves in a friendly way toward Him. He responds in kind.
Now one might object: "Ha! So if you're not friendly to God, then He zaps you, right? That's not very cool." But no, you zap yourself, so to speak.
The Vedanta-sutra (2.1.34) says vaisamya-nairghrnye na sapeksatvat tatha hi darsayati: The Lord neither hates nor likes anyone, though He appears to." He surely does appear to, one might be tempted to say.
The reason God appears to hate one person and like another is related to the fact that He arranges to fulfill the desires of each individual, giving each his or her justly deserved reward or punishment A perverted desire yields a bad result A good desire yields a good result. Mixed desires yield mixed results. Because the results come by God's arrangement it looks like He is to blame. But He's not really.
Consider the example of a judge. One person comes before the judge and receives an award of a million dollars in a lawsuit against an insurance company. Another person comes before the judge and is sentenced to ten years in prison for fraud. The judge is responsible for neither the award of a million dollars nor the ten-year prison sentence. The law is there, and in the final analysis the persons who come before the judge have by their own behavior determined the results they will receive. The judge is neutral—at least he should be.
One difficulty with the suggestion that God is fulfilling our desires is that we do not appear to always get from God what we consciously want. If I want a million dollars, then why don't I get it? Right away!
The reason is that the results of our desires and activities accumulate over the course of many lifetimes, as we take on one material body after another. If in a past life we unlawfully deprived others of wealth, we may now have to suffer for that by having unfulfilled desires for riches. In other words, what we desire is weighed against what we deserve.
Another consideration is that the desire to get rich quick by demanding large amounts of cash from God is a perverted desire. Our desires are evaluated according to a standard not of our own making. And it is according to that standard, whatever it may be. that the results of the specific desires are calculated. Maybe those results will match up with our expectations, and maybe they won't. But as the Bhagavad-gita teaches, whatever we get is exactly what we deserve, which might be the pain of poverty, or a struggling middle-class existence, or being rich but not rich enough.
So to sum up. God sets up the system but is not responsible for what we get. The responsibility lies squarely with each one of us. As Krsna says in the Gita (4.13), "Although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer." He also says in the Gita (9.9), "I am ever detached from all these material activities, seated as though neutral." And in Chapter Thirteen He says, The living entity is the cause of the various sufferings and enjoyments in this world."
Now, if you want to criticize God for setting up the system as He did (so that we get bad results for certain desires and actions), you can. But it really doesn't do much good. Srila Prabhupada says it well in his purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.2.39:
The Lord does not create this material world at anyone's request . . .If one argues. "Why does He act in this way?" the answer is that He can do so because He is supreme. . . .The answer is that to prove His omnipotence He can do anything, and no one can question Him. If He were answerable to us concerning why He does something and why He does not. His supremacy would be curtailed.
Certain people will be satisfied with a statement like this; others will feel extreme dissatisfaction, even repulsion. Here we are getting to the heart of the whole question.
By nature we are capable of liking God or disliking Him, of obeying His orders or disobeying them. More accurately, according to the Vedas our natural position is to serve God with love; and if we so desire we can give up that position and attempt to serve our own selfish desires.
The Vedic literature gives reliable information about the fundamental nature of the living being. The Visnu Purana states:
visnu-saktih para prokta
"The potency of Lord Visnu is summarized in three categories, namely the spiritual potency, the living entities, and ignorance. The spiritual potency is full of knowledge; the living entities, although belonging to the spiritual potency, are subject to bewilderment; and the third energy, which is full of ignorance, is always visible in fruitive activities."
In other words, God has three main energies: the spiritual energy, the energy composed of the innumerable living entities, or souls, and the material energy. The living entities are known as the tatastha-sakti, or the marginal potency of the Lord, because they have the ability to identify with either matter or spirit to exist in full knowledge or in total illusion.
By nature, however, the soul belongs to the spiritual potency. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (15.7), wherein Lord Krsna says, mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah: "The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts."
We have always been around. As God has always existed, we have always existed. Some theologians speculate that the soul comes into being when the present body comes into being. This is not only illogical (how can something eternal have a beginning?) but unsupported by scripture.
The Vedic scriptures further state, vasanti yatra purusah sarve vaikuntha-murtayah: "In the spiritual planets everyone lives in bodies featured like the Supreme Personality of Godhead's."
So if in our original condition we were eternal beings living in the spiritual world, in spiritual bodies like God's, then what happened to us? What are we doing here. subject to birth and death?
An obvious question and a good one. Lord Krsna tells us in Bhagavad-gita (7.27).
"O scion of Bharata, O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, bewildered by dualities arisen from desire and hate."
So one component of the reason for our being in the material world rather than the spiritual world, our real home, is that at some point we developed a desire to enjoy separately from the Supreme Lord, Krsna. Instead of serving Him with love, we desired to serve our own false ego. Although Krsna knows we can never be satisfied without serving Him in our natural position. He nonetheless respects our independence and free will and allows us to act out our impulses to enjoy separately from Him in the material world.
A second component of the reason for our being in the material world is our hatred for, or envy of, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One aspect of envy is the desire to usurp the position of the envied person. For example, if one envies a wealthy person, one may desire to become the enjoyer of that person's wealth. Similarly, the envious soul may desire to take the Lord's position as the supreme enjoyer. This necessarily involves partial or total forgetfulness of God's existence.
One thing to keep in mind is that no one can honestly say, "The devil made me do it" According to the Vedas, God has no competitor battling with Him for souls. God is described asamaurdhva, "having no equal or superior." If we are apart from God, we can blame no one but ourselves, our own desire and hatred.
There is no irreversible, eternal condemnation. Each soul always has the opportunity to exercise its free will. If a soul is "eternally" condemned, it is only because of its own continuing unwillingness to love God. One can always turn back to God, even from the most fallen position. Srila Prabhupada explains:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead expanded Himself into many for His ever-increasing spiritual bliss, and the living entities are parts and parcels of this spiritual bliss. They also have partial independence. but by misuse of their independence, when the service attitude is transformed into the propensity for sense enjoyment, they come under the sway of lust. This material creation is created by the Lord to give facility to the conditioned souls to fulfill these lustful propensities, and when completely baffled by prolonged lustful activities, the living entities begin to inquire about their real position.
Although the Vedic literature doesn't talk of Satan, or the devil, it does describe Maya, the goddess in charge of the material energy. Maya is a servant of Lord Krsna who performs the unpleasant but necessary task of creating the temporary world of illusory happiness and distress for the souls who desire to forget Krsna and enjoy themselves apart from Him. And if a soul somehow develops a desire to return to Krsna, Maya is always there to test him with allurements: "So you think you love God? Well what about this ... ? And this . . . ?"
So if that's our position now, then what is to be done? The answer is simple. We should use our independence to reestablish a friendly relationship with the Supreme Lord, Krsna, and thus end our unpleasant stay in the material world. This is the most important business of human existence.
We should choose to make ourselves pleasing to God. And everyone has an equal opportunity to do that. It is not that any particular group of people has a monopoly on salvation.
Every soul has the opportunity to achieve the highest goal. pure love for God. In his introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Srila Prabhupada explains, "The ways and the means for ultimate realization, ultimate attainment, are stated in the Bhagavad-gita, and the doors of this knowledge are open for everyone. No one is barred out. All classes of men can approach Lord Krsna by thinking of Him, for hearing and thinking of Him are possible for everyone."
Lord Krsna Himself says in the Gita (9.32), "Those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth . . . can attain the supreme destination." It doesn't matter if one is male or female, higher or lower in social status.
The real chosen people are those who choose to endear themselves to God by their behavior. And in the Bhagavad-gita (12.20) Lord Krsna explains who is dear to Him: "Those who follow this imperishable path of devotional service and who completely engage themselves with faith, making Me the supreme goal, are very, very dear to Me."
The imperishable path of devotional service begins with hearing and chanting the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Caitanya taught the simple method of awakening love of God through the congregational chanting of His holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Caitanya was Krsna Himself, appearing as a devotee of Krsna. In other words, He was God showing by His own example how to please God.
Lord Caitanya prayed, "O son of Maharaja Nanda [Krsna], I am Your eternal servitor, yet somehow or other I have fallen into the ocean of birth and death. Please pick me up from this ocean of death and place me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet."
When a devotee petitions Krsna in this way. Krsna responds. He says in Bhagavad-gita (12.6-7): "Those who worship Me, giving up all their activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, having fixed their minds upon Me, O son of Prtha—for them I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death."
One can best meditate upon Krsna and fix one's mind upon Him by chanting His holy names. In this way one can escape the cycle of birth and death and become situated at Krsna's lotus feet Lord Caitanya prayed:
O my Lord, Your holy names alone can render all benedictions to living beings, and thus you have hundreds and millions of names, like Krsna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.
Here Lord Caitanya is revealing our problem. We are trapped in the material world because we misused our independence. Even so, Krsna has made it possible for us to return to our original position simply by chanting His holy names. The method is easy; even a child can perform it. And it is guaranteed to be effective. Yet we are so unfortunate that we are not attracted to chant. We remain reluctant, attracted to other things.
Still, Krsna is nondifferent from His name. And in the form of His name, He is waiting for us to choose to accept Him into our hearts once more. If we can do so, we shall also enter into Krsna's heart. Krsna says in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.4.68).
The devotees are always in My heart, and I am always in the hearts of the devotees. The devotee does not know anything beyond Me, and I also cannot forget the devotee. There is a very intimate relationship between Me and the pure devotees. Pure devotees in full knowledge are never out of spiritual touch. and therefore they arc very much dear to Me.
So, although we are choosing people, in a sense there are also chosen people—the devotees—for because they have chosen God. God has chosen them. And He guarantees that their destination will be His eternal, spiritual abode.
The Philosophy of the Soul
This conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place during a morning walk in Honolulu on May 15, 1976.
Srila Prabhupada: God created everything. He created both the soul and matter.
Disciple 1: The individual soul.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Disciple 1: Srila Prabhupada, someone might ask. "You say that God created the soul. How is the soul eternal if it is created, if it has a beginning?"
Srila Prabhupada: No, the soul has no beginning. Just as God has no beginning. so the soul has no beginning.
Disciple 1: No beginning.
Srila Prabhupada: Na jayate na mriyate va: as Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, "For the eternal soul there is neither birth nor death." That is the distinction between matter and soul.
Disciple 2: Some people may counter that if God is all-powerful. He can do anything. So couldn't it be that God creates a soul at a point in time—and this soul is then eternal from that point? According to the Bible, some say, you have only one lifetime in this world. Of course, they cannot explain why some people are born in a pious setting and some are born in an impious setting.
Srila Prabhupada: They do not know the law of karma. Karmana daiva-netrena: according to one's past activities, pious or impious, he gets his next birth. That is quite reasonable. But people do not believe in karma.
When I was a student at Scottish Churches College, we had to attend a class for half an hour on the Bible. So Doctor Urquhart gave the argument that "If karma exists and I am suffering for my karma, who is the witness?"
But they do not know that the witness is God. The witness is Paramatma, the Supersoul. The Christians say "Holy Ghost" He is seeing what you are doing. So according to your actions, the Holy Ghost gives you another birth. But the Lord is present in everyone's heart, and He is observing. Bhramayan sarva-bhutani yantra-rudhani mayaya: "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine made of the material energy."
Disciple 2: Srila Prabhupada, many Christians say that if a person doesn't become fully aware of God in this life, then he doesn't have another chance.
Srila Prabhupada: How can you say "one life"? That is a defective theory. Therefore, this philosophy cannot be accepted. Anything which is defective is not to be accepted.
Disciple: It is simply dogma.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Mere dogma is rejected. That is the Vedic process.
Disciple 1: Actually, Christ never said that. He never said you have only one life.
Srila Prabhupada: So that is real philosophy. That is real philosophy.
Disciple 1: This idea of having just one life came from the Church fathers. Perhaps it was a way of applying pressure. "You get only one life, so follow our direction."
Srila Prabhupada: That is all defective. Unscrupulous.
Disciple 3: Sometimes people say. "You cannot be successful unless you accept Christ, like us."
Srila Prabhupada: We accept. Rather, you do not accept. Jesus Christ said. "Thou shalt not kill." We strictly observe that, but you kill animals. You are not a Christian.
Disciple 4: But they may say, "The Ten Commandments are just an ideal. You're not expected to follow them perfectly."
Srila Prabhupada: No. That is your explanation. That is your concoction. As soon as you disobey the Ten Commandments, you are not a Christian. You are a heathen.
And the thing is that we should not discuss mere religious faith. Everyone has got his own concocted faith. That is not philosophy. Faith is different. "I believe," "You believe," "I don't believe"—that is not philosophy.
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna explains, dehino 'smin yatha dehe: "As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."
Religion without philosophy is sentiment, and philosophy without religion is mental concoction. So religion should be combined with the philosophy of the soul. Then it is perfect
Disciple 3: Srila Prabhupada, some people argue, though, that too much philosophy takes the joy out of life. They say God has put the world here for us to enjoy, so we will please Him by enjoying it.
Srila Prabhupada: You go at four A.M. to your place of work and come back at ten P.M. Is that enjoyment?
Disciple 3: But on the weekend we can go to the beach. And we can eat whatever we want.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. You can go to hell, also. Janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: think of the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. Those are there. If you are suffering from disease, where is the enjoyment? Mental discomfort bodily discomfort—you are taking pills thrice daily for tranquility. Is that enjoyment?
Disciple 3: They say you have to take the good with the bad.
Srila Prabhupada: This is nonsense enjoyment. Fool's paradise. For keeping the mind in tranquility, one is taking pills. For sleeping he is taking a pill. Does he enjoy that?
Disciple 3: By suffering you can get a deeper appreciation of your enjoyment
Srila Prabhupada: Then what is your enjoyment? Suffer. Then what do you call your enjoyment?
Crows and Swans
I have not read newspapers in the last five months or so. I have been too busy with Krsna conscious activities, trying to read and write, preach and travel.
When occasionally I became aware that I was not reading the daily news, I considered whether this was irresponsible—not to be tuned in to others' sufferings and the political events that externally shape our lives. Of course, I hear things from others. I know at least who is president of the United States; I heard of the earthquake in Armenia, the explosion of the Pan Am jet, and many other things: but I didn't read the daily newspapers to follow up on what I heard in conversations.
Every secular society, from the neighborhood to the state to the world as a whole, values the news of its own activities. In this context, an enlightened person is aware of all that seems to affect his life. To remain contentedly oblivious might smack of irresponsibility.
But I don't think it's irresponsible. What is reported daily is often very repetitious and is produced by writers whose viewpoint is limited and motivated. It's not just "the news" you get when you read a so-called factual report; you get a whole set of prejudices and a complete omission of transcendental knowledge. Without the insight of transcendental writing, the story of yesterday's events is meaningless and merely deadens the human sensibility with constant depressing proof that we are living in the dark age of Kali.
One time in India, a devotee entered Srila Prabhupada's room with a daily newspaper, since at that time Prabhupada was occasionally hearing from it. "What's the news?" Prabhupada asked, "What are all the rascals saying? Newspapers means all the statements of the rascals."
Today I spent forty minutes with a copy of the San Juan Star. Am I better for it? It helped me realize that my life is sheltered in many ways, and that I am "not doing anything" about the race riots in Miami. Seeing a picture of four muscular men handcuffed and arrested for looting, I became aware of my own physical frailty and the need for police protection.
But I didn't read a single mention of God or God consciousness in the paper. There were no direct references. and not even indirect ones. Just to be sure of this, I went through the paper a second time. Instead of finding God, I stumbled for a second time on the story of thirty-year-old Patrick Purdy, who fired an assault rifle into a California school yard, killing five children and injuring thirty, and then shot himself dead. It's not the newspapers' fault that these things happen. And one might say it's not the journalists' responsibility to moralize events or attempt to explain them.
As Patrick Purdy's grandmother said, "It's just horrible. I don't understand why, and I probably won't ever know why."
Why are one out of five pregnant women in inner-city Boston using cocaine? Why is former president Marcos dying? Why did South African president Botha suffer a mild stroke? Why did eighty-four-year-old Salvador Dali get a heart attack? Maybe it's too much to expect daily explanations of these things, but explanations are available in the sastra, the holy scripture.
Therefore, if we read the sastra, wherein all the causes and effects are explained, and where we are offered ultimate relief from all miseries, aren't we doing ourselves a better favor than by gorging on unexplained "news" from all over the world? And isn't distribution of sastra a better service than the distribution of newspapers?
Srila Prabhupada noticed how those who read newspapers soon throw them away—an indication of the journal's value. If one is fortunate to get a copy of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and to realize its value even a little bit, he will not throw it away but treasure it, and read it throughout his life. For one who is "tuned in" to higher understandings, the business of this world reinforces the teachings of the sastra—the misery, the flickering fortunes, the encroachment of old age and death. To hear again and again how these things occur becomes tiresome to one attuned to the eternal nature of the soul.
But as they say in America, "It's a free country"; you can read whatever you like. So there will always be people inclined to different kinds of reading.
As the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.10)
Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there.
Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to this "swans and crows" verse,
Spiritually advanced men who are compared to the swans do not take pleasure in such dead literatures, which are sources of pleasure for men who are spiritually dead.. .. Social literary men, scientists, mundane poets, theoretical philosophers, and politicians who arc completely absorbed in material advancement of sense pleasure are all dolls of the material energy. They take pleasure in a place where rejected subject matters are thrown. According to Swami Sridhara, this is the pleasure of the prostitute hunters.
The United States alone boasts 1,657 daily newspapers, with an aggregate circulation of 62,502,036 annually (and this neglects the Sunday papers!). So there is a vast market of curious persons eager to know "what's going on." Unfortunately, the only side of the story they hear further agitates the desire to understand, since the simple recitation of events without deep sastric knowledge leaves the reader more befuddled than ever about the nature of the world. Things simply happen, and tomorrow more things will happen, and somewhere in all this lies the meaning of life.
I'll probably never entirely stop reading newspapers. After all, newspapers do keep us in touch with the real world. Or do they?—SDG