Ask people, "What is the purpose of life?" and many will answer simply, "To be happy." As a student of the Bhagavad-gita I would agree with that. But I'd also suggest that unless you know who you are, your happiness will flounder, because you won't know what you really need.
If you agree with that statement, you'll probably agree that the quest for self-knowledge, or self-realization, should start early in life. Bhagavad-gita says that knowing oneself is not a psychological pursuit; it's a spiritual one. The self is not the body but the soul that animates it. Anyone can attain self-realization by practice under proper guidance. And the sooner we start the better.
In this issue we present three articles that touch on youth and spirituality. In "Just Say No to No" columnist Urmila Devi Dasi suggests a positive approach to training children. In "Ashram Reflections" a teenage girl accepts a disciplined life to pursue spiritual goals. And "Midnight to Midnight" shows young men and women growing spiritually by putting philosophy into practice.
May these stories inspire you—whatever your age—in your own progress toward self-realization.
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
A Word of Thanks
We at Back to Godhead would like to express our thanks and gratitude to Jayadvaita Swami, who stepped down as editor in chief at the end of last year. Jayadvaita Swami has been involved with Back to Godhead since joining the Hare Krsna movement in the late 1960s. In 1989 he became the editor in chief. He updated the editorial and graphic content of the magazine and transformed it to an unsubsidized, subscription-based publication. He also opened BTG offices in India and developed three Indian-language editions: Hindi, Marati, and Gujarati.
Jayadvaita Swami will continue to advise the BTG staff and, we hope, write articles for BTG. We invite our worldwide readers to join us in thanking him for his wit, wisdom, dedication, and invaluable ser-vice. He never liked to have his picture published in BTG, but since he's no longer in charge, here it is.—The BTG Staff
Assurance from Like-Minded Souls
It brought me great delight to read "The Search for the Authentic Self," by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami [January/February]. It was so full of insight into what the spiritual path is all about. It's very encouraging for an aspiring devotee like me to find an echo for what goes on inside my mind. The article gave me the assurance that we are not alone on the path back to Godhead and like-minded souls are there to encourage our efforts in bhakti-yoga. I want to thank Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami for bringing Srila Prabhupada's mood in a refreshing language that reaches the common person.
Jayagauri Devi Dasi
A Teacher's Tool
Thank you so much, Visakha Devi Dasi, for the insightful and informative article "What's a Woman To Do?"; March/April]. I teach a cooperative home-school class of young girls (ages 10-14), and we read the article aloud in class. The response from the girls was even more positive than I had hoped for. They were inspired and enthusiastic about future service to Srila Prabhupada and ISKCON. We talked at length about all the facets of the article, discussing what Srila Prabhupada wanted for all of his disciples regardless of gender. Afterwards, the girls wrote essays about their future goals and aspirations. This article moved us to think about the many aspects of Krsna conscious service and about cultivating the right attitude for our future. BTG is a major educational resource in our Krsna conscious schools. The format is enlivening, and the material indispensable.
Gopisvari Devi Dasi
Not Ready for Krsna?
Further to the article "Who Is Worshipable?" [July/August, 1998] I have understood the following from the Gita.
Krsna states, "I am everything." He further states that He is the Absolute Truth and the ultimate knowledge. His state is transcendental, and the souls who know and understand Him experience absolute bliss.
As per my understanding, Krsna states that He is present for the souls who have cultivated a pure heart, have developed pleasure in serving Krsna, and have made Krsna the center of their devotion. In other words, Krsna is there for the souls who want nothing in return, have seen the Absolute Truth, and wish to indulge in the bliss of transcendental service to Krsna. For these souls, Krsna asks them to devote their complete attention on Him. He asks these souls to perform duties without attachment to the fruitive results of the work as a way to purify the heart (niskama karma). For the souls who are anything less than this, Krsna suggest that they should devote their attention to the demigods.
Krsna explains that the souls attached to material gains should offer their worship to the appropriate demigod, so as to please the appropriate demigods, and in return the demigods will provide material happiness to the souls. In this way souls in the modes of ignorance and passion can satisfy their desires. Since everything directly or indirectly comes from Krsna, the material happiness provided by the demigods can be considered coming from Krsna.
Krsna further explains that souls who receive material happiness from the demigods must in return show their gratefulness to the appropriate demigods (sakama karma). The material gain provided by the demigods will serve to satisfy the souls' desires. In this manner the souls' desires will eventually diminish, and the true love for the God will begin. Regardless of time, the soul will learn the true knowledge and eventually become detached from material things, and the heart will begin the process of becoming pure. Now the soul is ready to begin its service to Krsna.
Both the approaches lead to Krsna. The choice is ours, depending on our ability to understand Krsna's teaching. This is my understanding.
Girish N. Gohil
OUR REPLY: One of Krsna's most important teachings of the Gita is that to understand the Gita we must inquire submissively from a self-realized spiritual master who is a pure devotee of Lord Krsna. Without such guidance, we are sure to come to the wrong conclusion.
While much of what you have said is correct, your conclusion is not in line with the teachings of the self-realized devotees of Lord Krsna. For example, the Bhagavad-gita commentary of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, a pure devotee of Lord Krsna, points out that Lord Krsna clearly wants all of us to surrender to Him alone. Krsna derides demigod worship, and He says, in effect, that trying to satisfy material desires—by worshiping the demigods or by any other method—is like pouring fuel on fire. Sensual gratification is not the path of liberation but the path of bondage.
Although we are indebted to the demigods for the necessities of life they provide, the demigods are never independent of Lord Krsna in supplying these necessities. We can pay our debts to them by worshiping Lord Krsna, as He requests.
Since we can get the highest knowledge from the Gita, why should we cling to a lower level of knowledge? From the Gita we learn that full satisfaction—material and spiritual—comes from worshiping Lord Krsna. Why should we turn to the demigods?
Besides, worshiping Krsna is easier than worshiping the demigods. Especially in the present age, by the mercy of Lord Krsna's incarnation as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, we don't need any prior spiritual qualifications to begin practicing bhakti-yoga and thereby attain Krsna. We simply have to chant the holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Because chanting connects us with Krsna, the reservoir of all pleasure, it will satisfy all our desires and awaken our original love for Krsna.
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Lord Krsna reveals the process for knowing Him.
A lecture given in Hyderabad, India, on November 18, 1972
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."—Bhagavad-gita 2.13
THIS VERSE IS FROM the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. The first chapter is the preparatory study of Bhagavad-gita, and the second chapter is the summary study. Bhagavad-gita means "the song sung by the Supreme Personality of Godhead." Throughout Bhagavad-gita you'll find the words sri bhagavan uvaca: "The Supreme Personality of Godhead said."
Bhagavad-gita is the science of understanding God. As everything is understood thoroughly through a scientific process, if you want to know God you have to adopt the process by which one can understand God. That process is described in the Bhagavad-gita: bhaktya mam abhijanati. Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says, "If anyone wants to understand Me, he has to take to the process of devotional service," not the speculative process or the mystic yogic process or fruitive activities.
This point is clearly stated not only in Bhagavad-gita but in all other Vedic scriptures. For example:
athapi te deva padambuja-dvaya-
One can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead by His mercy only. Anyone who has received a small particle of the prasadam—mercy—of the Lord can understand Him.
No one can understand the Lord perfectly, because the Lord is unlimited. We have limited, imperfect senses, we are subject to illusion, we try to cheat—we have so many defects. Therefore it is not possible to understand God simply by exercising our senses.
To know "God is very good, God is great" is one thing, but by studying Bhagavad-gita we not only know "God is great," but we see what kind of God He is, what His form is, and so on.
We have heard from the scriptures:
isvarah paramah krsnah
"Krsna, who is known as Govinda, is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, and He is the prime cause of all causes."
When Krsna was present five thousand years ago, He appeared in His original form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. But the nondevotees could not understand that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, because He appeared to be a human being. Avajananti mam mudha manusim tanum asritam. Mudha means less intelligent persons. They may be very great scholars, but in the matter of understanding God, they're mudhas. Why? Mayaya apahrta-jnana asuram bhavam asritah—because they defy God. At present, people are mostly asuram bhavam asritah. Asuri bhava means to defy God: "There is no God. God is dead. I am God. You are God. So many Gods are loitering in the street. Why are you searching for God?"
There are so many such statements. God has become so cheap. There are so many "incarnations" of God, especially in India. It is a breeding ground of "Gods." That means people do not know what God is. They think God is such a cheap thing. But from the Bhagavad-gita we understand what God is. When Arjuna asked Krsna, "How are You controlling the whole cosmos?" Krsna explained, and then He concluded:
"The whole material world is sustained by a partial manifestation of My energies." The material manifestation is one fourth of God's energy. The three-fourths manifestation of His energy is the spiritual world. Paras tasmat tu bhavo 'nyo 'vyakto 'vyaktat sanatanah. Besides the material world there is another nature, which is spiritual. The spiritual nature is described as para, "superior." There are two energies working: material nature and spiritual nature. Material nature is described in the Bhagavad-gita:
bhumir apo 'nalo vayuh
These eight types of energy—earth, water, fire, air, sky, mind, intelligence, and ego—make up the material nature. Bhinna prakrtih. They are separated energies, and they are inferior, apara. Apareyam itas tv anyam prakrtim viddhi me param. Beyond the inferior energy is another, superior energy. That is the living entity.
The Superior Energy
The living being is an energy of the Supreme Lord, just as the sunshine is the energy of the sun globe. The sunshine is a combination of tiny shining particles. It looks like one homogeneous thing, but it is made up of small particles. That is the scientific understanding. Similarly, we are small particles of the Supreme Lord. How small? That is also described in the scripture:
The dimension of the living entity is one ten-thousandth of the tip of a hair. We are very proud of our eyes. But here is the indication from the scripture of the length and breadth of the living soul. You may try to see it with your eyes or your microscope, but that is not possible. Therefore, one class of philosophers, because they cannot find the soul, say that it is nirakara, "formless."
Spiritual enlightenment means that first we must try to understand the jiva, the living entity. We can understand the quality of the Lord by understanding the jiva because the jiva is a small particle of the Lord. We can understand the composition of gold from a small particle of gold, or the chemical composition of the ocean from a drop of ocean water. Similarly, if we analyze the characteristics of the living entity, we can understand the characteristics of God.
Authorities Accept Krsna
Therefore the beginning of spiritual education is to understand one's self. That is called self-realization. How to realize the self? We have to take knowledge from others. We have to learn from a teacher. Krsna is accepted as the supreme teacher by great sages like Vyasadeva, Narada, Devala, Asita, and all other great sages, and in the modern age by our acaryas, spiritual preceptors: Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Visnusvami, Nimbarka, Sankaracarya. We have to follow the acaryas. All these acaryas accept Krsna as the Supreme Lord. And five hundred years ago Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu also accepted Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Srimad-Bhagavatam says, krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: "Krsna is the Supreme Lord." Similarly, Lord Brahma says:
isvarah paramah krsnah
"Govinda, Krsna, is the cause of all causes. He is the primal cause, and He is the very form of eternity, knowledge, and bliss."
Because we have so much evidence, we have to accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is no doubt about it. But why do people not accept? Why do so many big scholars and big scientists not accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead? The reason is given in the Bhagavad-gita:
na mam duskrtino mudhah
"Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto Me." Krti means "meritorious," and duskrti means "miscreants"—those who use their merits for mischief-making. Everyone has merits, but some people use their merits for mischief-making. For example, a thief uses his good brain to steal. Such a person is a duskrti.
Another class of people is called mudha. Mudha means "less intelligent," or "unintelligent." Another class is nara-dhama, "the lowest of the mankind." And finally, mayaya apahrta-jnanah, "those whose knowledge has been taken by maya, illusion." These classes of men do not surrender unto Krsna.
We are not manufacturing these words. They are in Bhagavad-gita. If we claim to study the Gita, we have to accept the statements there. Bhagavad-gita means "the song sung by the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
Our Krsna consciousness movement is meant to preach all over the world that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead: krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. You are searching after God. You are taxing your brain so much. But in spite of this, you sometimes say, "There is no God," or "God is dead," or "Everyone is God," and so on. But our proposition is "Why are you taxing your brain? Here is God: Krsna."
By hearing from authorities, by hearing from the Vedic literature, by hearing of Krsna's activities, we can know that Krsna is God. If we read about the life of Krsna, we can see that He's God from the very beginning. God is not manufactured by some mystic power. God is God, and dog is dog. A dog cannot become God; God cannot become a dog.
Krsna was God from the very beginning. As soon as Krsna took birth, He appeared in His four-armed form as Lord Visnu. But when his mother prayed to Him to become an ordinary child, He became an ordinary child with two hands. So that is God: He must be God from the very beginning, not that by attaining some mystic power one can become God.
We already have power, because each of us is a part and parcel of God. Therefore we have qualities like God's. But we cannot become one hundred percent God. That is not possible. Great Vedic scholars have analyzed all the demigods and other living entities and have found that only Krsna is one hundred percent God. Ete camsa-kalah pumsah krsnas tu bhagavan svayam. All others are subordinate. There are many other gods, but they are not the Supreme God. Isvarah paramah krsnah.
We are speaking of the paramah isvarah, or paramesvara. There are two words: isvara, paramesvara; atma, paramatma. The param—supreme—is God. We are Brahman; He is Parabrahman. So Parabrahman, Paramatma, Paramesvara—all these are applicable to Krsna.
After hearing the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna admitted,
param brahma param dhama
"You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate abode, the purest, the Absolute Truth. You are the eternal, transcendental, original person, the unborn, the greatest." That is the position of Krsna.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krsna also says, aham adir hi devanam: "I am the source of all the demigods." There are so many demigods—Indra, Candra, Varuna, and so on. But Krsna says He is their origin. And He says, aham sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvam pravartate: "I am the source of everything. Everything emanates from Me." In the Vedanta-sutra the Absolute Truth is described as janmady asya yatah: He from whom everything emanates.
Because of His power, Krsna is Bhagavan. Bhagavan means full in six opulences. God must be the richest, the strongest, the most famous, the most beautiful, the most renounced, and the most knowledgeable. That is the definition of God. Lord Brahma accepts Krsna as God by that definition: isvarah paramah krsnah, "Krsna is the supreme controller." Because unless Krsna is the most powerful, how can He be the supreme controller? Every one of us is a small controller. Someone controls in his office, someone controls in his family life, someone controls a few factories, but no one can say, "I am the supreme controller." That is not possible. The supreme controller is Krsna.
In this Krsna consciousness movement we are trying link with the supreme controller. We do not wish to become the controller. We want to be controlled—but by the supreme controller, not by others. That is our proposition. For example, a person who has to render service may hanker after government service, because it is natural to conclude, "If I have to serve someone, why serve a petty merchant? Why not take government service?"
We cannot but serve, any one of us. That is our constitutional position. Every one of us is a servant. So our proposition is "You are a servant in any case. Why not become the servant of God?" That is the proposition we make in the Krsna consciousness movement.
In material consciousness we are all servants of our senses. By the dictation of our lusty desires, we will do anything abominable. So we are all servants. Therefore, Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, jivera svarupa haya nitya-krsna-dasa: Our real constitutional position is that we are eternal servants of God, Krsna. But in the material condition of life, every one of us is trying to become the master. That is the struggle for existence. Everyone is trying: "I shall become the master. I shall become the Supreme." But our position is servant. So our thinking is called illusion. I am not master. I am servant. But I am trying to become master artificially. That is the struggle for existence.
When you give up this wrong idea—"I am master"—and try to become the servant of the Supreme, that is called liberation. Liberation does not mean achieving a gigantic form or so many hands and so many legs. Liberation means to become liberated from the wrong consciousness. The wrong consciousness is to think, "I am master." We have to change this consciousness. That is the purpose of the Krsna consciousness movement.
One has to understand thoroughly that he's not master, he's servant. He's completely dependent on the supreme will. If we do not surrender to the supreme will, then we have to surrender to the will of maya. We have to remain a servant. If we reject servitude of the Supreme Lord, then we have to become the servant of the senses. That is maya. Actually, that is going on. The whole world is serving different types of desire.
Now, we have not manufactured the Krsna consciousness movement. We get it from the Bhagavad-gita: sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja. Krsna says, "Give up all these nonsense desires. Surrender unto Me." That is the whole purpose of the Bhagavad-gita. Maya dictates our desires, which dictate us. And we want to falsely become the master. That is illusion. We are not master. How can we be master? We may be scientifically advanced. We may manufacture wonderful machines and weapons, but after all, we are subjected to the rules of maya: birth, disease, old age, and death. We cannot escape these four principles of maya's machinery.
Therefore the sane man, who is actually learned, surrenders to Krsna. Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate. One who becomes wise surrenders to Krsna. Otherwise, one thinks, "Who is Krsna? I am as good as Krsna. I am God." That is maya. That is not actually knowledge.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam it is said, ye 'nye 'ravindaksa vimukta-maninah. There are those who think they have become liberated and have become Narayana, or God. But actually they are not, because they're subjected to the rules of material nature. They cannot get out of its clutches. Who can? Mam eva ye prapadyante. Krsna says, "Anyone who surrenders unto Me."
daivi hy esa gunamayi
"This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."
Therefore the Krsna consciousness movement is a very pious movement, promoting the most glorious welfare activities. And we are preaching this movement all over the world. Our only ambition is to place Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We don't want to become Krsna; we want to become the most obedient servant of Krsna. That is our proposition.
We invite everyone, from all parts of the world, and people are coming. They are joining this movement. Krsna appeared in India, so India has a special advantage in understanding Krsna. But Indians are neglecting to understand Krsna. That's a great misfortune. But we request everyone to join this movement, study the philosophy, and become happy. That is our proposition.
Thank you very much.
Saints Offer Proof
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
THAT GREAT SAINTS exist is the most powerful proof for me that God exists. Few of us get excited about academic exercises proving God's existence, and most of us have been born with a healthy amount of skepticism. Therefore, we need to find personal proofs, proofs that can conquer our doubts and convince us not only of God's existence, but of our need for Him. Often, discussions about the philosophy of religion are just too abstract. They don't touch our hearts. What touches my heart is that throughout history certain human beings have developed a high degree of God realization and have acted upon it in their lives.
I hadn't met any great souls before I met Srila Prabhupada in the summer of 1966. I was raised Catholic, but in my nominally Catholic family I had never even heard about the lives of the Catholic saints, nor did I meet anyone who claimed to follow them. By the time I met Srila Prabhupada, I was a professed atheist. But I recognized Prabhupada's saintliness at once, and it was both his saintliness and his own faith in Krsna's existence that convinced me there was more to spirituality than I thought.
When Prabhupada spoke, I was captivated. I had never heard such descriptions of saintly persons—Vyasadeva, Pariksit Maharaja, Lord Caitanya and His followers. And when Prabhupada plunged into explanations of transmigration, the spiritual world, karma, hell, I was able to look at the life he led and his intense dedication and certainty and find a frame of reference by which to accept such foreign concepts.
Every major religion has scriptures, most have an institution, and all have a mixture of adherents, some following strictly, some nominally, and others somewhere in the middle. Every religion also has a line of saints who have established and developed and directed the congregation's faith. That small group of inwardly renounced stalwarts, who truly identify with the ultimate perfection being professed, are the living force behind the religion. Without their presence, people are not inspired to achieve the goal themselves.
There is a story told in the Hassidic tradition of a famous guru who advised an aspirant to approach a particular saint. "If you want to know the truth, you should go to this saint not to hear the Torah, but to see how he puts on his shoes." That is how we absorbed Krsna consciousness from Srila Prabhupada: We watched him put on his shoes and perform numerous other small and seemingly ordinary activities with such humility and extraordinary concentration on his Krsna conscious mission that his conviction in Krsna consciousness developed our own.
Because such saints are far above us in conviction and ability to practice, we need to find the key by which we can apply their example in our lives. The scriptures say we cannot imitate a saint's behavior, and many of us have discovered the truth of this in one way or another. As we cannot become Krsna by pretending we can do what He did, so we cannot become a saint by imitating his or her activities. All we can do is appreciate the saint's perfection and learn to aspire as the saint aspired. Admitting our fallen nature, we can nevertheless follow the instructions of the saintly teacher. We can also take courage from his or her example when we execute our own devotional service, and we can fall at the saint's feet to beg for mercy and help. We can trust the saints, and trust their spiritual process.
We can also hear their prayers. The scriptures are full of the prayers of saints. Here is a famous prayer by Srila Madhavendra Puri, exemplifying his exclusive devotion to Krsna and his renunciation of all mundane religion:
O my evening prayer, all good to you. O my morning bath, I bid you good-by. O demigods and forefathers, please excuse me. I am unable to perform any more offerings for your pleasure. Now I have decided to free myself from all reactions to sins simply by remembering anywhere and everywhere the great descendent of Yadu and the great enemy of Kamsa, Lord Krsna. I think this is sufficient for me. What is the use of further endeavor?
We cannot imitate Madhavendra Puri's prayer or his mood, but we can value it, and from his prayer and his life's example, we too can learn to make an earnest cry from the heart.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.
Compiled by Krishan B. Lal
(The compiler has applied a question-and-answer format to the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Most of the answers are taken verbatim from that Introduction.—Editors)
What is Bhagavad-gita?
Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), also known as Gitopanisad, is the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important Upanisads in Vedic literature. It was spoken five thousand years ago by Lord Sri Krsna to the prince Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra (located about 130 miles north of modern New Delhi). The sage Vyasadeva recorded the conversation, spoken in Sanskrit, and included it in his epic Mahabharata.
Are all commentaries on Bhagavad-gita of equal value?
There are many English commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita, but none of them can be strictly said to be authoritative, because in almost every one of them the commentator has expressed his own opinions without touching the spirit of Bhagavad-gita. To be bona fide, the translator must be a recognized devotee of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, and his views must be corroborated by evidence from other Vedic scriptures and spiritual masters in the line of disciplic succession.
What is the spirit of Bhagavad-gita?
The spirit of Bhagavad-gita is mentioned in Bhagavad-gita itself. It is just like this: If we want to take a particular medicine, we have to follow the directions on the label. We cannot take the medicine according to our own whim or the directions of a friend. It must be taken according to the directions on the label or the directions given by a physician. Similarly, Bhagavad-gita should be taken or accepted as it is directed by the speaker Himself. The speaker of Bhagavad-gita is Lord Sri Krsna. He is mentioned on every page of the Gita as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.
What is the significance of the word bhagavan?
Sometimes the word bhagavan is applied to any powerful person or any powerful demigod, and certainly in Bhagavad-gita, bhagavan designates Lord Sri Krsna as a great personality, but at the same time we should know that Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as confirmed by all great acaryas (spiritual masters) like Sankaracarya, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Nimbarka Svami, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, and many other authorities of Vedic knowledge in India.
The Lord Himself also establishes Himself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the Bhagavad-gita, and He is accepted as such in the Brahma-samhita and all the Puranas, especially the Srimad-Bhagavatam, known as the Bhagavata Purana (krsnas tu bhagavan svayam). Therefore we should take Bhagavad-gita as it is directed by the Personality of Godhead Himself.
To whom was Bhagavad-gita first spoken?
In the Fourth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita (4.1-3) the Lord informs Arjuna that this system of yoga, the Bhagavad-gita, was first spoken to the sun-god, and the sun-god explained it to Manu, and Manu explained it to Iksvaku, and in that way, by disciplic succession, one speaker after another, this yoga system has been coming down. But in the course of time it has become lost. Consequently the Lord has to speak it again, this time to Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra.
Why did Krsna choose Arjuna as the recipient of Bhagavad-gita?
The Lord tells Arjuna that He is relating this supreme secret to him because Arjuna is His devotee and His friend. Bhagavad-gita is a treatise of the most confidential spiritual knowledge and is especially meant for the devotee of the Lord. Krsna tells Arjuna that because the old succession was broken, He is making him the first receiver of a new parampara (disciplic succession).
Who is fit to understand Bhagavad-gita?
There are three classes of transcendentalists, namely the jnani, the yogi, and the bhakta, or the impersonalist, the meditator, and the devotee. The Lord taught Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna because Arjuna was a devotee of the Lord, a direct student, and His intimate friend. Therefore a person with qualities similar to Arjuna's is best qualified to understand the Gita. That is to say one must be a devotee in a direct relationship with the Lord. Arjuna was in a relationship with the Lord as friend. Of course, there is a gulf of difference between this friendship and the friendship found in the material world. This is transcendental friendship, which cannot be had by everyone.
Bhagavad-gita should be taken up in a spirit of devotion. We should not think ourselves equal to Krsna, nor should we think that Krsna is an ordinary person or even a very great person. Lord Sri Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So according to the statements of Bhagavad-gita or the statements of Arjuna, who is trying to understand Bhagavad-gita, we should at least theoretically accept Sri Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and with that submissive spirit we can understand Bhagavad-gita. For the nondevotee it is very difficult to understand Bhagavad-gita, because it is a great mystery.
Why is Vedic knowledge received through disciplic succession?
Vedic knowledge is not a question of research, nor is it imparted by defective living entities. Our research work is imperfect because we are researching things with imperfect senses. We have to accept perfect knowledge that comes down, as stated in Bhagavad-gita, by the parampara (disciplic succession). We have to receive knowledge from the proper source in disciplic succession beginning with the supreme spiritual master, the Lord Himself, and handed down to a succession of spiritual masters. Arjuna, the student who took lessons from Lord Sri Krsna, accepts everything that Krsna says without contradicting Him. One is not allowed to accept one portion of Bhagavad-gita and not another. We must accept Bhagavad-gita without interpretation, without deletion, and without our own whimsical participation in the matter. The Gita should be taken as the most perfect presentation of Vedic knowledge. It was imparted unto the heart of Brahma, the first created living being, and Brahma in turn disseminated the knowledge to his sons and disciples.
What makes Vedic knowledge infallible and human knowledge imperfect?
Vedic knowledge is received from transcendental sources, and the first words were spoken by the Lord Himself. The words spoken by the Lord are called apauruseya, meaning that they are different from words spoken by a person of the mundane world who is infected with four defects. A mundaner
Is sure to commit mistakes
With these four imperfections, one cannot deliver perfect information of all-pervading knowledge.
Consequently, the followers of the Vedas accept Vedic knowledge to be complete and infallible. For example, cow dung is the stool of an animal, and according to smrti, or Vedic injunction, if one touches the stool of an animal he has to take a bath to purify himself. But in the Vedic scriptures cow dung is considered a purifying agent. One might consider this to be contradictory, but it is accepted because it is a Vedic injunction, and indeed by accepting this, one will not commit a mistake; subsequently it has been proved by modern science that cow dung contains antiseptic properties. So Vedic knowledge is complete because it is above all doubts and mistakes, and Bhagavad-gita is the essence of all Vedic knowledge.
Do we have to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead only as the Supreme Father?
Everyone has a particular relationship with the Lord, and that relationship is evoked by the perfection of devotional service. But in our present status, not only have we forgotten the Supreme Lord, but we have also forgotten our eternal relationship with Him. As soon as one becomes a devotee of the Lord, one also has a direct relationship with the Lord. That is a very elaborate subject matter, but briefly it can be stated that a devotee is in a relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead in one of five ways:
1. In a passive state (awe without service)
Krishan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.
"Are You the Boss of Your Body"
Here we continue an exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples. It took place in Los Angeles, on the morning of December 13, 1973, during a walk along the Pacific shore.
Srila Prabhupada (to Disciple 1): So, you are the boss of your body?
Disciple 2 (also to Disciple 1): Are you telling the stomach how to digest, the hair how to grow, and so on?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you are not.
Disciple 1: No. But, I'm still thinking that there must be some relationship between me—the spirit soul—and all these innumerable other souls living within my body's cells.
Srila Prabhupada: Wherever you look there is some relationship with other souls. That relationship is already there. For instance, I am walking on this sand, so I have some relationship with it. If the sand were not firm enough, then I could not very easily walk on it. So the relationship with others is there already; you are already intermingled in it. But within this vast cosmic situation, with so many trillions of souls, what is each soul's most important relationship? That knowledge is wanted. Most important to each of these innumerable souls is his relationship with God.
Disciple 1: But, Srila Prabhupada, it seems that if the cells within my current material body were not working, I, the soul, would go away. So this particular relationship also appears quite important.
Srila Prabhupada: That is merely your theory: that because the cells are working, the soul is living. That is your theory. But our "theory," the Vedic conception, is that because the soul is living there, the cells are working. That is our "theory": The soul is there, and because of the soul's presence, the cells are working. All this I have already explained.
I say to the scientists, "You take the effect, the material body, as the cause. And you take the cause, the soul's presence, as the effect. All this is because you have insufficient knowledge. Because you are in illusion."
Disciple 2: But, Srila Prabhupada, experts in medical science don't appear to be totally without knowledge. They can point and say, for instance, "Oh, this man has this particular disease of the blood. He will die in six months."
Srila Prabhupada: That is not actual knowledge. That is merely experience. We are now walking parallel to the shoreline. Suppose I say, "If you turn ninety degrees and walk perpendicular to the shoreline, and then go a hundred feet, you'll be swallowed up by the water." Is that very wonderful scientific knowledge? [Laughter.]
That so-called knowledge is merely a question of experience. Why do you take it as wonderful? "Oh! This person said that if you walk perpendicular to the shoreline and go a hundred feet, you'll be swallowed up by the water, and now I have been swallowed up by the water!"
That is your foolishness. Any fool can make pronouncements like this. He must have a little experience; that's all. This "knowledge" is not a very wonderful thing. The fool has not created anything. He just has a little experience.
Disciple 2: O.K. But then the scientists can say, "Well, you may laugh that we have no thorough understanding of anything—all we have is experience: If we try this thing, we get this result; if we try that thing, we get that result. Laugh all you like. But when we give a person something that cures his blood disease, then you won't be laughing."
Srila Prabhupada: One morning many years ago, a physician in Dacca noticed that a man passing by was coughing. So he asked the man, "Come over here. Where you are going?"
The man was a cultivator. He said, "I am going to the field."
The physician said, "Better go home. Don't go to the field."
Since the physician was widely respected, the cultivator went back.
Then the physician's students asked him, "Why did you ask the man to go home?"
The physician chided his students. "You did not notice that this man is producing this particular coughing sound? This sound means that he will die after eight hours."
Actually, the physician's so-called knowledge was merely experience. The students had not noticed the telltale cough. But he had noticed. Coughing with this kind of sound, he told them, means death after so much time.
Yes. This is the kind of thing that a kaviraja, an expert in medical science, is good at. When my father was ill, the kaviraja said, "Now you can do the rituals, because he will die before morning." He said that. And actually, it so happened. He told me this news about ten, eleven o'clock, and he said specifically, "Before tomorrow morning he'll die."
But again, that is merely experience. If you say, "Today is the thirteenth of December; after eighteen more days have passed, we will be in the month of January," a little child may not understand how you can say this—how you can foretell the future. "How can father say that exactly after eighteen days, January is coming?" But simply because of more extensive experience, you can say, "After eighteen days the first of January will come."
Everything we know is really experience. And the supreme experience is Krsna. Therefore, if we receive our experience from Him, then our experience is perfect. This is our proposal.
Disciple 1: In any event, Srila Prabhupada, experience seems to say that in some sense I am the boss of my body.
Srila Prabhupada: You are the boss of your body in this sense—that to a degree, you can use your body as you like. But there are conditions that are beyond your control. For instance, as long as you are living in your current body, you can use it to understand the ultimate goal of life. But you cannot use your body in such a way that you will never die. That is not possible.
Disciple 1: So to a large degree I am not the boss. I am controlled.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Why don't you understand that? You are controlled always. For instance, you are walking—this is also controlled. At any moment your body can be paralyzed. At any moment.
Disciple 1: So, then, it isn't very realistic to think I am the boss of my body.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. That is stated in Bhagavad-gita. Why don't the rascal scientists read it? Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah/ ahankara-vimudhatma kartaham iti manyate: "The spirit soul bewildered by the influence of false ego thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by the three modes of material nature." Factually, this material nature is pulling everyone by the ear, but the rascal is thinking, "I am the boss."
All this is explained in Bhagavad-gita. Prakrteh kriyamanani. Have the rascal scientists not read this? Prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah/ ahankara-vimudhatma ... Puffed up by false egotism, false identification with the material body, everyone here is thinking he is the boss. That is illusion. He is not the boss. But he is thinking he is the boss.
Ahankara-vimudhatma: One who, through this false egotism, is thinking, "I am the boss"—he is a first-class ass, a rascal.
And because everyone in this material world is under that false impression—"I am this body," "I am the boss"—therefore we say, generally, "rascal." People may be amazed: "Why does this gentleman call everyone a rascal?" But in Bhagavad-gita the Lord Himself says, prakrteh kriyamanani ... vimudhatma: "Anyone who is thinking that he is the boss—he's a rascal."
The so-called scientist's struggle is that he wants to stop the action of prakrti, the material nature. That is his foolishness. You cannot become the boss of prakrti. That is not possible. You are under prakrti. The boss of prakrti—Mayadhisa—is Krsna. Purusah prakrti-stho hi bhunkte prakrti-jan gunan/ karanam guna-sango 'sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu: You are forced to accept various types of bodies because of your association with the modes of material nature. Why has one soul got a dog's body while another soul has a human body? Everything is being controlled by prakrti, by nature.
Now, having received the human form of body, you have also received the chance to discriminate: "What should I do?" But if in the human life you act like cats and dogs, then you are missing this priceless chance. If you do not take advantage of your special gift, the power of discrimination, then as Bhagavad-gita says, dehantara—in your next life you get another material body. And in your next life you can get a dog body. In the human form of life, you have the discriminating power not to get a dog body but rather to get the body of a god.
A graduate remembers the joys and
By Krsna-priya Devi Dasi
SMOKE DRIFTED INTO my eyes as the priest lifted a ladle and poured more clarified butter into the sacred fire. Flames leapt higher and higher from the small teepee of sticks. My heart pounded. In a few minutes would be my turn to speak. Images of ashram life sprung into my mind. What could I say? How could I convey my experiences in the ashram in one short graduation speech?
The priest finished chanting mantras and set down the ladle. The devotees in attendance began singing Hare Krsna, and I reflected on my two years in the ashram.
A Daring Choice
I was born in 1980 to devotees of Krsna. For seven years I attended a Krsna conscious school in New Vrindavan, West Virginia. Then, impelled by a desire to have fun and forget spiritual life, I decided to attend a public school. But by the time I was sixteen, I felt empty and frustrated and wanted to jump back into spiritual life. I began chanting sixteen rounds and attending the temple programs every morning. And to complete my academic education and focus on my spiritual life, I enrolled in the Vaisnava Academy for Girls, a Hare Krsna boarding school near Gainesville, Florida.
While packing my bags, I mentally prepared myself for boot camp. I expected the teachers to be dictators who shouted orders and enforced a complex system of rules and punishments. I expected to find girls planning runaways or marking the calendar for the days left until vacation.
Instead, the students and the teachers—respectfully addressed as Mother Laksmimani and Mother Akuti—swept away my apprehensions. The teachers talked and laughed with the girls and gave valuable, though sometimes difficult, instructions. The students stole sweets from the refrigerator, sneaked away from kitchen duty, and whispered secrets into the night. But these girls differed in many ways from my public school friends. They strove to put Krsna in the center of their lives. They danced enthusiastically in kirtana. They asked sincere questions in Bhagavad-gita class. They even competed to be first in the shower at 3:30 in the morning to prepare for the early temple services.
Although my initial impressions were good, I had a hard time developing relationships with the girls. The ashram included girls from ages thirteen to eighteen on all levels of spiritual advancement. Some had taken the vows of spiritual initiation. Some loved kirtana but couldn't focus enough to chant a set number of rounds. And some were just young and frivolous.
In the beginning I spent time only with the few older girls who were initiated. Mother Laksmimani repeatedly encouraged me to help those struggling spiritually and to make friends with the other girls my age. But I kept my distance.
The Ashram Routine
Despite these little difficulties, I slipped comfortably into the daily ashram routine. Every morning we drove three miles to the temple, first at 4:30 and then again at 7:15, for kirtana and class. Upon returning to the ashram at 8:45, we jumped out of the van and raced into the dining room, which soon filled with the clatter of stainless steel plates being set in a row on the floor. One girl would grab the tray of blueberry muffins from the oven, another would serve fresh fruit and soaked chickpeas, and I would take the sweet hot milk off the stove. After the prasadam was served, we'd devour everything on our plates.
At 9:45 a clanging brass hand bell called the students to the school building next to the ashram. To begin the school day, we stood at our desks with our hands folded and in unison loudly chanted Sanskrit prayers. Next came the day's first class, on Bhagavad-gita, taught by Mother Laksmimani. She made the complex philosophy easy for us to understand. Once, while we were studying Chapter Six, to show us the difference between astanga-yoga and bhakti-yoga she directed us to sit silently and meditate. After a long ten minutes, she brought out karatalas and a mrdanga, and we sang the Hare Krsna mantra. What a refreshing change from the silence! To close the class we wrote a paper on which process was easier and more enjoyable for us, silence or singing Krsna's name. Easy choice.
Every Monday and Friday we had a class on the four regulative principles of Krsna consciousness: no meat eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. We watched videos on how the media portrays women, analyzed cigarette and alcohol advertisements for logical fallacies, and learned skills to communicate our values to our peers. The course made me more aware of the reality of the world and how the media encourages teens to break the four regulative principles.
School was always a storm of activity. In the morning, Mother Indulekha taught algebra and science and Mother Sita-priya taught logic, history, and composition. In the afternoons I attended elective courses such as art, sewing, music, cooking, pottery, computers, wood shop, Bharat Natyam dance, and swimming or other sports.
On weekends, if I wasn't cramming for tests or finishing my dreaded algebra sets, I was chanting with the girls and other devotees on the beaches of Jacksonville or in the streets of Orlando. There's always a steady stream of festivals in Krsna consciousness, so often, just when I thought I'd relax and take it easy, a festival would pop up. We'd perform plays and dances at festivals, which meant lots of rehearsal time. Sometimes I'd be so busy that I'd find myself practicing drama lines between bites of prasadam.
Every Friday we chanted in front of the University of Florida in downtown Gainesville. Afterwards we distributed Srila Prabhupada's books. At first it was hard for me. I remember trying to persuade my immobile legs to approach a group of college kids, but somehow my shoes stayed glued to the asphalt. My ears anticipated the sticky-sweet, high-pitched, "No thank you, I just spent all my money on groceries. Maybe next time," or the breathy, "Sorry, I'm in a rush," followed by a slamming car door. Yet each time, after distributing for an hour I felt ecstatic. I would begin writing a mental letter to my mother about the cool hippie girl from college or the professor who asked lots of questions and then bought a Bhagavad-gita.
Growing on Pilgrimage
I came to love life in the ashram. And when the teachers scheduled a trip to India, I was eager to go. I prepared for the long journey with nothing more than one little suitcase, a handbag, and a small bedroll. In India the culture of simple living and high thinking described in our Bhagavad-gita classes became a reality. I ate from banana-leaf plates and washed my clothes by hand. To visit temples, I walked barefoot on little pathways between rice paddies. I rode creaking wooden boats down the sacred Ganga.
As our adventures unfolded, I learned to appreciate the other students. I'd sometimes looked down on the girls who weren't seriously aspiring for initiation. But after traveling throughout India with them, I realized how each girl showed enthusiasm and sincerity in her own way.
One day in the city of Pune, one of the younger girls, who had just recently joined the ashram, stood before hundreds of devotees and said she was so inspired by her experiences in India that now she wanted to chant sixteen rounds every day and stay in the ashram until she graduated. She explained that she had entered the ashram only to please her father but now she knew it was the safest place for her to avoid the negative pressures of teen life. It warmed my heart to see the grave expression on her fourteen-year-old face as she spoke her realizations about Krsna consciousness.
My most enlivening experience in India was attending ISKCON's annual festival in Mayapur, West Bengal, Lord Caitanya's birthplace. Every day I attended seminars on various aspects of Krsna consciousness. In the evenings I danced in kirtanas with hundreds of devotees from all over the world. And I was amazed to see Srila Prabhupada's vision for a magnificent temple unfolding amid straw huts and rice paddies.
My Turn to Speak
Few children my age have the opportunity to travel throughout India and even fewer have the chance to complete their education in a Krsna conscious school. Now, having returned from India, I was standing before a crowd of friends and well-wishers trying to express my gratitude. In a shaky voice I thanked Mother Laksmimani and Mother Akuti for allowing me to be in the ashram. Stepping before the sacred fire, I handed them a booklet of poems written by the graduating girls. I spoke briefly, telling the teachers I felt honored to be part of the only girls high school where the teachers taught the students how to use even algebra and science in Krsna's service.
After my speech Radhanatha Swami (who would soon accept me as his disciple) handed me my high school diploma and blessed me to have an abundant future in Krsna consciousness and a safe journey back to New Vrindavan.
After returning to New Vrindavan, I decided to attend the graduation ceremony at John Marshall, the local high school. Had I stayed behind, I would have graduated with this class. Although I felt nervous about it, I decided to wear a sari, mark my forehead with tilaka, and represent myself as a devotee of Krsna.
The night was warm as I stood outside the school and waited for my friends to arrive. I felt happy to see everyone. After giving a big hug to my old lab partner, who had dropped out of high school, I noticed she was pregnant. A friend I'd always viewed as the symbol of morality in our English class pulled out a cigarette. I was surprised. I wondered where I would be had I not gone to the ashram.
At the end of the ceremony the class leaders stepped forward and gave speeches about chasing dreams or following stars. Their ribbon-tied certificates and sleek gold uniforms seemed noble dresses foreshadowing great futures. Friends applauded their speeches, and relatives shed tears. The organ played farewell tunes as the graduates filed off the stage.
It seemed a fleeting moment of glory, swept way by the powerful hand of time.
I felt far away, like a statue observing a circus. The approval of these kids had once been my measure of happiness, and now it didn't matter. I had no cap to throw into the air, no crowd of friends to whistle when my name was called. I sat wearing a simple cotton sari in the midst of shiny uniforms. Yet I felt happy. After initiation from Radhanatha Swami I would be returning to the ashram as a student-teacher and as a graduate of the Vaisnava Academy for Girls. Krsna had opened the door to an enlightened future.
Engaging Youthful Energies
Laksmimani Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1969 and has been working in education since 1974.
Ask her for a few words on Krsna conscious education, and you're sure to get a lot more than a few. She's a leader in her field, and her years of experience have given her plenty of realizations. Here are some of her thoughts:
"Ashram life, especially for teenagers, is a voluntary thing. No one should come who doesn't want to be here."
"The parents must have a vision of Krsna consciousness that runs parallel to the school's. Regular communication between parents, teachers, and students is essential."
"We should dedicate our life to being Krsna conscious and, whenever possible, making it fun. We should not dedicate our life to having fun and, whenever possible, making it Krsna conscious."
"The training that students get in the ashram should serve them whether they live in the temple or outside."
"I learn as much from my students as they learn from me."
Akuti Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1970 and got involved in children's education ten years later. She has been working with Laksmimani Devi Dasi since they served together at a school in Lake Huntington, New York, eighteen years ago.
"Mother Akuti does everything for the girls," Krsna-priya says. "She fixes everything they break, cleans up after they're done cleaning, roughs them up in physical education class, complains to the other teachers about them, and most of all, loves them."
Akuti also does carpentry (she built her own house), teaches pottery and woodworking (she's an artist, sculptor, and woodcarver), and regularly cooks feasts at the temple and goes out to spread Krsna consciousness.
"With so many distractions in materialistic society," says Akuti, "it's difficult keeping the girls happy in Krsna consciousness. We try to provide a dynamic program that will keep their youthful propensities engaged in a transcendental way."
BTG interviewed the girls living in the ashram when this article was being put together, last December. (Krsna-priya, the author of the main article, graduated in May last year.)
—Amrta Devi Dasi
I agreed to go the ashram because I didn't like Sweden and thought it would be cool to check out America. A lot has changed since I first came. I find myself being one of the "big girls" and having to deal with young, naive girls, trying to be a good example for them as the previous girls were to me. What has compelled me to stay even through the hard times is that I know this is the best place I could ever be. I have good association and wonderful teachers, I learn something new every day, and I'm constantly surrounded by Krsna and His holy names. I know that when I graduate I'm going to cherish the memories of ashram life and always remember the friends I made.
—Vrnda Devi Dasi
I like the concept and mood of the ashram, but in particular I like that it opens so many doors for you. When I'm here I feel I can do anything; I just have to set my mind to it. The best thing I'm getting here is not so much the education, but the relationships with so many nice devotee girls.
—Krsna Devi Dasi
Since I'm the youngest, sometimes I feel picked on, but most of the time I feel great that I have so many older sisters who really do care about me. They are always there when I'm in need, giving me guidance and encouragement. Our motto here is "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're probably right." I used to give up on things easily, but now a whole new world has opened up to me. The whole mood here is centered on becoming a better devotee and a better person.
—Kamala Devi Dasi
I enjoy the little things: laughing together over silly mistakes (usually made by me); the idea of putting others before yourself, even when you don't want to; spending winter nights together packing candies to sell at Christmas time; joining others to sing devotional songs on festival days and weekends; and most of all, having little heartfelt talks with sincere devotees who have your welfare in mind.
—Sarasvati Devi Dasi
I like that you are constantly reminded of how to become a better person and a better devotee. Most of the girls are older and more advanced than I am, so they seem to feel pretty comfortable telling me what to do or how to do something. I've really learned from being corrected a lot in the ashram. Since we're always together, we can see what each of us needs to work on.
—Nilacala Devi Dasi
Before I came to the ashram, my main goal was to enjoy. Now that I'm here, I still want to enjoy, but I've also developed a desire to go back home, back to Krsna. Even though I'm a long way from being free from attachment to this material world, by association I'm acquiring a taste for the simple, Krsna conscious life.
—Radhika Devi Dasi
One time we all went to Wal-Mart to buy gifts for Amrta's birthday. After a while, Mother Laksmimani told us to hurry up and pay for the gifts. I quickly chose a present, and then realized that my twenty dollars was not in my hand. Frantically, I searched some of the places in the store where I'd been, but it was impossible. I'd been all over the store and could have dropped the money anywhere.
Downcast, I returned to the waiting van. The girls sympathized with me as I thought of my stupidity. I didn't want to tell my parents, who had given me the money, but I knew it would come out sooner or later.
As I sat in the van, staring out the window, visualizing my fate, I noticed the girls whispering about something or other. Thinking it was a cruel game, I pretended not to notice and kept staring out the window.
"Hey, Sara," said Sita-Rama, turning around in her seat to face me.
"Yeah?" I answered.
Slowly, she placed a wad of bills in my hands.
"What's this for?" I asked, staring at the bills.
"We all pitched in and gave a dollar," she replied, "so your parents won't get mad. There's ten dollars. It's not much, but it's half of what you lost."
Looking at all the faces smiling down at me, I was at a loss for words.
My parents weren't mad at me, and they were happy that I'm in such good association and friendliness. I'll never forget that time when I was shown such kindness.
—Saranagati Devi Dasi
The people and teachers with whom I learn and experience things here are personal and fun to be around. It's the people who make this place great. It's well organized by our headmasters, who always have new ideas for the big garden, the house, or the school. We're always busy and having fun.
—Vilasa-manjari Devi Dasi
I know I can't live anywhere without the shelter of the ashram until I graduate, because I'm so attached to everything here. I find it extremely hard not to miss the girls' association while on break. I think everything here is a great tool for Krsna consciousness—and the prasadam is really, really good!
—Janaki Devi Dasi
I have realized how association with devotees is such an important factor in Krsna consciousness. Now I have twelve sisters who really watch out for me, who encourage me when things get tough and I'm ready to slip. I like the family atmosphere that keeps me bonded with the devotees.
—Sita-Rama Devi Dasi
Since entering the ashram, I feel I've become more responsible. It has made me want to stay a devotee for the rest of my life, because now I can see better the distresses of the material world and the happiness of Krsna consciousness.
—Vrndavana Devi Dasi
The King of Cedi interrupts the Rajasuya
Translated from Sanskrit by Hridayananda Dasa Goswami
The sage Vaisampayana is telling the history of the Pandavas to their great-grandson, King Janamejaya. As the narration continues, Vaisampayana describes how Sisupala objected when Lord Krsna was chosen the first to be worshiped at the great Rajasuya sacrifice of King Yudhisthira, now emperor of the world.
SISUPALA COULD NOT tolerate the worship offered to Lord Krsna. The mighty Sisupala, King of Cedi, rejected and insulted Krsna, in the process publicly reviling Bhisma and Yudhisthira.
Sisupala said, "When all these exalted lords of the earth are standing here, Yudhisthira, this Vrsni man Krsna does not deserve the honor of a ruler, as if He were a king. O Pandava, this is improper behavior for the exalted Pandavas. Out of selfishness you have worshiped lotus-eyed Krsna. You Pandavas are all childish! You can't understand, for the principles of religion are quite subtle. And this Bhisma, son of Ganga, has transgressed the law, for he has little vision. Like you, Bhisma is certainly bound to justice. So, because he is acting whimsically to please his favorite, he deserves even more disdain among the societies of decent people.
"How in the midst of all the kings of the earth can this Krsna of the Dasarhas, who is not even a king, deserve such honors, the way you have all worshiped Him? Or do you actually think Krsna to be senior? When His elderly father Vasudeva is present, how can his son deserve these honors? Or even if Krsna wishes you well and has rendered you service, how can He deserve such worship when Drupada is present? O Kuru chief, if perhaps you consider Krsna to be your teacher, how could you worship Him when [your real teacher] Drona is standing here? Or if you think Krsna to be a priest, O Kuru son, why should you worship Krsna when the learned sage Dvaipayana [the greatest of priests] is present? Krsna is not a priest, a teacher, or a king, and yet He is being worshiped. Why else but out of your capricious desire to please Him?
"Then again, if you are indeed to worship Krsna, then why bring all these kings here? To insult them? We offer tribute to Yudhisthira not out of fear or greed or diplomacy but because he is a man dedicated to virtue who aspired to be the lord of the earth. We offer tribute to him, but he does not consider us. What else could this be but disrespect, that in a council of kings you have, with arghya, * (A beverage made of auspicious ingredients that is offered to highly respected persons.) worshiped Krsna, who has not even achieved a clear status in society.
"For no reason, fame has gone to this son of Dharma, Yudhisthira, and people call him dharmatma, 'a virtuous soul.' In fact, what man would offer such elaborate worship to Krsna, who has fallen from virtue and, though born in the Vrsni dynasty, once killed a king? Today the status of being "a virtuous soul" has been dragged away from Yudhisthira, for by delivering the honor of arghya to Krsna he has become a weak, miserly man.
"If the sons of Kunti are frightened or wretched men, or if they are ascetics who don't care about the world and its customs, in any case you should know what honor Krsna actually deserves.
"And You, Krsna, when You are unworthy of this worship offered by wretched men, why have You approved it? You so highly esteem an honor that does not befit You, like a dog who lays hold of a stream of sacrificial butter and is eager to devour it in seclusion. But this sort of insult does not work among earthly kings. Clearly it is You alone whom the Kurus deceive. Indeed, they have made a fool of You. As the gift of a wife is to a eunuch, as the display of a lovely form is to a blind man, so is the offering of kingly honor to You, Krsna, who are not even a king.
"Now King Yudhisthira is revealed for what he is, and Bhisma too is seen as he really is. Even this Krsna is now actually seen. All this can now be understood as it really is."
Thus having spoken to the assembly, Sisupala at once rose up from his exalted seat and left that meeting, together with some other kings.
Yudhisthira and Bhisma Reply
Then King Yudhisthira rushed up to Sisupala and, trying to calm him, softly spoke these words: "It is not proper, O earthly ruler, for you to speak like that. It is the greatest injustice to speak such harsh and meaningless words. Bhisma, son of Santanu, has never failed to recognize the highest religious principle, so do not think otherwise and belittle him. Look at these many earthly rulers who are far senior to you. They tolerate this honor bestowed on Krsna, and similarly you should accept it. O lord of Cedi, Bhisma knows Krsna very well, and in truth. You do not know Him as well as he does."
Bhisma then spoke: "Humble persuasion should not be directed to him, nor is he worthy of conciliation, for he disapproves of the worship of Krsna, the seniormost person in the world. When a warrior who is the best of those who do battle conquers another in battle and, having subjugated his foe, then releases him, he becomes the defeated warrior's guru. In this meeting of kings I do not see even one earthly lord whom Krsna, son of the Satvatas, has not defeated in battle with His splendid power. Not only should we worship that infallible Lord Janardana, but so too should all the three worlds.
"Krsna has defeated many of the best warriors in battle; indeed, the entire universe is completely situated in Krsna, who has appeared among the Vrsnis. Therefore, even when elder men are present, we worship Krsna, not others. It is not proper for you to speak thus, Sisupala. Give up such an attitude.
"O king, I have adored many who were senior by knowledge, and I listened when those learned saintly ones came together and talked about the many highly revered attributes of the extremely qualified Krsna. And beyond that, I have heard people narrate, often and at length, the activities the wise Krsna has performed since His birth.
"O Cedi king, we worship Krsna, whom the saintly worship, not merely from personal desire, nor because we give priority to our family tie with Him, nor to gain from Him favors of any sort, though it is He who bestows all earthly happiness. Rather, we worship the Lord because we know His glory, heroism, and victory.
"Certainly there is no one here, not even a young boy, whom we have not examined. And passing over those who are senior by their qualities, we conclude that Lord Krsna is most venerable. In knowledge He is senior to the brahmanas, in strength greater than the warriors. These two causes of superiority are firmly established in the honorable Krsna. In this world of men, who but Krsna possesses such unlimited strength and unlimited understanding of the Vedas and their supplements?
"Fame, beauty, charity, modesty, expertise, humility, education, heroism, satisfaction, prosperity, determination, and supreme discernment are ever fixed in the infallible Lord. He is possessed of all existence. He is the great and sacred teacher, the guru, the venerable adored one whom I worship and whom all of you should revere. The priest, the guru, the son-in-law, the newly wedded brahmana, the monarch, and the beloved—all these exist in Lord Krsna, since He is the Lord of the senses. Therefore, the infallible Lord is to be worshiped.
"Krsna alone is certainly both the generating source and the destroyer of the worlds. Indeed, for Krsna's sake the universe is assembled and exists. He is the eternal doer and the unmanifest cosmic nature. He is above all beings; therefore that infallible Lord is the oldest. Mind, intelligence, fire, water, sky, the mighty wind, and all that is earth—indeed the entire existence—is situated in Krsna. Sun, moon, stars, directions, all the planets, and the intermediate regions—everything is situated in Krsna.
"This childish man Sisupala does not understand that Krsna exists everywhere, at all times; that is why he inveighs in this way. An intelligent man, one who can really discern the most excellent religious principle, must see according to that principle and not as this Cedi king does. Then who among these exalted kings, with all their elders and children, does not find Krsna worthy? Who indeed would not worship Him? Rather, if Sisupala determines this worship to be wrongly done, then let him do what is fitting in the matter of this wrong action!"
Having thus spoken, the greatly celebrated Bhisma fell silent.
Then Sahadeva uttered these meaningful words in reply: "O monarchs, whoever among you does not tolerate Krsna, He who with His immeasurable prowess slew Kesi and whom I now worship, then on the head of any such powerful man, or on the heads of all of them, I place my foot. Now that I have thus clearly spoken, let such a person speak out in reply. But all thoughtful kings must admit that Krsna is the teacher, father, and guru—He who is to be worshiped, has been worshiped, and is worthy of worship."
Among all those intelligent, respectable, and powerful kings present, not one spoke out when Sahadeva clearly showed his foot. Then a shower of flowers fell on Sahadeva's head, and invisible voices declared, "Excellent! Excellent!" Narada Muni, who tells the future of all creatures, who frees people from all spiritual doubts, and who knows all the worlds, waved his deerskin in jubilation.
Thereupon, all the crowds of warriors headed by Sisupala, all of whom had come on Yudhisthira's invitation, became enraged, and their faces turned pale. Those kings, convinced of their own superiority, spoke with loathing about the anointing of Yudhisthira and the honor given Lord Krsna. Restrained by close friends, they resembled roaring lions being dragged away from their fleshy prey. Krsna then realized that that unlimited mass of might, that invincible sea of royalty, was making plans for battle.
Sahadeva, a god among men, having especially honored the brahmanas and ksatriyas, who are worthy of worship, then concluded the ceremony.
When Krsna had been directly adored, Sisupala, harasser of enemies, addressed the kings, his eyes bright red with rage: "I stand here among you as leader of the army! Believe it! What then now? Strap on your armor, and let us stand in battle against the assembled Vrsnis and Pandavas!"
Thus rousing all those kings, the bull of the Cedis took counsel with them, aiming to disrupt the holy rite.
Hridayananda Dasa Goswami, who holds a Ph.D. in Indology from Harvard University, occasionally teaches at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of California at Los Angeles.
Characters in this Episode
Bhisma—the grand-uncle of the Pandavas
Dharma—the lord of religious principles (Yamaraja)
Drona—the military teacher of the Pandavas
Drupada—the father-in-law of the Pandavas
Dvaipayana—a name of Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedas
Kunti—the mother of the Pandavas
Kurus—the sons of Dhrtarastra and cousins of the Pandavas
Narada Muni—a sage who travels the universe at will
Pandavas—Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula, and Sahadeva
Sisupala—a cousin of Krsna's
A spiritual perspective on the economic
By Hare Krsna Devi Dasi
A FUNDAMENTAL concept that Krsna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita is the distinction between body and soul: "The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end ... [but] for the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. ... He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (Bg. 2.18, 2.20)
In Bhagavad-gita we learn that although the body (including the subtle, psychological body) is made of temporary, material energy, the soul is made of eternal, spiritual energy. Spiritual advancement comes as we increasingly realize our position as a loving servant of the Supreme Lord. An important factor in spiritual advancement is to reduce the demands of the body, because those demands reinforce our material identity and distract us from our real, spiritual identity.
The idea of reducing the demands of the body to assist in spiritual advancement, is, of course, not unique to the Vaisnava spiritual tradition. All major religions offer similar guidance. But even though our spiritual guides tell us to reduce the demands of the body as much as possible, our cultures often tell us the opposite: success means increasing material prosperity. This is certainly true of the socio-economic structure in most parts of the world.
The Basis of Modern Economics
I had been studying Srila Prabhupada's books for ten or fifteen years when I took my first economics course. On the first day of class, the professor matter-of-factly explained, "Economics is the study of how to allocate scarce resources in a world of unlimited wants."
My jaw dropped. The professor had revealed that our social structure stands on the premise of attempting to fulfill "unlimited wants." The "unlimited wants" he referred to are, of course, our material desires. So the question arises: If a social system rests on trying to fulfill the unlimited material desires of its members, what does that say about the prospects of spiritual advancement? The answer: The prospects for spiritual advancement are pretty dim.
With my prior training from Srila Prabhupada's books, I was able to make more discoveries as the course proceeded. For example, we learned how to make a supply-and-demand graph. The vertical Y axis shows different price levels, starting with $0, and the horizontal X axis shows different quantities of the item consumed, starting with 0 units at the XY intercept. (Or the X axis can show the gross domestic product [GDP]). An upward sloping line from the XY intercept is the Supply curve. In other words, at a price of zero, the manufacturer is willing to supply zero units of the commodity in question, and the greater the price, the more units a manufacturer is willing to supply.
A downward sloping line that starts at some point on the Y axis and crosses the Supply line is the Demand curve. This line shows that at a very high price, consumers are willing to buy 0 units of a commodity. As the price drops, they will be willing to buy more units.
What the manufacturer (or the government, in the case of GDP) wants to do is to push that downward sloping Demand curve out and make it shift toward the right, away from the XY intercept. For the manufacturer, this means he is selling more units of his product, making a bigger profit. For a government, it means it is increasing the GDP, the material standard of living of its citizens. But for the spiritual scientist, it means that the demands of the body are increasing and conditions are becoming less favorable for spiritual advancement. Because how is the Demand curve shifted out? By increasing the artificial demands of the body.
Srila Prabhupada comments:
Advancement of material vision or material civilization is a great stumbling block for spiritual advancement. Such material advancement entangles the living being in the bondage of a material body followed by all sorts of material miseries. Such material advancement is called anartha, or things not wanted. Actually this is so. In the present context of material advancement one uses lipstick at a cost of fifty cents, * (This was written about 1960.) and there are so many unwanted things which are all products of the material conception of life. By diverting attention to so many unwanted things, human energy is spoiled without achievement of spiritual realization, the prime necessity of human life. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.27, Purport)
As an alternative, Srila Prabhupada urged his followers to develop a society in which families work to produce their actual needs of life, instead of producing things primarily for the market. In Mauritius in 1975 he explained:
I see that in Mauritius you have enough land to produce food grains. So produce food grain. I understand that instead of growing food grains, you are growing sugar cane for exporting. Why? You are dependent on food grains—on rice, wheat, dal [lentils]. Why this attempt [to export]? First of all grow your own eatables. ... The first necessity is to be self-sufficient. That is God's arrangement.
Ideally, society should be organized so that families first produce for their own needs. Then they can sell any excess at the market. And if there is enough time and manpower, they can produce more for the market.
But when the whole focus of an economy is market-oriented production, competition drives commodity prices down so much that the manufacturer must expand his market share by increasing the artificial demands of the body. To understand this better let's imagine I'm a sugar producer in a simple society. Up to now, sugar is used only as table sugar, and the amount of sugar people need for their own cooking and table is limited. So I can't make more money simply by increasing my production, because people don't need any more sugar. As a businessman, to expand my market share and increase my profits I have to introduce new sugar-based products, such as rum, candy, and soft drinks. And I must invest in advertising to increase people's desires for these products. But by stimulating artificial demand for my products, I actually increase the material desires of my customers and divert their focus away from spiritual development.
Of course, this is a simplified example. In our modern situation, increasing consumer demand is more complex. Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada's point stays true: material advancement of society rests on stimulating our desires for commodities we don't actually need. And the further we move from a needs-based economy to a wants-based economy, the more difficult it is to make spiritual progress.
You may wonder: Where does this leave the Krsna conscious businessman who depends on market-oriented production for his livelihood? Srila Prabhupada knew that modern society makes it impossible for most of us to engage in self-sufficient production. He nevertheless encouraged devotee businessmen, because their contributions made it possible to build temples and distribute prasadam and Krsna conscious literature. They presented the best example of Krsna conscious family life possible in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the modern world.
But at the same time, Srila Prabhupada looked to the future with a plan to build a model of society where it would be much easier for the average person to stay fixed in spiritual life. The economic basis of that society would not be to increase the artificial wants of the body but to simply meet the needs of the body, saving time and energy for advancement in Krsna consciousness, the true purpose of human life:
Our project is Krsna consciousness. Come here, live peacefully, keep your body fit, and work for yourself. Produce your own food. Produce your own cloth. Don't be very much anxious for artificial necessities. Save time and become advanced in spiritual life.
Srila Prabhupada's goal was to set up a varnasrama society in which the economy is focused principally on fulfilling peoples basic needs rather than encouraging them to increase their wants, which would lead away from spiritual advancement.
(The author would like to thank Jaya Lalita Devi Dasi for her advice on this article.)
Lost & Found
"If death led to a better life, would suicide be a shortcut?"
by Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi
I FELT UNCERTAIN of what to expect as I walked slowly to the counseling center. A secretary directed me to a room at the end of the hall. When I entered I recognized most of the faces. The atmosphere was serious and somber.
My first thought was to turn around and walk out, but I stayed, curious about the purpose of the meeting. I was a graduate student in the University of Maryland counseling program, so I knew about "interventions." They were usually used to confront people with drug problems or those needing psychiatric help, to get them to agree to in-patient treatment. I had taken part in them a couple of times and felt sorry for the student who had to undergo the grueling mass attack. So when I suddenly found myself on the other side, the target of their intervention, I felt betrayed and devastated.
Recently, for the first time in my life, I had been feeling some clarity and direction in my life. Yet here were my well-wishers, looking at me as if I were mentally incompetent.
Perhaps I was a little out of step with those around me, but I had felt that way since I was a young girl. Just before this uninvited session, I had stumbled upon a descriptive paragraph I had written in the seventh grade, entitled "Lost."
Clouds pushed through the gray sky. A small, thin girl stood on the sand, her face streaked with tears and her hair filled with sand and salt water. The beach stretched on for miles and miles without another soul in sight. Sand fleas hopped around noiselessly, kicking bits of sand up into the air. Now only a faint light was in sight. Small drops of rain hit her tiny face. She was lost.
That small-faced girl lost on the beach was me. I remembered writing the paragraph when I was eleven. I was looking out my bedroom window in the early morning. The sun filled a deep blue sky, unusual for Washington State, yet I was filled with sadness, and tears welled up in my eyes. I felt so alone, as if I didn't belong in this world. I wanted someone to help me through my despair.
Years later in college, after numbing myself with drugs and ephemeral love affairs, I began to feel guided in my search for God. I went through the motions of life and ended up in graduate school. There I began to question the predictable course of my life: finish school, get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, buy a bigger house, have grandchildren, grow old, get diseased, and die. I saw my parents and grandparents entrapped in this monotonous drama. For me it had little appeal. In fact, it all seemed downright pointless.
I began to wonder if death somehow freed one from this tasteless pursuit and delivered a more meaningful and satisfying existence. I became intrigued by the notion, and by other questions of death. If death led to a better life, would suicide be a shortcut? How could I find out what happened after death and live my life accordingly?
It was the summer of '76, and many things began to shift in my life. I lost my attraction for nightclubs, parties, and concerts. I spent long hours alone, walking in the park and reading spiritual books. After realizing that meat was nothing but dead carcasses, I became a vegetarian.
As the summer progressed I grew more reclusive and introverted. Life in graduate school loomed ominously before me, only days away. My college stipend required me to live in a dorm and oversee the resident undergraduates. A sick feeling settled in my stomach as I remembered some antics from students the previous year. Some had set a fire in the hallway. One had driven a car through the front door. Others had put the head of a dead bird on a fellow student's doorknob.
Interviews on Life
Contemplating a distracting term before me and my pressing questions about life, I decided to interview several people whom I felt had wisdom. They included a poetry teacher with deep insights into the futility of life, and a clinical psychologist I had worked with in a research project who had impressed me with his realism. I also decided to look up Neil and Elliot, two friends from undergraduate school.
Neil, Elliot, and I would often eat lunch together and discuss metaphysical topics. Although I often didn't understand their philosophical insights, I was attracted to their company.
Then Neil and Elliot began to get involved with the Krsna devotees. While I had once seen these exotic-looking men with shaved heads and saffron robes chanting on campus, I knew nothing about their philosophy. With encouragement from Neil and Elliot, I bought a Bhagavad-gita As It Is and a set of chanting beads from them. They taught me how to use the beads to chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. But it all felt alien and foreign, so I put the beads in a drawer and the Bhagavad-gita in a closet.
After that I lost touch with Neil and Elliot. I missed our philosophical luncheons and often wondered where they had gone. Now, two years later, I longed to discuss with them my thoughts of life and death, which grew more critical as the clock ticked and summer came to an end. Not knowing how to reach Neil and Elliot, I settled on visits to my poetry teacher and psychologist friend.
The interviews with my mentors didn't go well. My questions made them feel uncomfortable. I could sense they were worried about my state of mind. I tried to convince them I wasn't suicidal in the classical sense but wanted to know their thoughts on death as a gateway into a more meaningful existence. Somehow, I wasn't able to communicate my intent. Their feedback was more clinical than philosophical. I left each interview feeling disappointed and foolish.
School resumed and I was forced to relinquish my solitude. I missed getting up at dawn and going to the park to read and write and pray. I missed having quiet and free time to myself.
One day I was sitting in my room grieving over the loss of meaning in my life as it seemed to resume an automatic path. Could I change it? Was I the master of my destiny, or its servant?
A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts. It was my friend Steve. He seemed concerned and asked me to attend a meeting the next morning at the counseling center, assuring me it was with people who cared and wanted to help me. I agreed to go.
How could anyone help me when I wasn't sure what I wanted? Actually I knew what I wanted; I just didn't know how to get there. The day before, a professor had taken our class on a "guided visualization," wherein we created our perfect life. I saw myself living in a spiritual community surrounded by beautiful trees in a natural environment. Everyone had the same purpose: to understand the true purpose of life and their eternal identity. I felt some hope from this exercise, as if some place like this actually existed.
Turning to the Gita
That evening I thought about my old friends Neil and Elliot. I rummaged through my closet and found the large, colorful Bhagavad-gita As It Is I had read with them. I felt comfort from holding the book and looking at the picture on the front cover. I opened the Gita reverentially, feeling a special quality I had missed before. I began to read the first chapter but felt unable to enter the mysteries of the book. I wished my two friends would appear and explain the secrets contained in this ancient text. That night I felt hopeful as I drifted into sleep.
The next morning, at the counseling center, I encountered a grim-faced collection of my friends and teachers. My graduate-school advisor, a strong, masculine woman with a sardonic sense of humor, spoke first. In the past I had perspired in her presence and had tried to the say the right words to impress her. Recently, though, my desire to perform for some scraps of her attention had waned.
I listened as she described the changes she had been observing in me over the past month. While I thought they were positive changes, she saw them quite differently. She voiced concern about my emotional distance and about how I appeared so quiet and sullen. She related how previously I had been outgoing and gregarious and so much more involved in graduate-school life. She then spoke of hearing I was having suicidal thoughts.
At this point I realized the purpose of their meeting. Unless I could convince them I wasn't suicidal I could end up committed to a psychiatric hospital. Although I felt quite intimidated, some strength came into my voice. I confidently spoke out that I was searching for meaning in my life. I was just looking for answers and was not suicidal.
A psychologist I had seen but never spoken to seemed to sympathize with me as he recounted his own search, as a young man, into Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies. I felt some much-appreciated support from this thin, gray-haired man. Although I had no real connection with him as I did with others in the room, I was grateful he had come.
My moment of solace abruptly ended when my advisor again spoke. I had been under a lot of stress and pressure, she said, and everyone felt a few days in the hospital would help me get back to my "old self" (the aimless, frustrated, unhappy self I now loathed). She concluded her appeal saying that they couldn't force me to go but she hoped I would voluntarily agree. She offered to make all the arrangements.
Her words pierced deep into the core of my heart. I felt betrayed by this room full of friends and teachers. Tears welled up in my eyes as I stared out the window. I felt a familiar sense of being out of place and all alone. I silently cried for someone to help me through my despair.
I turned my gaze to my advisor.
"No thanks," I said. "I'm fine."
I stood up and left the room. Tears streamed down my checks.
"Now what?" I asked myself. "Where do I go from here?"
Meeting Old Friends
I pushed the metal bar to the heavy exterior doors. Sunshine flooded my eyes, momentarily blinding me. As my eyes adjusted to the brightness, they focused on two familiar faces standing directly in front of me. A surge of joy filled me. There stood Neil and Elliot—heads shaved except for a tuft of hair at the crown. Clad in saffron robes, they seemed angels from heaven.
Our meeting after two years at this exact moment convinced me that an omniscient being had orchestrated these events. I felt confident that my friends could give me the knowledge I had been desperately seeking. I wasn't disappointed. To my amazement, Neil and Elliot answered each of my inquiries to my full satisfaction.
Quoting from the Bhagavad-gita, Neil and Elliot explained that I am a spiritual being inside the body. The frustration I felt in material life was a sign that my spiritual life was awakening. My human body was a special gift to enable me to realize my true spiritual identity and revive my eternal love for my creator, my most dear friend. To annihilate the body untimely would hinder, not help, my spiritual journey.
I continued to learn about the Gita from my friends in their spiritual community in Potomac, Maryland. Surrounded by trees and nature, I met a group of people living and working together to perfect their lives by loving God. It was just as I had seen in my vision only days before. I became convinced that a Krsna conscious life would bring me the meaning, purpose, and happiness I yearned for.
Soon I withdrew from school and moved into the ashram, bringing a few possessions, including my chanting beads and Bhagavad-gita. Many people in my life, especially my family, viewed my decision as emotional and rash. Yet I knew clearly that all the events in my life had led me to this point. This was the culmination of my spiritual search.
I felt bad that the people I loved were so disconcerted. My mother cried. My father yelled. My boyfriend told me it would have been easier for him had I committed suicide. Still, I was deeply convinced that this was what I needed to do. Despite this formidable opposition, I stuck with my decision and have never felt any regrets.
A Purposeful Life
Today, twenty-two years later, I'm married and have a son. I've completed graduate school and work as a psychotherapist counseling children and adolescents. My life now resembles the one I had envisioned and shunned in graduate school, but it is a very different experience.
While I'm far from self-realized, just a little advancement in spiritual life has lifted me out of a suffocating trap of a meaningless existence. I begin my day with meditative spiritual practices, including chanting the Hare Krsna mantra on beads, reading from the Vedic scriptures, and worshiping the beautiful Deities in our home. These daily practices allow me to view things differently than I had previously done. Instead of just seeing the bodies of people I interact with, I now know there is a spirit soul inside each of those bodies along with the Lord Himself, who so kindly enters into the body of every living entity to guide our journey.
While working with children in a therapeutic relationship, I pray to the Lord in their heart to assist them in healing from their traumas and help them on their spiritual path. I pray to the Lord in my heart to allow me to be His instrument so that His love and healing energy can work through me. When I'm in this consciousness, my work becomes an offering to Krsna and I detect His presence through my feelings of being energized, peaceful, and happy.
And my home, rather than a shell filled with worldly ephemeral possessions, is replete with spiritual paraphernalia. Deities, pictures, books, tapes, and videos inspire our remembrance of the Lord. With one room dedicated to worship, we come together as a family to help one another make spiritual progress.
Every day I thank Srila Prabhupada for translating Bhagavad-gita and coming to America to find a lost child.
Just Say No to No
By Urmila Devi Dasi
THREE ADULTS ARE taking a group of children on an educational excursion, and the "no's" begin.
"Don't climb on that fence!"
"Stop putting your hand in your nose!"
"Please stop hitting Visakha!"
"You're making too much noise!" A lot of instruction about what not to do.
Educator Michael Grinder calls telling someone what not to do a "double message." He compares it to telling someone, "Don't think of a cow." What happens? The person thinks of a cow.
Grinder suggests putting our messages into positive form. For example, instead of saying, "Don't climb on that fence," we can say what we would like the child to do: "Please stay on the sidewalk." Grinder even suggests that the adult's actions when giving the instruction be in harmony with the instruction. For example, if a teacher says, "Sit quietly," while walking around the classroom, the children will get a double message. The teacher should also be sitting.
After becoming aware of how often I admonished children for behavior and attitudes I didn't want, I gradually changed to a more positive approach. Not only does emphasizing the positive get better results, it also fosters an atmosphere of mutual respect.
In presenting spiritual life, to stop harmful behavior Srila Prabhupada encouraged positive activities and thoughts. He suggested that method for giving children spiritual and moral instruction. In Paris, 1976, he told Jyotirmayi Dasi, "Don't say 'no,' but give a taste for the good, then it will be automatically 'no.' If you say 'no,' then [the children] will rebel. If they develop Krsna consciousness, it will be automatically 'no.' "
In these instructions Srila Prabhupada was not promoting a sentimental permissiveness. He always expected us to keep our children from anything spiritually or materially harmful. His point is rather that a child busy in Krsna consciousness cannot also be busy in illusion. Srila Prabhupada would give the example that not even a drop of ink can enter a cup already full of milk. Once he told a disciple that we have a "no-gap" philosophy—we keep always active in serving Lord Krsna, leaving no opportunity for materialistic life.
To practice positive life with children, we have to consider, "What do we want them to do? What do we want them to say?"
Let's consider the following typical situation.
A group of women were sitting in the dining area. One woman had her six-year-old son with her.
"Get me some water, Mommy!" he demanded.
After lecturing him for several minutes about the importance of politeness, she got him a cup of water. Her mistake? She never told him the appropriate words and tone of voice he should use to be polite.
If we've grown accustomed to simply telling our children what not to do, changing our habits may take time. But we have to realize that it is we who must engineer each day so that the child's life will be related to Krsna.
Sometimes, of course, a child will reject our positive approach. Here's an example of dealing with such situations. Suppose a child rudely demands water, so you instruct, "Say, 'Would you get me a cup of water, please?' " If the child refuses to comply, don't get the water. The child may decide to get his or her own water, but you will have sidestepped the battle of wills that brings rebellion.
Here's another example of using positive reinforcement. Suppose your child brings you a drawing of a mundane war scene. You can say, "Oh! These people are killing and dying without benefit because Lord Krsna is not involved. Come, let's look in the Bhagavatam and find a story where Krsna is fighting. I'll help you plan the picture." If the child doesn't want to draw something about Krsna, you can respond, "I'm happy to see your creativity, and I also like to see pictures that remind me of Krsna so I can love Him more and more. Just let me know when you'd like to draw that kind of picture. I'm ready to help."
Urmila Devi Dasi and her family run a school in North Carolina. She is the major author and compiler of Vaikuntha Children, a guide to Krsna conscious education for children.
In New York City,
By Suresvara Dasa
ON SATURDAY, June 12, the Festival of India—the touring spiritual pageant that graces more than a dozen North American cities each summer, often in conjunction with Hare Krsna parades—launches its twenty-first season in New York City's Washington Square Park, where Hare Krsna first took root in the West.
For veteran festival director Madhuha Dasa and his youthful crew, New York presents a unique challenge. "To set up and take down over a two-to-four-day period, like we do in other cities, we'd have to hire armed guards round the clock," says Madhuha. "So for twenty-four hours we go nonstop, midnight to midnight."
A little before midnight, at the Brooklyn temple, president Ramabhadra Dasa and his wife, Satya Dasi, energize the crew with pizza and ice cream. The members are in their late teens and early twenties and often come from far away, even overseas, to help. Many are gurukulis (alumni of first-generation-ISKCON schools) and four of those—Govinda, Janani, Isvara Puri, and Ramacandra—are also crew alumni, who wouldn't miss this festival for the world.
"Last call!" honks Madhuha from the leased Ryder tractor that pulls the festival's forty-foot trailer. In 1982, Madhuha bought the then twelve-year-old trailer at a million miles and has since hauled it more than twenty times the distance round the equator. Ten people pile into the cab, another fifteen pack the donated white van following behind. The traffic into Manhattan bumps and grinds the same as at midday, only madder. When the trailer swings wide to turn, the van runs interference, provoking major honking and cursing. "Hare Krsna!" laughs the crew, hoping the New Yorkers will cool off at the festival.
Nine miles and nearly an hour later, the festival vehicles roll down Fifth Avenue and up to the park. Beneath a massive stone arch, police barricades block the entrance. A few years ago, rising violence and vandalism in the park compelled the NYPD to impose a curfew. Madhuha and crew jump out to remove the barricades, but within a minute, three squad cars converge to stop the invasion.
After checking Madhuha's permits, the men in blue have a question: "Our job is to enforce the curfew. How do we tell you guys from the werewolves?"
"Say 'Hare Krsna,' " says Madhuha. "If he's one of us, he'll answer, 'Hari bol!'"
Once inside, everyone springs into action. While Madhuha dashes about with a diagram of what goes where, the crew veterans and alumni lead the rest in a frenzy of tasks: Clear the park of broken bottles, drug refuse, and other debris; erect twenty-six tents with large signs and banners; install nine panel-exhibits with a dozen-plus photos each; assemble a fourteen-hundred-pound diorama and a 576-square-foot stage and sound system—all by sunrise.
A beer bottle has shattered against a tree, where Govinda and Janani—the husband-wife team on the crew—are tying down a tent. Two drunks streak past, one chasing the other with a tent pipe. The clubs and bars have let out, flooding the park with predators. Big, burly Syama Narayana recovers the pipe, and the police show the man to his cage.
As the hours tick by, the greater challenge is fatigue. Before the marathon, the combined intensity of New York and the approaching festival made it impossible to sleep. Even rested, the work is very heavy. Yet the crew vets are moving their teams in perfect sync, and Madhuha, twice their age, is working harder than anyone. By dawn, all the tents and exhibits are up—a new record—and Atadhvaja Swami has arrived with an ashram of young male reinforcements. Only the stage and sound system remain to be assembled. Tired but inspired, the alumni take the subway back to the temple to chant Hare Krsna, get ready for the parade, and maybe catch a few winks.
Philosophy on Display
As the sky lightens, four men carry eighteen 250-pound wooden platforms near the arch to make up the stage. The team leader is Phani-bhusana Dasa, the only middle-ager besides Madhuha on the crew. Sinewy and spontaneous, Phani serves as the festival's drama director.
"Our tractor-trailer is a nuts-and-bolts sample of Krsna's universal form," enthuses Phani, "which we're continually unpacking to present the Lord's message: 'Please come home, back to Godhead.' "
As Phani knows, nothing quite drives that message home like drama. After working all night and morning, he'll join the performers onstage this afternoon, with a strength and flair that only God can give.
As the curfew ends, the homeless drift in to bathe in the park's fountain. Walkers, joggers, and roller-bladers follow. And though they like to play New Yorkers who've "seen it all," they can't help rubbernecking at what has arisen in the park. Some break ranks, drawn to the panoply of spiritual exhibits, especially the fourteen-foot CHANGING BODIES diorama. After gaping at the humanesque figures showing the soul's incarnations over a lifetime, they read the caption: "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change." (Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita, 2.13) And then they want to read more.
"All these exhibits are passive preachers, encouraging people to read Srila Prabhupada's books," says Madhuha, referring to the treasury of spiritual literature left by the Hare Krsna movement's founder-spiritual master. He points to a walker with a Gita under her arm. "And when they read, they're on their way home."
Dark clouds rumble in across the Hudson. The weather is always the wild card on festival day. (Nineteen ninety-eight's saw the wildest yet, so let's continue with that scenario.) For two weeks New York has been awash with rain. "To clean the city for the festival," some devotees have said. But a storm now could ruin everything.
Suddenly the sky opens and the rain comes down in torrents. For three hours the rain pummels the asphalt around the festival. With poles in hand, the crew go from tent to tent, pushing the water off sagging canopies. Because the site slopes gently toward the fountain, the whole area begins to fill up like a swimming pool. Two inches, four inches, six inches—then over the bases of the exhibits standing inside the tents. Thank God there's no wind.
Meanwhile, five miles up Fifth Avenue the storm has drenched Krsna's chariots-in-waiting and now promises to cancel the parade. But Krsna can cancel the rain, say the devotees, who are dancing and chanting their hearts out amid the downpour.
The police say their mopeds are now too wet to escort the parade. Ramabhadra ponders an alternative festival at the temple. Looking at the hundreds of determined devotees, Isvara Puri thinks a "no-go" may set off a stampede.
"Those metal chariots will fry you guys," say the police, pointing to the lightning strafing the skyscrapers.
"No problem," says Govinda, rapping a huge rubber chariot wheel. "If you let us roll, Puri here will hustle us down the Avenue in record time, guaranteed."
"Not unless it stops raining. You fellas were supposed to roll at noon. It's five minutes past. If it doesn't stop by 12:30, party's over."
Back at the park, the rain has mercifully slowed to a drip. As the festival crew knocks the last puddles off the tent canopies, whirlpools gurgle around the site as park maintenance men clear clogged drains with big brooms. Madhuha and Vibhu take the tarp off the sound system and start testing the new mikes. If anyone comes down the Avenue, they'll be ready.
The Chariots Roll
Uptown, the drip-dry sky reaches the chariots just in time.
"Okay, move!" holler the cops. "Fast!"
"Jaya Jagannatha!" thunder the devotees, now five hundred strong. "Glory to Krsna, the Lord of the universe!"
From His chariot, Krsna presides as a hugely smiling Deity, His large saucer eyes flying down the Avenue, inviting its corporate idols to forsake their Y2Karma and join His jolly juggernaut. Behind Him follow the chariots of Subhadra and Balarama—sibling sides of the Godhead with similarly festive faces—who've left the temple today to party with saints and sinners alike and re-invite everyone to return home to the spiritual world.
So lovingly do the devotees accept the invitation that they make one of their own: "Ride in Rathayatra (The Parade of the Chariots) and we'll pull you home!" And so they grapple the thick ropes, sound cymbals and drums, and leap and spin and sing Jagannatha's praises to the sky. Especially the youth.
Before Subhadra's chariot, America's Gauravani and India's Nandu lead dozens of gurukulis in some of the parade's hottest singing and dancing. Chanting Hare Krsna, Ramacandra looks as if he's about to leap clear of his body.
"We're born into Hare Krsna families," he says, "but for many of us, Rathayatra and the Festival of India is where we actually join the Hare Krsna movement."
Indeed. Throughout the challenges facing the movement since the passing of Srila Prabhupada, the North American festival has continued as a kind of standard-bearer of Prabhupada's magnanimous mood and style. The youth know that, because they experience it. And so year after year, they travel to the festival, just as their parents would travel to see Prabhupada and experience the sublimest Krsna consciousness.
Nearing the park, Puri and Satya patrol the parade's margins, keeping the wheels rolling at a steady pace. When Jagannatha's chariot starts to slow down, Satya points to a half-dozen drummers charging a Watusi-dancing swami. Puri walks over and motions them along, gesturing toward the police and the sky. But now the sun bursts forth—drying clothes and bodies and highlighting the swell of celebrants topping five thousand.
As the first wave passes through the arch, a man in blue shakes his head. "Only the Krsnas could pull off a parade this large, this loud, and this peaceful."
And in a smooth two hours.
Inside, Madhuha ushers the deities onstage, along with a likeness of Srila Prabhupada. The stage is rocking, as bandleader Vaiyasaki Dasa has a thousand people on their feet dancing and singing Hare Krsna. As Madhuha steps offstage, queries follow him wherever he goes: Got more propane for our pizza booth? Got a spare generator? Spare a crewman? Spare a Band-Aid?
"That's my job," smiles Madhuha. "Troubleshooting." His friends don't call him "Mud" for nothing.
Above the World Trade Center's twin towers, the clouds part again, bathing the festival in fresh sunlight. The crowd swells to ten thousand, many of them moving through the New York temple's free-feast line. The temple's shops and book tables are also hopping, as visitors flock, piqued by the walk-through exhibits. "Did you see that picture of the man with the cow's head chopping off the head of the cow with the man's head? And those horrible war scenes in the background? My God, do you suppose ...?" The karmic connection between slaughter and war.
Everywhere they lift their tired eyes, Madhuha and crew smile to see people wander through the festival and come a little closer to knowing Krsna. In 1966, with a handful of devotees, Prabhupada began chanting Hare Krsna publicly in this very park.
"If Prabhupada were still walking among us today," says Madhuha, "I think he'd be right here, bringing Krsna to the people, and changing their lives."
Through devotees like Madhuha, it is very clear that he is.
It's 4:00 P.M. Onstage, Phani is doing a one-man pantomime. It's hilarious, it's enlightening, it's Phani. Off-stage, Madhuha is starting to think about takedown. Crewmen have been slipping away to rest; the alumni are scattered about, catching up with old friends. In two-and-a-half hours, the police will say, "Time's up," and in two hours more, the sun will be down. The crew will need a lot of help to beat the wolves.
At 6:00 it starts to drizzle. Madhuha asks Todd and Tracy—twin crewmen in their twenties—to back the tractor-trailer to within fifty feet of the stage. As crew and alumni return to work, people start to stream out of the park. At 6:30 the police tell Madhuha to pack it up. The exit stream turns to a torrent until Sridhara Swami leaps onstage, grabs a mike, and sounds the alarm for service. "Devotional service! Takedown devotional service! And how! And now! Yo! Yo! Hari bol!"
A Record Takedown
All heaven breaks loose as Madhuha and crew try to supervise everyone coming forward. Hundreds of eyes, hands, and legs moving in all directions. Only the Lord knows what's going on. At the truck, Todd and Tracy become the bottom of an acre-wide funnel. The sound system comes first, then the nine exhibit panels, down in a breakneck twenty-two minutes. From a hundred yards out, a kaleidoscope of floating tents follows, shifting dizzily toward the truck. Unzipping straps, stacking pipes, the twins are focused but call for more hands to help the packing. When the last piece is in, Todd checks his watch. One hour and forty-two minutes. Incredible. And no one hurt. A miracle.
And none too soon in the dampening dusk. As Satya and helpers finish policing the park, Madhuha honks the horn, and more pile in the vehicles than came. Crew and alumni have done a great job and had the time of their lives. The Saturday-night traffic makes the ride back much slower but now sweeter because of the festival. As tongues and ears sing and hear Krsna's wonderful names, minds and hearts fill with spiritual bliss. Friendships deepen in loving exchanges—the intimacy of devotional service. And at midnight, more pizza and ice cream. "O Krsna, You're too much!"
In front of the Brooklyn temple, Madhuha and Phani linger in the Ryder cab. As rain washes the windshield, their talk is reflective. They wish they had this much help at all the festivals; they wish they had the means to buy labor-saving equipment and to upgrade the exhibits to world-class; they wish the festivals could go year round; and they wish they could give the youth a future running them. But they're more than grateful for all the service Lord Krsna has given. And as for their wishes, dear reader, perhaps they are for you and I to ponder. I can wish no better meditation for anyone.
Suresvara Dasa lives with his wife and daughter in Sandy Ridge, North Carolina, home to the Festival of India.
In visiting Varanasi, Caitanya Mahaprabhu chose a city that had historically played a key role in the gradual unveiling of Vedanta, the perfection of knowledge.
By Mathuresa Dasa
Early in the year 1514, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was staying at the home of Candrasekara Vaidya in Varanasi, India, then a great center of learning. Lord Caitanya's associates heard that one of the chief scholars of Varanasi, a sannyasi named Prakasananda Sarasvati, was complaining to his followers that Caitanya Mahaprabhu, or Sri Krsna Caitanya, as He was known, was a sentimenalist who engaged in chanting the names of the Lord rather than in studying Vedanta, the proper duty of a sannyasi. Greatly disturbed by Prakasananda Sarasvati's criticism, Sri Caitanya's associates were pleased when the Lord accepted an invitation for lunch at the home of a brahmana. Prakasananda Sarasvati and his followers would also be there, so Prakasananda Sarasvati could see for himself the ideal character of Sri Krsna Caitanya.
THE DAY AFTER ACCEPTING the brahmana's invitation to lunch with Prakasananda Sarasvati, Lord Caitanya took His noon bath at Pancanada-ghat as usual, silently chanted the Gayatri mantra, and set off on foot for the brahmana's house. He walked barefoot, as customary for a sannyasi, and wore simple saffron cloth. His head was cleanly shaven, He had marked His forehead with tilaka (clay), and as He walked He chanted the Hare Krsna maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. "O Lord Krsna, O energy of the Lord! Please engage me in Your loving devotional service."
Lord Caitanya wanted to freely distribute the highest knowledge of devotional service to Krsna, knowledge available through the chanting of Krsna's holy names. In visiting Varanasi He had chosen a city that had historically played a key role in the gradual unveiling of Vedanta, the perfection of knowledge. Two thousand years earlier Lord Buddha had given His first sermon only six miles away at Saranatha, where there are still many Buddhist stupas and where many followers of the Buddhist philosophy live. And Sripada Sankaracarya, the incarnation of Lord Siva who toppled Buddhism from its dominant position in India, had come to Varanasi in A.D. 695, shortly after taking sannyasa at the age of eight. After four years at Badarikasrama in the Himalayas, where he wrote his famous commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, Sankaracarya returned to Varanasi, which remains a stronghold for his followers and for the worship of Lord Siva.
From the transcendental perspective of Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates, the teachings of Lord Buddha and those of Sankaracarya, though superficially at odds, are pieces of a well-planned evolution in spiritual realization, as close to each other philosophically as Saranatha and Varanasi on the map. Lord Buddha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, and Lord Siva's teachings as Sankaracarya were directly ordered by the Supreme Lord. Thus there is a unified purpose to their missions.
To prevent belligerent misuse of scripture by zealots, Lord Buddha as an emergency measure had rejected the Vedas and denied the existence of God and the eternal soul. He maintained that life and consciousness are products of matter. Stressing the misery and impermanence of material life, Buddha proposed only a void after death and infused His followers with tolerance, detachment, simplicity, and nonviolence. By tactical use of atheism, in other words, He replaced zealotry with the stirrings of intelligent, civilized behavior.
Building upon Lord Buddha's foundation of intelligent detachment, Sankaracarya brought back the Vedas and with them knowledge of God as the supreme soul. But since Sankaracarya was confronting a long tradition of Buddhist atheism, he avoided fully revealing the Vedic conclusion that the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Person, Lord Krsna, and that we are all Krsna's eternal individual parts and servants. Creating indirect meanings for the Vedic texts, Sankaracarya instead asserted, for the upliftment of his materialistic Buddhist audiences, that consciousness and all living symptoms originate not in matter but in Brahman, the supreme, eternal, all-pervading soul.
Brahman is blissful, omniscient, and impersonal, but acquires, when in contact with maya, the illusory material energy, a temporary existence characterized by misery, ignorance, and individuality. The life and consciousness animating our temporary material bodies are eternal, Sankaracarya taught, but both our individuality and our concepts of God as the supreme individual are illusory products of Brahman's contact with matter. When we are free from matter, we lose our miserable individuality and become one with the blissful Supreme, just as the air in an empty pot becomes one with the sky when the pot is broken. In other words, we are all Brahman, or God, the Supreme Soul. We have just forgotten.
Sankaracarya's offering of impersonal oneness is a partial revelation of Vedanta that awakens voidists to eternal consciousness without upsetting their atheistic demeanor. Thinking oneself God is at least as atheistic as denying He exists. But Sankar-acarya's followers paid a heavy price philosophically for accepting this impersonal pitch. In one breath they must say that we are all the Supreme, and in the next they must imply that the Supreme, since it can be conquered by illusion, is not Supreme. Asserting that the Supreme is overcome by illusion or forgetfulness, they inadvertantly propose that illusion, or maya, is supreme.
Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates therefore refer to the bewildered followers of Sankaracarya and to all "you are God" philosophers by using the derogatory term Mayavadi, or "one who accepts illusion as the highest truth." The Buddhists too are Mayavadis, because they believe that maya, the temporary material nature, generates individual consciousness and the living symptoms. Although the Buddhists do not accept an eternal all-pervading soul, they essentially agree with the Sankarites that matter is superior to the living force.
Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu intended to deliver the entire world from these two kinds of Mayavadis, represented by the Buddhists of Saranatha and the impersonalist Sankarites of Varanasi. As part of that mission, He was on His way to lunch with Prakasananda Sarasvati, current chief of the Varanasi Mayavadis. By Lord Krsna's will elements of Vedanta had been available through the teachings of Lord Buddha and Sripada Sankaracarya. But for a long time Lord Krsna had not bestowed upon the inhabitants of the world the full import of Vedanta. Lord Caitanya is Krsna Himself appearing in the role of His own devotee, and while we cannot know His exact thoughts or plan as He made His way through Varanasi's ancient streets, we do have a broader record of His thinking. Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, one of Lord Caitanya's principal biographers, explains:
Lord Krsna enjoys His transcendental pastimes [on earth] as long as He wishes, and then He disappears. After disappearing, however, He thinks thus:
The Lord Attracts the Sannyasis
Lord Caitanya had a large and well-built body, a complexion like molten gold, and a face as beautiful as the moon. Arriving at the brahmana's house and seeing that all the sannyasis of Varanasi had gathered there, He humbly bowed to them and, as was customary, went to wash His feet before entering the assembly. Then, instead of joining the other sannyasis, who had taken seats according to title and rank, Lord Caitanya sat on the ground near the washing area, His transcendental body glowing with the effulgence of millions of suns.
Unsettled by the Lord's humility and attracted by the brilliant illumination of His body, the entire assembly rose to receive Him. Prakasananda Sarasvati stepped forward and, mistaking the Lord's meekness for bereavement, spoke to Him with affection and concern.
"Please come here, Your Holiness," Prakasananda requested. "Why do You sit in that filthy place? What has caused Your lamentation?"
"Oh, I belong to an inferior order of sannyasis," Lord Caitanya replied. "Therefore I am not qualified to sit with you. Let Me sit down here."
In the line of Sripada Sankaracarya ten titles are awarded to sannyasis, with Sarasvati, Tirtha, and Asrama being the most coveted. Caitanya is an inferior, brahmacari title, a name for a student or servant of a Bharati sannyasi. When Nimai Pandita had first approached Kesava Bharati in Katwa, He had received the name Sri Krsna Caitanya Brahmacari. After accepting the sannyasa order from Kesava Bharati, it would have been the traditional course for Sri Krsna Caitanya to accept the Bharati title Himself. Instead the Lord kept the name Caitanya to show that we are eternally servants of our spiritual masters and God. Mayavadis think that by earning a sannyasa title they become God, the supreme authority, and therefore need serve no one. While speaking respectfully to Prakasananda and other Mayavadis, Lord Caitanya was teaching by example that if titles or degrees spawn such arrogance it is better to keep your undergraduate designation.
Surprised to see Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu reluctant to join the other sannyasis, Prakasananda Sarasvati caught Him by the hand and seated Him with great respect in the midst of the assembly.
"Well, sir, I think Your name is Sri Krsna Caitanya," Prakasananda said, "and I understand that You belong to our sect. You are living here in Varanasi. Why don't You mix with us? You are a sannyasi. You are supposed to engage Your time simply in Vedanta study. But we see that You are always chanting, dancing, and playing on musical instruments. Why? These things are for emotional and sentimental people. By Your effulgence it appears to us that You are just like Narayana, the Supreme Person, but Your low-class behavior speaks otherwise."
Putting his foot into his mouth in a genteel scholarly manner, Prakasananda Sarasvati challenged Lord Caitanya, the author of Vedanta, to account for neglecting His studies. What to speak of neglect, it is the Lord's position to determine who is a qualified candidate for admission to the study of Vedanta philosophy. To kindly inform Prakasananda of the qualifications he would need, Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Vedanta's dean of admissions, replied:
"My dear sir, I may inform you that My spiritual master considered Me a great fool and told Me I had no qualification to study Vedanta. He kindly gave Me the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. My spiritual master told Me, 'Go on chanting this Krsna mantra, and it will make You perfect in understanding Vedanta.' "
The Lord had already demonstrated three times the importance of humility: by offering obeisances to the entire assembly of sannyasis, by taking a seat near the washing area, and by retaining the name Caitanya. In His Siksastaka verses Lord Caitanya writes that one should always feel lower than straw in the street, more tolerant than a tree, devoid of all sense of false prestige, and ready to offer all respect to others. Only in such a humble state of mind, Lord Caitanya taught, can one constantly savor Vedanta philosophy or the holy names of God. Now the Lord, the spiritual master of everyone, was showing Prakasananda by His own example that the test of genuine humility is whether one can submit oneself as an ignorant fool before a qualified spiritual master. That is the Lord's entrance exam for the study of Vedanta.
The Importance of Disciplic Succession
Qualified spiritual masters are those who have themselves heard submissively from a bona fide teacher in a disciplic succession descending from the Lord Himself, and who have carefully followed their spiritual master's orders. Without receiving knowledge through disciplic succession, one can never fully understand either one's eternal self or God, the supreme self, since both are beyond the limited and faulty jurisdiction of our material senses, minds, and intellects. Research with our defective material faculties distorts even our understanding of material subjects, so that our "knowledge," full of mistakes, always requires revision. This shifting nature of materialistic knowledge provokes in ordinary researchers a state of frustration that makes the conception of an ultimate void, Buddhist or otherwise, look very attractive.
Lord Krsna therefore provides, in the form of the Vedas, libraries of conclusive writings in all branches of knowledge, both material and spiritual, and entrusts each branch to learned scholars to carry through the ages in a disciplic succession. According to Vedic historians, all knowledge, however embellished or distorted by empirics, has its origin in the Vedas. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes: "Any knowledge you accept is veda, for the teachings of the Vedas are the original knowledge. There are no branches of knowledge, either mundane or transcendental, which do not belong to the original text of the Vedas. They have simply been developed into different branches. They were originally rendered by great, respectable and learned professors. In other words, the Vedic knowledge, broken into different branches by disciplic successions, has been distributed all over the world. No one, therefore, can claim independent knowledge beyond the Vedas."
In reestablishing the primal position of the Vedic knowledge, Sankaracarya had given the voidists of his time access to preliminary spiritual understanding. But in imagining indirect, impersonal meanings to the Vedanta-sutra to attract his voidist audiences, Sankaracarya had concealed the principle of disciplic succession and opened the door for use of our same defective, material faculties in the study of Vedanta.
Mayavadis accept the Vedas as the source of transcendental knowledge, but at Sankaracarya's behest they proudly think they can grasp Vedanta-sutra by their own intellectual efforts without referring to recognized experts in the Vedic tradition. This is a dangerous attitude even in material fields. Anyone, for example, can read books at a medical library, but without training under experienced surgeons, you cannot try your hand in an operating room without creating havoc. The Mayavadis have created havoc in the sphere of Vedanta, and have thereby polluted every field of knowledge.
(concluded in the next issue.)
Mathuresa Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has written many articles for Back to Godhead and other publications. He and his wife and their four children live in Alachua, Florida.
Stubbed Toes And Too-Tight Clothes
IN WRITING ABOUT Krsna consciousness for Back to Godhead, I sometimes browse through books of quotations from famous people. I recently came across this quote from an American comedian: "Most of the time I don't have much fun. The rest of the time I don't have any fun at all."
The power of wit is in delivering the unexpected, and also in saying something we can all agree with. Wouldn't we all like to be happy all the time? Why does full satisfaction escape us? And what does our desire for unending happiness say about who we are?
Some people say we evolved from chemicals. I'm not a scientist, but I'd suggest that the theory of evolution can't explain why we want happiness in the first place. If we're adapted for this life, and this life can be pretty miserable, why wouldn't we evolve with the desire to be miserable, and then be satisfied when we are?
Other people say we're spiritual beings, created by God. That explanation makes more sense to me. We're after happiness because our original nature is to be happy. We're not these bodies but eternal happy souls locked inside unhappy bodies.
Think how much misery the body can bring. My big toe gives me pleasure indirectly by making it easy for me to walk. But when I stub it I feel the direct misery it can bring. In fact, the body, with all its demands, constantly gives misery. Try fasting for a day and see how much distress your stomach and tongue can give you.
We're always trying to pull pleasure from the body, but it costs us. The currency? Disease, aging, and finally death.
But we don't give up the quest for happiness even though the body won't cooperate. Even in the most horrible situations, we cling to the hope that things will get better.
Granted, life's not all misery, but why settle for imperfect happiness? A healthy dose of pessimism about material life is a good first step toward spiritual awakening. The material world is designed to give us misery. Someone once said that maybe the earth is another planet's hell. In fact, the whole material world is a kind of hell, compared to our original home in the spiritual world. We're not supposed to be happy here. No matter how many adjustments we make, we'll always feel something's wrong, as if we're wearing clothes a few sizes too small.
One message of Back to Godhead is that sensual enjoyment is a waste of time. But we're not trying to spoil the party. We're saying that this party's an illusion and the forces of nature will inevitably crash it. There's another party across town at the Hare Krsna temple. Singing, dancing, and feasting in relation to God—a taste of a way of life that will prepare you for a one-way trip back to the eternal party you left long ago.
Even while in this world, an awakened soul tolerates bodily suffering and takes pleasure in Krsna consciousness. He might say, "Most of the time I don't suffer much. The rest of the time I don't suffer at all."
Without becoming a devotee of the Lord, one cannot perfect one's human life. The perfection of human life is to be elevated to the spiritual world, where there is no birth, no death, no disease, and no old age ... Without this aim, any amount of material advancement in so-called comforts can only bring the defeat of the human form of life.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Everything that can be achieved by fruitive activities, penance, knowledge, detachment, mystic yoga, charity, religious duties, and all other means of perfecting life is easily achieved by My devotee through loving service unto Me. If somehow or other My devotee desires promotion to heaven, liberation, or residence in My abode, he easily achieves such benedictions.
Lord Sri Krsna
If something happens by providential arrangement, we should not be very sorry. The more we try to rectify such reversals, the more we enter into the darkest region of materialistic thought.
My dear Lord [Visnu], I do not wish to have the benediction of merging into Your existence, a benediction in which there is no existence of the nectarean beverage of Your lotus feet. I want the benediction of at least one million ears, for thus I may be able to hear about the glories of Your lotus feet from the mouths of Your pure devotees.
A person who is constantly engaged in reading literature enunciating the cultivation of Vaisnava devotional service is always glorious in human society, and certainly Lord Krsna becomes pleased with him. A person who very carefully keeps such literature at home and offers respectful obeisances to it becomes freed from all sinful reactions and ultimately becomes worshipable by the demigods.
One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks, in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things. What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?
Sri Isopanisad, Mantra Seven