The remedy for the fact of life most of us don't like to think about.
A lecture in Los Angeles on January 4, 1974,
ksudrayusam nrnam anga
"O Suta Gosvami some human beings, though short-lived, desire to learn the truth and attain eternal life. To save them from the slaughtering process, the controller of death, Yamaraja, has been called to this assembly." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.16.7)
The word ksudrayusam means "very short duration of life." For example, an ant's life or a germ's life would be called ksudrayusam. They are living entities, but their duration of life is very short. There are many flies who live their whole lives in one night. They take birth in the evening, and the whole night they are busy eating, sleeping, begetting offspring, and fearing their enemies. In India they are called diwali insects. In the evening, before sunset, you will see one, two, or three of them. By midnight they have increased to thousands and millions. And in the morning, at the end of the night, you will find heaps of dead insects.
This material world is called mrtyu-loka, "the place where everyone dies." But there are different durations of life. One creature lives for four minutes, another for ten minutes, another for a hundred minutes, another for a hundred days, and human beings for at most a hundred years. But on other planets there are higher living entities, demigods, who live much longer than human beings. For example, from the scriptures we understand that the people on the moon planet live up to ten thousand years, according to heavenly calculation. In each planet the calculation of time is different On the moon, one day is equal to one of our years. So, since the living beings on the moon live for ten thousand of their years, just imagine how many of our years they live!
But Bhagavan Sri Krsna informs us that wherever you may go, Yamaraja, the controller of death, is ready. He is a representative of Krsna, just as a magistrate is a representative of the government. So Yamaraja is ready to judge you as soon as you finish your term of life.
Generally, at the end of life people become disgusted. They do not wish to live anymore. The body is old. always diseased, rheumatic pains . . . there is no life, or an old man there is no material enjoyment. He wants to enjoy, but he cannot.
In this regard there is a nice story about a Mogul emperor who lived in India in the fifteenth century. He had very intelligent ministers, and they would reply to whatever inquiries he made of them. Once he inquired, "My dear minister, how long does sex desire last?"
The minister replied, "Up to the point of death."
The emperor said, "No, no. How can it be?"
"Yes, an old man has sex desire, but he cannot satisfy it because his instrument has become dull and useless. But the desire is there."
"I don't believe it," said the emperor. "I am not satisfied with this answer."
"All right sir, I will satisfy you."
So, one day the minister came to the emperor and said, "Sir, please come with me immediately, and bring your young daughter with you."
The emperor immediately prepared to go with the minister, taking his young daughter with him. He asked, "Where are we going?"
The minister said, "You will come to know."
As they approached a house where a very old man was on his death bed, the minister requested the emperor, "While entering the room, kindly try to see the face of the dying man." The emperor was very intelligent and when he looked at the old man's face, he noticed that the man was looking toward the young girl, not the emperor. So he said, "Yes, I have your answer."
So, the desire to enjoy is the root cause of our coming to this material world. Enjoyment is there in the spiritual world, but there the enjoyer is Krsna, and everyone else is enjoyed by Him. Here everyone wants to be the supreme enjoyer, and therefore they must come to this material world, mrtyu-loka, and suffer repeated birth and death. The aim of life is to stop this repetition of birth and death. But the so-called scientists do not know this.
Here it is said that human beings are ksudrayusam, "having a short duration of life." Although human beings have a short duration of life in comparison to that of beings on other planets, still they have a mission to fulfill in this life. In animal life the consciousness is not developed, but in the human form of life, although it is perishable (adhruvam), it is full of meaning (arthadam). As Prahlada Maharaja says,
kaumara acaret prajno
"From childhood one should practice bhagavat-dharma, or Krsna consciousness. That is the mission of this human form of life, which is very difficult to attain and temporary. Just become Krsna conscious. Chant Hare Krsna." Narada Muni had taught Prahlada Maharaja, so he was convinced that his only business was to make advancement in Krsna consciousness by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
Prahlada Maharaja was the son of the demon Hiranyakasipu. Hiranyakasipu did not appoint any teacher to instruct Prahlada Maharaja about Krsna consciousness, but when Prahlada was in the womb of his mother. Narada Muni instructed her about Krsna consciousness. She had to live for some time in the care of Narada Muni when her husband was out being defeated by the demigods. So the woman was in anxiety about when her husband would come back. At that time the child Prahlada was within her womb, so she begged a benediction from Narada:
"Sir, kindly arrange it that as long as my husband is absent I will not give birth to this child." Narada Muni said, "All right" Then, although Narada Muni taught her about Krsna consciousness, her mind was absent because she was thinking of her husband. But the child within her womb heard the instructions. This is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Later, a friend asked Prahlada Maharaja: "My dear Prahlada, we are being taught by the same teachers as you are. Where from have you learned all this nice instruction?" Prahlada replied, "This instruction was given by Narada to my mother, but since she is a woman, she has forgotten it. But I remember."
So, people should be taught that the real problem of human life is how to stop janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi—birth, death, old age, and disease. This is real education. For example, here we are speaking on the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The subject matter is how one can transfer himself from this material world to the spiritual world and thereby stop birth, death, old age, and disease. This is the whole subject matter.
People should consider. "I do not wish to die. Why is death forced upon me?" This is the question of an intelligent man. People do not like to think of death, but sometimes they are forced to. Suppose there is some natural disturbance. I have experience: recently when I was in the front room, there was a little trembling of an earthquake. People were crying; especially the ladies were screaming. And as soon as there will be a big earthquake, everyone will become afraid: "Oh, now we are going to die! We have to die!" Everyone is afraid of death, but nobody thinks about how to make a solution to the problem of death.
Here in the present verse it is said that Yamaraja was called in order to save the persons present in the assembly from death. But ordinarily, only those who are sinful see Yamaraja at the time of death. after the body is finished. Yamaraja is there when we are sinful; he is not for the devotees.
In this regard there is an account in the Srimad-Bhagavatam concerning Ajamila. Ajamila was a greatly sinful man, but he was fond of his youngest child, who was named Narayana. At the time of death Ajamila saw four very fierce and odd-looking creatures. They were the Yamadutas, messengers of Yamaraja. Ajamila was very much afraid: "Who are they!" And because he was very affectionate to his youngest child, he called out, "Narayana, please come here! I am very much afraid!"
Immediately, four messengers of Narayana came and stopped the Yamadutas. Just see the power of chanting the name of Narayana! Ajamila immediately became eligible to go to Vaikuntha. Apparently, he did not even mean Lord Narayana when he chanted the name of his son. But Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, with reference to the context, comments that Ajamila must have remembered Lord Narayana when he called out the name of his child.
In his boyhood, Ajamila was a very sincere devotee of Lord Narayana, being the son of a brahmana. But he fell under the clutches of a prostitute. And after mixing with the prostitute, all his spiritual activities stopped. That is natural. He became a drunkard, a thief, a gambler, a meat-eater, and a debauchee. All these qualifications he acquired by the association of one prostitute. In the present age people's only business is to mix with prostitutes. Just see their position! How fallen they are! There is an open market for prostitution. This is modern civilization.
So, Ajamila was a brahmana's son, very regulated, following all the rules and regulations. But as soon as he associated with a prostitute, he became fallen. Still, at the time of death this man remembered Lord Narayana. According to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, if he had simply called the name of his son, that wouldn't have been sufficient. He actually remembered Lord Narayana. But according to sastra [scripture], even if one chants the holy name of the Lord neglectfully, one gets the chance of being liberated. That's a fact.
The sastra tells how once a Mohammedan was attacked by a wild boar. While the boar was killing the Mohammedan with its tusk, the man uttered, "Harama! Harama!" Harama is an Urdu word that means "condemned" or "abominable." The Mohammedans do not eat the flesh of pigs, just as the Hindus do not eat the flesh of cows. To the Mohammedans, pigs are harama, condemned. So when the man cried out "Harama!" he meant "This boar is condemned!" Still he got the result of chanting ha rama, ha rama. "O my Lord Ramacandra!"
There are hundreds and thousands of names of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and if you chant any of them you will get the result. That is the instruction of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: nam-nam akari bahudha nija-sarva-saktis tatrarpita niyamitah smarane na kalah. The Supreme Personality of Godhead and His name are identical. That is Krsna's absolute nature. Krsna and His form are also nondifferent Krsna's form on the altar can give you the same result as you would get if He were personally present That is Krsna's absolute nature. So in the name of Krsna there is complete potency, just as there is in Krsna personally. Therefore it is so important to chant His name.
In this age, we are so fallen that it is not possible to associate with Krsna as He is. But if we associate with Krsna's name, then that is also association with Krsna. This is the advantage of chanting His name. And as you associate with Krsna in His sound form, you become purified: srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah punya-sravana-kirtanah hrdy antah-stho hy abhadrani vidhunoti suhrt satam. This is the advantage of chanting the holy name of Krsna.
Therefore everyone's duty is to solve this birth-and-death problem by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. That is the primary duty of human life. And this should be taught from the very beginning of life. Just see these pious children who are dancing here, taking part in this meeting. This path of Krsna-realization is so nice that even a child can take part in it. These young children have no education, they have no knowledge, but the method is so nice that they can also take part. They can enjoy dancing and chanting with their fathers and mothers. There are many yoga systems, but this bhakti-yoga system is so perfect that both the grandfather of the child and the child himself can take part in it. The children are dancing here, and sometimes they are chanting, and all these things are going to their spiritual credit.
The Deity worship has been introduced for the general public. Anyone can come and see the Deity, chant the Hare Krsna mantra, dance a little, play the karatalas—someway or other, if somebody engages in Krsna's service, that will be credited to his account Krsna will consider. "Yes, this living entity has advanced so much." Therefore, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, svalpam apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato-bhayat: "Even if you do very little of this process of bhakti-yoga, it can save you from the greatest danger in life."
The perfect example is Ajamila. In the beginning of his life Ajamila executed some service to the Lord under the instructions of his father. That was to his credit So when he became a first-class sinful man and was dying, somehow or other he chanted the name of Narayana and was saved. As soon as he uttered the name Narayana, he became eligible to be transported to Vaikuntha. Immediately Narayana sent his men, the Visnudutas, saying "Go and save this man. He is being harassed by the Yamadutas." The Yamadutas were taking Ajamila away, but the messengers from Vaikuntha said, "No, you cannot take this man."
The Yamadutas were surprised: "Oh, who are these beautiful persons?" The Yamadutas were very odd-looking, and they had never seen such fine-looking men. The Visnudutas had four arms and looked very nice. In Vaikuntha the people look exactly like Narayana. We find a perverted reflection in this world: just as the president has two arms, we also have two arms. In Vaikuntha the "president" is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And since He has four arms. the inhabitants there all have four arms and other bodily features similar to His.
So, the Yamadutas were surprised. They said, "You look so gentle, so nice. Why are you stopping us from performing our duty? This man is sinful. It is our duty to take him to Yamaraja, Mrtyu." There was an argument, and the Yamadutas' attempt was foiled by the Visnudutas.
When the Yamadutas returned to their master, Yamaraja, they were disappointed. They said, "This is the first time that somebody has taken from our hands a person who was meant to be brought here. Is there some personality greater than you?"
Yamaraja explained, "Yes. I am a servant of Narayana." Then Yamaraja advised them, "Never go to a devotee. It is not your jurisdiction." Just as the duty of the police is to arrest criminals, not gentlemen, so the duty of Yamaraja servants is to take only sinful men to his jurisdiction, not devotees. Those who are devotees are naturally sinless. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita [7.28]: yesam tv anta-gatam papam jananam punya-karmanam/ te dvandva-moha-nirmukta bhajante mam drdha-vratah. "Without becoming sinless, one cannot completely devote himself to Krsna consciousness."
In other words, a person can be completely engaged in Krsna consciousness only if he is sinless. Of course, even if there is a little tinge of sin, if one becomes Krsna conscious it is gradually eliminated. But one should be very alert to avoid sinful activities. It is not that one should think. "Because I am Krsna conscious, there is no chance that I will sin. After all, by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra I am getting out of the jurisdiction of sinful activities." One should never think like this. We should be very alert to avoid sin, because Maya [illusion] is very strong. As soon as she gets the opportunity, she immediately captures us.
Therefore one should try strenuously to avoid sinful activities if one actually wants relief from the cycle of birth and death. One must seriously execute Krsna consciousness by following the rules and regulations and chanting the Hare Krsna mantra. If one follows this simple process, one will be saved from Mrtyu, Yamaraja.
Thank you very much.
"Srila Prabhupada had an extraordinary ability
by Sri Sitaram Daga
I have had the privilege to be associated with the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) almost since its inception. I am much impressed by the extensive religious activities undertaken by this organization, especially in spreading krsna-bhakti in various ways: nagar-sankirtana [chanting in the city streets], bhajanas and kirtanas [songs and glorification of the Lord], distribution of religious books, distribution of prasadam [vegetarian food offered to the Lord], and enlightening discourses by erudite scholar-devotees. I consider myself fortunate to be associated with such an ideal international religious organization as a life member.
It all happened thus:
One day Sri Tamal Krsna Maharaja, accompanied by some other devotees, called on me at my office with a request that I enroll as a life member of ISKCON. In the process of our conversation on spiritual and religious matters. I was highly absorbed in their religious fervor and in-depth spiritual knowledge, and I became a life member.
After that, in the evenings I was a regular visitor to the Radha-Krsna temple maintained by ISKCON on Albert Road in Calcutta. It was an exhilarating experience to the soul to have darsana [audience] of the Deities so nicely decorated with colorful dresses, dazzling ornaments, and a variety of flowers. The scintillating Deities in the temple attract everybody and give one mental upliftment with an urge to go on sitting, gazing at the altar.
At the temple I met many devotees, and I came in direct association with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, known as Srila Prabhupada. It was an unforgettable experience.
In our very first meeting I was deeply attracted to him—there was some divine power that attracted people to him—and I had the pleasure of long discussions with him on religious matters in his room attached to the temple.
Srila Prabhupada loved to talk in Bengali, and as I was also educated in the Bengali medium, it was a unique experience for me to talk with him in this sweet language.
His Divine Grace told me that the ceremony for laying the foundation stone of the Radha-Madhava Temple and International Guesthouse at Mayapur would be performed by him on Gaura Purnima day in February 1972, and he invited me to be present at this auspicious ceremony.
Accordingly, I motored down to Mayapur and was fortunate enough to witness this ceremony so perfectly conducted, as laid down in the scriptures, with chanting of Vedic hymns and blowing of conches. It was really a colorful ceremony, one that would always linger in the minds of the devotees present.
Many devotees spoke on this auspicious occasion, praising their gurudeva, Srila Prabhupada, the dedicated saintly person who in no time, by his eloquent discourses and pleasing manners, had attracted many foreigners to lead a religious life and had established many ISKCON centers all over the world.
Today Mayapur has become a world center of ISKCON, where students from all over the world come for spiritual upliftment of their souls.
Srila Prabhupada built another temple, in Vrndavana, with three tall domes, and in this temple he installed the Deities of Gauranga-Nitai, Krsna-Balarama, and Radha-Krsna. And alongside the temple he also built an international guesthouse.
Another temple, in the materialistic city of Bombay, was his next aim, and he succeeded in his mission. He had an extraordinary ability to bring a spiritual vision into physical reality, to change a part of the material world into spiritual energy so that even a common man could experience spirituality. Srila Prabhupada's indomitable will, courage of conviction, and unswerving bhakti to Lord Krsna enabled him to cross an ocean of trials and tribulations to construct the Radha-Rasavihari temple in Bombay.
Knowing the human psychology fully well, he made it a point that devotees should be given as much prasadam as they want, and this is an added attraction for spiritual aspirants.
He traveled through various countries of the world, in Australia, the Orient North and South America, Africa, and Europe, his main thrust being in the United States of America, where he preached krsna-bhakti and established the first foreign headquarters of ISKCON.
Thus Srila Prabhupada established a spiritual empire throughout the world, with foreigners themselves as his staunch disciples. His approach to spirituality could be accepted by all, for he saw that everything material had the potential to be used in the service of the Lord. Following this principle, an ardent devotee, although apparently in the material world, could always be in touch with spiritual energy.
Our country has produced a precious jewel in Srila Prabhupada, whose approach to religion and spirituality made a tremendous impact on the present generation and is sure to have a great effect on the generations of the future. He is the embodiment of unalloyed truth and knowledge.
Srila Prabhupada was a staunch devotee of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. whom he considered an avatara of Krsna and whose precepts he followed for spreading krsna-bhakti.
Since I knew something of politics, being an ex-member of the Rajya Sabha [the upper legislative house in the Indian government], Srila Prabhupada used to discuss Indian politics with me, Srila Prabhupada had a low opinion of politicians because of the wrong policies followed by them. He used to say that our India is essentially an agricultural country and we should give priority to growing more food. protecting the mother cow, and maintaining and nourishing our forest wealth, instead of installing giant steel plants. The stress should be on farm output not factory output.
Cow slaughter, he said. must be banned. So long after India's independence, why had this not been done? When Prabhupada asked me this burning question. I simply said to him that politicians are responsible for this neglect since they are bent upon protecting the interests of a few to achieve their selfish ends of vote-catching.
At this he was visibly annoyed and said that these politicians should know that our scriptures acclaim the cow "mother of the universe." Not only that but the Lord of the universe is known as Gopalaka, "protector of cows."
Followers of sanatana-dharma, he said, must condemn the atrocities perpetrated on the poor dumb animals that nourish us from birth till death. Even after their death the cows are useful, in that everything from the top of their horn to the bottom of their hoof comes to our utility, whereas the human body after the soul has passed away is of no use.
Such a cow—how dare you kill it? That was his question.
Srila Prabhupada also said that with the present setup of the government, India will not be benefited until erudite scholars well versed in Vedic literature and the cultural heritage of India are inducted as parliamentarians, selected as ministers, and put at the helm of the administration. Otherwise our country would be facing untold miseries due to the present wrong policies propagated by politicians to meet their own personal ends.
Whenever Srila Prabhupada happened to be in Calcutta, I used to visit and pay my respects to him. In the course of our discussions. he would recite verses from Bhagavad-gita and explain them in a very lucid manner, citing examples of how one can conquer maya, the cycle of birth, death, disease, and old age. He used to say that in this Kali-yuga [the present age] complete surrender to the lotus feet of the Lord and chanting of the maha-mantra—"Hare Krsna, Hare Rama"—vibrating throughout the entire atmosphere, will emancipate one's soul from maya and bring one to attain love of Godhead.
Sri Sitaram Daga, a former member of the Indian Parliament, is the chairman and managing director of several engineering firms. He lives in Calcutta.
An address to members of the
by Satyaraja dasa
I'll begin by defining two words: Vaisnava and women. A Vaisnava is a devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, more personally known as Visnu or Krsna. In India this term is quite common, and there are millions who follow the path of Vaisnavism. Ultimately, Vaisnava refers to the natural state of the soul, since all living beings are constitutionally related to God in a mood of loving devotion.
The second word, although more familiar, is more difficult to define when used with the word Vaisnava. The man/woman dichotomy relates to the body, whereas the "Vaisnava" designation refers to the nature of the soul. In one sense, a Vaisnava is not really a man or a woman, and so reference to "women Vaisnavas" or "male Vaisnavas" is inaccurate.
For the sake of common parlance, however, it is practical—if not downright necessary—to acknowledge the bodily distinctions that exist within the material world. After all, a woman can serve God (i.e., act as a Vaisnava) by having children, for example, whereas a man cannot. So while women and men are spiritually equal, they may serve God in different ways. Worldly differences can thus be acknowledged and should be used in divine service. In this sense, then, we may rightly speak of "women Vaisnavas."
Women in Vedic Culture
For a clear understanding of Vaisnava women and the activities that led them to greatness, we look to ancient India's Vedic literature, the spiritual classics upon which Vaisnava dharma rests. In the earliest Vedic texts, we find that the woman was mainly seen as the wife or mother. The emphasis was on her place in the home, and her work was given divine status. Her religious duty was to maintain the spiritual environment of the home and to raise children as devotees of the highest order. This she could do only if her own spiritual practices were strong and if her meditations were profound. Guidelines are given in the scriptures that can assure perfection on this path.
It might be asked why the woman rather than the man was given the service of homemaker. One answer offered by the Vedic texts is that since the child came from her body, she would naturally take very seriously the service of raising the child in God consciousness. She also could not bear to be away from her child—flesh other flesh. The husband had a less difficult time going out—away from the child—and making a living. The wife, in general, felt more comfortable at home. It was natural and pleasing. Both parties, playing their respective roles, served to create a spiritual atmosphere within the household. Especially when they both learned to see their roles as service to Krsna. In this sense, the roles are absolute—the roles they play are equal in that they are merely different ways to serve the Supreme.
The Vedic epic Ramayana explains the social hierarchy that existed within the spiritual home: strinam bharta hi daivatam. That is to say, the husband is the guru for the wife, even as the wife is theory for the child and the spiritual master is the guru for the husband. In other words, in the Vedic household everyone had a spiritual authority, and in this way social sanity was maintained and everyone in the family could progress toward the ultimate goal of life: spiritual realization.
There were, however, exceptions to the traditional roles of men and women, and as we delineate the great Vaisnava women throughout history, we will elucidate upon the ascetic tradition that made clear the spiritual equality between men and women.
It should be noted that the greatest Vaisnava of all time is Srimati Radharani, who is female. She, of course, is also known as a manifestation of the Supreme and so does not really figure into our discussion.
Among the women described in the Vedic literature, the most important for her representation of ideal womanhood is Sitadevi, the wife of Lord Ramacandra. She embodies all of the qualities to be found in the ideal Vedic wife. Although goddesses such as Parvati and Laksmi-devi, and other heroines from the Vedic literature such as Savitri and Damayanti are also good examples, it is Sita who is particularly remembered as the ideal in conventional Vedic womanhood. Indeed, even today one hears the Indian mother tell her daughter. "Be like Sitadevi."
Great Women Vaisnavas
Vedic culture gave rise to many great women. In addition to Sitadevi there were the likes of Draupadi, Kunti, and Gandhari. The great women of the Vedic period are often considered prehistorical personalities, many of them gracing the earth more than five thousand years ago. Since that period is now shrouded in antiquity, and since many of the stories surrounding their lives are often confused with mythological tales. I will restrict my discussion to women Vaisnavas within the last five hundred years.
Sacidevi appeared in Bengal in the mid-fifteenth century. Playing the role of the perfect mother and wife, she was glorified as the mother of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and the wife of Jagannatha Misra. Sri Caitanya, the founder of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, is a combined manifestation of Radha and Krsna.
Sacidevi was the daughter of a well-known Bengali family that migrated from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and settled in Navadvipa. Her father, Nilambara Cakravarti was a very influential man because of his knowledge of astrology and the Vedic scriptures.
After marrying Jagannatha Misra, Sacidevi went through great austerities as a mother. In fact she lost eight female children during successive pregnancies, and she wept in anticipation of further offspring. Sacidevi's next child was a boy—Visvarupa, who survived. Some years later, she gave birth to Sri Caitanya. But while little Nimai (as Caitanya was called in His youth) was still an infant Visvarupa renounced the world and became an ascetic. This brought untold regret to Saci, for now Visvarupa would no longer bring joy to the Misra household. He would now wander the countryside, preaching and visiting temples in service to the Lord.
Jagannatha Misra did not survive the trauma of Visvarupa's renunciation. Saci, however, managed to carry on, and she resolved to raise little Nimai to the best of her ability.
Because of the purity and intensity of her devotion, her aspirations for her last surviving child would be more than fulfilled. As Nimai grew He developed exceptional features, profound scholarship, and a devotional attitude. His concealed divinity began to blossom, as the scriptures had predicted it would.
But Saci's domestic happiness was short-lived, for at the age of twenty-four Sri Caitanya, too, became a renunciant, following in the footsteps of His brother, Visvarupa. Despite this final blow to her hope of familial bliss, Saci's perseverance as a devotee remained unscathed.
Sri Caitanya, in fact, had asked for His mother's permission to lead the life of a renunciant in service to God. Although it was difficult for her, she nonetheless relented, the only stipulation being that He make His headquarters in nearby Jagannatha Puri, so she would regularly hear news of His activities.
Although Sri Caitanya's renunciation is remembered as a pivotal event in the history of Gaudiya Vaisnavism, Sacidevi's renunciation is glorified in the annals of Vaisnava history as unbounded. For in allowing the Lord—her son—to live the life of an ascetic, she made the ultimate sacrifice. According to the Lord's desire, she agreed to worship Him in separation. Sad thus experienced the highest, most esoteric relationship with the Lord, and Vaisnavas throughout the world seek to emulate her uncompromising devotion.
If Sacidevi was the perfect mother, Visnupriya was the perfect wife. Laksmi-devi, Sri Caitanya's first wife, died prematurely when she was bitten by a snake. Mother Saci then pleaded with her divine son to remarry. He did, and the bride was Visnupriya, daughter of the aristocratic Sanatana Misra, a well-known politician.
When Sri Caitanya soon left to pursue the life of an ascetic. Visnupriya made the same commitment and sacrifice as did Sacidevi. Visnupriya, however, also had to take care of Saci, who was now becoming old and infirm.
Visnupriya spent as much time with the name of God as with her beloved mother-in-law, and her reputation soon grew as a prominent ascetic in the Gaudiya Vaisnava line.
It is said that she would set aside one grain of rice each time she would chant the Hare Krsna mantra 108 times. When her utterances of the name were complete for a particular day, she would boil the accumulated rice and take that—and only that—as her daily meal.
As her austerities and exemplary behavior became known within the Vaisnava community, she was glorified for being the model of a chaste wife and also for being an ascetic of the mystical tradition. This made her a leader in the Vaisnava community.
Important women Vaisnavas soon took leading roles in Lord Caitanya's movement and even assumed the position of guru. One of the more prominent woman gurus was Jahnavadevi, wife of Nityananda Prabhu. Sri Caitanya's intimate associate and plenary expansion.
When Nityananda Prabhu married the two daughters of Sarakhala Suryadasa Pandita, the entire Vaisnava community was overcome with ecstasy, for the two girls were extremely pious and were known as great Vaisnavas. The younger wife, Vasudha, gave birth to two children: a boy, Virabhadra; and a girl, Gangadevi.
The young Vasudha soon passed away, however, and Jahnavadevi resolved to raise her sister's children. In addition, she adopted a boy named Ramacandra. So Jahnavadevi spent much of her youth taking care of the three children, making sure they became great devotees.
Virabhadra, especially, grew to be a leader in the Vaisnava community, and when he accepted Jahnavadevi (his stepmother) as his guru, many prominent Vaisnavas did so as well.
Much of Jahnavadevi's fame began as a result of her relationship with Nityananda Prabhu. But her activities soon revealed her greatness, and she was respected as a superlative Vaisnava on her own merit.
Her devotion to the famous Gopinatha Deity of Lord Krsna was so intense that this endeared her to the pious and impious alike. By her example she showed how to perform Deity worship and devote one's life to spiritual pursuits. She even presided over huge Vaisnava festivals and gave initiation to men and women alike. It was Jahnavadevi, too, who had the insight to keep close contact with the Goswamis of Vrndavana, Lord Caitanya's chief followers there. In this way she sought to keep solidarity and unification between the branches of Gaudiya Vaisnavism in Bengal and in Vrndavana (Uttar Pradesh). The cohesive form of Gaudiya Vaisnavism that exists today is largely a result of her efforts.
One other phenomenon in the life of Jahnavadevi is pertinent to our discussion. Devotion to her mission and purpose became so strong that in her own lifetime a deity was made other, and this was to be placed alongside the Gopinatha Deity, who was the object of her veneration. A council was convened in Jaipur to decide the propriety of placing her deity next to Lord Gopinatha. The king of Jaipur and the assembled Vaisnavas decided unanimously that the deity should be established, and it was indeed placed next to Gopinatha within Jahnavadevi's lifetime. Such a distinguished honor is uncommon among Vaisnava men and women alike.
Hemlata and Gangamata Gosvami
In the next generation after Sri Caitanya and Nityananda Prabhu (1600s or as late as the 1700s), many great female Vaisnavas followed the example of Jahnavadevi, two of the most prominent being Hemlata and Gangamata Gosvami.
Not much is known about Hemlata Thakurani. She was the eldest daughter of Srinivasa Acarya and had many disciples, both men and women. She was a mystic of the highest order and developed a profound sense of love for God.
Gangamata Gosvami, on the other hand, is written about quite often in the pages of Gaudiya Vaisnava history, especially in the historical records of the Nityananda-vamsa (from which she descends). Her guru was Haridasa Pandita, a disciple of Anantacarya, who was a follower of Jahnavadevi. In this way, her disciplic descent is traced to Nityananda Prabhu.
She was the daughter of King Naresa Narayana of Puntaya, of the Rajsahi district of Bengal. Unlike most great women Vaisnavas, even the mystics, Gangamata never married, and so she was given the title "Gosvami" ("controller of the senses") for her strict celibacy and profound wisdom. She did not take formal sannyasa (the renounced order of life in the Vedic social system), for she felt that the scriptures recommend sannyasa solely for men. But in spirit she adopted this path and so received the title "Gosvami."
The Deity of her heart was Madana Gopala, and she worshiped this form of Krsna with great devotion. In her youth, she studied in Vrndavana, and after many years she moved to Jagannatha Puri, where she lived at the ruins of what was formerly the house of the great scholar Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya. The Bhattacarya had been a prominent disciple of Sri Caitanya, and although his house was now, almost two hundred years later, merely a run-down facsimile of its former self, Gangamata stayed there for the spiritual inspiration it bestowed.
At that house she found the sacred Damodara-sila (a Deity of Krsna in the form of a stone) once worshiped by Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya himself. She worshiped this Deity with the same intensity with which she had worshiped Madana Gopala in Vrndavana.
Mukundadeva Maharaja, the king of Puri once came to hear her recite Srimad-Bhagavatam, the sacred scripture of the Vaisnavas. He was so taken by her pure recitation and her elaborate explanations that he became her disciple and encouraged much of Puri to do the same. He financed a special temple to be built for her, and she became one of the prominent Vaisnavas of Orissa.
I have given only some preliminary examples of great women Vaisnavas. Nonetheless, we have seen examples of a great Vaisnava mother, a wife, mystics, celibates, and gurus. In short, the Vaisnava tradition has established precedents for women to assert themselves and distinguish themselves as outstanding Vaisnavas, both in traditional roles more commonly ascribed to women and in very independent roles that would perhaps be the envy of men.
Great women Vaisnavas have existed throughout the ages. and they have demonstrated that the qualities of leadership, scholarship, intelligence, wisdom, and devotion are affairs of the heart and mind, irrespective of sex.
Thank you very much. Are there any questions?
Question: I enjoyed the lecture very much. But I feel that feminists in general will be slighted. You've described the positive elements in the milieu with which you're familiar—Vaisnavism, the Hare Krsna religion. But don't the women of even that tradition feel exploited? Aren't they still the product of a male-dominated society?
Satyaraja: There may very well be ample justification for the dissatisfaction of the feminists. Perhaps they have indeed been oppressed and exploited by a male-dominated society. Let us not forget, however, that it is a materialistic society in which this takes place. Exploitation is a symptom of selfishness. And selfishness is a symptom of the bodily concept of life. My contention is this: It is this bodily concept of life that is at the heart of materialistic thinking, and it is this rather than male domination that creates the exploitative mentality.
Q: I see.
S: Yes. If one identifies himself or herself as nothing more than a material body, the external self becomes of central interest—more important than the person within. Bodily differences are accentuated. Spiritual unity is overlooked. It would seem that the solution to exploitation—the major problem facing the feminists—is to obliterate materialism, not sexism. Sexist thinking is a symptom of the disease—the disease is materialism!
Q: OK, but the great women Vaisnavas whom you've mentioned and, more important, the rank-and-file women who follow Vedic culture—how have they risen beyond exploitation?
S: I've explained that already: by rising beyond the bodily concept of life. Men and women will rise beyond exploitation to the degree that they rise beyond the bodily concept and become established in the self—the actual, spiritual self.
Q: But devotees do not live in a vacuum! They may rise beyond the bodily concept, but they are still subjected to the exploitation of those who haven't attained that level.
S: I see what you're getting at. It's actually a very good point On the other hand, a woman who pursues spirituality is protected by her discipline and the strictures of her religious tradition. She can never be exploited—even by members of society still on a lower level—because she never engages in sinful activity. Especially if she's not engaging in illicit sex—who can exploit her?
Actually, she plays a leading and honored role within the social parameters of her family and community. In short, she avoids exploitation by being thoroughly devoted to God, Krsna, and she thus sees a spiritual equality, not a contrived material one. She knows that she is spiritually equal.
She feels that feminism betrays a narrow understanding of the purpose of existence, that it is predicated on competition between men and women. She knows that the only competition worth pursuing is between a person and his or her own conditioning. She has a role to play in her service to God, and it is this which concerns her—not some petty squabble about bodily differences.
So, in answer to your question, no, women who adhere to Vedic or Vaisnava practice do not feel exploited. To the degree that they are accomplished in Krsna conscious realization, they transcend the ability to be or feel exploited. In fact, they are unable to be exploited, because they give no room for exploitation. You must submit to materialistic life in order to be exploited. And a dedicated devotee will never do that.
Q: But do devotee women have equal positions? I mean, do they ever take service from men?
S: Not if they're advanced. You see, according to Manu's Dharma-sastra, there is a hierarchy, and in Vedic culture all members happily followed the system for social sanity. Everyone played his or her role. Everyone had an authority, and everyone was subordinate to someone else. In this way, one learned submission, culminating in submission to God. But the Vaisnava tradition added something special, an underlying and esoteric message of the scriptures: the true devotee wishes to be the servant of the servant of the servant of Krsna.
So, in actuality, you have material culture in reverse. Not "Who is serving me?" but "Who can I serve?" This is the devotees' motto. So advanced devotees desire to be the menial servant not the master. And in this way they develop humility before God.
Incidentally, just so you don't think I'm simply skirting the issue with some abstract philosophy. I will tell you that advanced devotees do accept service from novices, and in this way a novice can make advancement on the spiritual path. This holds true for both men and women. Many of the great women I mentioned in my lecture were gurus of both men and women and consequently accepted service. You see. Vaisnavism is not at all sexist Not really. But you must get beyond superficiality. In the ultimate analysis it is not gender but spiritual advancement that is the criterion.
Q: Do you believe that men and women are inherently different? OK. granted men and women are spiritually equal, but you alluded to bodily differences, and this is certainly true. What about more subtle qualities, though? How are we different on the subtle level? For instance, do you give credence to the theory about the right and left sides of the brain?*
S: Why not? I think that the research in this area leaves a great deal to be desired, but the basic premise is reasonable. In the Bhagavad-gita, for example, it is said that speech, memory, intelligence, faithfulness, and patience are feminine qualities. Is this sexist? These are admirable qualities. And this information is being confirmed by research into the right and left sides of the brain. There is scientific evidence that certain subtle functions of the brain are more characteristic of women than of men.
Q: Oh, come on! Men and women are perfectly equal, at least mentally. We have the same potential. Bodily differences I can give you. But subtle, mental differences? That's going too far. It's just an old wives' tale. Or should I say an old men's tale. [Laughter.]
S: I can appreciate your concern. To acknowledge mental and intellectual differences can lead to exploitation. But don't misunderstand me. I am saying that our mental and intellectual faculties are equal, but that our mental and intellectual forte may vary from body to body. Just the forte. Just our point of emphasis. This can be and is heavily influenced by the kind of body we have.
I'm not merely giving you some dogmatic rhetoric. These ideas have been substantiated by some of the leading physicists and psychoanalysts in the world. For example, Dr. Georgene Seward, professor emeritus at Columbia University, has written two fascinating books on this subject: Sex and the Social Order and Psychotherapy and Culture Conflict. Have you seen these books?
S: I suggest you research your subject before you discuss it. These books were the landmark scientific publications that proved once and for all that "cerebral asymmetry" definitely exists between men and women. Dr. Seward, by the way, is a woman. So I don't think you can call this "an old men's tale." [Laughter.]
You see, in our search for perfect egalitarianism, we are terribly afraid to admit that there are differences between sexes, or races, or nationalities, or living beings of any group at all. Somehow the possibility that physical or psychological differences of any sort exist strikes fear that this will be equated with superiority or inferiority of certain groups. But the denial that differences exist, whether biological or otherwise, only leads to absurdities. Indeed, it is the denial of our own humanity. We cannot respect differences among people unless we first admit them. This is not sexism or racism—it is merely common sense.
Bhakti-ratnakara, Narahari Cakravarti.
From Punk to Monk
"I couldn't accept that I would be an engineer
by Madhumangala dasa
I missed a chance to see Srila Prabhupada in 1969 when he spoke at Conway Hall in Red Lion Square, London. I happened to be there before his lecture, and I saw a number of devotees and many other people inside. I was curious to know what was going on. But as I was a skinhead and saw the devotees as hippies, I thought. "I'm not going to get mixed up with this lot." I just turned around and walked out.
Shortly before that, I had seen a small group of devotees walking in single file down Oxford Street. I was thinking, "This is love and peace—I'll show them." And I kicked one of the devotees.
Around that time I heard the Hare Krsna maha-mantra for the first time. A recording by the London devotees with George Harrison was played on the television program "Top of the Pops," which features the successful records of the week. The devotees appeared on the program, but again I was thinking. This is a bunch of hippies, and they're just interfering with my hearing the kind of music I like."
I was an avid supporter of West Ham United, my local football team in London. I would tolerate school waiting for the weekend. On Saturday mornings, I'd wake up, put on my skinhead gear. and hurry out the door to join up with the rest of the gang. We'd hang around until the match in the afternoon. Not caring for the finer arts of the game, I just wanted to see my team win.
Girlfriends also occupied my mind. I was always looking forward to the next dance and my next date. My life was divided between West Ham and women.
Then I got my girlfriend pregnant, and I left school to marry her. I got a job with an Irish construction company. Now I had a family to support.
I had a righteous social conscience and sought some kind of intellectual stimulation. I tried various shades of socialism, but all I found was plenty of talk and little action. I doubted whether these socialists would ever achieve anything. I quickly lost faith in the solidarity of the working classes. Like everyone else, they were motivated by greed, and when it came down to it was every man for himself.
I moved to Dublin and committed myself to Irish Republicanism. I was prepared to do whatever was necessary to free Ireland.
But I wasn't finding real satisfaction in my endeavors. Unite Ireland for what? Life's the same in Dublin or London. I couldn't accept that I would be an engineer for the rest of my life (or a businessman or a truck driver), settle down, lead a steady life, grow old. I was bored. What was the point?
I didn't even consider God. My parents had taught me to pray. I was taught that "God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next." But Christianity seemed so sentimental. If Jesus loves us. I thought why is a child born crippled? How can God send someone to hell for eternity? Why does He allow wars? Why is the world so unjust? Why are some people born into a privileged society while others starve? I didn't want dogma; I wanted answers.
I'd become very cynical. Why should I trust anyone? People were motivated by their own selfish desires. I wasn't going to play the society game.
Then in 1976 came punk rock. Now I could shout my feelings. I dyed my hair green. I started a band (named The Threat), wrote my own songs, and told the world how bored I was. Then I told them how boring they were. The band drew a good following in Dublin, and John Peel (a punk mentor) was plugging our first record on English national radio. Now I seemed to have a real goal in life—to sing songs saying life was pointless!
* (From "Bored & Frustrated," by The Threat, Dublin, 1978.)I might just look around me
Then at an antinuclear festival, as a more broad-minded punk rather than a narrow-minded skinhead. I met devotees again. This time I was more inquisitive. I wanted to know who the "real me" was. I was aware that people put on false images of themselves, and I didn't want to relate to people on that platform. I wanted to be real.
I heard the maha-mantra coming from across the fields. The devotees were sitting around a fire chanting. I was attracted. I sat down, listened, and joined in. I happened to be at the end of a frightening experience with LSD, and I felt safe joining in the chanting.
After the chanting, the devotees came around with prasadam. It was porridge, just plain porridge, and a lot of people were throwing it away and saying they didn't like it. But when I tasted it I thought it was the most delicious food I'd ever eaten. I was used to a breakfast of tea or coffee, and for the rest of the day I'd just eat chocolate biscuits and 7-Up. In the evening I might have some toast and cheese. Then I became a macrobiotic vegetarian, eating brown rice. So this porridge was heavenly. I devoured it. That night I went to sleep in my truck realizing I had just experienced something very special.
The next day I saw the devotees' exhibit that showed a man in different stages of life, the changing bodies diorama. I thought "This is it" and, in the words of Ian Dury, "What a waste." I identified myself among the figures and saw that my life up to that point was meaningless. The later stages seemed even more useless and certainly less attractive.
I met some devotees and asked them questions. I found the philosophy interesting. I wanted to understand more about higher principles of life. I was convinced of the idea of mind over matter—that we live a kind of a gross life, but there's something beyond just acting on the gross, sensual platform. I could understand that there was a mental platform, which could control the lower platform. I wanted to be in control of my own body. So I had some attraction toward philosophy. I wanted to know spiritual reasons for things happening, not just the apparent immediate gross causes.
It made sense that I was not this body, which had changed from the form of a baby to that of a youth and would end up wrinkled and then rot. I wasn't in a child's body anymore, but I could remember experiencing those early years: I was the same person. I'd spent my whole life relating to the world on the basis of my body, but I am something different. I'm consciousness, or soul! Now I could go on to find the real me. But I was too skeptical to think the devotees had all the answers. I left the festival with something to contemplate, thinking I'd met some interesting people.
My idea to learn more about the devotees faded as I made plans to write more songs, release another single, and tour Europe with my band. Then one day while I was driving my truck. I realized I was chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It had been some time since I'd met the devotees, and I hadn't consciously tried to remember the mantra. It was as if I was chanting by higher dictate.
Then I met a devotee on O'Connell Bridge, and he gave me a Path of Perfection. I was still cynical, though, and when I noticed that the name "Krsna" was written with three dots under it I thought that maybe this was some form of advertising or maybe a subliminal trick to get the reader to remember Krsna. [These are diacritics, pronunciation guides.] But then I thought "So what? Even if it is, they're obviously into Krsna, and everyone else is advertising themselves or their trip. Why shouldn't devotees stress His name?" Still, I made a mental note to be cautious.
In any case, the book interested me. In it Srila Prabhupada quotes Bhagavad-gita (6.7): "For one who has conquered the mind, the Supersoul is already reached, for he has attained tranquillity. To such a man happiness and distress, heat and cold, honor and dishonor are all the same." Here was an ancient book of knowledge telling me that not only can the body be controlled, but the mind can be conquered, and one can realize satisfaction and truth. Srila Prabhupada talked about the shortcomings of trying to arrive at the Absolute Truth by rejecting untruth or relative truth. I'd been doing just that and I had arrived at the negative conclusion that life was a waste of time. Now here was a positive alternative: through bhakti-yoga I could spiritualize my life and live on the higher, real platform I'd been looking for. Reading the book, I became more and more excited. I had to talk with these people again.
I decided to visit the ISKCON farm in southern Ireland. I was immediately attracted by the devotees. Here were people practicing what they preached. They were trying to dedicate their whole life to serving God. Nobody was getting paid, but they were developing a farm where people could come and live peacefully and learn about God and themselves.
Studying Bhagavad-gita. I found out that the real me. the spirit soul, is a servant of God. Srila Prabhupada writes that we are all serving something or someone, so why not serve the best master—God?
I decided to confront my doubts. I spent so me days wandering in the nearby woods, taking notes, trying to figure out for myself if there is a God.
I wasn't impressed by the Big Bang theory or with the idea that chance combinations led to the evolution of man. If you put all the components of a watch into a box, no matter how many times you shake the box the result won't tell you the time. Life forms are complex, and they work together in harmony. It seems more reasonable that this world was created by design rather than by chance. As for a bang, big or small, who made it happen, and where did the ingredients for a bang come from?
Yes, I concluded, there is an eternal, supreme being: God, the creator. But how do I know that Krsna is the Supreme Person? The devotees were telling me He was. and obviously they were pushing their line. But I thought, "What if I went to a Christian community? They'd be telling me their way was the only way."
In the introduction to the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada says that if you just accept theoretically that Krsna is God, then Bhagavad-gita will make sense. So I said. "Yes, that's as far as I'm prepared to go. I'm not accepting Krsna as God. But what Srila Prabhupada says seems fair. I'll try it out. I'll assume that Krsna is God while I'm studying Bhagavad-gita."
Jesus Christ refers to God as "our Father," and Mohammed calls God Allah, "the greatest." In Bhagavad-gita Krsna Himself says, aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate: "I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me." This qualifies Him as both the Father and the greatest.
Then I came to this verse: "Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me, and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me." I realized I had come across the essence of religion, the same teaching I had learned in my childhood: "God made us to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next"
I thought how I'd served my family. West Ham, women, Socialism, Irish Republicanism, punk, and so on. And I'd been selfishly serving myself. I felt that what Srila Prabhupada was saying was right: Why not serve the greatest master. God? I decided to commit myself to the practice of Krsna consciousness. Having resolved to give up material life, I prayed, "Dear Lord, please forgive me for my past mistakes. I now want to serve You. Please guide me. You may have other servants elsewhere, but I can see that these devotees are serving You here. Please let me join them."
Practicing bhakti-yoga, I have gained realizations of the reality of spiritual life, and I have come to learn more about Srila Prabhupada, who formed this international society of devotees. Reading his teachings and life story, I am convinced that he is a great saint Srila Prabhupada spent his whole life as a devotee of Lord Krsna. He knows God and he loves Him. I want to learn from him.
I never met Srila Prabhupada, but I have greatly benefited from his plan to spread the chanting of Hare Krsna, from his prasadam distribution, from his teachings, and particularly from his Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which convinced me to try to become a devotee of Lord Krsna. I am eternally indebted to him.
There's an emphatic command in the Vedic texts
by Dhanurdhara Swami
In West Bengal, India, in 1900, twenty-six-year-old Bimala Prasada Datta, an accomplished scholar in mathematics, astronomy, and theology, was requested by his father to seek spiritual initiation from Gaurakisora dasa Babaji, a saintly yet illiterate mendicant. Hoping to avoid the distraction of an adoring public, the old saint was absorbed in chanting God's names next to the local cremation grounds.
Although the intellectual young aspirant was sincere in his request for initiation, the ascetic refused. Rebuked by his father for his repeated failure to win the favor of the great saint, a determined Bimala Prasada went to Gaurakisora dasa Babaji again: "If I do not receive your mercy, I see no need in holding on to life." Seeing the sincerity of the young man. Gaurakisora dasa Babaji accepted him as his only disciple.
Although Bimala Prasada's action may seem drastic, it was not done in ignorance. According to the Padma Purana there are 8,400,000 species of life through which the soul evolves. Only at the juncture of human life does the living entity have the ability to achieve perfection by inquiring from a spiritual master. The guru is therefore not a fad or luxury but a dire necessity. Throughout the Vedic literature the same basic message is found: "Any person who seriously desires to achieve real happiness must seek out a bona fide spiritual master and take shelter of him."
The necessity of accepting a guru is perfectly illustrated by the illusion and consequent enlightenment of Arjuna as described in the Bhagavad-gita. Despite all effort to the contrary, Arjuna found himself in the unenviable predicament of a fratricidal war. He became overwhelmed with anxiety because in good conscience he was unable to either renounce his duty as a ksatriya or fight against his relatives.
Fortunately, his frustrations led him to seek a solution by surrendering to Lord Krsna, the supreme spiritual master. "Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me."
As a result, Arjuna attentively heard Lord Krsna's instructions and at the conclusion felt a new hope and direction in life: "My dear Krsna. my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now free from doubt."
Arjuna's predicament is not unique. Everyone is faced with difficulties that happen without his desire. The Vedas, therefore, comparing the world situation to a forest fire that somehow blazes without being set, enjoin that one should not remain in material perplexities but should approach a spiritual master.
Another analogy commonly used in the Vedas to help us understand the need for accepting a guru is the comparison between the spiritual master and the captain of a ship. The insurmountable ocean of material existence can be crossed by the boat of human life, which is aided by the favorable winds of the Vedas and directed by the able guidance of the spiritual master.
To fully appreciate the urgency of accepting a guru, one needs to understand something about the source of the guru's knowledge. The guru carries a message that has been passed down in an unbroken chain of spiritual preceptors originating from the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, Himself. These disciplic successions are described in the Padma Purana. There are four of them: the Brahma-sampradaya, through Sri Madhvacarya; the Laksmi-sampradaya, through Sri Ramanujacarya; the Rudra-sampradaya, through Sri Visnu-swami; and the Kumara-sampradaya, through Sri Nimbarkacarya.
A disciple in a bona fide disciplic succession receives from his guru not a sermon of philosophical speculation but a potent recitation of standard knowledge, not different from the Lord's original instruction to His first disciple. The term guru therefore literally means "heavy," because of the weight of the message the guru carries.
Perfect understanding of any subject is received through authorized sources. A new lawyer becomes an apprentice to an experienced lawyer, and a young doctor becomes the intern of a licensed practitioner. The Mundaka Upanisad thus concludes. "To learn the science of God, one must approach a spiritual master."
By Lord Krsna's method of presenting Bhagavad-gita, He also highlights the necessity of accepting knowledge from the proper authority. Although He is the original spiritual preceptor. He still supports His statements to Arjuna by informing him that "the supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession."
The principle of accepting a spiritual master is essential, and in Vedic history we find no one becoming enlightened without the mercy of a preceptor. Even the Supreme Lord accepts a guru when He appears, just to teach how to accept knowledge from the right source. Thus Lord Ramacandra, Lord Rsabhadeva, Lord Krsna, and Lord Caitanya all accepted gurus.
When Bimala Prasada expressed his feeling that he could not live without the blessings of the great saint Gaurakisora dasa Babaji he demonstrated the importance of accepting a bona fide spiritual master for enlightenment. Human life is specifically meant for self-realization, without which life has no profit.
Not only did Bimala Prasada, later known as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, apparently achieve perfection by the mercy of Gaurakisora, but by carrying the message of his guru perfectly, he became the thirty-first preceptor of the Brahma-Madhva-Gaudiya-sampradaya.
Furthermore, on his direct order, his disciple Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada carried the message of the disciplic succession throughout the world. We are all indebted to the young Bimala Prasada, for because of his resolve to attain the mercy of a bona fide guru, the most important instruction of the Bhagavad-gita was made available to people of all countries: "Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth."
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
by Mathuresa dasa (Port Royal, Pennsylvania)
The abortion debate has grown tedious, as flavorless as hour-old bubble gum. Pro-lifers march on Washington. demanding the overturn of Roe v. Wade, wailing that abortion is murder. Pro-choicers countermarch, equally emotional about a woman's right to control her own body. It's all so predictable. The standoff needs new life.
There's some hope in the pro-lifers' recent acts of civil disobedience, some excitement in seeing demonstrators carted off to jail. At least they've raised the conflict to a new level: they're acting on the premise that America's million-plus annual abortions are murder.
To increase the excitement, pro-choicers ought to up the ante too. If the fetus isn't a human being, or even a living being, they should take that to heart. If, as they say, the religious talk about pregnancy being sacred (the Bhagavatam, for instance, says that the individual person, or soul—the living force in every body, fetal and full-grown—enters the womb at the time of conception!) is just that, talk, then answering "murder" charges is a waste of time. a petty, rear-guard action. Pro-choicers need to take the offensive.
As Jonathan Swift hinted more than two hundred fifty years ago in A Modest Proposal, unwanted pregnancies can have their uses. If veal is the tenderest of all cow flesh, how tender a fetus must be. Get fetal flesh into the American diet—as fetus burgers, say—and Americans would be far less inclined to protest abortion. Why do the animal rights people make so much more noise about cruelty to seals, minks, cats, dogs, and rabbits than about cruelty to chickens, pigs, and cows? Because everyone, including some animal rights people, eats chickens, pigs, and cows. So get everyone munching on fetus and you pull the rug right out from under the pro-lifers.
Fetus cuisine has great potential. Think of what it could do to revitalize the hamburger industry, or any sector of the food industry. Health food specialists rave about the nutritive value of wheat sprouts, and what is a fetus but a comparably germinal ball of flesh?
Why worry? Most of us make no moral distinction between eating sprouts and eating animal flesh, so why distinguish between animal and fetus barbecues? Advances have already been made in the medical use of fetal products, and the Europeans, we hear, already have fetal-based cosmetics on the market. If we can smear it on our skin, surely we can put it in our mouths.
As Swift so eloquently proposed, this creative use of children, or, in the modern context fetuses, would also serve to increase a man's affection for his wife, and for women in general, since everyone knows that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. A fetus industry would also provide a steady source of income for unwed mothers, thus greatly decreasing welfare rolls.
In any case, let's not dally around debating "murder" with the pro-lifers. Take the initiative, as they have. Go to jail, if necessary, as they have. Demonstrate to the world the depth of your conviction that the fetus isn't human, and that eating fetus is therefore no more unusual than eating veal and sprouts.
A Farce Of Fate
by Dhira Govinda dasa (Tel Aviv)
The doctor was a genial, cultured man. He had just given a donation in exchange for some of Srila Prabhupada's books. I was in Sakhnine, a small Muslim village nestled in the hills of northern Israel. As I was leaving his office. I noticed in the waiting room a large calendar displaying a photo of a teenage Palestinian boy gracefully posed like a little league pitcher about to deliver strike three. His hand didn't clasp a baseball, however, but a sizable rock. And his target wasn't the catcher's glove of a playmate, but the vulnerable body of an Israeli soldier, who for him represented the enemy that had been oppressing him and his family for many years.
It's the Middle East As devotees of Krsna in this part of the world, we interact extensively with many peoples—Jew, Muslim, Christian, Israeli, and Palestinian. In each of these groups, we meet many good people, such as the doctor, who are sincerely concerned about the distressing situation in which they're living. So why all the difficulty?
According to the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, the cause of the difficulty is the bodily conception of life. A person is the spiritual spark, or soul, within the body, and has no inherent connection with the body or its designations. The soul is eternally a servant of God, Krsna. From the Bhagavad-gita we learn that the body is a temporary covering of the soul. We are not Arab or Israeli, communist or capitalist; we are God's eternal servants who are foolishly playing different roles in different dresses in this material world.
In the north of Israel live the Druze, a religious sect that accepts the concept of transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, "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." Many Druze claim to remember their previous lives. One of them might say. "Yes, my father died a few years back: now he's a four-year-old boy in Yanook [a nearby village]." Some Druze even claim to remember that their previous death occurred while fighting against the Israeli army in a country such as Syria. If this is true, just imagine the irony! A man who previously fought against the Israelis now proudly wears the uniform of the Israeli military forces.
According to the Bhagavad-gita, "Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail." Thus, the rock-throwing Palestinian youth who is stopped by a bullet might take birth in suburban Tel Aviv, as his concentration at the time of death was on an Israeli soldier. And at the age of eighteen, his army commander will instruct him to guard his zone against "those vicious Palestinian boys."
The situation is obviously farcical, but because we take these bodily designations so seriously, the results are tragic. We are pleading with the citizens of this part of the world to understand the nonsectarian. transcendental philosophy Lord Krsna speaks in the Bhagavad-gita as the way to bring peace to the Middle East.
Perplexed by Krsna's urging Arjuna to fight,
A Book of Violence?
By Rohininandana Dasa
Bhagavad-gita is famous as a harbinger of peace and good fortune. Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote, "The Gita has always been my source of comfort. Whenever I was unable to perceive a silver lining on the horizon, I opened the Gita and found a verse that gave me new hope."
Yet even Gandhi, a great advocate of ahimsa, or nonviolence, found some of the Gita's verses puzzling and disagreeable. Lord Krsna explains that killing can be perfectly religious and a form of yoga: "One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions" (Bg. 18.17). Gandhi comments in his Anasakti Yoga, "The meaning of these verses of the Bhagavad-gita seems to depend upon an imaginary ideal which one cannot find a practical example of in this world."
What should we make of this? If Krsna's words, or some of them, do indeed depend upon imaginary ideals that are impractical for life today, we might wonder about Krsna's overall authority as the "perfect, infallible Supreme Person" (Bg. 15.18). We might consider that Krsna's opinion carries only relative importance, like Gandhi's or anyone else's, and so why should we base our lives upon the Gita's doctrines?
Srila Prabhupada's purport to the verse in question (18.17) endorses Krsna's statement. Srila Prabhupada writes,
One who knows the instrument of work, himself as the worker, and the Supreme Lord as the supreme sanctioner is perfect in doing everything. Such a person is never in illusion. Personal activity and responsibility arise from false ego and godlessness, or a lack of Krsna consciousness. Anyone who is acting in Krsna consciousness under the direction of the Supersoul or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even though killing, does not kill. Nor is he ever affected by the reaction of such killing. When a soldier kills under the command of a superior officer, he is not subject to be judged. But if a soldier kills on his own personal account, then he is certainly judged by a court of law.
As a fellow countryman and contemporary of Gandhi, Srila Prabhupada knew well the pros and cons of Gandhi's peaceful noncooperation ideals. He also knew of his American followers' pacifistic ideals during the Vietnam war. But still he always stuck firmly to Krsna's words, convinced that they contain the highest morality and gentility and will remain absolutely true for all time.
Those attached to their own sense of morality will certainly doubt Krsna's conclusions. So let us objectively pursue the issue of violence and nonviolence and see whether or not Krsna is giving imaginary and impractical advice.
In our changing world it is not surprising that Krsna's words often challenge some people's conceptions. Clinging to whatever threads of peace remain today, they write of Krsna as unethical and immoral in persuading the reluctant Arjuna to fight. They commend Arjuna's pacifism and condemn Krsna's bellicoseness. But perhaps such opinions arise from an incomplete understanding.
For instance, if Krsna is actually a bellicose advocate of killing, war, and violence, why does He glorify ahimsa as "an exalted, divine quality stemming from proper knowledge" at least three times in the Gita (Bg. 10.5, 13.8, and 16.2)? Krsna fully supports the Vedic injunction ahimsayat sarva-bhutanam: "Do not commit violence to any living being."
We should also note that although Krsna's words and arguments are for everyone, His direction to kill is specifically meant for Arjuna. Not that someone can justify his crimes by pulling out of context a few sentences like "The self slays not nor is slain."
Duty is the real principle determining what constitutes violence and nonviolence. Perhaps it was Arjuna who was proposing violence in the name of nonviolence—out of a mistaken sense of duty. Let us examine his apparent non-violent refusal to fight.
At first glance it appears that Arjuna had substantial reasons for not participating in the war. Friends and relatives opposed him, even his beloved grandfather, Bhisma, and his guru, Drona. If he won the war, he would be miserable without his friends, and he would suffer the sting of retribution from their wives and families. He foresaw that the women, bereft of their husbands and fathers, would be unprotected, and their bastard children would wreak havoc, the reactions to their sins resting upon his head. He reasoned that war is always wrong for those who see, and that blind men cannot be blamed. Why should he fight? Better the "nonviolent" path.
Lord Krsna gave a piercing reply to Arjuna's arguments: "You try to speak so well. but you don't know the truth of the soul. You're forgetting your duty, and your heart is weak. Armed with yoga, arise and fight!"
Arjuna had a sacred duty to perform. As a soldier he was bound to protect the citizens from aggressors. The very word ksatriya (soldier) means "one who protects from harm." Duryodhana, the main cause of the war, was an aggressor worthy of punishment. The Vedic scriptures describe six kinds of aggressors who should be checked and sufficiently punished, even by death: (1) one who gives poison, (2) one who sets fire to another's house, (3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, (4) one who plunders riches, (5) one who occupies another's land, and (6) one who kidnaps another's wife.
Duryodhana had committed all six of these offenses. He had poisoned Bhima, Arjuna's brother. He had tried to burn to death all five brothers with their mother, Kunti, his own aunt. He had usurped the Pandavas' land and property and had tried to steal their wife, Draupadi and make her his slave. And now he was attacking the Pandavas with all the force he could muster. He was a violent man in every sense.
A dictionary definition of violence is "an outrage or injury: an unlawful exercise of force." And outrage is defined as "a forcible violation of others" rights or sentiments, or an infringement on morality."
Duryodhana's violence was not confined only to the physical platform but extended to a violation of the spiritual rights of the citizens. In the monarchical system then existing, the people had a right to expect the king to represent God and give them full opportunity to develop their spirituality and God consciousness.
Arjuna's duty was clear, and Krsna, far from being bellicose, was impartially removing the misconceptions preventing its execution. As a soft-hearted devotee, Arjuna hesitated to kill but Krsna reminded him of the reality of the soul which never dies in any circumstance. Certainly the souls present before them could never be touched by any of Arjuna's powerful weapons. Only their bodies would fall. Such dull material bodies are always, in a sense, dead, whether or not they are occupied by a soul. How could Arjuna think his own "dead" body could be violent to others' dead bodies? Furthermore, Arjuna would enable aging heroes like Bhisma and Drona to gain fresh, new bodies and so revive their depleted energy.
Someone may still complain: "Arjuna's retaliation and punishment of Duryodhana is in itself an act of violence and is therefore censurable."
But does force or even killing always mean violence? And does apparent friendly behavior always mean nonviolence? A factor appears to be causing injury by cutting off a limb, and a layman may jump to the wrong conclusion—"What a cruel and violent act!" Yet the doctor's act is both lawful (because he is authorized) and protective of health. His actions are an exhibition of mercy.
A person may be trying to give up smoking, and if in the name of friendship I attempt to cajole him into accepting a cigarette, my apparent friendly gesture actually shrouds a violent attitude. Apart from causing injury to his health. I am also, perhaps unwittingly, interfering with his right of free choice.
Or suppose a policeman refrains from violence when duty dictates that he defend a person from attack? His apparent nonviolence is in fact a criminal violation of the right of a citizen to be protected by the state.
A child suffering from typhoid may be crying for food, but his doctor refuses to mitigate his hunger pangs. Giving food to the child would be an act of violence.
Without knowledge of an absolute standard, however, it is sometimes difficult for us to determine what is right.
Yet there is an Absolute Truth, in which all relative conceptions can be satisfied. According to the Vedic literature, Lord Krsna is the supreme lawmaker, and His laws are meant to be followed by everyone, in every time, place, and circumstance, for the immediate and ultimate good of all. "Unlawful" therefore means to break His laws. One who acts unlawfully, however kind and friendly he may appear, can hardly be called a good person, any more than a criminal can be called a good citizen. Thieves may talk about dividing up their loot honestly, but how can there be honesty among thieves, when the basis of their dealings is dishonest? Real honesty, morality, and goodness come from following the Lord's laws, which are transcendent and therefore higher than any man-made edict.
A study of Bhagavad-gita under the guidance of Krsna's representative, the bona fide guru, will reveal the universal relevance of God's laws. For instance, as a soldier Arjuna was duty bound to defend the principles of religion, so grievously outraged by Duryodhana. And the Supreme Lord was requesting him to fight. Convinced at last, Arjuna fought and saved the people of the world from blind leadership.
Duryodhana and company were saved from severe karmic reactions and prevented from committing further sinful deeds. Everyone associating closely with Duryodhana had been influenced by his lust for power, his greed, anger, vanity, and envy. Thus, like Duryodhana's, their own mentalities were also polluted. By destroying their bodies in battle. Arjuna acted like a doctor removing a limb to save the patient. His treatment was so effective that the soldiers killed in Krsna's presence were liberated from all reactions to their sins. By removing such politically motivated aggressors, Arjuna and Krsna created a favorable social condition for the progressive march of civilization toward spiritual perfection.
The quest for such perfection is everyone's highest duty. Srila Prabhupada once defined violence as "impeding a person in the performance of duty." Duties possess different degrees of importance. Consequently the severity of a man's violent offenses will also vary. Duryodhana, already an aggressor, made the fatal mistake of standing in the way of the spiritual right and duty of the citizens to practice self-realization under the protection of the self-realized king Yudhisthira, who, apart from being the rightful heir to the throne, had minutely studied all the Vedic truths.
Duryodhana did not care that God's laws exist in this world to facilitate everyone's spiritual progress. Souls who occupy the bodies of beasts, birds, and other creatures gradually evolve to the human form, where they should be offered all facility for continuing their spiritual development. If a leader is unqualified to help liberate a soul but instead acts to bind his followers further to the cycle of birth and death, he should be corrected and if necessary removed for his violation of their natural rights.
As there are clear standards today for examining the proficiency of such public services as medicine and catering, in the Vedic literature clear standards exist for every facet of individual and social behavior, both spiritual and material.
Take eating, for instance. We learn from the Gita and other Vedic literature that in this material world one living being is food for another. When an animal kills, it does not interfere with its victim's spiritual evolution through different species, because all its activities are within the parameters of God's laws.
When a soul is awarded a human body, however, he can make a conscious choice whether to cooperate with these laws or reject them. If he whimsically kills another creature, the soul in that creature is prevented from living out his term of imprisonment in that body and must take birth again in the same species before moving on to the next. If he kills a cow, for example, the soul in the cow will have to take birth again in a cow's body before progressing to the next stage, the human form. A person with knowledge of this law decides to give up eating meat.
Eating plants also interferes with a soul's evolution, although less dramatically. So what should we do?
The Bhagavad-gita supplies the answer by explaining that if we offer our food to the Lord, neither we nor the living being within the plant will be adversely affected. In fact the evolution of the soul in the plant's body up through the lower species of life toward the human form will be accelerated. And by eating such offered food [prasadam], we will be purified of karmic reactions, and our inherent spiritual consciousness will gradually awaken. Far from advocating violence. Lord Krsna is concerned that the smallest detail of our lives be pervaded with sensitivity.
Krsna's purpose is to free us from all ignorance and confusion. The world today is so dominated by violence, often even under the guise of spiritual life, that to save us the Lord comprehensively presents the highest principle of nonviolence, culminating in one clear course of action: "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear" (Bg. 18.66). By acting according to Krsna's direction, we will always be situated correctly. We should not think, "Here is yet another opinion." When we fully accept Krsna as God, we will discover His advice to be perfect for everyone.
The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
President Bush Gets Light of the Bhagavata
Washington, D.C.—At the Smithsonian Institute's unveiling of a large scale-model of the White House recently, Jagara dasa, who works for the Smithsonian and helped build the exhibit, presented President George Bush with a copy of Srila Prabhupada's Light of the Bhagavata and a letter from Jagara's twelve-year-old son, Sita-Rama dasa.
In his letter, Sita-Rama introduced himself as a student of the Vaisnava Academy in Alachua, Florida, and said that Light of the Bhagavata "shows, in a simple, beautiful way, a little about the Vedic philosophy we study." He reminded Mr. Bush that as President he had a great responsibility to uphold the high moral standards the United States was founded on.
Sita-Rama encouraged the President to work for world peace and the protection of human rights in other countries. He also spoke out against abortion: "All great religious traditions teach that the soul and the body are different and that they come together at the time of conception. Therefore, the child within the womb has just as much right to live as anyone else."
Sita-Rama invited Mr. Bush to visit the Vaisnava Academy, located on a 127-acre farm. "We have cows and oxen. The students get to milk the cows by hand and work the oxen in the field."
A couple of weeks. after the opening of the exhibit, Sita-Rama received a reply from the President, signed in his own hand: "Thank you for the letter and the book.... It is always good hearing from young people, and I appreciate sharing in the opinions of you and your classmates on important issues.... Your invitation meant a lot, and I'm glad to send you and your fellow students my best wishes for an exciting future."
Sita-Rama says, "It's wonderful that the chief executive of the land has only to go to his bookshelf to have contact with Krsna conscious knowledge."
Israeli Arabs Eager for Prabhupada's Books
Tel Aviv, Israel-Sheik Tarif Amin, spiritual leader for the seventy-five thousand Druze in Israel and respected by the millions of Druze worldwide, recently met with members of ISKCON in Israel. The Sheik expressed great appreciation for ISKCON's activities, especially the distribution of spiritual literature for bringing about a peaceful, God-centered society.
Dhira Govinda dasa presented Sheik Amin with a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in Hebrew. The Sheik was happy to hear that many members of the Druze community are enthusiastically placing sets of Srila Prabhupada's books in their homes and educational institutions.
Elsewhere in Israel, the Muslim population is providing stiff competition to the Druze for being the biggest supporters of book distribution in the country. Since last February, devotees have had great success in selling Srila Prabhupada's books to intellectuals in the Muslim villages. More than forty school and public libraries have taken the set of six Hebrew books, and hundreds of lawyers, doctors, and other leaders of the Muslim community have taken the books.
Leaders of the village of Kabul invited the devotees to give a program on Krsna consciousness to the local residents. More than fifty intellectual, religious, and cultural leaders of the community enjoyed an evening of philosophy, kirtana, and krsna-prasadam.
The devotees in Israel are eagerly awaiting the arrival of Arabic books so that they will be able to distribute transcendental literature to the common people, most of whom are not fluent in Hebrew.
by Mathuresa Dasa
Geoffrey and Diana Eckert checked into a Holiday Inn near the Orlando airport one Friday afternoon. They were in town to choose a site for a Florida branch of Biomodels, Inc., the agribusiness research firm they founded in 1974. Beginning Saturday morning, and for the next several days, they traversed Orange and Lake counties in a rented BMW, meeting realtors and inspecting possible locations.
It was Tuesday evening, after returning dog-tired to their hotel room, while watching the six o'clock news, that they received a call from the front desk.
"Mr. Eckert?" came a sharp voice.
"I'm ... uh ... sorry, but our records show you checked out this morning."
"Checked out? I didn't check out"
"Well, I guess there's been some mistake. Next time you come downstairs, would you please sign in again?"
"All right, sure." Geoff hung up and turned to Diana.
"That's weird," he snorted. "The records say we checked out and she guesses it's a mistake. I have to check in again. Makes me feel like I don't exist."
"Maybe you don't," said Diana playfully, looking up from the TV with a mysterious grin.
"Ha!" Geoff's face lit up with a grin. "Remember that? In the student lounge after dinner?"
Geoff and Diana had attended the University of Chicago together, he majoring in biology, she in English. There had been a period during their junior year when they had developed, along with some mutual friends, a half-serious we-don't-really-exist doctrine after dinner at the student cafeteria. Geoff would hold up one end of the conversation by describing people as short-lived biological machines, and Diana would contribute a mixture of theories from one of her philosophy courses.
"Remember?" said Geoff.
"We'd try to look at everyone as biological automata. Spooky."
"Fun game for a while." said Diana, "but it didn't last long. Too bleak."
They stopped talking to watch a news clip on Japan's rice farmers. When the clip was over, Diana switched off the set.
"Let's go to dinner," she announced in a loud voice and with a wave of her arm.
"Good idea," said Geoff, reaching for his jacket "You know. I'm not sure we think so differently now," "About what?" "About being biological automata."
"We don't think much now, period," said Diana flippantly, adjusting an earring. "No time."
"Tch, tch," Geoff scolded, shaking a finger. "We're getting old and stodgy."
Looking in the mirror, Diana decided she needed lipstick, so Geoff sat down on the edge of the bed to wait.
"Remember that girl we met in the LA-airport on our way to Hawaii that one year?" he said.
"You mean the one with the red and white shawl, selling books?" "Yeah, the Hare Krsna."
"What about her?"
Geoff's voice grew more thoughtful. "Well. she was trying to sell us a Bhagavad-gita, and she kept saying the Gita teaches that we're not our bodies."
"Yeah, I remember," said Diana. "'We are not our bodies. We're the eternal soul inside, like a driver in a car.'"
"Right. And when she heard I was a biochemist, she made a big point of how the chemicals and blood and guts are just the bodily vehicle. She said, 'Everyone normally says "my body," not "I body." So that indicates that the body is the self's possession, not the self proper.' "
"So what do you think?" said Diana, making another mysterious face.
"About 'I body' / 'my body' and biological automata."
Geoff gave a long shrug. "Golly, I don't know."
"We must be having an identity crisis," said Diana.
"Right! How awful," said Geoff, slapping his forehead melodramatically. "Twenty years out of school, and we still don't know who we are."
The phone rang. This time Diana answered.
"Hello? Yes? Oh . . .Well, thank you ... Quite all right. Oh. don't worry, no problem . . . You're very kind. Thank you so much. B'bye."
"Who was that?"
"Lady at the front desk. Apologizing for the mistake. Very sweet. You don't have to sign in again."
"Great! I feel like I exist again . . . Whoever I am."
"Well, I don't know about you," said Diana, "but I'm hungry. On to dinner!"
The Function of the Soul
This exchange between His Divine Grace A C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in Seattle, Washington, on October 10, 1968.
Srila Prabhupada: How is the body growing? On account of the presence of that small particle, the soul. Take, for example, this boy. This boy has got a small stature of body. Now, this boy will grow a very stout and strong body in his young manhood, say by the age of twenty-four years. Then that young-man body will go; another body will come.
How is it all becoming possible? On account of the presence of the small particle, the soul. But if that particle of soul is taken away or if it goes away, this body will no longer grow or change.
These are the subject matters of meditation. But when you come to the point of understanding that "I am not this body—I am spirit soul," then the next stage will be "What is the function of the soul?"
That function of the soul is Krsna consciousness, working in Krsna consciousness. So in the present age, one has to take directly to the function of the soul. Then other understandings will automatically come.
It is not possible at present that you can go to a secluded place and peacefully sit there and meditate. It is not possible in this age. It is impossible. If you try artificially, it will be a failure.
Therefore, you have to take to this process: harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam/ kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha—"In this age of Kali, there is no alternative for self-realization but this chanting of Hare Krsna, chanting of the Lord's holy name." That is the practical, real fact.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, is there any way for a Christian in this age—without the help of a spiritual master—to reach the spiritual sky through reading the words of Jesus Christ in the Bible and trying to follow his teachings?
Srila Prabhupada: When you read the Bible, you are following the spiritual master. How can you say "without a spiritual master"? As soon as you read the Bible, that means you are following the instruction of Lord Jesus Christ. That means you are following the spiritual master. So where is the opportunity of being without the spiritual master?
Disciple: I was referring to a living spiritual master.
Srila Prabhupada: There is no question of whether the spiritual master is "living." The spiritual master is eternal.
Now, your question was what to do "without the spiritual master." Without the spiritual master you cannot be, at any stage of your life. You may accept this spiritual master or that spiritual master. That is a different thing. But you have to accept.
When you say "reading the Bible," that means you are following the spiritual master, represented by some priest or some clergyman in the line of Lord Jesus Christ.
So in any case, you have to follow the spiritual master. There cannot be the question of "without the spiritual master." Is that clear?
Disciple: I mean, for instance, we couldn't understand the teachings of Bhagavad-gita without your help, Srila Prabhupada, without your presentation.
Srila Prabhupada: Similarly, you have to understand the Bible with the help of Christ and the priest in the church.
Disciple: Yes, but is the priest receiving a good interpretation from his disciplic succession or his bishop? Because there seems to be some kind of discrepancy in the interpretation of the Bible. There are many different sects of Christianity that interpret the Bible in different ways.
Srila Prabhupada: Of course, there cannot be any interpretation of the Bible. Then the Bible itself has no authority. It is just like the old saying. "Call a spade a spade." Now, if someone calls it something else, that is another thing. He's not a spiritual master.
For instance, this is a watch. Everybody has called it a watch. But if I called it a spectacle, then what is the value of my being a so-called spiritual master? I'm misleading. [Laughter.] "It is a watch." That I must say.
So when someone makes some misrepresentation, he's not a bona fide spiritual master. Reject such a spiritual master immediately.
That intelligence you must have: Who is a pseudo spiritual master, and who is a real spiritual master? Otherwise, you'll be cheated. And that is being done. Everyone is interpreting in his own way.
The Bhagavad-gita—there are thousands of editions, and all of them have tried to interpret in their own way. All nonsense. They should all be thrown away. Simply you have to read Bhagavad-gita as it is. Then you'll understand.
There is no question of interpretation. Then the authority is gone. As soon as you interpret there is no authority.
Take a law book. Do you mean to say that in court, if you say before the judge, "My dear lord, I interpret this passage in this way," it will be accepted?
The judge will at once say, "Who are you to interpret? You have no right."
After all, then what would be the authority of the law book if everyone came and said, "I interpret in this way"?
When is interpretation required? When a thing is not understood. If I say "This is a watch" and everyone understands that "This is a watch, yes," then where is the opportunity of interpreting that "This is a spectacle"?
So unnecessary interpretation is not required, and that is not bona fide. And those who are interpreting unnecessarily—they should be rejected immediately. Immediately, without any consideration.
The Art of Dying
According to "The Lost Art of Dying," an article in the Sunday Telegraph of London, people nowadays are trying to avoid the thought of death. One proof of this is that the dying are no longer cared for at home. Whereas a century ago only five percent of the British population died in a hospital, today more than seventy percent do. And the more people seek to keep death at arm's length, the more perfunctory its rituals have become. Supposedly, there is very little weeping, and seventy-five percent of those who die in England go without any church ceremony.
Surviving relatives are also getting less sympathy these days. A medical director of a prominent London hospital says. "How do we treat the bereaved? By crossing the road and walking down the other side of the street." The reason people cross the road, he says, is that they don't know what to say. "There is no longer any language of religious consolation in our society."
The cold-hearted attitude toward death provides a contrast between present-day society and the ancient Vedic society. According to Vedic histories, people often went to the other extreme and fell into great grief and bewilderment when a beloved relative died. Today people send a dying relative to the hospital so that he won't die in their home. In contrast, formerly husbands and wives would sometimes stay with a dead person and have to be torn away so that the funeral could take place:
The time was appropriate for the body to be burned, but the queens, not allowing it to be taken away, continued lamenting for the dead body, which they kept on their laps.—Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.2.35
It was to such bereaved relatives that great sages like Narada used to appear, consoling them with transcendental knowledge. The sages would speak about the inevitability of death, about the unalterable temporality of our bodies, and most important, about the eternal nature of the soul. While the real purpose of the sages' teachings was to give spiritual enlightenment, their humane purpose was to give solace to the bereaved.
But if nowadays people aren't made thoughtful by death, that makes it much more difficult to impart eternal knowledge. At least many are pretending not to be affected, as they show a "business as usual" face to the world.
Of course, sensitive people continue to take a humane and philosophical attitude toward death. The Telegraph quotes John Baker, Bishop of Salisbury, who is saddened that as a society we try to hide death: "We should think about death far more. because it sharpens one's priorities as very few other stimuli can. It makes you say. 'What are the really important things I should be doing with my life, not just selfishly but also for other people?' What we are doing by pushing the thought of death away is robbing ourselves of the power to make our lives what they are meant to be."
Vedic teaching probes deeply into the meaning of death—and beyond. When Lord Krsna found His friend Arjuna aggrieved over the future deaths of his relatives. Krsna gave a two-hour course in dying, death, and life after death.
Lord Krsna began, "Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead." He then taught Arjuna that there was never a time "when I did not exist, nor you. nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be."
According to the knowledge of transmigration of the soul, as given by enlightened sages in Vedic scriptures, we can understand that the real self, the real person, is different from the perishable body. The body dies, but the soul goes on to take another body according to its deeds (or karma) in this life. Because the soul is eternal, we should not overly lament the death of our friends, or our own death.
The modern attempt to put death out of sight and out of mind is not only inhuman, but impossible. Fear and grief will overtake us all, despite our attempt to distance ourselves from them. Therefore, just as the excessively grieving relatives in the old days needed counsel, so do we need it today.
The immortality of the self, as taught in literatures like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, is not a religious sentiment but is analyzed in a scientific way, with logic and evidence. The first lesson—to understand that the self in our body is different from the physical body—is not an esoteric idea: it is common experience. If we happen to be in the presence of some old-fashioned bereaving relatives at a funeral, we might hear them cry, "Oh, he's gone!" and yet the body of the deceased person is lying right there in the coffin, perfectly whole.
So why the lamentation? The bereaved relatives will say, "This is only the body—the real person is gone!" By this admission, which everyone observes to be true. we are actually admitting that the real person is different from the body. We are also admitting that we never really knew the real person during his lifetime but always mistook him for his physical body.
During a lifetime the body changes but the real self remains the same. Thus Lord Krsna reasons by analogy that the same process continues after life: "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change" (Bhagavad-gita 2.13).
The Vedic literature teaches the science of eternality in many stages. The individual soul and its relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, how to live in this life to ensure a better next life, how to act at the very moment of death, the ultimate perfection of life after death—all these are discussed reasonably and from the vantage of perfect, transcendental knowledge.
It may be that we have lost the art of dying nowadays, and that people pretend they don't care about it. But in any case, whether we turn away from death or weep too much because of it, our death is sure.
Faced with this powerful reality, a civilized human being should become as informed as possible about it. In the opening chapters of Bhagavad-gita, you can find out everything you will ever need to know.—SDG
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare
Although God has given us all facilities to live peacefully on this earth, cultivate Krsna consciousness, and finally to come to Him, in this age we're unfortunate. We are short-lived, and there are so many people without food, shelter, married life, or defense from the onslaughts of nature. This is due to the influence of this age of Kali. Therefore Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, seeing the dreadful situation in this age, emphasized the absolute necessity for cultivating spiritual life. And how should we do it? Caitanya Mahaprabhu gives the formula, harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam/ kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha: "Just always chant Hare Krsna" Never mind whether you are in a factory or in hell, or in a shack or in a skyscraper—it doesn't matter. Just go on chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. There is no expense, there is no impediment, there is no caste, there is no creed, there is no color—anyone can do it. Just chant and hear.
—His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.