Back to Godhead magazine is a cultural presentation to respiritualize human society. It aims at achieving the following purposes:
1. To help all people distinguish more clearly between reality and illusion, spirit and matter, the eternal and the temporary.
2. To present Krsna consciousness as taught in Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
3. To help every living being remember and serve Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead.
4. To offer guidance in the techniques of spiritual life.
5. To expose the faults of materialism.
6. To promote a balanced, natural way of life, informed by spiritual values.
7. To increase spiritual fellowship among all living beings, in relationship with Lord Sri Krsna.
8. To perpetuate and spread the Vedic culture.
9. To celebrate the chanting of the holy names of God through the sankirtana movement of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Sharing Good Fortune
IN BACK TO GODHEAD, we've got a magazine like no other. One that glorifies Krsna and tells the science of Krsna. One that faithfully transmits the message of the Vedic sages and the Vedic culture. It serves as the voice of the Vedas today.
Our articles are unique.
Our art is unique.
Our message is unique.
I keep a close eye on other magazines, and as far as I've seen, there simply isn't any other magazine in the world like BTG.
In BTG, Krsna's message comes through in its pure form, so that spirituality is not just a feeling but a scientific fact.
We're printing 14,000 copies of each issue. From being unsure a few years ago how BTG could even survive, we've now become strong and steady. Survival is no longer a problem.
And Back to Godhead is being read. It's having an impact. It's playing a valuable role in reader's lives. That's what I hear from you when you write to us, or when I meet you while traveling.
We're accomplishing our goal of linking readers together and helping one another remember Krsna and move forward in Krsna consciousness.
But we can do better.
Editorially, what we have isn't everything we could have. We're always on the lookout for new ideas and new contributors. So send your ideas, comments, suggestions, criticisms. Or send articles, artwork, or photographs. Volunteer your service for BTG.
Let's raise our circulation.
Though 14,000 copies an issue is enough to keep us going, it's not enough to keep us happy. It's nothing like what we should have. We want to reach more readers.
BTG is not meant only for a fortunate group of devotees.
Let's share our good fortune with others.
In BTG, we have a wonderful tool for helping people become strong and joyful in self-realization and Krsna consciousness. Now let's make full use of that tool.
Spread the word of BTG. Tell people about it. Let them know what you're reading—and what they could be reading too. Here's a magazine that can brighten and strengthen their spiritual life. So tell them about it. Talking about BTG is as good as talking about Krsna.
Show people the magazine. Let them see for themselves its spiritual beauty and spiritual substance.
Encourage your friends and relatives to subscribe. Or give them a subscription as a gift.
Do whatever you can to spread the message of Back to Godhead.
By each of us doing a little bit, we can have an effect that can surprise us. Krsna is the most wonderful, and when we give just a little effort to sharing Krsna's message with others, we can have the most wonderful effect.
We have the best philosophy, the best mantra, the best food, the best culture, the best way of life. And it's all there in Back to Godhead. Now the best thing we can do is share it with the world.
Moved Almost to Tears
This note is to let you know how much I appreciate the September/October BTG. My service here at Gita Nagari caring for the cows and oxen is very demanding, and I don't take much time to read. But I became very much enlivened and even moved almost to tears by two articles in that issue.
Mahavisnu Swami's article on distributing a book really moved me. I was fortunate years ago to distribute books for a while before starting my present service. The article by Bhaktin Robin was also very enlivening. I grew up in the South during the bussing years and saw riots between blacks and whites in my schools.
Butcherlike TV Producers
In the July/August issue, Urmila Devi Dasi's article "Your Kids and the One-Eyed Guru" contained many convincing references from Srila Prabhupada and other sources exposing TV for what it really is.
To add, if I may, to her wonderful contribution: I can't find words horrible enough to describe the psychological manipulation knowingly employed by butcherlike TV producers to exploit the innocent trust and wonder of childhood. Children virtually get trained through TV to break all regulative principles, to feel confident and good about it, and to teach the same to their children. Let's give our children the real television Srila Prabhupada gave us—the television constantly being transmitted live to the heart of a devotee through Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Ajamila Dasa Adhikari
Working for Nondevotees Is OK
Thank you for writing "Giving Everything Up" in the September/October issue of BTG. It was wonderful preaching.
You've found Sri Caitanya's interaction with Kurma to be instructive, and you've also added relevant good commentary. I believe your most important commentary to be, "One can teach Krsna consciousness to others. In this way one makes one's own life perfect...."
Srila Prabhupada himself encouraged me thus: "You family men, you require some money.... You have got better job now and better service also. Krsna has awarded you for your service. Stick to it" (Conversations with Srila Prabhupada, vol. 25, p. 172).
It pained me to read Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu's comment (back in BTG 11/12, 1991, p. 35) "Prabhupada did say that it was bad for a devotee to be employed by a nondevotee." Prabhupada did not discourage me in this way. Prabhupada emphasized my service, my preaching. He simply encouraged me to see my job as dependent on my service.
Although I like much of Urmila's "Higher Vocation" (BTG 3/4, 1993), I take exception with her understanding of independence. Prabhupada defined independence to me as dependence only on God and nature, whereas modern society is dependent on material things. Urmila implies that service to an employer is a lower vocation. However, there are examples to the contrary. Indeed Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great independent devotee, had a profession that was apparently dependent on the British rulers of Calcutta and Orissa. To older children and young adults, aware of a complex world, Bhaktivinoda's example appears inconsistent with Urmila's ideal view. Arjuna did not fight in an ideal world. He had to carry out his duty to his family, to Draupadi, and to Krsna. Thus, we can teach adolescents and adults that an independent devotee can work in the world or live in a temple but he or she must put service to Krsna first.
In 1979 as I passed through the airport in Denver I met a bus driver who was a devotee. She was a married mother of a sixteen-year-old child and was struggling to do her worldly duties and be a devotee. I took great inspiration from that person. There are many devotees who practice their vows in the temple, but there are also many in the world who endeavor to pattern their lives on the Bhagavad-gita as Prabhupada taught it.
My request is that you continue to print articles like "Giving Everything Up," and that you avoid giving misleading information. Cancer is such a threat in modern society that doctors are called upon to be precise. They must try to cut or burn out the malignancy only. Using primitive methods, entire limbs used to be amputated. As spiritual doctors, please do not cut off our limbs. We need those to serve Krsna.
Allured to Krsna
Several months ago I had the pleasure of obtaining some old issues of Back to Godhead and enjoyed them very much. I have always been allured to the Krsna faith and remained curious about it for many years.
I am a 34-year-old prisoner who is very serious about becoming a devotee to serve Krsna and clean my spirit with the Krsna faith. I am most eager to meet other brothers and sisters to bond myself with the faith and life style. Therefore, I would like to personally appeal directly to you to publish my name and address in Back to Godhead.
Needless to say, as a state prisoner I do not have the funds to subscribe to Back to Godhead. I can just assure you that my motives are genuine and I would like to learn as much as I can about the faith. If a free subscription was provided to me, I promise you I would keep it in circulation among the prison population, where others could learn about the Krsna movement.
Jimmy Zientek #76B1899
Thanks for your letter. We've published your address and entered a complimentary subscription for you. Hare Krsna. (Readers wishing to sponsor subscriptions for needy persons can send contributions to BTG at our editorial offices.)
Without this preliminary spiritual knowledge, Lord Krsna says, one is a fool.
By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
sri bhagavan uvaca
The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: "While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead."—Bhagavad-gita 2.11
You'll find that in the Bhagavad-gita Arjuna was convinced that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But because in the future others would have doubts about Krsna, Arjuna requested Krsna, "Will You show me Your universal form?" Krsna agreed and showed it to him. So now an intelligent man may test a so-called God by asking, "Just show something that proves you are God." Without showing something—simply by false advertisement—one cannot be God.
Our mistake is that we do not know what is God. We think that God may be just like one of us. No. The God who controls the huge affairs of universal administration cannot be like one of us. He is superconscious.
Transmigration of the Soul
To understand God, first we must understand our self, or the soul within the body. The existence of life is very subtle. Our gross body is made of earth, water, fire, air, and sky. And behind that is a subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego. When I give up the gross body, the subtle body carries me to another gross body. So when my body is lifeless, the subtle body is not. At night, for example, when the gross body is asleep the subtle body works, and therefore we dream. Similarly, when the gross body dies the subtle body carries us to the next life.
I have explained in the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is how a person changes bodies. When the mind, intelligence, and ego of a dying person are absorbed in a certain kind of thought, that thought takes him to a suitable body for the next life. Just as the air is pure but when passing over a rose tree it carries the aroma of the rose and when passing over a filthy place it carries the smell of that filthy place, so the mind, intelligence, and ego carry the flavor of our present activities to the next life. That is the subtle mystery of the transmigration of the soul from one body to another.
If in our present life we purify our consciousness, then in our next life we shall get a body full of transcendental "flavor." If in our present life we practice devotion to God, then our next life will be as an associate of God. The whole thing is in our hands. If we want to be degraded, we can prepare ourselves in this life for degradation in the next. And if we want to elevate ourselves to the highest perfection of life—to become one of the associates of God—we can prepare ourselves for that. How?
Beyond the Gross and Subtle Bodies
Let me give an example: Since people are now trying to go to the moon, they cultivate thoughts of the moon, first by hearing. Unless you hear about a place, you cannot desire to abide there. Our friend Mr. Cohen has left for California. I have no understanding of California, but Mr. Cohen has told me that after reaching there he'll write with a description of the place. Now, suppose if after reading that description I think of going there. Then I'll prepare myself—"Oh, I must go there." Similarly, when I described to you the spiritual world, you were very much pleased and thought, "I must go there." So we have to hear. Unless we hear what God is like, what sort of place He has, what the mode of life is there, we cannot be attracted.
Now, to go to the spiritual world, we must first get free from the two bodies in which we are now living—the gross body and the subtle body. Suppose a man's gross body appears dead. One must know that the subtle body has carried him to another body. The subtle body has not lost life. The life is there.
But when you get liberation, the subtle body—the egoistic life—has to be left also. And since in any case the body has to be left, why should one cry for the body? Therefore Krsna says to Arjuna, "A learned man does not lament over the body. One who is actually learned has no concern for the body. He's concerned with the activities of the soul. You are speaking so many things according to bodily relations—'If my friends die, their wives will become widows ...' You are posing as a learned man, but you are fool number one because your whole conception is based on the body. Your whole argument with Me was based on the body."
Anyone who identifies with the body is not a learned man; he's a fool. He may be a B.A., an M.A., a Ph.D., but if he identifies with the body then according to Bhagavad-gita and according to the Vedic literature he's not a learned man. That is the first instruction in spiritual life. If we want to progress toward spiritual advancement in knowledge, we must have this preliminary knowledge: "I am not the body." This is not an advanced understanding. This is simply the A-B-C-D of spiritual life.
A Society of Cows and Asses
In the Bhagavatam there is a very nice verse in this connection:
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
Kunape means "bag," and tri-dhatuke refers to the three elements that make up the body. According to the Ayurvedic medical system, the body is made of three elements: kapha, pitta, vayu (cold or water, heat or fire, and air). Therefore the body is called a bag made of these three elements. The Bhagavatam says, "One who identifies with the body made of water, fire, and air, who thinks of the issues or by-products of the body as his own kinsmen, who sees the land from which the body has grown as worshipable, and who goes to places of pilgrimage simply to bathe is considered no better than a cow or an ass."
My children, my wife, my relatives, my father, my mother, my brother, my nation, my society—these ideas are all due to bodily relations. There are thousands of women in the streets of New York, but because I have a bodily relation with a particular woman, I call her my wife. And because I have a bodily relation with the children produced by her, they are my children. But the basic principle—"I am this body"—is wrong. And because I am not the body, the expansions of the body are not mine. But the whole world is going on under under the false impression that the body is the self and that the expansions of the body are mine.
The fighting between one nation and another nation is due to the body. Now everyone is fighting for land. "Oh, we are Indian." "We are Pakistani." "We are Vietnamese." "We are Americans." "We are German." So much fighting is going on over land. The land has become worshipable, so worshipable that one sacrifices his valuable life for it. Why is the land so dear? Because the body has grown from it. Again, the bodily connection.
Now, in the Christian world the water of the Jordan River is considered sacred. Similarly, when Hindus go to some pilgrimage place they bathe in the sacred river there. But one should know that going to a sacred place does not mean simply bathing in the water there. The real point of going to a sacred place is to find intelligent scholars in spiritual knowledge, to associate with them, and to learn from them. That is the purpose of going to a place of pilgrimage.
My residence is Vrndavana. In Vrndavana many great scholars and saintly persons live. One should go to such holy places not simply to bathe in the water; one must be intelligent enough to find some spiritually advanced man living there and take instruction from him and be benefited by that. But people do not go to find saints. They simply bathe and purchase some goods and advertise, "Oh, I have been to such and such pilgrimage place."
The Bhagavatam says that such persons are considered cows or asses. Practically the whole world is moving as a civilization of cows and asses because our whole life is based on identification with the body. The center is the body, and everything expands from the body.
Perfection in Spiritual Knowledge
A woman in the audience: In the Indian places known as sacred places, isn't it also a fact that there is more magnetism there because of the meeting of saints?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly. Therefore the place itself has got some magnetism—just like Vrndavana. Now I am sitting here in New York—the world's greatest city—but my heart is always hankering after Vrndavana. I am not happy here. I shall be very happy to return to my Vrndavana, that sacred place.
"But then why are you here?" Because it is my duty. I have brought some message for you people. Because I have been ordered by a superior, my spiritual master: "Whatever you have learned, you should go to the Western countries and distribute that knowledge." So in spite of all my difficulties, all my inconveniences, I am here because of duty. If I go and sit down at Vrndavana, I shall be very comfortable there. I'll have no anxiety, nothing of the sort. You see? But I have taken all the risk in old age because I am duty bound. So I have to execute my duty in spite of all my inconveniences. That is the idea.
So the basic principle of spiritual advancement in knowledge is that one should first be convinced that one is not the body. Then other spiritual knowledge will begin. Unless one understands himself, he cannot understand God. "I am not the body"—that knowledge one must accept, at least theoretically.
Here it is said, bhagavan uvaca, which means that Krsna has such extensive knowledge that there cannot be any mistakes in His teachings. He's the authority, so whatever He says is right. That is the conception of bhagavan. Here it is not said krsna uvaca, because someone may doubt Krsna—"Krsna was a historical personality. Why should you be so much concerned with Krsna?" So it is said, bhagavan uvaca. Bhagavan has all knowledge. So there cannot be any mistake in whatever He will speak.
For ordinary persons there are four imperfections: to commit mistakes, to become illusioned, to have imperfect senses, and to cheat. First, we must commit mistakes. We are sure to commit mistakes. Even Gandhi, the great politician, committed mistakes, and so have many other great men. "To err is human." Any man, however great in the estimation of the world, is sure to commit mistakes.
Another imperfection is that we are illusioned. Illusion means taking one thing for another. In the desert one accepts the sand as water. That is called illusion. Similarly, every one of us who identifies with the body is under illusion. Even the President is under illusion. Even the greatest scientist is under illusion.
The next imperfection is the tendency to cheat. One is imperfect, but he wants to give knowledge to others. That is cheating. You may ask, "You are also giving us knowledge ... ?" No, I am not giving you knowledge. I am speaking Bhagavad-gita. I am giving you knowledge as given by Lord Krsna. It is not my knowledge.
And finally, we have imperfect senses.
One who is above these four imperfections—who never commits mistakes, is never illusioned, never cheats others, and has perfect senses—He is God. That is a definition of God. And one who is not God but who comes to the perfect stage of life is liberated. Then he's as good as God.
Thank you very much.
Turn Off That Set!
By Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
IN THE AIRPORT LOUNGE on my last flight to Europe, I couldn't escape. We found the last two seats in the boarding section, and they faced the TV sports report. It was a boxing match. The black guy hit the white guy twice in the face, and the referee stopped the fight because the white guy's face was bleeding.
After the fight, the loser complained on TV: "This is no way to lose! Why did they stop the fight?" The anchorman summed things up: "Boxing: it's a wonderful sport!"
Forty inches of snow this year in Boston, and an Amtrak train hit an inflammable truck. Bill Clinton wants homosexuals in the Army, and the homosexuals want to be part of the St. Patrick's Day parade. The conservatives, though, held a protest march to stop them. We saw their placard on TV: "God hates Fags."
We sat there in the lounge, two saffron-dressed Hare Krsnas, on our way to Ireland. I didn't really want to watch the television, but it was hard to avoid, and I thought, "Anyway, I'll soon forget it."
But I didn't forget it. It stayed with me. It made me want to remind devotees—turn off that set!
I certainly wouldn't want to be a child watching TV all day, or anyone watching the news straight from the high-tech video relay teams with their correspondents and talking faces in Washington, D.C. "This is June Meadows, from Washington." "This is Scrub Donuls, from Istanbul." You know how they come on, standing in the heat in a shirt unbuttoned at the neck in Africa, or standing with their breath coming in frosty puffs in Moscow. The reporters start rapping what the news is—"Premier Yeltsin's opponents are going for blood in the latest round of political infighting. The former Soviet Union ... blah, blah, blah ... only time will tell. This is Flip Furrows, in Moscow."
Then you're back to the anchor people in your own living room in Boston or New York or wherever you are. You're trapped and entertained, and the web of false news and commercials is wrapped around your head and the heads of your children like a cocoon around a silkworm.
Stay tuned to Friendly Freckles. Don't forget Death and the March of Time. And here's the latest weather. Then a jovial weatherman tells you what's going on with fronts and masses of clouds. Do you really want to know how the weather is two thousand miles away? But he has predicted everything; he appears to be in control; and so you sit there listening.
Stay tuned to "The Chamber of Horrors." "Winkles the Pet Chimpanzee, tonight at 9:00." Stay tuned to see the U.S. Army dropping bombs.
Hey, turn off that set. Turn it off.
But you can't turn it off. Once you've seen the soccer ball or the football being kicked up and down a field and the guys in blue scoring and then embracing in utmost serious affectionate camaraderie, once you've seen it, even if you go to Dingle Bay to a house that the wind buffets and where no one comes to bother you, those flickering images will return.
This is it. This is our problem. This is why we can't chant attentively. Because an Amtrak train smashed an inflammable truck and when the camera crew got there all they could film was the remains of the burning truck—and the train was already gone, so they filmed any old Amtrak car moving in the snow—and "This is Burt Billson, in Maryland."
Turn off that set.
Wish we could. We can't call someone in to fix the stuck switch in our heads. There's no plumber who can unclog our pipes. Frankly, there's no way to make the world void of inane images. That's the kind of place it is.
The only remedy is to turn to Krsna, to live in Krsna consciousness.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of more than two dozen books.
Cooking Class: Lesson 11
By Yamuna Devi
ALMOST ANYONE who has eaten Indian food has been served at least one. It's commonplace in far too many Indian restaurants—an overcooked mush of greasy vegetables. Such dishes are a mockery of Indian vegetable cookery. You often find them in muted shades of red, brown, or yellow from a predominance of tomatoes, tamarind, or turmeric. I have long called them greasy-spoon vegetable shlups. They're a far cry from the real thing—succulent, moist-textured vegetable dishes, known as foogath, tarkari, and charchari.
So how do you make the real thing? You use the techniques I described in the introduction to vegetable cooking (Lesson Eight), and you become aware of just how heat and timing affect the finished quality of a dish. Vegetable shlups result either from bad technique or from unconscious cooking—or both.
Getting the right texture when cooking several vegetables at once takes experience. You can practice by making single-vegetable dishes. Steam or bake a vegetable just short of the finished texture you desire. Then briefly saute it in spice-infused ghee or fold it into a smooth fresh chutney. The first two recipes of the Moist Vegetable section in the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, illustrate these approaches.
Vegetables high in moisture will cook softer than drier vegetables. For example, if you steam yellow squash until just tender and saute it, it will have a final texture softer than Brussels sprouts made the same way.
As you cook through a few of the dishes in this section, take special care to control the finished texture of the dish. You'll quickly note how heat control and timing are important when several vegetables with different amounts of moisture are cooked together, as in Succulent Mixed Vegetables with Crunchy Fried Badis, or Garden Vegetable Stew with Crunchy Fried Badis. But, oh, when you get them right, what one-pot meals these are! With centuries of tradition behind them, these are examples of moist-vegetable cookery at its best.
Although foogath, tarkari, and charchari dishes are all moist and succulent, charcharis have a unique flavor—char flavor. Before you assume this means burned, I want to assure you that the char tastes more like the smoke-flavored crust on a pan of long-cooked campfire hash-browns. OK, maybe it's even better than that, but you get the idea. To achieve the distinct char flavor, you boil, steam, and pan-fry the vegetables in one pot—classically without stirring them. So you can understand why you might need a few tries to get the knack of it. To make a perfect charchari, the thickness of the pan, how it conducts heat, the texture of the vegetables, how they are cut, heat regulation, and timing must come together harmoniously.
Though Srila Prabhupada made a flawless charchari in any pan, most of us would do well to use a heavy-bottomed nonstick saucepan. You're less apt to burn the dish in those pans, and even when overcooked the crust that forms usually stays deep chocolate brown instead of coal black. A skillet is the wrong shape, but a well-seasoned cast-iron saucepan will work well. Very heavy French enamel-covered steel also makes a good pan but requires more judgment in timing and heat regulation.
One reason charchari dishes taste so scrumptious is they contain lots of ghee or butter. Richness is part of their character. So save charchari for special festive occasions, and serve it as a side dish. I re-tested two recipes from the textbook's charchari section and cut the ghee by half, with negligible loss of flavor or character.
Srila Prabhupada and Charchari
In the early days of ISKCON Srila Prabhupada didn't teach us the Hindi or Bengali names for moist vegetables; I learned them sometime later. The earliest note I've found expressing his fondness for charchari is an entry in his diary on board the ship Jaladuta. On September 13, 1965, he wrote, "Today is the 32nd day of our journey from Calcutta. In the morning I couldn't take my breakfast, then I cooked bati-carchari. It appeared to be delicious, so I was able to take some food."
Two years later in San Francisco Srila Prabhupada taught me to make bati-charchari, in two variations—Potatoes and Green Beans, and Potatoes and Eggplant. Of course, as the years went on, my repertoire expanded, and many years later in India he requested bati-charchari quite frequently. Certainly if you are following these classes you'll want to work on perfecting these dishes.
A Personal Note
This is my last column before I leave for an extended visit to India to begin research for my next cookbook. So my next columns will come from India. Cooking is an adventure and a constant learning experience. I am eager to share with you new information as I learn it. One of the many principles I learned from Srila Prabhupada is that cooking in Krsna consciousness is a process of purification, ever increasing and ever pleasing. I hope you allow yourselves to taste this in your culinary journey.
A rich moist vegetable served as a side dish.
1 pound waxy red or white potatoes, cubed
Place all the ingredients in a heavy-bottomed nonstick saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover partially, and boil gently until the liquid is absorbed and the vegetables are fork tender, about 25 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat slightly, and cook until the vegetables fry in the seasoned butter. (Do not burn the vegetables; only allow a deep-brown crust to form in the pan.) Cover and set aside for 10 minutes; then stir in the crust and offer to Krsna.
*Also called bati and warian. Available at Indian grocery stores.
The Playful Mood
By Urmila Devi Dasi
FIFTEEN CHILDREN between two and five years old stood at one end of our living room. Some inched away from the wall. All waited.
"Be cowherd boys!" I called, and the children pretended to blow flutes and horns or bring a cow by a rope. Pretending in this way, they went as quickly as possible to the other side of the room and back. (Having a living room with little furniture was an advantage.) My infant son squirmed in my arms and tried to join the fun.
"Ambarish won!" I announced. "He got back first, playing like a cowherd boy the whole time. Now, ready again. Be fish!"
I set the baby in a crib and demonstrated pretend swimming.
Prabhupada has given us a wonderful process of molding activity to awaken love for Krsna. Even children involved in games, toys, and playing can be guided to use their playful mood to their spiritual advantage. Then Krsna consciousness will easily arise in their hearts.
Saintly children such as Dhruva, Prahlada, and Narada shunned childish playthings. And Prabhupada noted that one child of his disciples rejected ordinary toys as "maya." Yet while we don't want to encourage toys and games that will lead to forgetfulness of Krsna, for children to play in a transcendental way is natural and beneficial.
Babies start to play when they like to grasp and move objects, at about three months. My husband and I made a mobile of pictures of Krsna and hung it above our first baby's sleeping place, carefully putting it out of range of the child's feet.
Soon a baby can sit and then crawl. Children this age need playthings just to keep out of mischief and distress. They like toys they can crawl or walk with, such as a toy wooden bull on wheels with a string. As far as possible, we selected toys to remind our child of Krsna's pastimes, such as cows, peacocks, and elephants.
Very young babies love to look at pictures of Krsna's pastimes. Prabhupada told us to show the pictures and not give them directly to the child, who might disrespect them. So we put pictures on the walls near the floor and covered them with plastic. Our children would crawl to them and touch them. We also made books filled with pictures from extra BTGs and worn-out book covers (and put plain covers on them so that no picture would touch our feet or the floor).
As a child masters language, he or she will point at the pictures again and again. "Krsna," he'll say, and then "Krsna kills the demon."
As children mature, they like to play not just around other children but with them. Krsna Himself showed the ideal play for children of this age. Children in the country can go in groups to herd calves, playing by a lake or river in the open air. This is their "education." They will play leapfrog, imitate animals, build with dirt, sand, and sticks, and use their vast imagination. What is the need of purchased toys and games?
Unfortunately, even those of us who live in the country may not have calves for our children to care for, nor are we always blessed with ideal weather. And we worry about thieves and kidnappers. So children can pretend to herd cows and may have to settle for playground equipment in place of rocks, vines, and rivers.
The main way to direct the play of small children toward Krsna is to surround them with devotional service. The children will then imitate. If they see adults cook for Krsna, the children will make mud pies and "offer" them, pretending that a stone or tree is Krsna. One of our children built temples out of blocks, set up dead batteries for Deities, and then imitated the worship he'd seen at the temple.
Young children learn of Krsna by looking through Prabhupada's books, which are lavishly illustrated. The children then love to imitate Krsna's pastimes. We had a collection of make-up, cloth scraps, and inexpensive props from a costume shop. When our child's friends came over, they had fun dressing as Krsna, Balarama, mother Yasoda, and demons such as Bakasura.
"Now, Yasoda," I would say to my daughter, "tell Krsna to play nicely today."
"Play nicely today," she would say.
One of my friends plays like this with just herself and her three-year-old daughter.
"I'm Krsna. You're Balarama," the child says, and they put on cloths as belts and turbans, dancing through the house pretending to call their cows.
Pre-schoolers enjoy simple toys such as measuring cups and a bowl of water. They like to build and create with blocks and clay. If they keep to such simple toys, they will learn to be happy without extravagant arrangements. Modern toy manufacturers push movies and television shows through which to market related toys. Such toys stimulate a child's hankering for a flood of electronic wonders, of which they soon tire. And the nature of such toys! If we walk through the aisle of a toy store, we see gruesome toys of terror. If we want to raise saintly children, we should avoid such things.
In contrast, I know of one teenage girl who made her little sister beautiful felt toys—felt figures of Radha and Krsna, felt clothes, and felt altars. One parent made beautiful puppets for her children. In another family, the father draws pictures of Krsna on canvas, and the mother and children fill them in with needlepoint. A little time and creativity can give a child eternal benefit.
Ages Five Through Twelve
As children progress through school, their time for play gradually decreases. Their lives become filled with learning and chores. Yet through these years a child still wants to play.
At this age, children can still use simple toys such as blocks to imitate devotional service, though their play becomes more complex. They'll want outdoor games with friends to be-come more organized, with rules about winning and losing. Prabhupada mentioned tag, swimming, running games, and kite-flying as suitable games for children. He discouraged highly organized and competitive games that mimic professional sports and take up so much of Western children's time and energy. That children emotionally and physically need to run and jump doesn't mean they need to join the local Little League. Some devotees have adapted many outdoor games so that children will grow in spiritual consciousness while they play. (See sidebar.)
Children in these years like to make dioramas of Krsna's pastimes. In the gurukula we plan diorama projects for various festivals. We also organize dramas of spiritual philosophy or Krsna's pastimes. As the children grow and can perform dramas for public viewing, we spend time rehearsing and making costumes, scenery, and sound effects. Children also often play at dramas informally with their friends.
During these years children often like games that challenge their logic, memory, and intelligence. Because Srila Prabhupada considered games such as crossword puzzles a waste of time, we want to carefully choose games that teach our children if not about Krsna then at least skills and knowledge they can use to serve Krsna. Games that supercharge the mind and senses simply increase a child's identification with the body. I know of many parents and teachers who, especially when a group of children gather, arrange for contests in knowledge of scripture. This must be done according to the age of the children and in such a way that it is not too competitive and stressful.
What of the increasingly popular computer and video games that begin to appeal to children during these years? There is excellent educational computer software for teaching math, English, history, and geography. Just as we devotees get children playing spiritually, programmers get children playing to learn. That is a valid use of games for our children, but we should make certain, first, that what is learned is really essential and, second, that it's the major component of the software. If all a game is said to do is teach eleven-year-olds hand and eye coordination, it's probably worthless.
Generally, if our children are playing video games we can take it as a sign that we're failing to provide them useful work to play at. Just as Prabhupada tells us that children will take the work of herding calves as play, so children can take pleasure in growing a garden, learning to cook, and helping with adult devotional service.
Perhaps the most important play during this age is festivals and Deity worship. When Srila Prabhupada was a boy, he organized a Rathayatra festival, much as other children organize games for their friends. His father also gave him Deities to worship. Prabhupada describes this Deity worship by young children as play. That doesn't mean a child can put the Deity on the floor or on his bed like a stuffed toy. (I don't suggest Deity worship for children under five, or for those who regularly put their hands or other objects in their mouth.) Yet a child is excused from the strict rules of Deity worship. Children can bathe and dress their Deity once a week and make a daily offering of food. By chanting before the Deity and offering incense and flowers, a child learns to progress in spiritual life. King Pariksit and Mirabai, both great devotees from childhood, were trained in that way. Prabhupada suggests that the worship can become formal when a child is ten or twelve.
Thirteen to Sixteen
When a child enters adolescence, the desire to play decreases. Yet I've seen fourteen-year-old girls binding their eyes like Gandhari to enact scenes from the Mahabharata. Just today a fourteen-year-old boy picked up a kindergarten boy. "Grrr! I'll tear Hiranyakasipu to pieces!" the older boy growled, pretending to be Lord Nrsimha. Teenagers can organize their own plays and puppet shows or create intricate works of art and music.
Perhaps at this age, especially for boys, sports becomes a question. Again, while these growing adolescents need fresh air and exercise, it is better to meet those needs through their service than arrange for separate sports. And if children need some specific program of exercise, we should keep things in balance and not get overwhelmed with caring for the body.
As we watch our children play, we can remember that the whole material world is like a toy given by the Lord so that we can act in a perverted imitation of His pastimes. Even our adult activities, therefore, are merely games with no lasting consequence or meaning unless we engage in the service of the Lord.
Krsna Conscious Games
Let's Catch Krsna First
The leader chants one Hare Krsna mantra while pointing from player to player with each word. The last person pointed to plays as Krsna. Krsna takes in His hand a big peacock feather (or a big leaf or flower representing a peacock feather) so the other players can easily recognize Him. He runs a little ahead, and then all the other children—the cowherd boys—must try to tag Him. Whoever tags Krsna first becomes the next Krsna, and the previous Krsna becomes one of the cowherd boys. The previous Krsna must hand the peacock feather to the new Krsna while still running and then let the new Krsna get a little bit ahead. Then everyone runs after the new Krsna. The players must keep careful track of who is Krsna at each stage of the game.
This game is meant for children well versed in Krsna's pastimes. The leader (using again the one-mantra method) selects the first child to tell a story. The storyteller is supposed to purposely make funny mistakes from time to time. For example, he will say, "Krsna stole the gopis' capatis (instead of clothes) and hung them on a tree," or "Mother Yasoda ran after Krsna with a cow (in-stead of a stick) in her hand." The other children must correct the mistakes.
From The Book of Krsna Conscious Games, Bala Books, 1981.
Unemployment and The Decline of Small Farms
By Hare Krsna Devi Dasi
A MATERIALISTIC PERSON, thinking himself very advanced in intelligence, continually acts for economic development. But again and again, as enunciated in the Vedas, he is frustrated by material activities, either in this life or in the next. Indeed, the results one obtains are inevitably the opposite of those one desires" (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.7.41).
Through technology we have tried to improve our life. We've invented the tractor, for example, so that now one percent of a nation's people can grow enough food for the whole country. Guaranteed peace and prosperity?
On the contrary. By wiping out small farms, technology has spread unemployment, crime, and misery.
So it's time to look at another way to organize society—with a focus that's not material but spiritual. That way is called the varnasrama social organization. Instead of trying to create or destroy a class system, varnasrama recognizes that four broad classes of people live in every society. And varnasrama purifies people of all classes by linking their work to the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna.
In Bhagavad-gita (4.13) Lord Krsna explains that He created the four classes that make up society—the intellectuals (brahmanas), the administrators and military people (ksatriyas), the farmers and merchants (vaisyas), and the laborers (sudras).
In modern society, employers try to make money by exploiting their workers, but that goes against Lord Krsna's intention. In the social plan given by Lord Krsna, all classes of people work interdependently, for spiritual progress. And the Vedic scriptures say that this is the system of cooperation we need to follow to please the Supreme Lord:
"One can worship the Supreme Lord by properly following the principles of varnasrama. There is no alternative for pleasing the Lord than to follow this system" (Visnu Purana 3.8.9).
Under the plan of varnasrama, society prospers not by exploiting its laborers but by depending on the productive work of its farmers.
The Role of the Farmer
Srila Prabhupada explains how in varnasrama the social classes cooperate for a smoothly working Krsna conscious society:
The brahmanas [the spiritual leaders] would guide the head of state. The head of state would then give protection to the citizens. The ksatriyas [administrators] would take charge of protecting the people in general, and under the protection of the ksatriyas the vaisyas [farmers and merchants] would protect the cows and produce food grains and distribute them. Sudras, the working class, would help the higher three classes by manual labor. This is the perfect social system.
—Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.17.9, purport
The duties of the vaisyas noted here by Srila Prabhupada are specified by Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita (18.44): krsi-go-raksa-vanijyam—"farming, cow protection, and trade." In the vaisya's duties, cow protection is central, and this implies that agriculture (krsi) must be carried out with oxen.
As I've explained before, protecting cows without working the oxen is incomplete. A bull is so costly to keep that unless he's working he's usually slaughtered. So in the varnasrama system the bull or ox is put to work producing and transporting food grains.
Modern experts may object that this is "labor intensive." But when millions of people are unemployed, what's wrong with that?
Since unemployment fuels crime, putting people to work by depending on ox power brings crime down, especially when you're moving toward a society with a satisfying spiritual culture. And the work of growing food with oxen provides a challenging, fulfilling engagement in a natural environment, in contrast to boring, grueling work in a hellish city factory.
By allocating land for ox-powered farming, a spiritually enlightened government helps make sure that land is distributed fairly. Tractors and even horses produce best on large farms, but oxen fit with small, family-sized farms. So the ox defines a human-sized unit of productivity—a small farm, meant for a family.
Employment in a Godly Way of Life
Furthermore, using oxen to replace petrol-powered transport promotes peace and stability because it keeps production close to home. As documented by N. S. Ramaswamy of the Indian Institute of Management, for short hauls oxen are cheaper than trucks and trains. So when you're using oxen you're promoting a way of life in which people can easily get food grown locally. What need, then, to ship food in from hundreds or thousands of miles away? And what need to fight over the petroleum with which to do it?
Ox power is cleaner, too. As much as industrialism and pollution have filled our lives with anxiety, ox power and a natural way of life can restore us to a happy, peaceful environment, conducive for spiritual progress.
Ox power and cow protection are essential elements in the varnasrama system, a system that puts people to work in a spiritual, godly way of life. Srila Prabhupada taught that the world can be peaceful only with a spiritually reformed social structure. So the Krsna consciousness movement aims at introducing varnasrama system for spiritual progress—all over the world.
Bhakti-yoga at Home
Our Deity Worship
By Rohininandana Dasa
THE DEITY WORSHIP in our home is simple compared to the gorgeous worship that always thrills me when I visit a temple. In ISKCON temples devotees bathe the Deities every day, dress Them twice a day, feed Them six times a day, and offer Them seven aratis a day. The sparkling cleanliness, the beautiful fresh-flower garlands, and the peace and order of temple life all add to the spiritual atmosphere.
My wife, Radha Priya, and I, who have both done Deity worship in temples, took some time to find a standard of cleanliness, punctuality, and regularity both practical and enlivening for everyone in our family.
Srila Prabhupada said that one can adjust Deity worship at home to the requirements of the individual or family. He described how sometimes a person may keep a Deity in a box and bring Him out only to worship Him or feed Him. In our home we have a simple method of awakening our Deities in the morning and putting Them to rest at night. Every day we offer Them fresh water, food, and an arati ceremony. Whenever we go away for a few days or weeks, we put Them to rest.
One of the most important features of our Deity worship is that it provides a focus for our chanting. Srila Prabhupada writes that in this Age of Kali family members can "sit down together and simply clap hands and chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra." For our family, the routine of offering a daily arati brings us together to regularly chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Life at Woodgate Cottage is not always a bed of rose petals—there are some thorns too. But our experience is that mainly due to our efforts to worship our Deities together, Lord Krsna is never far away.
Here's a short story to show you what I mean:
"O.K. It's time to come down, have your showers, and get ready to dress the Deities."
Radha Priya, whom I consider more skilled than I am at parent-child negotiations, is away for a few days, and I'm alone with our three children. They carry on playing roughly with their bedding.
I anxiously return to the small room we use as a temple and awaken Srila Prabhupada, Lord Nrsimhadeva, Lord Jagannatha, and His brother and sister, Balarama and Subhadra.
Meanwhile the thumps and cries increase. I remember how Krsna describes yoga as the art of action, the art of living, and I find solace in thinking that even if I fail in my efforts at Krsna conscious parenting (like Jatayu, who failed to stop Ravana from carrying away Sita), I will have tried my best, and that's the main thing. In fact, when I see my children as part of Krsna, I serve Krsna simply by being with them, serving them, guiding them, playing with them, supporting and loving them.
A loud scream breaks my reverie. I run up the stairs.
Radhanatha, eleven, grins sheepishly and claims, "I didn't do anything."
Ramai, six, shouts, "You did! You liar! You always try to get out of it."
He grabs the nearest thing to him—a wooden duck—and hurls it at his brother. The duck slams into Radhanatha's arm.
"Ramai!" I shout, as he hightails it down the stairs.
Radhanatha, tearful and furious, dashes after him. Two-and-a-half-year-old Jiva watches wide-eyed, learning the family ropes.
After trying unsuccessfully to shut the kitchen door in Radhanatha's face, Ramai grabs a plastic bottle of sunflower oil, whips off the top, and makes a stand.
"Ramai!" I command. "Put it down. Remember our talk about boundaries!"
He thumps the bottle down on the table and zips into the bathroom, unconscious of the spurt of oil. Catching up, vengeful Radhanatha punches him in the back. Ramai returns the punch, and they're locked in combat. At least they're in the bathroom.
I go in too.
"Have you finished yet?"
"No," says Radhanatha, "he scratched my face, and I'm going to get him."
By now Ramai has hidden behind my legs.
"Listen, Prabhus," I begin, "To-day's Ekadasi, and we could be dressing the Deities instead of beating each other up. Do you want to hurt each other any more?"
"No, but ... "
"I don't care who started it; let's make up now. Who do you want to dress today?"
"I want to dress Prabhupada," replies Radhanatha.
"And I want to dress Nrsimhadeva!" exclaims Ramai.
"Phew!" I breathe out quickly, my hand on my chest.
After one or two more minor incidents, we are all in the temple, wearing dhotis and tilaka. I'm due to dress Radhanatha's Deities, Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra, so he gives me some instruction. He also helps Ramai choose a new outfit and jewelry for Nrsmhadeva. The two brothers look so mild and so caring for each other I can hardly believe that a few moments earlier they were at each other's throats.
I put on a tape of Srila Prabhupada singing, and Jiva presses the buttons on the tape player. Next I help him light a stick of incense.
As I watch Radhanatha carefully dressing Srila Prabhupada, I think how Prabhupada demonstrated that the art of applying Krsna consciousness is not stereotyped but dynamic. He creatively introduced Krsna consciousness to the Western world, in consideration of the time, place, and circumstances. In my home I want to follow in his footsteps.
When the dressing is done and we've made up the flower vases, placed the Deities back on a clean altar, and tidied up, we play the tape Govindam as the children take turns fanning Their Lordships with a peacock fan and a camara (yak-tail whisk). When the tape ends, we have a short kirtana, bow our heads to the floor, and then head for the kitchen. As I watch Ramai clean up his pool of oil, I'm reminded how much life is indeed, as Krsna says, like the changing seasons.
Rohininandana Dasa lives in southern England with his wife and their three children. You can write to him in care of BTG.
The Brahmana's Curse Fulfilled
Translated from Sanskrit by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami
King Pandu was cursed to die if he were to ever approach his wives for sexual intercourse. At his request, therefore, his wife Kunti bore three sons through union with demigods. As the Mahabharata continues, the sage Vaisampayana tells of the birth of two sons to Madri, Pandu's other wife, and of the king's death. For the mighty king, who in the forest had mastered his senses as he had formerly conquered his enemies, fell prey to uncontrolled lust.
AFTER KUNTI and Gandhari gave birth to their children, the lovely Madri, daughter of the Madra king, approached her husband, Pandu, in a secluded place and spoke these words: "I have no complaint against you, even if you have treated me unfairly. I have always taken the inferior role, though by right I was to be honored. Nor was I unhappy or jealous when I heard that Gandhari gave birth to a hundred sons. But allow me to tell you what makes me very, very unhappy. Although I am equal to these women, I have no children! It is our good fortune that Kunti has given you sons to preserve your family line. If she could possibly arrange for me to give you sons also, this would be the greatest blessing for me and good for you as well. Because of my natural rivalry with Kunti, I cannot bring myself to ask her, but if you are in any way pleased with me after all these years, you should personally convince her."
My dear Madri, you know that the desire for children is ever turning in my heart. [I wanted you to ask Kunti to share her boon with you, but] I dared not ask you to do this because I was not certain whether you would be pleased with the idea or not. But now that I know your feelings, I accept personal responsibility to do this for you. I'm sure that Kunti will carry out my instruction.
Thereafter Pandu spoke to Kunti in a secluded place and told her, "You must act to preserve my family and bring happiness to the world. You are a good woman, and now, out of your love for me, you must carry out a supreme act of goodness so that I and our forefathers never lose the holy Pinda*. For the sake of your good name and glory, perform this difficult task. Even after achieving sovereignty, Lord Indra performed sacrifices, seeking a good reputation. O lovely lady, the twice-born knowers of mantras yet undertake grueling austerities and wait upon their gurus for the sake of glory and a good name. Likewise all the saintly seers, brahmanas, and ascetics underwent difficult tasks, large and small, for the sake of true glory. O faultless woman, with the boat of your boon it is you who must take Madri across the river of her grief. Share the gift of progeny and attain to the highest glory."
Thus addressed, Kunti at once spoke to Madri. "You must think of a deity, one time, and he will undoubtedly bestow on you a child with qualities similar to his own."
Hearing these words, Madri carefully considered the matter, until finally her mind settled on the twin Asvins, the handsome physicians of the heavenly planets. Kunti then faithfully chanted her powerful mantra, and the twin gods came at once and begot in Madri a set of twins.
* Pinda is a religious offering made by sons and descendants to ensure that their fathers and forefathers do not fall from heaven.
Madri's two sons, unequalled in their beauty, became known in this world as Nakula and Sahadeva. As with Pandu's other children, an invisible voice announced their glorious birth: "These two boys will surpass all others in beauty, strength, and kindness. Indeed, they are blessed with extraordinary splendor, stamina, beauty, and wealth."
As these noble Kuru princes were born to Pandu, one year after the another ** , the joyful brahmanas bestowed names. The eldest they called Yudhisthira; the middle son of Kunti, Bhima-sena; the third, Arjuna. The eldest twin of Madri they declared to be Nakula, and the younger Sahadeva. All five possessed great nobility, stamina, courage, strength, and daring. Seeing his sons as handsome as gods and very powerful, the monarch rejoiced, and the greatest happiness was his. The five Pandava boys were loved by all the sages who dwelled in Hundred Peaks, and by the sages' saintly wives.
** except for the twins, who were born together.
Then Pandu again spoke to Kunti, requesting that Madri be allowed to use the special mantra again. As they sat alone together, the chaste Prtha replied, "I invoked the mantra only once on her behalf, and yet she obtained two children. Somehow I feel cheated by that. I fear that Madri will surpass me. I am sorry, but that is the nature of women. I was so foolish. I didn't know that by calling two gods it was possible to get two sons at once. Therefore, I should not be ordered by you to do this. Please give me that benediction."
[Pandu agreed.] Thus all five god-given sons were born to King Pandu. Each of them possessed great strength, all would be glorified for their heroic deeds, and all would increase the prosperity and influence of the Kuru dynasty. Their bodies were marked with auspicious signs and were as agreeable to the sight as the placid moon. Proud as lions, these sons possessed deadly skills with the bow and arrow. They walked with the confident gait of lions, and their necks were as strong as a lion's. They were the natural leaders of society, and as they grew to maturity their heroic deeds revealed their godly origins. Growing up in the holy Himalaya range, the five constantly amazed the saints who resided there with them. In fact, both the five Pandavas and the hundred sons of Dhrtarastra grew quickly, like lotus flowers quickly rising up in clear waters.
Vasudeva Sends Gifts
When the sons of Pandu came into this world, the ascetic inhabitants of Hundred Peaks at once accepted them within their community, treating them as if their own children. Meanwhile, the members of the Vrsni dynasty, headed by Vasudeva, spoke among themselves as follows: "Frightened by a brahmana's curse, Pandu journeyed to Hundred Peaks and there became an ascetic, dwelling with the sages. He lived on forest vegetables, roots, and fruits, performed austerities, carefully controlled his senses, and fully devoted himself to mystic meditation on the form of the Lord within the heart. So has the king lived." [The Vrsni leader, Vasudeva, was Kunti's brother and Pandu's brother-in-law.]
The many Vrsni warriors, with their friends and allies, shared a great love for Pandu, so much that as they heard and discussed the news of his condition, their hearts were torn by grief. "When will we hear good news about Pandu?" they lamented.
Even as the Vrsnis and their friends were thus grieving, they heard that Pandu, despite the brahmana's curse, had become the father of worthy sons. All of them were then filled with joy. Celebrating among themselves, they spoke to Vasudeva these words: "The mighty sons of Pandu must not be deprived of the proper religious ceremonies. O Vasudeva, you ever seek their welfare and affection. Send to them the royal priest."
"So be it," said Vasudeva, and he sent the royal priest, together with many gifts appropriate for young boys. Remembering Kunti and Madri, he also sent cows, gold, and silver, and he dispatched servants, maidservants, and gifts for the home. When all these gifts were ready, the priest took them and departed.
When King Pandu, who had conquered the cities of his enemies, saw that the royal priest Kasyapa, the best of brahmanas, had come to them in the forest, Pandu received him with full honor, strictly observing the etiquette. Kunti and Madri were joyous, and they praised Vasudeva. Pandu then had the priest perform all the religious rites for the birth of his sons, and Kasyapa did all that was required and all that was beneficial. He cut the hair of those illustrious princes, whose gaze was as fearless as that of a bull. He initiated them as serious students of the Vedic science, and they excelled in their studies.
Watching his five beautiful sons grow up in the great Himalaya forests, Pandu rejoiced, and he protected the boys with his own powerful hands. Once, at the height of spring, when the forest was ablaze with colorful new blossoms, King Pandu began to wander about the woods with his faithful wife Madri. So lovely and sensuous was that forest that it could enchant the mind of any creature.
The lovely forest was alive with the fruits and flowers of blossoming coral and palm trees, glorybowers, mango, and heavenly campaka. The colorful scenery sparkled with cooling springs, rivers, and lotus-filled lakes, and as Pandu contemplated the forest, mind-meddling Cupid arose in his heart.
Dressed in bright garments, Madri saw Pandu sporting there like a demigod, his handsome face bright with affection, and she followed behind him. Pandu observed his youthful wife walking along in her thin dress, and his desire now grew like a fire that flames up from the depths of its fuel. Alone with Madri in that secluded dale, Pandu saw the same fire burn in Madri's heart, and as he peered into her lovely eyes he could no longer control his desire, for it had taken over his very life.
In that secluded forest the monarch pressed down his wife by force. The goddess writhed and struggled with all her strength to stop him, but desire had already possessed him, and Pandu remembered nothing of the curse, as by force he went upon Madri in the act of love. As if to end his life, the great Kuru monarch, throwing off his long fear of the curse, fell under the sway of mind-churning Cupid.
[God is said to be the force of time, which carries away all things in this world.] Destiny, as revealed through time, so harassed Pandu's senses and bewildered his intelligence that he lost his reason and even his ordinary awareness. O Kuru child, even as he united with his wife, that most virtuous king was joined to the inexorable workings of time.
Tightly embracing the unfeeling king, Madri wailed in agony. Again and again her tormented cries pierced the forest sky until Kunti came running with all five boys to see what was wrong. As they came near the fallen king, Madri cried out to Kunti, "Come here alone! The children must stay where they are!"
Hearing these words, Kunti held the children back and proceeded alone. [Knowing intuitively what had happened,] she moaned to herself: "My life is over! My life is finished!" Then she saw Pandu and Madri lying on the ground, and every one of Kunti's limbs was seized with sorrow, and she wailed in pain.
"I always protected him!" she sobbed, "and he was a self-realized soul, in full control of himself. O Pandu, you knew that the forest brahmana had cursed you. How could you violate the curse?"
[Trembling with pain, Kunti turned to Madri.] "You of all people, Madri, were meant to protect the king. How could you lust for him in this secluded forest? The poor king was always worried about the curse. How could he be so agitated with desire that he would come to you in a secluded place? O Madri, you are blessed. You are far more fortunate than I; you have seen Pandu's face in his rapture of desire."
The king was allured by me. I tried again and again to stop him, but he refused to turn back, as if he himself would make the bramana's words come true."
I am the elder of his religious wives, and if our years of faithful service are to bear fruit, then the first reward is for the elder. Do not turn me back, Madri, from that which must come to be. I am going to follow our lord who has now passed away. You should rise now! You can let go of him, [for I shall die with Pandu on the funeral pyre.] Take care of these children!
I must follow my husband, for he will not return. My desires for him were not satisfied. As my senior, please let me do it! The great Bharata king was approaching me with desire at the moment of his death. How could I thwart his love, even in the halls of Yamaraja? And were I to remain in this world, Kunti, I could not treat your children like my own. I will act out my real character, and thus, noble lady, evil would truly lay hands on me. Therefore, Kunti, you must take care of my boys like your sons, for you can actually do it. After all, the king was longing for me when he passed away. My body is to be burned on the funeral pyre along with that of the king. The bodies must be completely covered. O noble woman, do me this kindness! Be careful, and do what is best for the children! I see nothing else to be said.
Pandu was the best of men, and the daughter of the Madra king loved him with a sacred vow. Now that famous woman hurriedly mounted his funeral pyre.
Can a rational person accept the stories of the Puranas as literally true?
A lecture by Sadaputa Dasa
Presented at the Parliament of the World's Religion, Chicago, 1993
IN VIVEKANANDA Swami's famous lecture on Hinduism at the Parliament of Religions in 1893, he began by outlining some of the salient features of traditional Hinduism. He mentioned karma, reincarnation, and the problem of evil in the material world. He went on to explain that the solution to this problem depends on seeking refuge in God. God is that one "by whose command the wind blows, the fire burns, the clouds rain, and death stalks upon the earth." (1) He is the source of strength and the support of the universe. He is everywhere, pure, almighty, and all-merciful. And we are related to God as a child to a father or mother and as a friend to a beloved friend.
Vivekananda said that we are to worship God through unselfish love, and he pointed out that the way to achieving love of God was "fully developed and taught by Krishna, whom the Hindus believe to have been God incarnate on earth." (2) Through love we are to perfect ourselves, reach God, see God, and enjoy bliss with God. On this, he said, all Hindus are agreed. (3)
But he went on to say that in the final stage of realization, God is seen to be impersonal Brahman. The individual then ends separate existence by realizing his identity with Brahman. Making an analogy with physical science, he said, "Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all the others are but manifestations, and the science of religion [would] become perfect when it would discover ... One who is the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations." (4)
The Pros and Cons of Pure Monism
Vivekananda's strictly monistic concept of God has a long history. The idea has always been linked with the rational, speculative approach to reality. For example, in the fifth century B.C., the Greek philosopher Parmenides concluded by speculative arguments that "only One Thing can possibly exist and that this One Thing is uncreated, unchangeable, indestructible, and immovable. Plurality, creation, change, destruction, and motion are mere appearances." (5)
Parmenides argued that the One must have no parts distinct from one another, for otherwise it would be not One but many. Thus he concluded that the One must be a sphere of perfectly uniform substance. But even a sphere has an inside and an outside, and so it is marked by duality, not oneness. The idea of absolute oneness, or pure monism, may seem alluring, but it requires us to give up all conceivable attributes and finally give up thought itself.
Vivekananda recognized this problem, and he argued that in the Hindu religion specific forms of gods and goddesses serve as symbols to help us visualize the inconceivable. Thus he said, "The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realized, or thought of, or stated, through the relative, and the images, crosses, and crescents are simply so many symbols, so many pegs to hang the spiritual ideas on." (6)
The idea of religious imagery as a symbol for the unthinkable Absolute sometimes turns out useful in the modern age. Vivekananda was born in Calcutta in 1863 as Narendranath Datta, and he grew up during the high noon of British dominance in India. During this period, European rationalism, based on the famous French Enlightenment, made a strong impact on India. Reformers like Rammohan Roy and Devendranath Tagore founded the Brahmo Samaj in an effort to revise Hinduism and make it compatible with modern Western thinking. (7) This effort required the solving of two problems: (1) the problem of religious plurality and (2) the problem of the clash between modern science and old religious beliefs.
The old philosophy of pure monism, or advaita, is well suited to solve these problems. First of all, if religious imagery has only a symbolic meaning that refers to something inconceivable, then many different systems of symbols should work equally well. In this way, all major religious systems can be reconciled. This was Vivekananda's idea, and he greatly stressed the equality of all religions.
Likewise, if religious imagery is simply symbolic, then there is no question of a conflict between religion and science. A religious story that seems to conflict with established scientific facts can simply be interpreted as a symbolic clue pointing to the One beyond the grasp of the finite scientific mind. Vivekananda also mentioned that the stark simplicity of the impersonal Brahman fits with the simplicity sought by physicists in their hoped-for Grand Unified Theory of nature.
But in pure monism, what becomes of love of God, or indeed, love of anyone? If the ultimate reality is pure oneness, and personal existence is illusory, then love is also illusory. Love requires two, and not just two of anything. Two persons are needed for a relationship of love. If such relationships do have spiritual reality, then at least two spiritual persons must eternally exist. In traditional Hindu thought, there are, in fact, two categories of eternal persons: (1) the jiva souls that live in individual material bodies and (2) the original Supreme Personality of Godhead and His countless spiritual expansions. As Vivekananda pointed out, Hindus believe that the Supreme Being incarnated on earth as Krsna, who expounded on the ways of loving devotional reciprocation between Himself and individual jiva souls.
Unfortunately, after making this point, Vivekananda rejected both Krsna and the individual soul as illusory. In his monistic approach to religion, all conceivable features of the Absolute are ruled out. Beingness, knowledge, and bliss are three, and they must be discarded from the One as earthbound misconceptions. The same is true of the might and mercy of the Lord. Likewise, if the real truth is absolute oneness, all personal relationships of admiration, friendship, parental love, or conjugal love must be given up as delusions.
The Vaisnava Alternative Given by Bhaktivinoda Thakura
It is natural then to ask if some other solution is available to the problems posed when modern rational thought meets the multiplicity of religious systems. To explore this, I now turn to the life of Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a contemporary of Swami Vivekananda.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was born in 1838 as Kedaranath Datta in the Nadia district of West Bengal. As a young man he acquired an English education, and he used to exchange thoughts on literary and spiritual topics with Devendranath Tagore, the Brahmo Samaj leader and Vivekananda's early teacher. In due course he studied law, and for many years he supported his family as a magistrate in the British court system.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura deeply studied the religious thought of his day. He scrutinized the works of European philosophers, and he was greatly impressed with the devotional teachings of Jesus Christ. At first, his Western education inclined him to look down on the Vaisnava literature of devotional service to Krsna. Indeed, he wrote that the Bhagavata, one of the main texts describing Krsna, "seemed like a repository of ideas scarcely adopted to the nineteenth century." (8)
But at a certain point he ran across a work about the great Vaisnava reformer Lord Caitanya, and he was able to obtain the commentary Caitanya had given on the Bhagavata to the advaita Vedantists of Benares. This created in him a great love for the devotional teachings of Krsna as presented by Caitanya. (9) In due course he achieved an exalted state of spiritual realization by following Caitanya's teachings, and he wrote many books presenting those teachings to people both in India and abroad.
A Historical Interlude
Before we go into Bhaktivinoda Thakura's spiritual teachings, let me give an explicit idea of the intellectual climate in which he was operating in late nineteenth-century Bengal. To do this, I will quote a passage from the writings of Sir William Jones, a jurist who worked for the British East India company and was the first president of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In an article on Hindu chronology written in 1788, Jones gave the following account of the close of Dvapara-yuga, the Third Age of the Puranas and the Mahabharata:
I cannot leave the third Indian age, in which the virtues and vices of mankind are said to have been equal, without observing, that even the close of it is manifestly fabulous and poetical, with hardly more appearance of historical truth, than the tale of Troy, or of the Argonauts; for Yudhisthira, it seems, was the son of Dherma, the Genius of Justice; Bhima of Pavan, or the God of Wind; Arjun of Indra, or the Firmament; Nacul and Sahadeva of the Cumars, the Castor and Pollux of India; and Bhishma, their reputed great uncle, was the child of Ganga, or the Ganges, by Santanu, whose brother Devapi is supposed to be still alive in the city of Calapa; all which fictions may be charming embellishments of an heroic poem, but are just as absurd in civil History, as the descent of two royal families from the Sun and the Moon. (10)
What Jones is referring to here is the story in the Mahabharata of events in India at the time of Krsna's advent. According to Hindu tradition, these events took place about five thousand years ago, when the Dvapara-yuga gave way to the present epoch, called the Kali-yuga. Yudhisthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, and Sahadeva are the five Pandava brothers who figured in many of Krsna's pastimes.
We can see from Jones's comments that he does not regard the story of the Pandavas as true history. Why not? For many of us, the problem is that the story contains elements simply not credible to a person trained in the modern rational viewpoint. We know that people don't descend from demigods. All documents putting forth such nonsense are rejected by responsible historians, so objective historical accounts hold no such absurdities. Such things never happened, and our history books abundantly confirm this.
Sir William Jones was clearly thinking along these lines, but he was not exactly a modern rationalist. Jones was a Christian who believed fully in the Mosaic chronology of the Bible. The table on page 26 shows how Jones at-tempted to reconstruct Hindu chronology to bring it in line with Christian. (11) Jones, it seems, was able to scorn Hindu myths as absurd while at the same time accepting as true the supernatural events of the Bible.
It is perhaps poetic justice that the same scornful treatment Jones applied to the Mahabharata was soon applied to the Bible. During Jones's lifetime, the "higher" scientific criticism of the Bible was being developed in Germany, and it was unleashed in England in the mid-nineteenth century. In 1860, the Anglican theologians Benjamin Jowett and Baden Powell stole attention from Darwin's newly published book On the Origin of Species by a controversial essay that rejected miracles, on scientific grounds. (12) The Darwinists and the higher Biblical critics quickly joined forces, and Darwin's supporter Thomas Huxley began quoting German Biblical scholars in his essays on the interpretation of Genesis. (13) As the nineteenth century drew to a close, rational, scientific skepticism became the only acceptable path for a scholar or intellectual in any respectable field of study.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura was confronted with this hostile intellectual climate in his efforts to present spiritual knowledge to the young Bengali intellectuals of his day. After drinking in from their British teachers the ideas of William Jones and other Western orientalists, these young people were not at all inclined to give credence to old myths. How then could the teachings of Krsna on love of God be presented? Bhaktivinoda Thakura judiciously chose to give a partial picture of the truth that would introduce important spiritual ideas without invoking rejection due to deep-seated prejudices.
In a lecture delivered in Dinajpur, West Bengal, in 1869, he focused on the Bhagavata, or Bhagavata Purana, as the preeminent text on the nature of the Supreme and the means of realizing our relation with the Supreme. Rejecting pure monism as a useless idea, he held that God is an eternal person. Thus he said, "The Bhagavata has ... a Transcendental, Personal, All-intelligent, Active, absolutely Free, Holy, Good, All-powerful, Omnipresent, Just and Merciful and supremely Spiritual Deity without a second, creating, preserving all that is in the universe." (14) The highest object of the soul, he went on to say, is to "serve that Infinite Being for ever spiritually in the activity of Absolute Love." (15)
Bhaktivinoda described the material world as the product of maya. Here maya means not illusion but the eternal energy of the Supreme that He uses to bewilder souls who desire to live outside of harmony with Him. The creation of the material world through maya is actually an aspect of the Lord's mercy, since He thereby allows independent-minded souls to act in a world from which God is apparently absent.
All these ideas are taken from the Bhagavata without modification. But in describing what the Bhagavata says about the details of the material universe, Bhaktivinoda Thakura adopted an indirect approach. Thus he said,
In the common-place books of the Hindu religion in which the Raja and Tama Gunas have been described as the ways of religion, we find description of a local heaven and a local hell; the heaven is as beautiful as anything on earth and the Hell as ghastly as any picture of evil. ... The religion of the Bhagavat is free from such a poetic imagination. Indeed, in some of the chapters we meet with descriptions of these hells and heavens, and accounts of curious tales, but we have been warned in some place in the book, not to accept them as real facts, but to treat them as inventions to overawe the wicked and to improve the simple and the ignorant. (16)
In fact, the Bhagavata does ascribe reality to hells and heavens and their inhabitants. It describes in great detail the higher planetary systems and the various demigods who live there, in-cluding Brahma, Siva, and Indra. Not only does the Bhagavata say that these beings are real, but it gives them an important role in the creation and maintenance of the universe. It also gives them a role in many of Krsna's manifest pastimes (lilas) within the material world. For example, in the story of the lifting of Govardhana Hill, it is Indra who creates a devastating storm when Krsna insults him by interfering with a sacrifice in his honor.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura chose to sidestep these "mythological" aspects of the Bhagavata in an effort to reach an audience of intellectuals whose mundane education ruled out such myths as absurd fantasy. Indeed, he went even further. In 1880 he published a treatise entitled Sri Krsna Samhita in which he elaborately explained the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. (17) In this book he also put forth a reconstruction of Indian history similar to the one introduced by Sir William Jones to bring Hindu chronology into line with the Mosaic timetable of the Bible. This involved converting demigods and Manus into human kings and reducing their total span of history to a few thousand earthly years.
I should point out clearly that Bhaktivinoda Thakura did not personally accept the modified version of the Bhagavata he presented to the Bengali intellectuals. He actually accepted the so-called myths of the Bhagavata as true, and he presented them as such in many of his writings. For example, in his book Jaiva Dharma, Bhaktivinoda said this:
I have said that the Vaishnava religion came into being as soon as the creatures came into existence. Brahma was the first Vaishnava. Sriman Mahadeva is also a Vaishnava. The ancient Prajapaties are all Vaishnavas. Sri Narada Goswami, who is the fancy-born child of Brahma, is a Vaishnava.... You have seen the Vaishnava religion of the beginning of the creation. Then again when Gods, men, demons, etc., have been separately described, we get Prahlada and Dhruva from the very start.... Manu's sons and Prahlada are all grandsons of Prajapati, Kashyapa.... There is no doubt about it ... that the pure Vaishnava religion began with the beginning of history. Then the kings of the solar and lunar dynasties and all great and famous sages and hermits became devotees of Vishnu.
This passage was written in response to challengers who argued that Vaisnava dharma is a recent development. The passage takes it for granted that beings such as Brahma, Mahadeva, Narada, and Prahlada literally exist as described in the sastras, or Vedic scriptures. Many similar examples can be found in Bhaktivinoda Thakura's writings.
Now, if Bhaktivinoda Thakura accepted the literal truth of the sastras, how could he justify making presentations in which he denied it? His grand-disciple Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has pointed out that there is a precedent for making such indirect presentations of sastra. An interpretation of a text that adheres directly to the dictionary definitions of its words is called mukhya-vrtti, and an imaginary or indirect interpretation is called laksana-vrtti or gauna-vrtti. Srila Prabhupada pointed out, "Sometimes ... as a matter of necessity, Vedic literature is described in terms of the laksana-vrtti or gauna-vrtti, but one should not accept such explanations as permanent truths." (19) In general, one should understand sastra in terms of mukhya-vrtti.
The Theology of Visions
One might grant that Bhaktivinoda Thakura was justified in modifying the sastras to reach out to intellectuals trained to scorn old myths. But serious questions can still be raised: What is the scope for making such a presentation of religion today, and to what extent can such a presentation be regarded as true? Is the mythological material in the Hindu sastras unimportant, so that one might present it as true to people who believe in it and false to people who disbelieve? Or should we accept from modern knowledge that Hindu myths really are false and try to formulate a philosophy that preserves the essential idea of love of God while dispensing with superannuated ideas?
To answer these questions, let us see how we would have to reformulate Vaisnava philosophy to make it readily acceptable to Western intellectuals in the late twentieth century. To do this we must deviate to some extent from the prevailing materialistic framework of modern science. Physical scientists tell us that the mind, with all its conscious experiences, is simply a product of the brain. If we accept this, then all religious experience, whether it be the bliss of Brahman or prema-bhakti, love of God, is simply hallucinatory. If this is true, we can forget about religion—unless, of course, we like hallucinations.
For an alternative viewpoint, I will turn to the psychologist William James. Although James was a man of the nineteenth century, he was a Western scientist who applied the methods of empirical scientific research to the phenomena of religion. Thus his observations are still relevant today.
As a result of his studies, James reached the following conclusions:
The further limits of our being plunge, it seems to me, into an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely "understandable" world. Name it the mystical region, or the supernatural region, whichever you choose.... Yet the unseen region in question is not merely ideal, for it produces effects in this world. When we commune with it, work is actually done upon our finite personality, for we are turned into new men, and consequences in the way of conduct follow in the natural world upon our regenerative change. But that which produces effects with-in another reality must be termed a reality itself, so I feel as if we had no philosophic excuse for calling the unseen or mystical world unreal. (20)
One could take this idea of a mystical or transcendent dimension and arrive at the following version of Vaisnava philosophy: Such a transcendental region does exist, and it is the eternal abode of Krsna. Advanced souls can perceive that realm in meditation by the grace of Krsna, and so they are able to enter into Krsna's eternal loving pastimes. But all Puranic descriptions of events within the material world have to be understood rationally through modern scientific knowledge. On the whole, the myths in the Puranas are not literally true. But the stories of Krsna's pastimes are not simply fantasy. Rather, they are spiritual transmissions into the meditative minds of great souls, and they refer not to this world but to the purely transcendental domain.
This is a philosophy that might appeal to many, and I will refer to it as the theology of visions. It allows one to retain the idea of love of God, while at the same time avoiding disturbing conflicts between mythological tales and modern knowledge. It also appears implicitly in the work of some modern scholars of religion who study the bhakti tradition.
To illustrate this, I will briefly consider an article, "Shrines of the Mind," by David Haberman, Assistant Professor of Religion at Williams College. (21) In this article, Haberman argues that Vraja, the traditional place of Krsna's manifest lilas, is first and foremost a mental shrine, a realm that can be entered and experienced in meditation.
He argues that the physical Vraja, a tract of land near the North Indian city of Mathura, has only been a major center for the worship of Krsna since the sixteenth century, when the followers of Caitanya Mahaprabhu and other Vaisnavas "rediscovered" the lost sites of Krsna's pastimes. In fact, says Haberman, these sites never really existed before the sixteenth century, and so they weren't rediscovered. Rather, they were projected onto the physical landscape of Vraja from the transcendental landscape perceived in meditation.
Haberman gives a number of interpretations of what happens when a person meditates on a mental shrine. These range from the contemplation of imaginary scenes in the ordinary sense to entry into "an eternal transcendent world which is perceptible only to the mind's eye and is reached through meditative technique." (22) Since Haberman seems to lean toward the latter, it could be said that he is hinting at a version of the theology of visions: One can enter into Krsna's transcendental world by meditation, but Krsna never had any actual pastimes in the physical world. Physical, worldly history followed the lines revealed by modern scholarship. This means that many centuries ago in Vraja there may have been various primitive tribes following animistic cults, but there was no Krsna literally lifting Govardhana Hill.
Although this religious theory allows one to avoid certain conflicts with modern scholarship, it does have a number of drawbacks. A few of these are the following:
1. This theory is contrary to Vaisnava tradition, so it calls into question the thinking of the many great souls who have supported the tradition. Since those great souls are the very meditators who have seen visions of Krsna, how can those visions be real? In other words, why should persons who see the absolute realm believe in the truth of myths that even worldly scholars see to be false?
2. This theory doesn't explain why the worship of Krsna should be a recent affair, as scholars claim. If there is an eternal realm of Krsna that can be accessed by meditation, why did people begin to access it only recently?
3. What does this theory say about the multiplicity of religions? Are the visions reported in other religious traditions real? If not, then why is it that Vaisnava visions alone are real? If so, then are there many transcendental realms, one for each religion? Or is it that people see in one transcendental realm whatever they are looking for?
4. This theory greatly limits the power of God. If God only appears in visions, what becomes of His role as the creator and controller of the universe? If we let modern science explain the material world, God's role is whittled down to practically nothing.
5. The theology of visions can easily be transformed into a purely psychological theory of religious experience. After all, this is the view that will be overwhelmingly favored by psychologists, neuroscientists, and physical scientists of all varieties.
In view of objections (1) through (4), objection (5) is almost unavoidable. We are left with a totally mundane theory that explains religion away. In the case of Krsna's lilas, this line of thinking leads us to especially unpleasant conclusions. Thus Haberman describes meditation on Krsna lila as follows: "The desired end is a religious voyeurism and vicarious enjoyment said to produce infinite bliss." (23) Such sad conclusions are avoided in the more balanced approach taken by traditional Vaisnavas, who stress Krsna's roles as the supreme creator and the performer of humanly impossible pastimes on earth.
Shifting the Boundary Between Myth and Science
Yet if we start from the theology of visions and proceed in the inductive manner of scholars, we can see how it could serve as a steppingstone toward a more satisfactory theory. A starting point for developing such a theory can be a story related by Haberman about the Vaisnava saint Narottama Dasa Thakura. (24)
It seems that Narottama was once meditating on boiling milk for Radha and Krsna. When the milk boiled over in his meditation, he took the vessel off the fire with his bare hands and got burned in the process. When Narottama awoke from his meditation, he discovered that his hands were actually burned.
There are many stories like this, and I will briefly mention two more. In the second story, Srinivasa Acarya, a contemporary of Narottama Dasa Thakura, was meditating on fanning Lord Caitanya. In Srinivasa's meditation, Lord Caitanya placed His garland around Srinivasa's neck. When Srinivasa awoke from meditation, the unusually fragrant garland was actually there, around his neck. (25)
In the third story a Vaisnava saint named Duhkhi Krsna Dasa was sweeping the site of Krsna's rasa dance in Vraja. He found a remarkable golden anklet and hid it, since he thought that it was very important. Later, an old lady came to him and asked for the anklet. It turned out that the old lady was really Lalita, one of the transcendental maidservants of Radha and Krsna. The lady finally revealed that the anklet belonged to Radha Herself, and then she disclosed her true form as Lalita. (26)
What are we to make of such stories? The story of the burned hands might be accepted by many scholars. After all, it is well known that Catholics meditating on the crucifixion of Christ sometimes develop stigmata, in which the wounds of Christ appear on their hands and feet. If meditation can somehow cause bleeding wounds, then maybe it can also cause burns.
The story of the miraculous garland goes one step further. Here a tangible object is said to materialize. This may seem fantastic, but it turns out that there is an extensive literature on materialization. For example, Stephen Braude, a professor of philosophy at the University of Maryland, has argued that many cases of alleged materializations produced by spirit mediums are backed up by solid empirical evidence that deserves serious study. (27) If materializations by spiritualists might be factual, why not materializations of beautiful garlands by saintly persons?
This brings us to the third story. Although this story seems "far out," there are many similar stories in which a transcendent person seems to step into our material continuum, perform some action, and then disappear. Another example would be the story from Caitanya-caritamrta in which Krsna, as a small boy, approached the saint Madhavendra Puri, gave him a pot of milk, and then mysteriously disappeared. Madhavendra Puri drank the milk, thus showing that it was tangible. Later that night he had a dream in which Krsna revealed the location of the Gopala Deity, which had originally been installed by Krsna's grandson Vajra and had been hidden during a Muslim attack. (28)
The stories of the burned hand, the miraculous garland, and the transcendental visits are progressively harder and harder to accept from a conventional scientific standpoint. But it is hard to see how to draw a line between such stories that might possibly be true and ones that definitely cannot. And all the stories seem to hint at energetic exchanges between spiritual and material energy that might add an important new chapter to our scientific knowledge, if only they could be properly studied.
When we study a body of empirical evidence, we always evaluate it with our limiting assumptions. In the end, the conclusions we derive from the evidence may reflect our limiting assumptions as much as they reflect the evidence itself. If the assumptions change, the conclusions will also change, even though the evidence stays the same.
Consider what might happen if all the available evidence about the history of human experience were to be studied not through nineteenth-century rationalism but through a new science in which spiritual transformations of matter were considered a real possibility. The result might be a completely different picture of the past from the one now accepted by scholars.
For one thing, the objections that Sir William Jones expressed about the story of the Pandava brothers might not seem so weighty. If higher beings can step into our continuum from another realm, then humans might well descend from such beings. The new picture of the past might prove much more compatible with traditional spiritual teachings than the one that now prevails.
In the late twentieth century there are signs that a broader approach to science may be developing. In the days of Vivekananda and Bhaktivinoda Thakura, mechanistic, reductionistic science appeared to be marching unimpeded from triumph to triumph, and many people believed that it would soon find explanations for everything. But in the late twentieth century this triumphant march has been checked on many different fronts.
For example, physics in the 1890s looked like a closed subject, but in the early decades of the twentieth century it entered a phase of paradox and mystery with the development of relativity theory and quantum mechanics. The mysteries of quantum mechanics continue to inspire scientists to contemplate ideas that would have seemed outrageously mystical at the turn of the century. (29, 30, 31)
But now physics has encountered an even more serious obstacle. The bold architects of universal physical theories are now realizing that these theories can never be adequately tested by experiment. (32) Thus the Harvard physicist Howard Georgi characterized modern theoretical physics as "recreational mathematical theology." (33)
In the mid-twentieth century, computer scientists believed they were on the verge of proving that thought is mechanical, thereby fulfilling La Mettrie's eighteenth-century dream of man as a machine. But in more recent years, even though computers have become more and more powerful, the dream of simulating human intelligence has seemed to recede further and further into the future.
With the discovery of the DNA spiral helix by Watson and Crick in 1953, many scientists thought that the ultimate secret of life had been revealed. Since then, molecular biologists have had tremendous success in shedding light on the mechanisms of living cells. But as molecular biology unveils the incredible complexity of these high-precision mechanisms, the goal of explaining the origin of life seems progressively more difficult to attain. (34)
These are just a few of the many areas in which the program of mechanistic reductionism seems to be reaching ultimate limits as the twentieth century draws to a close. Perhaps as a result of these developments, many professional scientists are now showing a willingness to consider theoretical ideas and areas of research that have traditionally been taboo.
For example, we now find organizations of professional scientists who openly study phenomena lying on the edge between physical science and the realms of mysticism and the paranormal. Examples are the International Association for New Science (IANS), the Society for Scientific Exploration (SSE), the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), and the International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine (ISSSEEM). These all sponsor regular scientific conferences.
Some of the phenomena these groups study seem similar to the "mythical" phenomena so often reported in old religious texts and in recent accounts of religious experiences. A synergistic interaction between scholars of religion and these new scientific organizations might prove to be a valuable source of new insights for both groups of researchers.
The Direct Presentation Of Vaisnava Teachings
We have discussed how Bhaktivinoda Thakura found it necessary to present a modified version of the Vaisnava teachings to young Bengali intellectuals at the high noon of British political and ideological imperialism. But as the sun began to set on the British empire, his son and successor Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati began a vigorous program of directly presenting the Vaisnava conclusions throughout India. This program was taken abroad by his disciple Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who boldly celebrated the ancient Rathayatra festival of Jagannatha Puri in London's Trafalgar Square.
In the changing climate of scientific opinion in the late twentieth century, the time may have come to openly introduce the traditional teachings of bhakti to the world's intellectual communities. The once jarring conflicts between rationalism and traditional religion may progressively fade as science matures and becomes open to the study of mystical phenomena. This opens up the possibility of an approach to religion that is intellectually acceptable and at the same time satisfies the soul's inner desire for love in a transcendental relationship.
This leaves us with one possible objection. Could it be that the Vaisnava teachings, with their specific emphasis on Krsna as the Supreme, are guilty of sectarian disregard for other religious traditions? The answer is that, of course, any doctrine can be put forward in a narrow, sectarian way. But as Bhaktivinoda Thakura pointed out in his essay on the Bhagavata, the Vaisnava teachings are inherently broad-minded and acknowledge the value of all religious systems.
The following prayer shows the approach to other religions taken in the Bhagavata:
O my Lord, Your devotees can see You through the ears by the process of bona fide hearing, and thus their hearts become cleansed, and You take Your seat there. You are so merciful to Your devotees that You manifest Yourself in the particular eternal form of transcendence in which they always think of You. (35)
This verse states that God appears to His devoted worshipers in many different forms, depending on their desires. These forms include the avataras of Krsna described in traditional Vaisnava texts, but are not limited to those forms. Indeed, it is said that the expansions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are uncountable, and they cannot be fully described in the finite scriptures of any one religious community.
The following verse gives some idea of the different religious communities in the universe, as described by the Bhagavata:
From the forefathers headed by Bhrgu Muni and other sons of Brahma appeared many children and descendants, who assumed different forms as demigods, demons, human beings, Guhyakas, Siddhas, Gandharvas, Vidyadharas, Caranas, Kindevas, Kinnaras, Nagas, Kimpurusas, and so on. All of the many universal species, along with their respective leaders, appeared with different natures and desires generated from the three modes of material nature. Therefore, because of the different characteristics of the living entities within the universe, there are a great many Vedic rituals, mantras, and rewards. (36)
This statement is explicitly "mythological," and one can well imagine how Sir William Jones might have reacted to it. But it offers a grand picture of countless races and societies within the universe, all given religious methods suitable for their particular natures. Here the word "Vedic" cannot be limited to particular Sanskrit texts that now exist in India. Rather, it refers to the sum total of religious systems revealed by the infinite Supreme God for the sake of elevating countless societies of divinely created beings.
As always, the distinguishing feature of the Vaisnava teachings is that God is a real person and His variegated creation is also real. Thus the Vaisnava approach to religious liberality is to regard all genuine religions as real divine revelations. Likewise, the Vaisnava teachings of love of God aim to set in place a relationship of loving service between the real individual soul and the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the performer of real transcendental pastimes.
1. Vivekananda, 1963, pp. 10-11.
2. Vivekananda, 1963, p. 11.
3. Vivekananda, 1963, p. 13.
4. Vivekananda, 1963, p. 14.
5. Jordan, 1987, p. 27.
6. Vivekananda, 1963, p. 17.
7. Majumdar, 1965.
8. Thakur Bhaktivinod, 1986, p. 5.
9. Thakur Bhaktivinod, 1986, p. 6.
10. Jones, 1799, p. 302.
11. Jones, 1799, p. 313.
12. Moore, 1986, p. 334.
13. Moore, 1986, p. 344.
14. Thakur Bhaktivinod, 1986, p. 30.
15. Thakur Bhaktivinod, 1986, p. 30.
16. Thakur Bhaktivinod, 1986, pp. 24-25.
17. Rupa-vilasa dasa, 1989, pp. 138-39.
18. Thakur Bhakti Vinod, 1975, pp. 155-56.
19. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1975, Adi-lila, Vol. 2, p. 95.
20. James, 1982, pp. 515-16.
21. Haberman, 1993.
22. Haberman, 1993, p. 31.
23. Haberman, 1993, p. 26.
24. Haberman, 1993, p. 33.
25. Rosen, 1991, pp. 63-64.
26. Rosen, 1991, pp. 119-39.
27. Braude, 1986.
28. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, 1975, Madhya-lila, Vol. 2, pp. 12-19.
29. Bohm, 1980.
30. Penrose, 1989.
31. Jahn and Dunne, 1987.
32. Weinberg, 1992.
33. Crease and Mann, 1986, p. 414.
34. Horgan, 1991.
35. Srimad-Bhagavatam, 3.9.11.
36. Srimad-Bhagavatam, 11.14.5-7.
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Horgan, John, "In the Beginning ... ," Scientific American, Feb. 1991.
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Majumdar, R. C., Svami Vivekananda: A Historical Review, Calcutta: General Printers and Publishers, Ltd., 1965.
Moore, James R., "Geologists and Interpreters of Genesis in the Nineteenth Century," God and Nature, eds. David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.
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Weinberg, Steven, Dreams of a Final Theory, New York: Pantheon Books, 1992.
Inspired by devotion to his guru and Krsna, Srila Prabhupada took a bold first step to bring Krsna consciousness to the English-speaking world.
by Satyaraja Dasa
ON FEBRUARY 14, 1944, a group of devotees gathered to celebrate the appearance day of their spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874-1937). Srila Bhaktisiddhanta had ordered one of them to spread Krsna consciousness in English. So now, on this auspicious day, that devotee, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, started the English magazine he would later refer to as the beginning of his spiritual life.
In Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, a six-volume biography, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami tells of Prabhupada (then known as Abhay) working at home in Calcutta on his first issue:
From his front room at 6 Sita Kanta Banerjee, Abhay conceived, wrote, edited, and typed the manuscript for a magazine. He designed a logo, a long rectangle across the top of the page. In the upper left-hand corner was a figure of Lord Caitanya, effulgent with rays of light like rays from the sun. In the lower right were silhouettes of a crowd of people, in darkness but groping to receive light from Lord Caitanya. And between Lord Caitanya and the people, the title unfurled like a banner—BACK TO GODHEAD. In the lower right corner was a picture of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati seated at his writing, looking up thoughtfully as he composed. Above the logo ran the motto "God-head is Light, Nescience is Darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no Nescience."
Under Srila Prabhupada's supervision, the logo went through several changes over the years. But today, fifty years later, it still matches Srila Prabhupada's original idea. The only difference is that by the desire of his disciples Srila Prabhupada, rather than his spiritual master, now sits across from Lord Caitanya.
Srila Prabhupada's purity and scholarship are now well known, and he is known for his books, his disciples, and his lifetime of devotion. But when he began Back to Godhead, few knew of his spiritual gifts, and fewer still came forward to help him.
In fact, between 1944 and 1960 Srila Prabhupada published most of the issues almost single-handedly. The magazine then was a tabloid—one sheet folded in half, making four pages of type. Srila Prabhupada wrote nearly all the articles, oversaw the printing, and sold or gave out every copy (one thousand per issue), mostly by approaching people on the street.
Producing Back to Godhead was a struggle. In the very beginning, after Prabhupada had selected a printer and a distributor, he was denied paper. Because of World War II, India had a paper shortage. Srila Prabhupada persisted, however, and finally received permission to print his first issue—forty-four pages.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami writes: "It was 1944, and Abhay specifically addressed the crisis of world war.... After four years of fighting, costing millions of human lives, the second world war within twenty years was still scourging the earth. ...
"Abhay quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury:
In every quarter of earth men long to be delivered from the curse of War and to find, in a world which has re-gained its peace, respite from the harshness and bitterness of the world they have known till now. But so often they want the Kingdom of Heaven without its King, the kingdom of God without God. And they cannot have it.
"Abhay told how he had come to begin Back to Godhead magazine—how he had written a letter [in the 1930s] two weeks before the disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and how his spiritual master had instructed him to preach in English."
Prabhupada carried out this instruction by presenting an English magazine focusing on the concerns of the English-speaking world and written for people with Western sensibilities. The magazine offered translations and explanations of ancient Vedic texts alongside political and sociological commentaries, and spiritual views on current events. Srila Prabhupada wrote about subjects ranging from the war to Theosophy to life on other planets. Times were tough, though, and money was scarce. And so, after only two issues, Srila Prabhupada had to stop printing.
As the years passed, Prabhupada kept writing, and he kept meditating on how to spread Krsna consciousness. In 1952 he and his family moved to Allahabad, where he was able to revive Back to Godhead, making a new beginning in February 1952. He was still doing most of the writing, and all of the typing, editing, meeting with printers, and so on. But now, in Allahabad, he was better set up to distribute BTG to respectable Indian people and send it to important people around the world.
He soon went to Jhansi, about four hundred miles west of Allahabad. There he met Acarya Prabhakar (then Prabhakar Misra), who was to become his first disciple. Together they continued printing Back to Godhead and canvassed for funding to keep it going.
Years later, when Prabhupada started printing and distributing the magazine in Delhi, he would go to tea stalls and spend hours to sell even one copy.
In 1965 Srila Prabhupada traveled to the United States and opened the first center of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in New York City. Soon after, in October of 1966, he relaunched Back to Godhead. Srila Prabhupada gave the job of writing and publishing Back to Godhead to his first American disciples. The early issues were printed on a mimeograph machine Prabhupada bought secondhand from a country club in Queens. Setting a lofty goal, Srila Prabhupada told his disciples they should work hard and make BTG as popular as Time, Life, or Reader's Digest.
Though since then BTG has come a long way, it still hasn't quite caught up with Time or Reader's Digest. And that's hardly surprising. Most people have yet to see the importance of self-realization. So they spend their money on magazines that speak to their conditioning and material desires. Despite religious and quasi-spiritual affiliations, they ultimately think the purpose of human life is to enjoy the senses. To them, self-realization is merely an addendum, some peripheral curiosity one can add—if one so chooses—to an otherwise full life of work and pleasure. They don't see themselves as essentially spiritual beings and therefore can't understand the relevance and urgency of Back to Godhead's message.
So when approaching people to try to interest them in BTG, devotees of Krsna often find that people don't want to take the time. Prabhupada addressed this same concern years ago, in the March 1956 issue of BTG:
When we approach some gentleman and request him to become a reader of "Back to Godhead," sometimes we are replied to with the words "NO TIME." They say that they are too busy earning money for maintaining the body and soul together. But when we ask them what they mean by the "soul," they have nothing to reply.... But everybody should know from the Bhagavat Geeta that the body is the outward dress.... So if the dress is taken care of only, without any care of the real person—it is sheer foolishness and a waste of time.
Without understanding the science of Krsna consciousness, modern civilization treads a path that can only lead to pain: the path of misidentifying the body with the self. If someone thinks he is his clothes, he's going to feed his shirt and bathe his pants. That is the situation today. Therefore, despite economic and scientific advancement, people are dissatisfied.
Back to Godhead aims to deliver people from their dissatisfaction by shining the light of Krsna consciousness into the darkness of the modern age. Despite obstacles, Back to Godhead continues to pursue the goal for which it was started: the respiritualization of human society. People who do not take advantage of Back to Godhead are missing a golden opportunity to respiritualize their consciousness.
Therefore, those with insight and sincerity of heart will take this opportunity—Back to Godhead's golden anniversary—to make a vow: "I will become like one of those people on the BTG logo and move toward Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the golden incarnation of Lord Krsna."
Amid the bombs and bullets of a civil war, courageous devotees deliver Krsna's mercy in Sukhumi, Georgia, in the former Soviet Union.
By Priyavrata Dasa
April 16, 1993
AMBARISA DASA, president of the ISKCON temple in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, is a native of Georgia. Wearing an army uniform and handing out a few hot samosas,* he convinced the Tbilisi airport officials to get us on the next flight, me and Murari Krsna Dasa, my translator and traveling partner. The Aeroflot plane was packed, half with soldiers, half civilians. I noticed a strange silence on board and asked Murari why. He looked at me soberly and said, "Probably because there's a dead body in the front."
Thirty minutes later we stepped off the plane in Sukhumi, the capital of the province of Abkhazia. Once a popular tourist resort, Sukhumi was now the center of a civil war.
Parjanya Maharaja Dasa had arranged to pick us up at the stairs to the plane. Driving swiftly toward the temple, he pointed out some of the devastation from the last six months—trees felled, shops abandoned, roads blown apart, blocks of flats destroyed, hotels burnt to the ground. Ours was the only civilian car on the street.
Parjanya suggested we stop at one of the distribution points for Hare Krishna Food for Life. "They're serving lunch right now." We drove past a military base and a line of tanks and then through a street blockade before arriving at a dingy storefront bearing a faded Russian sign: "Stalovar" (eating place). A crowd of old people had already gathered, and more were just arriving. Big overcoats, Russian hats, men with unshaven faces. The people looked depressed.
The room was dark, dirty, and bare. It had once been a cheap restaurant; now it was a place for serving Krsna's prasadam. Bhakta Marhas, holding incense sticks in his left hand, expertly served the long line of people. I didn't ask why he held onto the incense. It was obvious—water was scarce, so many of these people hadn't bathed for days.
Suddenly an explosion shook the building. We raced out to see what was happening. A paint factory a hundred yards up the road had been hit by a shell. A crowd gathered to watch as the factory burned to the ground. To the local people it was a type of entertainment. They were used to this by now.
Murari gestured we should get out of there fast, before another shell hit, so we started moving. Marhas flung the pots into the trailer and followed in his tractor close behind us.
We arrived at a little white house in a back street of Sukhumi. It was the temple. Like all ISKCON temples, it was an embassy of Vaikuntha, the spiritual world.
That night while we took prasadam, shells hit just a few hundred yards away. Vakresvara Dasa, the Sukhumi temple president, said the devotees were expecting a major attack at any time. "It sounds like the bombs are getting closer," said Bhakta Marhas. "Tonight could be the beginning." We held a Bhagavad-gita class as shells exploded and machine guns rattled away in the background.
As I walked out of the temple room after the class, Bhakta Sergey, the fifteen-year-old pujari, came in carrying a candle, preparing to put the Deities to rest. He seemed indifferent to the gunshots, his face as serene as the full moon yet aglow with determination. Despite the difficulties, he was absorbed in caring for the Deities, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai. "Doesn't all this noise bother you, Sergey?" I asked. "No," he replied, "the soldiers are just playing."
As we prepared to rest for the night, shells kept raining down, seeming to get closer and closer. I winced at the sound of every shot and explosion. I lay in my sleeping bag and prayed to Krsna that since I might not live through the night, maybe He would be kind enough to allow me to remember Him in my dreams. I knew I was in the safest place in the city—Krsna's temple.
Today I spoke with an army colonel. The colonel spoke Georgian, so Murari translated. I told the colonel that the Hare Krsna movement has the solutions to all the material and spiritual problems of the world. Handing him a book, I said, "All the problems of the world are the result of one thing—forgetfulness of God. The Hare Krsna movement has come to teach people what they have forgotten. This book is about God. Please take it and read it."
Hints of tears appeared in the colonel's eyes. "I will definitely try to read it and explain it to my colleagues," he said. "I will remember your face and what you have told me. Thank you, thank you."
It was Easter, so Bhakta Marhas decided to prepare some sweet-bread sticks for the neighbors. Seeing Marhas at the door, a Christian man said, "Actually, you people are the true Christians, but somehow you prefer to call yourselves Krsnas."
The Sukhumi devotees were happy to have us with them. Practically no one had visited them for six months, and they were missing their leader, Mayuradhvaja Dasa, who was in Moscow undergoing a heart operation.
Mayuradhvaja Dasa had begun the Sukhumi program in August 1992, at the beginning of the fighting. Since then, without fail the Sukhumi devotees had been stoking up the fires of their cherished wood-fueled pressure cooker, donated by the Georgian army. The cooker, with its green paint peeling off and its black chimney, is a wonderful sight for any seasoned cook.
At 7:30 sharp every morning, Bhakta Vilodya, wearing a saffron beret, sorts out the pots and water barrels while another devotee gathers the rice, oats, and millet and begins washing them under the tap on the front lawn. The Sukhumi Food for Life kitchen is set up in the temple's front driveway. Spoons and ladles hang from trees.
I went out in the trailer with Marhas. His brother, Krsna Dasa, maneuvered the tractor through the vacant streets, dodging potholes and keeping an eye out for danger. The streets were quiet. Most people stayed inside. Murari laughed and said, "Only madmen and Hare Krsnas would dare drive down the streets like this." I agreed. Shots and shells fired only half a mile away. An occasional bullet sailed twenty feet above our heads.
After twenty minutes we arrived at the first distribution point, located behind a block of flats in the orchard-laden mountains of North Sukhumi. This was a short stop, only a hundred elderly people. But many of them collected rations for their families, so they eagerly packed prasadam into their little aluminum pots and plastic jars.
Our next stop was the most dangerous of all—the west side. At times the fighting comes within a hundred yards of where the devotees give out free porridge. I was apprehensive, so Marhas encouraged me with the promise of some sweet-bread sticks and milk when we returned to the temple. "What if we don't return?" I said with half a smile. He replied, "We'll just keep chanting all the way."
We neared the west side. Worse devastation. Many houses ruined from bombs. Everywhere buildings and shops riddled with bullets. Again, except for an occasional army jeep, we were the only ones on the road.
Stopping at a bombed building, we jumped out of the trailer and were greeted by a small dark-skinned Russian woman named Mara. She wore a colorful headband. Half her teeth were missing. As soon as she saw us she chanted, "Hari bol! Hare Krsna! Krsna! Krsna!" and then she began blowing a whistle and calling out to the local residents hiding in the buildings. Suddenly, crowds of old people and children appeared, carrying pots, jugs, plates, and thermoses, and began converging on our tractor, all of them chanting, "Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna!"
Mara grabbed the handle of a fifty-liter pot of porridge and led us into a building while all her friends followed. The people quickly assembled into a long line and waited for Bhakta Marhas to dish out the mercy.
"We were all respectable people before this war," one woman told me. "I always had money, enough food, a nice house. Now I have nothing, absolutely nothing, except the clothes I wear. All my belongings have been pillaged by the enemy soldiers."
Marhas is a lively fellow, with a cheeky smile and a strong, youthful body. He encourages everyone to chant louder and then leads a short kirtana. They all respond.
Many of these people are grandmothers and children. When the war broke out, most of the young men and women either fled the city or were drafted into the Georgian army.
One woman, her voiced choked, told me, "If it wasn't for you boys we would all be dead."
All the shops are empty, and all the incoming roads are blocked. There is no food in Sukhumi. Practically speaking, these people exist on whatever they receive from the devotees.
"I think you boys must be saints," a bearded man said. "How is it possible that in the middle of war we are receiving such nice food as this? You must be sent by God. I'm convinced."
I looked over at Marhas. He was calling out "Hare Krsna! Hare Krsna! Gauranga!" Everyone responded excitedly while he filled their pots.
After an hour we served the last people and then got set to go home. Mara was washing the pots, easily maneuvering them under the tap. With a toothless grin, she looked up and said, "Nyet problem. Nyet problem."
When we returned to the temple, as promised I was treated to a plate full of hot sweet-bread and a cup of warm milk. It had been a long and eventful day for me, just one of many for the Sukhumi devotees.
Samosa: a kind of vegetable pastry.
Prasadam: food first offered to Krsna and then distributed. (literally, "mercy")
Pujari: a devotee who tends to the worship of the temple Deities. The Deities are respected as being forms of Krsna Himself.
Sri Sri Gaura Nitai: Lord Krsna's forms as Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda, who appeared on earth to spread the chanting of Hare Krsna.
Haribol: "Chant Hare Krsna!" (a commonly used greeting)
Gauranga: a name of Lord Caitanya.
Sukhumi Food for Life
In September, Abkhazian forces broke a truce with the Georgian army and took over Sukhumi. The devotees couldn't leave the temple without risk of being shot. And even if they'd wanted to keep passing out food, they couldn't—the Abkhazians had captured the boat carrying all their food supplies. The program had to stop for the first time in a year.
Mayuradhvaja then heard that Raghava Pandita Dasa, who had been running the Food for Life program in Gudauta, Georgia, had received the shipment of food stolen on its way to Sukhumi. Abkhazian soldiers had appreciated Raghava Pandita's efforts to save the local people and decided to hand the shipment over to him.
In Sukhumi, some of the old people the devotees had been feeding died after five days without food. The devotees waited in expectation as the Abkhazian soldiers blasted the city, killing every Georgian in sight. Fortunately many of the Sukhumi devotees were Russian by birth, which meant they were a little safe. Of course, in war no one is safe. Some of the devotees decided to leave. Mayurdhvaja encouraged the rest. "I'm sure Krsna will protect us," he told them.
He was right; the Abkhazian soldiers spared the devotees' lives. They avoided shooting at the devotees or their temple, even though many houses on the same street were blasted. The devotees stayed inside chanting, while Bhakta Sergey, now Sikhamani Dasa, continued his worship of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai.
Bullets crisscrossed the sky. No one could leave or enter the city. Within a week, three Aeroflot planes were shot down, killing hundreds of civilians. Another plane was blown up as it prepared to leave the Sukhumi airport carrying two hundred Georgian citizens trying to escape.
Eventually the fighting subsided, and Raghava Pandita arrived in town from Gudauta with his Food for Life team and began arranging for food distribution. He had supplies and was full of enthusiasm. The Sukhumi devotees could get back to work. Soldiers even began coming to the temple to take prasadam. Before the seige Georgian soldiers would sometimes come; now the native Abkhazian soldiers came. It seemed the devotees were transcendental to politics and foolish nationalism, and the soldiers on both sides unconsciously knew it. The devotees were not on anyone's side. They were here to help.
In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a television news reporter commented that practically everyone and everything in Sukhumi was being shot at, except a group of brahmanas who were feeding the people.
Mayurdhvaja eventually had to leave Sukhumi to organize Food for Life in Tbilisi, where many Georgians from Sukhumi had fled. But all routes to Tbilisi were blocked, with check points everywhere. It would be dangerous trying to get out. Mayurdhvaja decided to try something even the Georgian soldiers wouldn't dare—drive cross-country.
Mayuradvaja and three other devotees passed through many check points, finally arriving at the last one on the border between Abkhazia and Georgia. There was a line of cars a mile long. Everyone was being checked: if you were Georgian, you'd be shot. Two of the devotees were Georgian.
After waiting for some time, Mayurdhvaja got out of the car and walked to the front to speak with the Abkhazian soldiers. He told them about the Food for Life mission. One of the soldiers recognized him; another had heard something about Hare Krishna Food for Life. They told him to return to his car and drive up to the front. After passing the long line of cars, Mayurdhvaja and the devotees passed through the border without inspection. They made it out. Krsna had protected them once again.
Mayurdhvaja is now organizing for food supplies to be sent to Tbilisi, where thousands of Georgian citizens struggle to survive, having fled Sukhumi. He wants to return to Sukhumi, despite the danger.
"I have a taste," he explains. "I want to help these people. Someone has to do it, and it may as well be us. There is nothing more beneficial than Krsna prasadam. This is the real welfare work—we're saving people's souls."
The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
A millionaire's boat stall has become a shrine to Lord Krsna. The boat stall, once owned by Lawrence ("body by") Fisher, was part of Fisher's waterfront mansion in Detroit. The mansion now serves as ISKCON's Detroit temple and cultural center. The presiding Deity at the boat-stall-turned-shrine is Lord Krsna's form as Sri-nathaji. Attendance for the opening of the shrine: three thousand people.
A Rathayatra cart that sets up in less than an hour has been designed and built by Canadian devotee Abhaya Carana Dasa. The transportable cart weighs 4,000 pounds, stands 37 feet high, and has wheels 6 feet across. Abhaya Carana hopes the cart will inspire more and more temples to bring the Rathayatra festival to their city. Interested devotees can reach him through ISKCON's temple in Montreal.
The ISKCON temple in Laguna Beach, California, was unharmed during the October fires there that burned hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of land.
Thousands of vacationers in Italy came forward to pull the ropes of Lord Jagannatha's cart at the Rathayatra parade this past summer. The parade was held in Viareggio, in the heart of the Italian Riviera. At the festival site, devotees sold three hundred books and passed out two thousand plates of prasadam.
Poland's National Museum put on a cultural exhibit in October, "The Touch of Govinda." The two-day exhibit, organized by local ISKCON devotees, included chanting, Bharat Natyam dances, a Vedic fire sacrifice, and lectures on yoga and reincarnation. About four hundred people attended.
Devotees in Paris observed Janmastami, Lord Krsna's appearance day, by celebrating the twentieth year since Srila Prabhupada installed the Paris Deities of Krsna, Sri Sri Radha-Parisisvara. A week before Janmastami, the devotees held the first Paris Rathayatra since 1982.
ISKCON Calcutta is constructing a five-story building at 3 Albert Road, behind the present ISKCON temple. The building will provide offices, guest-rooms, living facilities, kitchens, and rooms for serving prasadam.The building is scheduled to be finished by June.
The chief minister of the south Indian state of Karnataka talked with ISKCON devotees about their plans for a farm and retreat in the Karnataka hills. The chief minister , Sri Veerappa Moily, met the devotees during their Rathayatra festival in Kollur. They also presented him with a copy of the Bhaktivedanta Books Trust's Narada-Bhakti-Sutra.
The president of Colombia recently received Srila Prabhupada's Science of Self-Realization from Dhrta Vrata Dasa, one of Srila Prabhupada's disciples.
More than eight thousand people attended the Janmastami festival at the Hare Krsna farm outside Bon Accueil. An equally large crowd showed up at the ISKCON center in town. Devotees at the farm offered Lord Krsna 250 preparations in honor of His appearance.
A Chinese dragon unexpectedly appeared at ISKCON's Jagannatha Chariot Festival in July in the northern city of Ipoh. After bowing in front of Lord Jagannatha, the dragon danced excitedly for thirty minutes for the pleasure of the Lord and the crowd. In August, the festival moved on to Teluk Intan and Seramban. (The dragon troupe stayed behind.)
The Indian Padayatra has passed through tens of thousands of towns and villages on its 35,000 km journey. It is headed by Jaya Vijaya Dasa, who has been on the road nonstop since 1985. Last June, in the state of Orissa, the party began its third trip around India. The Indian padayatris plan to log 50,000 kms by 1996.
A team of devotees from Bhaktivedanta Manor, outside London, brought Padayatra to London, rural England, and several other countries last year. Last year they walked, chanted, and held programs in Sweden, Germany, Luxemburg, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Russia.
Another Padayatra is working its way from England to Moscow. After traveling through France, Spain, and Italy, in August the devotees began walking through Greece.
Begun in 1989, the American Padayatra has traveled 2,700 kms. Last year the devotees completed their walk through Central America. They are now beginning a South American tour.
Last summer devotees held a ten-day Padayatra in the greater Toronto area. They called it "The 108 km Peace Walk." From twenty-five to seventy people took part daily.
For more information about Padayatra, contact:
62, Sant Nagar, New Delhi 110 065, India.
Phone: +91 (11) 642-1736. Fax: +91 (11) 647-0742
1111 Grand Ave., San Diego, CA 92109.
Phone: +1 (619) 273-7262.
Bhaktivedanta Manor, Lecthmore Heath, Watford, Herts. WD2 8EP, England.
Phone: +44 (92) 385-7244
No More Cheap Bodies
The following conversation took place in Gorakhpur, India, on February 17, 1971.
Guest: If the soul is always changing from one body to another, how is the soul liberated?
Srila Prabhupada: In this material world the soul is accepting material bodies. And when he becomes a bona fide servant of Krsna, he'll be offered a spiritual body. As long as a person is not a soldier, he will not be awarded a uniform. But as soon as he accepts service as a soldier, he is given the uniform. So you are accepting different bodies in the material world. That is bhutva bhutva praliyate: You accept one type of body, it is vanquished, and again you have to accept another. But as soon as you become perfectly Krsna conscious, after leaving this body you do not come to the material world—tyaktva deham punar janma naiti. You are immediately transferred [to the spiritual world], and you accept a spiritual body.
Is that clear or not? You are accepting material bodies now, birth after birth. That is transmigration. Sometimes you accept a human body, sometimes a dog's body, sometimes a king's body, and sometimes some other kind of body.
Now when you are Krsna conscious, you haven't got to accept a material body. You go directly to Krsna and accept a spiritual body. Then your life is eternal.
Guest: You will not again get a material body?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti. When you are Krsna conscious, you no longer accept a material body. Krsna says, mam eti: "The soul comes to Me."And mam eti means that whoever goes to Krsna has as good a body as Krsna. That is oneness.
Guest: Then what does it mean when Krsna tells Arjuna on the battlefield, "Never was there a time when you and I were not existing."
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna and Arjuna are existing, and you are existing. You are eternal. You are simply changing bodies. What is the difficulty in understanding this fact? But Krsna is not changing His body. That is the difference.
Guest: The soul will not merge into Krsna's light?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul is changing bodies. Why are you talking of merging? You are changing your body, I am changing my body, but we are individuals. I may change to a dog's body; you may change to a demigod's body. That is going on. According to one's karma one is changing bodies.
Now, when you are fully Krsna conscious, a change of body will also take place. But that new body will be spiritual. As long as you get material bodies, you have to change—one after another, one after another, one after another.
For example, if you purchase something cheap, it goes wrong and you have to purchase a new thing. But if you purchase a real, nice thing, it will continue for good. Similarly, as long as you are getting a cheap body, a material body, you have to change. And as soon as you get the most valuable body, a spiritual body, there will be no more change.
One who does not know what is Krsna thinks that someone is greater than Krsna. But anyone who knows Krsna as He is gets that permanent body immediately—simply by knowing Krsna.
janma karma ca me divyam
["One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna."] So you simply have to understand Krsna. Then the whole problem is solved.
Try to understand Krsna. Krsna can be understood simply by devotional service. Krsna says, bhaktya mam abhijanati. And that begins with surrender to Krsna. Sarva-dharman parityajya: Whatever nonsense you have known, throw it away. Simply surrender to Krsna. That is the beginning of Bhagavad-gita.
THE SOUND Krsna and the original Krsna are the same. When we chant Hare Krsna and dance, Krsna is also dancing with us. Of course we may say, "Well, I do not see Him," but why do we put so much stress on seeing? Why not hearing? Seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, and hearing are all instruments for experience and knowledge. Why do we put such exclusive stress on seeing? A devotee does not wish to see Krsna; he is satisfied by simply hearing of Krsna. Seeing may eventually be there, but hearing should not be considered any less important. There are things which we hear but do not see—the wind may be whistling past our ears, and we can hear it, but there is no possibility of seeing the wind. Since hearing is no less an important experience or valid one than seeing, we can hear Krsna and realize His presence through sound. Sri Krsna Himself says, "I am not there in My abode, or in the heart of the meditating yogi, but where My pure devotees are singing." We can feel the presence of Krsna as we actually make progress.