Back to Godhead Magazine

Volume 34, Number 01, 2000


Why We Must Know Who God Is
Q & A on the Gita, Part 4
Hare Krsna People
The Maha-Mantra Research Project
The Nine Processes of Bhakti-yoga
Tragedy Calls... Am I Next
Birth Control Myths
Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out
Spiritual Places
From the Editor
Vedic Thoughts

© 2005 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International


When His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada incorporated the Hare Krsna movement in 1966, a friend suggested he call it The International Society for God Consciousness rather than The International Society for Krsna Consciousness. But Srila Prabhupada wanted people to know that when he spoke of God, he meant a specific person: Lord Krsna.

In his lecture in this issue, Srila Prabhupada presents some arguments for accepting Krsna as God. When speaking with people who balked at the proposal that Krsna is God, Prabhupada would often challenge them to suggest someone else—a suggestion that usually left them speechless. Prabhupada was sure that Krsna is God, and he dedicated his life to convincing others of that truth, with much success.

Lord Krsna has been worshiped as God for thousands of years. In this issue we visit the Krsna temple in Dvaraka, where Lord Krsna spent more than one hundred years during His presence on earth five thousand years ago.

Of course, you'll find Krsna mentioned throughout the magazine because, as our name implies, Back to Godhead is meant for redirecting our lives toward God: Lord Krsna.

Hare Krsna.

Nagaraja Dasa

Our Purposes

• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
• To expose the faults of materialism.
• To offer guidance in the Vedic techniques of spiritual life.
• To preserve and spread the Vedic culture.
• To celebrate the chanting of the holy names of God as taught by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
• To help every living being remember and serve Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead.

Use back button to return.

Return to top


Paying for Mayapur

I greatly enjoyed reading the last BTG about Mayapur. Just one question: How much is that big temple going to cost, and how will it be paid for?

Raghupati Prana Dasa
Alachua, Florida

OUR REPLY: Based on current designs, which are nearing completion, the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium will cost up to US$100 million to build. Funds will come from thousands of private donors in India and the West. Project organizers have not yet begun raising funds for the temple and will start only when the design is "frozen."

Srila Prabhupada provided in his will that some royalties from the sales of his books through the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) could be used to help build this temple. So far the BBT has borne the costs of design and engineering.

Hazy Analogy

As a lover of analogies, I am moved to respond to the article by Krishan B. Lal on page twelve of the Sep./Oct. issue. In explaining that the soul can never merge into God, he writes, "A drop of water does not disintegrate or dissolve when it merges with the ocean." Unless this sentence is explained, it just does not hold up. As it is, the sentence defeats itself, as a drop of water always dissolves in a greater body of water. This phenomenon can be demonstrated by adding dye to the drop before it dissolves. To make the analogy hold, the author could have said that the individual water molecules keep their identity.

Personally, I like the analogy of the green bird flying into the green tree. The bird seems to merge but keeps his individual identity. It's so simple.

Ananta Sakti Dasa
Borehamwood, England

Favorite Issue

Many thanks for the most ecstatic Sept./Oct. issue of the BTG. I especially relished the article by Vrndavani Devi Dasi on the Radha-Damodara temple in Vrndavana. I was conquered by Visakha's article "Mine," and by Kalakantha's on getting prepared. Dhyana-kunda's articles are always among my favorites, and I like Satyaraja Prabhu's scholarly approach. The article by Praghosa Dasa was very sweet, and the one by Arcana-siddhi very impressive. I am also especially happy that Urmila is still part of the team. Her input is always very profound and well documented. Srila Prabhupada's articles are as usual very sharp and purifying, just like chutney—very hot, but so sweet that we can't stop eating.

My humble obeisances to our new editor and his staunch team; they are doing an outstanding service for Srila Prabhupada. This issue of BTG was definitely my favorite one.

Krsna-kirtana Devi Dasi
France (via the Internet)

Pinching Words

In your article on pages eight and nine of the July/August issue, Sri Krsna's word mudha in Bhagavad-gita 9.11 is translated as "rascals," "fools," etc. Please don't use words that pinch new learners. This is my humble request.

K. P. Satyamoorthy
Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

OUR REPLY: The article you refer to is a transcription of a lecture by Srila Prabhupada given many years ago. Although we edit his lectures somewhat for grammar, and so on, we don't feel we have the right to delete his criticisms of nondevotees. As Prabhupada himself would point out, he is simply repeating Krsna's words. Krsna certainly has the right to label someone a fool, and people should know who Krsna considers foolish. That's part of the wisdom of the Gita. Krsna makes distinctions.

As disciples of Srila Prabhupada we don't feel it is proper for us to interfere with his preaching style. If he felt it was important to repeat Krsna's words in pointing out who is foolish, it's not our position to challenge him.

We ourselves might use a gentler approach when preaching, and Prabhupada did that also, but if Prabhupada felt that strong words were sometimes needed, we have to agree with that assessment. Besides, we might not be able to predict the effect of strong words. Someone might read them and think, "Oh, Krsna says I'm a fool. So I should stop being a fool and surrender to Him."

Srila Prabhupada often spoke strongly, and he inspired thousands—maybe millions—of people to become devotees of Krsna.

Why Animal Sacrifice?

If the Lord dislikes killing, why are animal sacrifices to God found in the Bible?

Chung Fai Wu
Via the Internet

OUR REPLY: Although animal sacrifice to God is mentioned in the Bible, it is ultimately forbidden there, as it is in the Vedic scriptures. Sometimes the scriptures recommend animal sacrifice for meat-eaters who can't give up their habit all at once. They can offer the animal in sacrifice and then eat it, gradually becoming free of the desire to eat meat. Fortunately, today we can perform the sacrifice of chanting Hare Krsna and eating delicious vegetarian food offered to Krsna. That will quickly purify us and free us from the base desire to eat meat. There's no good reason for anyone to kill animals today.

Please write us at: BTG, P.O. Box 430, Alachua, FL 32616, USA. Or: BTG, 33 Janki Kutir, Next to State Bank of Hyderabad, Juhu, Mumbai 400 049, India. Phone: (022) 618-1718. E-mail:


In Vyasadeva: The Literary Incarnation of God (Sept./Oct. 1999), Vyasadeva is identified as "a saktyavesa-avatara, an eternally liberated jiva (a soul like you or I, not the Supreme Lord) particularly empowered with an opulence of God." One of our readers, Janajanmadi Dasa, has written with additional information:

"In Tattva-sandarbha (16.2) Srila Jiva Gosvami quotes Visnu Purana 3.4.2-5 to explain that in every divya-yuga (cycle of the four cosmic ages) a different jiva soul usually is empowered as a saktyavesa-avatara to take the position of Vyasa, the divider of the Vedas, but in this present divya-yuga Lord Narayana Himself appeared as Vyasa. Therefore the present Vyasa is Krsna-Dvaipayana Vyasa, for He is Lord Narayana Him-self and not an ordinary saktyavesa-avatara Vyasa."

On the inside back cover of the Nov./Dec. issue, the verse attributed to the Chandogya Upanisad is actually a verse written by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura based on a section of the Chandogya Upanisad known as the Dahara-vidya.

In "A Western Pilgrim in Mayapura" (Nov./Dec.), the house of Srivasa Pandita, where Lord Caitanya began the sankirtana movement, is incorrectly identified as the house of Srinivasa Acarya.


Many readers have written to ask about the recent absence of the columns ("Lessons From the Road," "Schooling Krsna's Children," "India's Heritage," and so on) from the pages of Back to Godhead. Our editorial staff decided to drop the columns to free up space and thereby allow for more opportunities to add variety to the magazine. Judging from the praise we've received for the Sep. /Oct. issue—which had no columns but eleven feature articles—we feel we made the right decision. We've encouraged the authors of the columns to keep writing for BTG, and we hope they will.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Why We Must Know Who God Is

Evidence about the identity of God is available, but are we willing to see it?

A lecture in Vrndavana, India, on August 16, 1974

By His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

yad atra kriyate karma
jnanam yat tad adhinam hi

"Whatever work is done here in this life for the satisfaction of the mission of the Lord is called bhakti-yoga, or transcendental loving service to the Lord, and what is called knowledge becomes a concomitant factor."

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.5.35

Earlier in Srimad-Bhagavatam we find a similar passage:

atah pumbhir dvija-srestha
svanusthitasya dharmasya
samsiddhir hari-tosanam

"O best among the twice-born [brahmanas], it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve by discharging the duties prescribed for one's own occupation according to caste divisions [varna] and orders of life [asrama] is to please the Personality of Godhead."

Bhagavat-paritosanam and hari-tosanam are the same thing. Bhagavat and Hari both refer to God; paritosanam and tosanam both mean "satisfy." First, we must know God; then we may try to satisfy Him.

Unfortunately, people do not know God. So what is the question of satisfying Him? Nowadays people have only a vague idea of God, practically no idea. What is God? People say, "God is good." Or sometimes people say, "God is great." But how great He is, how good He is, nobody knows. Then what is the question of satisfying Him?

If I do not know someone, and somebody says, "Go and satisfy so-and-so," what will I do? If I do not know him, or where he lives or what he does, then how can I satisfy him?

So hari-tosanam, or bhagavat-paritosanam, is possible when we actually know God. As far as we Krsna conscious devotees are concerned, we know God. Therefore the service of satisfying God is possible for us. We know God. Not that we have some vague idea. We know who God is, where He lives, what He does, His name, His father's name—everything. We are competent to satisfy God because we know exactly who God is. He is Krsna. Krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: "Krsna is the Supreme Lord."

How do we know that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead? By history, by authority, and by His actions. We know from the historical point of view. Krsna is discussed in the Mahabharata, "The History of Greater India." In the Yajur Veda also we find the name of Krsna and His father, Vasudeva. Besides that, five thousand years ago Krsna appeared as He is and acted as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So what is the difficulty in understanding Krsna?

Krsna is the richest person, the most beautiful, the wisest. He spoke the Bhagavad-gita. Who else—in the whole world, the whole universe—has given such wise instruction? No one. God means the wisest, the richest, the strongest, the most beautiful. Krsna was so beautiful that 16,108 very, very beautiful women married Him. And many millions of unmarried girls were attracted by Krsna, the most beautiful.

One of Krsna's names is Syamasundara. Syama means "blackish," and sundara means "very beautiful." He's so attractive and beautiful that He surpasses in beauty millions and millions of Cupids. One of His names is Madana-mohana. Madana is Cupid. Cupid enchants everyone, but Cupid is enchanted by Krsna. Therefore God's name is Madana-mohana.

Accepting the Evidence

We know God. The scriptures say, the saintly authorities say, and the histories say that Krsna is God, bhagavan. What more proof do you want? Is there anyone to challenge Krsna?

But still you are searching after God. This is foolishness, or owls' philosophy. The owl will not open his eyes to see the sun.

"Just open your eyes, and you will see—here is the sun."

"No, there is no sun."

This is owls' philosophy. Close the eyes and meditate.

We do not follow this owls' philosophy. We follow real philosophy. What is real philosophy? Sruti-pramanam: evidence from the Vedas. There are many types of evidence, but for followers of the Vedic principle, the best evidence is sruti-pramanam. If something is mentioned in the Vedas, Upanisads, or other Vedic books, then it is sruti-pramanam. There are four Vedas, 108 Upanisads, eighteen Puranas, the Mahabharata. All these are part of the Vedic literature. We find real philosophy in the Puranas, the histories, the Vedas, and in the words of the authorities.

Brahma is the best authority because he is the first living being created within the universe. Brahma is adi-kavi, the first learned scholar. And what does Brahma say? What is his knowledge? He says, govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami. Brahma says that Govinda, or Krsna, is the original person and the source of Brahma himself.

In the Brahma-samhita, Brahma describes Krsna and Krsna's abode. Brahma's words are our authority. They are sruti, Vedic evidence. Brahma describes how Krsna is very fond of tending cows—surabhir abhipalayantam. He describes Krsna's abode: cintamani-prakara-sadmasu. In Krsna's abode, Goloka Vrndavana, the houses are made of cintamani, touchstone. Touchstone is a stone that turns iron to gold. Touchstone is used as bricks in Krsna's abode.

Things in Krsna's abode are unlike here. Here everything is material. But there everything is spiritual.

The material world also depends on spirit. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna, the supreme spirit, says, "I am the seed of all existence." There is no question of anything material being manifest without the spiritual touch. This body—your body, my body—is material. Everyone knows it is made of earth, water, fire, air, and so on. But how did it become manifested? There is a spiritual touch: The spirit soul is there.

Dehino 'smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara tatha: the external body is changing, from childhood to youth to old age, on account of the spiritual touch. "Spiritual touch" means Krsna. He is the spiritual seed-giving father, the origin of everything. Just as the origin of a big tree is the root, so Krsna is the original person, the cause of all causes—sarva-karana-karanam. A tree has a trunk, branches, twigs, leaves, flowers, and fruits, but their cause is the root or the seed.

In today's verse it is said, bhagavat-paritosanam. The root must be satisfied. If you want to maintain a tree, then the root, or the original cause of the tree, should be watered. Then everything is satisfied. Here in the material world people are trying to be happy, but they do not know how to become happy. They are put into the ocean of nescience and may be very expert swimmers, but swimming will not save them. They must know how to be saved.

Two Kinds of Activity

Here it is said, yad atra kriyate karma. Everyone is doing something. There are two kinds of activity: vaidiki and laukiki. Vaidiki means "according to the Vedic rituals": performance of big sacrifices, and so on. Laukiki refers to other activities: labor in factories and mills, scientific research, and so on. Here it does not say that you can be happy only by big ritualistic ceremonies. You can be happy even by activities for maintaining the body. Yad atra refers to the material world, and kriyate refers to anything you are doing. Yad atra kriyate karma bhagavat-paritosanam: it doesn't matter that you do not understand Vedic rituals and that you want to develop the economic position of your country by industrial enterprises. That is also good. How? Bhagavat-paritosanam: if it is conducted for the satisfaction of Krsna.

Our Krsna consciousness movement does not tell you to stop anything. No. Whatever you like, you can do, but try to satisfy Krsna by your work. That is our proposal.

The divisions of work must be there; otherwise, society cannot run very nicely. If everyone is uninterested in anything material, the world will not go on. There must be statesmen, politicians, generals, and there must be the productive class and the workers. Everything is required.

So we do not say, "Stop this" or "Stop that." No. These divisions are scientifically made in the Vedic conception of life: four asramas [spiritual divisions] for spiritual advancement and four varnas [occupational divisions] for material advancement. We want all of them because our life is a combination of spirit and matter.

We try to make the best use of a bad bargain. Suppose you have a car, not a very good car. It's not an American car, but an Ambassador from India [laughter]. Three times it breaks down, but you still have to use it—bad bargain. Similarly, somehow or other we have the material body. We cannot neglect it. We don't say, "Neglect it. Don't care for the body."

Using the Body

That is the instruction of the six Gosvamis, the prominent disciples of Lord Caitanya: Don't be attached to bodily demands—eating, sleeping, sex, and defending. We could say, "I am not this body, so I don't care for eating, sleeping, and so on." No. That kind of renunciation is not recommended by our Krsna consciousness movement. We say: Do not be attached to the demands of the body, but use the body for advancing in Krsna consciousness.

Eating is required; otherwise, the body cannot be maintained. But do not eat too much, and do not eat according to the taste of the tongue—meat, fish, and eggs. You are a human being. For you Krsna has given so many varieties of food: fruits, vegetables, rice, dal, milk, ghee. Why should you eat meat? Don't eat like the cats and dogs but eat like a human being.

Similarly, you require some rest, but don't sleep twenty-six hours. Six to eight hours is sufficient for any healthy man. Even doctors say that if anyone sleeps more than eight hours he is diseased. He must be weak. A healthy man sleeps six hours at a stretch. That is sufficient.

"Gosvami" means you must be the master of the senses, or self-controlled. The six Gosvamis conquered over eating, sleeping, and sense enjoyment. Our process is to follow the six Gosvamis. We should keep in view what they did. They passed their time talking about Krsna.

The only aim of our Krsna consciousness movement is to satisfy Lord Krsna. We should use our intelligence and accept a process by which our spreading of Krsna consciousness goes on very nicely. The only process should be to satisfy Krsna, hari-tosanam. That is the recommended Vedic process: samsiddhir hari-tosanam. Samsiddhi means "perfection." If we want the perfection of our activities, then we should try to satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead by our activities.

The Test for Satisfying Krsna

You may say, "I do not see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face. How will I be able to know whether I am satisfying Him or dissatisfying Him?"

That you can know through your spiritual master. It is not very difficult. If your spiritual master is satisfied, then you should know that Krsna is satisfied. You cannot satisfy Krsna by dissatisfying your spiritual master. That is not possible. You must satisfy him. Do not use the excuse that you do not know God or do not see Him and thus you cannot know whether you have satisfied Him or dissatisfied Him.

We receive knowledge from Krsna, from Arjuna, from Brahma, from Narada. It comes down to your spiritual master, and you receive the knowledge in that way, step by step. That is called parampara, disciplic succession. Similarly, you satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead step by step. That is the process. Just as you go down stairs step by step, you also go up step by step.

Our aim is bhagavat-tosanam or hari-tosanam. And we receive knowledge from Bhagavan, God, in the parampara system. The parampara system must be maintained. If you act within the parampara system and satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then whatever you do is perfect. It doesn't matter what you do. The test is whether Krsna is satisfied, whether your spiritual master is satisfied. Then you are perfect.

Thank you very much.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Q & A on the Gita, Part 4

Compiled by Krisnan B. Lal

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 / answer format to the
Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

What is liberation?

Mukti, or liberation, means freedom from material consciousness. The Bhagavad-gita was spoken to liberate one from the bodily conception of life, and Arjuna put himself in that position to receive this information from the Lord.

One must become free from the bodily conception of life; that is the preliminary activity for the transcendentalist. One who wants to become free, who wants to become liberated, must first of all learn that he is not the material body.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam also defines liberation. Muktir hitvanyatha rupam sva-rupena vyavasthitih: "Mukti means liberation from the contaminated consciousness of this material world and situation in pure consciousness." All the instructions of Bhagavad-gita are intended to awaken this pure consciousness, and therefore we find at the last stage of the Gita's instructions that Krsna is asking Arjuna whether he is now in purified consciousness. Purified consciousness means acting in accordance with the instructions of the Lord.

What is pure activity?

The Bhagavad-gita teaches that we have to purify our materially contaminated consciousness. In pure consciousness, our actions will be dovetailed to the will of the supreme controller, and that will make us happy. It is not that we have to cease all activities. Rather, our activities are to be purified, and purified activities are called bhakti, or devotional service.

Activities in bhakti appear like ordinary activities, but they are not contaminated. An ignorant person may see that a devotee is acting or working like an ordinary man, but such a person does not know that the activities of the devotee or of the Lord are not contaminated by matter or impure consciousness. The activities of the Lord and His devotees are transcendental to the modes of nature.

We should know, however, that at this point our consciousness is contaminated. We are temporarily engaged in different activities, but when we give up these temporary activities and take up the activities prescribed by the Supreme Lord, that is pure life.

What is the impersonal Brahman?

The impersonal Brahman is the shining rays of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is also known as the brahmajyoti. The Gita explains that the impersonal Brahman is subordinate to the Supreme Person (brahmano hi pratisthaham).

What is Paramatma?

Paramatma is the form of the Lord appearing in the heart of every living entity and within each atom. Paramatma is also called the Supersoul.

Is realization of Paramatma or impersonal Brahman complete realization?

Realization of the impersonal Brahman is incomplete realization of the absolute whole, and so also is the conception of Paramatma. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Purusottama, is above both impersonal Brahman and realization of Paramatma.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead is called sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, "one whose form is composed of eternity, knowledge, and bliss." The Brahma-samhita begins in this way: "Govinda, Krsna, is the cause of all causes. He is the primal cause, and He is the very form of eternity, knowledge, and bliss."

Impersonal Brahman realization is the realization of Krsna's sat (eternity) feature. Paramatma realization is the realization of His sat-cit (eternity and knowledge) features. But realization of the Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is realization of all the transcendental features: sat, cit, and ananda (eternity, knowledge, and bliss) in complete vigraha (form).

Where is the most desirable destination?

If we properly use the instructions of Bhagavad-gita, then our whole life will become purified and ultimately we will be able to reach the destination beyond the material sky. That destination is called the eternal, spiritual sky.

In this material world we find that everything is temporary. It comes into being, stays for some time, produces some by-products, dwindles, and then vanishes. That is the law of the material world, whether we use as an example this body, or a piece of fruit, or anything. But beyond this temporary world is another world of which we have information. That world consists of another nature, which is sanatana, eternal.

In the eleventh chapter both the jiva and the Lord are described as sanatana. We have an intimate relationship with the Lord, and because we are all qualitatively one—the eternal sky, the eternal Supreme Personality, and the eternal living entities—the whole purpose of Bhagavad-gita is to revive our sanatana-dharma, the eternal occupation of the living entity. As long as we do not give up the propensity of lording it over material nature, there is no possibility of returning to the kingdom of the Supreme, the eternal abode.

Why does the Supreme Lord descend?

The Lord is very kind to the living entities because they are His sons. Lord Krsna declares in Bhagavad-gita, sarva-yonisu . . . aham bija-pradah pita: "I am the father of all." There are many types of living entities according to their various karmas, but here the Lord claims that He is the father of all of them. Therefore the Lord descends to reclaim all these fallen, conditioned souls, to call them back to the eternal sky so that the eternal living entities may regain their eternal positions in eternal association with the Lord. The Lord comes Himself in different incarnations, or He sends His confidential servants as His sons or associates to reclaim the conditioned souls.

What is the meaning of svarupa?

Every living being, out of the many, many billions and trillions of living beings, has a particular relationship with the Lord eternally. That is called svarupa, the constitutional position of the living entity. By the process of devotional service, one can revive that svarupa, and that stage is called svarupa-siddhi—perfection of one's constitutional position.

What is the living entity's svarupa?

When Sanatana Gosvami asked Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu about the svarupa of every living being, the Lord replied that the svarupa, or constitutional position, of the living being is the rendering of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we analyze this statement of Lord Caitanya's, we can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being serves other living beings in various capacities. By doing so, the living entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants serve their master. A serves B master, B serves C master, and C serves D master, and so on. One friend serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the husband, the husband serves the wife.

No living being is exempt from service. The politician presents his manifesto for the public to convince them of his capacity for service. The voters therefore give the politician their valuable votes, thinking that he will render valuable service to society. The shopkeeper serves the customer, and the artisan serves the capitalist. The capitalist serves the family, and the family serves the state.

We can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and rendering service is the eternal religion of the living being. The Hindu, Muslim, or Christian in all circumstances is servant of someone.

Is there a connection between service and happiness?

We are related to the Supreme Lord in service. He is the supreme enjoyer, and we living entities are His servitors. We are created for His enjoyment, and if we take part in that eternal enjoyment with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we become happy. We cannot become happy otherwise. It is not possible to be happy independently, just as no one part of the body can be happy without cooperating with the stomach.

It is not possible for the living entity to be happy without rendering transcendental loving service unto the Supreme Lord.

What is the nature of Lord Sri Krsna's abode?

Among all the planets in the spiritual sky there is one supreme planet, called Goloka Vrndavana, which is the original planet in the abode of the original Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna. The abode of Lord Sri Krsna is described in the Bhagavad-gita, fifteenth chapter, sixth verse:

na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama

"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world." We have a material conception of the sky, and we think of it in relationship to the sun, moon, stars, and so on, but in this verse the Lord states that in the eternal sky there is no need for the sun, nor for the moon, electricity, or fire, because the spiritual sky is illuminated by the brahmajyoti, the rays emanating from the Supreme Lord.

In the effulgent rays of the spiritual sky there are innumerable planets floating. The brahmajyoti emanates from the supreme abode, Krsnaloka, and the spiritual planets float in those rays. The Lord says that one who can approach that spiritual sky is not required to descend again to the material sky.

Why does the Lord descend from His abode?

The Lord resides eternally in His abode, yet He can be approached from this world, and to this end the Lord comes here in His original form. When He manifests this form, there is no need for our imagining what He looks like. To discourage such imaginative speculation, He descends and exhibits Himself as He is. Unfortunately, the less intelligent deride Him because He comes as one of us and plays with us as a human being. But we should not consider the Lord one of us. By His omnipotence He presents Himself in His real form before us and displays His pastimes, which are replicas of those found in His abode.

Krishnan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Hare Krsna People

Putting Krsna To the Test

By presenting ideas from Srila Prabhupada's books,
a Krsna devotee wins high grades in the secular world of academics

By Kalakantha Dasa

AS HE WALKED INTO the office copy room, Dhira Govinda Dasa glanced at the local paper lying on the table. He grimaced a bit as he read the masthead: "Dixie County, Home of the World's Only Four-Headed Swamp Cabbage."

As an entry-level social worker in rural Florida, he wondered about his new job and his future. Just then, looking up from the newspaper, he noticed for the first time a colorful announcement on the office bulletin board: "Master of Social Work (M.SW.) Program at Florida State University now accepting applications." Walking over to the board, he carefully read the details.

"Should I even consider this?" he thought.

Dhira Govinda (David Wolf) had graduated from Pennsylvania State University in 1983. He then took some time off to travel in Europe. In Israel a few months later, to satisfy his growing interest in philosophy and spiritual life he undertook a deep study of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is in a Hare Krsna ashram. In 1985 he accepted spiritual initiation and the name Dhira Govinda Dasa, "servant of the imperturbable Supreme Lord." Late in 1990, with the Persian Gulf war looming, he returned to the United States with his wife and two-month-old daughter.

He had been a good student in college, though not exceptional. Concerned about his future in Dixie County, he now (1993) decided to take the graduate-school application tests. When his scores came back unusually high, he was surprised and pleased, and was accepted into the program.

A Waste of Time?

Dhira Govinda now faced a dilemma. The Vedic scriptures—the subject of his study and fascination for many years—emphasize the value of spiritual development. Declaring the rare human life meant for self-realization, great Vedic authorities lamented time wasted in "pastimes of mundane scholarship." College would mean secular teachings and, at best, tolerance of his spirituality. He contemplated the conflicts between his spiritual convictions and the prospect of more years in college.

At last he decided to pursue a master's degree, but without compromising his Krsna conscious principles. He would stick to his convictions and see how far he could progress in the classroom. Following Krsna's instructions to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, Dhira Govinda would try to remember Krsna while performing his academic duties and leave the results up to Krsna.

School started ominously. In the introductory class, the professor declared, "Social work has its roots in religious and spiritual causes. We're not proud of these beginnings."

Realizing the ironclad secular bent in social work, Dhira Govinda grew more determined to infuse his contribution to the profession with Krsna consciousness.

Among his early courses was Human Biology. Aside from completing the assignments, Dhira Govinda wrote to the professor and humbly but pointedly challenged sections of the textbook dealing with evolution. The professor responded with enthusiasm, pleased that a student was taking so much interest.

For an end-of-term project, Dhira Govinda addressed his class on the role of the elderly in society. In a materialistic culture, he explained, old people are often seen as burdensome and spent. In a spiritually based society, however, the elders are revered for their wisdom and experience. When he introduced the Vedic social system and the position of sannyasa, he noted with pleasure that the class found his presentation fresh and stimulating. People seemed interested in his Krsna conscious perspectives.

In third semester, Dhira Govinda prepared a paper for a class about communities and organizations. The paper critiqued the administrative structure of a social service organization.

As he arrived one evening for the large-enrollment class, the professor pulled him aside and asked, "Are you David Wolf?"

Dhira Govinda said he was.

"The paper you prepared was the best I've ever read in twenty-five years as a professor."

He went on to praise the paper's incisive analytical content and urged Dhira Govinda to pursue a Ph.D.

The respected professor had told the previous class, "We have a genius in our midst. You should get to know him."

Dhira Govinda was surprised. The paper was nothing special. As usual, he had simply applied points from Prabhupada's books to the particular topic. He was struck by how his Krsna conscious training enabled him to see everything in a deeply philosophical way.

In another class, Dhira Govinda applied the principle of yukta-vairagya (using everything in Krsna's service) to analyze and defuse a traditional debate within social work on qualitative versus quantitative research.

Once, during a break in a class on politics in society, Dhira Govinda was cutting jokes with Kevin and Jim, two classmates. Quoting from Srimad-Bhagavatam, he mentioned the four strategies used by leaders in dealing with rebellious subordinates: flattery, offering position, creating divisiveness, and punishment. The classmates went silent for a moment.

Then Jim said to Kevin, with some seriousness, "Did you take notes on that?"

In the midst of an ocean of speculative articles, books, and lectures on the subject, the two sensed receiving more practical political knowledge in one or two sentences from the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Vedic Source Material

Quoting from Vedic sources in papers and discussions, Dhira Govinda found an endless supply of interesting and relevant ideas. In one class, he was asked to write comments on the following quote from William James: "Our normal waking consciousness, rational consciousness as we call it, is but one special type of consciousness, whilst all about it, parted by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. ..."

Dhira Govinda wrote, "For many years I've been interested in forms and levels of consciousness. Then at one point I thought, 'But who is it that's conscious?' It struck me that no scientist has ever mixed chemicals and created a conscious thing—not even an amoeba or a mosquito, what to speak of a human being. The body I had when I was a five-year-old boy is no longer there. Every atom is different. Yet there is something, some identity that is conscious of all my experiences of life. This identity must not be a function of my gross body, since my identity has remained constant, though the body and mind have changed."

The teacher commented, in red ink, "Wow! [As] always, you bring great depth of experience."

In other responses Dhira Govinda expounded on the philosophy of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva ("simultaneous oneness and difference"), quoted from Brahma-samhita and Caitanya-caritamrta, and pointed out the temporality of all material things. Citing the Bhagavad-gita, he wrote on humility as an essential quality for an effective therapist.

Dhira Govinda's professors were excited with his work. Recognizing his interest in presenting a spiritual and ethical message in the field of social work, one professor assigned him readings to help him present his spiritual message in a secular voice. Another professor asked him to review a course she was designing on epistemology in social science. Among other concepts straight from Srila Prabhupada's books, Dhira Govinda suggested she include lessons on the defects of the material senses. She appreciated his suggestion and incorporated the ideas, especially those about the limitations of the empirical methods.

Dhira Govinda began feeling more relaxed and accepted as a Hare Krsna social worker. He took to carrying his japa bead bag with him and chanted as he walked about the campus during the day. To his surprise, a social services administrator noted this and told him that she and her husband often visited Krsna temples.

In a course on the philosophy of social science, Dhira Govinda was assigned to write extemporaneously on "the personal ontology and epistemology that underlies your approach to social work practice and research."

Diving right in, he wrote: "Underlying my practice approach is the assumption that a person is not the body. Therefore, I consider it illusion for someone to think 'I am white,' 'I am black,' I am female,' 'I am male,' 'I am an Arab,' 'I am a Jew,' or any such bodily conception. These designations relate only to the temporary material covering of the person... . To illustrate by analogy, if a person were driving in a car produced in Italy, it would be incorrect to think 'I must be Italian.' The person could then get into a Toyota and think 'Now I'm Japanese.' The car has no intrinsic connection with the driver. Similarly, this material body has no intrinsic connection with the self.... Lack of understanding of our separateness from the body is the root cause of suffering.... My practice model involves helping a person realize the difference between the body and the self. For all types of social work and mental health scenarios, I consider this understanding to be essential...."

Impressed, the professor commented that he especially liked the vehicle analogy. Then, at the end of his written comments, he asked frankly, "What are you doing here?" He couldn't understand what someone with such a philosophical outlook was doing in a postgraduate social work program. He assured Dhira Govinda that he'd find his philosophical viewpoints unique in the field.

Dhira Govinda relished being out of place, a proponent of absolute truth in a thundering herd of liberal speculators. In a final paper on issues of ethics, values, and morality in social work practice and research, Dhira Govinda began by quoting a student orator at a Harvard graduation: "Among my classmates I believe that there is one idea, one sentiment, which we have all acquired at some point in our Harvard careers, and that is, in a word, confusion.... They tell us that it is heresy to suggest the superiority of some value, fantasy to believe in moral argument, slavery to submit to a judgment sounder than your own. The freedom of our day is the freedom to devote ourselves to any values we please, on the mere condition that we do not believe them to be true."

Building on this theme, Dhira Govinda pounced upon the contradictions of the pervasive, relative doctrines of modern academics: "Philosophically, the paradox is irresoluble. 'Are you sure there's no absolute truth?' 'Yes.' 'Are you absolutely sure?' ... Rigid attempts to cling to relativist doctrine lead to the confusion described by the Harvard graduate. This bewilderment and consequent feelings of emptiness and insecurity largely characterize modern society."

Presenting both a critique and a solution, Dhira Govinda concluded: "If we enter concepts such as essence or soul into the discussion, material objectivism is no longer applicable. Social workers who profess an objectivist paradigm may be courteous, empathic, warm, and caring, but their paradigm provides no fundamental reason to develop such qualities."

Going on to explain the importance of understanding the soul in developing the compassionate relationships necessary for social work, Dhira Govinda concluded with a direct presentation of Krsna consciousness: "When such a relationship is established within the heart, rules and regulations are no longer required. One will spontaneously act for the welfare of other persons.... To develop such a relationship with all persons necessitates cultivating a loving relationship, through the process of devotional service, with the source of all living entities, the Personality of Godhead. The Personality of Godhead is compared to the root of a tree. By watering the root, there's no need to separately water each leaf and branch."

Commenting on the paper, the professor wrote, "I think that your idea of sacrifice and compassion devoid of sentimentality is a noble pursuit. It is tonic for the endless sentimentality that a social work faculty is exposed to. Best wishes."

By referring to his Krsna conscious roots, Dhira Govinda found himself passing quickly through graduate school. His fifty classmates enjoyed his various classroom presentations of Krsna consciousness. When he graduated the master of social work program with a 4.0 average, he was elected class valedictorian. Addressing the class at graduation, he quoted the Caitanya-caritamrta's instruction that to understand and teach others about the eternal soul is the highest social welfare work.

Vedic Theory of Social Work

Now, at the urging of his academic advisor, Dhira Govinda entered the doctoral program. In one of his first Ph.D.-level courses, on research methodologies, he suddenly found himself confronted with an unexpected question: What would his research project be? His three fellow students had prepared for the question for months or years. Dhira Govinda had one minute to decide.

Remembering some conversations he'd had with scholarly Vaisnavas, Dhira Govinda announced he would research the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) as a measure of a person's well being. Since the Bhagavad-gita thoroughly defines the effects of the modes of nature on a variety of human behaviors, he asserted, they are at least as amenable to research as other psychological conceptualizations. The professor, who happened to be a yoga teacher, enthusiastically agreed with the idea and offered to help.

The result of this research was the "Vedic Personality Index," featured in the May/June 1998 issue of Back to Godhead. It was also published in the Journal of Indian Psychology (January, 1998) and Psychological Reports (June, 1999).

The Vedic Personality Index proved to be an essential element of what Dhira Govinda developed as the "Vedic Theory of Social Work." Graduate students rarely introduce a theory; usually they simply choose an existing one to study. But Srila Prabhupada's many writings and the many Vedic references on subjects such as sociology, psychology, and social work provided more than enough source material for the "new" theory.

The Vedic Theory of Social Work teaches that the soul is different from the body. It also includes the effect of transcendental sound (japa) on the soul's progress through the modes of nature. This latter element proved to be the basis for Dhira Govinda's thesis (see sidebar on previous spread).

After presenting the Vedic Theory of Social Work to a class through a play, Dhira Govinda received the following comments from other students:

"I thought the sound therapy [japa] is particularly interesting. Great analogy about the chariot and the body. 'The owner is different from the body.' I really like that. It hits home. Great presentation."

"As far as heightened consciousness and spirituality, this was a valuable lesson. Maybe I'm searching. I'm interested in the parallels of the East and West approaches of therapy. Good job. Great paper!"

"It is good to be reminded of the spiritual aspects of our nature and applying these within our practice. You're always interesting!"

"I learned about disciplined application of a spiritual way of life to use with our clients."

"I learned a lot about applying spiritual practice to social work."

"I liked the analogy of the horse and carriage. The Vedic Theory was very interesting; thanks for the snack to feed my vehicle."

Dhira Govinda successfully defended his thesis in June 1999. What had begun as a tenuous venture into academia turned into a series of perfect grades and much appreciation and success. Reflecting on his experience, Dhira Govinda comments simply, "Everything I said or wrote came directly from Srila Prabhupada's books."

Kalakantha Dasa writes, runs a small business, and oversees circulation for BTG. He and his wife, both disciples of Srila Prabhupada, live with their two children in Gainesville, Florida.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

The Maha-Mantra Research Project

By Dhira Govinda Dasa

ALTHOUGH I HAD done some preliminary theoretical work on researching the effects of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, I wasn't sure I wanted to pursue the research for my doctoral dissertation. I thought it would be too difficult to gather subjects and perform the study. I considered doing something easier for my dissertation, and then, after obtaining my Ph.D., I'd research Krsna conscious topics. But my academic advisor, Dr. Neil Abell, encouraged me—challenged me—to research the maha-mantra. He is a yoga teacher, and throughout my Ph.D. studies he guided my efforts to incorporate spirituality into my scholarly pursuits.

A first step in planning research is to review the literature on the topic. I found that although hundreds of studies had been done on spirituality and spiritual practices, including yoga techniques such as chanting mantras, there had been no research on the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, even though it is the mantra most recommended in the Vedas for spiritual realization in this age:

harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha

"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way." (Brhan-naradiya Purana)

I felt encouraged to break ground in researching the effects of chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. During the spring of 1998, I conducted a pilot study on the effects of the maha-mantra on stress, depression, the three modes of nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance), and some other mental-health indicators, such as verbal aggressiveness and life satisfaction. The study involved five participants, and the results were encouraging; they were largely consistent with Vedic theory. But the study had shortcomings. One was the small number of subjects. Another was the lack of a control group. So the design of the research was insufficient to conclude scientifically that the changes in the subjects were due to chanting. The weather, the passage of time, or any of innumerable factors unrelated to chanting Hare Krsna could have caused the changes.

Three Test Groups

Still, the results of the pilot study justified a more rigorous investigation. So I formed an experiment involving three groups: a maha-mantra group, an alternate mantra group, and a control group. The control group merely completed the packet of questionnaires and did not chant.

Though including a control group increased the validity of the research design, it still left open the explanation that any mantra, or any combination of sounds, would produce the same effect as the maha-mantra. Srila Prabhupada often emphasized that the vibration of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is not a material sound. So the experiment had to compare the maha-mantra with another combination of sounds. I contrived a combination of sixteen Sanskrit syllables to serve as an alternate mantra. The syllables were arranged in the same pattern as the maha-mantra, to preclude the explanation that the effects of the maha-mantra were merely due to such things as regularity of breathing or the symmetry of the syllables.

Participants in both chanting groups chanted three rounds each day for 28 days. (One "round" is 108 mantras counted on beads.) All groups completed the surveys three times: on the first day of the experiment (pre-test), after the last day of chanting (post-test), and 28 days after the final chanting day (follow-up). The survey packet included the Vedic Personality Inventory (to measure the three modes of nature) and standardized measures for stress and depression. Two research assistants and I kept in touch with all subjects to ensure they adhered to the guidelines of the experiment.

The subjects volunteered in response to newspaper ads. Though the three groups started with an equal number of subjects, 24 from the maha-mantra group completed the study, as did 19 from the alternate mantra group, and 19 from the control group. (The greater number in the maha-mantra group is some indication that those who chanted the maha-mantra derived greater benefit from the practice than those who chanted the alternate mantra.)

For the period from pre-test to post-test, statistical analyses revealed—for the maha-mantra group compared with the other groups—a significant decrease in stress, depression, and the mode of ignorance, and a significant increase in the mode of goodness. These results held even after considering the variables of age and gender. The analyses of the period from pre-test to follow-up for the maha-mantra group showed a significant decrease in depression and increase in the mode of goodness, though the other variables were not statistically significant.

The results were consistent with the teachings of the Vedic literature, which states that chanting the maha-mantra will increase one's qualities in the mode of goodness and diminish the effects of the mode of ignorance, such as depression, and the mode of passion, such as stress. Why didn't the mode of passion change significantly in the period from pretest to follow-up? Vedic theory describes the mode of passion as the intermediate mode between goodness and ignorance. So I hypothesized that for the maha-mantra chanters some of the passion converted into goodness, and some of the ignorance became passion, and thus the overall passion level did not change. We can also understand from the Vedas that the positive effects of the maha-mantra would diminish when the maha-mantra group had not chanted for 28 days. That explains the less significant results at follow-up.

Appreciation from Students and Teachers

During the oral defense of my dissertation, a lively discussion about the study and its implications for integrating spirituality and social science ensued. After the defense, several professors and graduate students told me they felt inspired by my presentation. They said that spiritual practices are important to them and they've wanted to incorporate them into their academic endeavors. They found encouragement in the boldness of my dissertation.

One member of my dissertation committee was Dr. Walter Hudson. A renowned empiricist in the field of social work research, he helped me enormously in designing the Vedic Personality Inventory and in formulating the design and analysis aspects for the maha-mantra study. Dr. Hudson passed away a few weeks after the defense. During his final months he spent long hours reviewing drafts of my dissertation, including descriptions of the philosophy and glories of Krsna's holy name, and thus he received eternal spiritual benefit.

Dr. Abell, my academic advisor, described the project as very innovative. He said that the study is of a sufficiently high standard that he can show it with confidence to any colleague in academia. He was particularly impressed with the "intellectual courage to take a personal, spiritual inspiration and translate it into research and practice that adheres to the best principles of practice research." He also commended the tenacity required to challenge my spiritual beliefs by "running them through the mill of Western science."

Of What Value for Devotees?

One may ask whether such research has any relevance for devotees of Krsna in their own spiritual lives. Do we need science to convince us to chant?

Science involves logic and experimentation. Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami wrote, "If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful." We receive the maha-mantra through the mercy of Lord Caitanya, and its efficacy is not dependent on any logical process. Still, if we honestly apply tools of analysis to the chanting of Hare Krsna, our faith in Krsna's names and appreciation for them can increase.

Krsna says that we can directly experience the effects of the practices of bhakti-yoga, including the chanting of the maha-mantra. So applying techniques of logic and experimentation (experience) to the study of devotional life is consistent with Vedic injunction. Further, such application, in accord with Srila Rupa Gosvami's principle of yukta-vairagya (using everything in Krsna's service), can serve as an effective means to present Krsna consciousness to today's educated people, who place their faith in the methodologies of science.

For devotees of Krsna, effects such as decreased stress and depression are merely tangential to the main goals of chanting Hare Krsna, which are to please Krsna and develop love for Him. Still, by demonstrating the benefits of chanting Hare Krsna in areas most people consider important, we can attract many people to Krsna, who is all-attractive.

This study is only a beginning in establishing the efficacy of the maha-mantra in terms of modern research. For instance, a future study could be conducted with mental-health patients, using the maha-mantra as part of their therapy. Much further research awaits the Vaisnava social scientist, not only in examining the maha-mantra, but in investigating all facets of the Vaisnava way of life.

Thoughts from a few participants of the maha-mantra chanters group...

"Although I'm not really a religious person, I was always intrigued when I saw the Hare Krsnas singing and giving out food on the campus. It was very interesting for me to participate in this study and to chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, because I developed a deeper understanding of the culture and practices of the Hare Krsna devotees."

—Jeremy Deleplane

"I felt the chanting was a way to really get centered. Also, I would do my chanting at the end of the day to help me get relaxed. If I had chanted in the morning, I think it would have helped me focus."

—Shawn Stokemer

"The chanting reminds me of people who do the rosary, like my grandmother. I'd never understood the whole idea of rosary beads, but this helped me to understand. It's the same sort of chanting. I got a set of beads for my brother and taught him to chant too."

—Wendy Zilkowski

Use back button to return.

Return to top


Narada Muni—The Father of Devotional Service

One of the most prominent sages in the Vedic literature, he travels throughout the universe awakening love for the Lord.

NARADA MUNI is exalted in Vedic texts as one of the twelve mahajanas, or great authorities on eternal truth. Details of his life and teachings are recounted in the Narada Purana, the Padma Purana, and throughout Srimad-Bhagavatam. So advanced is his level of spirituality that in these texts he is even sometimes called "Bhagavan," a term usually reserved for the Supreme Lord, and in the Bhagavad-gita (10.26) Lord Krsna Himself says, "Of the sages among the demigods, I am Narada."

As a preeminent representative of God, Narada Muni is often considered the original spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada states in his commentary to the Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.5.22), "The immediate spiritual master is the representative of Narada Muni; there is no difference between the instructions of Narada Muni and those of the present spiritual master." Prabhupada further refers to Narada as "the father of devotional service." (6.16.26)

ISKCON devotees know Narada Muni as "the eternal spiritual spaceman," because he is described throughout the Vedic literature as a transcendental mystic who received from Krsna the ability to traverse the cosmos, delivering the Hare Krsna maha-mantra to sincere souls and instigating advancement on the spiritual path.

"Instigating" may seem the wrong word to describe a celestial sage, but Narada is famous for pushing people to the limit, forcing them to make decisions that enable them to advance in Krsna consciousness.

Narada also serves as an instigator in Lord Krsna's pastimes. One example occurs around the time of Krsna's birth. When the demon Kamsa hears a voice from the sky, telling him that Devaki's eighth child (Krsna) will kill him, it is Narada who instills Kamsa with fear that any of Devaki's children might be his enemy. Narada thereby persuades Kamsa to kill all of Devaki's children. Narada does this to accelerate Krsna's appearance and enhance Kamsa's reputation as a demon, causing Krsna to eventually kill him and establish righteousness in society. (This was all done under the Lord's mysterious internal potency. Later, Lord Krsna brought the children back to life.)

Another example of Narada's instigative powers is seen in his exchange with Princess Rukmini, to whom he elaborately describes Krsna's unsurpassed beauty and superlative qualities. Upon hearing Narada's description, Rukmini becomes infatuated with Krsna, giving her heart to Him in total surrender. She is thus unable to marry Sisupala, to whom she was promised. Narada's "meddling" leads to the unfolding of an important episode in Krsna's manifest pastimes: Sisupala is humbled, and Krsna kidnaps and marries Rukmini. In the fulfillment of her heart's desire, Rukmini serves Krsna as His loving wife in the spiritual realm.

In yet another important episode, Narada chides Vyasadeva for not getting at the essence of Vedic knowledge in compiling the Vedic literature. Narada tells Vyasadeva that the remedy is to describe in his writing the name, form, fame, and pastimes of Krsna. Vyasadeva does so, the result being the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the cream of ancient India's scriptural legacy.

The Three Lives of Narada

Just who is Narada Muni, and what did he go through to become one of the most respected saints in the Vedic tradition?

The Srimad-Bhagavatam describes how Narada attained the audience of God and thus became renowned in the Vedic tradition. The story begins with his previous two lifetimes. During the first, his name was Upabarhana, a Gandharva, or singer from a heavenly planet. Upabarhana's beautiful voice and handsome features made him attractive to women, and he became a playboy, losing his spiritual perspective and falling into materialistic life.

Once, Upabarhana attended a festival put on by the prajapatis, residents of higher planets responsible for populating the universe. While performing sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, Upabarhana glorified the demigods. The devotees present took this action as a great offense, because sankirtana is meant for glorifying the Supreme Lord only. The devotees then cursed Upabarhana to be born in his next life as a sudra (laborer) devoid of beauty. Fortunately, whether a saint blesses or curses, the result is the same: the recipient of the saint's attention advances in God consciousness.

That's what eventually happened to Upabarhana (Narada). When he was born as the son of a maidservant, he was inclined to devotional service and managed to serve the pure devotees of the Lord.

Narada's pious mother had the good fortune to serve traveling mendicants, so five-year-old Narada had the same opportunity. Moreover, he was able to take the remnants of their meals (prasadam) and hear them speak on transcendental subjects. Primarily these two activities, says the Bhagavatam, enabled Narada to move forward in his spiritual life.

The traveling mendicants could not find any fault in the little boy. He seemed to be uninterested in playing like other boys; he was not naughty in any way, nor did he speak more than necessary. For all of these reasons, the sages showered their blessings upon him. Narada underwent a vital transformation and became intoxicated with God consciousness. He meditated day and night, then left home after his mother's death to become a wandering mendicant himself.

As Narada traveled, he learned to dedicate every moment to the pursuit of spiritual realization. One day, during Narada's meditation the Lord appeared within his heart—he was able to see the form of God. Tears of love flowed from his eyes as he gazed upon the Lord's beautiful form.

And then the Lord disappeared from his vision.

The Bhagavatam describes Narada's grief-stricken condition and tells us that as much as he tried, he could not regain his vision of God. His realization: God is not at our beck and call. He appears before us by His sweet will, and if He desires to conceal Himself, no amount of meditation or prayer will force Him to show us His beautiful form. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master, has said, "Don't ask to see God, but rather act in such a way that God will want to see you."

Narada then heard the Lord's voice, telling him that it is not possible to see God if one is not completely pure. The Lord told Narada another thing: He had shown Narada His form out of kindness and to increase his longing for Him.

The Lord's enticement worked. Narada now meditated on the form of the Lord more intensely than ever before. His hearing and chanting of the glories of Krsna engulfed his soul, and he became oblivious of the world around him. When the moment of death came, he was ready.

"Being freed from all material taints," Narada told his disciple Vyasadeva, "I met with death just as lightning and illumination occur simultaneously."

The transition was seamless, and when the material world was again created (for the material cosmos manifests in cycles), Narada was born from the creator-god Brahma's heart, as his most dear son. In this form, Narada had indeed reached perfection. The Bhagavatam tells us that his birth was not forced, as are most births in the material realm, but was completely voluntary: he was born merely to assist the Lord in His mission. Moreover, says the Bhagavatam, his body was just like the Lord's—transcendental and immortal, with no difference between his outer body and the inner animating spark, the soul.

Teacher of Pure Devotion

Thus, Narada is considered a perfect devotee. His teachings, found throughout the Srimad-Bhagavatam as well as in his Narada-bhakti-sutras and Narada Pancaratra, are exemplary for souls on the path of pure devotion. They embody the essence of selfless devotional service.

Lord Krsna, feeling grateful for Narada's dedication and love, once asked him, "What can I do to serve you?"

"I do not care where I may be," Narada replied, "but I pray that I may be allowed to constantly remember Your lotus feet."

This single-minded determination marks Narada as the perfect guru, and many great sages have taken shelter at his feet. He is the spiritual master of Valmiki (the author of the Ramayana), and of Prahlada Maharaja, Dhruva Maharaja, the Pracetas, Citraketu, and many other prominent personalities in Vedic history. Most important, he is the spiritual master of Vyasadeva, often considered the model guru. For this reason, Narada Muni is the guru of gurus.

Transcendental Traveling Musician

Narada is a perfect brahmacari, a celibate whose sole purpose is pure devotional service to the Lord. The Linga Purana says that Krsna awarded Narada a vina, a stringed musical instrument, which Narada plays as he traverses the universe. Because the vina was a direct gift from the Lord, it is considered non-different from Him. Narada, then, carries the Lord with him as he travels the material cosmos, delivering the holy name to the devotees and helping those in need with his spiritual blessings.

Because Narada is a musician who travels throughout the universe enlightening people with Krsna consciousness, it was fitting that during Lord Krsna's appearance five hundred years ago as Lord Caitanya, Narada appeared as Srivasa Thakura. It was in his courtyard, Srivasa Angan, that the sankirtana movement, full of song and dance, began on earth. In this way, both as Narada and as Srivasa, he uses music—particularly the chanting of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—to spread the glories of Krsna.—-by Satyaraja dasa

Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to Back to Godhead. He has written several books on Krsna consciousness. He and his wife live in New York City.

Narada becomes a Gopi

ACCORDING TO the Narada Purana (2.80.9-32), the Skanda Purana (2.6.2-3), and the Padma Purana (4.75.25-46), when Narada first heard that Lord Krsna had appeared in Vrndavana, he wandered Vrndavana's twelve forests looking for any signs of his beloved Lord. With great intensity he ran through the secret bowers in which Krsna would meet with the gopis, His cowherd girlfriends. But he could not find any evidence of Krsna's appearance.

Vrnda Devi, a prominent gopi who helps arrange Krsna's rendezvous with His girlfriends, appeared before Narada and told him that to see such esoteric pastimes he would have to adopt the mood and form of a loving gopi himself. This was possible, she said, only for the most advanced practitioners of spiritual life. Vrnda Devi told Narada that he was one such soul and could affect such a change by bathing in a nearby pond known as Kusum Sarovara.

Narada did as Vrnda Devi had instructed and emerged from the waters as a gopi named Naradi. He was thus able to see Vrndavana with new eyes and enter into Krsna's pastimes with the cowherd girls.

Later, Vrnda Devi instructed him to bathe in another pond, which came to be known as Narada-kunda, and he resumed his male form.

The Narada Purana says that the lesson to be learned from this episode is that even a sage as great as Narada must meditate on Vrndavana in the intense mood of a gopi to attain the highest level of prema, love for Krsna. Such meditation is possible for only the most accomplished devotees.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

The Nine Processes of Bhakti-yoga

2: Kirtana—
Glorifying the Lord and His Holy Names

Lord Krsna descended as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
to teach this essential spiritual practice.

by Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi

In Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.23-24), the devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a great spiritual authority, says, "Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu [Krsna], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge."Here we continue our series on the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Lord.

A Single Word Can slice our heart to shreds. It can inspire a flood of joy or raging anger. Words form the lyrics of love songs and the dialog of hate. They link us in love and act as barriers to understanding. Think of the most emotion-filled moments of your life, and quite likely you'll hear the echo of words once spoken.

The gift of speech is so fully integrated into life that we scarcely consider its importance. And yet, a gift it is, and how we use it greatly influences our destiny. We may pay dearly for harsh words, uncertain silences, or artificial enthusiasm. The words we utter cause us to seize or lose opportunities. Can you explain why your homework is late? How do you answer the questions at a job interview? What do you say when your best friend is sobbing in your arms? Can you say where you were when the crime was committed? Can you answer your child's questions about death? The words you find to speak contribute to where you go and who you become in this life.

And beyond this life. Words can be tools not only for material activities but for spiritual growth. Words written, spoken, or sung for the glorification of the Lord constitute kirtana, the second of the nine processes of devotional service (bhakti-yoga).

The first process is hearing (BTG Sept./Oct. 1999); then comes kirtana. The relationship between the two is direct and intimate. To properly glorify the Lord we must first understand Him through proper hearing. Hearing as devotional service includes receiving guidance from scripture, spiritual masters, and other devotees of the Lord. Fortified by hearing from spiritual authorities, one begins kirtana.

Kirtana can take a variety of forms, one of which is the chanting of mantras. For some people, the word chanting may summon images of mindless repetition. But although chanting involves repetition, the repetition should not be mindless, but mindful—done with an awareness that the words are sacred and pleasing to God. We must also be mindful to chant not for material benefit, but as an offering of love through words.

The solitary chanting of a mantra is called japa. During one's quite hours of japa one gains a great deal of the purification necessary to approach God. The Vedic scriptures recommend that in this age we chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The maha-mantra is composed of names of the Lord, and by chanting them we invoke His presence. Understanding that alone can inspire us to chant attentively. No doubt concentrating fully on the chanting is difficult, but success in spiritual life takes some effort, or austerity. In this age, chanting Hare Krsna without letting the mind flicker to distracting thoughts is a special austerity for us.

Another form of kirtana is congregational singing, or sankirtana. Devotees gather daily in temples to perform sankirtana before the Deities, singing and playing musical instruments for the pleasure of the Lord. Scheduled sankirtana, or kirtanas, take place in all Hare Krsna temples daily, and everyone is welcome to come and join in. Devotees also take sankirtana out into the streets, allowing the public to benefit from hearing the holy names of the Lord.

Besides japa (private chanting) and sankirtana (congregational singing), a third form of kirtana is speaking about spiritual topics. One way to do this is to read the words of revealed scripture and spiritual authorities. Devotees in the Hare Krsna movement gather daily in the temple for a reading from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. They also like to get together informally to read aloud from Srila Prabhupada's other books, including Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Listening to the wonderful descriptions of Lord Krsna's childhood pranks is the perfect combination of hearing and chanting.

An essential component of kirtana is to capture without deviation the spirit and message of Krsna's pastimes and teachings, and this is best accomplished when using the descriptions given to us by pure souls who can speak of such things with first-hand realization. So reading the scriptures and the commentaries by the saints and sages is a vital form of kirtana.

Any activity that promotes the glorification of the Lord is kirtana, and one especially important activity is the distribution of books about Krsna consciousness. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Prabhupada's spiritual master, called the printing press "the big drum": a drum played in sankirtana may be heard a block or two away, but the printing press can spread the sound of sankirtana around the world.

Perfection Through Kirtana

One can attain the goal of life—pure love for God—by perfecting any of the nine processes of devotional service. One devotee who attained perfection through kirtana is Srila Sukadeva Gosvami, who lived thousands of years ago in India. Being the son of Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic literature, Sukadeva heard about the wonders of the Lord and devotional service even while within the womb. That hearing created such a fervor for spiritual life that Sukadeva never attempted a conventional way of life. After his birth, he entered the forest to enjoy a life of meditation on Lord Krsna. When Maharaja Pariksit, a great emperor, was sitting on the banks of the Ganges River, desiring to hear about the purpose of life, Sukadeva Gosvami was chosen to instruct him. The words of Sukadeva Gosvami are immortalized in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Through his pure, unmotivated glorification of God—kirtana—Sukadeva Gosvami achieved perfection.

Speaking What We Know

Repeated hearing will naturally inspire us to speak our realizations about Krsna. In doing so, we must take care to present Krsna and His teachings accurately, and we must be careful of our motives. Are we concerned with appearing knowledgeable? Are we hoping to make money? Gather a congregation for our own prestige? Any such motive contaminates the speaking and lessens the power of this form of kirtana to purify both the speaker and the audience.

The Right Mentality

An essential ingredient in any of the nine processes of bhakti-yoga is humility. Lord Caitanya, who descended to promote the chanting of the holy names, spoke about humility in relationship to kirtana: "One must chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, considering oneself lower than the straw in the street, more tolerant than the tree, and ready to offer all respect to others. In such a state of mind, one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly."

Constant glorification of the Lord through the various forms of kirtana is the ideal toward which devotees strive. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna says that the great souls are always chanting (kirtayanto) His glories. Two measures of successful kirtana are the continuing will to perform it and the blessing to be allowed such a hallowed service. The emperor-saint Maharaja Prthu reveals the ideal mood in the following prayer:

My dear Lord, if after taking liberation I have no chance of hearing the glories of Your Lordship, glories chanted by pure devotees from the core of their hearts in praise of Your lotus feet, and if I have no chance for the honey of this transcendental bliss, then I shall never ask for liberation or so-called spiritual emancipation. I shall always pray unto Your Lordship that You may give me millions of tongues and ears, so that I can constantly chant and hear of Your transcendental glories.

Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi is a frequent contributor to Back to Godhead. She and her family are part of the Hare Krsna community in Alachua, Florida.

Cleaning the Heart

Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu (pictured on page 3) introduced the congregational chanting of God's holy names as the religious process for this age. He exalted the practice in His prayer known as Siksastakam. Here are the first two verses of that prayer (the third verse is quoted in the main article).

Glory to the Sri Krsna sankirtana, which cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for years and extinguishes the fire of conditional life, of repeated birth and death. This sankirtana movement is the prime benediction for humanity at large because it spreads the rays of the benediction moon. It is the life of all transcendental knowledge. It increases the ocean of transcendental bliss, and it enables us to fully taste the nectar for which we are always anxious.

O my Lord, Your holy name alone can render all benediction to living beings, and thus You have hundreds and millions of names like Krsna and Govinda. In these transcendental names You have invested all Your transcendental energies. There are not even hard and fast rules for chanting these names. O my Lord, out of kindness You enable us to easily approach You by chanting Your holy names, but I am so unfortunate that I have no attraction for them.

The Ten Offenses in Chanting God's Names

Chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra can awaken our dormant love for God. For the chanting to yield the desired result, the scriptures say that one should refrain from committing the following offenses:

(1) Blaspheming a devotee of the Lord
(2) Considering the Lord and the demigods to be on the same level or thinking there are many Gods
(3) Neglecting the orders of the spiritual master
(4) Minimizing the authority of the Vedic scriptures
(5) Interpreting the holy names of God
(6) Committing sins on the strength of chanting
(7) Teaching the glories of the Lord's names to the faithless
(8) Comparing the holy name with material piety
(9) Being inattentive while chanting the holy name
(10) Remaining attached to material things in spite of chanting the holy names

Scriptural References on Chanting

The following is a short selection from the hundreds, if not thousands, of verses in the Vedic literature glorifying the chanting of the holy names of the Lord.

"After searching through all the Vedic literature one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krsna."

—Kali-santarana Upanisad

"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting of the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way."

—Brhan-naradiya Purana

"My dear king, although Kali-yuga is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom."

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.3.51

"Devotional service, beginning with the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, is the ultimate religious principle for the living entity in human society."

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.3.22

"In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship [Lord Caitanya,] the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the names of Krsna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krsna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons, and confidential companions."

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.32

"Those who are actually advanced in knowledge are able to appreciate the essential value of this Age of Kali. Such enlightened persons worship Kali-yuga because in this fallen age all perfection of life can easily be achieved by the performance of sankirtana."

—Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.36

"Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the holy name of the Lord. If one does so, avoiding the ten kinds of offenses, one very easily obtains the most valuable love of Godhead."

—Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Antya-lila 4.71

"The religious practice for the Age of Kali is to broadcast the glories of the holy name. Only for this purpose has the Lord, in a yellow color, descended as Lord Caitanya."

—Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 3.40

"In this Age of Kali, the holy name of the Lord, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, is the incarnation of Lord Krsna. Simply by chanting the holy name, one associates with the Lord directly. Anyone who does this is certainly delivered."

—Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 17.22

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Tragedy Calls... Am I Next

The teachings of the Bhagavad-gita help us see beyond the apparent randomness of tragedy.

By Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi

I Had Just Turned eleven when our small island town was gripped with terror. Mary Kelly had disappeared three days earlier, and now her mutilated body had been found in the woods just a mile from where I lived. The intensive, frantic search was over, leaving everyone stunned with disbelief. In our town, people rarely locked doors unless they were to be away for an extended time. But from that day on, our family began sliding our front door's shiny brass chain into its groove.

That night as I lay in bed under my covers, I recited the same prayer I'd recited since I was a small child.

"Father, thank you for the night and for the pleasant morning light, for rest and food and loving care, and all that makes the world so fair. Help us to do the things we should, to be to others kind and good. Amen."

Then I added my usual P.S.: "Please take care of my mother, my father, my brothers, my grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and all the good people in the world."

I finished my prayer still feeling shrouded in loneliness, fear, and doubt. As my heart pounded in my chest, my eyes scanned the darkness for any movement or abnormalities. Previously, in fearful moments I'd found comfort in the thought of an almighty, omnipresent God watching over and protecting me. Today's events had shattered that image. While I had not known Mary Kelly very well, we rode the same bus to school, walked the same halls, and ate in the same cafeteria. Why would God protect me and not her? I concluded that tragedy occurs randomly and I was as vulnerable as anyone else.

I lay awake all night, falling asleep only when a faint light of dawn broke the darkness. An hour later my father's voice broke through my deep sleep and called me to prepare for school. I considered asking to stay home from school but quickly dismissed the idea, realizing I would be alone all day in an empty house. Dazed, I dragged myself out of bed and got ready for school.

School that day was business as usual. We wanted to forget what had happened and try to reclaim an illusion of safety and well being. But I couldn't forget. Mary's death raised questions and doubts that haunted me.

The Tragedy Lottery

To make sense of it all, I compared personal tragedy to winning the lottery. Both involved the luck of the draw. Since I had never won anything, I thought, perhaps that same "bad" luck would also keep me safe from harm. This convoluted thinking pacified my mind to some extent. Still, for the next several years I often lay awake at night imagining sinister footsteps in our quiet, dark suburban house. I so much wanted to regain the lost feeling that God, angels, or someone was looking after me. But for the rest of my childhood, that sense of protection never returned. Instead, I kept an uneasy truce with Lady Luck, who seemed to hold my fate in her hands.

Later, in college, I read Bhagavad-gita and learned about the law of karma, which states that whatever good or bad comes our way is the consequence of good or evil deeds we have done. Since the soul is eternal, karma can even result from deeds done in past lifetimes.

Learning of karma made me question the role of luck in life. I began to consider that my own past deeds, good and bad, had to play out and I would get what I deserved. It also occurred to me that what I was doing today would create something I'd have to live with tomorrow. This gave me a new sense of self-determination. I felt stronger. Then another shock shattered my security.

Why Chuckie?

One evening I went to visit my friend Mark at his fraternity house. He was downstairs playing cards with his friends, and I was about to join them when I was suddenly overcome with a strong desire to work on a school assignment. The paper wasn't due for two weeks, but instead of hanging around downstairs, as I would have usually done, I returned to the small library upstairs to study.

Suddenly I was jolted by the deafening sound of a gunshot, then screams of "Oh my God! Oh my God! He's dead!"

Panicked, I ran down the steps. A young man barred me from going any farther and routed me out of the building. His only explanation was that there was a lot of confusion and I had best get back to my dorm.

As I walked down College Avenue, sirens pierced the quiet spring evening. Police cars and an ambulance sped by towards the fraternity house. I could imagine what had taken place. Was it someone I knew? Was it Mark? Who shot the gun and why? My mind flashed back to the time Mary Kelly's body was found in the woods just a mile from my home. This time, a fatal gunshot had occurred only a few feet away.

That night Mark called. I was relieved to hear his voice. He explained that a student, somewhat intoxicated, was fooling around with a sawed-off shotgun. Not thinking it was loaded, he pointed the gun at a boy named Chuckie and pulled the trigger. To everyone's shock and horror, the gun—fired from two feet away—blew Chuckie's head off.

Chuckie was a friend to both of us, and I felt overwhelmed by sadness and disbelief. Over the next few days, as I reflected on the tragedy, I remembered my readings about karma. I began to feel a strong conviction that what had transpired wasn't just a random series of events but was being arranged by a higher authority. But why Chuckie? Why Mary? What had they done to deserve such a fate? And why not me?

The Problem of Evil

Some years passed, and I remained uncertain about the conflicting roles of luck and karma. At one point I read a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner entitled When Bad Things Happen To Good People. He postulated that, although God created the world and set it into motion, He has no control over what goes on. God is good, but because of His lack of direct involvement, He is not to blame for our blunders. Thus Rabbi Kushner reconciled God's existence with tragic events happening to good and innocent people.

As I pursued my study of Bhagavad-gita, I came to understand that the Vedic conclusion is quite different. The Lord not only sets the creation into motion, but He personally accompanies every living entity into this material world to assist us in rectifying the consciousness that has separated us from Him.

Krsna, God, creates us to love Him. But love must be voluntary, so He also gives us the free will to reject Him if we choose. When we reject God, we enter this world of matter, where suffering prevails. Out of His love for each of us, Krsna guides us back to His service. He uses the agency of karma, the system of reward and punishment, to help us decipher right from wrong. As our desires become more in line with His desires, He personally takes charge of our lives, guiding us on our journey back to Him. Krsna assures us of this in the Bhagavad-gita (18.66). He tells Arjuna that as we give up all other engagements and serve Him exclusively, according to His desires, then He will protect us from all the reactions of our past karma.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No

Returning to Rabbi Kushner's exploration of "bad" things happening to good people, let us consider what is bad and what is good, as illustrated by the story of a wise old Chinese farmer.

One day the farmer's horse disappeared.
All his neighbors exclaimed, "Ah, what misfortune."
The wise farmer replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
The following day the horse returned with three wild horses.
At this turn of events, the neighbors all said, "What good fortune!"
Again the wise farmer replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
In the days that followed, the farmer's son was training one of the wild horses when he fell off and broke his leg.
The neighbors came to console the farmer.
"Oh, what terrible fortune! Your son has broken his leg and can't work."
Again the wise farmer simply replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
Shortly thereafter war broke out and the army came to recruit the farmer's son. Because of his condition, they rejected him.
At this the neighbors joyfully proclaimed, "Just see your good fortune! Because of your son's broken leg, he has been spared from the war!"
Again the wise farmer replied, "Maybe yes, maybe no."
And so the story goes.

This story shows how our limited vision prevents us from evaluating what is actually good or bad in any given situation. Unless we can understand past, present, and future, how can we possibly understand the ramifications of an event on someone's life? I learned from the Bhagavad-gita that only Krsna has the total picture and only He knows what is truly in our long-term interest. Knowing this, advanced, learned devotees of the Lord are not affected by the dualities of the material world. Krsna tells Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (2.15) that a person undisturbed in happiness or distress and steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.

Srimad-Bhagavatam gives many accounts of learned devotees who underwent severe tribulations and reverses and continued to have full faith in the Lord and love for Him. One example is the great king Pariksit. An inexperienced brahmana boy cursed saintly Pariksit to die in seven days. The king accepted the curse as part of the Lord's greater plan. As a result, he heard the Srimad-Bhagavatam for the last seven days of his life. By the time death arrived, he was fully self-realized and departed for the spiritual world.

Without knowing the Lord's greater plan, we might have concluded that the event was a tragedy because of the loss of a saintly king. But in fact his death benefited not only the king but also countless generations of Srimad-Bhagavatam readers.

Escaping Death

The Bhagavatam teaches us to see death and suffering from a higher perspective. We learn that in our original position in the spiritual world we are fully enlightened and completely happy, and we never die. As long as we accept the material world as our home and try to be happy here, we're cheating ourselves. But God, our all-powerful and dearmost friend, arranges everything in our lives to encourage us to return to our spiritual home. We resist, though, and continue to live in material bodies because we harbor desires to enjoy separate from the Lord. And as long as we live in material bodies, death comes.

If we grasp the full scope of our existence, we can understand the significance of each event that we struggle through. Since most of us lack such vision, we need to develop faith that Lord Krsna arranges everything for our ultimate benefit, even if at present we cannot understand how. Krsna instructs Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (18.57) that in all activities we should just depend upon Him and work fully under His protection. He further explains that the mood of dependence on Him is itself devotional service. The more we enter into that mood, the more we will be conscious of Him and see so-called happiness and distress as equally the Lord's mercy.

No Fear

Becoming conscious of the Lord means no more fear. The material world is called kuntha, "full of anxiety and fear" for the living entity. But the Lord's abode is called Vaikuntha, "free from fear and anxiety."

Vaikuntha consciousness manifests more and more as we chant the Lord's names, following the recommendation given five hundred years ago by Krsna Himself in His incarnation as Lord Caitanya. By chanting the Lord's name, we cleanse our heart of the impurities that prevent us from understanding the truth about the Lord and ourselves.

Through chanting I have gained faith in the Lord's plans for me and have recovered my long-lost childhood sense of safety and protection.

Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1976. She lives with her husband and son in Baltimore, Maryland, where she works as a family therapist.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Birth Control Myths

Proponents of contraception claim it
solves many social problems.
Are they right?

By Urmila Devi Dasi

Thirteen-year-old Jenny broke the silence.
"Rhoda, I was a birth-control baby."
"Birth-control baby? I never heard of that."
"The birth control my mother and father used didn't work, and the result was me."
"You mean you weren't wanted."
Jenny didn't answer. She hunched the covers over her shoulders. Rhoda leaned across the beds to touch Jenny's shoulder.
"I'm sorry. I don't know why I said such a stupid thing."
Jenny lay still for a long time. Her thoughts drifted to her family....
"Rhoda," she said softly after a while. "Rhoda, you were right, anyway. I'm the family accident."
Rhoda was sleeping already. Surprised at what [Rhoda] had said, and yet, feeling as if she'd always known it, [Jenny] understood now the plea that was always in her mother's eyes when her mother looked at her.... [Jenny] closed her own eyes and went to sleep, too.

—A Figure of Speech, by Norma Fox Mazer, p. 44

ABUSED, UNLOVED, unwanted, neglected children are an image of pain that tugs at the heart of any caring person. And what is modern technology's answer? Birth control. Politicians, scientists, educators, and even religious leaders advise contraception—and its commander in reserve, abortion—as the answer to many social and economic woes.

Yet when we examine the problems that contraception and abortion aim to solve and the benefits they are supposed to give, we may be surprised to see how they fall short. In ancient history, the saint Prahlada taught that a materialistic solution is worse than the original problem. Birth control exemplifies this principle. Let's consider the reputed benefits of birth control and abortion: no more births of unwanted children, all children raised in a stable home and nurtured with affection, more freedom and respect for women, better health for women, fewer financial burdens for families, and less of a population burden on the planet.

No more unwanted children?

The prime objective of birth control and abortion is to eliminate unwanted children. Despite the increase of birth control and abortion worldwide, however, evidence shows that the problem of unwanted children has worsened the more the "solution" has been applied. In the essay Right Reason, William F. Buckley, Jr., writes, "The general availability of birth control information has caused a rise in illegitimacy." In Sweden, for example, the percentage of children born out of wedlock has risen steadily and today stands at 52%. In the United States, from 1950 to 1980 the annual rate of illegitimate births increased by 450%.

One might imagine that with birth control and abortion easily available, all children, or nearly all, would be born to a married couple who want a child. But that's not the case. The number of unwanted children is on the rise. A major cause is teenage promiscuity, and 81% of physicians surveyed agree that the availability of contraceptives has led to increased promiscuity among teens. (A. Pietropinto, "A Survey on Contraceptive Analysis," Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, May 1987, p. 147) Teenagers who have had birth control education have a 50% higher sexual activity rate than teens who have not. (Louis Harris and Associates, "American Teens Speak: Sex, Myths, TV and Birth Control," Harris and Associates for Planned Parenthood of America, Inc., 1986, p. 53)

Coleen Mast, author of the Sex Respect curriculum, compares teaching about contraceptives to teaching how to light fires "safely" in garbage cans. Such an education would no doubt increase the number of house fires.

By offering some limited protection against the consequence of pregnancy, contraceptives encourage illicit sex. But contraceptives don't solve problems of poverty, illiteracy, drug use, and uncontrolled sexual desire—all of which contribute to illegitimate births. In fact, people may feel that simply by using some pill or device, they can avoid becoming responsible adults capable of moral choice.

All Children Raised With Stability and Love?

The growing acceptance and use of birth control and abortion has also led to an increase in divorce, abandonment, child neglect, and child abuse. Half of all children in America will grow up without one parent, usually the father, because of illegitimacy or divorce. More than one million children a year live through divorce. Again in America, from 1986 to 1993 the number of abused and neglected children nearly doubled, and the numbers of children seriously injured or endangered from abuse both quadrupled.

Having the right to "plan" one's children through unnatural means may lead to family instability and child abuse; it certainly has not solved these problems.

If we ask, "Why are so many children today not raised with love in a stable home?" and "Why do people use birth control?" the answers will be practically the same: the parents think sex is for pleasure only, not for reproduction. Why, then, take much care with children who come accidentally? And "accidental" children will come. Women who use contraceptives with a high rate of compliance still have a 10-13% pregnancy rate. (Family Planning Perspective, Sept./Oct. 1980, p. 236)

Contraceptive use reveals a selfish attitude: one wants enjoyment without any responsibility other than giving pleasure in return. Some may argue that a married couple may be "responsible" in their contraceptive use and still care for the children they plan for. But isn't that like a company employee who regularly steals from the business yet claims to be honest with the other employees? Perhaps some people can practice "selective love," but they remind us of an unusual creature—the scorpion mouse, which kills and eats scorpions, being immune to the poison. It also eats other mice, even other scorpion mice. But scorpion mice are some of the most caring parents in the animal kingdom, mourning long if one of their babies becomes a meal for an owl. Such "love" is a kind of extended selfishness, rather than selfless giving for the welfare of others. If the motive for our "love" is selfish, we will act without concern for our formerly lovable person if our desires appear to be better fulfilled by not loving.

Those who try to prevent pregnancy—through surgery, devices, chemicals, or unnatural sexual practices—develop a mentality of seeing their body as meant for their own purposes, rather than seeing both their body and the bodies of their children as gifts from God to be engaged in His service. The contraceptive users so much despise Krsna's plan for the human body that they alter its natural function. They come to hate the responsibilities integral to their own bodies. When those responsibilities take the form of children, they may resent the children as well.

Contraceptive use means trying to outwit Krsna, to take what one wants while short-circuiting and sabotaging the system. That is the mentality of a thief. Srila Prabhupada often said that Krsna can be the greatest cheater. We may try to cheat Him, but in the end we will find ourselves cheated of genuine spiritual life and happiness, as the cheating employee will find that his friends don't trust him and his boss fires him.

One may further argue that abuse, neglect, divorce, instability, and so on, exist, if to a lesser extent, among those who do not artificially avoid having children. Clearly, simply having children as nature intended is not enough to insure genuine love for them. Yes, without spiritual realization, our loving relationships will be more or less selfish. But the mentality of the contraceptive user is so opposed to the Lord's plan that spiritual life, with its true love and selflessness, has no chance to develop. And a life that fully respects the link between sex and reproduction is part of a foundation upon which one can exhibit real love.

More Freedom and Respect for Women?

Because of widespread contraceptive use, women have increasingly become exploited slaves of irresponsible men. Formerly, a woman who conceived a child outside marriage had choices. She could marry the child's father, raise the child alone, or give the child to an adoptive couple. If she wanted to marry the child's father, her parents and community would put moral and social pressure on him.

Now boyfriends, parents, and even husbands often pressure women to avoid or kill their own children. The thinking is, "This woman entered the relationship with a stated or implied agreement that children weren't included. Why should the man be obligated now that a child has come by accident?"

Mary Pride, a leading advocate of the return to family values, writes, "Our society has been separating sex from the responsibilities and joys of having children for over thirty years.... Wives, who used to be regarded primarily as mothers and therefore sacred, are now seen as fancy vessels for men to relieve their sexual frustrations. Look at the ads in magazines, stores, TV, and billboards. Is this a noble picture of women, for their bodies to be used to sell everything from jeans to toothpaste?" (The Way Home, p. 30)

Women who rely on contraception and abortion may feel unfettered to pursue their own desires and careers, but is that real freedom? Real freedom comes in loving and serving God. Having children, even many children, doesn't interfere with that. Besides, a woman who rejects contraception is expressing her freedom to control her sexual urges. By using contraception and abortion, others show they are hopeless slaves of lust and selfish bodily urges.

Better Health for Women?

We're told it's dangerous for women to have "too many" children, or to have children later in their childbearing years. Actually, having and nursing children prevents many of the health problems of modern women. For example, a woman who breast feeds for a total of at least seven years has nearly a zero percent chance of breast cancer at any time in her life. Most women who get various cancers of the reproductive system have had no or few babies.

Conversely, many medical problems come directly from contraception. And abortion is not only very risky physically, but often brings the mother lifelong psychological problems.

Of course, as with anything in this world, pregnancy and childbirth include risks. The risks, however, need not deter us from doing what is best for us and most pleasing to God. Those devoted to illicit sexual life are willing to sacrifice their money, health, and reputation to maintain their way of life. Even the fear of AIDS doesn't discourage them. Can we not be at least as willing to sacrifice for the right cause?

Fewer Financial Burdens for Families?

It is common in modern society to think of children as a problem rather than a blessing. And today, children may indeed be financial burdens, especially if they're extravagant consumers. On the other hand, many parents find that their children are a blessing and enrich their lives in many ways, even economically.

Despite their freedom from the financial burden of children, childless couples face financial burdens nonetheless, because their desires induce them to work hard for money. Instead of spending money on educating and training their children, they spend for an extra car, a vacation home, a large-screen TV, and so on. Do these acquisitions bring more joy and fewer burdens than children would? Which life inspires one to be a better person?

Certainly having children costs money, time, and effort. But, again, life is full of sacrifice and responsibility. A man who works hard so he can raise children dedicated to Lord Krsna is blessed with spiritual growth and satisfaction.

Less of a Population Burden on the Planet?

Many people will argue that without birth control, families will have a dozen or more children. Yet in societies where birth control isn't practiced, the average number of children per family is six. Six children per family may seem too many for the earth, but the entire present world population could fit in France or in the state of Texas, with 1,500 square feet per person. We could feed ten times the present population on an American-style diet, and thirty times the population on a Japanese-style diet. (Colin Clark, Oxford University)

All the world's scriptures urge us to have many children, and describe children as a blessing. The only burden on the earth mentioned in the Vedic scriptures is that of a large population of sinful people who live lives of crime and deceit. The Lord, Sri Krsna, is unlimitedly wealthy and can easily provide adequately for all His obedient children.

Harmful Side Effects

Not only does birth control not solve the problems for which it claims to be the solution, but it has harmful side effects as well.

Homosexuality: Contraception leads to increased homosexuality and other perversions. If the purpose of sex doesn't include children, then why not relations between two women or two men? Why not any type of unnatural relations?

Abortion: Acceptance of birth control leads to acceptance of abortion. Fifty percent of women who have had abortions say they were using birth control and it failed. Abortion is simply a more extreme way of saying that one's personal needs, desires, status, and so on, are more desirable than the birth of a child. And being a form of child abuse (torturing and killing an unborn child), abortion leads to abuse of children in general. Why not hurt or kill a child who interferes with my life? People may claim that an unborn child is not yet human, but is an acorn seedling not simply an immature oak? The fetus is growing because the soul is present from conception. In any case, all life is sacred, not just life outside the womb, and not just human life.

Illicit sex: Immoral sexual relationships increase when contraception and abortion are available. People feel that with control over pregnancy, they need not consider commitment or the criticism of society. And because birth control promotes a mentality of separating sexual pleasure from procreation, people begin to feel that relationships based only on physical pleasure are not only morally acceptable, but natural.

Loss of respect and love for God: The spiritual harm of birth control is its most damaging—to individuals and society. The contraceptive user doesn't respect Krsna's design and plan. How can I love God if I don't even respect Him? Rather, I think I would be a better God and am ready to redesign the world according to my vision. The mentality of envying Krsna's supremacy and control is the root of material consciousness.

The Spiritual Solution

All the arguments for the benefits of contraception presume that people cannot control their sexual appetites. We expect adults to control their appetites for food, so why not for sex? Of course, modern society doesn't expect much self-control in eating, either. The artificial sex created when using contraceptives has its parallel in the artificial foods that have taste but no calories or nutrition. Sterilization has its parallel in stomach stapling.

Krsna's devotees know that mastery over our bodies, senses, and minds is both desirable and possible. Those who dedicate their lives to worshiping and pleasing Lord Krsna know that real pleasure comes from serving His plan, including His plan for the human body. They don't try to separate physical pleasure from the whole of the reproductive function. In fact, those completely serious about spiritual perfection in this lifetime either live as unmarried celibates or, in marriage, restrict sexual union to the time when the wife is most likely to conceive. Before conception, the husband and wife meditate on the Lord and chant His holy names to purify themselves of selfish desire so as to offer the procreative act as a sacrifice to Him. Krsna says that He is present in such a union, and the couple therefore feels not only bodily pleasure but also spiritual bliss. They don't feel a burden in raising their children to love Krsna; rather they take it as great happiness.

For people in general, a return to a life where children can assist their parents with running the household and earning the livelihood would greatly contribute toward the vision of children as a blessing rather than a burden. Spiritually, when children are raised to grow in love of God they are a great blessing to their families and society in all respects. The unlimitedly wealthy Lord will surely provide for those who wish to raise such children.

Society must also return to the vision that this entire creation, including one's own body, operates according to the plan of an unlimitedly intelligent and caring Supreme Being. We only hurt ourselves when we try to circumvent or obstruct that plan, even when dealing with our body, which we can't truly claim to be our own.

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.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out

"People Must Know the Aim of Life"

This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the poet Allen Ginsberg took place on May 12, 1969, in Columbus, Ohio.

Allen Ginsberg: Your Divine Grace, I'm trying to imagine ways by which this spiritual movement of yours can become more and more widespread and more and more acceptable to people. I don't know how. It's difficult for me to conceive that everybody in America will ...

Srila Prabhupada: Nothing is accepted by everybody.

Allen Ginsberg: I mean, it's hard to imagine a vast number of modern Americans living a life based on ancient Sanskrit yoga scriptures, totally vegetarian food offered to the Lord, and celibacy except for procreation. And many of us have been thinking, What form of religious practice, what form of simple meditation exercises, could be set forth in America that could be adopted by a great, great, great, great many people on a large scale? We haven't solved the problem.

One thing I've noticed is that your Krsna temples have spread quite a bit and are firmly rooted and solidly based. There are a number of them now. So that really is a very solid root. And I think that will continue.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Allen Ginsberg: But I'm wondering, What future is there? What's the future of a religious observance so technical as this, so complicated as this? For instance, your movement requires so much sophistication in terms of diet. I mean, no flesh-eating, plus Ekadasi, your fast twice a month from grains. And so much sophistication in terms of daily ritual, like arati, where you offer the Lord food and flowers and so on. The whole thing that you've been teaching—how far can that spread by its very complexity?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. These practices are a little complex. The whole idea is to keep the devotees always engaged in Krsna consciousness. That is the program. Gradually, we shall introduce more and more of this Krsna culture, so that the devotees feel the richness and no need to go outside Krsna consciousness.

First of all, you have to understand that we are trying to make people Krsna conscious. So how can a person remain Krsna conscious twenty-four hours a day? That is the program.

Allen Ginsberg: Well, the orthodox Jews have a very heavy, complicated, moment-by-moment ritual daily existence for that same purpose. It is to keep them conscious of their religious nature. And that has maintained a small group of Jews over the centuries as an integral unit, but has tended to disappear in the later generations now, because modern life does not allow that much Krsna consciousness or Jewish consciousness or religious consciousness and attention, act by act throughout the day. So my question is, How far can total Krsna devotion—act by act, all day—spread? How many people can that encompass in a place like America? Or are you intending only to get a few devotees, like several hundred or a thousand who will be solid and permanent?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. That is my program, because Krsna consciousness is not possible for everyone. In the Bhagavad-gita we learn, bahunam janmanam ante: Only after many, many births can a person come to this full understanding. So at any one point in time, it is not possible that a mass of people, a large number of people, will be able to fully grasp it. You see? Bahu-nam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: "After many births, one who is at last in knowledge surrenders unto Me." Elsewhere in Bhagavad-gita we find manusyanam sahasresu: Out of millions of men, just one may be inquiring how to liberate himself from this material world. And out of millions of such liberated persons, just one may actually understand Krsna.

So ordinarily, understanding Krsna is not a very easy thing. That is why, when Krsna came as Lord Caitanya, five hundred years ago, He was so munificent that He gave us an easy process, the chanting of His holy names. Otherwise, Krsna consciousness is not easy, because insofar as the Absolute Truth is concerned, Krsna is the last word, and generally, people are just like animals, absorbed in this temporary material world.

Out of many such materially illusioned persons, one becomes interested in the scriptures. Now, most persons—if they're at all attracted to the scriptures—are attracted to the ritualistic ceremonies recommended there for improving their economic condition. You see? People take up religion, or dharma, with the motive of artha—improving their economic position. Artha means money.

Why artha? Why do you want money? For kama, your futile attempt to satisfy these temporary, illusory senses. And when you become frustrated in sense gratification, then you seek moksa, or liberation, supposedly merging with the Absolute. These four are going on. Dharma, artha, kama, moksa.

But the scriptures, such as Srimad-Bhagavatam, say that dharma is not meant for acquiring money, and that money is not meant for satisfying the senses, and that sense gratification should be accepted simply to maintain the body. That's all.

The real business of human life is tattva-jijnasa, understanding the Absolute Truth. Jivasya tattva-jijnasa nartho yas ceha karmabhih. Kamasya nendriya-pritir labho jiveta yavata. Kamasya, sense gratification, does not mean you have to increase the volume of sense gratification. No. Jiveta yavata: You have to accept sense gratification only insofar as you need it for living nicely. The real business of human life is jivasya tattva-jijnasa. Every human being should be inquisitive about the Absolute Truth. But you won't find the mass of people trying to come to this point. It is not possible. Don't expect it.

Allen Ginsberg: Your plan in America, then, is to set up centers so that those who are that concerned can pursue their studies and practice a ritual?

Srila Prabhupada: Personally, I have no ambition. But it is the mission of human life to come to this point. So there must at least be some center or institution that gives people this idea.

Of course, it is not that everyone will come. For instance, during my studies, at the University of Calcutta a professor's salary was thirteen or fourteen hundred dollars a month. And yet there were comparatively few students, and the fees collected from each student were at most thirty-six dollars per month. You see? But still, the classes had to be maintained, because the ideal must be there.

So our mission is, the intelligent persons of the world must know that the aim of human life is not simply seeking after sense gratification. As the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, jivasya tattva-jijnasa: Human life is meant for inquiring about the ultimate truth. That is the same thing that Vedanta had said before, because the Srimad-Bhagavatam is nothing but the explanation of Vedanta. So Vedanta says, athato brahma-jijnasa: This human form of life is meant for inquiring about Brahman, the Supreme Spirit. Atha means "now," and atha means "after," signifying that now, after passing through untold lower species of life, when the soul at last rises to the level of civilized human life, at that time his business is to inquire about the Absolute Truth. What is the Absolute Truth? That is the whole Vedanta philosophy: What is the Absolute Truth? And as I have said, this same thing is explained in the Bhagavatam. Jivasya tattva-jijnasa. Jivasya means that for all living entities, the main business is to inquire about the Absolute Truth.

Yet nowadays, thanks to so-called educators and leaders, people are being misled. Instead of taking people to the highest, topmost stage—to the platform of inquiring about the Absolute—these misleaders are merely giving facilities for how you can satisfy your senses nicely.

Allen Ginsberg: OK. But now in America there is a feeling of spiritual bankruptcy, due to our overemphasis of sense satisfaction. Everyone agrees.

Srila Prabhupada: That feeling must be there. Must be there.

Allen Ginsberg: Everyone agrees that our civilization has come to the end of its possibilities materially. So everyone understands that. It's in New York Times editorials as well as in the editorials of ISKCON journals. So everyone, then, is looking for an alternative to material extension.

Srila Prabhupada: They should inquire about the Absolute Truth.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Spiritual Places

Dvaraka—Lord Krsna's Royal Home

The city's original opulence may no longer be visible,
but one can still gain inspiration from the piety of its people.

By Bhakti Vikasa Swami

DVARAKA is the sacred city where Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, spent most of His time during His appearance on earth five thousand years ago. He performed wonderful pastimes there, including expanding into 16,108 forms and creating 16,108 palaces for His 16,108 queens. In Vrndavana, Lord Krsna lived as a simple cowherd boy, but in Dvaraka He lived as a wealthy prince.

Dvaraka means "gateway to the Supreme" or "city of gates." Traditionally, an opulent city would have many gates, indicating the king's confidence in protecting the city. In present-day Dvaraka there were no gates until ISKCON, to commemorate its Padayatra (walking pilgrimage throughout India) and Srila Prabhupada's Centennial, established the Srila Prabhupada Gate at the entrance to the city in 1988.

The original city of Dvaraka, described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the Mahabharata, and other Vedic scriptures, was a fort city built within the sea. Lord Krsna built Dvaraka to protect His kinsmen, the Yadu dynasty, from repeated attacks by kings and armies intent on killing Him. By the will of the Lord, Dvaraka disappeared into the sea at the time of the Lord's departure from this world. Archaeological excavations have brought out from the sea many artifacts suggesting that an opulent city stood there in the distant past.

The present city Dvaraka ("Dwarka" on the map) is on the shore. It has a resident population of approximately 30,000, and a tourist population that fluctuates with the seasons. Even though it's remote—on the west coast and a long way from any major cities—many pilgrims make the endeavor to go there. When I arrived with a group of traveling book distributors one cool January morning, we saw buses from as far away as West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, both on the east coast. Dvaraka is one of the most important places for Hindus to visit because it is one of the four prominent holy places in the cardinal directions of India: Dva-raka (west), Puri (east), Rameswaram (south), and Badrinath (north).

Of the visitors to Dvaraka from within Gujarat, city dwellers tend to visit on weekends, when they're free from work, whereas villagers go at any time, according to their farming schedule. Villagers traditionally walk to Dvaraka in groups, bringing beautiful ornate, brightly-colored flags of various designs. The groups present the flags to the temple and then perform the pious act of feeding a group of brahmanas. When pilgrims see their flags flown above the temple, they feel great satisfaction. (To change the flags, a temple worker must climb to the top of the temple spire. It's a long way up—235 feet—and there's usually a strong wind, but the workers don't seem to mind.)

The atmosphere in Dvaraka is peaceful. The people are pious and don't seem harassed by many problems. They happily go to the temple to see the Lord. We arrived in Dvaraka at 6:30 in the morning, and although it was still dark, quite a few people were walking toward the main temple, that of Dvarakadhisa, "the Lord of Dvaraka," a four-armed Deity of Krsna. By the blessings of Lord Krsna, the opulence of Dvaraka survives. Although we don't see fabulously rich people, the ordinary people live a comfortable life.

Regal Worship

Because Lord Krsna lived in Dvaraka as a prince, He is worshiped there in that mood. The Dvarakadhisa Deity is opulently dressed, and the symbols in His four hands (conch, club, disc, and lotus) are covered in silver. During the worship, brahmanas—colorfully dressed with solid red or yellow dhotis and with shirts made from flags that have flown over the temple—beat drums and blow conch shells.

Within the compound of the Dvarakadhisa temple, built in the sixteenth century, are many small shrines, including those of Laksmi, Siva, Radhika, Balarama, Pradyumna, Aniruddha, Jambavati, Satyabhama, and Purusottama Visnu.

Directly facing Dvarakadhisa is the shrine of Devaki, Krsna's mother. She's looking at Krsna, and He's looking at her. In the Devaki shrine after the mangala-arati (the early-morning worship), brahmana boys sit in brightly colored clothes and chant Vedic scriptures, creating a soothing and auspicious atmosphere.

One day while we performed kirtana in the Dvarakadhisa temple, the priest serving the Deity showed his appreciation by smiling, raising his arms, and swaying to the sound of Krsna's names.

Religious Gatherings

Dvaraka is a pleasant town on the coast, with a nice strip of beach. The sea is calm there. The climate is moderate, not too hot in summer or too cold in winter. Because the summer there is not as hot as in many other parts of India, religious speakers go there during that time, and many, many people congregate to hear them. Dvaraka is considered an important place to hold such functions.

Other Noteworthy Temples

The temple of Samudra Narayana sits where the Gomati River, one of the important holy rivers of India, reaches the sea in the town of Dvaraka. Samudra Narayana is Krsna's expansion as Lord Narayana lying on the Garbhodaka Ocean. This old temple is the only temple of Samudra Narayana anywhere.

On the bank of the river near the estuary is an ashram where sadhus live. Some have been there for more than thirty years. Some cook for themselves, and some go to the annaksetra, where food is given for free. They live simply and perform various kinds of spiritual practices. Their lives are not meant for materialistic sense gratification.

The river forks just before reaching the sea, producing a small island on which sits a temple of Laksmi Narayana. The site is ancient, although the present temple is not very old.

On a side road, we found a temple where the chanting of "Sri Rama, Jaya Rama, Jaya Jaya Rama" has been going on nonstop for the last twenty-eight years. The two people chanting invited us to join in. They were very enthusiastic in their chanting. We were there during the daytime, when few people come. In the evening more people arrive, and on festival days huge crowds gather there to chant the names of Lord Rama.

One place worth visiting is the lighthouse (open only from 4:30 to 6:00 in the evening). From the top you get a wonderful view of the sea, the town of Dvaraka, and the dry plains beyond the town.

Bet Dvaraka

Thirty kilometers up the road from Dvaraka is a village named Okha, which most people go to simply to take the pleasant twenty-minute boat ride to Bet Dvaraka. Bet is the Gujarati word for "island." On this island sits an old Dvarakadhisa temple. People here are proud of Bet Dvaraka, even claiming that it is the "real Dvaraka."

About halfway to Bet Dvaraka and five kilometers off the main road is Gopi Tallav, the pond where Krsna met with the gopis, His cowherd girlfriends from Vrndavana. This sacred spot is the source of gopi-candana, a clay that Krsna's devotees use to decorate their foreheads. Everyone is allowed to take freely, so we all stocked up on enough for the next few years.

About three kilometers outside Dvaraka, on the road to Bet Dvaraka, is the temple of Rukmini, Krsna's chief queen. The architecture of the temple is beautiful, and the walls are decorated with paintings of the pastimes of Rukmini and Krsna. The temple is said to have been built in the twelfth century.

Dvaraka is a good place to visit for several days to get away from the rush and frustrations of city life. Pilgrims can go there to relax and consider the ultimate goal of life.

Srila Prabhupada writes: "The heavenly planets are more celebrated than the earth. But the celebrity of earth has defeated that of the heavenly planets because of Dvaraka, where Lord Sri Krsna reigned as king. Three places, namely Vrndavana, Mathura, and Dvaraka, are more important than the famous planets within the universe. These places are perpetually sanctified because whenever the Lord descends on earth He displays His transcendental activities particularly in these three places. They are perpetually the holy lands of the Lord, and the inhabitants still take advantage of the holy places, even though the Lord is now out of their sight." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.10.27, Purport)

When we left Dvaraka, we stopped to take photos from the road. We looked out over the plain from which the small town seems to rise suddenly across the banks of the Gomati. Dvaraka's many temple spires point up to indicate that our goal is not here but upwards. We could see the Dvarakadhisa temple dominating the skyline, and the lighthouse standing prominently in the distance behind it.

During the few minutes we stopped to take photos, several pilgrimage buses came rushing by. The cycle of life in Dvaraka today is as it has been for hundreds of years. As new pilgrims come, others leave. Previously, most pilgrims came by foot, and the richer ones would ride horses or be carried on palanquins. Nowadays, people mostly come by bus or train, but still the cycle goes on and on and on.

This was our good-bye to Dvaraka. We don't know when we'll be back, but we certainly hope to return. And we wish to return to Dvaraka of the spiritual world. In His mercy, Lord Krsna has left us a replica Dvaraka to point us back to our eternal destination.

Bhakti Vikasa Swami hails from England but has lived in India for many years. He teaches Krsna consciousness at the ISKCON center in Baroda, Gujarat.

Dvaraka Fifty Centuries Ago

The following description of Dvaraka during Krsna's presence there appears in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.69.1-12) in connection with the sage Narada's visit.

The City Was Filled with the sounds of birds and bees flying about the parks and pleasure gardens, while its lakes, crowded with blooming indivara, ambhoja, kahlara, kumuda, and utpala lotuses, resounded with the calls of swans and cranes.

Dvaraka boasted 900,000 royal palaces, all constructed with crystal and silver and splendorously decorated with huge emeralds. Inside these palaces, the furnishings were bedecked with gold and jewels.

Traffic moved along a well laid-out system of boulevards, roads, intersections, and marketplaces, and many assembly houses and temples of demigods graced the charming city. The roads, courtyards, commercial streets, and residential patios were all sprinkled with water and shaded from the sun's heat by banners waving from flagpoles.

In the city of Dvaraka was a beautiful private quarter worshiped by the planetary rulers. This district, where the demigod Visvakarma had shown all his divine skill, was the residential area of Lord Hari [Krsna], and thus it was gorgeously decorated by the sixteen thousand palaces of Lord Krsna's queens. Narada Muni entered one of these immense palaces.

Supporting the palace were coral pillars decoratively inlaid with vaidurya gems. Sapphires bedecked the walls, and the floors glowed with perpetual brilliance. In that palace Tvasta had arranged canopies with hanging strands of pearls; there were also seats and beds fashioned of ivory and precious jewels. In attendance were many well-dressed maidservants bearing lockets on their necks, and also armor-clad guards with turbans, fine uniforms, and jeweled earrings.

The glow of numerous jewel-studded lamps dispelled all darkness in the palace. My dear king, on the ornate ridges of the roof danced loudly crying peacocks, who saw the fragrant aguru incense escaping through the holes of the latticed windows and mistook it for a cloud.

ISKCON Dvaraka

ISKCON OPENED a temple in Dvaraka in 1996 in a house donated by Pritish Bharatia, a friend of Yasomatinandana Dasa, president of ISKCON Ahmedabad. The ten-room building sits in a market area that's a three-minute walk from the Dvarakadhisa temple. The Deities of Sri Sri Radha-Syamasundara are in one room; guests, staff, and supplies fill the rest. His Holiness Mahavisnu Goswami oversees the project.

With help from many well-wishers, especially Radha Jivana Dasa from the United States, devotees will begin building a temple on the site in the fall of 1999. The three-story stone temple will feature a temple room and a meeting hall above a dining hall and an ashram.

Isvarabhai Pujari, one of the priests for the Dvarakadhisa temple, is designing the new ISKCON temple. Isvarabhai, an architect, is known for his colorful and devotional dressing of the Dvarakadhisa Deities. His plans for the temple call for outdoor dioramas depicting Lord Krsna's pastimes from Srimad-Bhagavatam. Expert sculptors from Rajasthan will embellish the outside of the temple with traditional stone carvings.

Besides the main temple, the ISKCON Dvaraka project includes a six-acre goshalla (farm for protecting cows) about ten kilometers from town. Lila Avatara Dasa from London has also donated a one-acre plot in the city for future expansion.

When asked about life in Dvaraka, temple resident Vaisnava Seva Dasa said, "Living in one of the four major holy places definitely increases my Krsna consciousness. Materially, living in Dvaraka has been a little austere because of the drought. There have been only seven or eight days of rain over the past year. Water is scarce, but by Krsna's arrangement our temple is one of the few buildings in the city with its own working well."

As his name implies, Vaisnava Seva Dasa ("servant of service to devotees") looks forward to hosting many pilgrims and visitors in the new temple. ISKCON Dvaraka will hold its annual Rathayatra on January 26.

Visiting Dvaraka

How to Get There

Dvaraka is well connected to Mumbai and Ahmedabad by road and rail. The nearest airport is in Jamnagar, about three hours from Dvaraka by train, bus, or taxi.

Getting Around

There are no rickshas in Dvaraka because there's no need. It's a small place. You can get around by walking, or you can rent a bicycle.

Where to Eat

The Dvarakadhisa temple has a system of free prasadam distribution for a limited number of people. Coupons are distributed after mangala-arati (seven o'clock) for lunch, and at midday for the evening meal. Hotel Mera and Hotel Radhika are two of several restaurants that sell inexpensive all-you-can-eat vegetarian meals.

Where to Stay

Don't expect to find luxury accommodations, but here are some clean, comfortable hotels: Toran Tourist Bungalow (phone: 02892-313), Hotel Meera (02892-331), Uttam Guest House (02892-234), Hotel Radhika (02892-754), Hotel Guruprerana (02892-385), and Hotel Gokul (02892-554).

For more travel information, see Holy Places and Temples of India, by Jada Bharata Dasa, available from the Hare Krsna Bazaar


This calendar is calculated for Mayapur, West Bengal, India. The dates, derived from a lunar calendar, may vary by one day for other locations. Consult your local Hare Krsna temple for the exact dates for your area.

Month of Narayana
(December 23-January 21)


2—Saphala Ekadasi. Fasting from grains and beans.

7—Appearance anniversary of Srila Locana Dasa Thakura, a great devotee of Krsna known for his Bengali devotional songs.

9—Disappearance anniversary of Srila Jiva Gosvami, one of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana.

17—Putrada Ekadasi. Fasting from grains and beans.

Month of Madhava
(January 22-February 19)

25—Appearance anniversary of Srila Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, one of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana.

26—Disappearance anniversary of Srila Jayadeva Gosvami, a great spiritual master and author of Gita-govinda.

27—Disappearance anniversary of Srila Locana Dasa Thakura, a great spiritual master whose Bengali devotional songs perpetuate the simple Krsna conscious method of self-realization.


1—Sat-tila Ekadasi. Fasting from grains and beans.

10—Appearance anniversary of Srila Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami, one of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana. Disappearance anniversary of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, a Vaisnava spiritual master and author who appeared in the seventeenth century. Appearance anniversary of Srimati Visnupriya Devi, the consort of Lord Caitanya.

12—Appearance anniversary of Sri Advaita Acarya, an incarnation of Krsna's expansion Maha-Visnu and a close associate of Lord Caitanya. Fasting till noon.

14—Disappearance anniversary of Sripada Madhvacarya, a Vaisnava philosopher and spiritual master who appeared in the thirteenth century.

15—Disappearance anniversary of Srila Ramanujacarya, an eleventh-century philosopher and spiritual master.

16—Trisprsa Mahadvadasi. Fasting from grains and beans for Bhaimi Ekadasi. Appearance anniversary of Lord Varaha, Lord Krsna's boar incarnation. Fasting till noon, feasting tomorrow.

17—Appearance anniversary of Lord Nityananda Prabhu, a close associate of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and an incarnation of Lord Krsna's elder brother, Lord Balarama. Fasting till noon yesterday, feasting today.

19—Appearance anniversary of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura, a spiritual master in the disciplic line from Lord Caitanya who composed many devotional songs in Bengali.

Month of Govinda
(February 20-March 20)

24—Appearance anniversary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, spiritual master of Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Fasting till noon, then feasting. Disappearance anniversary of Sripada Gour Govinda Swami, an ISKCON guru.

Use back button to return.

Return to top

From the Editor

Room for More Chanters

ACCORDING TO PEOPLE who estimate such things, last October saw the arrival on earth of human being number six billion. Many people wish that he or she had never made it. They complain that the planet's already too crowded and every new birth just adds to the problem.

As I look out my window at the cows grazing in a spacious pasture nearby, crowding and overpopulation are far from my mind. Whenever I fly, I'm always amazed at how much land lies unpopulated and uncultivated. From the sky, at least, there seems to be plenty of room for more people. The earth shouldn't have any problem handling its six billionth passenger, or even any of his or her brothers and sisters who may follow.

My impression squares with research, which shows that the earth can support many times the current population—if those of us already here manage resources properly. At least three changes would help assure the prosperity of growing populations: honest management and distribution of the earth's bounty, the return to a simpler, more natural way of life (including vegetarianism), and the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord.

What does chanting have to do with feeding the world? Chanting God's names pleases Him, and He responds by sending rain, without which the crops won't grow. We can live simply and manage wisely, but unless the rains come, fertile fields become deserts.

Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He'll send rain if we'll send Him a token of our appreciation. He wants us to perform sacrifice, to offer Him a sample of the gifts He sends. In former times, people executed sacrifices daily in their homes and temples, and kings diligently sponsored elaborate sacrifices attended by thousands of people. Stadiums were built for these affairs, and the resources of the kingdom were pooled. The citizens didn't complain about government spending for these events; they knew that the sacrifices brought prosperity.

People today scoff at the idea that sacrifices bring rain. But are traditional sacrifices really that much different from the bill-paying rituals we perform each month? We sit at our sacrificial altar (desk), pull out our sacrificial paraphernalia (pen and checkbook), perform some hand motions (write the check), take a ritual walk (to the mailbox), and so on. By this sacrifice, the water keeps running. Similarly, by Vedic sacrifice, the rains come. We're paying our cosmic bill.

The Vedic scriptures tell us that in the current age we don't have to perform elaborate sacrifices; we can simply take part in the sublime sacrifice known as sankirtana—the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord.

Showing our gratitude to Krsna by sacrifice is essential, but it's just the beginning of reconciling with Him. Krsna wants more than official tax-paying. He wants our love, and chanting His names can awaken that love. We should chant not only to repay our debts to Him but to love Him as well.

—Nagaraja Dasa

Use back button to return.

Return to top

Vedic Thoughts

One who identifies his self as the inert body composed of mucus, bile, and air, who assumes his wife and family are permanently his own, who thinks an earthen image or the land of his birth is worshipable, or sees a place of pilgrimage as merely the water there, but who never identifies with, feels kinship with, worships, or even visits those who are wise in spiritual truth—such a person is no better than a cow or an ass.

Lord Sri Krsna
Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.84.13

By uttering the single name of Krsna just once, one attains the same benefit as that gained by reciting Lord Visnu's thousand names three times.

Brahmanda Purana

By worshiping the devotees of the Lord all one's desires will be fulfilled.

Mundaka Upanisad (3.1.10)

He is a miserly man who does not solve the problems of life as a human being and who thus quits this world like the cats and dogs, without understanding the science of self-realization.

Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad (3.8.10)

When the devotees of Lord Krsna dance, their steps crush the inauspiciousness of the earth, their glances destroy the inauspiciousness of the ten directions, and their raised arms push away the inauspiciousness in the demigods' planets.

Padma Purana and
Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya (20.68)

One who performs worship of Lord Krsna but fails to worship His devotees should be understood to be not a devotee of the Lord but simply a victim of false pride.

Lord Siva
Padma Purana

Anyone who prays to Me and takes shelter from Me becomes My ward, and I protect him always from all sorts of calamities.

Lord Nrsimhadeva
(Krsna's half-man, half-lion incarnation)
Nrsimha Purana

One cannot challenge the authority of the Supreme and know Him at the same time. He reserves the right of not being exposed to such a challenging spirit of an insignificant spark of the whole, a spark subjected to the control of the illusory energy.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta
Swami Prabhupada
Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.21, Purport

Use back button to return.

Return to top