Do you ever find yourself wanting to see God, just to assure yourself He exists? We at Back to Godhead want to help you see God. That may sound presumptuous, but consider that God, being omnipotent, can appear in ways we might not expect. We simply have to qualify ourselves to see Him.
Bhagavad-gita, the foundation of India's spiritual culture for thousands of years, tells us that God repeatedly comes to this world to promote religion and favor His devotees. In this issue we hear how the Lord appeared thousands of years ago to a determined young prince. We read about an episode that took place during the Lord's appearance five hundred years ago as Caitanya Mahaprabhu. And we learn about a wonderful form of the Lord present on earth right now—the Deity known as Lord Jagannatha. Like thousands of other Deities worshiped around the world, He is available for all to see.
You might not at once accept that the Deity is God Himself. But there's more to seeing than reflected light and optic nerves. May Back to Godhead help you develop the purified vision to see God as He reveals Himself.
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
I very much appreciated the article "Ganga Safari" in your March/April issue. It was like a documentary or being there. The photographs were brilliant. Great composition and perspective, particularly the long shots. I would like to know if anyone can go on that same boat tour, as I'm planning a trip to Vrndavana in the fall.
Vaikuntha Dasa adhikari
OUR REPLY: Jayapataka Swami is planning to lead an excursion down the Ganges, from Mayapur to the sea, during the upcoming month of Karttika (October 25-November 23). For more information, contact Vidvan Gauranga Dasa, Shree Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir, P. O. Box 10279, Ballyganj, Calcutta 700 019.
The Basics of Womanhood
I very much appreciated Visakha Devi's article "What's a Women to Do?" [March/April] However, I'm concerned about what might happen if senior devotee women minister to women in general by putting an emphasis on what they could do rather than what tradition or scripture has emphasized. The tendency, as I see it, is that women no longer confined to their traditional roles become egocentric, compete with men, fall into promiscuity, and give up the modesty and chastity of the Vedic women. Visakha Devi was very to the point about a woman always needing the protection of a father, husband, or son, and I have not overlooked that. I just consider that if the senior women in the Krsna consciousness movement are not mindful enough to teach the younger generation about the basics of womanhood, then we'll witness illegitimacy and divorce unchecked.
Yogindra Vandana Dasa adhikari
VISAKHA DEVI DASI REPLIES: I agree that the senior women in the Krsna consciousness movement should teach—by their words and examples—the basics of womanhood to the younger generation. Those basics include modesty and chastity, as you indicate, as well as using their talents to serve the Lord. These basics are not contradictory or conflicting; it is simply a matter of proper training and attitude. If the women (or the men) become egocentric and overly competitive, that's surely an indication of improper training and attitude.
Hare Krsna and Hinduism
I have read your magazine, and I have enjoyed it. I wish to compliment you on it. I have learned many of the Vaisnava beliefs. However, I have a question. Are there any Vaisnava beliefs (Hare Krsna beliefs) that are different from or contrary to Hindu beliefs?
OUR REPLY: The problem here is in defining "Hindu beliefs." The word Hindu itself comes from Persian languages, not from the Sanskrit Vedic scriptures upon which "Hinduism" is based. So there is no part of the Vedas that says, "A Hindu believes such and such." The word Hindu is not found anywhere in the Vedic scriptures.
The Vedic scriptures are a vast body of literature with great diversity of presentations that suit a variety of spiritual interests. According to scholars, the absence of a commonly accepted core belief system characterizes Hinduism.
For these reasons it is sometimes said that there are 900 million Hindus and 900 million varieties of Hinduism.
Scholars of Hinduism generally divide Hindus into two philosophical groups: those who seek oneness with an impersonal Supreme represented by many Deities, and those who seek the eternal service of a single, personal God.
As Vaisnavas, or devotees of Lord Krsna, we are personalists. We chant Krsna's names and pray for Him to accept our eternal service. We worship Krsna's Deity form, recite and study Sanskrit scriptures, and observe sacred festivals with roots in the Vedic tradition. Such practices are common to virtually all those who consider themselves Hindus.
At the same time, since the scriptures say the soul is eternal and defies such designations, we do not consider ourselves "Hindus." The soul is not Hindu, Christian, or Jew. The soul is part of God. When the body dies, the soul lives on, rewarded according to the relationship one establishes in this life with Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In short, we are devotees of Krsna, not Hindus. Yet we worship Krsna side by side with millions who consider themselves Hindus. Scholars consider us part of that hard-to-define Hindu religion. We have no problem with either point of view.
Sometimes we see some ill-informed people claiming, out of sectarian concerns, that personalism is not Hinduism. In so doing, they defy not only the views of most scholars of Hinduism but also most Hindus, who easily relate to and take part in the practices of Krsna consciousness.
BTG at the Gym
Your magazine has a broader appeal than you may think. The other day I took BTG with me to read while walking the treadmill at the local gym. After my walk, I left the BTG perched on the back of a weight machine while I lifted weights. During my thirty-minute program three people picked up the BTG and stood reading it for about five minutes each. Realizing it was mine, two of them asked me questions about local Krsna conscious gatherings.
Just that morning I had been wondering if my plan to acquire land for Krsna's Kauai temple was appropriate and in line with Krsna's plan. I found the interest in the BTG during that thirty minutes very encouraging.
I immensely enjoy reading your marvelous magazine. It is enlightening and spiritual. Thank you for bringing Krsna consciousness to this demonism stricken world. May Lord Krsna always be your guiding light.
Do You Value Life?
I have just started to read "The Song of God: Bhagavad-gita," translated by Christopher Isherwood. On page 36 Sri Krsna says all this great stuff about why Arjuna should fight. But then I am wondering: once you find out about all this great wisdom, do you still value life?
D. C. Stryk
OUR REPLY: It's extremely important that you read an edition of the Bhagavad-gita translated by someone who has realized its teachings. We suggest you get a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
One who follows Lord Krsna's teachings certainly values life. You seem concerned that Krsna is inciting Arjuna to kill on the battlefield. As Prabhupada explains in his Gita commentary, sometimes violence is necessary for the upkeep of society. He gives the example of a surgeon, who has to cut the patient—apparently a violent act—for the patient's benefit. To commit violence whimsically or for one's selfish interests is a grievous wrong, but Arjuna was being guided by the Lord Himself, who, as we see later in the Gita, gives and takes away all life. So there is no question of Arjuna's acting irreligiously or with disregard for life.
I am a student in Southern California, as well as a regular attendee at my local ISKCON temple. I have attended the temple for as long as I can remember, and as I have always been brought up in the ISKCON/Hindu lifestyle, I have never really questioned it. I follow all the basic religious teachings I have learned over the years, though as I get older, I have begun to wonder about certain aspects of my life, not because I dislike them, but because I feel that it is important to know why I believe in something, instead of blindly believing in it.
Over the last few years, I've begun to resent some things I hear the temple priest say. For years I've listened to the priest talk about how it's important to live life in a certain way, and I've always been told that the way he tells me to live is the ideal. However, I've had some time to think about it, and I now find myself questioning what the priest lectures about. What right does this man have to tell people how to live life? After all, most temple priests have nothing else to do in life but to live at the temple and pray to God. They know nothing about what it's like to work, pay taxes, have desires, and endure temptation. What gives them the right to tell us how to live life when they don't know what real life is really like?
I am very interested in what you have to say about this issue.
OUR REPLY: We commend you for asking questions, because a proper philosophical understanding is essential if we want to maintain spiritual practices. In most ISKCON temples, at least those with more than a handful of devotees, many devotees are likely to give lectures. And although some of the lecturers may be temple priests, some are probably devotees with families and regular jobs—devotees living in the "real world."
A lecturer can take many approaches in presenting the philosophy and practices of Krsna consciousness, and no doubt some lecturers are more skillful or tactful than others. Maybe you are regularly hearing from someone who seems out of touch with the pressures of day-to-day life. If the lecturer you've been hearing is a celibate living in the temple, he might not have to work and pay taxes. Still, like everyone else in this world, he is certainly faced with temptations and desires.
We all tend to resist being told what to do, and it seems you don't like to hear about some of the restrictions ISKCON recommends. But these restrictions are not rules for the sake of rules. They are meant to help us advance in spiritual life. The goal is to become Krsna conscious, to re-awaken our innate love for Krsna. Naturally, how we live affects our consciousness. So we have to set priorities. If spiritual realization is of utmost importance to me, then I should arrange my life for it. I have to ask myself whether I want to add complications to my life, or simplify and leave myself more time for spiritual practices.
There are members of ISKCON from all walks of life, including college students who face the same pressures you do. But those serious about spiritual life protect it by being careful whom they associate with and what they do with their free time. They may also sometimes feel that those living in the temple are out of touch. On the other hand, they may appreciate reminders about the urgency of spiritual life. While it's true that some ISKCON preachers would do well to tone down the rhetoric, please don't let that divert you from hearing the essential message of Krsna consciousness. Devotees present Krsna consciousness as Prabhupada teaches it in his books. If you study them, you'll have a good basis for evaluating any lecture on Krsna consciousness you may hear in the temple.
Please write us at: BTG, P.O. Box 430, Alachua, FL 32616, USA; fax: (904) 462-7893. Or: BTG, 33 Janki Kutir, Next to State Bank of Hyderabad, Juhu, Mumbai 400 049, India. Phone: (022) 618-1718; fax: (022) 618-4827; e-mail: email@example.com
"By education you prepare for the future.
Adapted from a lecture given in Bombay, India, on March 21, 1974
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
sri bhagavan uvaca
The Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krsna, said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.
* * *
TODAY WE ARE speaking on the Bhagavad-gita. This preliminary study of the science of Godhead was originally spoken by Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The word bhagavan comes from the word bhaga, which we know here in India as bhagya, or "opulence" and "fortune." An opulent person is called bhagyavan.
Bhaga especially refers to six opulences: wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, beauty, and renunciation. These opulences make a person attractive. A wealthy person is attractive. Similarly, if a person is very strong or influential or learned or beautiful, others are attracted. Or if a person has renounced everything for the public's benefit, naturally we have some attraction. So in the material world we find some wealthy and famous people, some strong man, some beautiful woman, some wise and renounced persons, but they possess only a fragment, or a small quantity, of these opulences.
Take a rich man. He may be very rich in comparison to other people in the world, but he cannot claim, "I have all the wealth." No one can claim that. And no one claims, "I am the wisest man." No one can even claim, "I am the strongest man," because however strong he may be, he is under the laws of material nature and cannot go beyond that. Therefore we cannot find any supreme person, or bhagavan, possessing all these opulences. That is not possible.
But here it is said, bhagavan uvaca: "the Supreme Personality of Godhead said." That means He, Krsna, is the richest, the strongest, the most beautiful, the wisest, the most famous, and the most renounced. When Krsna was present in the material world, He proved His supremacy by His actions. Therefore we take lessons from Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the all-perfect. What will be accomplished by hearing from this rascal or that rascal? Try to hear from the perfect Supreme Personality, without any deviation.
There are four kinds of defects in conditioned life: making mistakes, being illusioned, cheating, and acting with imperfect senses. We are all infected with these four deficiencies. That is the material condition of life. Therefore unless one is liberated from these defects, he cannot give you perfect knowledge. That is not possible.
With imperfect senses, how can someone gather perfect knowledge? He can simply say, "perhaps," "it may be," "most probably," that's all—theories. Nobody can say, "It is like this."
But the Vedas give perfect knowledge. For example, the Vedas say exactly how many varieties of life forms there are: nine hundred thousand varieties of life in the water, two million types of trees and plants, eleven hundred thousand types of insects, one million types of birds, three million types of animals, and four hundred thousand types of humankind. Everything is exactly calculated. That is Vedic knowledge.
Here Krsna says that the knowledge He is giving is perfect. If you want perfect knowledge, you have to hear from Krsna. Bhagavan uvaca: "the Supreme Personality of Godhead said." Bhagavan means "the supremely wise, the most powerful, most influential, most beautiful, most learned, most renounced."
Just see Bhagavan's renunciation! If we construct a building, we become attached to it, but Krsna has constructed the whole universe and still He does not claim it for Himself. Actually, we have practically no idea what the universe is. We tried to go to the moon, but we have no exact idea even of the moon. And there are innumerable heavenly bodies. Each is of a different type, with a different climate, different facilities, and different standards of life. You cannot even count all the planets. And this is only one universe. There are millions of universes.
So Krsna, the Supreme Lord, is the creator of all these universes. Still, He does not come here, except occasionally. And He does not claim them for Himself. He has given them to you to use: "You wanted to enjoy the material world. All right, I give it to you. Enjoy."
Beginning from Brahma, the engineer of the universe, down to the ant, we living entities are enjoying. We create the fruits of our activity, and therefore we get another body: sometimes the ant's body, sometimes Brahma's body, sometimes a cat's body, sometimes an American body, sometimes an Indian body, sometimes a monkey's body. In this way we are wandering all over the universe.
One who is wise, learned, should try to understand how to get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death. We may now have an American body or an Indian body, but what will the next life be? That point people do not know. By education you prepare for the future. But how are you preparing for the next life? People do not know whether there is a next life or not. There is no education on that point.
We are such fools that we do not know about the next life. Therefore we have to hear from the perfect person, Krsna.
Krsna says, dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara/ tatha dehantara-praptih: "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." This is the beginning of spiritual education—dehantara-praptih: we have to change this body, transmigrate from this body to another body. No university teaches how the soul is transferred from one body to another, or what kind of body we are going to get next. There is no such science taught nowadays. But transmigration is the real problem of human life. Therefore we have to hear from Krsna, Bhagavan, the Supreme—who can give us perfect knowledge.
Krsna is so kind He comes personally and gives instruction and He leaves the instruction recorded. Lord Krsna spoke the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, and Sanjaya recorded it, by the grace of Vyasadeva, Sanjaya's spiritual master.
Then Vyasadeva put the conversation in the Mahabharata. Formerly the whole planet was called Bharata, or Bharatavarsa, and the history of the planet is called the Mahabharata. In the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-gita is set, for the information of all human beings.
Bhagavad-gita is not meant only for Hindus, Indians, or brahmanas. No. It is meant for everyone. Take perfect knowledge from Krsna and be happy. If you want to become happy, then accept Krsna's instruction.
Try not to deviate—to interpret the Bhagavad-gita in your own whimsical way. Rascals do that. Simply try to understand what Krsna says. That's all. Then your life will be perfect. Therefore Krsna says, "Try to understand the Bhagavad-gita according to the process by which I gave it."
What is that process? Imam vivasvate yogam proktavan aham avyayam: "I first spoke this science to the sun-god, Vivasvan." No one, including so-called scientists and philosophers, knows what is in the sun. But it is possible to talk with the sun-god personally, provided you become qualified by Krsna's grace. Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He can go anywhere. It is not that because the sun is a fiery planet, Krsna cannot go there.
The bodies on the sun are made of fire. Just as here the bodies are made of earth, there are places where the bodies are made of water or of fire. Space, earth, water, fire, air—these are all material things. So I have a suitable body to live on this earthly planet. The fish has a body to live in the water. You cannot live in the water. The fish cannot live on the land. That does not mean it is impossible to live in the water. Similarly, because you cannot live in the fire, that does not mean it is impossible for others. To think it is impossible is foolishness. The sun planet is made of fire, and those who have fiery bodies can live there.
The atmosphere is different on every planet, just as the atmosphere in the water is different from the atmosphere on the land. But we know there are living entities within the water, on the land, in the air, in the earth, in the sky. Everywhere there is life. The bodies are different, but the spirit soul—the life force—is the same. Your spirit soul and my spirit soul are the same. But your body is called an American body, and my body is called an Indian body. That is the difference. Our bodies are like different dresses for the soul.
The Essential Lesson
So the first spiritual lesson is this: "I am not this body." Then spiritual knowledge begins. Otherwise there is no possibility of spiritual knowledge. One who thinks, "I am this body," is a rascal, an animal. That's all. This rascal animalism is going on all over the world. "I am American," "I am Indian." You have to go above this. Then there is spiritual knowledge. That is bhakti-yoga.
Only by bhakti-yoga can you come to the spiritual platform. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the greatest teacher of bhakti-yoga, expressed our spiritual identity when He said, "I have nothing to do with any designations related to the body. I am an eternal soul, an eternal servant of Krsna." That is our identity. We are all eternal servants of Krsna. The servants who have rebelled against Krsna have come to the material world. To reclaim these servants, Krsna comes. He's so kind.
So let us take advantage of Krsna's coming here and leaving behind the Bhagavad-gita. Let us read it perfectly and make our life perfect.
Thank you very much.
Taking Krsna Personally
By Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
MOST PEOPLE READING this magazine understand, at least theoretically, that Krsna is God and we are His servants. Many of us have learned to be pessimistic about achieving material happiness and optimistic about attaining spiritual happiness. We aspire to attain Krsna's lotus feet and serve Him personally. He whose names we have chanted, whose activities we have praised, whose form we have worshiped, to whom we have offered countless obeisances—that all-attractive Sri Krsna, we know, can become ours if we develop pure love of God. If we are neophytes in spiritual life, we know that the first step is to dovetail our desires by offering our work to Krsna.
What we are looking for is a personal exchange with Krsna. We have heard that there is a direct relationship between our Krsna conscious practices and our receipt of Krsna's mercy. Therefore, we strive for sincerity, to act properly, to chant purely, to understand what it means to be a devotee—and we do all this for years. We wait expectantly, hat in hand, for Krsna to appear.
But He doesn't. Krsna does not appear on demand but only by His own sweet will. No mechanical process—no yoga, no rote prayers, no mantras—can induce the Lord to appear.
Perhaps as the years pass we feel our patience wearing thin. When will we see Him? What does it actually take to induce Him to appear? And we feel the weight of life in this world. Our children are growing and need our attention, our careers are pulling at us, and while we wait for Krsna, we find it necessary to tend to these concerns. Our initial fervor wavers under the double demand of patience and a busy life. Sometimes we adjust our aspirations and learn to settle for a distant relationship with Krsna. The edge on our spiritual hankering softens. We stop taking Krsna so personally.
Fortunately, Krsna doesn't stop taking us personally. Rather, He feels obliged to help us come to the point of perfect love. Krsna takes the devotees under His care providing them with life experiences by which they can learn to evoke their love of God.
If Krsna takes us so personally, then we should reciprocate by following His lead. Hearing the Bhagavatam, chanting the holy name, and associating with pure devotees are essential activities for those who wish to hone their spiritual desires. Srila Prabhupada writes, "By sincere efforts to hear Srimad-Bhagavatam one realizes his constitutional relationship with the Lord in the transcendental humor ... and by such self-realization one becomes situated at once in the transcendental service of the Lord. ... By such actions the accumulated material lusts, etc., become cleansed by the personal endeavor of the Lord within the heart. The Lord is always within the heart of the living being, but He becomes manifest by one's devotional service." (Bhag. 2.8.5, Purport)
All devotees want to see Krsna. Although Krsna's appearance before a devotee may be reserved for topmost lovers of God, beginners who see the Lord acting in their lives can maintain the enthusiasm to penetrate into His presence. Hearing how great devotees succeeded in this attempt can also inspire us with confidence.
Krsna tells us in Bhagavad-gita, "As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha." (Bg. 4.11). Every soul has a personal relationship with Krsna, although not all souls recognize that fact. For those who do, Krsna personally comes forward to reciprocate. How Krsna reciprocates is not within our control. His response to our prayers will take a course perfectly designed to increase our love for Him. In a famous story of the devotee Narada Muni, Krsna appeared before him and then chose to disappear. Krsna wanted to increase Narada's hankering for Him. That hankering burns off the dross separating the devotees from their own pure love of God. Therefore, however Krsna chooses to respond, devotees are satisfied. They know they have the Lord's personal attention.
Krsna consciousness is not a mere exercise in spirituality; its practice is intensely relevant to our condition. We are meant to take Krsna personally. Our predicament in the material world is really a predicament; devotional service really is the only means of deliverance. The goal of love of Krsna is really within our reach. We can choose to see these truths from an academic distance, or we can live them in our lives subjectively and with the faith that Krsna is always present before us in one way or another.
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami is the author of many books, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.
Clean Clear Through
By Ravi Gupta
MY FATHER remembers his grandmother's cleanliness in the kitchen. She would set up a traditional stove on the floor, and when she cooked there was an understood line around the area, which no family member could cross without taking a shower. She had a special sari she would wear only while cooking. And after every meal, she'd wash and scrub the entire kitchen.
Practices such as this are familiar to almost every Indian. In every sphere of life Indians traditionally followed different rules and regulations to ensure cleanliness.
From the bathroom to the temple, the Vedic culture's standards of cleanliness are demanding. Even the local health department would endorse the Vedic rules of cleanliness; they're excellent measures for controlling disease and maintaining health. But the Vedas themselves have a larger purpose in prescribing these standards of cleanliness: to make ourselves fit to approach God.
India's original culture is a spiritual culture, and spiritual life depends on cleanliness. Cleanliness is one of the four pillars of religion and the chief quality of a brahmana. As the common saying goes, "Cleanliness is next to godliness." Or, as Srila Prabhupada says, "Unless we are clean, unless we are pure, how we can approach the Supreme?"
Even to this day, people in the villages of India follow a routine of cleanliness and spiritual life. Prabhupada describes, "In India, especially in the villages, you'll find cleanliness. [The villager has] one cloth, ... but that one cloth is washed daily. And early in the morning, even in chilly cold, they will take bath, taking water from the well, ... then go to some temple and see mangala-arati [early-morning worship]. Chant the Hare Krsna mantra. Ring the bells. ... In the shops also, they'll cleanse everything very nicely. Even the weighing scale they will wash every day."
But as the spiritual focus in life diminishes, so does the level of cleanliness. Many Indian families are now giving up these habits as outdated, in favor of a more Western way of life. Instead of getting up in the morning and showering at once, people get up and head to the kitchen for tea and breakfast. Cooks routinely taste food while cooking, and mix dishes used for eating with those used for cooking. People forget to wash their mouths after eating, and don't shower after evacuating. All these habits make a person muci, or unclean.
When life has a spiritual focus the regulations for cleanliness become natural and enjoyable. We'll want to take a shower after rising, so we can go to the temple and present ourselves before the Deity. We'll automatically refrain from tasting food while cooking, because we know we're cooking for Krsna's pleasure. And we'll naturally keep our home clean, making it an inviting place for the Lord to reside.
To approach Krsna, however, external cleanliness is not enough. "If you remain unclean within the heart," Prabhupada says, "simply washing your external body and cleansing your cloth is not complete cleanliness. That may be called hygienic. But real cleanliness is internal and external." After all, how can we approach Krsna, the purest, when we have things like lust, avarice, and envy in our hearts?
To clean the heart there is a simple, one-step process: chanting of the holy names of Krsna. As Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu says in His Siksastaka prayers, "Glory to the chanting of Krsna's names, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of material life." The holy name of the Lord is the best cleansing agent for all unwanted desires in the heart.
Before worshiping Deities of the Lord, devotees often chant this verse from the Garuda Purana:
apavitrah pavitro va
"Whether one is pure or contaminated, and regardless of one's external situation, simply by remembering the lotus-eyed Personality of Godhead one can internally and externally cleanse one's existence." The holy names make one fit to approach the Lord.
And what is the ultimate benefit of cleanliness? We can become qualified to go back home, back to Godhead. Prabhupada says, "By following this principle of cleanliness, it will one day be possible to see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face."
So while we wash the dishes and mop the floor, let us chant: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Ravi Gupta turned seventeen in April. In May he graduated from Boise State University with a B.A. in mathematics and philosophy. He'll now attend Oxford University in England for his post-graduate studies.
The Gita, or Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), was spoken five thousand years ago by Lord Krsna to the prince Arjuna. It contains the essence of Vedic knowledge.
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.
For what purpose did Lord Krsna speak Bhagavad-gita?
The purpose of Bhagavad-gita is to deliver humankind from the ignorance of material existence. Everyone is in difficulty in so many ways, as was Arjuna in having to fight the Battle of Kuruksetra. Every one of us is full of anxieties because of this material existence. In the material world we are caught in the repeated cycle of birth and death. Thus our very existence remains in constant jeopardy in the atmosphere of nonexistence. Actually we are not meant to be threatened by nonexistence. According to the Bhagavad-gita our existence is eternal. But somehow or other we are put into asat. Asat refers to that which does not exist.
What distinguishes human beings from animals?
In this world, human beings are not meant for quarreling like cats and dogs. Human beings must be intelligent to realize the importance of human life and refuse to act like ordinary animals. A human being should realize the aim of life. This direction is given in all Vedic literature, and the essence is given in Bhagavad-gita.
Vedic literature is meant for human beings, not for other forms of life. Out of so many human beings who are suffering, there are a few who are actually inquiring about their position, as to what they are, why they are put into this awkward position, and so on. Unless a person is awakened to questioning his suffering, unless he realizes that he doesn't want suffering but rather wants to make a solution to all suffering, then he is not to be considered a perfect human being.
Humanity begins when this sort of inquiry is awakened in one's mind. Every activity of the human being is to be considered a failure unless he inquires about the nature of the Absolute.
Who is the proper student of the Gita?
Those who begin to question why they are suffering or where they came from and where they shall go after death are proper students for understanding Bhagavad-gita. The sincere student should also have a firm respect for the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such a student was Arjuna.
What subject does the Bhagavad-gita cover?
The subject of Bhagavad-gita entails the comprehension of five basic truths: the science of God, the constitutional position of the living entities (jivas), material nature (prakrti), time (kala), and activity (karma).
Who does the Bhagavad-gita say is God?
Bhagavad-gita establishes that the Supreme Godhead is Krsna. He is the supreme controller, the greatest of all. No one is greater than Him or equal to Him.
Who is controlling nature?
Bhagavad-gita explains that the Lord has control over the universal affairs of material nature. Material nature is not independent. She is acting under the directions of the Supreme Lord. As Lord Krsna says, mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram: "The material nature is working under My direction."
When we see wonderful things happening in the cosmic nature, we should know that behind this cosmic manifestation there is a controller. Nothing could be manifested without being controlled. It is childish not to consider the controller. For instance, a child may think that an automobile is quite wonderful to be able to run without a horse or other animal pulling it, but a sane person knows the nature of the automobile's engineering arrangement. He always knows that behind the machinery there is a person, a driver. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the driver under whose direction everything is working.
How does Arjuna describe Krsna as God?
The manner of Arjuna's acceptance of Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead is given in the Tenth Chapter (10.12-14) of Bhagavad-gita: "Arjuna said: 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. All the great sages such as Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasa confirm this truth about You, and now You Yourself are declaring it to me. O Krsna, I totally accept as truth all that You have told me. Neither the demigods nor the demons, O Lord, can understand Your personality."
After hearing the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna accepted Krsna as the Supreme Brahman. Every living being is Brahman, or spirit, but the supreme living being, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the Supreme Brahman.
How does Arjuna support his claim that Krsna is God?
One may think that because Krsna was the friend of Arjuna, Arjuna was calling Him God by way of flattery. But Arjuna, just to drive out this kind of doubt from the minds of the readers of Bhagavad-gita, substantiates these praises when he says that Krsna is accepted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead not only by himself but by authorities like Narada, Asita, Devala, and Vyasadeva. These are great personalities who distribute the Vedic knowledge as it is accepted by all great teachers in the Vedic tradition. Therefore Arjuna tells Krsna that he accepts whatever He says to be completely perfect.
Does God have a form and personality, or is God formless or void?
Bhagavad-gita explains that God is the complete whole, and all manifestations are due to His different energies. The complete whole comprises the supreme controller, the controlled living entities, the cosmic manifestation, eternal time, and karma, or activities, and all of these are explained in the Gita. All of these taken completely form the complete whole, and the complete whole is called the Supreme Absolute Truth. The complete whole and the complete Absolute Truth are the complete Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. All manifestations are due to His different energies. He is the complete whole.
People with insufficient intelligence consider the Supreme Truth to be impersonal, but He is a transcendental person. This is confirmed throughout the Vedic literature. As we are all individual living beings, the Supreme Absolute Truth is also, in the ultimate issue, a person, and realization of the Personality of Godhead is realization of all of the transcendental features in His complete form. The complete whole is not formless. If He were formless, or if He were less than any other thing, then He could not be the complete whole. The complete whole must have everything within and beyond our experience.
What does Lord Krsna say in the Gita about demigod worship?
In Bhagavad-gita, worship of demigods or rendering service to them is not approved. Verse twenty of the seventh chapter states: "Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures." Here it is plainly said that those who are directed by lust worship the demigods and not the Supreme Lord Krsna. When Lord Krsna descended to the material world to show His pastimes in Vrndavana, He even discouraged His father Nanda Maharaja from worshiping the demigod Indra, because He wanted to teach that people need not worship any demigod. They need only worship the Supreme Lord, because their ultimate goal is to return to His abode.
Do we own anything?
The Lord is purnam, all-perfect, and there is no possibility of His becoming subjected to the laws of material nature. One should therefore be intelligent enough to know that the Lord is the only proprietor of everything in the universe and that He is the original creator—the creator of Brahma, who is ordinarily understood to be the creator of the universe. In the eleventh chapter Krsna is addressed as prapitamaha because Brahma is addressed as pitamaha, the grandfather, and Krsna is the creator of the grandfather.
So no one should claim to be proprietor of anything; one should accept only things set aside for him by the Lord as his quota for his maintenance.
There are many examples of how we are to use those things set aside for us by the Lord. This point is explained in Bhagavad-gita. For example, animals can kill other living animals, and there is no question of sin on their part, but if a man kills an animal for the satisfaction of his uncontrolled taste, he must be responsible for breaking the laws of nature.
(continued in the next issue)
Krishan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.
"Your Leaders Are Thinking Like Cats and Dogs"
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: Now it is our choice: "Am I going to get a dog's body or a god's body?" That choice you can make. That is the meaning of having the human form of body. A dog cannot choose to elevate himself in his next life. He has no such discriminatory power. But you can do that. So if you do not do that, then you are missing your real opportunity. Yanti deva-vrata devan pitrn yanti pitr-vratah: "Those who worship the demigods will go to the planets of the demigods. Those who worship Me will come to My abode." This is what Krsna assures us in Bhagavad-gita. Anywhere you like you can go. So you must use the human form of body properly.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, does the government also have the responsibility to protect people from having to take a dog body?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is the government's duty—to see that the citizens do not degrade themselves. For example, a responsible father thinks, "Now these children are under my protection. So I must see that they get a proper education and make advancement in their lives." This is the father's duty. Of course, today the father thinks, "Let them go to hell." That's all. Today fathers are acting in that way. Nevertheless, their duty still remains.
Similarly, the government's duty is to see that the citizen makes progress. Unfortunately, your modern government leaders do not know what is meant by progress—what is the real aim of human life. They do not know. So how will they guide? They think, like cats and dogs, "If you can eat more and more, then your life is successful." Their thinking is very poor. Simply physical strength—they think that is success. They do not reflect that the elephant has so much physical strength, the tiger has so much physical strength, but what is the meaning of their lives? What spiritual realization can they attain? After all, they are animals. And yet your leaders are thinking like them. "If you simply get strength like an elephant or a tiger, then your life is successful."
These leaders think like that because they do not know the actual aim of life. A dog does not know the aim of life. Even if I say, "Self-realization is the aim of life," the dog will not understand, because his body is unsuitable for higher, spiritual understanding. But a human being can understand. That is why there are so many books of knowledge. So if people do not get this proper knowledge, they are missing the point of life. Parabhavas tavad abodha-jato yavan na jijnasata atma-tattvam: As long as one does not come to the point of understanding the spirit soul, whatever he is doing is being defeated, because the main point is missing.
Just like cats and dogs, people are accepting the temporary material body as the self, and they are working on that platform. Therefore, their lives are being spoiled. So our mission is to save the human being from wasting his life like that of the animals. This is our mission. It is the greatest humanitarian work.
Disciple: But, Srila Prabhupada, Krsna has given us free will, by which we can accept or reject the godly life. Should the government take away that free will, that choice?
Srila Prabhupada: No. That is not possible. Free will cannot be taken away and cannot be granted. It is always there within us. Krsna says that from all eternity, He has given us free will. But His personal advice is, "I am now telling you these most confidential words. Control your so-called free will. Just surrender to Me." This understanding is the most confidential. "If you surrender to Me, that is good for you. But if you go on simply reveling in your free will, you'll not be happy."
In spiritual life there is still free will. When you rise to the Krsna conscious platform, you serve Krsna with free will. Not that you become a stone. There is free will. For instance, in the temple the devotees are dressing Krsna's form very artistically. Is there no free will? And in the kitchen, they are also creating sumptuous preparations for Krsna. Is there no free will? Free will is there.
The Mayavadi philosopher or the Buddhist philosopher says, "Stop this free will and then you'll become happy." But our proposition is not to stop our free will but to purify our free will. Purify.
For instance, if your eye is suffering from a cataract, cure the cataract. Keep the eye. But the impersonalist or Buddhist proposition is, "Get that eye out and throw it away. Then there will be no more bother in seeing what is right and wrong, what is pure and impure."
This is the impersonalists' proposition. Nirvisesa-vadi. Nirvisesa means no individuality, no personality, no variety: "Everything is one." And the Buddhists' proposition: sunyavadi. Sunya means, "Everything is zero." If ultimately everything is one or zero, then there is no question of right and wrong.
So our philosophy is neither of these. There is no "All is one"; there is no "All is zero." We don't say such things. There are varieties. But they're purified varieties. Tat-paratvena nirmalam. Nirmalam means "purified." So our process is to purify everything. We don't want to stop everything. That is not our proposition. The impersonalists and Buddhists cannot find any solution to the world's problems. That is why they want to put everything to a stop: "Stop this business."
Suppose a business is not going very nicely. It is operating at a loss. So somebody says, "Close it."
But an experienced man comes and says, "Why should you close it? All right. I shall do it properly. You'll get a profit."
So which man is better? The first, who says, out of disappointment, "Close this business. There is no profit"? Or the second, who says, "No, don't close it. We shall show a profit. Just manage it properly"?
This is our proposition. We don't say, "Stop all these material activities." No. "Just do it properly, so that you get real profit and real benefit." That is our program. We don't want to make everything zero. No. Why shall we make it all zero? Everything can be taken and fully spiritualized.
For instance, in the typical firm the workers are not thinking about the proprietor. Nearly everyone is putting some of the firm's assets into his pocket. So with the assets being stolen, how will the firm go on nicely?
Similarly, these rascal government leaders have no idea who is the proprietor of the world. So they are acting in their nonsensical, stealing way, and therefore there is confusion. The business is not profitable.
On the other hand, if the workers accept—"No, the real proprietor is such-and-such gentleman, and he wants us to perform our work like this"—then the business will be profitable.
Similarly, every one of us in the material world is thinking he is the proprietor. So how will this "firm" profit? This is the real situation. Everyone is thinking he is the proprietor. He forgets he is a worker. He is not the proprietor. That is the mistake. Therefore, the "firm" is being mismanaged, and there is no profit—simply chaos. That is the situation.
A prince who wanted the greatest kingdom
By Dhyana-kunda Devi Dasi
ONE OF THE most touching histories in the Srimad-Bhagavatam comes in the Fourth Canto. It concerns the little prince Dhruva and his great adventure, and it contains many lessons about love.
Dhruva was five years old when he left home for the forest in search of God. Some people he met on the way tried to persuade him to go back.
"It's certainly glorious to search for God," they said, "but aren't you too young for such a serious undertaking? And isn't God everywhere anyway? Why do you have to go to the wild jungle full of ferocious animals?"
Dhruva was not sure why. But he had heard that great sages who wished to find the Supreme Lord would leave home and go to the forest. Apparently, that was the thing to do. If God was really there, Dhruva would surely find Him.
What does God look like? The little prince didn't know that exactly either. One thing he knew: God was the only person who could fulfill his secret desire. For this Dhruva had the word of his mother. She prayed to God every day, so she certainly knew what she was talking about.
Dhruva's story has a happy ending. He meets Narada Muni, a spiritual teacher, who tells him how to reach God through devotion. All alone in the jungle, the boy undergoes spiritual disciplines with determination that truly gives justice to the meaning of his name: "persevering." Tigers and jackals spare Dhruva. And not only does he survive, but he meets Krsna's expansion Lord Visnu face to face and ultimately becomes famous as one of the greatest devotees of his time. He gets his secret desire fulfilled, too. That's the story's glorious ending. But the beginning is sad.
A Stepmother's Cruel Words
Dhruva's father, King Uttanapada, had two wives, Suniti and Suruci. Suniti was Dhruva's mother, and Suruci was Uttama's. The boys played together, and they equally had their father's heart, unlike their mothers. The king neglected Suniti, not even allowing her near him, while Suruci was his favorite—maybe because of her beauty. She was beautiful. But she was jealous too.
Once, the king was sitting on the throne with Uttama on his lap, patting him affectionately. Dhruva too wanted to get on his father's lap, but Suruci didn't like the idea.
"No, you can't sit on the king's seat," she said. "You may be the king's son, but that's not enough. You would have to be my son as well. And this, my dear boy, you can achieve only by worshiping the Supreme Lord. If He is pleased with you, He may grant you the precious boon of taking your next birth from my womb."
She had said, "My dear boy," but her words hit Dhruva like a stick. She wished him to die! His body stiffened. Breathless, he turned to his father. But the king looked away, at Suruci, his beautiful queen. Dhruva turned around and ran to his mother.
What could Suniti do, other than cry with her little son?
"Your stepmother is right," Suniti said. "Your father does not consider me his wife anymore. She is right, too, in telling you to worship the Supreme Lord. If you wish to sit on the same throne as your stepbrother Uttama, don't be envious of him. Just turn to the Supreme Lord. By worshiping Him you can achieve things never dreamed of by those who put their faith in demigods. My son, just worship the Lord. I do not find anyone else who can ease your distress."
Dhruva made up his mind. He would go to the forest, find God, and tell Him, "My dear God, I am the king's son, but I will not be the heir to the throne. Please make me a king greater than my father. I want to have a kingdom like no one ever had. If You are satisfied with my worship, please grant me this desire."
Vision in the Forest
Dhruva knew finding God would be difficult, but he was determined. Alone in the forest, he practiced yoga for concentration, chanted a mantra he received from Narada, and meditated on the Lord dwelling in the heart.
Six months passed. One day, as Dhruva entered meditation and fixed his inner vision on Lord Visnu, the image he had already grown accustomed to contemplating disappeared suddenly. Dhruva's concentration broke. He opened his eyes and saw Lord Visnu standing before him. The Lord looked exactly like the form Narada had described to him. Dhruva had so often contemplated that form in his heart—majestic, four-armed, adorned with all the insignia of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His whole form brilliant like lightning.
This time, however, Dhruva's eyes were wide open, and before him was not an image in the mind but a living person, smiling at Dhruva. Overwhelmed, the boy fell to Lord Visnu's feet. Even while lying flat on the ground, he could not take his eyes off the Lord.
Pleased with Dhruva, the Lord asked whether he had any wish to fulfill. Everything was going as Dhruva had hoped. His impossible goal was now within reach.
Before we hear Dhruva's reply, let's go back to the scene with Dhruva's being forbidden to join Uttama on the king's lap. Both the story and the conflict are classical. On one side: the father, the stepmother, and the "good son"; on the other: the unwanted son, excluded from the love and happiness these three are sharing.
But are King Uttanapada, Suruci, and Uttama really sharing love and happiness? No. None of them is really happy, and all three have reasons to feel insecure.
Suruci will feel safe in the king's devotion only as long as she has the youthful charm of her body. She fears she'll suffer Suniti's fate and lose the king's affections.
The king, although fond of both his sons, can't risk losing Suruci's favor. He may rule everyone in the kingdom, but in Suruci's hands he's a pet. She denied her favor to Dhruva and didn't care about crushing the boy's heart. The king might be thinking, "Suruci, my tender one, would you be able to do this to me?"
Finally, Uttama is too small to understand what's going on. All he knows is that he was playing on his father's lap and his brother Dhruva was punished for trying to do the same. Glad that he has been spared, and feeling special, he nevertheless fails to see Dhruva's fault. "If neither of us did anything bad and he got punished this time, will I be the one next time? Daddy?"
None of these three persons is receiving real love, which is selfless, unconditional, and free-flowing. Fortunate are those who know love early in life and learn the joy of sharing it. Most people offer and receive things like sex, wealth, and power in the name of love. And along with that kind of "love" come lust, anger, greed, envy, illusion, and madness. The six enemies of the self, the Vedic teachers call them. And, in the background, there's fear. For example, Suruci is fearful because of material attachments. As Dhruva climbs onto his father's lap, she sees him not as an innocent child but as her son's rival trying to seize the throne.
People who really love do not fear losing anything material. Nor do they feel wanting; they're self-satisfied. They may be married or alone, beggars or kings, but they're free. Sex, wealth, power, or anything material holds no sway over them.
What about Dhruva's quest for love? In anger, he risks his life to gain a kingdom greater than his father's. A whole planet to rule will surely be a fair compensation for a place on his father's lap.
Like Dhruva's family, in seeking love we hurt and push away one another. Sad are the ways of love in the world of matter.
Saddest of all is losing even the hope that real love exists. Our unfulfilled dreams for the perfect father, mother, lover, and friend make us think that God—the supreme perfect lover—can't exist either.
Dhruva was lucky. The force of his frustration, channeled into spiritual practice by the advice of his mother and his spiritual teacher, Narada Muni, carried him beyond the world of fear. On meeting Lord Visnu face to face, Dhruva found not only the love he had lost but his own capacity to give love in the same way. Loving is his nature, as it is for all of us. He had forgotten that, just as every living being does when turning away from God and His love. But Dhruva's original nature had never changed. And that loving nature is the same in every living being. It seeks expression. It motivates one to search. It doesn't allow one to feel satisfied with the ordinary, the temporary, the limited. Dhruva was satisfied only when he found the unlimited.
Throughout all the risks he took and austerities he performed, Dhruva believed his heart's desire was to gain the kingdom. What could he be more sure of than his own heart? Yet Dhruva discovered he'd been wrong. When he finally got up from the ground, he addressed Lord Visnu with a prayer. His words, coming from the heart, were different than those he had prepared. To this day, devotees of Lord Visnu repeat Dhruva's spontaneous prayer, which captures both his surprise with himself and his overwhelming joy.
"O my Lord," said Dhruva, "I wanted to be a great king and was performing severe austerities so that You would grant me this desire. Now I have gotten You, who are very difficult even for the demigods, saints, and kings to attain. I was searching for a piece of broken glass, but instead I have found a most valuable jewel. I am completely satisfied, and I do not wish to ask You for anything."
Love for God is not for God alone. It does not diminish the affection we feel for others. It deepens affection because we are able to love others not for external things like their body, not for anything they give us, and not only as long as they fulfill their part of the contract. A pure devotee, who has developed his loving relationship with God, can see beyond others' material conditioning, beyond their pleasant and unpleasant features, even beyond their cruelty, and relate to everyone as a unique spiritual person, part of God. Pure devotees develop the kind of intuition we admire in stories of great saints and spiritual teachers. Since a pure devotee feels safe in his own personal exchange of love with God, he doesn't crave others' appreciation or feel hurt by their aggression. These qualities place him in a unique position to help others.
Suniti, Dhruva's mother, could accept her fate without hating it and could convince her son to accept the valuable instruction in Suruci's hateful words, without himself becoming a slave to hatred. Does that mean a devotee of the Lord should allow himself or herself to be trampled upon? No. Neither aggression nor meek submission in itself indicates spiritual advancement. What counts is one's motive.
A devotee doesn't seek selfish satisfaction either by oppressing others or by being oppressed and "enjoying" victim status. Whether a devotee chooses to be aggressive or meek, his motive is to serve God and help others find their path back to Godhead. He can assist others by instruction, example, or even mere presence. Those who have had the privilege to come in contact with someone endowed with genuine love of God, of any religious faith, know that the presence of such a person lifts others onto the same plane.
That's what happened to Dhruva's family members. Upon hearing the news of Dhruva's return, King Uttanapada rushed out of the palace to meet him. Along with the king came Uttama, Suniti, and Suruci. Without reservation, Dhruva honored both mothers by prostrating himself on the ground.
Suruci picked him up.
"My dear boy, long may you live!"
With tears of joy in her eyes she blessed him.
Suniti then affectionately embraced Dhruva, as did his brother Uttama.
An Honorable King
This history has a classical ending: Dhruva grew in a happy, caring family and ultimately became a great monarch, loved by everyone in his kingdom—a kingdom greater than any that had ever existed.
The narrator of Srimad-Bhagavatam concludes: "Dhruva was not the same as before; he was completely sanctified due to having been touched by the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Unto one who has transcendental qualities due to friendship with the Supreme Lord, all living entities offer honor as naturally as a stream flows down from a mountain."
One person with love and devotion for God can make a difference for many. Those of us who have little hope for finding God, who cannot seem to muster enough courage to approach Him, meditate on Him, or serve Him, may derive strength from knowing that others will gain from our love of God: our families, friends, and enemies; passersby in the street; every living being in the world.
Dhyana-kunda Devi Dasi, originally from Poland, joined the Hare Krsna movement in 1987. She and her husband, Ekanatha Dasa, live at the ISKCON farm in Almviks Gard, Sweden, where she serves as an English editor and Polish translator for the north European branch of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu points out Sankaracarya's error in contradicting Vyasadeva.
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 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 the brahmana. Prakasananda Sarasvati and his followers would also be there, so Prakasananda Sarasvati could see for himself the ideal character of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Lord Caitanya's meeting with Prakasananda began with Prakasananda's asking the Lord why He chanted Hare Krsna. Lord Caitanya replied that He was doing so on the order of His spiritual master.
LORD SRI KRSNA Caitanya Mahaprabhu stressed to Prakasananda the importance of chanting the holy names under the guidance of a qualified spiritual master. The chanting of Hare Krsna cleanses Mayavada (impersonalist) pollution from the heart and mind and gives the chanter a taste of the nectar of devotional service to Krsna. Lord Caitanya's process of sankirtana, the chanting of the Lord's names, is thus the most direct method for understanding Vedanta and the only method recommended for the present age, known as the Age of Quarrel. A disciple who hears the transcendental vibration of Hare Krsna from a spiritual master in disciplic succession and tries to chant with sincerity achieves the goal of Vedanta study: service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Perceiving the eternal happiness of love of God through devotional service, the disciple is naturally inclined to chant and dance, not caring for public opinion.
"I never chanted and danced to make an artificial show," Lord Caitanya explained to Prakasananda. "I dance and chant because I firmly believe in the words of my spiritual master. Compared to the ocean of transcendental bliss tasted by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra, the pleasure derived from the impersonal Brahman realization touted by Sankaracarya is like the shallow water in a canal."
Seated around Lord Caitanya at the brahmana's house, the Mayavadis were moved by His words. Their minds changed and they spoke pleasingly.
"Dear Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu," they began, "what You have said is true. Only a fortunate person attains love of Godhead. We have no objection to Your being a great devotee of Lord Krsna. But why do You avoid discussion of the Vedanta-sutra? What is the fault in it?"
While the Mayavadis appreciated Lord Caitanya's description of Krsna sankirtana as superior to the pleasure of impersonal Brahman realization, they were still under the impression that Vedanta-sutra was synonymous with Sankaracarya's commentary on Vedanta-sutra, known as Sariraka-bhasya. There are in fact many definitive commentaries on the Vedanta-sutra written by great devotional scholars. The original commentary is Srimad-Bhagavatam, written by Srila Vyasadeva Himself, the author of Vedanta-sutra. Foreseeing the havoc created by perverted Mayavada commentaries, Vyasadeva compiled His own commentary. The Mayavadis recognize none of the devotional commentaries, and Sankaracarya even faulted Vyasadeva's compilation of the Vedanta-sutra itself. So although Lord Caitanya had been commenting on Vedanta all along, the assembled sannyasis requested Him to comment specifically on the verses of the Vedanta-sutra in relation to the Sariraka-bhasya.
"To tell You the truth," the Mayavadi sannyasis continued, "we are greatly pleased to hear Your words and behold Your extraordinary beauty. We see that You are just like Narayana, God Himself. Whatever You say, we shall be very glad to hear patiently."
With the Mayavadis eager to listen, the Lord began by indicating that Sankaracarya had no business correcting Srila Vyasadeva.
"Vedanta philosophy," He said, "consists of words spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His literary incarnation as Srila Vyasadeva. The four material defects do not exist in the words of the Supreme Lord."
The four defects of an ordinary person are (1) he must make mistakes, (2) he must fall into illusion, (3) he must have a tendency to cheat, and (4) his senses must be imperfect. These defects make our own knowledge unreliable, and their absence makes the Vedas authoritative. If we cannot accept, at least theoretically, that as an incarnation of God Vyasadeva is above the four defects, then there is no reason to give special attention to His Vedanta-sutra or any of the Vedic books. Certainly Sankaracarya, whose very mission was to reestablish the Vedic authority, weakened his position by correcting Vyasadeva. It is the Buddhists he was working to reform who believe that the Vedas were compiled by ordinary defective beings. Sankaracarya contradicted Vyasadeva only because the Vedas are clearly theistic and personal, something Sankaracarya's Buddhist audiences would not have been able to swallow.
"Sankaracarya has misled the world," Lord Caitanya explained, "by commenting that Vyasadeva was mistaken. Thus he has raised great opposition to theism throughout the world."
What, according to Sankaracarya, was Vyasadeva's big mistake? The Vedanta-sutra begins by defining God or the Absolute Truth as the changeless origin of everything, the cause of all causes. Janmady asya yatah. That's fine, the Mayavadis think. The Absolute is the origin of consciousness, of life, of spirit, the origin of everything eternal and real. But the Mayavadis balk at Vyasadeva's assertion that the material creation also emanates from God. The material creation, with all its oceans, mountains, creatures, planets, and atomic and subatomic particles, is infinite, varied, and complete. If all this stuff is the energy of God, they reason, then He has either greatly depleted Himself in its creation, or has transformed Himself into the creation. In either case the changeless Absolute would have changed, making it a relative, illusory thing, like the material world itself. Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of God, was therefore obviously mistaken, the Mayavadis contend, in saying that the universe is composed of the energies of the Supreme.
To rectify God's mistake, the Mayavadis say that the material world is false. Brahma satyam jagan mithya. Brahman, or eternal spirit, is truth, while the temporary material world is untruth. It is an unreal dream. It does not exist and so does not need to be accounted for. We ignorantly mistake the material universe as real just as in the dark we might mistake a rope for a snake. Absolutely everything here is illusion, the Mayavadis believe, with the one tiny exception of their own words.
Cut off from authorized disciplic succession, the Mayavadis are victims of their defective material reasoning. Material things change or dissipate as they give off energy. Your gas tank and your bank balance reduce to nothing as you spend money and drive your car. The original tree disappears as it is sawed into lumber and further transformed into furniture and houses. But the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is not material. The Upanisads describe Him as a transcendental person with unlimited, inexhaustible energies. Because He is infinite and complete, His creations, such as the phenomenal material world, are also infinite and complete.
om purnam adah purnam idam
"The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete, and because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal material world, are perfectly equipped as complete wholes. Whatever is produced of the Complete Whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the Complete Whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance."
Despite the vastness of His creations, Lord Krsna remains complete and unchanged. As a businessman spreads his limited financial and managerial assets to run a corporation, so the Supreme expands His unlimited potencies to create the material and spiritual worlds. That is what it means to say that God is omnipotent. The unlimited and inconceivable potencies of the Supreme is the central point of the Vaisnava, or personalist, philosophy taught by Lord Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Like spirit, the material universe is also true, because it is composed of the energies of the Supreme Truth. This world is not false, as the Mayavadis say. Although temporary and in flux, the universe is real. We are eternal spiritual individuals, distinct from our temporary bodies, and part of Krsna's superior spiritual energy. The material elements that make up our bodies and the rest of the universe are part of Krsna's material energy. Nothing but these two categories of Krsna's energy, spiritual and material, make up the universe. Both energies, both the rope and the snake, to use the Mayavadi example, are real. It is mistaking one for the other that is false. It is false to mistake our selves for our bodies, as the gross materialists do, because the bodies are temporary vehicles for our eternal selves. And it is false to think of our individuality as a product of the soul's contact with the body, as the Mayavadis do, because we are eternally individual parts of the supreme individual, the Supreme Brahman, Krsna.
The Psychology of the Mayavadi
"In all the Vedic sutras [codes] and books, Lord Krsna is to be understood," Lord Caitanya explained to the assembled Mayavadis. "To prove their philosophy, the followers of Sankaracarya have covered the real meaning of the Vedas with indirect explanations based on their imaginative powers."
Mayavadis, or materialists trying to imagine an eternal blissful life, have had a tough time in the material world. Things here are temporary and full of misery. Suffering comes from our own bodies and minds, from the forces of nature, and especially from other people, including loved ones. People here are full of faults and even the most picture-perfect storybook love affair must realistically end in old age, disease, and death. All the endless varieties of personalities and situations produce tiny bits of pleasure on a background of pain. So when we turn our imaginative powers to spiritual life, we imagine that it must be a life without people and without variety. We find comfort in the idea of losing our individuality and merging with an eternal impersonal spirit. No personality. No variety. No suffering.
A patient long suffering from a painful physical disease sometimes asks a doctor to end his life. He wants to destroy the disease, but out of hopelessness he thinks killing the body is the only solution. In the same way, because our material personalities give us pain, we want to commit spiritual suicide by ending our personalities, and the Mayavadis, the Dr. Kevorkians of spiritual life, are here to help with their imaginative impersonal interpretations of Vedanta.
Lord Caitanya admonished the Kevorkian Vedantists of Varanasi.
"Brahman," He said, "is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the reservoir of ultimate truth and absolute knowledge."
Won Over by the Lord
Prakasananda and the other Mayavadis had always vigorously rejected such an explanation of Vedanta, but here was the Personality of Godhead Himself sitting before them and directly exhibiting His unlimited potencies, in particular His humility, His extraordinary beauty, His truthfulness, and His transcendental knowledge. Lord Caitanya explained each sutra of the Vedanta-sutra in terms of devotion to Krsna, with the former Mayavadis pleased to hear everything He said. Before lunch they happily joined the Lord in the formerly scandalous activity of chanting Hare Krsna. Then, seating the Lord in their midst, they took their meal together.
After this incident, word spread that Prakasananda Sarasvati and the other Mayavadis of Varanasi had embraced Lord Caitanya's path of chanting the holy names. Many scholars and curious people would come to see the Lord where He was staying. As all of them could not crowd into Candrasekhara's house, they used to line the streets as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu daily made His way to the temples of Visvanatha and Bindhu Madhava.
One day shortly after the luncheon meeting, Prakasananda and his disciples joined a tumultuous crowd chanting and dancing with Lord Caitanya in the courtyard of the Bindhu Madhava temple. Noticing Prakasananda, the Lord stopped the chanting to greet him affectionately, and at Prakasananda's request they had further talks on the Vedanta-sutra. Not long after that, Lord Caitanya returned to His headquarters in Jagannatha Puri, where He remained from then on.
Today in Varanasi there is a big banyan tree near the temple of Bindhu Madhava, the same tree in whose shade Lord Caitanya used to rest after lunch. The old temple of Bindhu Madhava was dismantled by Emperor Aurangzeb and replaced by a mosque, but a new temple was built nearby. There is no sign of the houses of Candrasekhara or Tapana Misra, where Lord Caitanya stayed, nor any sign of the fortunate and humble sannyasi Prakasananda Sarasvati, who discussed Vedanta with the Supreme Brahman over lunch.
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.
Lord Krsna changes Arjuna's
By Hridayananda Dasa Goswami
The Sanskrit word "dharma" has joined "yoga" and "karma" in common English usage. Dharma is often taken to mean "religion" or "duty." But these meanings are incomplete. In the Gita, Lord Krsna refers to dharma in progressively deeper ways, shedding light on the meaning of the term and its importance for personal spiritual growth.
In life we all encounter ethical conflicts, although perhaps less dramatically than Arjuna. As we shall see, the Gita helps us make intelligent decisions by showing how ordinary piety fails to deliver the endless satisfaction of service to God.
DHARMA IS THE first word in the Bhagavad-gita. The great work begins when the blind old king Dhrtarastra asks his secretary, Sanjaya, about the battle that was to take place at "the field of dharma" (dharma-ksetra). Dhrtarastra, knowing his sons to be evil, worried that the spiritual influence of the dharma field would favor the pious Pandavas. As the Gita's first chapter unfolds, Arjuna also grows wary of the influence of dharma. He fears that his, and Krsna's, participation in the war will lead to a violation of dharma and perpetual residence in hell.
In the name of dharma, Arjuna argues for nonviolence by assuming that to attack and kill so many leading men, nearly all of whom are fathers and husbands, will destabilize the important families and communities for which these men are responsible. The families themselves are vital to the peace and virtue of society. Arjuna's argument, literally translated, proceeds as follows:
On destruction of the family, the perennial family dharmas perish. When dharma perishes, adharma [the opposite of dharma] overwhelms the entire family. From the predominance of adharma, O Krsna, the family women are polluted. When the women are polluted, O Varsneya, a confusion of social orders arises. This confusion leads only to hell both for the destroyers of families and for the family. Certainly the forefathers fall [from heaven] since the ritual offerings of rice balls and water are suspended. By these crimes of the family killers, who propagate a confusion of social classes, community dharmas and the everlasting family dharmas are devastated. We have always heard, O Janardana, that those men who devastate family dharmas have their residence fixed in hell.
Arjuna has sounded a familiar theme from many Vedic books, namely that dharma protects when it is protected, but injures when it is injured. Arjuna would be killing kings in the battlefield, virtually all of whom protected at least the basic rules of dharma in regard to ethics, social order, and traditional, worldly religious rites.
Lord Krsna is about to teach His friend Arjuna that above even dharma is God, who, for His own reasons, desires this battle. Lord Krsna rejects Arjuna's argument as mere "weakness of heart" (hrdaya-daurbalyam) and "impotence" (klaibyam) and urges Arjuna to fight.
Despite his previous arguments on the basis of dharma, Arjuna now admits that he is actually "confused in mind about dharma" (dharma-sammudha-cetah). (Bg. 2.7) Arjuna then gives up his arguments and surrenders to Lord Krsna as his spiritual master, and Lord Krsna begins teaching the Bhagavad-gita in earnest.
First Some Lessons on the Soul
Lord Krsna does not at once address Arjuna's argument about dharma, as we would expect in a typical debate. Rather, the Lord first reveals to Arjuna, in twenty verses (Bg. 2.11-30) the eternal nature of the soul. Then the Lord comes back to the topic of dharma, to show that it is Arjuna who is neglecting his dharma by refusing to fight: "And even considering your personal dharma as well, it is not right for you to hesitate. There is nothing better for a warrior than a fight based on dharma." (Bg. 2.31)
It is significant here that after a thorough explanation of the eternal soul, the Lord mentions dharma as an additional point to consider. From other scriptures one may get the impression that life is meant to practice dharma. But we find in the Bhagavad-gita that dharma itself is meant to assist the real goal of life: understanding the eternal soul and its relationship with the Supreme Soul, Krsna.
Lord Krsna concludes this brief reference to dharma as one's personal duty by saying, "Now if you do not execute this battle, then having given up your personal dharma and reputation, you shall incur sin." (Bg. 2.33)
Arjuna previously argued that if he and Krsna were to fight the Battle of Kuruksetra, they would be destroying dharma and incurring sin. Now Lord Krsna tells Arjuna that the truth is just the contrary. By not fighting, Arjuna would be rejecting dharma—in fact, his personal dharma—and thus incurring sin.
Throughout the rest of the Gita, Lord Krsna speaks of dharma in terms of His own teaching of spiritual knowledge and not directly in response to Arjuna's argument about dharma as ordinary religious and moral practices.
Having explained the soul as distinct from the material body, Lord Krsna now states (Bg 2.39) that what He has just taught Arjuna is "real intelligence or understanding" (buddhi), and that He has taught it "in a philosophical sense" (sankhye). Now, says the Lord, He will talk about the same buddhi, or spiritual intelligence, but "in practice" (yoge). And it is precisely this applied spiritual understanding (buddhir yoge) to which Lord Krsna now gives the name dharma: "Even a very small amount of this dharma saves one from great danger, for there is no loss in such an endeavor, and it knows no diminution." (Bg. 2.40)
One's Own Duties
Lord Krsna's next reference to dharma reinforces his earlier statement that Arjuna must perform his own dharma, and not neglect it in the name of dharma. Arjuna can neither protect dharma nor keep himself on the spiritual platform if he abandons the duties born of his nature. Thus the Lord says: "One's own dharma, performed imperfectly, is better than another's dharma well performed. Destruction in one's own dharma is better, for to perform another's dharma leads to danger." (Bg. 3.35)
In the fourth chapter Lord Krsna reveals that He appears in this world to protect the principles of dharma and curtail the destructive influence of adharma: "Certainly whenever a decline of dharma occurs, O Bharata [Arjuna], and an uprising of adharma, I then manifest My Self. To deliver the saintly and vanquish the evil-doers, to reestablish dharma, I appear in every age." (Bg. 4.7-8)
It is clear in this context that a sadhu, a saintly or good person, is one who follows dharma, whereas an evil-doer, duskrt, is one who practices and promotes adharma. So Krsna Himself vows to reestablish dharma, upholding those who support dharma and vanquishing those who oppose it.
Thus the complete picture begins to emerge. An effective government must not only create laws but enforce them as well. Similarly, the Supreme Lord brings forth His law as dharma. When obedience to His law collapses and human beings propagate instead their own illicit "law," the Lord descends to protect the good citizens of His kingdom, vanquish the outlaws who practice adharma, and reestablish in human society the prestige and power of His will.
We can now see why Arjuna's initial argument, that to obey Lord Krsna and fight would go against dharma, cannot be correct. Dharma is nothing but the Lord's will. For Arjuna to fight, then, is true dharma.
As further emphasis of this point, Lord Krsna later states that even activities that appear to be most mundane, such as fighting or sexual intercourse, can be performed on the spiritual platform if done according to dharma: "And I am the strength of the strong, devoid of lust and attachment. O best of the Bharatas, I am sex not contrary to dharma." (Bg. 7.11)
Dharma and Spiritual Knowledge
Lord Krsna again speaks of dharma in the ninth chapter when he declares that spiritual knowledge of Himself is dharmya, or conducive to and consistent with dharma: "I shall speak to you, who are free of envy, this most confidential knowledge, together with its realized discernment, knowing which you shall be freed of the inauspicious. This knowledge is the king of sciences, the king of secrets, and the supreme purifier. Understood by direct perception, it is conducive to dharma, very easy to perform, and everlasting. People who do not place their faith in this dharma, O burner of the foe, do not attain Me but return to the path of death and material existence." (Bg. 9.1-3)
It is significant that Lord Krsna here repeats the words "this dharma" (asya dharmasya) noted earlier: "Even a very small amount of this dharma saves one from great danger, for there is no loss in such an endeavor, and it knows no diminution." (Bg. 2.40)
Clearly Lord Krsna reserves the phrase "this dharma" for discussions of Krsna consciousness, pure devotion to the Lord. In Chapter Nine "this dharma" refers to the supreme process, which Lord Krsna calls "very easy to perform" (susukham kartum): the devotional service of the Lord—the only process praised in the chapter. In marked contrast, Lord Krsna criticizes the ordinary Vedic dharma by which one seeks residence in Indra's heaven: "Those who follow the science of the three Vedas and drink the Soma, their sins purified, aspire to go to heaven through sacrifices. Having reached the pious world of the king of gods, they partake in heaven of the celestial enjoyments of the gods. Having enjoyed the vast world of heaven, they fall to the mortal world when their piety is exhausted. Thus those who desire sense gratification, and who have consistently resorted to the dharma of the three Vedas, achieve only going and coming." (Bg. 9.20-21)
Thus Lord Krsna starkly contrasts the ordinary dharma of the Vedas with "this dharma," which is pure devotional service to Krsna. Krsna concludes the important ninth chapter by showing the power of this dharma, unalloyed Krsna consciousness, to purify and save the soul: "Even if a man has grossly misbehaved, if he worships Me and is devoted to Me exclusively he is certainly to be considered a sadhu [good person], for he has actually come to a perfect determination. Quickly he becomes a righteous soul [dharma-atma] and attains to lasting peace. O son of Kunti, proclaim that My devotee is never lost!" (Bg. 9.30-31)
It is simply on the strength of devotion to Krsna that even a man of terrible conduct quickly becomes devoted to dharma. There is no corresponding assurance in the Bhagavad-gita that practice of ordinary Vedic dharma will make one a pure devotee of the Lord. Rather, the fruit of trayi-dharma, the religious duties of the three Vedas, is that one goes up to the mundane heaven and falls again to the mortal earth.
Thus for one exclusively devoted to God, Krsna (bhajate mam ananya-bhak), a solid standing on the highest platform of dharma comes automatically.
Now that Lord Krsna has explained "this dharma" (asya dharmasya), which leads to His eternal abode, we can better understand Arjuna's statement in the eleventh chapter that Lord Krsna is the protector of "everlasting (sasvata) dharma": "You are the indestructible, the supreme object of knowledge. You are the transcendental receptacle of this universe. You are inexhaustible, the protector of everlasting dharma. I conclude that You are the eternal person." (Bg. 11.18)
Lord Krsna later declares as much in the fourteenth chapter: "Indeed, I am the foundation of Brahman [spirit], and of unending immortality, and of everlasting dharma, and of the ultimate happiness." (Bg. 14.27)
In the last verse of the twelfth chapter also, Lord Krsna indicates that there is a truly eternal dharma: "But those who fully honor this immortal nectar of dharma as it has been spoken [by Me], having faith, taking Me as supreme—those devotees are exceedingly dear to Me." (Bg. 12.20)
The eighteenth and final chapter of the Bhagavad-gita summarizes the entire text. In this chapter Lord Krsna refers three times to dharma, the first being a reaffirmation of His earlier admonition to perform one's own, and not another's, dharma: "It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly." (Bg. 18.47)
But beyond this, we have seen that the Bhagavad-gita begins where ordinary Vedic dharma leaves off. Lord Krsna has indicated this in various ways. Here, at the end of His teaching, the Lord most dramatically declares that full surrender to the Supreme Lord stands above the entire range of sacred duties known generally as dharma: "Renouncing all dharmas, take refuge in Me alone. Have no regret, for I shall free you from all sins." (Bg. 18.66)
Thus, surrender to Krsna, as declared in the ninth chapter, is the highest duty of the soul and therefore the supreme dharma. All other dharmas are preliminary duties, meant to bring one to the highest spiritual understanding of Krsna consciousness. Such conventional dharmas are useful until one comes to the point of utter surrender to God. So there is nothing incoherent when the Lord finally declares that the entire Bhagavad-gita is conducive to dharma, in all its aspects: "And if one will study this dharmya conversation of ours, he will indeed worship Me by the sacrifice of knowledge. That is My opinion." (Bg. 18.70)
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.
Transcendental Commentary on the Issues of the Day
Karma Kicks A Coach
by Krsna Dharma Dasa
ON JANUARY 30 this year, Britain woke up to unusual headlines in the newspapers. "Hoddle says disabled are paying for sins of previous life," announced the more serious press, while the tabloids went for variations of "Hoddle goes mad."
The story made headlines for two reasons: First, the man in question was Glenn Hoddle, coach of the England football (soccer) team; and second, just about all observers thought his views utterly outrageous. Who did he think he was to pass such harsh judgment on a disadvantaged class of people? Had he no sensitivity? The sports minister for Britain, Tony Banks, said Hoddle was "from another world."
"I have listened carefully to Glen Hoddle's views," said Banks. "They are totally unacceptable. If his theory is correct, he is in for real problems in the next life. He will probably be doomed to come back as Glenn Hoddle."
It had been a fairly innocent statement by the unfortunate Hoddle, made during a sports interview. Most of the interview had been about England's footballing prospects. But the interviewer, obviously with an eye to a hot story, knew about Hoddle's beliefs and questioned him accordingly.
When asked about his belief in karma, Hoddle replied, "You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap."
The interviewer had struck gold. That short section of his interview, cleverly headlined by him, made the headlines in every other newspaper. For days afterward a debate raged. Calls for Hoddle's sacking came from all quarters. Eventually Hoddle's authorities bowed to the pressure and forced him to resign.
Among a host of other pejorative descriptions, Hoddle's beliefs were labeled "potty," "crackpot," and "barmy." I was astonished at the blatant hypocrisy: People were tearing Hoddle to pieces for his "slur on the disabled," while at the same time dismissing someone's religious beliefs as nonsense.
But what about those beliefs? Are they nonsense? Did Hoddle get it right? Does the concept of karma include the idea that those suffering disability are receiving the results of former sins? Surely that's a hard pill to swallow for those so afflicted, especially, of course, if one has no belief that there ever was a former life. And even if there was, what terrible sins did I commit? Looking around me, I don't see that disabled folk are any more "sinful" than others. Some seem a whole lot more pious.
Who defines sin? Who decides what reaction should follow our actions? Can reactions be changed, or is everything predetermined? Unless you can answer all these questions, then your belief in karma and reincarnation will be rather hollow.
Of course, even if he could answer any of the above questions, Hoddle was given little chance. After his declaration of faith, he was carried by the wave of indignation to his sure fate. But if he had been given a fair trial, perhaps he could have called upon the evidence of the Bhagavad-gita. This ancient Vedic scripture clearly explains the teaching of karma and answers all the above questions.
Followed by hundreds of millions, the Gita is the basis of Hinduism, which accepts karma and reincarnation as central tenets. So too do Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and other philosophies coming out of the central strand of Hinduism. We're talking about almost half the world's population.
So what does the Gita say about karma? The first principle is that every living being is an eternal soul, moving from life to life until achieving ultimate liberation. The Gita helps us recognize our eternality with a simple explanation: "As the soul travels from childhood to youth to old age, it similarly travels to another body after death." In other words, reincarnation takes place at every moment, not just at death. Even in one lifetime, the soul is constantly changing bodies. In adulthood we can see that our childhood body is gone, but we're still the same person. We all know the joke "You must have been a beautiful baby—but, baby, what went wrong?" It should be obvious that we, the person, are different from the body we inhabit.
Perhaps also this is where the disabled can take some comfort: They know that despite their physical disability, they are no less a person than anyone else. If a man loses an arm or a leg, he does not feel he has become only three-quarters whole. He is still the same person within. It should thus be obvious that the body is not the self.
But now we come to the tricky bit. Why is it that some souls get a body like, say, actress Pamela Anderson, while others are consigned to a frame wracked by disease, or even that of a dog, or a worm, or a cockroach? "As you sow, so shall you reap," quoted Hoddle, and the Gita does not demur. It agrees that all our actions will produce reactions, good or bad.
But the Gita also points out, "The intricacies of karma are hard to understand even for the highly learned." In other words, while in principle it may be true that our suffering in this life has at its root some mistakes in this or a former life, it is impossible to know what those mistakes were or when we made them—and it is not very important to know anyway.
In fact the Gita is concerned more with permanently ending all reactions, whether so-called good or bad. We eternal souls do not belong in this world, which is ultimately only a place of suffering for everyone, able-bodied or otherwise.
The Gita teaches us to get out of the material world, to enter the eternal spiritual atmosphere where we really belong, and where suffering does not exist. And the Gita makes clear that anyone can achieve this, regardless of bodily condition. All souls are equal, the body nothing more than the soul's temporary covering.
Perhaps Hoddle understands this well enough. I don't know. But his brief mention of karma has certainly given the concept a bad name. That's a shame. For me at least, the alternative belief of things just happening by chance, with all its apparent unfairness and injustices, is unacceptable. It is a belief in helplessness and can only lead to despair. The poor souls suffering in this life are just losers in the great cosmic lottery.
And if we believe that, why should we display any compassion or concern? What use is it anyway? One person wins, another loses—that's it. It's out of our control and happening purely by chance.
Even if we say no, God is there and in control, still our compassion seems pointless if we do not accept karma. If God is simply acting whimsically, dishing out misery without rhyme or reason, what can we do about it? Our attempts to improve the situation can be dashed in a moment by this capricious and malevolent God. If he wants us to suffer, for whatever unfathomable reason, how will we ever prevent it?
If we deny karma, we are left with frightening alternatives to explain our misery. It may be hard to accept, but seeing suffering as the consequences of our own acts is the only sensible explanation. And this, after all, is the way we run our lives. We want to hold people responsible for their acts. Would we release a criminal who pleaded, "But, your honor, the knife in my hand stabbed him purely by chance"? As parents, do we not constantly tell our children they must accept the consequences of their acts? Does it not therefore make sense that the supreme authority, God, should work by the same principle? It seems natural to me that we should be responsible for what we do.
So I was surprised to see the hue and cry over Hoddle's statements. When I first discovered karma, I felt empowered. Accepting that my misery was a consequence of my own acts made me realize an important fact: I can change those consequences. My fate lies entirely in my own hands. I don't need to blame my environment, other people, or events outside my control.
This understanding is the only basis for real compassion. We can do something to help a suffering person only when we understand the cause of that suffering. Otherwise, without negating the root cause, our attempts to help will at best be makeshift. While it is fine to do whatever we can to make life more tolerable for the afflicted, surely the most important assistance we can render is to remove the affliction—forever.
For those disabled or afflicted, this is a philosophy of liberation. My actual identity is different from my external, painful body. Whatever mistakes I may have made in the past that resulted in my present condition, I can now act in ways that will lead to my permanent happiness. No more pain. That goes for all of us, disabled or otherwise. Each one of us is suffering one way or another. Disease, old age, and death will eventually visit us all—followed by another birth in who knows what kind of body. But the Gita describes how we can end that cycle once and for all.
I hope poor Mr. Hoddle's abrupt removal from office will at least have stimulated some deeper thinking about what are, after all, some pretty deep concepts. Karma and reincarnation surely deserve a better press than they have had of late.
Children as a Blessing
By Urmila Devi Dasi
CARING FOR CHILDREN in the service of the Lord is a great blessing, a gift from the Lord given out of mercy. One can hardly claim to deserve such a gift, whether by educational achievements, spiritual dedication, or even just the willingness to do the work.
A blessing? Sure, children can be smiling and glowing, but just as often they're fighting and moping. Their growth in knowledge and skills, which gives parents and teachers a wave of satisfaction, depends on the parents' earning a livelihood, cleaning messes, doing laundry, soothing hurt feelings, and tackling all the other complications children bring.
"I never want to have kids!" a young woman tells me, and I think about how modern society increasingly views children as a burden. Contraception, abortion, day care, after-school care, and more, seem the keys to personal freedom. Certainly caring for children with love, making sure they're properly educated both spiritually and materially, is no simple task. We may think of all we could do with our lives without children, such as how we could have more freedom to travel or serve Lord Krsna in more exciting ways.
Few want a job as teacher anymore. Teaching and working with children are no longer esteemed positions. Teachers are often underpaid and given substandard support. Things are so bad that even spiritually minded people, who tend to possess the good qualities and motives required of a teacher, may never consider working with children.
Like teaching, being a parent is also unfashionable. Today's women often prefer career and prestige over motherhood. And men avoid marriage and supporting the children they father, seeing the responsibility to raise children as an impediment to fulfilling their own desires.
When society was more simple and agrarian, children were an economic asset—more hands to help with farm chores, more caretakers when the parents became old. In that pre-industrial culture, children were a practical kind of blessing, one that even a self-centered materialist could appreciate.
The ancient stories of the Vedas and other scriptures often tell of people who greatly desired children, who felt that having many children was a gift from God. We might be inclined to credit such an attitude simply to a different culture. "Sure, kids were fine for them, but today kids are mostly a burden."
No doubt, for a materialist caught up in modern life, children are no gift. They cost money, lots of money. They may interfere with the parents' careers, do little to help the family, and get involved in things that bring them and their families anxiety and grief.
But children with lives connected to Krsna are radiant with a simple yet deep faith that God is a person, a cloud-colored cowherd boy who reciprocates with His devotees in loving activities. The connection such children feel with Krsna is real and natural. It is the reality for which childhood faith is designed. And, of course, a child sheltered from the nastier elements of the world has an innate purity.
Children devoted to Krsna are the kind of associates described in the scriptures as best for one's own spiritual advancement. By working with children to insure their spiritual success, we gain the best hope for our own, because the qualities of our associates greatly affect our own qualities.
And in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna Himself guarantees pure devotional service, the supreme spiritual goal, to those who teach the science of God to devotees of God. That gift, the fulfillment of all genuine religion, brings true freedom—freedom from selfish desire and the suffering it brings.
Do the spiritual peace, happiness, and satisfaction that come from caring for Krsna's children mean freedom from life's difficulties? No, the spiritual path includes a struggle too. But the quality of that struggle is quite different. The struggle to bring our children spiritual knowledge and bliss is a source of happiness because that struggle is a measure of our real love not only for the children but for God as well. When we show our love for God, He is pleased and we, as part of Him, feel pleasure too. When we truly give our children Krsna consciousness, we can say of them, "What a blessing!"
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.
By Hare Krsna Devi Dasi
WHILE GOING through some old photos recently, I found a picture of myself at age four, wearing a cowgirl outfit. To a kid growing up in the U.S. in the early 1950s, cowboys and cowgirls were the embodiment of heroic qualities. I wanted to be a cowgirl.
I gradually forgot that dream, but I kept looking for a champion to save people from injustice and violence. The champion, it turned out, was Srila Prabhupada, who, unlike Western cowboys, started farms around the world where devotees could protect cows and advance spiritually in a peaceful environment. At his Gita Nagari Farm in Pennsylvania, for a number of years I had the good fortune to live and take care of Krsna's cows.
One sunny day as I herded the cows to pasture after milking, I realized, "This is it! Krsna fulfilled my desire! I'm a cowgirl!"
But Krsna had fulfilled my desire in a way much better than I could have imagined.
By Krsna's arrangement I had learned that cows have personalities and killing a cow is just as wrong as killing a human being. I had also learned one can fight injustice by setting an example of peaceful living and God consciousness. Many visitors to Gita Nagari decided to give up meat-eating after seeing the cows giving milk and the oxen working in the field, after petting them and seeing how loving and gentle they are.
Finally, I had learned from Prabhupada that having a world with peace and justice requires training people to take pride and satisfaction in offering their work to Krsna. And one important type of work is farming and protecting cows.
I eventually had to leave Gita Nagari, but I've had the opportunity to write about the importance of cow protection and farming in a Krsna conscious society. Since 1992, part of that writing has been for this column. Now Back to Godhead is formulating a fresh presentation, leaving aside the columns. I've been invited to keep submitting articles, so I'm happy about that. But this column, which I share with you, is coming to an end. I wanted to note the occasion by saying thanks so much for your response and encouragement over the years and for letting me spread the word about just how wonderful it is to be a cowgirl (or cowboy) for Krsna.
Hare Krsna Devi Dasi is compiling a five-volume series of Srila Prabhupada's teachings on varnasrama and farm community development.
Lord Jagannatha's Mayapur Home
How a famous Deity of Lord Krsna came
Mayapur, West Bengal, the birthplace of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, is home to the largest center of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In 1978, ISKCON Mayapur assumed responsibility for the worship of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra in a nearby temple.
The unique deities of Jagannatha (Krsna, "the Lord of the universe"), His brother, Balarama, and sister, Subhadra, have been worshiped in Puri, on the coast of Orissa, for thousands of years. According to tradition, five thousand years ago, when Lord Krsna was present on earth, Krsna, Balarama, and Subhadra were once transformed in spiritual ecstasy on hearing a devotee relate Lord Krsna's adolescent pastimes. The sage Narada, who happened by, became enthralled by their ecstatic features. He asked that they allow worship of deities of them as they were now appearing. Those deities—Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra—now reside in a magnificent temple in Puri and attract pilgrims from all over India, especially from Orissa and Bengal.
The following narration tells how Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra came to be worshiped in Mayapur.
MANY HUNDREDS of years ago, in what is now the Indian state of Orissa, a wicked man named Raktabahu destroyed temples and created panic in the hearts of pious people. When the devotees of Lord Jagannatha in Puri learned of Raktabahu's rampage, they became fearful and approached Lord Jagannatha.
"O worshipful One," the devotees prayed, "we are in great anxiety on hearing that evil Raktabahu is destroying temples and Deities. He is traveling this way and may come at any moment to attack Your temple. If that happens, we will have to give up our lives, because we'll never be able to tolerate any action against You. Please save us from this danger by arranging to protect Your divine form and the temple, O almighty Lord."
That night, Jagannatha appeared in the dream of the head priest and told him, "I am overwhelmed by the ardent love and devotion of My devotees. You all love Me more than your own self. No one can harm My divine form or My temple. Just by My will I can keep all nondevotees away. But to bless My devotees and reciprocate with them, I often willingly accept what appear to be hardships, and so My devotees' love and attachment for Me increases many times.
"Tomorrow, therefore, please remove Balarama, Subhadra Devi, and Me from the temple and set out for Bengal. You should take the path through the jungle to avoid Raktabahu, who is coming by the main road. Do not fear. I will always protect you."
The Lord then disappeared from the dream. The priest woke up and spread the message.
The devotees at once began to arrange the Lord's journey. The traditional system in Jagannatha Puri is that devotees from different sections of society are assigned specific services for the Lord. Devotees from the group known as the sabaras always carry the deities when they leave the temple to attend certain festivals. So when the Lord's message reached the sabaras, they arranged to travel the next morning.
The sabaras walked with the deities all day, and just before dusk they settled in a suitable place. They collected fruits, flowers, and leaves from the jungle and worshiped Their Lordships. The next morning, after worshiping the deities, the sabaras started for their next destination. In this way they spent eleven days. On the twelfth day they arrived in Simantadvipa, one of the nine islands of Navadvipa Dhama, the holy land of Lord Caitanya's pastimes, in West Bengal.
That night, Lord Jagannatha appeared in the dream of the sabaras and expressed His desire to settle on that very spot. It was a most suitable place, He said, transcendental in all respects. The sabara devotees fulfilled the Lord's desire to remain there.
The Deities Discovered
The sabaras served the Lord for generations. But gradually the deities and the temple disappeared. The Lord never left the place, however, as was revealed later, five hundred years ago, during the time of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
At that time, a devotee named Jagadisa Ganguli lived in a small village near Mayapur. Jagadisa was a highly elevated devotee, and even though very old, every year he would walk nine hundred kilometers to attend Lord Jagannatha's Rathayatra ("chariot festival") in Puri.
One day Jagadisa was stricken with a disease that left him blind. When he realized he could no longer see the divine forms of Lord Caitanya and the Jagannatha Deities, he became depressed. Worse yet, his friends considered the annual pilgrimage to Puri too long and dangerous for him and refused to take him with them. Jagadisa stayed home in constant lamentation and despondency.
Then one night Lord Jagannatha appeared to Jagadisa in a dream. The Lord told him that the next morning, when he would go for his daily bath in the Ganges, a log would touch his head and restore his vision. The Lord said that Jagadisa should take the log and go to a nearby village where a devotee-carpenter lived. He should ask the carpenter to make a Deity of Lord Jagannatha. The Lord said that the carpenter would refuse the work because he was a leper and had deformed hands. Jagadisa would have to insist and convince the leper-carpenter to do the work. And when the job would be finished, the Lord assured him, the carpenter's leprosy would vanish.
Just as the Lord had predicted, when Jagadisa bathed in the Ganges the next morning a log touched his head and restored his vision. He took the log to a nearby village, where he searched until he found a leper-carpenter. Jagadisa implored the leper to carve a Deity of Lord Jagannatha from the wood, but the carpenter refused.
The leper showed Jagadisa his deformed fingers and asked him, "How can I carve the divine form of the Lord with these hands?"
But Jagadisa insisted. He told the leper that his leprosy would be cured once he finished the carving. Finally the leper agreed.
Jagadisa stayed with the leper as he worked and saw him suffering terribly. Blood and puss oozed from the stumps that were once his fingers, and he kept wanting to quit the work. But Jagadisa encouraged him and enabled him to forget his agony long enough to finish the Deity of Lord Jagannatha. The moment he finished, his leprosy disappeared.
Jagadisa took the Deity to the site of the present Jagannatha temple in Mayapur and established His worship there. A few nights later, Jagadisa had another dream. This time Lord Jagannatha told him to have the same carpenter make neem-wood deities of Balarama and Subhadra Devi. Jagadisa did so and installed them in the temple next to Lord Jagannatha.
A New Temple
After Jagadisa passed away, the worship of the Deities diminished over the years. Eventually Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Balarama were forgotten, and their temple fell down around them. Some sixty years ago, residents of the nearby village noticed a beautiful unique blue flower growing on top of a termite hill. When they went near the hill, they heard a voice calling, "Please give Me water. I'm thirsty."
The villagers unearthed the deities of Jagannatha, Balarama, and Subhadra. Although the deities had been residing in the middle of a termite hill, their wood was unharmed. The worship started again.
In 1978 Lord Jagannatha's aging pujari (priest) felt unable to go on for long with the worship of his beloved deities. He gave the temple and property to ISKCON, which built a gorgeous temple surrounded by flower gardens and mango groves.
The managers of the temple invite all pilgrims to Sri Mayapur to visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha. The scriptures say that Jagannatha Puri is eternally manifest in this holy place, and by visiting it one gains the same benefits as visiting Jagannatha Puri.
Lord Jagannatha's Pastimes
The Vedic scriptures tell us that the Lord appears in the form of the Deity to accept our worship and service. So the Deity is not different from the Lord Himself. It is not surprising, then, that the Deity sometimes does things that a mere statue could not.
The Vedic scriptures and histories of many temples tell of Deities speaking, walking, appearing in dreams, and so on. Some Deities gain a reputation for reciprocating with Their devotees in directly perceivable ways. Lord Jagannatha in Mayapur is one such Deity. Pankajanghri Dasa, the head priest of ISKCON Mayapur, related the following pastimes during a festival at the Jagannatha temple.
Lord Jagannatha Goes for Walks
The people living in the first house here said that Lord Jagannatha would go for walks. They never actually saw Him, but they could hear Him, especially Saturday nights. They would see a glow coming from the temple, they could hear the jingling of ankle bells, and a sweet fragrance would fill the air.
Why Go to Puri?
Once a pilgrim traveling from the north on his way to Puri to worship Jagannatha fell asleep on the train. The Lord spoke to him in a dream.
"My dear devotee, you need not go all the way to Puri, because I reside very near here. Just get off at the next station and walk northwest. There you'll find a temple where you can have My audience to your full satisfaction."
The pilgrim did as instructed and happily found his way to this temple.
Lord Jagannatha Refuses to Leave
Some brahmanas from another village felt they could worship Lord Jagannatha better in their village, so one day they stole Him from the temple. While carrying the Lord across the fields, they all suddenly felt the need to answer nature's call, so they put Him down. Upon returning, they could no longer lift Him. They brought more men to help, but they just could not budge the Lord.
They finally realized He didn't want to leave, so They returned to the temple and regretfully told the priest, "Your Deity is out in the field and wants to come back."
So two priests went and picked Him up and carried Him back home.
The Lord Brings Medicine
One time there was a severe epidemic in this area. A lot of people were getting sick, and some of them were dying. Lord Jagannatha appeared in a dream to the pujari and told him of a medicine that would cure the disease. In the morning the priest called all the villagers and told them to gather the ingredients to make the medicine. But they were missing one ingredient, which doesn't grow in this area.
Later in the day, a small boy came with a branch and gave it to the priest's wife. When the priest returned and saw the branch, he became very exited.
"Oh! That's just what we needed. Who brought this?"
"A very charming little boy brought it," the wife replied. "I don't think He was from this village; I've never seen Him before."
The villagers made the medicine, and everyone was cured. From that day Lord Jagannatha has earned great respect here, even from the non-Hindus.
Missing Tulasi Leaves
When the temple was first handed over to ISKCON, we used to bring the deities' noon meal from Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir [the main ISKCON temple]. At that time we didn't have enough devotees to keep cooks here. Riding a bicycle, the pujari would carry the meal here and offer it to Lord Jagannatha.
One day, while setting the meal before Lord Jagannatha, the pujari realized he had forgotten to bring tulasi leaves, which must be placed on each dish.
"What should I do?" the pujari thought. "Should I go and pick some tulasi leaves and put them on the dishes? Since the door is broken, if I go then a dog or some children might come in."
Thinking like this, he apologized to Lord Jagannatha for not being able to offer any tulasi leaves.
After making the offering, he sat outside the door and chanted mantras while the deities ate. Upon opening the doors, he saw in the middle of the plate of rice a big branch of tulasi leaves.
"They Have Nice Prasadam Down There"
When ISKCON was first given this temple and land, there were many joint owners, and most of them had already signed it over to us. But [ISKCON Mayapur leader] Jayapataka Swami stressed that he didn't want full worship to begin until everyone had signed the deeds.
Unknown to him, the pujari had already been offering meals brought from the main temple. So upon hearing this instruction, the pujari stopped the offerings. But the next night he dreamed that when he was going to wake the deities, he found they were not there. Frantic, he ran outside and spotted them walking across the fields.
"Jagannatha! Baladeva! Subhadra!" he shouted, "Where are You going?"
"You are not feeding us, so we are going to the Mayapur Chandrodaya Mandir," they replied. "They have nice prasadam there, lots of prasadam."
When Jayapataka Swami heard about the dream, he instructed the pujari to continue taking the Deities their meals.
Carrying on His Father's Tradition
After learning from his father, a young Indian doctor finds more spiritual guidance in a new land.
By Dr. Singh
WHEN DR. RAVI SINGH WAS a young man growing up in a village near Naimisaranya, Uttar Pradesh, India, his father, Dr. Chandraprakash Singh, insisted he and his siblings rise early, bathe, and attend to their Deities before breakfast. In his family of Vaisnava ksatriyas, Dr. Singh Sr. was particularly devout. He was the first in his family to break the tradition of hunting game and eating meat.
"My father brought us a book about Lord Caitanya," Ravi says, "and from it we learned how the Lord ate only prasadam. In our house everything cooked was vegetarian, and it was offered to the Lord."
Ravi vividly remembers his father reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam to the family each morning. Young Ravi could not understand why his father, a renowned scholar, seemed so moved by the reading.
Later, as a medical student in Jodphur, Ravi organized a philosophy and religion club. Some faculty and students complained, concerned about protecting the university's scientific objectivity. But Ravi was determined, and the controversial club continued.
In 1970 Ravi's father returned from a visit to Calcutta with a large book entitled Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Ravi's father praised the Western-born Vaisnavas who had given him the book, but Ravi was skeptical; he'd become committed to the idea of an impersonal God.
Ravi's father encouraged him to go to America to further his medical training. So Ravi went West in 1975, only to find America "pure hell." He found the materialistic values of the Western society shockingly foreign and mindless. After a difficult year, he was surprised to encounter Western-born devotees of Lord Krsna in Washington, D.C. Although he did not at first grasp the philosophy of Krsna consciousness, he found himself strongly drawn to the devotional services at the Washington ISKCON temple. He attended often.
"Theoretical understanding of God came from my family," Ravi says, "but my first practical understanding came from ISKCON devotees. I was accustomed to hearing so many sadhus in India give their opinions. But when I started listening to Srila Prabhupada's tapes, I quickly noted that he never said, ÔI think.' He always quoted scripture to back up his points. He compared himself to a postman who delivers the message without adulteration. To me this was the biggest realization: don't manufacture; just repeat what Krsna said."
In July 1976, Srila Prabhupada visited Washington. By now Ravi was an avid reader of his books, and he eagerly attended Srila Prabhupada's lectures, morning walks with disciples, and informal talks with guests. Srila Prabhupada addressed Ravi in Hindi, and Ravi felt blessed. Once, as Ravi was about to enter the room where Srila Prabhupada was speaking to a gathering of devotees and guests, the temple president gently suggested that Ravi, who had attended every event, stay outside to make room for others. As Ravi sat on the doorstep chanting, a devotee suddenly stepped out and said, "Srila Prabhupada would like you to come in and translate a Hindi letter aloud for him."
Ravi eagerly complied, then kept his seat in the room. He took the opportunity to ask Srila Prabhupada a question.
"My father is a scholar and a devotee, and he has just retired. Could he offer some service?"
Srila Prabhupada inquired about his age. Ravi replied that his father was 65.
Srila Prabhupada, who was 75 at that time, replied, "He is too young to retire. He has a lot of Hindi translation work to do for me."
Ravi's father was pleased to offer this service, and equally pleased to see his son taking to Krsna consciousness so seriously. He told his son he had never expected him to become a devotee of Krsna in America.
With encouragement from Ravi and his father, other family members began practicing Krsna consciousness. In 1981, Ravi accepted formal initiation into Krsna consciousness from Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, an American-born disciple of Srila Prabhupada, and received the name Nitai Gaurasundara Dasa ("servant of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda").
In 1983, while Nitai Gaurasundara was still in America, his family arranged his marriage to Meena, a young woman from West Bengal. He wrote that he could marry Meena only if she became a devotee of Krsna. Meena was unsure. Her family's religious tradition was a little different, and her only contact with ISKCON had come when she was twelve, when ISKCON leader Jayapataka Swami had visited her village. She had been impressed with his fluent Bengali but was uncertain about foreign-born devotees.
Meena began reading the Krsna conscious literature Nitai Gaurasundara sent her, and she too became impressed with Srila Prabhupada's teachings. She accepted initiation and received the spiritual name Matsya Devi Dasi. In time they married and settled in Murfeesboro, Tennessee, where Nitai Gaurasundara is today a clinical psychologist specializing in care for the elderly.
"In my practice," says Nitai Gaura-sundara, "I'm constantly applying the philosophy of Krsna consciousness. My patients are so afraid of death and are suffering greatly because of attachment to sensual pleasure. Whether it's schizophrenia or depression, the problems always trace back to a false identification with the body."
Recently while visiting Nitai Gaura-sundara, Dr. Singh Sr. became seriously ill. After a surgery proved unsuccessful, Dr. Singh Sr. asked to stay at his son's home rather than be on life support at the hospital. At Nitai Gaurasundara's home several devotees would visit and read Srila Prabhupada's books to him, fulfilling the dying man's desire. Before he passed away, his physician commented that Dr. Singh's religious conviction was so strong, his spirituality so advanced, that it was "infectious."
Nitai Gaurasundara recalls: "A couple of hours before my father passed away, I was encouraging him to get better and go back to India. He was too weak to speak, but he looked up and pointed to the sky. Then with his frail hand he wrote two lines in Hindi: 'I want the dust of Radharani's lotus feet on my forehead. The lake of devotion will blossom in every home and courtyard and the flower of devotion will flourish.'
"While watching my father die," Nitai Gaurasundara says, "I learned that, like it or not, we all have to prepare for death. Somehow we must stay Krsna conscious, as he did. I realize that the association of devotees is very important at all times, but especially at the critical time of death.
"Living far from an ISKCON temple as we do, we try hard to associate with devotees. As soon as you go out of the house, there is so much temptation, not only by materialism but by deviant philosophies. My Guru Maharaja suggested we establish a Deity of Krsna in our home and hold programs there, so we have been doing that for the past twelve years. My father used to greatly value the visiting devotees who came to help out with our programs.
"Srila Prabhupada said that his spiritual master fulfilled the spiritual ideas inculcated in him by his father. My father also gave me a basic understanding of God, and I was attracted to devotees because of this. Back in India I was involved with impersonalism, but Prabhupada saved me. I am sure that if I had stayed in India I would have been a pious vegetarian who would be afraid of God but ignorant of His loving service. I'm indebted to my father, my Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada, and many, many devotees."
Nitai Gaurasundara's three children (Sruti, 13; Abhiseka, 12; and Manjari, 9) are also carrying on their father's tradition. Recently Abhiseka's social studies teacher asked him to prepare a report on a person of his choice who had changed the world. Abhiseka chose Srila Prabhupada. The teacher appreciated his work and put it on display in the school hallway so other students could learn about Prabhupada.
The King's Finger
Retold and Illustrated by Ananta Sakti Dasa
ONCE UPON A TIME there lived a king and his minister. The king, though strong and generous, possessed a short temper. His minister was wise, patient, and devoted to God. In everyday affairs the king usually thought he was the one making everything happen. The minister, however, saw the hand of God everywhere. Despite these differences, the king appreciated the minister, and they were firm friends.
To protect his citizens from dangerous beasts, the king, armed with bow and arrow, would often ride into the forest with a small party of men. His minister would always go with them.
One day while they were out hunting, the king proudly charged through a thicket on his fine steed. But a large cobra slithered in front of the horse, spitting poison from its fangs. The frightened horse kicked up violently, hurtling the king through the air. The king crashed to the ground beside the snake. The snake promptly sank its fangs into the king's finger, and then slithered back into the undergrowth.
The king realized that unless his finger was quickly removed, the poison would travel through his body, reach his heart, and kill him. Without hesitating, he unsheathed his sharp sword and chopped off his finger.
The king's minister bandaged his hand and tried to pacify him with wise words.
"Take this as simply the mercy of the Lord. Accept it as part of His plan."
The king, shaken and upset, did not appreciate the minister's view.
"Be quiet!" he snapped.
But the minister continued to speak of the Lord's mercy.
This enraged the king so much that he ordered his men, "Take this foolish minister back to the city and cast him in the dungeon."
Determined not to change his hunting plan for the day, the king, his hand neatly bandaged, continued alone through the forest searching for wild beasts.
A short while later he was ambushed by a gang of bandits. They captured and bound him. Their leader, grinning broadly, spoke in a gruff voice.
"This is your lucky day; I am going to sacrifice you to the Goddess Kali.* It's not every day she enjoys royal blood!"
* Goddess Kali, the controller of the material energy, neither wants nor accepts human sacrifices. Unfortunately, uncivilized, wicked persons sometimes concoct such a method of "worship."
The king, however, considered himself most unlucky. Bound with ropes, he had no way of saving himself from a bloody death on Kali's altar.
Pointing at the king, the leader ordered his men, "Our human offering should be stripped, washed, and wrapped in a new cloth."
As the men stripped him, one cried out, "Look, there's a finger missing."
Inspecting the king's hand, the leader of the gang was disappointed.
"We cannot possibly offer an incomplete human to Kali," he grunted. "Release him, you fools, and find someone else."
Unexpectedly freed from his bonds, the king mounted his horse and sped back to the city. Going straight to the dungeons, he ordered the release of the minister. Embracing his friend, the king apologized.
"By the mercy of the Lord I lost a finger. And as a result I had my life spared!"
After explaining the incredible incident to his minister, the king paused thoughtfully.
"I'm still a little puzzled. If everything that happens is the mercy of the Lord, what is the point in your being thrown in the dungeon?"
With a knowing twinkle in his eye, the minister replied, "If you hadn't ordered me to be thrown in the dungeon, I would have been with you when you were captured. Finding me with no parts missing, the gang would undoubtedly have used me as the human offering."
The king and his minister laughed loudly, tears streaming down their faces. Glad to be alive, they agreed that it certainly was all the mercy of the Lord.
Excerpted from Vedic Stories from Ancient India.
"Servant" Is a Good Word
THE PHILOSOPHY OF Krsna consciousness is vast and deep. After twenty-five years of study I've yet to master all its subtleties. Still, I've found that contemplating even the basic concepts can be highly satisfying.
Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of studying the teachings of Lord Krsna every day. Just the other day I was reading Srimad-Bhagavatam when one of Prabhupada's explanations struck me as so self-evident I just had to chuckle: "Of course. How could anyone argue with that?"
Srila Prabhupada was making the point—as he did over and over again—that we are all eternal servants of God and by realizing that we attain perfection.
"Everyone must serve someone," Srila Prabhupada pointed out. We can't exist without serving. We serve our family, friends, pets, boss, country. Even if we manage to avoid all those services, we can't escape serving the demands of our own body and mind and, ultimately, the forces of nature that ravage and destroy our very bodies.
We all must serve. This point is an example of what Prabhupada meant when he used to say that he was not teaching a sectarian religion. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Jew; American, Indian, European, or Asian—we all must serve.
"So what?" you might ask.
So it follows that since we're servants by nature, we're subordinate to a higher power. And to control, that higher power must have intelligence, and must therefore be a person.
God is the only person not under anyone else's control. We're not God. Unlike us, God doesn't have to serve anyone. We're subordinate to Him; we're His servants.
Realize that one simple point, and all our problems will be solved because we'll stop fighting our real nature.
Because our original consciousness, now in touch with the material energy, is polluted, we resent being told we're "eternal servants." We don't want to serve; we want to be served. (That's probably why people like going to restaurants.) We're all here trying our best to be God. Even in our self-styled attempts at spirituality we want to keep God out of the picture.
There's another reason we resent being told we're servants: Our experience of serving in this world tends to be unsatisfying.
Yet selfless service, which we glimpse in, for example, a mother's loving service to her child, is highly satisfying. And great philanthropists no doubt derive pleasure in sacrificing for others. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that the philanthropists' urge to serve others without reward indicates our eternal nature as servants of God.
Service in devotion is not drudgery. Limitless bliss awaits us in serving God. Because God, Krsna, is a person, in our liberated state we can serve Him as playmates, family members, even girlfriends. To me, this is one of the most wonderful aspects of the Krsna conscious explanation of our position as servants of God. He wants us to serve Him the way a friend serves a friend, a lover serves a lover. We simply have to give up our stubborn insistence on trying to take His place.
—Nagaraja Dasa adhikari
What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled; and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.
Lord Sri Krsna
The servants of the Lord are actually the servants of society. ... They are interested in imparting knowledge of the relationship of the living being with the Supreme Lord, the activities in that transcendental relationship, and the ultimate goal of human life. That is the real knowledge which can help society achieve the real aim of human welfare.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Actual speech is that which describes the qualities of the Lord, real hands are those that work for Him, a true mind is that which always remembers Him dwelling within everything moving and nonmoving, and actual ears are those that listen to sanctifying topics about Him.
The impersonal Brahman is Lord Krsna's bodily effulgence. ... As fireflies seem brilliant when the sun does not shine, so the impersonal Brahman is glorious only when Lord Krsna's form remains unseen.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
The son of Devaki, Krsna, is the Supreme Personality.
Narayana Upanisad 4
I worship the Personality of Godhead, Govinda [Krsna], who by one of His plenary portions enters every universe and every atom and thus unlimitedly manifests His infinite energy all over the material creation.
Even the worms, birds, and beasts are assured of elevation to the highest perfected life if they are completely surrendered to the transcendental loving service of the Lord, so what to speak of the philosophers among the human beings.