Statement of Purposes
1. To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
Lord Caitanya's 510th Anniversary
WHEN I FIRST HEARD the name of Lord Caitanya, I pictured a tall gentleman in Wellingtons, riding whip in hand—your turn-of-the-century British lord.
Had it not been for Srila Prabhupada, most likely I'd never even have heard Lord Caitanya's name. Nor, certainly, would I have come to recognize Lord Caitanya to be identical with Krsna Himself. Nor, for that matter, would I have known who Krsna is.
But because of Srila Prabhupada I came to know Krsna as the Absolute, the Godhead, the source of everything. I came to hear how Krsna deploys His all-pervasive energies. I came to know of Krsna's form as a cowherd boy, decorated with ornaments and peacock feather, bearing a flute, and sporting with the cows and cowherd people of Vrndavana. And I came to learn how the qualities, abode, and pastimes of Krsna could be specific and tangible and at the same time transcendent.
This science of Krsna, brought to us by Srila Prabhupada, had been taught five centuries ago in India by Lord Caitanya. Far from being a mere lord of Britain, Lord Caitanya, though appearing as a Bengali teacher and saint, was Krsna Himself, the Lord of everything, in the form of His own devotee. And this was not merely Srila Prabhupada's opinion; it was confirmed by Vedic scripture.
Lord Caitanya taught the chanting of the holy names Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Chant and be happy. Chant and be purified. Chant and attain love of Krsna. This was the message of Lord Caitanya.
One time, some twenty years ago, a senior Hare Krsna devotee told me a story. He had heard from another devotee something unusual that Srila Prabhupada had said: The devotees of the Hare Krsna movement were all eternal associates of Lord Caitanya.
Like Lord Krsna Himself, when Lord Caitanya comes to earth He brings with Him from the spiritual world some liberated souls who eternally share in His pastimes. Or sometimes, even when the Lord Himself doesn't come, He sends some of His eternal associates on a mission to the material world.
So Srila Prabhupada had supposedly said that we members of the Hare Krsna movement were in fact such eternal associates.
Some time later, this devotee was sitting in Srila Prabhupada's presence and decided to ask a question: "Srila Prabhupada, is it true the devotees in ISKCON are eternal associates of Lord Caitanya?"
In a characteristic accent, drawing the word out quite beyond its usual length, Srila Prabhupada answered: Yes.
It was a mystical moment. The devotee could only sit there in ecstasy. We—we!—that small band of ISKCON devotees—were actually Lord Caitanya's eternal associates.
Then, after a moment, Srila Prabhupada added, "Everybody is."
The meaning was clear. Every living being is by nature an eternal associate of the Lord. Now, having forgotten Krsna, we are conditioned souls, lost in matter. But by reviving our Krsna consciousness we can return to our natural, liberated state and go back home, back to Godhead, back to the Lord's eternal association. Lord Caitanya showed how to do it. And Srila Prabhupada brought Lord Caitanya's teachings to the world.
Thanks to Prabhupada
I am an ardent follower of this beautiful magazine, and I have decided to share my story with the thousands of readers of BTG. I came from a family with a strong religious background, all widely read in the holy scriptures. We were disciplined to follow the strict Vedic rules, like going to satsangas and singing bhajanas. Unfortunately, I was married into a home where religion was not viewed as a top priority. But although the family was large I made time to do some service to the Supreme Lord.
Many years later my dad passed away, and as we were an extremely close family I became severely depressed. It was then that a friend suggested I join the temple and chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. I did. It immediately gave me tremendous inner strength.
Today I am a regular devotee of the Hare Krsna temple and the congregational services in my district. They remind me of my happy days I spent with my parents.
Happy chanting to all your wonderful readers. Through your magazine I would like to thank the dedicated, much revered, and true guru His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada for clarifying the Bhagavad-gita, for founding the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and for writing his many literary works. Through the dedication of His Divine Grace we are able to understand and follow righteous principles. As Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, "One who is engaged for the welfare of others, who works without fruitive gain, and who is always thinking of Me as the supreme goal will no doubt attain Me, My dear Arjuna."
Our deepest gratitude for bringing knowledge, wisdom, hope, and spiritual guidance to so many towns, villages, and suburbs. Thank you.
Prison Ministries Appreciation
BTG magazine is like a spiritual feast. Each preparation is more succulent than the one before.
I'm writing to get across a brief message for more devotees to get involved with ISKCON Prison Ministries.
Spearheading IPM is a selfless devotee, Candrasekhara Dasa. He gets hundreds of names of interested prisoners. He passes them out to different IPM workers like myself. I began writing inmates three and a half years ago. I was given five names.
My body is always breaking down, so I had lots of time to write, and eventually I had over sixty men to write to! I usually write two to four hours a day, five days a week.
Srila Prabhupada's Centennial year is here, and we need more people to lighten the load, which gets bigger and bigger every day! One of my inmates was initiated last year by Bir Krsna Goswami, who went into the prison to perform the initiation ceremony. I hear that he may be initiating another inmate of mine in 1996.
This service keeps me fired up. Researching answers to the many questions I am asked each week keeps me focused on Srila Prabhupada's blissful purports.
IPM is a service that is never over. Once I think I am finally caught up, the mail comes and I start all over again.
In three and a half years I've probably placed 200 books—and the japa beads I cannot count. I am very blessed to be a part of ISKCON Prison Ministries, and as long as I have the strength to write, I'll write. Thank you.
Bhagavati Devi Dasa
Armenians in India
First, thank you for your very inspiring magazine. I think the November issue on Manipur is one of the best I have ever seen. I particularly enjoy those extended features on the traditional culture of India.
I would also like to comment on the atrocious persecution in Armenia (BTG, July/August 1995).
It would be desirable if the violent elements in that country would learn the same tolerance always displayed to the Armenian minority living in India.
My research at my local public library reveals that there is a very old relationship between Armenia and India. The first foreign settlers in Calcutta were the Armenians who arrived in the sixteenth century. They gained much influence at the Nawab's court, becoming bankers, generals, and ministers. By the time the British East India Company arrived in the 1690's, the Armenians were so wealthy that they were able to lend the British money to purchase trading rights.
Armenian settlers in India later spread their influence to Burma, China, and Southeast Asia, becoming influential in trade and politics.
Today two hundred Armenians still live in Calcutta. They have their own independent church and three centers of worship there. The Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth is the oldest Christian church in Calcutta.
If the people and government of Armenia were mindful of these long and successful links that they have with India, then surely they would treat with the respect they deserve their own citizens who follow Lord Caitanya's Vaisnava movement from Bengal.
Armenians have always been allowed to follow their own customs in India, so surely the same treatment should apply to those who choose to follow India's great spiritual culture in Armenia.
Thank you very much for your column on book distribution by Navina Nirada Prabhu. I can easily read pages more of his or any other book distributor's realizations. It is the nectar for which we are always anxious! Any of us who have directly distributed Srila Prabhupada's books or his magazine Back to Godhead or are doing so now share an open secret: There is an immediate feeling of transcendental satisfaction and reciprocation from the Supersoul when someone you've talked to walks away with one of Srila Prabhupada's books.
When I moved into our Chicago temple at the end of 1975, there was an incredible momentum for book distribution. It was like a party every day to go with the book distributors to O'Hare Airport. A sankirtana party! To serve the book distributors was always a thrilling experience. I would bring them more books or arrange prasadam and observe and listen to them as they encouraged celebrities, dignitaries, and ordinary folks from all over the world to receive Srila Prabhupada's books. That was the most devotionally intense and ecstatic time of my life.
The description of Navina Nirada Prabhu's sankirtana pastimes with the handicapped man, the drug addict with AIDS, and the gentleman depressed over his mother's death reminds us that there is hope for all who take shelter of the Krsna consciousness movement. Everyone can be freed from suffering very quickly through the enlightenment that book distribution brings.
Reasons for Thanks
I couldn't help weeping somewhat when I read Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami's "Lessons from the Road" in the November/December issue. Actually, this is not an unusual reaction for me when reading BTG articles. I often offer to read to my husband from BTG or a Prabhupada book when he's driving us somewhere, but I invariably start to choke on the words and make it a very awkward scene. This particular article, however, was wonderfully presented with the perfect choice of Vedic references. I know because this past year has been for me an extremely treacherous one of health and financial hardship. "Lessons from the Road" was so convincing that it gave me great relief and remembrance of all the reasons to be thankful. Thank you, Satsvarupa Goswami, and thank you, BTG.
Looking Forward to Krsna's Presence
I am glad to find you have put a Hare Krsna Catalog in the middle of the magazine. I look forward to BTG. There is so much to read. It is like looking at and being in the presence of Krsna.
Evelyn K. Harris
We'd like to hear from you. Please send correspondence to: The Editors, Back to Godhead, P. O. Box 430, Alachua, Florida 32616, USA.
Fax: (904) 462-7893.
No need to guess
A lecture given in New York City, on November 28, 1966
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
na sadhayati mam yogo na sankhyam dharma uddhava
[The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, said:] "My dear Uddhava, neither through astanga-yoga [the mystic yoga system to control the senses], nor through impersonal monism or an analytical study of the Absolute Truth, nor through study of the Vedas, nor through practice of austerities, nor through charity, nor through acceptance of sannyasa can one satisfy Me as much as one can by developing unalloyed devotional service unto Me." —Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.14.20
LORD CAITANYA is speaking an allegory in which an astrologer tells a poor man where to dig to find a treasure. The treasure represents Krsna consciousness, or love of God, and the directions in which the man is told to dig represent different processes by which people search for the Absolute Truth.
The astrologer tells the poverty-stricken man, "You are actually a very rich man's son, but you do not know this. Therefore you are suffering."
To be poor in this world is a curse for ordinary people, those under the concept of material life, whereas the spiritually enriched have nothing to do with the poverty or wealth of this world. The living entities are not meant to be poverty-stricken, because they are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, the supreme proprietor. Every living entity has the birthright to enjoy God's property, just as the son inherits the property of the father. That is the law. But under the spell of illusion we have forgotten our relationship with the supreme father; therefore we are suffering. That is the diagnosis.
Now we have to find out how to go back home, back to Godhead. That should be the mission of human life. Never mind why we are in contact with the material world. By the instruction of the astrologerlike Vedic literature we should come to the point of finding out how to go back to Godhead. Just as the astrologer is giving hints to the poor man, the Vedic literature gives us hints so that we can become the richest by reviving our lost relationship with our father.
There are different paths for reviving that relationship, but Lord Caitanya says that no method but bhakti will work. The Vedic literature says the same thing. In today's verse Lord Caitanya is citing evidence from Srimad-Bhagavatam: na sadhayati mam yogah. Lord Krsna says, "The yoga process cannot achieve success in reaching Me." Na sankhyam. Sankhyam means "philosophical speculation." "That also cannot reach Me." Na ... dharma uddhava. Dharma means "religious principles," and uddhava means "O My dear Uddhava."
Just as Lord Krsna instructed Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, He also instructed his cousin-brother named Uddhava. Those instructions are found in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In the course of those instructions Krsna says, "My dear Uddhava, yoga cannot achieve Me, neither can Sankhya, neither can dharma."
The Meaning of Yoga
Real yoga means "connect, plus, addition." In mathematics we have addition and subtraction. So at the present moment we are in subtraction—God minus myself. I have no sense of God; therefore I am in a "minus" condition. Yoga means God plus myself. That is the real meaning of yoga. For so long I was God-minus; now, through yoga, I become God-plus.
But you must always remember that in the spiritual, absolute sense, God plus me is God and God minus me is also God. When I am "minus," or separated from God, that does not mean God has lost some of His capacity. No. He is full. And when I am "plus," or reunited with God, that does not mean God has increased in some capacity. No.
In the Bhagavad-gita a good example is given: apuryamanam acala-pratistha. During the rainy season millions of tons of water pour into the ocean from rivers, but the ocean stays the same. If an ordinary ocean does not increase when something is added to it, what to speak of God.
I say "ordinary" because millions of oceans are floating in the universe. Therefore we should not be very astonished to see the Atlantic Ocean. Within space are millions and trillions of oceans like the Atlantic. They are floating just as an atomic particle of water can float in the air. That is the potency of God.
For those too engrossed in the bodily conception of life, the yoga system is very good, because it is a practice to withdraw the senses to the inside from their engagement in the external world.
There are eight stages of yoga practice. The first two are yama and niyama. Under regulative principles one has to try to control the senses in eating, sleeping, and working. That practice is called yama-niyama. The first principle of yoga is to abstain from sex life. That is real yoga. Those indulging in sex life, intoxication, and so many nonsense things have no chance for any success in yoga.
Then one has to sit nicely in a secluded, sanctified place with the neck, head, and body in a straight line. Then you have to look at the tip of your nose with half-opened eyes. If you open your eyes, then the material manifestation will disturb you. And if you close your eyes, then you nap. [Prabhupada imitates someone snoring.] I have seen. So many yogis are doing that, sleeping. [Laughter.]
Then comes dhyana, concentration of the mind. What is the purpose of concentrating the mind? To find myself within the body and then find the Lord there. That is the perfection of yoga. Not that I do nonsense day and night but then attend a yoga class, pay five dollars, and think, "Oh, I am a great yogi." That is all nonsense.
Yoga is not so easy. Many so-called yoga teachers are simply exploiting people. I say frankly that they and their students are a society of the cheaters and the cheated.
Although yoga is approved in the Vedic literature, it is very difficult to perform in the modern age. Even five thousand years ago—when the circumstances were more favorable, when people were not so polluted and were advanced in so many things—still, at that time such a person as Arjuna refused to practice yoga. When Krsna said to him, "You become a yogi like this," Arjuna said, "It is not possible for me."
So yoga is not at all possible now. It was possible in the Satya-yuga, when every man was in the mode of goodness. Every man was highly elevated. Yoga is meant for highly elevated persons, not ordinary persons.
But even if yoga is done very nicely and perfectly, it cannot take you to the Supreme Lord. That is stated here in this verse. What to speak of pseudo yoga, even if you perform correctly, perfectly, still you cannot reach God. That is stated here: na sadhayati mam yogah.
Analyzing Spirit and Matter
It is also said here, na sankhya: "Not by Sankhya." Sankhya means to understand spirit and matter. The Sankhya philosopher analyzes the material world as made of twenty-four parts: the five gross elements, the three subtle elements, the five knowledge-acquiring senses, the five working senses, the five sense objects, and pradhana, the unmanifested modes of material nature.
The five gross material elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Then come the subtle elements. Finer than ether is the mind, finer than the mind is the intelligence, and finer than the intelligence is false ego, the false conception that I am matter.
The five knowledge-acquiring senses are the eyes, nose, ears, tongue, and skin. The five working senses, by which we enjoy or suffer, are the voice, legs, hands, anus, and genitals. And the five sense objects are smell, taste, form, touch, and sound.
That analysis of the material world in twenty-four parts is called Sankhya. It is a full analysis of everything within our experience. And above the twenty-four elements is the spirit soul. And above the soul is God.
Sankhyaites cannot find the soul. They are like material scientists in that they simply study material objects. They have no information above that. Now I am talking with you; so the Sankhya philosophers cannot explain what is that thing which is talking. Similarly, the medical doctor, after dissecting the body, cannot find what is working, the spiritual force. And because the materialists cannot find even the particles of the Supreme Lord—we living entities—what chance do they have to find God? So neither the yogis nor the Sankhyaites can find God.
By dharma, also, one cannot find God. Dharma here refers to rituals. The Hindus go to the temple, the Christians go to the church, and the Muslims go to the mosque with the idea "Here is God." That is, of course, the beginning. It is nice. That conviction must be there. But because they are trapped in the rituals, they have no further knowledge. They do not try to advance further. They think, "Everything ends here." So they too cannot attain God.
Then svadhyaya. Svadhyaya means "study," study of the Vedic literature. And tapah. Tapah means "penance." Fasting, meditating, living in a solitary place in the jungle—there are many processes of penance and austerity. And tyaga, "renunciation." Sannyasa, the renounced order of life, is a kind of renunciation.
So the Lord says, "All these processes—yoga, Sankhya, rituals, study of the Vedas, penance, and renunciation—combined together or individually, are not suitable for achieving Me."
Bhakti—the Only Way
So practically every process is condemned herewith by the Supreme Lord. The processes are condemned in this sense: those who follow them can approach the final goal to a certain extent, but they will never be able to achieve it unless the devotional process is added.
Devotion must be there because the end is Krsna, the Supreme Lord. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: "After many, many births, those who are actually intelligent come to Me and surrender, having realized that God is everything."
One has to come to the point of Krsna consciousness. Maybe you go by the yoga process, maybe you go by the philosophical process, maybe you go by the ritualistic process, maybe you go by penances or by study. But unless you reach the point of Krsna consciousness, your attempt is successful only to a certain degree.
Unfortunately, people become satisfied with different degrees of success. Hardly anyone tries to reach the final goal. But if anyone wants to reach the final goal, then he has to take the process of Krsna consciousness, bhaktir mamorjita. That process alone can take you to the Supreme Lord.
Those who are intelligent take to this simple process. In this age you cannot perform yoga perfectly, you cannot perform religious rituals perfectly, you cannot study perfectly. The circumstances are so unfavorable that these processes are not possible in this age. Therefore Lord Caitanya, by His causeless mercy, has given us this process:
harer nama harer nama
"In this Age of Kali, simply by chanting the holy name of Krsna one can attain the ultimate goal. There is no alternative. There is no alternative. There is no alternative."
This verse is quoted from the Brhad-Naradiya Purana. And Lord Caitanya is corroborating the verse. He has not manufactured something by recommending bhakti as the only means to the ultimate goal. He is quoting from authorized scripture so that people can accept the path of bhakti. We should accept this process—
harer nama harer nama
—and practically see that this is the only process for swiftly realizing the Supreme Truth, the Absolute Truth. So we should follow Krsna consciousness very seriously and sincerely.
Thank you very much.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
Five hundred and ten years ago, Lord Krsna appeared as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Navadvipa, West Bengal. The following account of His appearance is from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Adi-lila 13.63-94), by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami.
Before the appearance of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, all the devotees of Navadvipa used to gather in the house of Advaita Acarya. In these meetings of the Vaisnavas, Advaita Acarya used to recite Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, decrying the paths of philosophical speculation and fruitive activity and establishing the superexcellence of devotional service....
But Sri Advaita Acarya Prabhu felt pained to see all the people without Krsna consciousness simply merging in material sense enjoyment....
Srila Advaita Acarya Prabhu thought, "If Krsna Himself appears to distribute the cult of devotional service, then only will liberation be possible for all people."
With this consideration in mind, Advaita Acarya Prabhu, promising to cause Lord Krsna to descend, began to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, with tulasi leaves and water of the Ganges. By loud cries He invited Krsna to appear, and this repeated invitation attracted Lord Krsna to descend....
In the month of January in the year 1406 of the Saka Era [A.D. 1485], Lord Sri Krsna entered the bodies of both Jagannatha Misra and Saci....
Jagannatha Misra told his wife, "In a dream I saw the effulgent abode of the Lord enter my heart. From my heart it entered your heart. I therefore understand that a great personality will soon take birth...."
Thus in the year 1407 of the Saka Era in the month of Phalguna [March-April] on the evening of the full moon, the desired auspicious moment appeared....
When the spotless moon of Caitanya Mahaprabhu became visible, what would be the need for a moon full of black marks on its body? Considering this, Rahu, the black planet, covered the full moon, and immediately vibrations of "Krsna! Krsna! Krsna!" inundated the three worlds. All the people thus chanted the Hare Krsna maha-mantra during the lunar eclipse, and their minds were struck with wonder. When the whole world was thus chanting the holy name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna in the form of Gaurahari [Caitanya Mahaprabhu] appeared on the earth.
In all the revealed scriptures of Vedic culture, devotional service to Lord Krsna is explained throughout. Therefore devotees of Lord Krsna do not recognize the processes of philosophical speculation, mystic yoga, unnecessary austerity and so-called religious rituals. They do not accept any process but devotional service.
Renunciation and Devotion
By Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
AS LONG AS WE are attached to material enjoyment we will not be able to concentrate on devotional service. Srila Prabhupada in his purports to Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam encourages us to practice both renunciation and devotion and to see them as interdependent. Renunciation and devotional service run along parallel lines, and understanding one facilitates understanding the other. As the scriptures assure us again and again, progress in Krsna consciousness is characterized by progressive renunciation of material enjoyment.
We can see the close interrelationship of devotional service and renunciation perfectly displayed in the life of Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It was Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, a great disciple of Lord Caitanya, who said that Caitanya Mahaprabhu descended to teach detachment from whatever does not foster devotional service to Krsna.
What exactly is renunciation? In the Bhagavad-gita (6.1-2) Krsna gives His definition: "One who is unattached to the fruits of his work and who works as he is obligated is in the renounced order of life, and he is the true mystic, not he who lights no fire and performs no duty. What is called renunciation you should know to be the same as yoga, or linking oneself with the Supreme, O son of Pandu, for one can never become a yogi unless he renounces the desire for sense gratification." According to this definition, a renunciant is not simply someone who gives up external duties. A renunciant is one who gives up all personal, selfish interests, while at the same time working for Krsna's interest.
Although these verses from the Bhagavad-gita appear to address renunciation by the yogi, they also apply to the bhakta (devotee). The yogi and the bhakta both practice renunciation, but in different ways. Both renounce sense gratification, and both restrain the senses. The yogi, however, does this by sitting down in a solitary place, controlling his breath, and refraining from all activity. The devotee, Srila Prabhupada explains, has a different method: "A person in Krsna consciousness has no opportunity to engage his senses in anything which is not for the purpose of Krsna." In other words, a devotee is always renounced because he always engages in devotional activity.
We often use the word "austerity" (tapasya) when speaking of renunciation. "Austerity" means voluntarily accepting trouble for spiritual advancement. In former ages, devotees sometimes performed severe austerities to please Krsna. Dhruva Maharaja, for example, was only a five-year-old boy when he left home to seek the Supreme Lord. When Dhruva met the great sage Narada Muni, Narada instructed him in mystic yoga and devotion. Then, under Narada's direction, Dhruva went to the forest and practiced austerity.
During the first month, Dhruva ate only a little fruit every third day. During the second month, he ate fruit every six days. Then he ate grass and leaves, then fasted on water. Throughout this time, he also practiced breath control, becoming so accomplished he could hold his breath for days at a time. Eventually, he attained several yogic perfections, one of which was the power to increase his weight to equal the weight of the entire universe. Completely controlling his mind and senses, he concentrated on Lord Visnu within his heart. In six months, Dhruva was able to see Lord Visnu face to face.
Srila Prabhupada relates Dhruva's extraordinary austerities to our own situation in ISKCON:
We should always remember that to become a bona fide devotee of the Lord is not an easy task, but in this age, by the mercy of Lord Caitanya, it has been made very easy. But if we do not follow even the liberal instructions of Lord Caitanya, how can we expect to discharge our regular duties in devotional service? It is not possible in this age to follow Dhruva Maharaja in his austerity, but the principles must be followed. We should not disregard the regulative principles given by our spiritual master, for they make it easier for the conditioned soul. As far as our ISKCON movement is concerned, we simply ask that one observe the four prohibitive rules, chant sixteen rounds, and instead of indulging in luxurious eating for the tongue, to simply accept prasada offered to the Lord.—Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.72, purport
If we are serious about going back to Godhead in this lifetime, then we must seriously apply the principles of renunciation and devotion. We have a certain amount of "business" to accomplish in the human form of life, and heading the list is the business of becoming detached from material desires. If we don't become detached in this life, we will have to return in another life to continue. Prabhupada writes, "We should be determined to finish our duties in executing devotional service in this life. We should not wait for another life to finish our job."
Devotional renunciation is easy and pleasant. All we have to do is refrain from sinful activity and, rather than avoiding activity, engage ourselves in acts of devotion. Our lives will become so filled with Krsna consciousness that we will have little time to worry about becoming attracted to the material world. Srila Prabhupada writes, "The more the activities of the material world are performed in Krsna consciousness, or for Visnu only, the more the atmosphere becomes spiritualized by complete absorption.... Matter dovetailed for the cause of the Absolute Truth regains its spiritual quality. Krsna consciousness is the process of converting the illusory consciousness into Brahman, or the Supreme." (Bhagavad-gita 4.24, purport)
Rupa Gosvami taught yukta-vairagya, the principle of using even material things in Krsna's service. He explains in Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu that yukta-vairagya is superior to its opposite, phalgu-vairagya, or artificial renunciation.
This Sanskrit word, phalgu, is also used to describe an underground river. What appears to be only a dry riverbed sometimes disguises that under the earth a river continues to flow. This is called phalgu. Rupa Gosvami compares renunciation that neglects to use everything in Krsna's service to such a river. Although the artificial renunciant appears to be detached from material activities and worldly things, internally a strong desire for these things still flows. That is why this form of renunciation is considered incomplete.
Sometimes meditators, especially those of the Buddhist and Taoist schools, speak of reaching the stage of desirelessness. To become desireless is impossible, however, because desire is a natural function of the living entity. There are many renunciants in various disciplines and traditions, but the renunciation they practice is often based on a doctrine of the corrupt body and the pure spirit. Eventually, the practitioner tends to rebel against such concepts, retreating headlong into hedonism. This is referred to as bhoga-tyaga, the flip-flopping from enjoyment to renunciation and back again.
Yukta-vairagya solves this dilemma. By practicing yukta-vairagya, we accept the body as material but not as the ultimate source of corruption. We concentrate on the soul, but we also take care of the body. After all, the body is a useful vehicle for carrying us from one Krsna conscious activity to another. Yukta-vairagya, or renunciation in Krsna consciousness, entails satisfying the needs of the senses simply and offering everything to Krsna. In this lies real happiness.
To attain devotion we must practice renunciation, but we should not be frightened by this. Although renunciation may at first seem painful, it provides us with relief by freeing us from the much greater pain and entanglement that follows any attempt to enjoy matter. If we want to stay free of material life, we have to give ourselves something better to do. Everything becomes complete in Krsna consciousness. As Srila Prabhupada explains: "When one is in Krsna consciousness, he automatically loses his taste for pale things."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami travels extensively to speak and write about Krsna consciousness. He is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.
Prabhupada in the Kitchen
By Yamuna Devi
THERE ARE ONLY a few photos of Srila Prabhupada cooking, and for twenty years I've kept one of them in my kitchen. He is standing in front of a white gas range, holding a slotted spoon in his right hand, its tip hovering just above a metal mixing bowl. Srila Prabhupada is focused on the contents of the bowl, his head and eyes slightly downcast. He is freshly bathed and wearing only a silk dhoti. The silky smooth skin of his upper body and shaved head seem almost effulgent.
Of the two pots cooking on the stove to his right, the one clearly visible is well known to all his servants and cooks simply as "Srila Prabhupada's cooker." One of the few personal possessions he carried in his extensive travels, it went around the world more than ten times and ended up on stoves on almost every continent.
Made in India, the cooker is a heavy-gauge three-tiered brass steamer about sixteen-inches high. The snug-fitting lid is bowl-shaped and when inverted doubles as a small cooking pan, called a karai or Indian wok. The cooker comes with two removable tin-coated metal inserts that may be used to hold dishes in the two top steaming tiers. Srila Prabhupada trained his assistants in the use and care of the cooker, which is large enough, he said, "to make a full meal for four gentleman appetites in an hour."
Just glancing at the picture, I remember Srila Prabhupada's scent—his clothes and body hinting of sandalwood mixed with pure goodness. As a rule, before he entered the kitchen to cook he took a massage and a bath and put on fresh clothes. I have never met anyone who so reflected cleanliness, in his person and habits, in and out of the kitchen, externally and internally.
Celebrating the Centennial In the Kitchen
As I mentioned in the last column, to celebrate Srila Prabhupada's centennial year in this cooking-class series, each column will also focus on one of Srila Prabhupada's instructions. So this month, along with discussing pakoras we'll consider what it means to become an expert cook.
Some dictionary synonyms for expert are "proficient," "adept," "skillful," and "competent." The Caitanya-caritamrta mentions several great devotees as expert cooks. The dishes cooked by Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami "tasted just like nectar." Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami were expert in the "art of preparing and serving food."
Certainly an expert Vaisnava devotee is fixed in knowledge of the Absolute Truth and highly skilled in the art of serving the Lord and His devotees. For the novice who aspires to become expert in Vaisnava cooking, I often stress three things—good training, sincere and steady practice, and prayer.
In 1967, Srila Prabhupada taught us to recite the following invocation prayer every time we entered the kitchen to cook, something I do to this day:
"I was born in the darkest ignorance, and my spiritual master opened my eyes with the torch of knowledge. I offer my respectful obeisances unto him."
So with training, practice, and prayer, surely competency follows. If you watch a naturally adept cook in the kitchen, you'll notice he or she moves with fluid ease and, aware of time, performs many tasks at once. Flair and personal style are second nature to these cooks, but anyone can develop these qualities. It's only a matter of time.
You'll always find people who say that cooks are born, not made, who feel persistently clumsy themselves and say their attempts always end up in a string of mistakes. To that I say, you can overcome your obstacles with practice and a sincere devotional attitude. Given the right environment and encouragement, anyone can become a good, competent, even masterful cook.
How Prabhupada Taught
Srila Prabhupada taught both men and women how to cook in Krsna consciousness. In India, women learn to be expert cooks, usually from family members. In most temples, only expert brahmana men are allowed to work in or around the kitchen. In the last quarter century, restaurants have become fashionable in India, giving rise to both male and female equivalents of the Western professional chef.
At any rate, Srila Prabhupada taught cooking both to men and to women. In ISKCON'S fledgling years, he allowed his disciples in New York and San Francisco to watch and assist him as he prepared his noon meal, when he frequently cooked also for his students and drop-in guests.
On rare occasions, such as Janmastami in 1968 and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's disappearance day that same year, Srila Prabhupada entered temple kitchens to teach us how to make special dishes for feasts. Rarer still were spontaneous classes like the one he held one evening in 1967 in his San Francisco Willard Street apartment—he grated coconuts on the floor and made an exotic melt-in-your-mouth Bengali confection of coconut, sugar, cardamom, black pepper, and camphor.
In these ways Srila Prabhupada taught cooking by example. He encouraged us to learn, become expert, and train others. He said that only a person with a fool's intelligence would keep teaching the same thing without qualified students to pass the knowledge on. One of my great desires in this Centennial year is that as a reader of this column you not stop at reading it but go to the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and use it. Learn everything it has to offer, because more than ninety percent of the dishes in the book are either from Srila Prabhupada or requested by him, or are ones he told me to learn to make. Let us use, share, and preserve his standards and instructions and thereby introduce many people to devotional cooking and the glories of krsna-prasadam, food prepared and offered first for Lord Krsna.
Now on to the topic of this cooking lesson.
Though pakoras are often called Indian vegetable fritters, they are quite different from all other kinds of vegetable fritters. Instead of using white flour or wheat flour for the batter, one uses besan, a flour of finely milled, lightly roasted small chickpeas. It's also called garbanzo bean flour and is available from Indian and natural grocery stores. The flavor of pakoras is also unique because the besan is seasoned with herbs, spices, ginger, and chilies.
The texture of pakora batter varies with the vegetable to be fried. For example, delicate vegetables such as spinach leaves need a thin batter, wet items such as green tomatoes a fairly thick one. The batter thickens considerably upon resting and will stick to the foods better if allowed to sit for a half hour or so before you use it. Adjust the batter consistency before frying.
The simplest kind of pakora consists of raw or cooked vegetables dipped in seasoned batter and fried until crisp. A second type of pakora is made by adding diced vegetables to a thickish batter and deep-frying spoonfuls of the mixture.
Just how a batter is seasoned usually depends on the region. In North India cumin, turmeric, and coriander are the norm. South Indians often prefer fried curry leaves and asafetida. Bengalis and Oriyans often add kalonji or black cumin seed. Gujaratis and Marwadis put in ajwain seeds. Everyone uses cilantro and some type of chili. If you're following along in the series, besides the recipe at left try several batters and pakora variations from the class textbook, Lord Krishna's Cuisine.
Pakoras are traditionally served with a chutney, fresh or cooked. Try one from the textbook or last issue's column.
Yamuna Devi is the author of the award-winning cookbooks Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Yamuna's Table. She is a regular contributor to The Washington Post and Vegetarian Times. Write to her in care of BTG.
Bell Pepper Pakora
(Serves 6 as a snack or 8-10 as part of a meal)
1 cup chickpea flour
Combine the first 7 ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth; pour into a bowl.
Cut each pepper into two halves, top and bottom. Remove the veins and seeds. Slice the pepper crosswise into rounds ¼-inch thick.
Pour 2 ½ inches of ghee or oil into a deep-frying pan and heat to 355 degrees F (180 degrees C). Dip each round into the batter, drop it into the oil, and fry it until crisp, about 2 minutes. Depending on the size of the pan, you can probably fry 4 or 5 rounds at a time. Skim the oil frequently to remove droplets of batter and keep the oil from darkening. (Do not use the oil again for pakoras.)
Transfer the pakoras to a paper towel to drain briefly. Then offer them to Krsna.
The Original Social System
By Ravi Gupta
ONE OF THE FIRST things that comes to mind for many people when they hear mention of India is Hinduism's infamous caste system, one of the most hotly debated topics on India. People see casteism as a major cause of India's problems. The lower classes are abused and oppressed while the upper classes rule—all based on birth. People question why anyone would believe in a religion that supports such abuse.
On an electronic bulletin board, one Indian writes, "My family suffered a great deal because of this casteism, and I think it is a very big handicap for our nation." When people in the West are asked what they know about India, they often reply, "The caste system and the Taj Mahal."
How has India acquired such a notorious way of organizing society? What is the proper role of the brahmanas, the priestly class? How is the system supposed to function?
Caste discrimination by birth, thought to be one of the fundamental characteristics of Hinduism, is absent from the Vedic scriptures, the essence of which is the Bhagavad-gita. The present-day caste system is a degradation of varnasrama-dharma, the original social system described by Lord Krsna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita (4.13):
catur-varnyam maya srstam
"According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me." Because among human beings Lord Krsna created divisions, called varnas, they are natural in any society. Classes exist, whether based on birth, wealth, power, or occupation. A classless society is therefore impossible. Even communism, which was supposed to be classless, had enormous disparity between the ruling class and ordinary workers.
Lord Krsna says that a person's varna comes from his guna, "nature" or "quality," and karma, the type of activity he does. Krsna does not use the word janma, "birth." The varnasrama system is not rigid or oppressive. If a person born into a family of a lower varna shows the qualities and inclinations of a brahmana, he can be educated accordingly and become a brahmana. On the other hand, being born in an upper-varna family does not automatically confer that status without the proper qualities and training. Srila Prabhupada gives an example: "A son cannot claim, 'Because my father is a lawyer, then I am also lawyer.' The son also must become a qualified lawyer."
Now, a child who grows up in a pure and austere family that studies the scriptures and worships the Lord will tend to be attracted to those qualities and activities when he grows up. Children of doctors often grow up to become doctors themselves. To that extent birth can be one factor indicating a person's work. But the decisive factors are one's qualities and training.
For example, Lord Rsabhadeva, an incarnation of Krsna, was a king, and therefore his one hundred sons were born in a ksatriya family. But, as Srila Prabhupada writes, "Out of these, ten were engaged as ksatriyas and ruled the planet. Nine sons became good preachers of Srimad-Bhagavatam (maha-bhagavatas), and this indicates that they were above the position of brahmanas. The other eighty-one sons became highly qualified brahmanas." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.4.13, purport). Another example: Kancipurna, the instructing guru of the great devotee Ramanujacarya, was a sudra by birth.
After reading on the Internet Bhagavad-gita's description of the caste system, an Indian gentleman wrote, "I think Hinduism is completely distorted, and it is upon our shoulders that we bring it back to its original state. To tell people the basic definition of each caste would be very helpful."
The Bhagavad-gita (18.42) concisely defines the varnas, beginning with the brahmanas: "Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom, and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmana's work."
The brahmanas are situated in the mode of goodness. Brahmana means "one who knows Brahman, the Absolute Truth." If a person thinks, "I am a brahmana because my parents were brahmana caste," he is not a knower of Brahman but a knower of the body.
Krsna describes the spiritual vision of the brahmanas: "The humble sages [brahmanas], by virtue of knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater [outcaste]." (Bg. 5.18) By definition, a brahmana sees everyone equally and thus, out of humility, does not repress anyone. As soon as he does, he is no longer a brahmana.
The brahmanas are the teachers of society. With their knowledge of the scriptures they guide society in the proper direction, toward self-realization. The brahmanas advise the ksatriyas, the administrators, on how to govern to ensure the spiritual advancement of the citizens. The ksatriyas then use their diplomatic skill to lead society.
To ensure that the brahmanas stay free from the pursuit of power, wealth, and prestige, and that their work is, as far as possible, without self-interest, brahmanas do not receive a salary for teaching, but rather depend on charity and begging. They don't accumulate wealth beyond what they need to live. The brahmanas depend fully on the Supreme Lord, and the other varnas support them for their valuable service.
Srila Prabhupada said that because modern society is lacking in brahmanas with spiritual vision, it is producing cats and dogs—debauches, drunkards, and woman-hunters. These cats and dogs accept as their leader the biggest beast, who will do the most to satisfy their sensual desires, and thus create a chaotic society.
Furthermore, today's so-called brahmanas in India hardly possess the ideal qualifications presented in the Bhagavad-gita. Instead, they have taken to meat-eating, intoxication, and other sinful activities. Therefore society suffers without brahminical guidance. That is why Srila Prabhupada wanted to create brahmanas who could properly guide leaders in how to organize society for spiritual progress while simultaneously alleviating its material problems. The importance of well-trained brahmanas cannot be overestimated.
"Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the natural qualities of work for the ksatriyas." (Bg. 18.43) Ruling by the instructions of the brahmanas, the ksatriyas have the duty to protect citizens and maintain peace and order.
Srila Prabhupada describes how society would be organized under the Krsna conscious state: "In Vedic civilization, the land was given to the people for cultivation, not for ownership, and a tax was collected that was twenty-five percent of the person's income.... One cannot get land from the government unless he agrees to produce something, and if everyone produces food then there is no scarcity. At least he has his own food produced by himself." If work is delegated in this way, Srila Prabhupada says, then there is no hunger or unemployment. By contrast, in today's consumer society most people don't grow food crops; rather, they produce an endless variety of needless commodities.
One of the most important duties of the ksatriyas is to make sure the citizens know the purpose of human life and engage in duties that will help them fulfill it. To do this, the ksatriyas themselves must be rajarsis, or saintly kings. They must possess some of the scriptural knowledge and good qualities of the brahmanas. In the fourth chapter, Lord Krsna describes how the knowledge of the Bhagavad-gita was "passed down through disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way." Srila Prabhupada wrote in a letter, "Such a noble king is not an autocrat but is guided by brahmanas in how to rule and see everyone employed in their respective duties."
An example of the ideal rajarsi is Lord Rama, the incarnation of Krsna in the role of a king. During Lord Rama's reign, called Rama-rajya, people were peaceful, happy, materially satisfied, and spiritually advanced.
Most people, however, are neither brahmanas nor ksatriyas, but vaisyas and sudras.
"Farming, cow protection, and business are natural work for the vaisyas." (Bg. 18.44) Vaisyas protect cows, grow food for themselves, and sell the excess. Cow protection is essential for the material and spiritual survival of society. Cow protection develops compassion, and milk builds the finer tissues of the brain for understanding spiritual matters.
"For the sudras there is labor and service to others." (Bg. 18.44) Sudras do work that is of service to the other classes, so they must depend on others for their maintenance. Srila Prabhupada writes, "The sudra class can attain all comforts of life simply by rendering service to the higher classes. ... The higher castes should always look after the maintenance of the sudras. ... A sudra should not leave his master when the master is old and invalid, and the master should keep the servants satisfied in all respects." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.9.26)
Although in general sudras may be less intelligent, by faithfully carrying out their occupational duties under the guidance of a spiritual master they can attain the highest platform of spiritual perfection. Srila Prabhupada writes, "The process of devotional service is so strong that the pure devotee of the Supreme Lord can enable people of the lower classes to attain the highest perfection of life." (Bg. 9.32)
The Social Body
The varnasrama system may be compared to a social body. The brahmanas, with their knowledge to direct society, can be compared to the head, eyes, and brain of the social body; ksatriyas, who offer protection, are the arms; the vaisyas, who support society, are the stomach; and the sudras are the legs.
Common sense tells us that we need our head even more than we need our arms and legs, because without the head the entire body is useless. So the brahmanas are the most important, because of the guidance they provide. Yet without the labor of the sudras, the legs, society would not get anywhere. Without the support of the vaisyas, the brahmanas would be unable to devote their time to teaching and studying. And without protection and land from the ksatriyas, the vaisyas could not carry out their occupation of providing for society. But when each part of the social body performs its proper function, then the entire society can be peaceful and cooperative and can concentrate on its real goal, Krsna consciousness.
Ravi Gupta, age thirteen, lives at the Hare Krsna center in Boise, Idaho. The center is run by his parents. Ravi, who was schooled at home, is a second-year student at Boise State University.
The Miracle of the Milk
By Sadaputa Dasa
ON SEPTEMBER 21, 1995, Hindu communities all over the world were electrified by news of temple deities accepting offerings of milk. According to the stories, when deities of Ganesa, Lord Siva, and others were offered spoonfuls of milk, the milk would mysteriously disappear. It seemed that the deities were showing their divine power by mystically drinking the milk.
In India, "The gatekeeper of the Birla Temple reported that at least 55,000 have visited the temple and they spoonfed about 125 litres of milk." In America, "Thousands of awe-struck worshipers have swarmed into Hindu temples in Richmond Hill and Oakville to witness the remarkable phenomenon of milk-drinking statues that has baffled religious observers around the world." In one London temple, "a deity of Ganeshji was reported to have swallowed 3,000 pints."
Inevitably, there were skeptical rebuttals. Devotees in India discovered that if one touches a spoon filled with milk to the side of a smooth object, the milk will be drawn to the object by capillary attraction and will flow down from the point of contact in a thin stream. People who don't notice the stream of milk could imagine that the milk is literally disappearing before their eyes. The milk would not accumulate in a noticeable pool because it would be carried away bit by bit on the clothing and bodies of throngs of worshipers, or it would simply flow down a drain at the foot of the Deity. According to the debunkers, people were accepting a miracle simply on the basis of mass hysteria triggered by a simple misperception.
What is the truth? It is hard to say from few second-hand reports what really happened on September 21. But it is clear that as a social phenomenon the miracle of the milk is significant. Miracles and rumors of miracles clearly have a profound impact on human thinking. To make a few general observations about miracles, therefore, seems worthwhile.
Miracles and Nature
The word miracle comes from the Latin word mira, which means "to wonder at." Miracles are wondrous events that seem to surpass the laws of nature and are therefore ascribed to a divine or supernatural cause. Miracles have traditionally been seen as evidence for the reality of divine power, and they have served as an inspiration for religious faith. At the same time, miracles have also served as a focus for skepticism and doubt.
For most people the "laws of nature" are simply the regular patterns of events perceived through ordinary experience. For example, in ordinary experience a fluid such as milk always retains the same volume and appearance unless affected by heat, chemical action, or living organisms. One certainly doesn't expect to see milk disappear when brought into contact with a stone or metal statue. If it does disappear, this suggests that some higher power is involved. One could then invoke religious doctrines concerning God and demigods to explain the unexpected phenomenon: the event confirms the doctrines.
Unfortunately, other explanations for many alleged miracles are also possible. Human beings are subject to four defects: our senses are imperfect, we tend to make mistakes, we fall into delusion, and we have an inherent tendency to cheat.
If an unusual event occurs, the defects of our senses can easily give rise to many false reports of similar events. For example, let us suppose that milk really did disappear when offered in some temple on September 21. As word of this wonder spread, people elsewhere could easily be deluded by the capillary effect later pointed out by skeptics. This delusion would generate more stories, and the cheating propensity would induce some people to exaggerate or even outright lie.
The ultimate result is that genuine miracles, if they really do occur, will tend to be surrounded by a cloud of false reports. The false reports will vastly outnumber the genuine and create an atmosphere of skepticism. Since miracles are often taken as proof of religious doctrines, doubts about miracles give rise to doubts about the doctrines.
Yogis and Siddhis
Although miracles apparently violate natural law, they can nonetheless be seen as manifestations of higher natural laws. Thus the fourth-century Christian patriarch St. Augustine wrote, "Miracles do not happen in contradiction to nature, but only in contradiction to that which is known to us in nature." (1)
According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, powers known as siddhis include the ability to nullify gravity (laghima), change the size of one's body (anima and mahima), and acquire objects at a distance (prapti). (2) These siddhis are considered naturally existing, and a mystic yogi can acquire them.
Srila Prabhupada points out that with prapti-siddhi, "not only can the perfect mystic yogi touch the moon planet, but he can extend his hand anywhere and take whatever he likes. He may be sitting thousands of miles away from a certain place, and if he likes he can take fruit from a garden there." (3) When the yogi takes the fruit from a distance, a person sitting in the garden would see the fruit mysteriously disappear.
A yogi might also cause milk to disappear mysteriously—without the direct intervention of a demigod such as Ganesa. I do not say that this is how the miracle of the milk got started. But as a general rule, many wonderful phenomena that might be attributed to a divine agency can also be caused in material ways involving ordinary living beings. This is important to understand, since miracles tend to confirm religious faith.
To perform mystical feats, a person does not have to be highly elevated in yoga. Srila Prabhupada discouraged his disciples from taking an interest in miracles, because many unscrupulous persons have attracted and cheated people by a display of mystic powers.
The typical pattern in India is that a person will begin to exhibit genuine mystic powers. When praised by naive followers, he then develops an inflated ego and presents himself as a divine incarnation. In many instances the person later loses his powers, and he then resorts to cheap tricks in an effort to live up to his followers' expectations. This, of course, provides a great opportunity for skeptics, who seize upon these cases to show the foolishness of religion.
The mysterious disappearance of objects is sometimes linked to quite ordinary people who may have never practiced yoga. In poltergeist cases, unusual events tend to occur in the presence of a so-called target person. These events include spontaneous fires, mysterious sounds, unexplained movement of objects, and things' mysteriously appearing and disappearing. Traditionally, these phenomena have been attributed to ghosts. (The word poltergeist is German for "noisy ghost.") But some parapsychologists have argued that these phenomena are actually caused by the subconscious mind of the target person.
The parapsychologist Ian Stevenson has given an example of a poltergeist case from India that involves disappearing food. (4) It seems that a woman named Radhika from the village of Degaon, south of Bombay, had the reputation in the village of being a sorceress. Food mysteriously disappearing in the village was turning up in Radhika's dwelling. The villagers thought she was stealing food by mystical means and offered to provide her with food if she would stop.
Stevenson's informant, one Swami Krishnanand, decided to put Radhika's abilities to the test. In one instance, "Swami Krishnanand ... pointed to a lota which he held in his hand and to a man who was milking a cow some distance away, and asked to have some of the milk put into the lota. Instantly the lota became filled with milk and at the same time the milker noticed that his own vessel had less, rather than more, milk in it. He looked up astonished." (5) Radhika believed that these effects were due to a discarnate spirit that was allied with her, and Stevenson was inclined to favor this interpretation.
There are many accounts of this nature, and if any of them are true, it follows that many miracles may be real even though not due to the direct action of God or the highly placed servants of God known as demigods. But are any of these accounts true? This brings us to the modern scientific treatment of miracles.
Science and Miracles
The modern scientific approach can be traced back to the development of mathematical physics by Isaac Newton in the seventeenth century. Newton introduced the strict mathematical formulation of the laws of nature known as the "laws of physics." Scientists highly value the laws of physics because by experimental measurements one can confirm the laws with great accuracy.
The laws of physics have undergone a number of revolutionary transformations since Newton's day, but they have always been completely incompatible with the kind of miraculous events I have been discussing. In particular, the law of conservation of energy does not allow for a macroscopic object to disappear without moving from point to point through three-dimensional space. (6) A miracle, in modern scientific terms, is something that is impossible because it violates the laws of physics.
The eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume offered a criterion for evaluating miracles that is still widely accepted. He declared, "No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish." (7)
This dictum shows that the validity of miracles ultimately must be decided by faith. Many scientists will conclude that large numbers of witnesses are lying rather than accept that a major violation of the laws of physics has taken place. For such scientists, miracles are ruled out. For others, the laws of physics are not sacrosanct, and the combined testimony of many responsible observers is enough to suggest that we still have much to learn about nature's laws.
Sri Caitanya's Miracles
The points I have made so far might suggest that miraculous events should not be granted a serious role in religion. But this is not correct, as we can see by considering the role of miracles in the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition.
The pastimes of Lord Caitanya are filled with miraculous events. Lord Caitanya revived the dead son of Srivasa Thakura and healed sick persons such as the leper Vasudeva and the son-in-law of Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya, who was dying of cholera. Lord Caitanya revealed visions of His transcendental form to Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya and Ramananda Raya, and He influenced the Mayavadi sannyasis of Benares by manifesting a brilliant effulgence after entering their assembly. Lord Caitanya would sometimes mysteriously exit locked rooms, and He appeared in several kirtana (chanting) parties at once during the Rathayatra in Jagannatha Puri.
There are at least three instances in which Lord Caitanya made food disappear by eating from a distant place. While living in Jagannatha Puri, in the state of Orissa, He would sometimes mystically visit the home of His mother, Sacimata, in Bengal and eat the food she cooked for Him. He also mystically traveled from Jagannatha Puri to eat the offerings of Nrsimhananda Brahmacari, also living in Bengal. During the chipped-rice festival He invisibly visited Lord Nityananda, who fed Him morsels of chipped rice. Most of the assembled devotees could not understand what Lord Nityananda was doing, but some were able to see that Lord Caitanya was present.
The wonderful actions of Lord Caitanya clearly play an important role in the Caitanya-caritamrta, written by Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami shortly after Lord Caitanya's departure. After describing how Lord Caitanya ate the offerings of Nrsimhananda Brahmacari, Krsnadasa Kaviraja cites other examples of Lord Caitanya's mystically appearing in the presence of His devotees. Krsnadasa concludes by saying, "Thus I have described the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Anyone who hears about these pastimes can understand the transcendental opulence of the Lord." (8)
Miracles as Evidence
This sounds very much as though Lord Caitanya's miraculous activities are being presented as evidence proving His transcendental nature. In a sense this is true, but there are important distinctions to make between the miracles of Lord Caitanya and miracles described in popular accounts.
First of all, the miracles described in the Caitanya-caritamrta have been accepted by higher authorities—in this case Krsnadasa Kaviraja and his gurus Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami and Svarupa Damodara. One of the drawbacks of miracle accounts is that they are typically transmitted by ordinary people, forced to evaluate them on the basis of imperfect information. This results in the acceptance of false accounts as genuine, and it may also result in the rejection of genuine miracles. But this problem is avoided if the miracle accounts are presented by higher authorities who are competent to evaluate them and who have reliable sources of information. In this case, Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami and Svarupa Damodara were highly qualified observers who directly witnessed many of Lord Caitanya's pastimes and were well acquainted with other witnesses.
For people in general, accepting miracle accounts from higher authorities reduces the problem of how to evaluate miracles to the deeper problem of how to decide who is a bona fide guru. Since the bona fide guru appears in disciplic succession, people are aided in solving this problem by established spiritual institutions and canonical texts. Although ascertaining who is a genuine spiritual authority may be difficult, it is easier than trying to sort out miracle stories one by one.
Another point is that Krsnadasa Kaviraja was not trying to demonstrate that because Lord Caitanya exhibited mystic powers He is transcendental. Mystic powers are common attributes of practically all beings above the level of modern humans (and of some who are subhuman), and such powers play a natural role in spiritual pastimes. Gurus such as Srila Prabhupada who discourage interest in miracles are simply trying to protect people from the depredations of mystical cheaters.
Lord Caitanya's activities are significant not because they involve mystic siddhis per se, but because they exhibit the transcendental loving reciprocation between the Lord and His devotees. Perhaps an intuitive longing for this reciprocation plays a part in attracting people so strongly to accounts of miracles.
1. Augustine, Against Faustus the Manichee, Book 29, Chapter 2.
2. Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 11, Chapter 15.
3. The Nectar of Devotion, pp. 11-12.
4. Stevenson, Ian, July, 1972, "Are Poltergeists Living or Are They Dead?" The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Vol. 66, No. 3.
5. Ibid., p. 243.
6. Subatomic particles can do this by a process known as quantum-mechanical tunneling. A macroscopic object is one that is much larger than an atom, and for such objects, quantum-mechanical tunneling is ruled out.
7. Hume, David, "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding," in Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Second Edition, ed. L.A. Sleby-bigge (Oxford: 1902), pp. 115-116.
8. Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila, 2.83.
Sadaputa Dasa, (Richard L. Thompson) earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Cornell University. He is the author of several books, of which the most recent is Alien Identities: Ancient Insights into Modern UFO Phenomena.
Srila Madhu Pandita Gosvami
Srila Madhu Pandita Gosvami was a disciple of Srila Gadadhara Pandita, one of Lord Caitanya's principal associates. Madhu Pandita worshiped the Krsna Deity in Vrndavana known as Gopinatha, who had originally been installed by Vajranabha, Lord Krsna's great-grandson.
Madhu Pandita was present when Narottama, Syamananda, and Srinivasa left Vrndavana to carry the writings of the Gosvamis to Bengal. He blessed Srinivasa by garlanding him with a flower garland that had been worn by Lord Gopinatha.
Durga Devi and the Fabric of History
By Hare Krsna Devi Dasi
Centennial note: What is the most opulent offering? "Anything grown in a garden is a hundred times more valuable than if it is purchased from the market," Srila Prabhupada told devotees in 1976. Now is the time to plant something to offer for Srila Prabhupada's Centennial feast on his appearance day in September. You'll have great pleasure offering Srila Prabhupada things you've grown yourself, even if your "garden" is only a pot of parsely and a pot of geraniums in your kitchen window. Don't miss this chance to give Prabhupada something you have raised with love and care.
SIMPLE LIVING and high thinking" was Srila Prabhupada's formula for spiritual advancement. To Prabhupada, simple living meant to break away from the din and misery of industrial life and "get all your necessities from the land"—sarva-kama-dugha mahi. Why waste our energy struggling in the tangled web of industry and international trade when we can get all our needs close at hand, saving time for spiritual advancement? Srila Prabhupada pointed out that by Krsna's arrangement the land could supply our food and shelter—and clothing.
Next to agriculture and cow protection, cloth production held an important place in Prabhupada's plans for simple living. As he grew from boyhood to youth, Abhay Charan (as Prabhupada was known as a boy) was himself familiar with the international cloth trade. His father, Gour Mohan De, ran a small cloth shop in Calcutta. Fabric he sold, though made of Indian cotton, was manufactured in England and exported back to India.
In time a strong sentiment built up against imported cloth. Nationalists such as Gandhi pointed to imported cloth as a prime example of British exploitation of India. Imported cloth put local weavers out of work, forcing them into poverty and starvation. Gandhi stressed that the economy should be swadeshi, or depending on products locally obtained:
My definition of swadeshi is well known. I must not serve my distant neighbour at the expense of the nearest. ... Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote. ... I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbors and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be wanting.—Economic & Industrial Life Relations
Cloth had a central role in this philosophy:
It is sinful to eat American wheat and let my neighbor, the grain dealer, starve for want of customers. Similarly, it is sinful for me to wear the latest finery of Regent Street when I know that if I had but worn the things woven by the neighboring spinners and weavers, that would have clothed me, and fed and clothed them.—Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, 1958
Such incisive thinking won the admiration of many young college students, including Abhay. The logical first act of an Indian nationalist was to cast off clothing made of imported mill cloth and to wear only homespun khadi. Young Abhay joined his classmates in this gesture.
Nevertheless, Abhay's motives were different from those of his classmates, and eventually he would prove himself more radical than Gandhi, both in his spiritual determination and in his vision of the social structure and economics that would manifest from a spiritual society.
In the passing years, as Abhay became less and less of a nationalist and more and more of a spiritual revolutionary, he still kept his interest in homespun cloth as a feature of the ideal way of life.
In his last days in Vrndavana, Srila Prabhupada reaffirmed the standard of simple living and high thinking as his goal for Krsna conscious devotees in every part of the world:
That is my desire. Don't waste time for bodily comforts. You have got this body. You have to eat something. You have to cover yourself. So produce your own food and produce your own cloth. Don't waste time for luxury, and chant Hare Krsna. This is success of life. In this way organize as far as possible, either in Ceylon or in Czechoslovakia, wherever ... Save time. Chant Hare Krsna. Don't be allured by the machine civilization.—Conversation, Vrndavana, October 8, 1977
The Allure of the Machine Civilization
Where did it come from, this "allure of the machine civilization" Prabhupada fought against so vigorously, this refinement of materialism he saw as the nemesis to spiritual culture?
In fact, it came originally from Krsna Himself. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.4-5) Lord Krsna explains that He has two kinds of energy. His internal energy, para prakrti, is spiritual and eternal. The living entities are part of this spiritual energy of Krsna's. But He also has an external, separated energy, called apara prakrti, which is material and temporary.
The personification of Krsna's internal energy is Srimati Radharani, Krsna's eternal consort, the essence of loving devotional service to God. The personification of Krsna's external energy is Durga Devi, or Maya, the goddess of material energy. Although Durga Devi is herself a great devotee of the Lord, it is her job to guard the spiritual world by keeping out the living entities who are not yet spiritually pure. She does this by enticing them with sense enjoyment in the material world.
Since the machine civilization allures us mainly by promises of sense gratification, this false civilization is under the control of the goddess Durga, also known as Kali. As we'll see, the goddess of material energy even put her own name on the fabric of industrial history.
But while Durga Devi was going about her work of enslaving people through industrialism, Srila Prabhupada came as Krsna's devotee to free them and help them go back to Godhead. Prabhupada presented a plan to cut through the bonds the goddess of material energy uses to tie us to the material world. That plan included replacing industrialism with simple living and high thinking—and replacing machine-made cloth with cloth woven at home.
The story of how Durga Devi, or Kali, established the "machine civilization" starts in the same place Srila Prabhupada took off his mill cloth and put on homespun. It starts in Calcutta.
Once upon a time in the late 1600s, as the remnants of the feudal culture were dying out in Europe and England, the East India Company made its way to India to acquire goods for trade back in England. Among the most attractive of the exotic goods it brought back to London were wonderfully printed cotton fabrics called "calicuts"—or soon "calicoes"—named after "Kali's Bath," or Calcutta, the Indian port whence they came. And as if to mock the arrogance of the proud European civilization, the goddess Kali decreed not only that the goods should have her name on them, but also that she would set in motion the demolition of Western civilization by using not trained soldiers but ordinary women, human beings of her own sex, to do the job.
The English, of course, had their own cloth. For centuries Britons had produced cloth from wool and flax. By the mid-1600s, wool was an important item of trade. But it was a product of cottage industry, or the "putting out" system. Neither heavy machinery nor factories were used to produce wool, though many English citizens depended on wool production for their livelihood. In fact, the international wool trade eventually became so profitable that manorial lords enclosed vast areas of former cropland for sheep grazing, forcing thousands of peasants from their homes. But this was a small catastrophe compared to what Kali had yet in store.
A Passion for Fashion
The pretty new calico cloth from India was inexpensive and immensely popular with the ladies. Not everyone was enthusiastic, however. Critics said the cheap Indian cloth would ruin British culture by driving English woolen workers out of business. They criticized English women for their unrestrained desire for imported cloth. Though others scoffed at the worries of the critics, on the eve of the twenty-first century it appears that the worries may have been justified after all. In a 1728 pamphlet entitled A Plan of the English Commerce, one writer bemoaned women's appetite for imports:
The calicoes are sent from the Indies by land into Turkey, by land and inland seas into Muscovy and Tartary, and about by long-sea into Europe and America, til in general they are become a grievance. ... Two things among us are too ungovernable, viz. our passions and our fashions. ... It is true that the liberty of the ladies, their passion for their fashion, has been frequently injurious to the manufacturers of England. ...
Daniel DeFoe's Weekly Review (1708) also lamented:
Above half of the (woolen) manufacture was entirely lost, half of the people scattered and ruined, and all this by the intercourse of the East India trade.
Home cloth production suffered devastating blows from foreign competition, but eighteenth-century England had no Gandhi to make a bonfire of imported calicoes. Instead it decided to compete by making its own calicoes—even cheaper than the ones imported from Calcutta.
In this way it came to be that not wool production but production of cotton, or Kali's cloth, became the great impetus for the industrial revolution. Whereas the demand for wool was fixed—a person only needed so many wool garments, no matter what the price—cotton cloth became more popular as the price fell, stimulating the creation of clever new inventions to produce it more cheaply. The institution of slavery in the Americas reduced manufacturing costs even further. Economic historian Phylis Dean notes,
The falling costs and prices generated by the opening up of new high-yielding cotton lands and the invention of the cotton-ginning machine in the U.S.A., and by the factory system and textile inventions in Britain, brought a disproportionate expansion in demand on a world-wide scale. Cotton manufacture proved to be the first "growth industry" in the modern sense of the term. ...—The First Industrial Revolution, Second edition, p. 67
Using kidnapped African labor to grow and harvest cotton brought prices down considerably. But Africans weren't the only exploited workers in the profitable cloth trade. Workers laboring in the spinning and weaving factories and living in slums in British and New England mill towns were scarcely better off than slaves.
Ironically, cloth was produced to satisfy women's desires, and by a quirk of fate it was mostly women who labored to produce the cloth—women and children. Just as women and children had traditionally woven cloth for their own families, women and children continued to make up the majority of the workers when cloth production meant manufacturing a commodity for sale.
But when cloth production took a commercial tone, it changed from a casual and congenial home craft to a rigorous, dangerous, and oppressive industrial enterprise. In 1833 the workers employed in cotton manufacture in Lancashire and Cheshire, England, included 19,247 men, 20,962 women, and 27,610 children. Children worked twelve hours a day five days a week and nine hours on Saturday. Working conditions were demanding:
While the engine works, the people must work. Men, women, and children are thus yokefellows with iron and steam; the animal machine [the worker]—fragile at best, subject to a thousand sources of suffering, and doomed, by nature in his best state, to a short-lived existence, changing every moment, and hastening to decay—is matched with an iron machine insensible to suffering and fatigue.—The Effects of Arts, Trades, and Professions on Health and Longevity, by C. Turner Thackrah. p. 82.
Eventually, the protests of Dickens, Wordsworth, and others ended child labor in England. As England and other industrialized countries became more prosperous in the twentieth century, working conditions improved. At the same time, industry expanded until it produced not only cloth but practically every product needed by human society.
Unfortunately, industry couldn't produce the most important thing human society needed—spiritual life. And without that central ingredient, civilization was destined to take a severe turn for the worse, as we shall see in the next issue.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi, an ISKCON devotee since 1978, is co-editor of the newsletter Hare Krsna Rural Life.
A Centennial Meditation
With the support of Vedic knowledge, Srila Prabhupada challenged society's blind allegiance to modern science.
By Drutakarma Dasa
ON A WARM, SUNNY, dry December morning, my taxi driver turned from the raucous, acrid main roads of New Delhi into the calm, spacious, tree-lined avenues of Chanakya Puri, the capital city's international quarter. As we entered the garden-bordered driveway to the stately Taj Palace hotel, I pinned my conference badge on the lapel of my dark blue suit jacket. A uniformed and turbaned hotel employee with a great moustache opened the door. I stepped out and paid my fare in rupees to the driver. I was in New Delhi for the World Archeological Congress.
The conference room was decorated in muted royal style, reminiscent of a bygone era of Moghul opulence. Dimmed chandeliers cast a golden glow. I sat among the archeologists, waiting my turn to speak. After a brief introduction by the section chairman, and a respectful smattering of applause, I stepped to the podium. My opening humor drew some chuckles. Then, identifying myself as a member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, the science studies branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, I began to read my paper "Puranic Time and the Archeological Record."
I looked into the eyes of the assembled scientists, and for the next twenty minutes argued politely but forcefully against the Darwinian view that humans evolved fairly recently from apes. The actual evidence, I said, favored the Puranic idea that humans have been present on this planet since the beginning of creation. In other words, human history extends throughout vast cycles of cosmic time, each lasting hundreds of millions of years. As I was speaking, I remembered my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who decades earlier in this same city had begun the work I was now helping him carry out.
Prabhupada's First Book
In 1959, Srila Prabhupada was living in a small room above a Krsna temple in the old, crowded Chippiwada district of Delhi. At that time he wrote a slender book called Easy Journey to Other Planets. Srila Prabhupada would later publish dozens of volumes of writings, including his monumental translation of the Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, but Easy Journey to Other Planets was his first book. And, significantly, he placed these words on the first page: "Dedicated to the scientists of the world, with the blessings of His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Maharaja, my spiritual master."
Although he dedicated his book to the scientists of the world, Srila Prabhupada did not shrink from challenging some of their most cherished conclusions about life and the universe.
For example, he wrote, "Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that hundreds of thousands of years ago the Gita was spoken to the presiding deity of the sun, who delivered the knowledge to his son Manu, from whom the present generation of man has descended. Manu, in his turn, delivered this transcendental knowledge to his son King Iksvaku, who is the forefather of the dynasty in which the Personality of Godhead appeared."
The idea that humans on this earth are part of a larger community of humanlike beings populating the universe certainly contradicts the idea that we humans evolved on this planet by random evolutionary processes. So also does the idea that humans of an advanced level of civilization, such as King Iksvaku, lived on this planet hundreds of thousands of years ago.
Srila Prabhupada realized that the accounts of life and the universe found in the ancient Vedic texts were in fundamental conflict with the accounts of modern science. His courage in directly addressing this conflict, his refusal to quietly avoid it, represents one of Srila Prabhupada's great contributions. This contribution is especially worthy of remembrance during this year, the one hundredth anniversary of Srila Prabhupada's birth.
No Postdated Checks
Srila Prabhupada was prepared to give scientists credit for anything they could actually accomplish. But he would not give them credit for assertions they could not practically demonstrate. For example, scientists are fond of asserting that life arose on earth by chemical combination. In response to such claims, Srila Prabhupada argued that no one has observed life arising spontaneously from chemical combination in nature. Nor have scientists produced life by combining chemicals in their laboratories. Faced with protests that great progress has been made and that life would indeed soon be produced in laboratories, Srila Prabhupada refused to accept from materialistic scientists these "postdated checks."
Turning from the origin of life to the origin of species, Srila Prabhupada rejected Darwin's proposal that one species transforms into another. There is evolution, he said, but it is the evolution of the soul through various forms of life, all created by Krsna. In any city, he reasoned, there are varieties of houses and apartments. According to one's means, one obtains a certain dwelling. Similarly, God has created millions of species, and according to a soul's karma the soul occupies first one kind of body, then another. The kinds of bodies, once manifested by the arrangement of the Lord, do not transform. If one species does transform into another, Srila Prabhupada asked, why do we not see this occurring today?
In Easy Journey to Other Planets, Prabhupada examined the concept of antimatter. According to nuclear scientists, both matter and antimatter are destructible. But if something were truly antimaterial, said Srila Prabhupada, it should not be subject to destruction, as are the antimaterial particles observed by scientists in their atom smashers. Truly antimaterial entities are described in the Vedas, he went on to say. The soul, for example, is an ever existing particle of consciousness, emanating from the supreme conscious being, Krsna.
The Shortcomings of Science
According to materialistic science, the soul is a mythological concept. Consciousness is simply the result of chemical interactions in the brain. Srila Prabhupada often challenged this idea. The soul, he proposed, is the source of consciousness. If the soul is present in the body, the body displays consciousness. If the soul leaves the body, consciousness disappears. If, as the materialistic scientists claim, consciousness comes from chemicals, they should demonstrate this by injecting chemicals into a dead body and thus restoring its consciousness.
In discussing the origin of the universe, most materialistic scientists favor some version of the "big bang" theory. According to this theory, an infinitely small and dense particle of matter suddenly expanded into the universe as we know it. Srila Prabhupada questioned how such a process could produce all the signs of order and design we can observe in the universe. He upheld the Vedic account of creation, in which creation unfolds under the supervision of the Supreme Lord and subordinate demigods like Brahma.
The Vedic universe, quite apart from its origin, differs structurally from the universe depicted by modern science. Many of the structural features of the Vedic universe, such as Mt. Meru, a huge mountain rising from a plane in the center of the universe, simply aren't visible to modern scientific investigators. But Srila Prabhupada suggested that there may be much that is beyond the range of the senses of ordinary humans. To illustrate this point, Srila Prabhupada often repeated the story of the frog in the well. Because the frog was confined to the well, the frog's The Vedic universe, quite apart from its origin, differs structurally from the universe depicted by modern science. Many of the structural features of the Vedic universe, such as Mount Meru, a huge mountain rising from a plane in the center of the universe, simply aren't visible to modern scientific investigators. But Srila Prabhupada suggested that there may be much that is beyond the range of the senses of ordinary humans. To illustrate this point, Prabhupada often repeated the story of the frog in the well. Because the frog was confined to the well, the frog's perceptions were limited. When told of the existence of the ocean, the frog, who had seen only the small amount of water in his well, could not imagine such a thing.
So beyond pointing out the shortcomings of specific scientific theories about the origin of life and the universe, Srila Prabhupada also offered an epistemological critique of the entire scientific method. The scientific method is empirical. Citing Vedic sources, Srila Prabhupada observed that knowledge acquired by empirical methods is infected with four defects: mistakes, cheating, illusion, and imperfect senses.
The best way to acquire knowledge, Srila Prabhupada said, is to accept knowledge from a person beyond the defects of the empirical method. That person is the Supreme Lord, who has given us perfect knowledge in His words, as recorded in the Vedas and transmitted by chains of bona fide spiritual masters.
In Easy Journey to Other Planets, Srila Prabhupada repeats the essence of such true knowledge, given by the Lord Himself: "Lord Krsna instructs that all the planets within the material universe are destroyed at the end of 4,300,000 ´ 1,000 ´ 2 ´ 30 ´ 12 ´ 100 solar years ... The living entity, however, is constitutionally an antimaterial particle. But unless he elevates himself to the region of the antimaterial worlds by cultivation of antimaterial activities, he is destroyed materially at the annihilation of the material worlds and is subject to take rebirth in a material shape with the rebirth of a new material universe. In other words, he is subject to the pains of repeated births and deaths.
"Only those living entities who take to the loving service of the Personality of Godhead during the manifested stage of material life are undoubtedly transferred to the antimaterial worlds after quitting the material body. Immortality is obtained only by those who return to Godhead by practice of antimaterial activities."
Ultimately, Prabhupada opposed the conclusions of materialistic scientists because those conclusions discourage people from taking up antimaterial activities that can deliver one from the cycle of birth and death. Misguided by scientific teachings that deny or downplay the existence of God and the soul, people engage in material activities that keep one in ignorance of one's true spiritual identity and keep one from returning to one's original spiritual home.
In 1960, when Srila Prabhupada published Easy Journey to Other Planets, he was alone. He would not remain so for long. In 1965 he journeyed to the United States, arriving in New York, and founded the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He trained his followers in the basic teachings and practices of devotion to Krsna. By the 1970s his movement had grown considerably, and its activities had become more varied.
In 1971, Srila Prabhupada began to converse on scientific topics with Thoudam Damodar Singh, a graduate student in biochemistry who had become attracted to Prabhupada's teachings. The young scientist later became a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and received the name Svarupa Damodara Dasa. In conversations with Svarupa Damodara and others, Srila Prabhupada outlined his critique of modern science and asked his scientifically trained followers to develop it in detail. Svarupa Damodara (now Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Swami) responded positively, and in 1975 he and other disciples founded the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Srila Prabhupada wanted the Institute members to challenge erroneous scientific teachings and intelligently present the correct Vedic ones.
Srila Prabhupada's vision for giving spiritual knowledge through science was variegated. He wanted members of the Bhaktivedanta Institute to lecture boldly at colleges and universities, stage debates, organize conferences, set up educational institutions, publish books and journals, build museums and planetariums. In his personal exchanges with scientists, sometimes he boldly challenged, sometimes he manifested tolerance and kindness. As it has not been possible for any single follower of Srila Prabhupada to encompass all of his moods and strategies, different followers have concentrated on different aspects of his vision. But they are all acting for one purpose—to carry on Srila Prabhupada's work of establishing the truth about reality for the welfare of the entire world.
Drutakarma Dasa (Michael A. Cremo) is a member of the Bhaktivedanta Institute, specializing in the history and philosophy of science. His recent books include Forbidden Archeology (written with Richard L. Thompson) and Divine Nature: A Spiritual Perspective on the Environmental Crisis (written with Mukunda Goswami). He has been one of the editors of Back to Godhead since 1977.
Vastly Different Views
In a foreword to Forbidden Archeology, by Drutakarma Dasa and Sadaputa Dasa, sociologist Pierce J. Flynn, of California State University at San Marcos, noted the unique perspective from which the authors spoke: "The authors admit to their own sense of place in a knowledge universe with contours derived from personal experience with Vedic philosophy, religious perception, and Indian cosmology. Their intriguing discourse on the 'Evidence for Advanced Culture in Distant Ages' is light years from 'normal' Western science, and yet provokes a cohesion of probative thought. In my view, it is just this openness of subjective positioning that makes Forbidden Archeology an original and important contribution to postmodern scholarly studies now being done in sociology, anthropology, archeology, and the history of science and ideas."
In 1995 at an interdisciplinary conference on Science and Culture sponsored by Kentucky State University, Drutakarma Dasa gave a paper in which he told more about the Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition that had inspired the writing of the book. In particular, he spoke of the history of the encounter between Gaudiya Vaisnavism and Western science during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The following is an excerpt.
In The Nineteenth century, India's British rulers offered Western education to Indian intellectuals. The goal was to create a cadre of English-speaking and English-thinking Indians to assist them in the British program of military, political, economic, religious, and cultural domination. This educational program successfully induced many Indian intellectuals to abandon their traditional culture and wisdom for Western modes of science and theology.
The program even made its mark on Gaudiya Vaisnavism, the line of Krsna devotees that traces back to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But in the middle of the nineteenth century, Kedarnatha Dutta (1838-1914), an English-speaking magistrate in the colonial administration, became interested in Gaudiya Vaisnavism. After his initiation by a Gaudiya Vaisnava guru, he inaugurated a revival of Gaudiya Vaisnavism among the intelligent classes, in Bengal and throughout India.
The central goal of Gaudiya Vaisnavism is cultivation of bhakti, or devotion, to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The bhakti school also incorporates a strong philosophical tradition, grounded in a literal, yet by no means naive, reading of the Vedic and Puranic texts, including their accounts of history and cosmogony. Kedarnatha Dutta, later known by the title Bhaktivinoda Thakura, communicated Gaudiya Vaisnava teachings not only to his Indian contemporaries but also to the worldwide community of intellectuals. He reached the latter by publishing several works in English, among them Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts, which appeared in 1896.
In the early twentieth century, Bhaktivinoda Thakura's son Bimala Prasada Dutta, later known as Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874-1936), carried on the work of his father, expanding Gaudiya Vaisnavism in India and sending a few disciples to England and Germany. The European expeditions did not, however, yield any permanent results, and the missionaries returned home.
In 1922, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, then known as Abhay Charan De, met Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura in Calcutta, India. A recent graduate of Scottish Churches College in Calcutta and a follower of Gandhi, Prabhupada was somewhat skeptical of this very traditional guru. But he found himself won over by Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's sharp intelligence and spiritual purity. At this first meeting, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati requested Prabhupada to spread the Gaudiya Vaisnava teachings throughout the world, especially in English. In 1933 Prabhupada became the formal disciple of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and in 1936, the year of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta's death, Prabhupada received a letter from him renewing his request that Prabhupada teach in the West. In 1965, at the age of 69, Prabhupada came to New York City, where a year later he started ISKCON, the institutional vehicle through which the teachings of Gaudiya Vaisnavism were to spread quickly around the world.
Among these teachings are those connected with the origin of life and the universe. To scientifically establish these teachings, Srila Prabhupada in 1975 organized the Bhaktivedanta Institute. He envisioned the introduction of Gaudiya Vaisnava teachings on the origin of life and the universe as a direct confrontation with prevailing Western scientific ideas, such as Darwinian evolution.
My own involvement in the Bhaktivedanta Institute, as a Western convert to Gaudiya Vaisnavism, can thus be seen in the historical context of the larger cultural interaction between Western science and an Asian Indian knowledge tradition with vastly different views on natural history.
The worldwide activities of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Scholars from six countries gathered at the Hare Krsna temple in Detroit last November for a conference on Srila Prabhupada. Entitled "Srila Prabhupada, Deliverer of Krsna Bhakti to the World: A Centennial Assessment," the conference was the first major event of North America's Prabhupada Centennial celebration. Among the twelve scholars who delivered papers were five initiated devotees. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust plans to publish a book this summer based on the conference papers.
The Hare Krsna float won the Director's Award in Honolulu's Aloha Day Parade last September. About 350,000 people attended the parade, one million watched it live on local television, and in November forty million saw it when it was televised nationally on Thanksgiving Day.
On January 6, the honorable Mayor of Bombay, Mr. Ramchandra Kadam, presided over a ceremony renaming a road in honor of Srila Prabhupada. The road, formerly Gulmohar Road, is now Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg. The road is the major thoroughfare connecting the suburb of Juhu, site of ISKCON's "Hare Krishna Land" center, with the link road to downtown Bombay. ISKCON spiritual leaders attended the event, along with local civic leaders and the prominent industrialists Ashok Hinduja and Hrishikesh Mafatlal.
In June, ISKCON will dedicate to Prabhupada a memorial arch. The arch will span Gandhi Gram Road, the road opposite ISKCON's Juhu temple, at the point where the road meets Juhu Beach. Srila Prabhupada used to take his early-morning walks on that beach when staying in Juhu.
Devotees brought Krsna consciousness to demonstrations last September to stop the export of live calves. The devotees chanted Hare Krsna and passed out books and prasadam, food offered to Krsna. During a demonstration at Dover, attended by a thousand people, the devotees were shown on national television.
The decision on the future of Bhaktivedanta Manor will wait until April, say sources in the British government. Whether the Manor, ISKCON's temple outside London, will be able to stay open for public worship was to have been decided last November. But ISKCON's plan for a road to solve supposed traffic problems will take longer to consider.
In a related development, the temple and its former president, Akhandadhi Dasa, have been found guilty of disregarding the enforcement notice denying public worship at the Manor, and given an unusually stiff fine of £30,000 plus court costs. The charge stemmed from the 1994 Janmastami festival, which drew thousands of devotees. The temple will appeal that the fine be reduced.
Television viewers purchased more than six thousand copies of a vegetarian cookbook by ISKCON devotee Kurma Dasa through his television series, "Cooking with Kurma." The show aired for thirteen weeks.
An American devotee spent nine months last year in Pago Pago, American Samoa, introducing Krsna consciousness to the local people. Syamasundara Dasa, from Detroit, is the first devotee to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books on this remote island 1,600 miles northeast of New Zealand.
Devotees in Kisumu, Kenya, will consecrate the ground for a new temple complex. The ceremonies will take place on Rama Navami, the appearance day of Lord Ramacandra. The devotees will build the complex on land they purchased last October in a residential area near Lake Victoria, the second largest lake in the world. Besides a temple, the complex will include a guest house, an exhibition center, arrangements for prasadam distribution, a musical fountain with colored lighting, and a natural garden, to be named Vrndavana Garden. Devotees plan to complete the project by Janmastami, Lord Krsna's appearance day, in 1997.
Devotees from four West African states attended the installation of Gaura-Nitai and Radha-Krsna in a new temple in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, last summer. Government officials, business leaders, and other dignitaries also attended the event. The temple is the first of several planned for West Africa.
Last year Padayatra India completed its third tour of holy places in the Himalayas, including Badrinath, Kedarnath, Yamunotri (the source of the Yamuna River), and Gangotri (the source of the Ganges). The party distributed more than two thousand books and hundreds of photos of Srila Prabhupada announcing his centennial celebrations.
From the end of September until the middle of February, the Padayatra walked from Haridwar, in the Himalayan foothills, to Mayapur, West Bengal, in time for ISKCON's annual international festival.
The Padayatra team from England toured Vraja Mandala (the Vrndavana area) during the month of Kartika (October-November) last year. They put on twenty-eight festivals that included Krsna conscious plays, movies, and puppet shows. And they passed out 19,000 plates of prasadam during the five-week tour.
About forty devotees take part in an ongoing Padayatra in Bangladesh. They travel throughout the mostly Islamic country visiting Nama-hattas, or groups of ISKCON-affiliated Krsna devotees.
The walk that began in Belfast will reach Moscow in June. For six years devotees have walked in the summer and raised funds in the winter. This past winter the oxen and ox cart that accompany the devotees on their walk have been parked at the ISKCON farm in Minsk, Belarus. The procession will begin again when the weather warms.
Padayatra New Zealand
The Srila Prabhupada Centennial Padayatra for New Zealand toured the country from January 7 to February 11. The devotees started their walk in Christchurch and ended in Auckland.
A group of devotees plan to start a walk across Canada in April, from Vancouver to the Maritime Provinces. The walk will take five or six months and cover about five thousand miles. It is part of ISKCON Canada's observance of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial.
"There is Only One Religion"
Here we continue an exchange that took place in Paris, on June 15, 1974, between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, two priests, and two Christian scholars.
Madame Siaude: Your Divine Grace, one who is not inclined toward study—can he or she attain God by directly surrendering unto Him?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Certainly. It does not require education, scholarly knowledge, or anything. If one agrees to surrender to the lotus feet of God, then his life is perfect. That is stated in the Vedic literature. Aradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim: "If one has surrendered himself to the lotus feet of God and is worshiping Him, there is no more need of austerity and penances." And by the same token, naradhito yadi haris tapasa tatah kim: "If one has not learned how to surrender to God and worship Him, then all his austerities and study are useless."
Further, antar bahir yadi haris tapasa tatah kim: "If one can see God within and without, then where is the necessity of austerity?" And by the same token, nantar bahir yadi haris tapasa tatah kim: "If one has not learned to see God within and without, then where is the value of his austerity and penances?" Therefore, God realization is the only business of the human being.
Madame Siaude: We agree totally with what you are saying.
Father Fransad: At the same time, Your Divine Grace, we seem to have a contradiction. A few minutes ago you were saying, "First we must learn about God, and then we will know how to pray to God." But now you seem to be saying, "If one surrenders to God, one has no need to learn about Him first."
Srila Prabhupada: We say, "Religion means to love God—and you cannot love God unless you learn what God is." That means you have to learn about God. Only then can there be real religion.
Father Fransad: So even if we are without scholarly knowledge, God can reveal Himself to us directly?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is a fact. If you are actually a devotee, then God will reveal Himself. That is stated in the Vedic literature. Atah sri-krsna-namadi na bhaved grahyam indriyaih: you cannot understand the form, name, attributes, and pastimes of God by these blunt senses. These present material senses cannot realize God. Then how can you realize God? Sevonmukhe hi jihvadau: when you serve Him with your tongue, then gradually God reveals Himself.
Now, you can do two businesses with the tongue. One is talking, and the other is eating. So if you engage your tongue in glorifying God, and if you eat only food offered to God, then you realize God. Therefore, these young boys and girls from Europe and America are being taught, "Use the tongue for Krsna. Chant Hare Krsna, and eat Krsna-prasada, food offered to Krsna."
And as a practical result, although they are very young, still they have realized God, Krsna. They are far more advanced than anyone else. They have forgotten all material things—illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication, gambling. They are simply devoted to the service of Krsna. So, because they have engaged their tongue in chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, they have forgotten all kinds of nonsense, including meat-eating and intoxication. The American government spent millions of dollars to stop their LSD habit. Yet it could not stop even one man. But as soon as these young people came to Krsna consciousness, immediately they gave up all this nonsense.
Madame Siaude: We are glad to see how successful you have been.
Srila Prabhupada: Thank you very much. So let us join together and push forward this movement: chanting the holy name of God. I don't say, "You must accept the name Krsna." If you have got any other name, you can chant that.
Father Fransad: So when you are glorifying God, we hope you will think of us—and when we are glorifying God, we will think of you.
Srila Prabhupada: Thank you very much.
Father Canivez: Yesterday evening, during your lecture, I was very sad when there were some people making noise.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the difficulty. Gradually, the population of the world are becoming urchins. Very degraded. Before all of you arrived today, I was discussing the Twelfth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which predicts how people in this age will become degraded. And this is due to a lack of God consciousness.
Father Canivez: Your Divine Grace, it seemed that the young people who made so much disruption were finding your lecture very hard to accept.
Srila Prabhupada: That is because the young people are gradually becoming degraded. They do not accept authority.
Disciple: Yes. When they saw, Srila Prabhupada, that you were speaking authoritatively, they rejected it. They reacted.
Srila Prabhupada: So that is due to their degradation. They cannot accept any authority. And one cannot advance in knowledge without accepting authority.
Father Canivez: Surely.
Srila Prabhupada: But one more thing I may say is that the disobedience to authority has begun from their fathers.
Father Canivez: From whom?
Srila Prabhupada: From their fathers. Yes. Because in the Bible it is said, "Thou shalt not kill." And yet the fathers indulge in the killing business. So naturally the next generation has become degraded.
Father Canivez: Did many stay after the meeting last night?
Disciple: Oh, yes. They stayed until midnight. The total attendance yesterday was roughly two thousand people, and at least one thousand stayed until twelve o'clock.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh? Twelve o'clock?
Disciple: Yes, Srila Prabhupada. The manager of the hall was pleading with us to ask them to leave. He wanted to go home.
Father Canivez: It's very good that so many stayed to find out more information, to ask questions and discuss with your followers.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, any reasonable man will find this subject matter interesting. In Caitanya-caritamrta it is stated, sri-krsna-caitanya-daya karaha vicara: "Just ponder the mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and then give your judgment." It is never recommended to take it blindly. Karaha vicara: "Just consider with all reason and argument." And vicara karile citte pabe camatkara: "If you consider it with logic and reason, you'll find it sublime."
Disciple: So to understand a scripture, whether it be the Bible or Bhagavad-gita, we have to rely on logic and reason?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. For instance, in the Bible it is said, "In the beginning was the word." So in the beginning there was only the Lord's word. Which means that this word is not a word of this material creation.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, many of the so-called spiritual teachers today say, "You cannot chant the name Krsna or any other of God's names, because any sound is simply a material sound."
Srila Prabhupada: That's it. These rascals do not understand what this sound is. They do not see that even before the creation there existed this sound, the Lord's holy name.
Madame Devi (newly arrived): Your Divine Grace, do you think that in the future all religions will come together and form one group?
Srila Prabhupada: There is no "all religions." There is only one religion. One who deviates—he creates another religion. Religion means there is God and we should be obedient to God. This is religion.
Madame Devi: So it is not necessary to go by one's special path?
Srila Prabhupada: No. There is no "special path." There is only one path: that God is there, God is great, and we are all subordinate to God. That's all.
Srila Srivasa Pandita
SRILA Srivasa Pandita is a member of the Panca-tattva ("five truths")—Lord Caitanya and His four principal associates. Even before the advent of Lord Caitanya, Srivasa Pandita and his three brothers would sing Krsna's names, worship the Deity of Krsna, and perform other kinds of devotional service. With Advaita Acarya, they prayed for Krsna Himself to descend to deliver the fallen souls of the present age.
Lord Caitanya's house was very near Srivasa Pandita's, where the Lord began His sankirtana movement—the congregational chanting of Krsna's names. Every night the Lord and his closest associates would chant there and taste love of God.
Srivasa Pandita never made any effort to support himself or his dependents, but because of his full dedication to Lord Caitanya and His mission, the Lord—by His inconceivable power—provided for all of Srivasa's needs, and he lived in a palatial home.
All of Lord Caitanya's associates are His eternal servants who descend with Him from the spiritual world. Authorities in the line of Lord Caitanya have revealed that Srila Srivasa Pandita is an incarnation of the sage Narada.
If tended with care,
By Visakha Devi Dasi
WHEN my mother-in-law came to visit us for the first time in our new mountain home, she noted our persimmon tree standing in its two- gallon pot, waiting to be planted. Over our heads, the tree's leaves and branches swayed in the breeze.
"This poor tree is so root-bound," she remarked, "I don't know if it'll ever recover."
Two weeks later, when my husband and I finally planted it, I saw its roots—hopelessly tangled in an unnatural maze, desperately searching for new soil, for freedom.
And here I am, I thought, in this time-bound world, pointlessly searching and researching for happiness within the confines of my small pot, going round and round, seeking something new where there is only the old, ignoring the need to plant myself in my true habitat, the spiritual world, where I can spread my roots and thrive.
Fortunately, our persimmon tree did recover, and by the grace of my spiritual master I may also.
According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krsna. By the mercy of both Krsna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.—Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 19.151
As a novice gardener one of my first lessons was on seeds: they may look insignificant, but if you treat them as such you'll get disappointing results. Broccoli seeds, for example, look like tiny black dots. Each time I tried to pick up one of them I got at least four. "And I'm supposed to plant these twelve inches apart?" I thought. In frustration I tossed the whole packet into the garden—and got dozens of plants so crowded they couldn't give any broccoli. So, seeds must be respected.
Infinitely more respect is due for the seed of the creeper of devotion.
When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of hearing and chanting, the seed will begin to sprout.—Cc. Madhya 19.152
As a gardener recognizes and responds to the needs of his seedlings, so a devotee recognizes the need to spiritualize his life and responds by hearing and chanting about the Lord, nurturing his devotional creeper. Water is free and watering is easy. All that's needed is to steadily and patiently do it.
As one waters the bhakti-lata-bija [the seed of the creeper of devotion], the seed sprouts, and the creeper gradually increases to the point where it penetrates the walls of this universe and goes beyond the Viraja River between the spiritual world and the material world. It attains brahma-loka, the Brahman effulgence, and, penetrating through that stratum, it reaches the spiritual sky and the spiritual planet Goloka Vrndavana.—Cc. Madhya 19.153
Although this creeper is so powerful it can transcend the material realm, it is not without powerful enemies.
If the devotee commits an offense at the feet of a Vaisnava while cultivating the creeper of devotional service in the material world, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper are dried up.—Cc. Madhya 19.156
Around my home there are no elephants, mad or otherwise, but there are enough deer, gophers, and rabbits to cause the same amount of destruction. The safeguard is fencing, both below and above ground.
Spiritual fencing consists of following the instructions of the spiritual master and associating favorably with devotees of the Lord, giving up the company of nondevotees. ("The gardener must defend the creeper by fencing it all around so that the powerful elephant of offenses may not enter." Cc. Madhya 19.157)
But impenetrable fencing only protects; it does not ensure a plant's growth. Weeds, insects, diseases, and erratic weather make growth tricky. And when a plant stops growing, it's in trouble.
Similarly, if my spiritual growth ends, then, like a stagnant vegetable, I'm in trouble. And, unfortunately, spiritual growth can be choked:
Sometimes unwanted creepers, such as the creepers of desires for material enjoyment and liberation from the material world, grow along with the creeper of devotional service. The varieties of such unwanted creepers are unlimited. Some unnecessary creepers growing with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration, and mundane importance. All these are unwanted creepers.—Cc. Madhya 19.158, 159
For proper growth we need death—to the weeds that sap the water and nutrients meant for the plant, to the unwanted habits, thoughts, and characteristics that keep consciousness rooted in matter.
Mysteriously, growth seems effortless for weeds. They flourish everywhere without watering, fencing, or control of disease and insects. But for my fruits and vegetables, growth is effortful. Lust, greed, anger, envy, and faultfinding thrive easily, and so do desires for profit, honor, and adoration. Uprooting these to help the devotional creeper grow takes humility and a concerted, determined, enthusiastic effort.
The best way to get rid of both material and spiritual weeds is diligent weeding. Ease off and the small, delicate plants are smothered. (If a weed is especially hard to pull, all the more need to get it up—deep roots draw more strength from the plant. Hint: Weeds come out readily after thorough watering.)
Neglect weeds too long and they'll go to seed. And the problems they create then multiply geometrically—just as my material desires, left uncountered by spiritual life, bring about more material desires that implicate me more in material life.
To uproot these insidious weeds, I have to bend down and grasp them by the stem at ground level—a humble position. Without humility I won't be able to uproot the weeds that choke my devotional creeper.
But, novice that I am, I can't tell which seedlings are weeds and which are my plantings. So I wait and watch, and one morning after two days of rain it becomes obvious: each carefully planted seedling is unique and emerges looking fresh, in the pattern of my planting.
The bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotion, is supremely unique. Where this divine plant flourishes, material desires die out, and unmotivated, uninterrupted service to Krsna blossoms.
If one does not distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused because the other creepers are nourished while the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed. As soon as an intelligent devotee sees an unwanted creeper growing beside the original creeper, he must cut it down instantly. Then the real creeper of bhakti-lata-bija grows nicely, returns home, back to Godhead, and seeks shelter under the lotus feet of Krsna.—Cc. Madhya 19.160-161
A promise to Gaura Nitai
Visakha Devi Dasi has been contributing articles and photographs to Back to Godhead for twenty years. She lives with her husband and their two daughters in the foothills of central California.
Painting Under Authority
By Yadurani Devi Dasi
Srila Prabhupada carefully
ONE DAY IN December 1966, I was cleaning the room next to Srila Prabhupada's room at 26 Second Avenue in New York City when Prabhupada called me into his room. From the trunk of books he'd brought from India he pulled out one of his Srimad-Bhagavatam volumes and asked me to make a large painting of the picture on the cover.
The picture showed Krsna's supreme planet, surrounded by the many Vaikuntha planets in the spiritual world. Just below the Vaikuntha planets was the entire material creation. Prabhupada asked me to copy only the middle section, which showed Radha and Krsna in Goloka Vrndavana, Their supreme abode.
I was happy to do art centered on Krsna, but being born and raised in New York I didn't know what a garland was. So in my painting Radha's and Krsna's garlands looked like garden hoses. The kadamba trees in the background looked more like a light green sky with dark green stars than wish-fulfilling trees.
Nonetheless, Prabhupada seemed pleased and asked me to write a Sanskrit prayer on the lower right side of the canvas. He wrote it down for me on a piece of paper:
The words included diacritical marks, as used by scholars for correct pronunciation. This fascinated me, and I got a small sense of how real and deeply technical the Krsna conscious tradition actually was.
Prabhupada told me the translation: "I offer my respectful obeisances to the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krsna, who is the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas and the living entities in general. I offer my obeisances to Govinda [Krsna], who is the pleasure reservoir for all the senses."
Three days later some Indian guests came to visit Prabhupada in his quarters and were happy to accept some sweets directly from Prabhupada's own hands. Before the guests put the prasadam in their mouths, they showed respect by touching it to their heads. Prabhupada looked at me and pointed out their reverential behavior, indicating that we, his new disciples, should follow their example of respect toward Krsna prasadam.
Then Prabhupada pointed through the glassless window of his room to the Radha-Krsna painting I had just completed, which was hanging above his altar.
"She is not painting out of concoction," he said. "She is authorized by higher authorities."
Of course, for me that higher authority was Prabhupada. His words made me feel important, not because of my own credit or quality, but because I was connected to a very important spiritual lineage.
A Dream Come True
Some days passed, and Prabhupada told me of a dream he'd had. In the dream he was in Tompkins Square Park, and thousands of people had come to hear the Hare Krsna mantra. He asked me to do a painting of his dream, which I never did.
But Prabhupada's dream soon came true. There was going to be a festival in Tompkins Square Park, and the devotees were invited to go on the huge stage to chant. Prabhupada asked me to paint a big Hare Krsna mantra sign for the occasion. I had no easel then, so on the floor of the altar room I put a large piece of oak tag (shiny white poster cardboard). At the same time, in the same room, the other devotees were preparing the Sunday Feast.
Prabhupada came to inspect our progress. The sign lay on the floor, under Prabhupada's window. To develop the painting of the letters, I was leaning over the sign, stretching my arms and entire body over the holy names to reach the other end. I suspected I was doing the wrong thing. I looked up to see Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet as he stood watching, and I told him of my reservations. He smiled and reassured me. Then he told the story of the time Krsna had a headache.
Once, Krsna asked His servant to get dust from the feet of any of His devotees. Only such dust, He said, could cure His headache. The servant went everywhere, but no one would agree.
"How can we put the dust of our feet on Krsna's head?" they all said. "We would go to hell for such an offense!"
Finally, the servant asked the gopis of Vrndavana, Krsna's most surrendered devotees. The gopis agreed to help, Prabhupada said, and he himself acted out how the gopis quickly took the dust from their feet.
"Do you not fear going to hell for such an offense?" the servant asked.
They replied, "Never mind. We shall go to hell. Just let Krsna be cured."
That was the kind of selfless devotion Prabhupada had come to teach.
"That is love," Prabhupada said. "For loving service, under the guidance of the proper authority you can take all risks."
A few days later, Prabhupada handed me a print that Hayagriva and Kirtanananda had brought back to New York from India before they'd met him. It was a Brajbasi-style rendering of Lord Visnu encircled by the ten lila-avataras ("pastime incarnations"). Prabhupada asked me to do a big oil painting, but to replicate only Lord Visnu.
On my usual 24-by-32-inch canvas I copied the original as best I could. Lord Visnu carried a conch, a club, a disc, and a lotus in His four hands. Unfortunately, I painted what looked more like a big golden ice-cream cone than a club, I made the waves of the ocean surrounding Lord Visnu look like psychedelic question marks on a turquoise background, and His hands looked unrefined, to say the least. I would go so far as to say they looked a little bit like baseball gloves.
To paint I sat on the floor of Prabhupada's altar room, the painting leaning against the wall. Often Prabhupada would come in and squat in his distinctly Indian way.
"Paint the palms of the hands pink," he suggested.
He tried to direct me, down to the finest detail. Though technically imperfect, at least nothing in the painting was speculative. Everything was bona fide, following the scriptures and the realization of a pure devotee, Srila Prabhupada. Gradually, the painting was completed, and it became known as "Lord Visnu in the Causal Ocean."
The original print from India had om superimposed over Lord Visnu's navel, but Prabhupada wanted me to render the painting differently. On a small piece of paper he wrote in Sanskrit letters the name of that particular Visnu. He asked me to copy the name under the om to make the painting more personal.
The Visnu's name was Sri Madhava, which means "husband of the goddess of fortune," but I mistakenly copied it on the painting as "SRI MADAAVA." Prabhupada pointed out my mistake. He calmly said he had written MAD-HAVA—with an "H." But I couldn't accept that I had made the mistake.
"No," I said, "you wrote an A."
We went back and forth:
I eventually realized how foolish I was to argue with my spiritual master. Not only did he know Sanskrit, which I didn't, but he had perfect knowledge of everything. Naturally, Prabhupada was right. And when I came to learn a little Sanskrit, I understood that it could not have been "MADAAVA."
Several devotees were in Prabhupada's room when I presented him the finished work.
"Now, who cannot look at that and say it is not God!" Prabhupada announced, and all of the devotees cheered.
"It is beautiful," I thought. "I don't know if I can ever do one that good again, but I sure will try."
The unfortunate fact, however, was that technically the painting was terrible, but with Prabhupada's encouraging words I was able to continue trying to render him service. Had I not received so much encouragement, I might have stopped. But Prabhupada was confident that Krsna would carry what his disciples lacked.
Prabhupada gave me a list of the twenty-four main Visnu incarnations, along with Their particular arrangements of hand symbols.
Radha-Krsna and the Cows
In late December, Prabhupada was planning to make a recording with his disciples. It would be his first Hare Krsna record album. He invited me to go with him.
"I can't," I said, "I have to see a friend in the hospital."
Prabhupada showed no resentment, even though he had wanted all his disciples to accompany him. He was kind and understanding. He handed me a gift: a beautiful, heavenly-looking three-by-five-inch print of Lord Krsna and His eternal consort, Srimati Radharani. Radha and Krsna appeared to be young children and at the same time the primeval personalities.
The photo seemed to glow. Radharani's face looked simple and sweet, but with an expression of wisdom and compassion. She seemed to have an otherworldly bliss. Her opulent Vraja gopi sari, cool pink and brown, complemented Krsna's dhoti, sash, and cadar (shawl). And Her bright golden complexion complemented His blue pearl-like hue.
Prabhupada soon went to San Francisco. While he was gone I made a large painting from the print—about three feet by four. The devotees hung it on the wall over Prabhupada's vyasasana [the seat of the guru]. When Prabhupada returned to New York, he saw the painting hanging there, and just before sitting down on his vyasasana he offered his obeisances to the painting by bending over and putting his head on the side of his seat.
Yadurani Devi Dasi was the first woman to join Srila Prabhupada's fledgling Hare Krsna movement in New York in 1966. She now travels to teach others about Krsna.
by Satyaraja dasa
Sired by Lord Siva, he uses his great powers in the service of Lord Rama.
HANUMAN IS EASILY AMONG the most popular divinities in India. A small monkeylike figure, Hanuman is often portrayed kneeling with joined palms before the Personality of Godhead Ramacandra, Sita (Rama's consort), and Laksmana (Rama's brother). Hanuman is shown sometimes tearing open his chest to show Rama's image in his heart, other times soaring through the sky with a Himalayan peak in his hand. He is shown long-haired and occasionally five-headed. His hands are often seen in the gesture (mudra) for removing fear (abhaya) and giving benedictions (varada). He is sometimes shown carrying a club, a bow, or a thunderbolt.
Over time, Hanuman has acquired a following not only among Vaisnava groups, who worship Krsna and His incarnations, but among those one might least expect, such as wrestlers, who call him Vajrangabali, or "mighty one with limbs like thunderbolts," and Muslims to whom he is known as Mo-Atbar Madadgaar, or "reliable helper."
In the Ramayana, the epic by the great sage Valmiki, Hanuman first appears in the beginning of the fourth book, known as Kiskindha-kanda. For most of that section Hanuman plays a minor role, as one of five emissaries sent by the monkey king Sugriva to discover the identity and intentions of Rama and Laksmana. Toward the close of Kiskindha, however, it becomes clear that Hanuman is no small character. And as we open the next book (Sundara-kanda), Hanuman tends to dominate the stage, his speed, strength, wisdom, courage, and devotion becoming evident.
In the Uttara-kanda the sage Valmiki tells of Hanuman's birth and childhood pastimes. As a young child Hanuman once mistook the sun for a fruit. When Hanuman tried to capture the sun, the demigod Indra knocked Hanuman down and broke his jaw with a thunderbolt. Hanuman's compassionate father, the wind-god, then induced other gods to shower Hanuman with extraordinary boons, accounting for his well-known physical prowess and supernatural abilities. In youth, Hanuman playfully vandalized the asrama of forest ascetics, who reacted by cursing him to forget his powers until he would meet Lord Rama. Hanuman would then come into his own and use his powers for the ultimate good of all.
Regarding Hanuman's monkey nature, he was indeed a monkey. Valmiki uses the words kapi, or "tawny-colored," and vanara, a word originally meaning "proper to the forest," "forest animal," and so on, although it soon came to refer specifically to monkeys. Hanuman is traditionally identified with the langur, Presbytis entellus, a creature even today known throughout India as "the Hanuman monkey."
Hanuman often displayed the monkeylike qualities typical of his descendants. By his own admission, as cited in the Ramayana (5.53.111), he has a monkey's unending fickleness (nityam asthira-citta) and inability to remain still even for a moment (anavasthita). Yet Hanuman's monkey nature is a gift from the Lord, and any resulting characteristic that might otherwise appear to discredit him is actually a divine arrangement for his service to Lord Rama.
Though Hanuman has the general look of a monkey, in the Ramayana period—Treta-yuga, hundreds of thousands of years ago—such monkeys were more like human beings. Valmiki makes this clear when he writes about their speech, clothing, funerals, dwelling places, consecration festivals, and so on. Hanuman and the Vanaras, then, were half-monkey, half-human. But they were unmistakably empowered semi-divine beings as well. They could take on any form or, at their will, become large or small. They had all mystic yogic perfections in full. Valmiki writes that Hanuman could leap into the air like a super-powered being.
Impressed by Hanuman's amazing qualities, many people in India see Hanuman as though a god on his own, independent of Rama. Often he is worshiped as an independent village deity—a protector against ghosts, diseases, and so on. And so in India today two distinct "Hanumans" have emerged: the humble devotee, as he was originally known in the Valmiki Ramayana, and the independent divinity, worshiped without reference to Sita or Rama.
But the scriptures make it clear that Hanuman and the Vanaras are devotees, not gods. Throughout the Sundara-kanda especially, the Ramayana clearly shows Lord Rama's superior status. There, through beautiful soliloquies drenched in devotion, Hanuman showers Rama with praise again and again. Hanuman is clearly the bhakta, the devotee, and Rama the Bhagavan, the Lord. It is the glory of Hanuman that He serves Rama by going to find Sita, by bringing her Rama's message, by risking his life at the hands of evil Ravana. Indeed, the entire Ramayana offers tribute to his unswerving devotion to Lord Rama.
Later commentators as well praise Hanuman's devotion. In fact, while discussing devotees who perfectly represent each of the five rasas, or relationships one may have with the Lord, Sanatana Gosvami, in his Brhad Bhagavatamrta, mentions Hanuman as showing the perfection of dasya-rasa, or servitude. Hanuman is the devotee, the servant of God, par excellence.
Perhaps for this reason, Lord Rama saw fit to bless Hanuman by allowing him to stay in this world to serve Him as long as the glories of Rama are sung. The Mahabharata notes that the immortal Hanuman lives in the Himalayas to this day, chanting the name of Lord Rama in perfect ecstasy.
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to Back to Godhead. He has written several books on Krsna consciousness. He and his wife live in New York City.
Hanuman in Caitanya Lila
WHEN LORD KRSNA DESCENDED five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, devotees of Krsna and His incarnations descended with Him to be part of Lord Caitanya's lila, or pastimes. One of those eternal associates of the Lord was Hanuman, who appeared with Lord Caitanya as a physician named Murari Gupta.
In the incarnation as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Lord Krsna taught the world how to serve Krsna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead. Yet Lord Krsna also has many other Visnu forms, each with His own eternal devotees. And in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya-lila 15.142-156) Lord Caitanya tests Murari Gupta and glorifies him for his exclusive devotion to Lord Ramacandra:
"I requested Murari Gupta, 'Worship Krsna and take shelter of Him. But for His service, nothing appeals to the mind.'
"Murari Gupta heard from Me again and again. And by My influence, his mind was a little converted.
"He then replied, 'I am Your servant and Your order carrier. I have no independent existence.'
"After this, Murari Gupta went home and spent the whole night thinking how he would be able to give up the association of Raghunatha, Lord Ramacandra. Thus he was overwhelmed. Murari Gupta then began to pray at the lotus feet of Lord Ramacandra. He prayed that death would come that night, because it was not possible for him to give up the service of the lotus feet of Raghunatha. Thus Murari Gupta cried the entire night. There was no rest for his mind; therefore he could not sleep but stayed awake the entire night.
"In the morning Murari Gupta came to see Me. Catching hold of My feet and crying, he submitted an appeal.
"Murari Gupta said, 'I have sold my head to the lotus feet of Raghunatha. I cannot withdraw my head, for that would give me too much pain. It is not possible for me to give up the service of Raghunatha's lotus feet. At the same time, if I do not do so I shall break Your order. What can I do?'
"In this way Murari Gupta appealed to Me, saying, 'Kindly grant me this mercy, because You are all-merciful. Let me die before You so that all my doubts will be finished.'
"Hearing this, I became very happy. I then raised Murari Gupta and embraced him.
"I said to him, 'Murari Gupta! Your method of worship is very firmly fixed—so much so that even upon My request your mind did not turn. The servitor must have love and affection for the lotus feet of the Lord exactly like this. Even if the Lord wants separation, a devotee cannot abandon the shelter of His lotus feet. Just to test your firm faith in your Lord, I requested you again and again to change your worship from Lord Ramacandra to Krsna.'
"In this way, I congratulated Murari Gupta, saying, 'Indeed, you are the incarnation of Hanuman. Consequently you are the eternal servant of Lord Ramacandra. Why should you give up the worship of Lord Ramacandra and His lotus feet?' "
Bhakti-yoga at Home
The Best and Worst of Japa
by Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi
I LOVE CHANTING japa*—some days. Other days, I endure chanting japa. It seems to be bliss or boredom. On the good days I am enthralled. Krsna feels very close, and very dear. Not that I'm seeing visions or hearing voices—nothing dramatic that would excite the tabloid crowd. The experience is closer to returning home after a long, arduous journey. Such a sweet pleasure from the simple fingering of beads, the rhythmic repetition of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
* Japa is a personal meditation on a mantra. Hare Krsna devotees each have a strand of 108 beads, on which they chant the Hare Krsna mantra. Initiated devotees vow to chant on the full set of beads at least sixteen times a day.
But then there are the bad days. Unfortunately, when I speak of bad days I don't mean an occasional lapse. There are so many bad days they could actually be divided into categories: sick days, cold days, sleepy days, busy days, lonely days, traveling days, foul-mood days, messy-house days, family-visiting days, summer-vacation days, lots-on-my-mind days, too-many-kids-around days, all of the days between Christmas and New Year—those are just a few. And there are others that spring up unannounced, defying categorization.
The paradox is that while there is always some really appealing excuse for the mental gyrations that prevent good japa, it is precisely the resultant inattention that makes chanting seem a chore, a task to be endured. Good japa is a pleasure in the deepest sense. And yet the persuasions of the mind steal this pleasure from me again and again.
So why listen to the mind? Knowing that the mind's entertainment is taking me away from the process of nourishing my soul, why would I fall for it more than once? Compare me to the alcoholic who has some experience of the rewards of sober life but keeps succumbing to the temptation to drink, knowing that eventually he'll lose the very desire for sobriety. The normal state, the sober state, no longer seems desirable when one is enslaved by alcohol. In the same way, the normal state of happiness that comes from attentive chanting is forgotten when chanting is habitually inattentive. Japa time becomes the time for the mind to assume center stage, and like a bad comic it tries all kinds of routines to capture the whims of the audience.
If you are by now appalled that anyone would ever let their japa fall into such a state, then you might as well move ahead to the next article. You don't need to hear this part, which gets really shocking.
When my rounds get really bad, I start to question the value in even chanting them. I start to question my motives: Is it just to maintain some kind of pride in chanting sixteen rounds, even if they're crummy rounds? At the core of it all, am I superstitious, chanting to ward off the evils of the world? Is chanting japa a way to assure myself of devotee status, something that gets me on Krsna's good side? As these kinds of questions come up, I get swamped by shame and discouragement. I think it might be better to be honestly fallen than to chant so offensively.
A friend once commented to me that it would be better to chant one good maha-mantra a day than sixteen distracted rounds. I squirmed when I heard that, because I knew that I was indeed guilty of empty chanting. But I couldn't quite agree. I took a vow at initiation to chant sixteen rounds, so I can't give that up. And on one level, sure, just one sincere cry to Krsna is better than mechanical chanting. And yet, if one is resigned to chanting just one mantra a day, how many days would go by when those precious ten seconds of devotion would never come? If it's easy to space out for the duration of sixteen rounds, how much easier to miss the one little scheduled chance you set up to cry out for Krsna?
There's certainly a better solution to inattentive chanting than giving up. And that's the solution that always becomes obvious to me when I see I'm sliding.
It's never better to give up the fight! There always comes a point when I get disgusted enough to try harder at hearing my rounds. And whenever I make that attempt, Krsna is always there. My dearest friend always gives me shelter. When I start listening to my prescribed rounds, I have the wonderful sensation of returning to a place I love. I know that if I just put my beads aside, thinking that no chanting is better than bad chanting, I would never have these exhilarating homecomings. Srila Prabhupada encourages us: "If one goes on chanting the holy names of the Lord, which are not different from the Supreme Personality of Godhead, naturally his mind becomes absorbed in thought of the Lord." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.8.44, purport) My karmic reality is that my mind is polluted by passion and worse. My spiritual practice is meant to confront that polluted state and break through it.
So, all you fellow problem chanters out there, take heart. The damage is not irreparable. There are a number of tricks to quiet the mind, similar to the tricks a parent uses to quiet a two-year-old. I'll share with you a few I use.
One good trick is to promise your mind that as soon as you finish your rounds you will give it undivided attention. You will ponder your problems, write your speeches, worry about your future—all after the rounds are finished. Another trick is to listen to just ten mantras in a row, and I mean really listen. Then try ten more, and ten more. Try to hear a whole round, not missing a bead. Challenge yourself, if you're that type, or make it a game, if you're that type. Another strategy is to put your beads down for a minute and make a prayer of whatever is on your mind. Then let it go and give your attention to chanting.
Regulation is invaluable in chanting sixteen decent rounds, so be sure you have a good time for chanting. I find that unchanted rounds hang like clouds in my mental landscape. Unless your schedule prohibits it, it's best to chant all of your rounds during the auspicious morning hours.
Try these suggestions, and confide in devotees you trust and ask for their special tricks. Soon you will develop your own. (Then perhaps you can send them to me.)
Chanting japa is truly an individual expression of our desire to serve guru and Krsna. No one else can know the quality of our rounds. I, for one, can be a really good faker. And there is little recognition from the outside world if one is a conscientious chanter. But who cares for such recognition when the true reward is the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, the master of the entire universe?
Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi is a frequent contributor to Back to Godhead. She and her family are part of the Hare Krsna community in Alachua, Florida.
Detachment from Children
By Urmila Devi Dasi
Our Dead Son's Body, nine inches long, lay in my hand.
For some months afterward, my natural affection—that motherly impulse hard-wired into body and mind—cried for that child.
"What you grieve for is not the child," the midwife told me, "but how you had projected that child into your life."
I had become attached to a desire to have a child to love and enjoy. That attachment, based on the body instead of spiritual reality, was causing lamentation, in spite of my philosophical understanding. Many friends, devotees of Krsna, urged me not to artificially repress the grief, because such repression would lead to illness. I couldn't stop the grief anyway. It was a biological expression of motherhood.
Still, on the spiritual level I knew that I, the soul, had a spiritual relationship with the soul who had lived in that little smiling (yes, smiling) but gray body: We were related in the Lord's service, a relationship beyond the temporary body.
I gave him prasadam, and a chance to hear Krsna's holy name. I hope he used those opportunities to perfect his short life and return to his spiritual home. Even if he didn't, surely he has made progress on his spiritual journey, getting a better mother than I in the body he lives in now. He helped me spiritually, too, by giving me a chance to practice detachment and tolerance. His leaving made me depend more on Krsna for solace and shelter.
How odd that the most painful parental calamity, a child's death, can push us to discover what we so often forget throughout a child's life—that our loving relationship with our children has little meaning and no permanence outside of Krsna's service.
An Earlier Lesson in Detachment
I lost that child in 1992. He would have been our fourth. I remember thinking at the time, "Was it really thirteen years ago that I thought I had learned the lesson of detachment?" That earlier lesson had not been as severe as losing a child, but it had shaken the roots of my concepts about my relationship with my children.
The lesson came when our first son started school, in 1979. Before I even married, I was confident that if I had a child I would send that child for schooling in a traditional asrama, a gurukula school, where students live with their teacher. A couple of months after our first son, Murari (then Madhava), was born, my husband and I began looking for a good asrama. When he was almost five, we moved to a temple with an asrama gurukula and experienced teachers who treated the students with a balance of love and discipline. We spent several months getting our son accustomed to his new life, first having him sit with other boys while they chanted on beads in the morning, then having him attend some academic classes.
Finally the day arrived to enroll him. Two days later my husband and I would move to another city. I started to pack Murari's suitcase. And I started to cry. I stopped to watch him play in the backyard.
"Why am I crying?" I thought. "For his whole life I planned to send him to school in this way."
I began to wonder at my relationship with this child. Would he ever live with us again? While Krsna had other plans and Murari spent only five years living in an asrama, at the time I felt he would live at school until ready to work as an adult.
"What relationship do I have with this child, anyway? Well, I'm his mother. My body gave birth to his body. But the body that gave birth no longer exists. My body now is different, changed. And his body is also different. His body is not that of a helpless infant. So where are those bodies that had the relationship of giving birth and being born? And, besides, neither of us is our body. We're souls, and by our karma and the Lord's desire we're temporarily traveling in these bodies. So if my relationship with my child is simply based on our bodies, it is completely illusory. I suppose he and I have no relationship."
But then I considered why I had married and why I had had this child. Our life with Murari was one of teaching him to love and serve Krsna.
"That is my relationship! My child and I help each other grow in love for Lord Krsna so we may come to the platform of spiritual existence. The bodily relationship is merely a temporary social formality in our real exchange of love."
Urmila Devi Dasi, initiated in 1973, has worked in ISKCON education since 1983. She and her family live in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where she runs a school for children aged 5-18. She is the main author/compiler of Vaikuntha Children, a gurukula classroom guidebook.
The following verses from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.7.23-25) are from the chapter entitled "Scheduled Incarnations," which summarizes the appearance and activities of more than twenty incarnations of the Supreme Lord. Lord Ramacandra appeared in the Treta-yuga, more than two million years ago.
Due to His causeless mercy upon all living entities within the universe, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, along with His plenary extensions, appeared in the family of Maharaja Iksvaku as the Lord of His internal potency, Sita. Under the order of His father, Maharaja Dasaratha, [Lord Ramacandra] entered the forest and lived there for considerable years with His wife and younger brother. Ravana, who was very materially powerful, with ten heads on his shoulders, committed a great offense against Him and was thus ultimately vanquished.
The Personality of Godhead Ramacandra, being aggrieved for His distant intimate friend [Sita], glanced over the city of the enemy Ravana with red-hot eyes like those of Hara [who wanted to burn the kingdom of heaven]. The great ocean, trembling in fear, gave Him His way because its family members, the aquatics like the sharks, snakes, and crocodiles, were being burnt by the heat of the angry red-hot eyes of the Lord.
When Ravana was engaged in the battle, the trunk of the elephant which carried the king of heaven, Indra, broke in pieces, having collided with the chest of Ravana, and the scattered broken parts illuminated all directions. Ravana therefore felt proud of his prowess and began to loiter in the midst of the fighting soldiers, thinking himself the conqueror of all directions. But his laughter, overtaken by joy, along with his very air of life, suddenly ceased with the tingling sound of the bow of Ramacandra, the Personality of Godhead.
Magnanimous, He Came to Us
By Lokanath Swami
"If you want to know me, read my books," said Srila Prabhupada. I found this instruction completely true recently while reading the poem Prabhupada wrote onboard the Jaladuta, "Prayer to the Lotus Feet of Krsna." This rare prayer caught my attention and took me on a voyage deep within the core of Srila Prabhupada's heart. As I repeatedly read the prayer, my appreciation of Prabhupada increased a thousandfold. I now wish to share my reflections with you.
On Monday, September 13, 1965, the thirty-second day of Srila Prabhupada's journey from Calcutta, Srila Prabhupada wrote in his diary that after midnight the ship's lurching had decreased and he felt relief. Just a few days before, he had suffered a violent heart attack. Later that day, sitting by himself in his cabin, in full Krsna consciousness he disclosed his mind to his "companion," Lord Sri Krsna. He wrote in Bengali, giving a glimpse of his life and mission in an amazingly straightforward manner.
In the prayer, Srila Prabhupada's true nature is revealed. He has not even landed in America, yet he talks about spreading the name of Lord Gauranga (Caitanya Mahaprabhu) in all cities, towns, and villages of the earth. He says confidently that everyone will chant the holy name of Krsna. In every word, he expresses complete loyalty and faithfulness to guru and Gauranga, praising his spiritual master, Sri Srimad Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, as a great saintly spiritual master, who bestows intense devotion to Krsna in different places throughout the world. In the refrain, krsna taba punya habe bhai, he emphatically invokes Lord Krsna's good fortune for all.
Srila Prabhupada then expresses his boundless compassion: "When all the sinful, miserable living entities become happy, the Vaisnavas' desire is fulfilled." A statement of his humility follows—his guru has ordered him to accomplish this mission, but he considers himself unworthy and unfit to do it. Turning to his companion, Sri Krsna ("the wisest and most experienced of all"), Prabhupada begs for His mercy—the power to serve his guru and make his life successful.
The prayer intensifies towards the end: "If today the chance to meet You occurs again, then I will surely be able to rejoin You." But despite Prabhupada's words in the ecstasy of separation, one gets the feeling that he is with Krsna face to face. That is not all. He also talks of how he is looking forward to wandering about in the pastures and fields of Vrndavana. "Oh, when will that day be mine?" And in a mood of complete dependence and helplessness he concludes, tumi bina anya gati nai, "O Lord Krsna, except for You, there is no other means of success."
Unto such a wonderful spiritual master, let us offer befitting tribute on the occasion of the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth year.
Srila Prabhupada created a multifaceted society, in which every member is dedicated to an aspect of his broad mission. As more and more devotees and friends take part in his Centennial celebration, his glories will manifest through myriad activities, all very pleasing to him.
Srila Prabhupada came to us out of his mercy. Let us take every opportunity to spread his glories and continue his mission, with the aim of bringing about "a revolution in the impious lives of the misdirected civilization."
The Centennial Year was launched with a series of inaugural functions in December and January. As this issue of Back to Godhead reaches your hands, we'll probably be about halfway though the first Global Centennial Event—the Hare Krsna World Convention in India. Our next step is to prepare for upcoming summer events: the Global Padayatra Week, World Holy Name Day, and the largest continental summer festivals ever held in Europe, CIS, and North America. Let us also get ready to offer Srila Prabhupada an unprecedented ceremony—the bathing of his transcendental body with the sacred waters from 1,008 holy places.
May his fame spread all over the three worlds!
Padayatra Week: June 2-8
Come and walk with Srila Prabhupada! There are many ways you can take part: host the padayatris, book a hall for an evening program, bring your friends, sponsor prasadam, make banners, pass out pamphlets, organize a reception by local officials, call the media ...
World Holy Name Day: June 9
Chant and be happy! The World Holy Name day is a time for chanting the holy name in as many places and ways as possible. You can go on hari-nama-sankirtana, hold a 24-hour kirtana, organize a concert, help your temple organize an interfaith gathering ...
• Australian Reunion, Melbourne (April)
• CIS Continental Festival, Moscow (mid-June)
• European Continental Festival, Radhadesh (end of June)
• New York Pilgrimage (June 5-17)
Centennial Year Inaugurated
Devotees of ISKCON San Diego began their Centennial year in early December with a concert by Hari Om Sharan and the launching of the local Sahasra Tirtha Jala program, through which they hope to offer 210 kalasas of sacred water to Srila Prabhupada. Devotees used colorful 9-foot by 9-foot banners and numerous Centennial displays to decorate the rented hall where the inauguration was held. The main attraction in the decor was a reproduction of Mount Kailasa, with water Lowing from Lord Siva's head down the mountain to three pools of water. Sixty kalasas were sponsored that day.
The New Govardhana Farm continental summer festival, held December 30-January 3, marked the start of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial calendar of events in Australasia. The festival of educational and cultural programs featured a Vaisnava Youth Forum, seminars on learning scriptural verses, performances by ISKCON musicians and actors and by Balinese dancers, the yearly Rathayatra on the beach, remembrances of Srila Prabhupada, and more.
On December 31 in Kuala Lumpur, the Sunday feast continued into "Prabhupada Night," with every devotee giving a short talk about Srila Prabhupada. After a video show and prasadam feast, the program ended at midnight with a grand cake-cutting ceremony and the chanting of "Jaya Srila Prabhupada!"
Devotees held a Rathayatra in Kuala Lumpur on January 1. A deity of Srila Prabhupada, carried on a palanquin in front of the Rathayatra chariot, was taken into various temples along the route. The procession ended at a hall, where the public assembled for guru-puja, offerings of Centennial gifts to Srila Prabhupada, and videos. On the same day, processions were held in three other cities in Malaysia.
400 French devotees and congregation members gathered at the New Mayapur farm on December 31 for a Centennial New Year's Eve. At midnight, arati was offered to Srila Prabhupada while devotees prayed for his blessings for the upcoming year. The 3-day event included the opening of a new library, a showing of slides of Prabhupada in France, and a festival marking the end of the annual Prabhupada book-distribution marathon.
On January 5, in the midst of an exuberant kirtana led by Centennial Coordinator Lokanath Swami, devotees offered Srila Prabhupada a sumptuous feast at the Krsna-Balaram Temple. Most of the dishes had been cooked at devotees' homes and brought to the temple for a grand offering. In the evening devotees gathered for talks about Srila Prabhupada. The next day devotees chanted through the streets of Vrndavana and passed out pamphlets to announce the start of the Prabhupada Centennial Year.
• Master Plan
- Strategies for the Srila Prabhupada Centennial Celebrations
• Prabhupada Toshani
- International Newsletter of the Srila Prabhupada Centennial
- International Newsletter for Uniting Prabhupada's Family
• Promotional Items
- Raising Spiritual Standards poster
- 12-petal display
- Sahasra Tirtha Jala video, Lipbook, and poster
- Centennial T-shirts, pens, stickers, badges, posters, bags, etc.
• Padayatra Newsletter
- Promoting the Padayatra Week
• Memorials Manual
- Lotus of Activities (color)
- 108 Ways to Celebrate
- Who is Srila Prabhupada?
- Sahasra Tirtha Jala
- Action '96
Increase Your Good Fortune
Take part in Srila Prabhupada's Maha Vyasa-Puja
To make this event possible, devotees have collected water from 1,008 holy places, including such remote sites as Mana Sarovara in Tibet. This extraordinary feat is the basis for an unprecedented event, which will be celebrated at every ISKCON center. Several thousand copper and silver kalasas (water pots), specially designed and handcrafted for the occasion, are waiting to be shipped from India to sponsors around the world. In Calcutta, the city of Srila Prabhupada's birth, devotees from all over the world will perform the maha-abhiseka bathing ceremony at the prestigious Netaji Subhas Candra indoor stadium. Please contact your local temple for more information.
The Quest for Draupadi's Hand
The world's greatest young heroes gather in
Translated from Sanskrit by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. Disguised as brahmanas, the Pandavas are traveling to the kingdom of King Drupada, whose daughter Draupadi will select a husband in a ceremony known as a svayamvara.
THE FIVE PANDAVA brothers, tigers of men, set out to see Draupadi and the divine festival. Traveling with their mother, they met on the road many brahmanas also going to the festival with their followers.
The brahmanas said to the Pandavas, who were disguised as celibate brahminical students, "Fellow brahmanas, where are you headed and from where are you coming?"
Yudhisthira Maharaja replied, "O saintly ones who have seen the Lord, be informed that we brothers have come from Ekacakra and are traveling with our mother."
The brahmanas said, "You should all go at once to the palace of King Drupada, in the land of Pancala. A grand svayamvara is going to take place there, and the king will be giving away a fortune in charity. We ourselves are going there, making our way in one large group. There will be a most glorious and amazing festival there.
"The daughter of the great soul Drupada arose from a sacred altar, and her eyes are just like lotus petals. She is a young and very delicate lady, lovely to see, and intelligent also. She is the sister of Dhrstadyumna, that fiery foe of Drona born with armor, sword, arrows, and bow. Dhrstadyumna has powerful arms and took birth from a blazing fire of sacrifice. He glows like fire.
"His sister is called Draupadi and Krsna, and there is not a single flaw in the figure of that thin-waisted girl. Her body bears the natural fragrance of a blue lotus, and that fragrance spreads for miles. The daughter of King Drupada is eagerly preparing for her svayamvara, and we are going there to see her at her divine festival. Kings and princes will be arriving there, great souls fixed in their vows, clean in their habits, and most generous to the brahmanas, for all of them have studied the Vedas under learned priests. Young and handsome rulers from many countries will come together, great chariot fighters who have mastered their weapons.
"Hoping for the blessing of victory, the monarchs who come there will distribute to everyone who comes all varieties of gifts, including valuable stones and coins, as well as cows and food grains. After we have received all that charity, seen the svayamvara, and experienced the festival, we shall then go as we please.
"Actors, bards, dancers, powerful wrestlers, and reciters of legends and history will all come there from different countries. Thus when you have seen and taken part in the wondrous event and received charity, you great souls will return with us from whence you came. And—who knows?—when Draupadi Krsna sees all you handsome boys standing there, as good-looking as gods, she might just choose one of you as her husband! This attractive brother of yours is very handsome, and his arms are huge. If he wrestles there, he could win a big prize!"
Yudhisthira Maharaja said, "Yes, sir, we shall go with all of you to see that most prominent and divine festival, wherein the young princess will choose her prince."
Arrival in Drupada's Kingdom
My dear Janamejaya, the Pandavas, thus invited by the brahmanas, set out with them toward the kingdom of Pancala, ruled by King Drupada. On the way, O king, the Pandavas met Dvaipayana Vyasa, that great and pure soul untouched by sin. Having properly honored him and been encouraged and comforted by him, they spoke for some time, and then with his permission they went on their way to the kingdom of Drupada.
The great warriors traveled at their leisure and set up camp wherever they encountered lovely lakes and forests. They took time to study Vedic literature and to maintain strict cleanliness, and thus their minds were gentle and their speech was kind and pleasant. Eventually those Kuru princes reached the land of the Pancalas.
After they had seen the city and the king's palace, the Pandavas made their residence in the house of a potter and fully adopted the activities of brahmanas, collecting alms for their sustenance. So well did they play the part that the local people had not an inkling that those great heroes had arrived in the city.
Now, it had always been the desire of King Drupada to give his daughter to Arjuna, but he did not reveal his wish. In his attempt to seek out the sons of Kunti, the Pancala king had arranged for a tough and unyielding bow and an artificial device suspended in the air, and within that contrivance the king placed a golden target.
King Drupada said, "Whoever can string this bow and with the bow and these arrows shoot through the hanging device and pierce the target wins my daughter's hand."
King Drupada had this message announced all around, [knowing that only Arjuna could pass the test]. Hearing the monarch's challenge, all the kings of the world eagerly assembled in Drupada's city. The holy sages also came, eager to see the svayamvara, and all the Kuru princes arrived there, headed by Duryodhana with his close friend Karna, to try for Draupadi's hand.
The Opulence of the Arena
Exalted brahmanas arrived from many countries, and the great soul Drupada welcomed and honored them, as he did the contingents of monarchs. The local crowds roared like the tossing sea as the visiting kings reached the fine city and settled in for the affair.
Northeast of the town, on a flat and sanctified stretch of land, a beautiful stadium shone with much splendor, boasting luxurious viewing stands on all sides. A colorful canopy stretched across the entire arena; a protective wall and moat encircled it. Tall arched gateways adorned the arena, hundreds of musical instruments filled the air with sound, priceless aloe perfumes and sandalwood water scented the atmosphere, and colorful flower garlands added bright beauty to the scene.
The palatial pavilions on all sides of the stadium were of excellent construction and stood so high that they seemed to scrape the heavens like the peak of Mount Kailasa. The pavilions were covered with golden trellises and inlaid gorgeously with gems. Access to the upper stands was gradual and easy, and there were large seats and other furnishings completely upholstered with material not to be found in ordinary villages, for the fabrics and carpets were as white as swans and scented with the finest aloe, perfuming the air for miles. There were a hundred wide and unobstructed gateways, furnished with exquisite seats and sofas fashioned with varieties of valuable metals, resembling the peaks of the Himalayas. All the kings, splendidly dressed, took their seats on the various levels of the pavilion, competing with one another for position and prestige.
The citizens of the town and country saw that those mighty warriors were lionlike monarchs, ferocious in battle but exceedingly kind to those who sought their shelter. Indeed, the kings were loved by all their countrymen for good and pious deeds, and those fortunate kings, tastefully scented with black aloe cologne, ruled their lands with saintly guidance and devotedly served the brahmanas. The citizens sought the satisfaction of seeing the chaste Princess Draupadi, and so they took their seats in the opulent viewing areas.
The Pandavas took their seats with the brahmanas and beheld the unparalleled opulence of the Pancala king. The gathering continued to grow for many days, and it was magnificent. Jewels were given in charity, and professional actors and dancers performed.
A large and beautiful gathering was present when on the sixteenth day it was time for Draupadi to appear. Her body freshly bathed and adorned with all the finest jewelry, she took in her hands the hero's cup, golden and exquisitely wrought, and descended into the arena. At that moment, the royal priest of the Pancalas, a pure brahmana learned in mantra, spread the sacred grass and fed the fire of sacrifice with oblations of clear butter. All was done precisely by the ancient rule.
Having sated the fire of rite and the holy brahmanas, and having invoked blessings on the assembly, the royal priest then signaled for the musicians to cease. When not a sound could be heard, Dhrstadyumna went to the center of the arena, and in a voice as deep and grave as thunder rumbling in the clouds, he pronounced these graceful and meaningful words:
"May all the kings hear me now! This is the bow, these are the arrows, and there is the target. With only five arrows at your disposal, you must send a shaft through the opening in that mechanical device and strike the target.
"My sister Krsna shall today become the wife of the man endowed with noble lineage, beauty, and strength who carries out this most difficult task. I speak the truth."
Having spoken thus to the kings, the son of Drupada then turned to Draupadi and began to recite to her, so that all could hear, the name, lineage, and deeds of each of the assembled monarchs.
[After finishing the list, Dhrstadyumna said,] "These and many other kings from many countries, all celebrated rulers in this world, have come here seeking your hand, fair woman. These mighty men will try to pierce a most difficult target for your sake. Should one of them find the mark, you should then choose him to be your husband."
The Proud Young Kings
Bedecked with jewels and earrings, those young kings now came together, challenging one another, each convinced that power and skill in weapons rested with him, each highly enlivened with worldly pride. [Thus when they heard the words of Dhrstadyumna,] they all proudly sprang to their feet, [each claiming that he would meet the challenge].
Their pride was great, for each king possessed beauty, valor, lineage, virtue, and youth, and by the force of this pride they became as mad as the mighty elephants of the Himalayas. They challenged and stared at one another, their strong bodies bristling with determination. "Draupadi is meant for me!" they boasted, suddenly rising from their seats.
Those warriors assembled in the great arena sought to win the hand of Drupada's daughter, just as the hosts of gods had once assembled to win the hand of Uma, born of the mountain king. The kings' limbs were harassed by the arrows of Cupid, for their hearts had already gone to Draupadi. Because of Draupadi they now went down to the center of the arena, and even kings who had been dear friends now treated each other as hostile rivals.
At that moment, the hosts of gods arrived in their airships. Rudras, Vasus, Adityas, the Marutas, the twin Asvins, and all the Sadhyas—all arrived, led by Yamaraja, the lord of justice, and Kuvera, head of the celestial treasury.
Then came the Daityas, the godly sages, the great birds and serpents, the Guhyakas and Caranas, Narada, Parvata, and Visvavasu, and the chief Gandharvas with their Apsara mates.
Present there were Lord Balarama and Lord Krsna, and the leading men of the Vrsni and Andhaka dynasties. The great men of the Yadu dynasty, ready to execute Lord Krsna's command, carefully glanced around the arena. Lord Krsna Himself, the Yadu hero, then noticed five men dressed as renunciants and covered with ashes as if they were five sacrificial fires. The five looked as strong and alert as mighty red-spotted elephants in the season of their fury.
Lord Krsna reflected deeply, [for He alone knew their identity,] and He quietly and discreetly told Lord Balarama, "There is Yudhisthira—and there are Bhima and Arjuna and the heroic twins."
Lord Balarama gazed upon them, and then with a joyful mind He glanced at Krsna, who is known as Janardana.
There were many other kings, with their sons and grandsons, and all of them had lost their eyes, minds, and personalities to Draupadi. As they looked at her strolling about the arena, their faces blushed and they chewed on their lips. The kings were determined to do battle for her sake. And so it was with the three wide-armed sons of Prtha and the powerful heroic twins. Their eyes fixed on Draupadi, all of them were struck by the arrows of Cupid.
The sky above the arena was filled with Asuras, Gandharvas, godly sages, mystic Siddhas, and celestial birds and serpents. Divine scents wafted everywhere. Falling blossoms from divine garlands scattered and floated in the air. The great sounds of big drums sent forth deep thudding vibrations. And the sky was crowded with airplanes and alive with the sounds of flutes, vinas, and cymbals.
The Pride-Crushing Bow
Then the hosts of kings came forward one by one, hoping to win Draupadi, but with all their strength they could not string the iron-stiff bow. Though they struggled with valor to bend it, the determined bow would recoil and throw the kings to the ground, where they lay miserably moving their limbs before the crowd. Thus their proud demeanor was shattered.
Gazing upon all the kings, Karna, best of the wielders of bows, went forward. Quickly lifting the bow, and holding it high, he strung it and armed it with arrows.
Seeing the Suta (Karna was known as a charioteer's, or Suta's, son), the sons of Pandu, holding their bows, considered the splendid target already pierced and brought to the earth.
Karna was a child of the Sun, and he surpassed fire, the Moon, and the Sun. Out of passion, he had made a vow to win Draupadi.
Seeing him holding the bow, Draupadi loudly spoke these words: "I shall not choose the son of a chariot driver!"
Gazing at the sun with an angry smile, Karna put down that quivering bow.
Then in that assembly of bewildered men, when all the kings had ceased their vows and cries, Arjuna, son of Kunti, came forward to string the bow and fit it with the arrow.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami led the team of devotee-scholars who completed the translation and commentary of the Srimad-Bhagavatam begun by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He is now doing graduate work in Sanskrit and Indian Studies at Harvard University.
This life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal. Therefore you should always serve and worship the divine feet of Lord Krsna.
—Govinda Dasa Kaviraja
For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.
—Lord Sri Krsna
Krsna is all-attractive, but pure devotional service attracts even Him. This means that pure devotional service is even transcendentally stronger than Krsna, because it is Krsna's internal potency.
—His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada
Every spot on earth where discourses on God are held is a place of pilgrimage.
—Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura
If one fails to remember Vasudeva [Krsna] even for a moment, that is the greatest loss, that is the greatest illusion, and that is the greatest anomaly.
Simply hearing Sri Caitanya-caritamrta submissively will free one's heart from all the faults of ignorance, and thus one will achieve deep love for Krsna. This is the path of peace.
—Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami
It is better to renounce things for the sake of the eternal when faced with the ultimate destruction of the body and everything related to it.
What is the value of a prolonged life which is wasted, inexperienced by years in this world? Better a moment of full consciousness, because that gives one a start in searching after his supreme interest.
—Srila Sukadeva Gosvami
The most advanced devotee sees within everything the soul of all souls, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. Consequently he sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord and understands that everything that exists is eternally situated within the Lord.
—Sri Havir Rsi
A Poem For Srila Prabhupada
By Kalakantha Dasa
You could have stayed in Vrndavana,
Your Godbrothers had temples there
You could have said, "It's Krsna's will—
Your patron said you'd die abroad;
You could have had one look at us
"The Westerners," you could have said,
Instead you laid your final years
Producing eighty volumes
And as we preach, the boys and girls
I could have been a doctor,
I could have written novels,
Instead I laid my youthful years
My Dad said, "Son, you're brainwashed!"
Reflecting on my bygone youth,
This morning on the japa trail,
But dawn concealed that heavenly stage