In this issue we gain an appreciation of what Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krsna movement, meant when he would say that Krsna consciousness is a great science. The lead article, a lecture by Srila Prabhupada, introduces us to some of the categories of expansions and incarnations of God, or Krsna. Prabhupada quotes Lord Krsna, who says that if you know Him in truth, you'll return to Him after death. And there's plenty to learn, as we see in "Names and Forms of the Absolute Truth," which includes a chart to help us keep it all straight.
In "Wonderful Krsna" we learn of the paradoxes of Krsna's opulences. He's the all-powerful, limitless controller of everything, yet He's conquered by His devotees' love.
The love exchanged between Krsna and His devotees is most touchingly displayed in Vrndavana, His eternal abode in the spiritual world, a replica of which we can visit in India today. In "Introducing My Daughters to Vrndavana," a family's trip to that holy place shows its power to instill in pilgrims an appreciation for wonderful Krsna.
Hare Krsna.—Nagaraja Dasa, Editor
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
All Because of BTG
Let me first state at the outset that this is the first time I have ever written to a magazine giving feedback about an article I have read. This is noteworthy, because I am a college professor and my friends and associates consider me to be well read. I do not like to waste my time, so I always carry something with me to read while I am waiting for a doctor's appointment, in the bank line, etc. More times than not, I carry the latest issue of BTG.
All of that being said, let me share with you that I was truly touched by your article in the May/June 2000 issue entitled, "Holding Fast in Times of Stress." I have been an enthusiastic reader of BTG for several years, and I have been impressed with a number of articles, but none have moved me to tears as did this fine piece of writing.
One article you did a couple of years ago also stands out in my memory. It was about an "ordinary" guy who explained how he came to Krsna consciousness. Up until that article I didn't think it was possible to embrace this "science" unless you lived full time in a temple. That one article started me reading all of Srila Prabhupada's books from all available sources. This in turn gave me the hope that one day I too could become an initiated devotee. The next logical step was to put all of this "book knowledge" into practice. I decided to turn to the back of your magazine and find the nearest ISKCON center to me. It took a big leap of faith to visit a center—needless to say, all of my friends thought that I had lost my mind (smile)!
I visited a rural community, New Talavan, and spent three days there getting to know the devotees and more about the Hare Krsna movement. I won't go into detail here about how impressed I was with their lifestyle and the love I experienced there, but suffice it to say due to their efforts I now consider myself to be a full devotee of Krsna—living the four principles. All of this happened because of your magazine!
In closing, let me ask you to write more articles about "average" people and how they came to embrace Krsna. I guarantee you that articles of this type will be an impetus for others to want to return to Godhead. Thank you for your service—I am already looking forward to your next issue!
Van V. Gignilliat
Suffering Subtle Body
I happened to come across your Nov./Dec. 1998 issue, in which you have published excerpts from the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto, Chapter 30, verses 19-31, explaining the plight of the sinful soul after death, after it leaves the material body on earth. The dreadful account can't be true, because the soul cannot reap the fruit of his actions, bad or good, until he gets a material body again. The subtle soul will never suffer any hardship, as explained in Bhagavad-gita 2.22-25.
Whereas the Bhagavatam describes the punishment of the sinful person in hell, the Gita states that after leaving the material body, the soul gets another material body. I find a lot of variance between the two books. Please elucidate the correct position. Both cannot be right.
Our Reply: Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam present the same teachings in essence, but the Bhagavatam elaborates points discussed briefly in the Gita. The Gita (7.4) explains that besides the gross material body, the soul also inhabits a subtle material body, made up of the mind, intelligence, and false ego. It is this subtle body that undergoes punishment in the hellish planets. While it is true, as the Gita says, that the soul goes on to another body, it is also true, as the Bhagavatam says, that the sinful soul first of all undergoes punishment in hellish planets. Because the suffering takes place on a subtle plane, the time duration seems very long, when in fact it is brief. (Researchers tell us that although episodes in dreams seem to last a long time, they are actually very short.)
We can understand how the subtle body feels pain by considering what happens in our dreams. During the day we identify with our gross, physical body, and at night we identify with our subtle body, in dreams. When we dream, the experience seems real. If something harms us in a dream, we "feel" it. We might, for example, wake up screaming because of pain or fright. This is an indication of how the subtle body is punished in the hellish planets.
More from the Sixties
Back to Godhead is my favorite magazine. I got the May/June issue in the mail two weeks ago, and it was wonderful. I just loved the story by Damodara Dasa, and I love the old photos of Prabhupada and the devotees. I'd love to see more articles from devotees who joined ISKCON in the 1960s.
Dealing with Loss
How does one deal with losing one's job? I was a heavy drinker and have found great comfort in Krsna consciousness. I have started drinking because the pain and anxiety are so great. How do I deal with this?
Our Reply: The best remedy is to increase your absorption in Krsna consciousness. Chant more, read more, and if possible, associate with devotees. Many of our habits come from association. If you had friendships with devotees, you would be much less inclined to look for solace in a bottle. Besides these spiritual solutions, read literature or attend meetings that will convince you that even on a material level, drinking will only make things worse.
Congratulations on another fine issue (May/June). The subject discussed in the Letters department brought out a significant dilemma that every devotee I'm sure struggles with daily: concentration in chanting. For my first twenty years or so of regular chanting, the challenge of sixteen straight unbroken rounds might as well be that of climbing Mt. Everest.
My deliverance came in a simple form. I began to intersperse the recitation of the Siksastaka prayers of the blessed Lord Caitanya through the rounds. Then, because that seemed to help intensify the experience and focus the mind on its goal, I added some Bhagavad-gita verses and some personal prayers and affirmations. I am sure that there are enough people out there who could be likewise helped, so I thought it would be useful to mention the idea. If one doesn't find success in chanting, the rest is useless.
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: email@example.com
Lord Krsna directs us in how
A lecture given in Bombay, India, on April 1, 1971
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
mattah parataram nanyat
"O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread."—Bhagavad-gita 7.7
Krsna is present everywhere, because everything is resting on His energies. In a big factory the proprietor may be out of the factory, but every worker is aware, "This factory belongs to such-and-such person." As it is possible for a factory worker to be always conscious of the proprietor of the factory, it is possible for everyone to become Krsna conscious in every activity. That is the philosophy we are preaching all over the world. That is the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita.
Lord Krsna says, mam anusmara yudhya ca: "Think of Me and fight." This world is so made that everyone has to work. Without working, no one can even keep the body and soul together. We cannot avoid working. But at the same time, we can remember Krsna. That depends only on practice and pure understanding.
Here Krsna says, "There is no one greater than Me." That is the verdict of all ancient Vedic scriptures. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam the same thing is confirmed by the statement krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: "Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
That statement appears at the end of a list of incarnations of God. The list contains Lord Buddha's name: buddho namanjana-sutah kikatesu bhavisyati. Lord Buddha is mentioned as a future incarnation. Bhavisyati means "will appear," and kikatesu means "in the province of Gaya."
Srimad-Bhagavatam was composed five thousand years ago, and Lord Buddha appeared 2,600 years ago. Therefore it is said bhavisyati: "He will appear." The writers of the sastra, Vedic scripture, were not ordinary men. Here in the Bhagavad-gita, for example, Krsna is speaking. He is not an ordinary man. No one would be interested in the Bhagavad-gita if it had been written by an ordinary man. It was spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and it was recorded by His incarnation Vyasadeva. So it is transcendental literature.
Ordinary literature cannot be perfect, because the authors are subject to the four defects of all conditioned souls: bhrama-pramada-karanapatava-vipralipsa. Bhrama means "to commit mistakes." Pramada means "illusion," vipralipsa means "cheating," and karanapatava means "inefficiency of the senses." Sastra is above these defects.
Five thousand years ago the sastra predicted Lord Buddha's appearance. Similarly, there is a prediction about Kalki-avatara, who will come after 427,000 years. Kalki-avatara's name, his father's name, and where he will appear—everything is there. That is the standard of sastra.
We have to understand Krsna from the sastra. Krsna Himself says, mattah parataram nanyat kincid asti dhananjaya: "There is no one greater than Me." And when Arjuna understood Bhagavad-gita, he also accepted Krsna like that. Param brahma param dhama pavitram paramam bhavan: "You are Parabrahman. . . ."
Expansions from Krsna
Krsna is Parabrahman. We are all brahman, spirit, because we are part of Parabrahman, the supreme spirit, but we are not Parabrahman. We are subordinate brahman. Eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman. We are supported by Krsna, God. God is one, and the supported brahmans, or living entities, are innumerable. No one can count how many living entities there are, but God is one.
From the ancient literature we learn krsnas tu bhagavan svayam: "Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead." There are many incarnations and expansions of Krsna. Some of the expansions are direct personal expansions (svamsa), such as Lord Rama, Nrsimhadeva, Varaha. There are many in this category. Ramadi-murtisu kala-niyamena tisthan. Krsna is existing and expanding Himself in various forms. There are different kinds of incarnations, or avataras—saktyavesa-avatara, guna-avatara, manvantara-avatara, yuga-avatara. Srimad-Bhagavatam concludes that the Lord's incarnations are so numerous that you cannot count them. If you sit down on the bank of a river, you cannot keep an account of how many waves are passing. Similarly, there is no account of how many incarnations are coming out from Lord Krsna.
Krsna is above all. Here Krsna personally says so, and it is confirmed by the previous sages and authorities. For-merly it was confirmed by great sages like Narada Muni, Vyasadeva, Asita, and Devala, and in the modern age by Sankaracarya, Madhvacarya, Ramanujacarya, Visnusvami, and many other acaryas, or spiritual authorities. Everyone of them accepts that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So how can we deny it? We have to be guided by the acaryas. Acaryavan puruso veda: "One who follows the principles of the acaryas knows things as they are." That is the verdict.
In the Bhagavad-gita we find the word acaryopasanam, which means that we have to follow in the footsteps of the acaryas, because they can give us right direction. And one who does not follow the acaryas and creates his own mental concoction will not be accepted. There are many commentaries on the Bhagavad-gita, but not all of them are according to the direction of the acaryas. You have to accept Bhagavad-gita as it is, under the direction of the acaryas. They do not make any changes. They explain how Krsna is the greatest. They don't comment in a different way and divert you by saying that Krsna is an ordinary man.
From Krsna, the next expansion is Baladeva, in the category of svayam- prakasa. From Baladeva comes the catur-vyuha: Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. From Sankarsana comes Narayana. From Narayana comes another catur-vyuha. And from the Sankarsana of that catur-vyuha comes the first purus-avatara: Maha-Visnu. From Maha-Visnu comes Garbhodakasayi Visnu. From Garbhodakasayi Visnu comes Ksirodakasayi Visnu. Ksirodakasayi Visnu is situated in everyone's heart: isvarah sarva-bhutanam hrd-dese'rjuna tisthati.
Krsna expands in so many ways—by personal expansion, by the expansion of His energy, by the expansion of His differentiated parts. We living entities are differentiated parts, vibhinnamsa. We are also expansions of Krsna. He expands Himself in so many ways. He also has categories of energy, or sakti: tatastha-sakti, cit-sakti, antaranga-sakti, bahiranga-sakti. We have to understand Krsna through these categories.
If we scrutinizingly study the Vedic literature, we shall come to the conclusion that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And if there is any name for God, it is perfectly given in the word Krsna, "all-attractive." There are many diverse meanings of Krsna given by the acaryas, but on the whole, Krsna is the actual name of God.
Understanding Krsna by His Direction
How can one understand that Krsna is all-pervading? That direction is given by Krsna Himself. If we follow His direction on how to appreciate Him, then naturally and surely we shall come to the point of understand Krsna, although He is all-expansive. Krsna says,
raso 'ham apsu kaunteya
"O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man." Just try to understand Krsna by your daily experiences. Krsna says, "When you drink water and quench your thirst—when you experience the nice taste of water—I am that taste." So you can understand Krsna daily as soon as you drink water. Why should anyone say that there is no God? Just try to appreciate God according to the prescription given by God. Then you'll understand.
A doctor gives you medicine, and he gives you directions: "Drink this medicine. Take two drops." Then gradually you understand that by taking the medicine, you are being cured, you are feeling healthy. Similarly, Krsna gives us a prescription for seeing Him. When we meditate upon the taste of the water, we are meditating on Krsna.
Similarly, Krsna says prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh: "I am the sunshine and the moonshine." Who has not seen the sunshine? If you have seen sunshine and if you follow the prescription given by Krsna, then early in the morning you'll see Krsna. Why do you say, "I have not seen Krsna. Krsna is not present before Me"? Follow Krsna's instruction, and He will be present. He is present; we simply have to purify our eyes and senses to understand Him. That is required.
Suppose you have a beloved friend. As soon as you hear his voice on the telephone you immediately see him. Why? Because you love him. Similarly, if you develop your dormant love of Krsna, you'll see Krsna at every moment.
It is not at all difficult to see Krsna. Why do you say, "Can you show me God?" Why are you not seeing God? Here is God. Krsna says, raso 'ham apsu kaunteya prabhasmi sasi-suryayoh. Who has not seen sunshine? Who has not seen moonshine? One simply has to understand that sunshine is the reflection of Krsna's bodily effulgence. Just as moonshine is the reflection of the sunshine, the sun is a reflection of the brahmajyoti. And what is the brahmajyoti? Krsna's bodily effulgence. Then why do you say that you have not seen Krsna?
There are many other examples. Krsna is giving some of them. If you study, if you meditate upon them, then gradually you will see Krsna. He will be revealed. He'll be present. It is all revelation. Not that by your eyes you can see. But if you follow the prescription, the direction, you will see Krsna daily, always, twenty-four hours.
So when one is an elevated devotee—a maha-bhagavata—he does not see anything but Krsna. Everywhere he sees Krsna. The maha-bhagavata may be standing on the shore of a great sea, but he is not seeing the sea; he is seeing Krsna. He's seeing Krsna's energy: how Krsna's energy is working and producing such a vast sea. He is thinking like that. That is meditation. Anywhere he goes, he simply thinks of Krsna. Sthavara-jangama dekhe, na dekhe tara murti. He does not see the material form of anything. Sarvatra haya nija ista-deva-sphurti. Everywhere he sees Krsna. That is called Krsna consciousness.
So one has to develop. How can one develop? This is the process: sravanadi-suddha-citte. You have to hear. And as you go on hearing, the dirty things in your heart become clean. The process of hearing is so nice.
srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
"To hear about Krsna from Vedic literature, or to hear from Him directly through Bhagavad-gita, is itself righteous activity. And Lord Krsna, who is dwelling in everyone's heart, acts as a best-wishing friend and purifies the devotee who constantly engages in hearing of Him."
Simply hear about Krsna. We are speaking about Krsna from the Gita. If you try to understand Krsna as directed by Krsna, then Krsna will also cooperate with you. When a teacher sees that a student is very intelligent, that he is following directions, the teacher takes more interest in that student. That is natural. If the teacher says, "My dear child, write in this way," and the child tries, then the teacher takes more interest. Similarly, as soon as you try to understand Krsna according to His direction, Krsna, who is within you, will help you more and more. Dadami buddhi-yogam tam. Lord Krsna says, "I give him special intelligence to understand."
Our duty is to follow the instruction of Krsna. Krsna says, pranavah sarva-vedesu. Omkara, or pranava, is Krsna. When anyone chants Vedic hymns and vibrates this transcendental sound, om, Krsna is there.
Purify the Senses
So how you can avoid Krsna? You simply have to know how to see Him. You have to purify your eyes. You have to purify your ears. You have to purify your hands. You have to purify your legs. When your senses are purified, you will see Krsna—nothing but Krsna—at every moment.
You can purify your eyes by seeing the deity of Krsna. Krsna is present before you as the deity, known as arca-murti or arca-avatara. He has been nicely dressed by the devotees. It is the duty of the devotee to decorate the transcendental form of Krsna very nicely so that thousands of people may come into the temple and see Krsna. And as you go on seeing Krsna and your eyes become purified, then you will see how nice Krsna is. When Caitanya Mahaprabhu entered the Jagannatha temple, as soon as He saw Krsna He fainted, because His eyes were prepared to see Krsna.
We have to prepare our eyes to see. We have to prepare our ears to hear about Krsna. In these ways we can see Krsna. We can also use our tongue to see Krsna. Krsna says, raso 'ham apsu kaunteya: "I am the taste in water." Everyone drinks water. So as soon as you relish the taste of the water, by following the directions of the Bhagavad-gita you can see Krsna. Similarly, with the tongue you can eat bhagavat-prasadam, food offered to Krsna. And as soon as you taste the food offered to Krsna, you can remember Krsna. You can think how Krsna has kindly eaten the food.
So you can begin your purification with the tongue. Without reading any Vedic literature, without reading even the Bhagavad-gita, simply by eating krsna-prasadam you become Krsna conscious if you think, "How nicely Krsna has tasted this food."
To become Krsna conscious is not very difficult. You just have to follow the directions. That's all. But if you manufacture your own meaning, your own commentary on Bhagavad-gita, then you have deviated. You are lost. Such reading of the Bhagavad-gita is simply a waste of time and energy.
Therefore those who are not Krsna conscious, who are not hearing from Krsna conscious persons, are simply wasting time. The so-called reading of the Bhagavad-gita, the lecture on the Bhagavad-gita—without Krsna they are a waste of time. It is like trying to have the kingdom of God without God. We want the kingdom of God—peace and prosperity—but without God. That is the position of our secular governments. But this is not possible. If you give up God or the relationship with God, there is no question of having the kingdom of God or peace and prosperity.
Krsna says, paurusam nrsu: "I am the ability in man." Anything extraordinary comes from Krsna. Krsna is the most extraordinary person, but even within this world, if you find some great leader, a great politician, a great scientist, a great businessman, you should know that that person's name and fame are due to Krsna's mercy. No one can be greater than others unless Krsna has specially bestowed His mercy on him. A little portion of Krsna's mercy must be there. Krsna is most opulent. You can claim, "I am the proprietor of ten million rupees," someone can claim, "I am proprietor of fifty million rupees," and someone else can claim, "I am the proprietor of a hundred million rupees." But no one can claim, "I am the proprietor of all the money in the material world." No one can say that. Even Brahma, the greatest created being, cannot say that. But of Krsna it is said, aisvaryasya samagrasya: "He is the proprietor of all conceivable wealth."
You should understand that any wealthy person you see within the material world he has taken a portion of Krsna's money. That's all. No one can claim, "I am the proprietor of all the money in the material world." That is not possible.
We should think, "Whatever money I have is Krsna's money, or Krsna's mercy. Krsna has mercifully given me this money." Then what is our duty? We should spend it for Krsna. That is the proper use of money. Similarly, if one is famous he should use his fame for Krsna's service. I am trying to spread this Krsna consciousness movement, but if a very famous man tries, it will spread very quickly. That is the proper use of his fame. Similarly, if a scientist proves Krsna's supremacy by scientific laws, his scientific knowledge is perfect.
If we know that anything we possess is a gift from Krsna and should be used for Krsna, then our life is successful. Samsiddhir hari-tosanam. It doesn't matter what you are. You may be an engineer, you may be a lawyer, you may be a businessman. Whatever you are, it doesn't matter. But try to satisfy Krsna by your profession, by your occupation. Then you are successful. Samsiddhi. It doesn't matter what you are doing. You don't have to give up your profession as a lawyer and join us as a sannyasi and dance. If you cannot do that . . . Everyone can do that, but if you think that you cannot, use your profession for Krsna's service. Then you become perfect.
Krsna consciousness is not a necessity for the members of this Krsna consciousness society only; it is the necessity of everyone throughout the whole world, without any discrimination. One has to take this opportunity to become Krsna conscious, to understand Krsna in these ways. Then the result will be sublime.
Understand that the taste of water is Krsna's energy, the sunshine is His energy, the moonshine is His energy. The Vedic mantras are meant to please Krsna. Sound is Krsna. The energy—or the name, fame, and opulence—of big persons of this world is also Krsna. If we study Krsna in these ways, we will gradually know Him. And Krsna says,
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who understands Me in truth becomes liberated. After quitting this body, he comes to Me."
So what is the difficulty? Even in your ordinary life you can study Krsna, you can understand Krsna. And Krsna will help you. As soon as you begin studying Krsna, trying to understand Krsna, Krsna will help you from within. Krsna is with you. Krsna is not far away. He is so kind that He is sitting in your heart as your friend just to help you become liberated from material contamination. Why not take advantage? Every sane man should take advantage of the instructions of the Bhagavad-gita. Then anywhere he may be, he is a liberated person.
iha yasya harer dasye
Anyone who is trying to become Krsna conscious and trying to serve Krsna sincerely is liberated. He may be situated anywhere. It does not matter whether he is Indian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or this or that. If he simply thinks of Krsna always, in the process as described here, he becomes liberated. You can become liberated at home. You simply have to think of Krsna.
Thank you very much.
Compiled by Krishan 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.
How should we engage our mind for spiritual benefit?
Bhagavad-gita teaches how to absorb the mind and intelligence in the thought of the Lord. Such absorption will enable us to transfer to the kingdom of God. That is the secret of Bhagavad-gita: total absorption in the thought of Sri Krsna.
Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.5.23) gives nine devotional processes for cultivating remembrance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The easiest process is sravanam, hearing the Bhagavad-gita from a realized person. Yet the practice of any one of the nine processes will lead to remembering the Supreme Lord and will enable one, upon leaving the body, to attain a spiritual body fit for association with the Supreme Lord.
Lord Krsna says:
"He who meditates on Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Arjuna, is sure to reach Me." (Bg. 8.8)
This is not a very difficult process. But one must learn it from an experienced person. Tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet: one must approach a person who is already in the practice. The mind is always flying to this and that, but one must practice concentrating the mind always on the form of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krsna, or on the sound of His name. One must meditate on the Supreme Personality of Godhead in the spiritual kingdom and thus attain Him.
How can we transfer our thoughts from matter to spirit?
There is so much literature that fills our thoughts with the material energy—newspapers, magazines, novels, and so on. Our thinking, now absorbed in this literature, must be transferred to Vedic literature. Great sages, therefore, have written so many Vedic books.
Why did Vyasa write Vedic literature?
The forgetful living entities, or conditioned souls, have forgotten their relationship with the Supreme Lord and are engrossed in thinking of material activities. Just to transfer their thinking power to the spiritual sky, Krsna-dvaipayana Vyasa has given a great number of Vedic books. First he divided the Vedas into four. Then he explained them in the Puranas, and for less capable people he wrote the Mahabharata, which contains the Bhagavad-gita. Then he summarized all Vedic literature in the Vedanta-sutra, and for future guidance he gave a natural commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, called Srimad-Bhagavatam.
We must transfer our reading to these books, given to us by Vyasadeva. Then it will be possible to remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death.
Is Krsna consciousness open to all?
Bhagavad-gita gives the means for ultimate realization, and its door to knowledge is open for everyone. Anyone can approach Lord Krsna by hearing from Him and thinking about Him. The Lord says that anyone can attain the Supreme. One does not need highly developed intelligence. Anyone who accepts the principle of bhakti-yoga and accepts the Supreme Lord as the goal of life can approach the Lord in the spiritual sky. If one adopts the principles enunciated in Bhagavad-gita, he can make his life perfect and make a permanent solution to all the problems of life. This is the essence of the Bhagavad-gita.
What is sanatana-dharma?
Sanatana-dharma refers to the eternal occupation of the living entities in relationship with the Supreme Lord, irrespective of race, religion, or nationality. The great spiritual authority Sripada Ramanujacarya has explained the word sanatana as "that which has neither beginning nor end." The Supreme Lord and His transcendental abode are both sanatana, as are the living entities, and the association of the Supreme Lord and the living entities in the sanatana abode is the perfection of human life.
When we speak of sanatana-dharma, we must understand that it has neither beginning nor end. Therefore, that which has neither end nor beginning must not be sectarian, for it cannot be limited by any boundaries. Thus, sanatana-dharma does not refer to any sectarian process of religion; it is the business of all the people of the world—nay, of all the living entities of the universe.
Dharma refers to that which constantly exists with a particular object. Without heat and light, for example, there is no meaning to the word fire. Similarly, we must discover the essential part of the living being, that part which is his constant companion. That constant companion is his eternal quality, and that eternal quality is his eternal religion.
What is the difference between dharma and religion?
The English world religion is a little different from sanatana-dharma. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process and may change that faith and adopt another, but sanatana-dharma refers to that activity which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity. Sanatana-dharma is eternally integral with the living entity.
Non-sanatana religious faith may have some beginning in the annals of human history, but there is no beginning to the history of sanatana-dharma, because it remains eternally with the living entities. Yet man professes to belong to a particular type of faith with reference to particular time and circumstance and thus claims to be a Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or an adherent of any other sect. Such designations are non-sanatana-dharma. A Hindu may change his faith to become a Muslim, or a Muslim may change his faith to become a Hindu, or a Christian may change his faith, and so on. But in all circumstances the change of religious faith does not affect the eternal occupation of rendering service to others.
What are the major benefits of studying Bhagavad-gita?
Bhagavad-gita is a transcendental literature that one should read very carefully. The Gita-mahatmya ("The Glories of the Gita") lists many benefits derived from reading and following the instructions of the Gita:
(1) One can be freed from all the miseries and anxieties of life.
(2) One will be freed from all fears in this life, and one's next life will be spiritual.
(3) The reactions of one's past misdeeds will not act upon him. The Lord declares in Bhagavad-gita (18.66), "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." Thus the Lord takes all responsibility for one who surrenders unto Him, and He indemnifies such a person against all reactions of sins.
(4) One may cleanse himself daily by taking a bath in water, but if one takes a bath even once in the sacred Ganges water of Bhagavad-gita, for him the dirt of material life is altogether vanquished.
(5) Because Bhagavad-gita is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one need not read any other Vedic literature. One need only attentively and regularly hear and read Bhagavad-gita.
In the present age, people are so absorbed in mundane activities that it is not possible for them to read all Vedic literature. But this is not necessary. One book—Bhagavad-gita—will suffice, because it is the essence of all Vedic literature and especially because it is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
(6) One who drinks the water of the Ganges attains salvation, so what to speak of one who drinks the nectar of Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by Lord Krsna Himself, the original Visnu.
Bhagavad-gita comes from the mouth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the Ganges is said to emanate from the lotus feet of the Lord. Of course, there is no difference between the mouth and the feet of the Supreme Lord, but from an impartial study we can appreciate that Bhagavad-gita is even more important than the water of the Ganges.
(7) Daily recitation of Bhagavad-gita provides nourishment for the soul.
The Gitopanisad, Bhagavad-gita—the essence of all the Upanisads—is just like a cow, and Lord Krsna, who is famous as a cowherd boy, is milking this cow. Arjuna is just like a calf, and learned scholars and pure devotees drink the nectarean milk of Bhagavad-gita.
What universal needs can sanatana-dharma
People are eager to have one scripture, one God, one religion, and one occupation, but they do not know that sanatana-dharma, or eternal religion, has always existed on this planet, is still existing today, and will continue to exist as long as the human race endures.
The vision for Bhagavad-gita as a universal scripture for mankind was boldly proclaimed in the Gita-mahatmya more than ten centuries ago by Sripada Sankaracarya:
ekam sastram devaki-putra-gitam
"Let there be one scripture only—one common scripture for the whole world—Bhagavad-gita."
eko devo devaki-putra eva
"Let there be one God for the whole world—Sri Krsna."
eko mantras tasya namani
"Let there be one hymn, one mantra, one prayer—the chanting of His name: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
karmapy ekam tasya devasya seva
"Let there be one work only—the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
Krishan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.
This completes our serialization of the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is adapted to a question-and-answer format. We thank Shri Krishan B. Lal for his devotion in preparing this series and pray that Lord Krsna bless him with many more years of dedicated service.—The Editors
An appreciation of a profound
by Tattvavit Dasa
Although Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu appeared in West Bengal way back in 1486, His name and fame stayed confined to parts of India for five centuries. But by 1986—the quincentennial of His advent—suddenly He had been discovered as a new hero, the jewel of this age, in dozens of countries with no Vedic culture like India's. This marvel took place thanks to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who translated and published an impressive biography of Lord Caitanya—Sri Caitanya-caritamrta—and inspired its distribution around the world. Over the past thirty years, Srila Prabhupada's book trust published this biography in English and seventeen other languages for the first time, giving millions access to a book everyone in the world should read.
Caitanya-caritamrta literally means "the character of the living force in immortality," and readers of the book learn about the immortal Lord Caitanya. When I first read about Lord Caitanya, I learned He was mirific—a miracle worker. The only miracle workers I knew of were Biblical personalities. As an innocent American boy, I had prayed beside stained-glass windows with radiant images of supernatural acts—and had awakened my inner life. Ten years later the news of Lord Caitanya's equally potent acts impressed upon me His divinity. God, I learned, embarks on miraculous adventures whenever He descends.
Besides providing books about Lord Caitanya to millions like me, Srila Prabhupada founded the Hare Krsna movement and traveled worldwide from 1965 through 1977, teaching thousands of new followers of Lord Caitanya. People naturally wonder what would make a non-Hindu join an apparently Bengali religion like the Hare Krsna movement. Even Indians, to whom Lord Caitanya is less well known than Lord Krsna, wonder what would make someone follow Him or study His life and teachings. One explanation is that devotees of Lord Caitanya learn the highest transcendental truths from Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, which gives an integrated understanding of Lord Caitanya and Lord Krsna.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta reveals, with reference to Vedic texts, that Lord Caitanya is the incarnation of God for this age. Internally He is Krsna (antah-krsna), the effulgent bluish Supreme Personality of Godhead. Externally He has the glowing golden complexion (bahir gaura) of Srimati Radharani, Lord Krsna's eternal consort. Concealing Himself as Sri Caitanya, Krsna tastes Radharani's mood as the most rapt devotee of Krsna. Lord Caitanya comes to teach everyone to chant Sri Krsna's holy names and to dance in moods of devotion.
Devotees of Lord Caitanya naturally study His favorite scripture, the Srimad-Bhagavatam, often quoted in the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. In de-scribing the loving pastimes of Krsna, the Bhagavatam helps us realize the eternal pleasures enjoyed by Krsna and His devotees. The unique truths of the Bhagavatam shine with authentic value, like fine jewelry, and Lord Caitanya freely distributed these gems, hoping everyone would accept them. Therefore Srila Prabhupada translated and published the jewellike Bhagavatam and quoted it in all his books—some of which are published in eighty languages. Why shouldn't everyone in the world read them?
Soon after Lord Caitanya left this world in 1534, Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami wrote the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, in Bengali couplets. Srila Prabhupada sensitively translated the couplets into prose. To encourage close study of the original, he provided trans-literations and synonyms for every word. He wrote extensive commentaries, making the highest and most difficult spiritual concepts accessible to everyone. So people find it spiritually enlivening to read Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Srila Prabhupada's latest English edition comes to nine big volumes, averaging 730 pages each, fully describing Lord Caitanya's mercy, emotions, and opulences.
Sri Caitanya-caritamrta contains the nectar for which everyone is always anxious. There is no solace for the soul in the mirage of material happiness; everyone must find the supreme spiritual shelter. That oasis is in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.
Recently, Tattvavit Dasa edited the Interactive "Bhagavad-gita As It Is" CD and the first memoir about Prabhupada written by one of his female disciples: Srila Prabhupada Is Coming! by Mahamaya Devi Dasi.
"Our Krsna Is Love"
Here we continue an exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the poet Allen Ginsberg. It took place on May 12, 1969, in Columbus, Ohio.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, Your Divine Grace, my so-called popularity doesn't seem to be having much effect. That's why I'm asking you very specifically what to do, because I've been chanting for five years, six years. Since 1963 I've been chanting Hare Krsna on this continent, beginning in Vancouver in July 1963. And I am finding there is a limitation to how many people will join that chant. Or I have found a limitation. Part of the limitation is the fact that it seems strange and new to people here.
Srila Prabhupada: They may think it unfamiliar, but there is no loss.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, and as it becomes familiar, it might spread a little. Part of the limitation is just a natural resentment or resistance—people wanting a prayer in their own tongue, in their own language. I don't know. For the same reason, an American Indian chant would not take hold, or even a Latin chant would not take universal hold.
Srila Prabhupada: The Lord's names, though, are a mantra.
Allen Ginsberg: And as a result, many of us are asking, "Is it possible to find an American mantra?"
Srila Prabhupada: Mantra means transcendental sound. You see. Take, for example, omkara.
Allen Ginsberg: So you think the chanter experiences transcendence by the very nature of the sound. O.K. But now, om is an absolutely natural sound, the way it flows from the throat to the mouth—and yet even om, natural as it is, sounds foreign.
Srila Prabhupada: Om is natural, yes. Therefore, it is also found as a pranama that begins many longer mantras. Om is accepted.
Allen Ginsberg: But even om sounds foreign here. It's hard to get people to say om, even. I tried in Chicago, with om and with Hare Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada: But there is no alternative.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, we haven't been able to think of one yet. I'll tell you that.
Srila Prabhupada: That is people's misfortune—if they don't appreciate.
Allen Ginsberg: Many people here have said, "What about 'God, God, God, God'?" But that doesn't have the right . . .
Disciple: [Laughs.] No, that doesn't make it. You couldn't do that for five minutes.
Allen Ginsberg: Well, you could almost do "Amen, Amen."
Disciple: That's not English.
Allen Ginsberg: Yes. That's not English. [Laughter.] But it's known in English. And maybe Krsna could become as well known as God and Amen, or something like that.
Srila Prabhupada: Krsna is already in the English dictionary.
Allen Ginsberg: Now in the dictionary?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Allen Ginsberg: He's infiltrated the dictionary.
Disciple: Although they improperly describe Him as an incarnation of Visnu. Really, you know, Krsna is the source of Visnu.
Srila Prabhupada: Here is an English dictionary.
Allen Ginsberg: Let's see how Krsna is described in the English dictionary.
Disciple: Sure enough. "Eighth incarnation of Vishnu."
Woman from India: [Makes a comment in Bengali.]
Srila Prabhupada: Just see. Here is an intelligent statement. [To the woman:] Yes. You can explain in English.
Woman: I was saying that when it comes to the question of ultimate knowledge and when Western civilization fails to embrace the oldest known name of God, that is their limitation. They may just not want to know.
Allen Ginsberg: O.K. Partly there may be the fear that the study of Krsna consciousness will become as bureaucratized in America as the examination system has made the study of higher Western knowledge.
Woman: Yes. But everyone knows that this modern technological culture is limited, while the Vedic culture is unlimited. It centers on the Lord's glories—which makes it unlimited. You see? And the Vedas explain that the original name of the Lord is Krsna. So what is the trouble?
Srila Prabhupada: For gaining a technological education, everyone takes so much trouble. And yet simply for uttering one simple name, Krsna, they are not prepared to take a little trouble?
Woman: Human life is meant for this ultimate spiritual liberation, going back to Krsna. But some people won't take this golden opportunity. "Krsna is a word in the Indian language." Krsna is not a word in the Indian language. Krsna is the ultimate name of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Nor does Krsna say that He is Indian.
Woman: Krsna doesn't say, "I am Indian." His name is not Indian. It's universal. See?
Srila Prabhupada: So you have to accept a little "trouble" and utter Krsna. That's all.
Allen Ginsberg: I'm willing.
Srila Prabhupada: We have all taken so much trouble so that we can understand the English language. And now, for our transcendental understanding, we simply have to utter . . .
Allen Ginsberg: Krsna is next to Kris Kringle—Santa Claus—in the dictionary.
Woman: Yes, Krsna is Santa Claus—He gives everything.
Srila Prabhupada: Very good. What is the definition they give for Krsna? What do they say?
Disciple: "Eighth avatar of Vishnu." This is the usual thing. It's in all the dictionaries.
Woman: The people in India are lucky that they are holding tight to the world's original culture. Krsna is not an "avatar of Vishnu." He's the source of Visnu—He's the Supreme Lord. With the passing of so many millennia, other parts of the world have forgotten. But this knowledge is universal.
Srila Prabhupada: In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, sarva-yonisu kaunteya: "I am the father of everyone." Not only human beings. All animals, plants—everyone. So Krsna is universal.
Allen Ginsberg: Now, for instance, in America many of the black people are tending toward Allah and toward Mohammedanism.
Srila Prabhupada: That is another thing. Somebody is inclined to something; somebody else is inclined to some other thing. That is going on, and it will go on till the end of the creation. But our proposal is, "You are searching after the center—here is the center." That is our proposal.
Allen Ginsberg: But what do you do when different religious groups claim to be the center?
Srila Prabhupada: No. We welcome every religion. We don't decry any religion. Our point is the love of Godhead. Our Krsna is love. All-attractive. So we want to be attracted by Krsna.
Take the example of magnetic force and a piece of iron. Unless the iron is rusty, it is automatically attracted by magnetic force. Similarly, although we are now contaminated by material coverings, we have to make ourselves "rustless," so that immediately we shall be attracted by Krsna. This is the program. Krsna is all-attractive. And we are naturally attracted. But because we are covered with this rust, instead of being attracted by Krsna we are being attracted by maya. So our central program is how to love Krsna, how to love God.
Therefore, when people come to us for spiritual knowledge, to begin with we want to see, as Srimad-Bhagavatam advises, "How much have you enhanced your love of God?" You can call Him Krsna or something else; that doesn't matter. But phalena pariciyate: We want to see the result. Your religious principle—what is the result? Are you enhancing your love for God or dog? That we want to see. If you are enhancing your love for God, it is all right; we don't say anything. But people should learn how to love God. That is the perfection of life. And that we are teaching.
"Whoever was hearing my prayers
by Pranada Devi Dasi
WHEN I WAS ELEVEN, the seldom-used formal dining room of our home in California was my secret refuge. The sliding-glass doors allowed plenty of sunlight into the room, and the prayers I said near them would come to brighten my life. I discovered the dining room as my place of introspection. Sometimes, while my sister and brother played outside, I was intent on staying inside to ponder the meaning of life. I wanted to know who I was and what I was meant to do.
"Dear Lord," I would pray, "please let me know the absolute truth as soon as possible. When You show it to me, I promise I'll dedicate myself to pursuing it."
But God seemed so distant. How could I find Him? How could I possibly know Him? Though immensely important to me, the whole proposition seemed unattainable. I had concluded that God would have to be close to me to answer my pleas, but I doubted He was. That doubt brought urgency and hopelessness to my prayers.
I don't know where I came upon the term "absolute truth"; neither my parents nor the nuns in my school used it. But it was my term for referring to an unknown reality. Whoever was hearing my prayers needed to know that I was looking for a complete understanding of the truth. I had conceived that this absolute truth would be found in books of knowledge, and in my prayers I regularly asked to come in contact with those books. I so strongly desired getting those books that I even envisioned touching and opening them.
Just a few years later, I held the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Here were English translations of books that had guided spiritual seekers for thousands of years. I understood that I had come in contact with the Absolute Truth. As I'd promised in my prayers, I dedicated myself to understanding the truth, taking up bhakti-yoga as taught by Srila Prabhupada.
As a new devotee of Lord Krsna, it seemed that every month a handsome volume of this ancient literature would be published, newly translated by Srila Prabhupada. I had an incessant flow of knowledge about the Absolute Truth, and I soaked it up with more relish than those soothing rays of sunlight in my dining room. My favorite books were the Caitanya-caritamrta series—an amazing blend of rigorous philosophy and theology and a recounting of the life of Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of God for this age.
In the Caitanya-caritamrta I came upon the sixteenth-century saint Sanatana Gosvami submitting himself to Lord Caitanya: "Who am I? What is the goal of life, and how do I attain it?"
Because Sanatana's questions echoed mine, Caitanya Mahaprabhu's answers became very important: God Himself was about to answer me.
Knowledge from the Lord
Everything comes from the energy of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya told Sanatana Gosvami. All living entities are created by the Lord and are His eternal servants. They sometimes forget this fact, but by again awakening to the truth of their spiritual identity they come to serve the Lord in love. To come to the point of serving God, the living entity must become attracted to Him, and that starts with hearing about Him.
God is great, and I am small, a servant of a great master. And just how great of a master, Lord Caitanya began to lay out for me. Though there's no limit to Krsna's manifestations, Lord Caitanya said that He would briefly mention some.
The "brief" mention was not short. I had a hard time understanding the multitude of Krsna's manifestations. In fact, the description confounded me, and so some years later I decided to make a chart to organize Lord Caitanya's descriptions. It was important to me to understand this information. Prabhupada explains, "Simply knowing factually the mysterious way of the Lord's incarnation in this material world can liberate one from material bondage. . . . They [Krsna's activities and birth] are mysterious, and only by those who carefully try to go deep in-to the matter by spiritual devotion is the mystery discovered. Thus one gets liberation from material bondage." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.29, Purport)
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu's description of Krsna dissolved my childish conclusion that God was distant and inaccessible and brought me an exciting new reality. The sheer amount of information was overwhelming. And so was the message: God is very close to me. He sits with me in my heart. He is in every atom. He is so full of love for us that He repeatedly manifests different forms in the material sphere to teach us lessons, draw our attention, and call us back to Him. He is always attentive to reclaiming us. As I watched the chart take shape, I began to feel the expansive nature of Krsna's presence and His love for me.
Srila Prabhupada's statement in the Third Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.15.31) came alive: "As Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita, He is the best friend of all living entities. Suhrdam sarva-bhutanam. No one can be a greater well-wishing friend to any living entity than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is so kindly disposed toward everyone that in spite of our completely forgetting our relationship with the Supreme Lord, He comes Himself—sometimes personally, as Lord Krsna appeared on this earth, and sometimes as His devotee, as did Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu—and sometimes He sends His bona fide devotees to reclaim all the fallen souls. Therefore, He is the greatest well-wishing friend of everyone."
The information Lord Caitanya gave Sanatana Gosvami is essential knowledge for all of us. The material world is full of darkness and unlimited miseries. The only way we can become happy is to serve Krsna, the original soul of all living entities. Each soul is part of Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore Krsna is very dear to every living being. Krsna Himself explains in the Bhagavad-gita that the only way to satisfy Him (and, as a result, ourselves) is through devotional service, bhakti-yoga.
As I absorbed this information, I was filled with gratitude. Lord Caitanya had answered in explicit detail all my questions about who I was, what I was to do, and the goal of my life. In the process, He had given name and form to the intangible "absolute truth" I was seeking.
Pranada Devi Dasi was initiated by Srila Prabhupada in 1976 and is married to BTG editor Nagaraja Dasa. She recently retired from her own printing business and has embarked on an intensive study of Srila Prabhupada's books.
Krsna, God, exists in three
Svayam means "original." In this category there is only one person: Krsna. Originally God is one; no one is greater than or equal to Him. Krsna has no origin. He is the source of everything and the sum of everything. He is the original creator of all living entities and of the material and spiritual worlds. He is the source of all expansions of God. He is the shelter of everything and master of everyone. He is the supreme controller, and His spiritual body is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge. There is no difference between Krsna and His body, as there is for living entities in the material world.
Krsna is distinguished from all others because He possesses sixty-four qualities in full. Other manifestations of Krsna possess varying degrees of these qualities. The Nectar of Devotion clarifies: "Krsna has four more [qualities], which are not manifest even in the Narayana form of Godhead, what to speak of the demigods or living entities. They are as follows: (61) He is the performer of wonderful varieties of pastimes (especially His childhood pastimes). (62) He is surrounded by devotees endowed with wonderful love of Godhead. (63) He can attract all living entities all over the universes by playing on His flute. (64) He has a wonderful excellence of beauty which cannot be rivaled anywhere in the creation."
All Vedic literature directly or indirectly points to Lord Krsna. Krsna is the source of the Vedas, the knower of the Vedas, and the end of all veda (knowledge).
This category consists of expansions and avataras (incarnations) of the Lord. They are extraordinary and unlimited. The chart lists only a few. An expansion is a form of the Lord residing in the spiritual realm; an avatara is a form of the Lord who comes to the material world. (See the side-bar "The Avataras.") Vedic literature refers to both expansions and avataras as amsa (plenary portions) and kala (portions of plenary portions). Amsas expand directly from the Lord, and kalas expand from amsas.
These expansions and avataras possess some of the qualities Lord Krsna possesses in full. They appear with bodily features and emotions different from Krsna's, and They carry out specific activities. They are uniquely named according to these qualifying characteristics.
Everything we experience in this world is created, sustained, or destroyed by one of these forms. The purpose of creation is to provide a learning field where we can awaken to our original relationship with Krsna and rejoin Him in His spiritual creation. The activities of the expansions and incarnations, like those of Krsna Himself, give us transcendental topics to hear and talk about, which clears our path out of the material entanglement.
Also known as saktyavesa-avatara, this category has three divisions: bhagavad-avesa (divine absorption), saktyavesa (directly empowered), and vibhuti (indirectly empowered).
Servants of the Lord empowered with knowledge and strength make up this category. They can act almost like God in carrying out specific functions. There are unlimited numbers of empowered devotees; the chart lists some of them. Most are jivas, or minute souls, and not God Himself (visnu-tattva). Exceptions: Sesa Naga, Ananta, Kapila, and Rsabhadeva.
Vibhutis, or opulent things of this world, are also categorized as avesa-rupas of the Lord. They are indirectly empowered by God. Krsna explains that everything beautiful, opulent, and glorious in this world comes from Him. He gives an extensive list of vibhutis in the tenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita. Srila Prabhupada comments: "Any glorious or beautiful existence should be understood to be but a fragmental manifestation of Krsna's opulence, whether it be in the spiritual or material world. Anything extraordinarily opulent should be considered to represent Krsna's opulence." (Bg. 10.41, Purport)
Purusa means "controller." The purusa-avataras are the three supreme controllers of the material manifestations: Karanodakasayi Visnu, Garbhodakasayi Visnu, and Ksirodakasayi Visnu. Karanodakasayi Visnu creates unlimited universes. From Him comes a Garbhodakasayi Visnu for each universe. From Garbhodakasayi Visnu comes Brahma, the secondary material creator, as well as Ksirodakasayi Visnu, who enters every atom of each universe and is also known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma (below). Paramatma sits in the hearts of all living entities, giving direction to them in their material sojourn.
Lila-avataras are also known as kalpa-avataras. Lila means "pastimes," and a kalpa is a day of Brahma. These avataras appear in each day of Brahma (every 4.32 billion years). They respond to the desires of devotees and protect the universe. In Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 6.99), Srila Prabhupada elaborates: "A lila-avatara is an incarnation of the Lord who performs a variety of activities without making any special endeavor. He always has one pastime after another, all full of transcendental pleasure, and these pastimes are fully controlled by the Supreme Person. The Supreme Person is totally independent of all others in these pastimes."
Guna means "material qualities," of which there are three categories: passion, which generates the creation of the material manifestation; goodness, which maintains the material manifestation; and ignorance, which destroys the creation. Brahma (right) is in charge of creation, Visnu maintenance, and Siva destruction.
Lord Visnu is a direct expansion of Krsna and is therefore in the visnu-tattva category. Brahma is a post for managing the secondary material creation. The post ismost often filled by a highly qualified devotee of Krsna (jiva-tattva), but if no one is available, then Visnu will perform Brahma's duties. Siva is also a devotee of Lord Krsna. He possesses more of Krsna's qualities than ordinary souls, but less than Krsna or His expansions and incarnations. Siva is in a category of his own, called siva-tattva.
Manvantara means "the life span of Manu." Manus are rulers in the higher planetary systems, and they give direction to human society through scriptures. They live for seventy-one divya-yugas. A divya-yuga is the four yugas taken together. These manvantara incarnations appear simultaneously with the
Manus and change as the Manus change. In Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.7.20), Srila Prabhupada explains, "The manvantara incarnation chastises all the miscreant rulers of different planets with as much power as that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who punishes the miscreants with His wheel weapon. The manvantara incarnations disseminate the transcendental glories of the Lord." The current manvantara-avatara is Lord Vamana (below). (Laghu-bhagavatamrta 4.16).
Yuga means "age," and sometimes it is translated as "millennium." The term is used to refer to the calculation of cyclical time of the material creation. Satya-yuga is 1,728,000 years and is characterized by virtue, religion, and wisdom. Treta-yuga is 1,296,000 years, and vice is introduced. Dvapara-yuga is 864,000 years, and virtue and religion further decline. Kali-yuga (the current age) lasts 432,000 years and is full of vice and irreligion.
The yuga-avatara gives the yuga-dharma, or the religion for the specific age. (See the sidebar "The Incarnations for this Age.")
The Incarnations for this Age
Although Sri Krsna Caitanya Mahaprabhu is the yuga-avatara, or the incarnation for this age, He is in fact neither an incarnation nor an expansion of Krsna. Rather, He is identical with svayam-rupa Krsna.
Giving special mercy to the people of this age, Krsna Himself has come in two forms: as Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and as His holy name, as in the maha-mantra—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Caitanya is known as the most magnanimous incarnation because He freely delivers love of Krsna, the highest goal of life. To understand Krsna is difficult, but it has been made easy by the mercy of Lord Caitanya. He is also known as magnanimous because His mercy surpasses the bounds of mundane distinction of sex, race, caste, and so on. He made equally available to everyone the sublime process of attaining Krsna.
That process, the religion of this age, is chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. As the yuga-avatara, Lord Caitanya appeared in this world five hundred years ago to teach us how to develop love of Krsna by chanting His names.
God as the Temple Deity
Krsna is accessible to us at all times through His deity manifestation. The deity, also known as the arca-murti ("form for worship"), comes to the world to bestow mercy on the devotees by allowing them to see Him face to face and serve Him directly. By seeing and serving the deity, devotees fix their minds on the form of the Lord. Vedic literature describes in detail how to worship the Lord in this world in His deity form.
Though the arca-murtis seem to be made of material elements such as clay, wood, metal, or stone, They are identical with the forms of the Lord in the spiritual world. These forms are in the vaibhava-vilasa category.
In Sri Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 20.217) Srila Prabhupada comments: "The deity in the temple, however, is visible to the material eyes of the devotee. It is not possible for one in material, conditioned life to see the spiritual form of the Lord. To bestow causeless mercy upon us, the Lord appears as the arca-murti so that we can see Him. . . . No one should consider the deity in the temple to be made of stone or wood. . . . Nor should anyone consider the Hare Krsna maha-mantra to be a material vibration. All these expansions of Krsna in the material world are simply demonstrations of the Lord's mercy and willingness to give facility to His devotees who are engaged in His devotional service within the material world."
The Identity Of Narayana
ALTHOUGH Lord Narayana does not appear in the chart, He's there. Srila Prabhupada uses the name Narayana to refer to any four-handed Visnu form, but he also uses the name to refer to a specific expansion of Krsna, with His own spiritual planet. Prabhupada calls Narayana the Lord of Vaikuntha. He says that Narayana is at the center of the catur-vyuha (They surround Him). He also explains that Narayana expands from Sankarsana of the catur-vyuha. Finally, Prabhupada refers to the purusa-avataras (the three Visnus involved in the creation) as the Narayana purusa-avataras. So the name Narayana can refer to many forms of the Lord.
The first four expansions in the vilasa category (prabhava-vilasa) originate from Lord Balarama (vaibhava-prakasa). Prabhava manifestations are fully potent; vaibhava manifestations are partially potent. The four expansions Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha are known as the catur-vyuha. Catur means "four," and vyuha means "guard" or "arms." These forms have four arms, and They guard the four directions of the material world. They reside in the spiritual world. Srila Prabhupada refers to Them as the aides-de-camp of Lord Krsna.
(1) Vasudeva, the first expansion, is the presiding deity of consciousness and the cause of the brahmajyoti effulgence.
(2) Sankarsana comes from Vasudeva and is the presiding deity of false ego. He is the source of Karanodakasayi Visnu. Sankarsana is known as the integrating and disintegrating power of God. In other words, He maintains the law of gravity and oversees the destruction of the universe.
(3) Pradyumna comes from Sankarsana and is the presiding deity of intelligence. He is responsible for universal growth and maintenance. From Pradyumna comes Garbhodakasayi Visnu.
(4) Aniruddha, who comes from Pradyumna, is the presiding deity of the mind and the source of Ksirodakasayi Visnu.
Srila Prabhupada explains: "The Lord in His different features (Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, and Sankarsana) maintains both the gross and subtle material elements of this world. As mentioned in Bhagavad-gita, the gross material elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and the subtle material elements are mind, intelligence, and ego. All of them are controlled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha. . . . Lord Krsna, by His quadruple expansion (Vasudeva, Sankarsana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha), is the Lord of psychic action—namely thinking, feeling, willing, and acting." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.35-36, Purport)
From these first four expansions come other catur-vyuhas, known as vaibhava-vilasa. The months of the year and the markings of tilaka are named for these vaibhava-vilasa manifestations.
If God is inconceivable,
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Sri Isopanisad states that Krsna is simultaneously very far away and very close. The Vedic scriptures encourage us: The best way to know Krsna and bring Him closer is to hear about Him.
As we open any book about Krsna, we'll immediately feel the richness of the clear and scientific knowledge it contains. We'll also come to understand that Krsna is by nature inconceivable to finite beings. Although some world religions extend that to mean that Krsna is by essence completely inconceivable (not only far away), we cannot agree. Yes, He is ultimately inconceivable, but His name, fame, and form can be known just as we know any person face-to-face. Anyone who wants to be God conscious has to understand this point.
Here's an example of a statement that ties these two concepts together. It's from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.12.38), in connection with Lord Krsna's killing and liberating the demon Aghasura, who in the form of a gigantic snake had swallowed Krsna and His friends.
Krsna is the cause of all causes. The causes and effects of the material world, both higher and lower, are all created by the Supreme Lord, the original controller. When Krsna appeared as the son of Nanda Maharaja and Yasoda, He did so by His causeless mercy. Consequently, for Him to exhibit His unlimited opulence was not at all wonderful. Indeed, he showed such great mercy that even Aghasura, the most sinful miscreant, was elevated to being one of His associates and achieving sarupya-mukti [having the same form as the Lord], which is actually impossible for materially contaminated persons to attain.
Srila Prabhupada comments:
Krsna is the cause of all causes. He is the creator of cause and effect, and He is the supreme controller. Nothing is impossible for Him. Therefore that He enabled even a living being like Aghasura to attain the salvation of sarupya-mukti is not at all wonderful for Krsna. Krsna took pleasure in entering the mouth of Aghasura in a sporting spirit, along with His associates. Therefore, when Aghasura, by that sporting association, as maintained in the spiritual world, was purified of all contamination, he attained sarupya-mukti and vimukti by the grace of Krsna. For Krsna this was not at all wonderful.
"Not at all wonderful" is Srila Prabhupada's way of saying we shouldn't be surprised or doubtful when we hear of Krsna's power and opulence. Krsna killed demons. Krsna lifted Govardhana Hill. Krsna married 16,108 wives. None of these acts is at all wonderful, because Krsna did them effortlessly. Krsna is the source of cause and effect, yet He appears as a child. Does that sound incredible, unbelievable? Well, Krsna has infinite greatness. Nothing is impossible for Him.
But we are wonderstruck. Srila Prabhupada named one chapter of his book Krsna "Wonderful Krsna." Wonderful is a tasty word if it's not used superficially; it refers to something filled with joy, a superlative experience.
In the scriptures the devotees express their appreciation of "wonderful Krsna" according to their relationship with Him. Queen Kunti prays that although Krsna is the Supreme Truth, in His childhood form He becomes subordinate to mother Yasoda. Although fear personified is afraid of Krsna, He runs in fear from His mother, who threatens Him with a stick. Kunti says that when she thinks of Krsna running fearfully, His black mascara smeared by His tears, she becomes amazed. What fortune Yasoda has to be Krsna's mother and to subordinate the supreme controller!
The acaryas, the great spiritual masters of the past, have pointed out another aspect of Krsna's inconceivable power, beyond even that of His expansions and avataras: He performed amazing feats as a small child. When Krsna killed Putana, He was only a few months old. He was seven when He lifted Govardhana Hill with the pinkie of His left hand. In other incarnations, He assumed large forms to do a large task. To kill Hiranyakasipu He appeared in a huge form as a half man, half lion. Although He begged three steps of land from Bali Maharaja in the form of a dwarf brahmana, He assumed a huge form to reclaim the universe with those steps. Krsna performed equally difficult tasks, yet He performed them in His beautiful Vrndavana form as a cowherd boy. That in itself is wonderful.
When we think of Krsna's opulence, we see the paradoxes. He is the master, yet He's subordinate to His devotees. He's inconceivable, yet He allows us to know Him. In the Third Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the great devotee Uddhava expresses bewilderment at Krsna's being unborn yet apparently being born, at Krsna's being fearless yet leaving Vrndavana out of fear of Kamsa. The contradictions are bewildering, and Uddhava's separation from such a wonderful Krsna also bewilders him. And of course, the nondevotees are bewildered because they cannot accept Krsna with His apparent paradoxes. Their mundane morality can never accommodate the inconceivable opulence of Krsna.
Krsna's Most Attractive Feature
Krsna is wonderful, amazing—inconceivably so—but we have not touched on the most mysterious and inconceivable of all His qualities: His ability to express love. He is powerful, He is wise, He is strong and famous, but His inclination to love all living beings, and His expression of that love in a variety of ways, is His most attractive feature. And even more attractive than that is His special love for His devotees. Therefore, a devotee, while recognizing Krsna's mastership over his or her life, does not ever forget this greatest glory of Krsna's love.
I recently heard Srila Prabhupada on tape speaking about suffering. A devotee asked Prabhupada how we should understand that even though we are devotees, we still have to suffer. Prabhupada took a strong position. He said it was not our right to question that we have to suffer. And we should never think that we would love Krsna more if we didn't suffer. Nor does Krsna have to explain to us why we are suffering. A devotee sees Krsna unquestionably as master. In the mood of a devotee, Lord Caitanya prays, "Whether You make me broken-hearted or You handle me roughly in Your embrace, You are always my worshipful Lord, birth after birth." A devotee never doubts Krsna's loving intention toward him.
I was raised in a nominally Catholic family. We never discussed faith or the reality of God, never broached doubts. As soon as I entered the larger world of college and was exposed to doubts, I had no answers. I remember one teacher saying, "How can there be God if there is so much suffering in the world?" This is a classic theological puzzle: If God is all-good and all-powerful, why are we suffering? How can He be all-loving if His creatures are feeling pain?
A devotee is not bewildered by these apparent contradictions. We may not understand His purposes, but we are never bewildered by them. A devotee has ultimate trust in Krsna's most wonderful quality.
Therefore, don't ask Krsna for sense gratification, and don't bargain with Krsna for something less than love of God. While we acknowledge that Krsna is far away from us, we also feel His closeness and our ability to address Him, just as a child will go to the father to have his desires fulfilled. On the higher stages of Krsna consciousness, devotees may very well express their own desires, but their desires are always for Krsna's pleasure. Devotees also express a variety of moods, some submissive and some contrary. Krsna enjoys them all.
We can't imitate those types of expressions, and if we try, we may end up asking for something not in our ultimate interest. Krsna, as the kind father, will provide the "toy." In the end we may find ourselves telling Krsna we didn't want what we received, and Krsna saying, "Well, you asked for it, so now you play with it until it breaks." How sad when we go to Krsna for such things. And how sad that it may take thousands of years of action and reaction to live out the gift He gave us.
The Gopis' Example
How pleased Krsna must be when He sees a pure devotee who cares only for Him. Srila Prabhupada was ecstatic to hear that the gopis, Krsna's cowherd girlfriends, never asked Krsna for anything. Prabhupada offered their behavior as an example of real bhakti. Usually, in a conjugal relationship men and women want something from each other. Women usually want security, and even Krsna's queens in Dvaraka had that. But the gopis had nothing. They never asked for anything. They went to the forest in the middle of the night at the risk of losing their families and reputations, and Krsna did not provide them with any guarantee or indemnity. Therefore, they are considered the highest devotees; they wanted only to give Krsna happiness, to please wonderful Krsna.
After Krsna lifted Govardhana Hill, the cowherd men were bewildered. Who is this wonderful boy? Nanda Maharaja repeated what the priest Gargamuni had told him at Krsna's name-giving ceremony. Krsna is narayana-sama, "equal to Narayana, or God," Gargamuni had said. Although the cowherd men understood, they didn't abandon their parental affection for Krsna. Rather, they said, "Just let us always live in the protection of wonderful Krsna."
Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, one of Srila Prabhupada's first disciples, is a former editor of Back to Godhead and the author of many books on Krsna consciousness, including a six-volume biography of Srila Prabhupada.
by Satyaraja dasa
A philosopher's conjecture leads him to a universal law discussed in the Bhagavad-gita.
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) is perhaps best known for his theory of the three stages of human existence: the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage, and the religious stage.
The aesthetic stage is not about being an aesthete, as one might suspect. Rather, a person in the aesthetic stage pursues pleasure and avoids commitment. This stage, says Kierkegaard, begins and ends with despair.
A person in the ethical stage is committed. He or she has a sense of duty, labors for family and society, and pursues universal goals. In this stage the feverishworker usually loses his individuality, becoming a cog in the work-a-daymachine of life.
The religious stage, according to Kierkegaard, generally comes after repeated frustration with working hard for society, the rewards seeming limited and meager. At this point, says our Danish philosopher, a person moves beyond the universal to the specific and starts to worship God.
Not all people go through all three stages. Kierkegaard says that in a person's life, one stage will predominate and usually engulf a person until the day he dies.
Anyone who is familiar with theBhagavad-gita and the philosophy of Krsna consciousness will notice how Kierkegaard's three stages correspond to the three modes of material nature. These three modes—sattva (goodness, virtue), rajas (energy, passion, turbulence), and tamas (inertia, ignorance)—are an integral part of the Hare Krsna world view.
Mode is a translation of the Sanskrit word guna, which literally means "thread" or "rope," implying that goodness, passion, and ignorance are the ropes that bind one to the material world. According to the Gita, these three modes, or qualities, underlie everything we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. Permutations of these qualities make up the world, mixing like the primary colors to produce countless variations.
Sattva controls virtues and qualities such as joy, wisdom, and altruism; rajas controls greed, anger, ambition, and frustration; tamas controls sloth, delusion, and idleness. Sattva clarifies and pacifies; rajas confuses and impels; tamas obscures and impedes.
Lord Visnu, the supreme Godhead who maintains the cosmic manifestation, is naturally the master of the mode of goodness; Brahma, the creator, controls passion; and Siva, the destroyer, presides over ignorance.
As in Kierkegaard's system, the Gita explains that a particular mode will predominate in a person's life, influencing the way he or she behaves. And while we might achieve relative happiness by understanding how the modes condition us and interact with our consciousness, we should aspire to become detached from all three modes, even goodness, which embodies finer material qualities. Such qualities are still material and can serve as "the last infirmity of a noble mind," as Indologist A. L. Basham has articulated it, "causing the soul to cling to wisdom and joy as opposed to God consciousness proper."
The Gita devotes one hundred of its seven hundred verses to a systematic analysis of the modes of nature. According to the Gita, God, as the creator of the modes, is naturally above them (Bg 7.13); but the modes bind the ordinary soul to the body through conditioning (Bg 14.5); once we understand how the modes work and discover what lies beyond them, we can become free of conditioning and devote our pure mind to the service of God (Bg 14.19).
The fourteenth chapter of the Gita outlines the general characteristics of the modes, and the seventeenth chapter teaches how to perceive the modes in types of worship, food, sacrifice, austerities, and even charity. By analyzing how the modes affect people, Bhagavad-gita helps us understand distinct personality types.
The Gita mainly discusses how the modes influence a person's character, behavior, and approach to life. For example, if goodness predominates, one will aspire for (and generally achieve) long-term happiness, even if one must accept temporary inconveniences. The person overtaken by passion is usually satisfied by short-term happiness and doesn't expect much more out of life. And the person dominated by ignorance rarely achieves happiness at all.
In applying the three modes to food, the Gita says that a person in the mode of goodness leans toward healthy and nutritious food, which increases strength and longevity. Persons in passion like overly spiced foods with powerful flavors, temporarily enjoying tasty cuisine that brings on sickness and disease. A person in ignorance has little taste left and tends to eat rotten food that quickly causes ill health.
The Gita summarizes: Goodness leads to lasting happiness that begins by tasting like poison but ends by tasting like nectar. Passion leads to short-term happiness that begins like nectar but ends like poison. And ignorance (at best) leads to happiness that is illusory in both the long and the short term, being the result of sleep, idleness, and negligence. In this way the Gita analyzes various aspects of life and shows how the modes influence all living beings and the world.
Other traditions have elaborated on three-part processes that correspond to personality types. Plato, for example, discusses the rational soul, the spirited soul, and the appetitive soul. These refer respectively to the intellectual, contemplative person, the pugnacious, overly active person, and the selfcentered braggadocio. Plato acknowledges that all three personality types can be found in everyone but inevitably (as with the three modes of nature) one personality type will predominate.
Modern psychology acknowledges three somatotypes, or body types, namely ectomorphy (thin), mesomorphy (muscular), and endomorphy (fat). These are said correspond to certain mental dispositions: cerebrotonia (brain-oriented), somatotonia (muscle-oriented), and viscerotonia (stomach-heart-oriented). Scholars of Indian religion, such as A. L. Herman, professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, have noted that while this classification does not directly correspond to the three modes of material nature, the similarity warrants further research. Nonetheless, as Herman acknowledges, the Gita provides one of the most consistent and far-reaching psychological analyses of people and their conditioned responses to the material world. Therefore the Gita, with its in-depth study of the three modes of material nature, offers us indispensable clues about the true nature of the world around us. Taking these clues to heart may enable us to become happy in this life and in the next one as well.
A Step Further
Kierkegaard would probably have appreciated the analysis of the modes set down in the Gita. In fact, after reading the Gita he could conceivably have added a fourth stage to his three stages of life: the transcendental stage. The Gita explains goodness, the highest mode, in about the same way that Kierkegaard explains his religious stage. But what exists beyond the religious stage? What does one do after going through the despair associated with the mode of ignorance (the aesthetic stage), the work ethic associated with the mode of passion (the ethical stage), and the abandonment of all prior conceptions to come to the mode of goodness (the religious stage), where one lives happily and begins to serve God?
When one meets a pure devotee, one moves beyond religious generality and becomes absorbed in true transcendence. Srila Prabhupada spoke about this often: ordinary religiosity versus transcendental religiosity. The science of how to transcend the three modes, and thus to transcend Kierkegaard's three stages of life, is found within the sacred pages of Bhagavad-gita.
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to BTG. He has written many books on Krsna consciousness. He and his wife live in New York State.
For anyone interested in
by Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi
High's convenience store is bustling with last-minute shoppers picking up odds and ends for a holiday dinner. Having run out of milk, I find myself in the crowded store, standing in a line that wraps around the food aisle. I resign myself to the waiting, and chant the Hare Krsna mantra softly to myself.
An elderly shabbily dressed woman at the counter draws my attention. She's frantically scratching away at a lottery card—Instant Win Bingo. She crumples the card and stuffs it into her coat pocket, then pulls a five dollar bill from her other pocket, demanding another card. Again she feverishly scratches the card with her cracked thumbnail. Sighing in disappointment, she produces another five dollars. She keeps buying cards until she's out of money, and dejectedly shuffles out of the store.
I imagine that the woman has just spent her Social Security check, hoping for a large return. Yet now she may be left with nothing. Would she have food for the month? Would her rent be paid? I feel sympathy for this small gray-haired woman who has disappeared out into the dreary fog.
By the time I decided to become a devotee of Krsna and aspire for spiritual initiation, I'd already learned from devotees that I'd have to give up certain activities that impede spiritual growth. Those activities, considered the pillars of sinful life, include intoxication, meat-eating, illicit sexual activity, and gambling. Each pollutes our consciousness and is addictive.
Watching the frenzied woman in the convenience store today sparks my desire to understand more about gambling, so I turn to Srila Prabhupada's books.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam tells of a bull, representing religion, and the bull's four legs, representing mercy, truthfulness, cleanliness, and austerity. The Bhagavatam says that meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling erode the integrity of the legs of religion. Meat-eating covers our feelings of mercy. Illicit sexual connections consume our quality of cleanliness. Intoxication impedes our ability to perform austerities and forgo immediate gratification to obtain long-term goals. Gambling destroys truthfulness.
In the current age, Kali-yuga, the bull of religion is wobbling on one leg—truthfulness—the other three having practically been destroyed. Truthfulness is suffering, too, and even the president of the United States gets caught lying under oath.
Gambling with the Truth
How does gambling erode truthfulness? I think back to one of my first psychotherapy clients. Joe, in his late thirties, had recently married for the first time and desperately wanted the marriage to work. But every time he got his paycheck, he'd secretly go to the Atlantic City casinos. Using an elaborate web of lies, he'd explain his absence to his wife. If he lost all his money, often the case, he'd have to lie about the money as well. He'd make up stories: Aunt Berla is dying and needs the money for a respirator; Uncle Martin borrowed the money for his rent. On and on it would go, until his wife no longer could or would believe him and was ready to leave the marriage.
Finally, Joe confessed to the blatant truth: He was a compulsive gambler, an addict swallowed up by an insatiable desire to turn his quarters into dollars with a flick of his wrist. His eyes filled with desperate tears. He begged his wife to stay and promised to get help for his addiction.
An Old Vice
Gambling addictions are much more common than most people think. With gambling legal and easy to find, every day more and more people fall prey to its devastation, their lives becoming ruined.
The gambling vice is nothing new. We can find accounts of it five thousand years ago with the advent of Kali-yuga. From historical Vedic books such as Srimad-Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, we can read stories of how gambling consumes truthfulness. In one narrative, Lord Balarama is playing chess with Krsna's brother-in-law, Prince Rukmi. Being from the royal order, Rukmi was expected to exemplify all good qualities, including truthfulness.
Rukmi and Balarama were playing for larger and larger wagers of gold coins. At first Balarama was losing, but at the end he won a large wager, making up for his losses. Unable to bear the defeat, Rukmi lied, saying that he had actually won. Even when a voice from the heavens declared Balarama the winner, Rukmi refused to yield. Although gambling was sanctioned for warriors and the ruling class, the insidious affects of gambling infiltrated Rukmi's consciousness. Rukmi abandoned truthfulness, a quality coveted by his contemporaries, out of his greed for gold.
In another historical event extensively narrated in Mahabharata, a great gambling match was arranged between the pious, exemplary king Yudhisthira and the wicked Sakuni. Being a king, Yudhisthira Maharaja was obliged to accept any challenge from another person of the royal order. The match was masterminded by his envious cousin King Duryodhana. Through deception and lies, Yudhisthira Maharaja temporarily lost his kingdom. The gambling match was a catalyst for the great Kurukshetra war, wherein millions of warriors died.
These events involving gambling ushered in Kali-yuga, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Over the past few decades, the proliferation of gambling has continued to destroy truthfulness throughout the world. People no longer trust their leaders. Friends lie to each other, as do husbands and wives, students and teachers. The sanctity of truthfulness is wearing thin in all relationships.
Like any vice, gambling has gross and subtle aspects. Betting in a casino and playing the lottery are gross displays of gambling. One subtle form of gambling is mental speculation, the attempt to understand the Absolute Truth through our own experience—in other words, by guessing. Before becoming a devotee, I had tried to understand the Absolute Truth through this faulty process. I had surmised that I wasn't the body and that the soul was waiting to be liberated from my body. While this was an accurate assessment, I concluded that suicide would free the soul from the encasement of the body. Had I acted on my speculation, I would have committed a grave error that would have cost me my opportunity to advance in Krsna consciousness in this human form of life.
Srila Prabhupada also mentions speculative business ventures as gambling. Many devotees have grappled with understanding this point. Some years ago, a friend tried to persuade my husband and me to "invest" $12,000 in a money pyramid. As more and more people put money into the scheme, we would be pushed to the top of the pyramid and make $60,000. The tempting offer was very risky. It was clearly a form of gambling, and we didn't take part.
All business involves some risk. A majority of new businesses fail after the first two years. Yet Srila Prabhupada encouraged devotees to start businesses to support temples, and he himself had a business to support his family. After consulting senior devotees, I've concluded that by speculative business ventures Prabhupada meant high-risk investments where one hopes to reap a big return for a relatively small investment.
Finally, in his definition of gambling Prabhupada sometimes includes cinemas, mundane novels, frivolous sports—anything that wastes time. How is wasting time gambling? Gambling means to risk something, and wasting time means risking time—the most valuable commodity. We can't buy back a single moment of time, even for millions of dollars. Our time on earth is limited and precious. We invest our time in an activity with the hope of some return. By nature we seek pleasure. But material adjustments don't produce lasting solutions. Spiritual activity is the investment that brings permanent results.
Srimad-Bhagavatam gives the historical account of Hiranyakasipu, a powerful king inimical to spiritual culture. Hiranyakasipu used his time to perform great austerities. For one hundred years he stood on one leg. In return he hoped to receive immortality. He received great opulence that made him think he was immortal, but in the end he was killed by the Lord. Hiranyakasipu took the gamble that his investment of a hundred years of austerities would bring him immortality. But he lost his wager to the Lord, who appeared in His half-man, half-lion incarnation to take Hiranyakasipu's life.
On the other hand, Hiranyakasipu's son Prahlada invested his time in glorifying the Lord. He taught his friends about the valuable nature of time and encouraged them to give up frivolous activities and join him in chanting the Lord's holy names. Prahlada wasn't looking for anything in return. He was completely happy to act for the Lord's pleasure. Prahlada's investment of time brought him eternal happiness in pure love of God.
In our early stages of devotional life, to come to Prahlada's high level of consciousness and never engage in frivolous activities or waste our time may seem impossible. But these are benchmarks of our advancement. As we advance, we will value our time and use it carefully to progress in spiritual life.
Advancement occurs naturally as we engage in devotional practices, but as with anything, the more conscientious our practices, the quicker we will realize our goals. The more we apply the simple formula of accepting things favorable for our spiritual life and rejecting things unfavorable, the faster we will become free of unwanted desires and activities.
While I have no desire to play the slot machines or bet at the races, I'm easily pulled into gossip and allured by images on supermarket tabloids. But I've come a long way in Krsna consciousness over the past twenty-four years, and I know if I continue to follow the process, in another twenty-four years I may be free of the more subtle aspects of gambling.
Srila Prabhupada gave us the highest, most sublime goals, and sometimes those can intimidate beginners. Our position may be like that of someone learning to play the piano and feeling discouraged watching the nimble fingers of an advanced student. But with practice, the beginner will see progress. What seems impossible in the beginning will appear more and more attainable.
I won't become discouraged, therefore, that I haven't completely conquered the propensity to gamble. Rather, I can be thankful for all the progress I have made, and I can pray that the gray-haired woman in the convenience store can become free of her gambling addiction and find the real source of her happiness and fulfillment: devotional service to the Lord. And although Srila Prabhupada instructs us not to gamble, by his inspiration I'll continue to bet my life on chanting Hare Krsna, hoping the result will one day be love of God.
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.
by Dravida Dasa
Vrndavana's rivers, lakes, and hills
To those idyllic woods and glens
And as they walked along the way,
With peacock plume upon His head,
His golden-yellow garments glowed,
As Krsna thus began His day
(Inspired by Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.21.2, 5)
A family takes a pilgrimage to
by Kalakantha Dasa
Completely out of season for Vrndavana, a storm announces itself with crackling lightening and booming thunder. Chilly north winds hurl bluish-black clouds across the afternoon sky. Suddenly rain pours and sends everyone running for cover. Caught far from our quarters, my wife (Jitamrta Dasi) and I duck into the secretary's office at ISKCON's Krishna-Balaram Temple. The secretary smiles and invites us to pass the time by looking at her picture book containing photos of the temple opening in 1975. The many photos of Srila Prabhupada include one of His Divine Grace leading an elephant procession from the temple the night of the opening. Among the dozens of beatific faces following him is a thin Westerner looking younger than his twenty years. It was me, on my first trip to India.
Now, twenty-five years later, on a four-month assignment elsewhere in India, my wife and I have resolved to bring our girls, Laxmi (11) and Leela (9), here to Vrndavana. Since we want to raise them as devotees of Krsna, we must do our best to introduce them to Vrndavana, the sacred village of Lord Krsna's youth. Thousands of Krsna temples grace Vrndavana. Their bells ring night and day, blending with the sounds of chanting and of catcalling peacocks to create a Krsna conscious atmosphere found nowhere else.
It's hard to believe how much Vrndavana has changed since 1975. Vrndavana then had few amenities for visitors and devotees. Srila Prabhupada's newly constructed Krishna-Balaram Temple rose high above the quiet, surrounding ashrams on their spacious lots with bird-laden trees. A rural atmosphere prevailed. Not so now. After the phenomenal international response to the Krishna-Balaram Temple, dozens of new temples and ashrams have sprung up all around this formerly serene neighborhood known as Raman Reti. Standing on the road in front of Krishna-Balaram now reminds one of Mumbai at rush hour.
Mundane vision cannot see the true Vrndavana, Lord Krsna's eternal abode. My lovely children appear to be something less than perfect and pure devotees. I wonder if their impression of Vrndavana will be caught up in the comfort of our newly built accommodations or the recently arrived Disneyesque attractions (such as thirty-foot Hanuman and Ganesa statues standing in front of one newly built temple). Or maybe they'll just remember playing with their friends Braja (10) and Pranaya (7), daughters of Sesa Dasa and Madhumati Dasi, our good friends who are graciously hosting us here.
I remember my first impressions of Vrndavana. The historic temples, the many pilgrims, and the ubiquitous calls of "Jaya Radhe!" ("All glories to Krsna's most beloved Srimati Radharani") deeply impressed me with the veracity of my newly adopted Vaisnava practices. Will Vrndavana affect my very independent-minded daughters in the same way? I have three days to show them the Vrndavana I love.
Their mother feels ill today, so I take the girls to see some of the old historic temples of Vrndavana. Five hundred years ago, Vrndavana was a tiny rural village. At that time Lord Krsna, reappearing as Lord Caitanya, dispatched the six Gosvamis, His principal disciples, to Vrndavana. They were to uncover the ancient places of Krsna's pastimes and commemorate them with magnificent temples. Just after sunrise we climb aboard a bicycle ricksha and head off to visit some of these temples.
We stop first at Madana-Mohana, a beautiful temple built by Sanatana Gosvami. The intricately carved red sandstone spire stands atop a high hill, speaking the very essence of holy Vrndavana. I tell the girls how Sanatana blessed a troubled salt merchant who reciprocated by building this temple. They listen, but they are more interested in about fifty frolicking monkeys, dashing and rolling on the temple courtyard, apparently warming up for a hard day of mischief and petty thievery.
It dawns on me that it will be hard to compete with the animals for the girl's interest. Besides the monkeys—famous for stealing eyeglasses from unsuspecting pilgrims and then bartering them back for food—Vrndavana is full of cows, dogs, and an occasional camel. Countless pigs (Vrndavana's sanitation specialists) look plump and proud as they parade their offspring, nozzles down in Vrndavana's narrow concrete open sewers. Darting green parrots seem to merge into leafy trees. Wild peacocks strut their stuff, calling loudly and unexpectedly from trees and rooftops. The girls love it all.
"Monkey alert!" cries Leela, spotting a small pink face watching us intently from a nearby rooftop as we ricksha to the next temple. I remove my glasses and squint.
Madana-Mohana was quiet and almost deserted, just as I remember it. But Rupa Gosvami's Radha-Govinda Temple bustles with tourists, even at this relatively early hour. About two hundred of them crowd around the altar of this large historic red sandstone temple. A pujari shows the deity and distributes caranamrta, sacred water.
I remember coming here in 1975 and exploring nooks and crannies on the second and third floors. At that time it seemed only monkeys and bats had been there for decades. Today there are pujaris and tourists and appreciation for the temple's wonderful architecture—or what the Mogul tyrant Aurangzeb left of it after his seventeenth-century rampage here.
Looking up at the huge lotus-shaped carved center stone suspended thirty feet about the central gallery, the girls share my wonder about how the builders managed to raise it. It's enough to distract them from the hundreds of bats that hang all over it.
Now we head to the quiet and well-maintained Imli-tala Temple, site of a historic tamarind tree under which Lord Caitanya chanted on beads. The sacred Yamuna flows by here, not far from the temple gate. About a hundred meters across a wide sandbar we see a herd of cows and some pilgrims at the water's edge. We decide to go there for a picnic breakfast.
Breakfast with Bulls
As we cross the sandbar and find a sandy riverfront spot, I remember wonderfully purifying swims in the sacred Yamuna in 1975. But I don't mention them to the girls. Sadly, the Yamuna is now so polluted that most parents think twice about putting their offspring in her. A ritual bath of three drops on the head is equivalent to a full immersion, so we settle for that. The herd of cows, about a hundred feet upstream from us, have no such reservations. They've come from some adjacent grassy fields to drink and wade in the Yamuna's waters. The girls watch them, listening as I read from scriptures glorifying the Yamuna.
Now it's breakfast time. Before the main course—a loaf of banananut bread—I pull from my backpack a single large laddu from the Krishna-Balaram Temple. The moment I break the grainy sweet, a large white brahma bull catches wind of it. Immediately he turns his head from the water and begins walking quickly toward us, followed by many others.
It's hard to feel too much fear of gentle cows, but this fifteen-hundred-pound horned specimen does get my attention. By the time he reaches us, we have consumed our sweet, but this fellow is interested in the rest of the contents of our backpack. I put it and the girls behind me and step toward him with a loud "Hut! Hut!" This doesn't deter him in the slightest. He and a dozen of his multi-colored friends close in, aggressively assessing us with their black, wet noses. Standing behind me, the girls stare and hold each other.
Suddenly we hear a sharp, high-pitched "Hey!" Instantly the intruders dash off, followed quickly by another fifty or so cows, oxen, and calves in the herd. As they pass we see following them a wispy-thin boy, no more than six, carrying a stick and looking very much in charge. My charming daughters giggle at the sight of their powerful father rescued by such a lad. I smile and remember Krsna, another Vrndavana cowherd boy who has also rescued me.
Last stop this morning is Radha-Damodara Temple. Here we find lots of action. At the front entrance pilgrims line up for free kitri (a nourishing rice, bean, and vegetable stew). Others crowd the altar for a special darsana. Workmen pound away, installing a new temple office next to the rooms where Srila Prabhupada once lived. In Prabhupada's kitchen we find a devotee distributing prasadam. In Prabhupada's bedroom two devotees chant japa. We then join other pilgrims reverentially circling many historic samadhis (shrines), including those of Rupa and Jiva Gosvamis, two of the six Gosvamis.
On the ricksha ride back to our ashram, I explain that the invading Muslims forced many of the original deities of Vrndavana to be moved to Jaipur. The Deities we've just seen are pratibhu murtis, or replacement deities with the same potency as the originals. But all this is lost on the girls, who are enamored by the sight of a camel pulling a heavy wheat-laden cart. Close up, the camel seems huge.
"He's taller than Sesa Prabhu!" declares Laxmi, citing our six-foot-tall host for comparison.
Their mother is not yet well, so the girls and I set off with five friends for a four-hour boat journey on the Yamuna. Our boatman, Mohan Lal, is a resident of Vrndavana, an auspicious birth. I mention this to the girls. As he starts rowing, Mohan pops into his mouth some pan—a mixture of betel nuts and spices wrapped in a betel leaf. The girls watch him skeptically as his lips grow red and he occasionally spits the mildly intoxicating crimson juice into the sacred river.
Mohan's simple wooden boat is spacious enough for the eight of us, and he sets up a cover to shield us from the burning sun. We leave from Keshi Ghat. Here the Yamuna flows deep and bends gracefully to the long sandstone staircase of the historic bathing ghat where Krsna killed the demon Kesi. Pilgrims stand out on the beautifully carved and domed dark-pink sandstone piers that project from the stairs into the river. Floating by, we see the spire of Madana-Mohana Temple appearing in the background. The village bustle behind us, we now hear little more than the calls of some water birds and the gentle splash of Mohan's oars. Having heard Krsna's pastimes since their days in the womb, the girls now seem caught up in the atmosphere where they took place.
The tranquil scene is broken by the gradually increasing sound of heart-wracking wails. We see on the opposite shore a circle of women of various ages clad in bright multicolored saris. They are indeed crying. One young girl's voice penetrates the general din. "Lala, Lala," she howls, meaning "little brother." Mohan confirms that a nine-year-old village boy has died of disease and has just been cremated here. Madhumati, who is from an Indian family, explains things a little further:
"When a loved one dies," she says, "by tradition friends and family simply spend some days together crying. Everyone expresses grief, and when another friend or relative arrives, a whole new round of crying begins. During this time no one expects anything else of the family. After a few days, the tears dry up. The grief is purged and life goes on."
Shortly after seeing this, Laxmi is shaken by the sight of a human infant's corpse floating past just under the river's surface. Madhumati explains that when very young children die their bodies are not cremated but simply interred in the sacred river. I watch the girls' faces become sober. Such sights, unimaginable in the sterilized West, seem to help bring home to them practical application of the Bhagavad-gita's teachings: the body and the soul are different. The eternal soul is the real person, and once it leaves, the body is fit only for destruction.
Now the river scene becomes idyllic, with little more to see than exotic waterfowl and fields of wheat growing right up to the river's edge. The girls relax and play with Braja and Pranaya as my friend Yaduvara reads a beautiful description of Krsna's pastimes. Another companion, Narayani Dasi, a U.S. born veteran of nearly thirty years in and around India, enthralls the girls with a tale from her early days here.
"I had come with one of the first groups of Srila Prabhupada's disciples to visit Vrndavana," she says. "We stayed in a big old palace near Keshi Ghat. One day, one of the young brahmacaris [celibate male students] in our party saw a cowherd beating a cow with a stick. It seemed too harsh to the young devotee, so he tried to stop the man, and they scuffled. Soon our quarters were surrounded by a mob of outraged villagers. My roommate Malati, expecting to die, adorned her body with large tilaka marks and marched out to confront the crowd armed only with chapatis [flatbread]. Somehow the mob accepted her gesture and dispersed."
Narayani goes on to say that in the Vrndavana of those days one rarely saw a car, what to speak of foreigners. Srila Prabhupada's efforts to convince the locals to accept his disciples eventually bore fruit, in spite of their mistakes. Today, the Vrndavana residents generally accept the international members of ISKCON as sincere devotees of Krsna.
The rest of the day passes pleasantly. We stop and wade in the shallow Yamuna, then enjoy a picnic lunch on the boat as we follow the river to Mathura. Mohan lets us off at Vishram Ghat, where Krsna rested after disposing of the evil Kamsa. We hire a taxi and return to Vrndavana. The girls are tired but report excitedly to their mother about the day's adventures.
My wife has recovered and joins us today. We decide to hire a comfortable jeeplike Tata Sumo for our last day's pilgrimage. The cost—$20 for four hours, driver included—is quite low by Western standards, but equivalent to a month's income for many local people. Our time is short, so, traveling like princesses, today the girls will see Govardhana Hill.
To protect the simple villagers from King Indra's wrath, five thousand years ago Krsna lifted sacred Govardhana Hill, which lies about twenty kilometers from Vrndavana. Today it's a major place of pilgrimage for Lord Krsna's devotees. Thousands come every full-moon day to circle the hill. Many pilgrims traverse the twenty kilometers around the hill by offering their fully prostrated obeisances, standing where their hands have reached, and again prostrating fully in devotion. Ascetics sometimes move piles of 108 stones in this manner, placing one stone at the end of each outstretched prostration, and not stepping forward until the entire pile has been thus moved. Following such processes requires many weeks or months to complete a circumambulation. I point out some such devoted pilgrims to the girls as we whiz past.
Radha Kunda and Syama Kunda
We begin at Radha Kunda and Syama Kunda, two historic and extremely sacred lakes that form the "eyes" of the peacock-shaped Govardhana area. Our sixteen-year-old guide, Kesava, a bright young South African-born graduate of the ISKCON Vrndavana gurukula, directs the driver. As we negotiate the narrow streets near the kundas, a man sitting on a motorcycle spots us in his rear-view mirror as he combs his well-lubricated hair. He sports a mustache, fancy cloth, and betel-red lips. As we stop the car and step down, the large man strides up to the slight Kesava.
"Radha Kunda? Syama Kunda? Gosvami samadhis and bhajan kutirs? I will show you. Come."
"Don't talk to him!" warns Madhumati. "He just wants money."
As I step out of the Sumo and gather the girls, he approaches me with the same offer. "No, thank you," I say firmly. We follow Kesava down to the nearby edge of the kunda and take three drops of the sacred water on our heads. I explain to the girls how these two lakes were dug by Radha and Krsna for each other, and how their waters contain all holy rivers. I also relate to them how Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami, one of Lord Caitanya's principal followers, excavated the kundas to their present size and then lived here chanting Hare Krsna in profound love for nearly fifty years. The girls are interested. We proceed to Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami's nearby bhajan kutir, or place of chanting. Our would-be guide follows closely behind.
Tightly packed ashrams surround both kundas, but this one is particularly sweet. Here wise and mellow-looking devotees continuously sing melodious bhajans (hymns). We circle a modest shrine to Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami and see the beautiful Deities worshiped by Jahnava Devi, the divine associate of Lord Nityananda and Lord Caitanya.
I ask Kesava to take Laxmi and me the short distance to the place where Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami chronicled Lord Caitanya's life in Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. Kesava is a bit uncertain about which way to go. Before he can ask someone, our would-be guide, who has been lurking within earshot, grabs him by the arm and says, "Come," dragging him out the door. Laxmi and I have no choice but to follow.
The nearby shrine is closed.
"Come, I will show you other places," says our eager guide.
We decline and return to the rest of our group. Together we step out onto Jahnava Devi's beautiful sitting place, a twenty-foot-square stone platform raised above the kunda. It's a perfect spot to see all of Radha Kunda, yet removed from the many pilgrims on the opposite bank.
Wide-eyed, the girls take in the surroundings. Madhumati and her two daughters show them Jahnava Devi's private bathing place, steps hewed through the platform where she could descend to the kunda without being seen by anyone. The girls go carefully down the steps and touch the sacred water to their heads. Kesava describes various pastimes associated with Radha Kunda. I happily sense that the girls are now drinking in the Vrndavana atmosphere.
"Come, come! I will show you more places, better places!"
Our aspiring guide has followed us here and managed to break the spell.
"Sir," I tell him, "we know where to go. How much will you charge to just leave us alone?"
"You go back to Vrndavana!" he says, and stalks off.
I've been cursed in worse ways. The risk of the offense seems worth a few more minutes of commercial-free tranquillity.
We return to our car via Syama Kunda, but many other locals vie for our attention for one thing or another. It disturbs the girls, and they're eager to go. I sigh as we climb back into the Sumo, leaving behind this holiest of holy places.
We stop next at Kusum Sarovara, a breathtaking, picture-perfect shrine set back from the road behind a large kunda. I recall swimming here with hundreds of ISKCON brahmacaris in 1975. It's nearly deserted. Followed by their mothers, the girls run over to the inviting steps going down to the kunda and begin to play in the water. Kesava and I go to another side of the kunda to swim. Soon the ladies are calling us. Part of Leela's favorite Punjabi outfit has blown into the water. Kesava makes a valiant effort to find it, but it has sunk into the deep, murky waters. Leela is despondent.
To cheer her we walk upstairs to the shrines. On this spot the cowherd maidens of Vrndavana once picked flowers for Krsna, hence the name Kusum (flower) Sarovara (lake). A Vaisnava king built the three beautiful edifices we are now seeing as memorials for himself and his queens. They are nonetheless dedicated to Radha and Krsna, whose footprints appear in the center of each shrine, surrounded by fresh flowers, a sign of daily worship.
An elderly sadhu approaches us, accompanied by a younger Indian woman in a sari. She is Palindri Devi Dasi, a South African-born ISKCON devotee residing in Scotland who is now on assignment here. She cares for the elderly sadhu and his wife. The girls listen closely as she explains their story.
The sadhu, now eighty-three, became the resident priest here when he was thirteen. He has faithfully served here all his life. He and his wife reside in a small temple next to the lake. The large deities in that temple were stolen by British as "souvenirs." Today, with Palindri's help, he and his wife worship simple Radha-Krsna deities and silas (small sacred stones) in the temple and greet visitors to Kusum Sarovara.
The sadhu is a wonderful gentleman and tells us many of Krsna's pastimes associated with the area. Madhumati and Palindri translate his Hindi descriptions. The walls and ceilings of each shrine sport faded but beautiful paintings of Krsna's pastimes. He takes us to his favorite painting, in which Krsna is braiding Radha's hair. Radha holds a mirror, but rather than looking at her hair she is looking at Krsna. Krsna looks back at Radha's eyes in the mirror instead of paying attention to braiding. We are all pleased and charmed.
Feeling rejuvenated, we proceed to our next stop, ISKCON's new center at Govardhana. I've heard bits and pieces about it, but I don't know what to expect. We are all in for a pleasant surprise. The center is beautiful and the devotees gracious. The president, Gaura Narayana Dasa, tells us the building's history.
"A king in Madhya Pradesh, central India, was a great devotee of Govardhana and built this as a palace for spiritual retreats. Later his son, Maharaja Bhavani Singh, also came here occasionally but was unable to maintain it. He decided to sell the property to a spiritual organization that would use it for its original purpose. He sold it to ISKCON for a modest price, over the objections of many other prospective buyers who offered much more money but had commercial purposes in mind."
Since ISKCON acquired the property six years ago, many devotees have contributed time and money to renovate the historic structure. The entire compound, which rests on about 1.5 acres immediately adjacent to the highest point of Govardhana Hill, reflects construction and design guidelines from India's ancient Vastu scriptures. The building is an auspicious 108 by 108 feet. Its front entrance faces east, despite Govardhana Hill's being to the west. The walls are very thick—two to three feet—because, as Gaura Narayana explains, "Govardhana is one of the hottest inhabited places on earth."
The thick walls seem to work, for the rooms are surprisingly cool on this hot spring day. We tour the Maharaja's room, expecting something quite plush, but instead find only a small, simple suite of bedroom, sitting room, and bath. The queen's quarters are the same. On the roof we see guard rooms, now guest rooms, on each corner.
Climbing another set of stairs we reach a special bhajan kutir built for the king. Here one can sit and chant while contemplating Govardhana and the nearby Harideva Temple, where Lord Caitanya danced. Clearly the king was quite religious. The new owners are indeed using the building for its intended purpose.
The girls are impressed as Gaura Narayana shows us a collection of silas—sacred stones from Govardhana—in the front yard. When the devotees occupied the property, they selected one of the many silas there to worship on the main temple altar and set the rest on an outdoor altar beneath a tree. In the ensuing years, this particular tree has grown into an umbrella for the silas. It is quite unusual, be-cause the branches have grown out and down instead of up as do all the other trees in the yard.
Gaura Narayana serves us a delicious lunch, and we take his leave. Being tender-footed pilgrims, we conclude our circumambulation by car, passing thou-sands of simple and humble pilgrims walking and offering prostrated prayers to Govardhana. We chant Krsna's names as we return to the Krishna-Balaram Temple in Vrndavana.
It's time to return to the West. Later, back in school, the girls write about their trip.
Leela writes, "Vrndavana is a beautiful village full of cows, monkeys, peacocks, parrots, hogs, people, and dogs. There are beautiful temples and lakes like Syama Kunda and Radha Kunda and Kusum Sarovara (a temple with a lake in front). It was nice in India, but it is nice to be home."
Laxmi writes, "Vrndavana is special because Krsna grew up there. I wish we could have stayed longer than just three days."
It is said that one who circumambulates Govardhana escapes the cycle of birth and death and goes back to Godhead. Similar blessings are there for those who bathe in the Yamuna or spend one night in Vrndavana. Who can predict how my children will live their lives or how deeply Vrndavana has touched them? I know only that I have done my fatherly duty by introducing them to Vrndavana. By doing so I feel I have fulfilled a duty to my spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada, who kindly introduced Vrndavana to me.
Kalakantha Dasa, author of The Song Divine (a lyrical rendition of the Bhagavad-gita), lives in Gainesville, Florida, with his wife and children. He is the resource development director for the Mayapur Project.
3: Remembrance—Keeping Our Thoughts on Krsna
Here's a powerful method of yoga—or connecting with God—
by Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, 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.
There's nothing special about the girl to show that she might be religious. No veil, no long skirt, no crucifix dangling from a chain. In a mall she would blend in easily, with droopy jeans and clumpy shoes. And yet as she lifts her hand to push back a strand of bleached hair, I see the bracelet around her wrist: a simple cord with beads spelling WWJD, followed by a question mark. "What Would Jesus Do?" In that movement, her religious faith is revealed.
What would Jesus do? How many times a day does she glance at her wrist and pause in her activities? How often does the bracelet remind her to be compassionate, tolerant, strong in her beliefs? By continually refocusing herself in this way, the girl is practicing one of the items of devotional service: remembrance. Called smaranam in Sanskrit, it is the third of the nine items of devotional service.
On the most basic level, remembrance may be the easiest way to worship the Lord. No need for elaborate rituals and paraphernalia, no need for a congregation or even a companion. Remembrance can be a simple, unadorned journey of the heart, back to the most beloved friend we all have. Or it might be a flash of warning, an awareness that our actions will pain our Lord in some way. Or it can be the bittersweet realization that all in this world is temporary, and that that is the mercy of God. In countless ways we can remember.
Implicit in the concept of remembrance is forgetfulness. If remembering means coming back to our personal experience of God, then there must have been some departure. This departure, this forgetting, is the main attribute of living beings in this world and the cause of our pain. Forgetfulness may begin as neglect of spiritual practices, a wandering mind, a careless attitude. Then other things seem to rise in importance: wealth, prestige, family, education. We compromise spiritual principles as our heart hardens and turns away from the comfort of our natural servitude.
We might reach a point where remembering God brings pain. A child may dress in the robes of a king and play at ruling others. But when the real king shows up, the fun is over. We may play at manipulating our world, at squeezing out pleasure for ourselves, and do our best to avoid contact with the real ruler. We come to believe that if we acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord, He will ruin our fun.
Yet at times we may notice a stirring, a sense of some truth forgotten. We may despair that life seems hurried and empty. Forgetting God is so truly unnatural for the soul that it creates varying degrees of agony. And the more we have banished the Lord from our consciousness, the less able we are to find a remedy for the pain. A new car doesn't help. A new romance doesn't help. Exotic vacations don't help.
The classic example is that of a bird living in a golden cage. The cage can be polished, shined, and admired, but if the bird within is not fed, it will die. The soul is encaged within the body and embellished with all the desires relating to the body. Polishing the body and its desires brings no nourishment to the soul. And while the soul itself does not die, it suffers terribly in separation from the Lord.
We can help prevent such a situation by structuring our lives to provide us with constant reminders. Ritual and congregation play an important role. If our days begin with sacred rituals—chanting mantras and prayers, reading and discussing scripture—each day gives us the opportunity to remember. If we set up a ritual of offering all we eat to the Lord, and offering prayers of gratitude before we eat, we are again reminded of Him. If we surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our passion for serving Krsna, their energy and devotion replenish and inspire us.
In the same way that athletes grow strong through training, our ability to remember God can strengthen through daily training. Eventually, remembrance becomes our normal condition. The state of constant remem-brance is described in many religious traditions, and in Sanskrit it is called samadhi. Samadhi need not be passive, a physical withdrawal from the world as one becomes immersed in thoughts of God. Rather, samadhi is the awakened realization that all in this world is but a reflection of Him. Everything belongs to Him and can be used to serve and praise Him.
Srila Prabhupada compared remembrance of Krsna to a mother's feelings of love when she sees her small child's shoe. A self-realized soul sees all things intimately connected with the Lord. The mother doesn't try to wear the shoe, and the self-realized soul doesn't try to exploit the world for temporal gain. The love and joy come only from the connection with the beloved.
The Example of Prahlada
Srila Prabhupada points to Prahlada Maharaja as one who reached perfection by remembering the Lord. As a child, Prahlada showed pure trust amid extreme danger. His father, Hiranyakasipu, was an exceedingly horrible parent. His terrifying austerities altered the balance of the universe. Frightened devas (demigods) begged him to stop, which he did only when Lord Brahma offered him protections that would render him virtually immortal.
With such power and determination, Hiranyakasipu became a tyrant who ruled the world. Everyone lived in fear of him. He reserved special wrath for Lord Visnu, who had killed his brother. Enter son Prahlada. Prahlada had developed devotion to Lord Visnu while still in his mother's womb. Despite the efforts of his teachers to crush his devotion and interest him in his father's vulgar politics, Prahlada continually sang praises of the Lord. It was Prahlada who at the age of five described the nine processes of devotional service. Eventually Prahlada's devotion infected his schoolmates, and landed him in big trouble with his father.
Now, an ordinary Dad might withhold supper or send his son to his room. But Hiranyakasipu was given to extreme behavior. He tried to kill Prahlada. He had his servants pierce Prahlada's body with tridents, poison his food, boil him in oil, and hurl him under the feet of an elephant. Prahlada just sat silently and remembered the Lord—a powerful form of resistance. All attempts on his life failed.
A true lover of God, Prahlada did not beseech the Lord to save him from his dangers. He simply remembered and appreciated the Lord's greatness and thus found complete peace. His love for Krsna was unconditional.
Remembering at Death
To remember the Lord at death is a great fortune. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna says, "Whoever at the end of his life quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt." The opportunity to meditate on the Lord at the end of life does not come to everyone. In commenting on this verse, Prabhupada cautions, "Remembrance of Krsna is not possible for the impure soul who has not practiced Krsna consciousness in devotional service." We can't predict what the last moments of our lives will be like. Death can be an extremely painful and difficult moment, and the likelihood of remembering Krsna at such a time depends on His grace and our practice.
Dvarakadisa Devi Dasi is a frequent contributor to Back to Godhead. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alachua, Florida.
Spirituality Without Spirit
Jill, a student at a local college where I sometimes lecture, is typical of many people I meet: She considers herself spiritual but not religious. Her spirituality doesn't include God, she says, at least not God defined as "the Supreme Being."
"I don't want to be told what to believe," says Jill, who doesn't identify with any religion. "I want to discover the truth myself."
And she wants more than just faith.
"I want a spiritual experience," she says. "Then I'll know."
I asked her what a spiritual experience would feel like. Would the joy she feels on a beautiful day count? The delight of seeing a friend's smile? The satisfaction of saving the rainforests?
Keith, another student, says it all depends on how you see these things. Your attitude determines whether you're living spiritually or not.
"You know—just feel spiritual."
But is that it? Attitude? Does thinking you're spiritual make it so?
I prefer one of the Bhagavad-gita's insights: "Seers of the truth have concluded that . . . of the existent there is no cessation." Spiritual means existing eternally. A spiritual experience connects you with the eternal.
We're eternal, so it shouldn't be too hard to have a spiritual experience. But it is hard, because our consciousness drowses in these temporary bodies in a temporary world. Absorbed in temporary concerns, we rarely think about the eternal.
I suggested to Jill and Keith that they try chanting Hare Krsna. Srila Prabhupada traveled to the West to teach spiritual truth and give out spiritual experiences. "Just chant Hare Krsna," Prabhupada told us, "and you will realize your eternal self."
The sound Hare Krsna is not part of this world; it's a direct, personal appeal to the all-spiritual Absolute Truth, the source of everything. Krsna is eternal, we're eternal, and our exchanges of love with Him are eternal. Those exchanges, known as bhakti, are the highest spiritual experience.
Srila Prabhupada decried vague definitions of spirituality. The Truth is one, he would point out; you can't whimsically claim that your good thoughts, your golf game, and your romances are spiritual.
Krsna tells us that even in the present body the eternal soul can realize spirit in one of the three aspects of God: His unlimited spiritual energy, His form in our heart, and His original, personal form. To see God in any of these aspects takes many years of purification, of curing our consciousness of its addiction to matter. We have to follow an authorized process under a spiritual teacher's guidance. All aspects of Krsna are pure spirit, so to touch them—to have a spiritual experience—we must also become pure.
For spiritual seekers like Jill and Keith, to be honest with themselves is important. After speaking with them for some time, I felt comfortable suggesting they consider whether they're really looking for the truth, or only for what appeals to them.
Many seekers stop short of the full picture of the truth and end up with a conception of spirit without personality. To think we're getting spirituality without having to submit to God may be temporarily satisfying. But if we want a full spiritual experience, we'll have to fill in the picture with the Supreme Spirit, the Personality of Godhead.
The Lord is not like a shopkeeper trying to please all sorts of customers in the mental speculator exchange. The Lord is what He is, the Absolute Personality of Godhead, and He demands absolute surrender unto Him only.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
I continually glorified the Lord and meditated upon Him for millions of years, and at last I was able to understand the transcendental form of the Lord as Sri Krsna, in the dress of a cowherd boy.
Persons intoxicated by worldly affairs of sense gratification and persons who subscribe to impersonal philosophy both maintain their lives uselessly, because they are devoid of devotion to the Lord.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
The greatest wonder in human society is this: People are so incorrigible that they reject the life-giving nectar of Lord Narayana's names and instead drink poison by speaking everything else.
Always be intoxicated by singing the Lord's holy names and glorifying the Lord's pastimes. Then you will attain the treasure that is the Lord's feet. You will attain the goal of life.
Sri Radhamohana Dasa (Follower of Caitanya Mahaprabhu)
The process of chanting the holy name of the Lord is so powerful that by this chanting even householders can very easily gain the ultimate result achieved by persons in the renounced order.
Sri Narada Muni
The Ganges, Yamuna, Godavari, and Sarasvati rivers, as well as all holy places of pilgrimage, reside where the transcendental topics of the infallible Supreme Personality of Godhead are narrated.
The towns and cities on this earth that were dear to Lord Krsna, and where He stayed and enjoyed pastimes, eternally exist in the spiritual world. In those places in the spiritual world, Lord Krsna eternally enjoys pastimes.