OUR COVER STORY in this issue takes us outside India to a place where the Vedic culture once showed great influence. Though Angkor Wat today is more a tourist destination than a holy site, pilgrims can still find spiritual inspiration there. A deity of Lord Krsna's expansion Visnu is still worshiped in the main temple, even as time ravages much of the surrounding complex.
This issue coincides with the anniversary of the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (shown at right), whom I've written about in my column "From the Editor." To celebrate that day, the young students at Padma Academy, a Krsna conscious school in North Carolina, made exhibits depicting scenes from the lives of Lord Caitanya and His associates. The article "Honoring the Land of Lord Caitanya" shows their work.
Besides overseeing the class project, Padma Academy teacher Campakalata Devi Dasi wrote an article for this issue about a childhood friend: "The 3-Year-Old Preacher I'll Never Forget," while her mother, Padma Academy founder and BTG associate editor Nrmila Devi Dasi, begins a series of articles on chanting the holy names with a firsthand account of a Saturday-night chanting party in downtown London.
Hare Krsna.—Nagaraja Dasa
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
• To expose the faults of materialism.
• To offer guidance in the Vedic techniques of spiritual life.
• To preserve and spread the Vedic culture.
• To celebrate the chanting of the holy names of God as taught by Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
• To help every living being remember and serve Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead.
Touched by Tribhuvanatha Dasa
Ranchor, Addha, and Kirti Kishor Prabhus brought tears to my eyes with their remembrances of Tribhuvanatha Prabhu [Jan/Feb, 2003], whom I met in 1971 in London, where he was the temple president. Because Prabhupada and Syamasundara, who was then in charge of ISKCON in the U.K., were traveling abroad, the eighteen-year-old Tribhuvanatha was responsible for Prabhupada's movement in London. During the months we worked together in England, Tribhuvanatha impressed me deeply.
In 1978 we met in India, and he related stories about going to "boom boom Beirut," a city plagued with artillery fire. Again he touched me.
Although I saw him infrequently over thirty years, I followed his career with strong interest. My life has been enriched by his wonderful example, by his enthusiasm, austerity, and determination. However, beyond these great qualities, he was really loveable. For that reason I carry him in my heart.
New York, New York
Worthy of Praise by All
I read with pleasure the glorification of Tribhuvanatha Dasa in the latest issue of BTG. I want to share my impression of His Grace and why he touched so many.
I recall when I returned from India my first time in August 1971, I stopped over in London to see Srila Prabhupada, who was celebrating Vyasa Puja there at that time. I was ill and had to be hospitalized. Tribhuvanatha came to the hospital every day with prasadam for me, and he sat and read Srimad-Bhagavatam and other books to me while I rested. His bright smile and affection were not at all official, but rather the genuine appearance of a loving devotee of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara (the deities of the London temple). Even though Srila Prabhupada was present in the London temple at that time, Tribhuvanatha graciously sacrificed his own precious time with Srila Prabhupada to visit me each day. I cannot forget his wonderful personality.
In the last few months before his passing, he and I communicated by e-mail several times. He was well aware of his impending death. He was not afraid, nor did he want to be a bother to others. Knowing as he does that Sri Krsna takes many forms, including that of death, there is nothing for the devotee to fear. Indeed, Srila Prabhupada taught us to see Krsna in everything, not least of which is the time of death.
Although Tribhuvanatha Dasa is well remembered for his dedicated organization of Krsna conscious programs throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, he is also well remembered by his friends and well-wishers as a warm, friendly, self-sacrificing devotee of the highest order. He never looked to be praised himself, although he is worthy to be praised by all. He will be sorely missed by those whose lives he touched.
Pusta Krsna Dasa
Santa Cruz, California
ISKCON and Child Abuse
Recently, on the ABC News Web site, there was a transcript of a television broadcast describing some troubling allegations of child abuse in the ISKCON-run schools during the '70s and '80s. I am a follower of Lord Krsna and am currently reading the works of Srila Prabhupada, which I have been very impressed with. So I find these allegations deeply troubling, especially as I have a young son. The broadcast seemed rather biased in its reporting, but the people interviewed seemed sincere.
I have studied ISKCON history, both pro and con, and this subject has come up, but I did not realize that there was a current court case with a damage claim in the millions of dollars. The broadcast led me to believe that this was really serious. Yes? Or just bunk?
Durham, North Carolina
REPLY BY Dhira Govinda Dasa of the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection: Mistreatment of children has been found to be an unfortunate reality in many organizations and societies, and regrettably ISKCON has not been immune to it. It is true that there is a current court case connected with allegations of child maltreatment in ISKCON during past decades.
An essential Vaisnava principle is protection of children, and any form of neglect or maltreatment of children and youth is contrary to Vedic values. In the past decade, since discovering the problem, ISKCON has taken steps to prevent and rectify it. In 1998 the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection (ICOCP) was established. In cooperation with state governments and social service authorities, the office investigates and adjudicates past and present cases of alleged child maltreatment connected with ISKCON. The ICOCP helps ISKCON temples and schools institute child-protection education programs for children, parents, managers, and all members of temple communities. The office also helps temples and schools set up screening procedures for staff and volunteers and develop community child-protection teams. Additionally, the office has operated a grant program, for purposes such as educational development and mental-health therapy, for youth who were mistreated when they were children under the care of ISKCON.
How Can God Be Born?
I am a scholar at the University of Cape Town (South Africa) and have recently become quite interested in the teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I was somewhat pleased with the opportunity to read the compilation of interviews, lectures, and essays contained in the publication The Science of Self-Realization. But after reading a certain distance into the chapter titled "Real Advancement Means Knowing God," I became completely disillusioned and could no longer bear to read further. What propelled me to place the book aside and to construct this e-mail was the proceeding paragraph (about the infinite and unlimited strength of the All-mighty): "His strength was present from the moment of His birth. When Krsna was only three months old."
What do you mean when God was "only three months old"? God the son of whom? Surely His father must have been the Divine Creator and not Krsna—whom, it seems to be suggested in the text of His Divine Grace, was created himself.
In many religious texts, God refers to Himself as the "One that was, the One that is, and the One that shall be." Stating that God was born seems to purport that there was a stage prior to His "creation" and thus necessarily negates who God "was." If that is so, then surely one may begin to question who God "is," and if at all He "shall be."
Cape Town, South Africa
REPLY BY Krsna-krpa Dasa: Krsna is described in the Vedic scriptures to be God Himself. He always exists in the spiritual world in His original spiritual form, and He comes here on occasion. Great devotees of the Lord play the role of His father and mother, and thus He enjoys playing as a child, and His parents enjoy the pleasure of serving Him.
Because He is unlimited, naturally Krsna's birth and activities are difficult for us limited beings to understand. The great saint Queen Kunti praises Lord Krsna in this way: "Of course it is bewildering, O soul of the universe, that You work, though You are inactive, and that You take birth, though You are the vital force and the unborn."
God seems to take birth, but factually He always exists in His spiritual form. Although Krsna stayed in human society for 125 years, His spiritual body looked no older than sixteen years. And because He is God Himself, His body is full of all spiritual potencies even when He seems to be just three months old.
These are important topics. Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that one who understands the transcendental nature of His birth and activities does not have to accept a material body, but can return to Him in the spiritual world at the end of this life.
Please write to us at: BTG, P. O. Box 430, Alachua, FL 32616, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why wait to accept the key for leaving this place of repeated birth and death?
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
yaya sammohito jiva
"Due to this external energy, the living entity, although transcendental to the three modes of material nature, thinks of himself as a material product and thus undergoes the reactions of material miseries."
Our Present Position is like this: We are sammohitah, bewildered, puzzled by maya, the illusory energy. We are all eternal parts of God, but on account of being enchanted by the material energy, or the external energy of God, we have forgotten our identity and we are now entangled. We have forgotten our goal of life.
The spirit soul is conditioned by the laws of material nature, which force us to accept a certain type of body according to our propensity. We create that propensity, and Krsna is so kind that He gives us the facility: "All right." If a person wants to suck blood, he will be given the facility of a tiger's body. If a person has no discrimination in eating, he will be given the facility of becoming a pig. Up to stool, he can eat.
This is stated very clearly in Bhagavad-gita (18.61):
This is very significant. Yantrarudhani mayaya. We are riding on a machine. The body is a machine, but we are accepting the machine as the self. This is called sammohitah, bewilderment. If you are driving in a car and you think, "I am the car," that is foolishness. Similarly, I have this yantra (machine)—my body—and it is running on account of my presence. If I identify myself with this body, that is called sammohitah. Yaya sammohito jiva. When the driver [the soul] goes away, then I see that the car [the body] is not moving and I can understand, "Oh, the driver, my father, or my son, has gone away." We sometimes cry, "My father has gone away" or "My son has gone away," but because we are sammohitah, we actually never saw the father or the son. We accepted the body as the father or son.
The Result Of Understanding The Gita
All this is very clearly explained in the Bhagavad-gita. Krsna's last instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is "Just surrender unto Me." If you actually understand Bhagavad-gita, the result will be that you surrender to Krsna. Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: "Give up all varieties of dharma and surrender unto Me." Dharma means occupational duty. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Narada Muni says, "If someone thinks, 'Let me stop all other business and become Krsna conscious,' he is fortunate even if he says it out of sentiment, without thorough understanding." He is fortunate because he accepts the real thing. Therefore Narada Muni says, "Even if someone accepts Krsna consciousness out of sentiment but later on, before his execution of devotional service is imature, he falls down, then where is the loss for that person? On the other hand, a person who has not accepted Krsna consciousness but is very regularly executing his material responsibility—what does he gain by that?" That is Narada's opinion.
This point is very important: By material activities we do not gain anything. We gain only another body, to begin another chapter in the same struggle for existence. According to our karma we shall have to accept a body, just as we develop a certain type of disease when we are infected by the germ for that disease. If you are infected with the smallpox virus, you have to suffer from smallpox. Nature's law is so strict; you cannot avoid it. If you have been attacked by the mosquito carrying the malaria germ, then you have to suffer from malaria.
Just as we take precautions against being infected with malaria or smallpox, we should be very cautious about our next body. If we become cautious, then there is the chance of being promoted to a higher situation in the next life.
If one takes to Krsna consciousness even out of sentiment, that is the greatest profit from any position, whether one is a brahmana, a ksatriya, a vaisya, a sudra, or a candala [outcaste]. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (9.32): mam hi partha vyapasritya ye 'pi syuh papa-yonayah. The word papa-yoni refers to lower-class persons. If even they take shelter of the lotus feet of Krsna or His devotee, they become purified. There is no bar for anyone.
Krsna consciousness is so nice. If we take to it as our goal of life, then our life is successful. Otherwise—yaya sammohito jiva atmanam tri-gunatmakam—we shall continue the life of changing this body. That we have to do. We cannot be independent. If we think we are independent, that is due to our ignorance. We are not independent. We should always remember this. We are dependent on the laws of nature. We cannot say, "Now I have made a scientific discovery and we shall not die." That is not possible. You must die. That is the law of nature. You must die, you must take birth, you must become diseased, and you must suffer from old age. These are the four disadvantages of material existence.
In the next verse it is said,
"The material miseries of the living entity, which are superfluous to him, can be directly mitigated by the linking process of devotional service. But the mass of people do not know this, and therefore the learned Vyasadeva compiled this Vedic literature, which is in relation to the Supreme Truth." This Srimad-Bhagavatam is satvata-samhitam, spiritual knowledge. It has nothing to do with anything material. Simply spiritual knowledge. Vidvan, meaning "the most learned," refers to Vyasadeva, the author of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Srimad-bhagavate maha-muni-krte. He is maha-muni. Muni means thoughtful philosopher, and Vyasadeva is maha-muni: greater than any other thoughtful philosopher.
He is also called Veda-vyasa, which means he compiled all the Vedic literature. He summarized the whole Vedic knowledge into the Vedanta-sutra, composed of aphorisms with very deep meaning. And this Srimad-Bhagavatam is the commentary on the Vedanta-sutra by the author himself under the instruction of his guru, Narada Muni, who told him, "Write about the Supreme Personality of Godhead."
Realization By Bhakti-Yoga
In a previous verse of this section, we read about how Vyasadeva received his realization:
"Thus he fixed his mind, perfectly engaging it by linking it in devotional service [bhakti-yoga] without any tinge of materialism, and thus he saw the Absolute Personality of Godhead along with His external energy, which was under full control." Bhakti-yoga is also mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita. Bhagavad-gita is bhakti-yoga. There are descriptions of jnana-yoga, karma-yoga, hatha-yoga, and other yogas, but at last Krsna advises, "The most confidential part of knowledge I am speaking to you, Arjuna, is this: Give up all other dharmas and surrender unto Me." That surrender is the real gain. That is bhakti-yoga: to surrender unto the Supreme Lord.
By bhakti-yoga you can cleanse your mind of all contamination immediately. If you want to be liberated from the contamination of material existence, or the modes of material nature, then take to bhakti-yoga. That is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (14.26):
mam ca yo 'vyabhicarena
"One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman." We are Brahman, spirit—there is no doubt about it. But we have no realization of that because maya has captured us. We should be after liberation. Srimad-Bhagavatam defines liberation: muktir hitvanyatha rupam svarupena vyavasthitih. Liberation means to be situated in our svarupa, our spiritual life, after giving up all material activities. Material activities are not our actual business. Our actual business is spiritual activity.
Material activity means to keep the body in a comfortable position. And the body is changing. Today I may be a very great Indian leader or a very good philanthropist. Tomorrow, or the next life, I may not be Indian; I may be Chinese, or I may be European. Then my whole business will change—another nationality, another feeling. And if I become a cat or a dog, then another mentality. This is going on.
I am forgetting that my identification is spiritual—aham brahmasmi—and I am accepting all these unnecessary things, or anarthas. If I want to stop these anarthas, if I want to keep myself in my original spiritual identity, then I have to take to bhakti-yoga. That is the conclusion of the sastra, the scripture.
I am not the body, but I have to change the body after a hundred years or ten years or fifty years, according to the size. The dogs and cats change their body in ten years, the cows twenty years, human beings at most a hundred years, and the demigods many millions of years. But death is there. You have to change the body.
When Hiranyakasipu executed very severe austerity, Lord Brahma came to him and asked, "What do you want? You are executing such severe austerities. What is your desire?"
"I want to become immortal."
Brahma said, "That is not possible. Nobody is immortal within the material world. I am not immortal. How can I give you the benediction of immortality? That is not possible."
Everyone is under the laws of nature. The duration of time may be a little more or less, but everyone must die. It is said in the Bhagavad-gita (2.20):
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
"For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." But people do not ask, "If I am immortal—if I have no birth, no death—then why am I accepting birth and death and old age and disease? This is my problem." We do not think that way, nor are we educated to think that way. But in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9), Lord Krsna explains the process for stopping the repetition of birth and death:
janma karma ca me divyam
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." Krsna says that if you simply try to understand Him in truth—tattvatah—then your cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease will stop. You will still have to give up this body; that is certain. But after giving up this body, you'll get no more material body. Then what happens? Is your existence finished? No. Krsna says, mam eti: "He comes to Me. He comes back home."
And when you go there, then you must possess the same type of body as Krsna. For example, if you want to enter the sun, then you must have a body made of fire. Our present body is made of earth, and there are bodies made of air, water, fire—the five material elements. If you go back home, back to Godhead, you have to gain your original, spiritual body.
There is a spiritual body. That we do not know. There is no education about this. We have got a spiritual body, and that spiritual body is covered by the material layer, just as your body is covered by a shirt and coat. When our dress becomes old and rotten, we throw it away and accept another dress. Similarly, this body, when it is not workable—when it is old enough and the physiological function is not going on nicely—then there is change of body.
Krsna advised Arjuna, "Why are you lamenting for your old grandfather? Better to kill him. He will get a new body." Of course, it was spoken jokingly, but the fact is that after the old body there will be a new body. We have already had several changes of body: babyhood to childhood, childhood to boyhood, boyhood to youth, and so on, up to the old body. Then after that—vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya—when we give up this body like an old and rotten dress, we get another.
This is going on. But this is anartha. Anartha means that unnecessarily we are undergoing this change of body. If you want to stop it directly, immediately, what is the process? Bhakti-yogam adhoksaje: devotional service to Lord Krsna. That is the statement of Vyasadeva. And Krsna confirms it in the Bhagavad-gita (14.26):
mam ca yo 'vyabhicarena
"One who engages in full devotional service, unfailing in all circumstances, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman."
Devotional service to Lord Krsna is the real purpose of life, the real purpose of religion. Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.6) says, sa vai pumsam paro dharmo yato bhaktir adhoksaje: devotional service to Krsna is first-class religion. It doesn't matter what kind of religion you are following, but if the religious system teaches you how to become a devotee of Adhoksaja—adhoksaja means the Supreme Lord, "beyond our sense perception"—then your life is perfect. Then you will be happy.
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
"The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self." If you want satisfaction, if you want real life, then accept this: yato bhaktir adhoksaje, devotional service to Adhoksaja.
We are engaged in the struggle for existence. "Survival of the fittest," they say. But nobody is fit to survive. Everyone has to die. Nobody—even big, big scientists or big, big philosophers—can survive. They talk of things in the range of millions of years, but personally they live only fifty or sixty years. This is their position. They simply cheat people: "maybe," "perhaps," "millions of years." And they are going to live for fifty years. Why talk of millions of years?
Now we are taking one body after another: human being, cat, dog hog, tree—8,400,000 species of life. But if you are actually intelligent, if you are disgusted, you will think, "This is not very good business. Being bewildered by the material energy, I have been forced to take these bodies. I am trying to be happy here in the material world, but that is not my business."
One must come to that conclusion, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita (7.19): bahunam janmanam ante . . . "After many, many births, one who is actually in knowledge surrenders to Krsna." Krsna says, "Surrender to Me." We have to do that, so why wait for many, many births? Why not do it now? That is intelligence. Why not become wise immediately? Krsna is canvassing. Why not take it up? If you take it up, you are successful. Tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam hareh. Even if by sentiment you take it up, you will be successful; it is so nice.
There is no certainty what kind of body we shall get next. That is our position. If we want to stop this business, we must take to bhakti-yoga. How to execute bhakti-yoga? The people in general do not know. For everything there must be education. Lokasyaja-nato vidvams cakre satvata-samhitam. Srila Vyasadeva compiled the Srimad-Bhagavatam for your eternal life. Here is the education: Vedic literature. Take it and study it and follow it and be happy.
Thank you very much.
Sensual pleasures pale in comparison to the higher taste of devotion to Lord Krsna.
By Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi
I SIT AT THE lunch table with some of my colleagues as we say goodbye to one of our co-workers. I'm soon reminded of why I tend to stay away from such gatherings: As usual, the conversation eventually turns to the topic of sex.
Mimi, a fifty-eight-year-old woman, talks about her efforts to preserve an active sex life with her partner, Phil. He's taking the aphrodisiac Viagra, and I casually listen as Mimi raves about their renewed sex life. Viagra, in her estimation, is a miracle.
"Viagra or vairagya," I think, recalling my husband's recent quip.
Vairagya means to voluntarily renounce something to gain something of greater value. A story from India illustrates the principle well. Five hundred years ago, Sanatana Gosvami, a great devotee of the Lord, owned a touchstone. It was said that this stone could convert iron into gold. A poor man, hearing that Sanatana owned such a treasure, went to seek it out. When he approached Sanatana Go-svami, he asked about the touchstone. Sanatana told him he could take it from the rubbish heap.
Because the man had some intelligence, he reasoned that if Sanatana had discarded this valuable item, he must have something of greater value. The man then submissively approached Sanatana Gosvami and asked what greater thing he possessed.
Sanatana bargained with the man, saying he would give him the greater thing if the man would throw away the touchstone. The man readily complied, and Sanatana Gosvami gave him the chanting of the Lord's holy names: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The man in the story happily gave up something lower (and material) for something higher (and spiritual). That's vairagya. When Srila Prabhupada introduced Krsna consciousness in the West, he didn't start by emphasizing vairagya; he didn't insist that we give things up right away. He was so kind that he gave us the holy name and didn't ask us to give up our touchstones as a prerequisite for chanting. But the vairagya came on its own. As we practiced chanting the maha-mantra, our taste for material activities gradually diminished and we were able to give up many unwanted habits. Most devotees easily give up meat, gambling, and intoxication, three of the four main prohibitions. They give up illicit sex, too, but that's harder, because sexual desire is so deep-rooted. Getting rid of it takes time. That's one reason most devotees enter family life, choosing to raise God-conscious children rather than stay celibate.
While sex is permitted within marriage, it is to be regulated and eventually given up. Non-devotees and even devotees often question why something so seemingly good and intimate needs to be eliminated from their repertoire of activities. Is Krsna being unkind to us to demand such a sacrifice? No, Krsna wants us to come to a far greater pleasure, but it can't be reached as long as we stay attached to bodily pleasures. Our best interest is to work toward giving up sex so we can transcend the limited material sphere of temporary activities.
Help From Nature
Krsna has designed our bodies to help us gradually let go of sex desire. As we progress through the biological stages of human development, our sexual ability naturally decreases. Unfortunately, today we live in a sex-crazed society, and a provocative media artificially stimulates us, constantly bombarding us with erotic images. Even while innocently standing in grocery store check-out lines, we're accosted by magazine covers with pictures of scantily clothed men and women. Two of the many societal consequences are that pre-pubescent children become interested in sex and the elderly are titillated into finding ways to reawaken their waning sexual inclinations.
Most people would agree that childhood promiscuity is unwanted, but those same people would support prolonging sexual activity in their life. They'd like to be able to fulfill sexual desires, which persist even in old age.
Sexual desire is so strong that without spiritual training even a dying person will think of sex. To support this assertion, Prabhupada tells the story of a king and his minister. When the king asked his minister when the desire for sex would end, the minister replied that it lasts up to death.
The king doubted his minister's answer. Wanting to prove his point, the minister took the king and the king's young daughter to visit a man on his deathbed. The man was a loyal subject and would no doubt be thrilled by a visit from the king. But when the king and his daughter entered the room, the dying man's eyes focused, not on the face of the king, but rather on the attractive young girl.
One may question why sexual desires at death are bad. The Vedic scriptures tell us that our thoughts and desires at death carry us to our next destination. To think of sex at death guarantees our return to the material world. Because our thoughts at death are naturally a composite of the activities and desires of our life, a preoccupation with sex may mean taking a body more suited to enjoying sex, such as that of a monkey or a pigeon. Both species can have sex many times a day with no guilt or inhibitions.
When I first became a devotee, I shared knowledge of the soul's transmigration from body to body directed by our desires at death with a close friend of mine. Unfortunately, he could not see the harm in becoming a pigeon or a monkey. I felt sorry that he was so attached to sex that he liked the idea of falling into a lower species with no chance for spiritual advancement.
Ideally if we have spent our lives cultivating spiritual desires by practicing spiritual activities, we will be transported to our eternal spiritual home. If this is our goal, we'll choose vairagya. We'll voluntarily choose to give up things that impede our progress. And we'll choose to accept things that help us develop our dormant love for the Lord. For many followers of the bhakti path, renunciation is gradual. As we advance on the path and our realizations and taste for spiritual activities increase, we naturally let go of materialistic activities. In his purport to verse 3.31 of Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada tells us that even if we can't at once follow a particular instruction to give up material activity, as long as we don't resent the principle we'll gradually progress on the path of perfection.
This isn't an endorsement of continued materialistic behavior, but rather it serves as encouragement to keep trying without loss of hope. Krsna is well aware of how difficult it is for us to progress in conquering sexual desire. That's why He sent so much help, especially in the form of our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada, who expertly understood our mentalities. While preaching in the West, Prabhupada simplified the process of bhakti-yoga to accommodate our way of life and our tainted consciousness. He wrote many books making Vedic literature accessible to us and encouraged his dis-ciples to write their realizations as well.
Krsna also sent His holy names. Being identical to Him, His names have the power to transform our worldly mentality into transcendental consciousness. The holy names convert our feelings of lust into pure love. They remove the blanket of abject ignorance and illuminate us with knowledge. The names can release us from the shackles of sex life, the binding force in the material world.
Yes, sex is such a seemingly wonderful thing that we're willing to sacrifice the kingdom of God for it. We're willing to be cramped up in a mother's womb again and face the trauma of birth. We're willing to be helpless babies suffering from hunger, indigestion, and diaper rash. We're willing to be school-age children again, forced to sit still for long hours of the day, waiting for the bell ring to set us free. We're willing to suffer through awkward adolescence with acne and braces. We're willing to be a parent again and stay up all night with a sick baby, and to again raise an insubordinate teen. We're willing to get old with excruciating pains in our joints and organs. We're willing to do all this again and again just to enjoy a few moments of the pleasurable physical sensation called sex.
This insanity afflicts us all. We need to pray for "the desire to desire to desire" to become free of sexual cravings. We also have a responsibility to give knowledge to others—people like Mimi, who is convinced she has found the miracle of life in Viagra. Our miracle is that we came in contact with a pure devotee who gave us the most valuable thing—the Lord's holy names.
Trying to remember the Lord under the pressures of daily life.
By Rashi Singh
IT's WEDNESDAY evening at 6:30, and I'm just getting in from yet another long day at the university. I had three lessons today, two group meetings, one presentation, and a midterm. I didn't sleep a wink last night, and I still have to chant twelve rounds and somehow manage to get some sleep.
I enter my study to unload my belongings, and I see it. Right there on the corner of my desk. I try to walk the other way, but the force is too strong, as it is everyday. It's calling me, once again: my agenda.
Reluctantly, I open it to today's date to find:
• Study for finance midterm tomorrow @ 1:00
• Apply for marketing position
• Finish accounting assignment
• Prepare for accounting group meeting tomorrow @ 3:00
The words blur as tears well up in my eyes. How in the world am I supposed to get all of this done, chant, and get some sleep? Where should I start?
I often ask myself how I can possibly advance spiritually while bombarded with all these material pressures. On numerous occasions my mind is on my next assignment or meeting rather than on spiritual subjects, such as Krsna's pastimes or the lecture given at the temple last Sunday.
"I just don't have time to do my rounds today," I say to myself.
I close my eyes and remember last week's lecture: "Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has a quota for our happiness. Although we must not neglect our daily duties in the context of our material lives, we must not forget that the reason for everything we have, do, and think is Krsna. The result of our work is predetermined, and over-endeavoring for material happiness can only take us away from spiritual advancement."
The Most Important Things First
With this in mind, I decide the first thing I need to do is chant. Although the material demands that surround me are intense and plentiful, they should never be satisfied at the expense of my daily spiritual routine. Spiritual life is not something we can put on hold for more convenient times. We must chant and progress spiritually to rediscover our eternal relationship with Krsna as His servant.
The very notion of a relationship implies reciprocity. The best friendships are unconditional, and the most important and best friend we have is Krsna Himself. After all the things Krsna has blessed me with, I think, I cannot neglect my rounds out of convenience. After all, my so-called successes and failures all belong to Him. It is because of Him that I am a student. It is He who allowed me to get an education, and it is He who gives me knowledge.
Then I realize that all of my so-called stress is temporary; it is all bodily related. I have to get an "A." I have to get a job.
But I am not this body; I am the soul. All of the results for which I endeavor are temporary, material. Although I cannot ignore the material pressures that surround me, I cannot allow them to rule my consciousness. Thoughts of Krsna should rule my consciousness.
A Fresh Perspective
I look again at my agenda and see things a little differently:
• Study for finance midterm tomorrow @ 1:00—For Krsna
• Apply for marketing position—For Krsna
• Finish accounting assignment—For Krsna
• Prepare for accounting group meeting tomorrow @ 3:00—For Krsna
Suddenly it all makes sense. After I've chanted my rounds, I should study hard and do the best I can to get that job in which I can make some money to donate to the temple and serve Krsna better. Above all else, I shouldn't stress; Krsna will take care of me if I take care of Him.
My tears turn into determination. I have a newfound energy, and I feel much lighter, even though it will be 8:00 by the time I finish my rounds, and I will still have so much to do. But it's OK, because whatever Krsna wants is what will happen. And I want what Krsna wants.
Rashi Singh ended up graduating with an honors degree in marketing from the Schulich School of Business at York University. She lives in Toronto, Canada.
A teacher finds a creative way to help her students fix their minds on the Lord.
ON MARCH 18 (in some places, March 17), devotees in the Hare Krsna movement, along with millions of other Vaisnavas around the world, will observe one of the most important festivals of the year: Sri Gaura Purnima, honoring the appearance of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Lord Caitanya, who is Krsna Himself in the guise of His own devotee, descended a little over five hundred years ago in the area of West Bengal known as Navadvipa ("Nine Islands"). To our defective vision, Navadvipa may seem like an ordinary place, but pure souls know that Navadvipa, like any place on earth the Lord chooses to call home, is a dhama—a transcendental site, a replica of His eternal home in the spiritual world. And like the Lord Himself, His dhama is also worthy of our worship and contemplation.
Last year, Campakalata Devi Dasi, a teacher at Padma Academy in Hillsborough, North Carolina, wanted to come up with a school project to help the students absorb their minds in Lord Caitanya for six weeks leading up to the Gaura Purnima festival. She thought a major art project would work, and one of her students, twelve-year-old Sitarani, suggested dioramas—small three-dimensional scenes of painted molded figures and backgrounds. Campakalata liked the idea, especially since dioramas are a traditional art form in Bengal. She decided they'd make nine of them, one for each of Navadvipa's nine islands.
Together, students and teachers decided on one main event per island. Because Navadvipa's shape resembles that of a lotus, they fashioned eight dioramas on bases shaped like a lotus petal. They shaped the ninth—for Mayapur, at the center of Navadvipa—like a lotus whorl. They also inscribed a plaque for each diorama, explaining the event depicted.
Each student took responsibility for at least one figure, and some older students made a whole petal. The youngest children made a bed and flower bushes. As they completed the project, the students were amazed they could make realistic figures, and they were gratified that through their humble efforts, Lord Caitanya and His devotees had revealed themselves.
The Birthplace of Lord Caitanya
This island is also called Mayapur and is the birthplace of Lord Caitanya. At the time of Lord Caitanya's birth, there was a lunar eclipse. To ward off its inauspicious effects, all the people of Navadvipa (or Nadia, as it was called at that time) bathed in the holy Ganges and chanted the names of Krsna. Lord Caitanya, who had remained in His mother's womb for 13 months, chose this auspicious time, while everyone was chanting His name, to appear. Although He would later be named Visvambara and eventually be called Lord Caitanya, His mother, Saci, affectionately called her beautiful golden son Nimai, after the neem tree beneath which He was born.
—Made by Dhanistha
Lord Caitanya Takes Sannyasa
In Rudradvipa there is a place named Nirdaya, which means "merciless." While His devoted wife, Visnupriya, slept, Lord Caitanya left His home in Antaradvipa to take sannyasa. He traveled to the west and crossed the Ganges River to this village in Rudradvipa. Though His purpose in taking sannyasa was to deliver all the fallen souls, the act appeared merciless, hence the name "Nirdaya."
—Made by Radhika, Campakalata, and Balarama
Nimai Grows a Mango Tree
Once, the Lord was performing sankirtana with His devotees. After chanting and dancing for a long time, they became tired and sat down to rest. Seeing how tired they were, the Lord took a mango seed and planted it in the ground. The minute it was planted, the seed sprouted and began to grow. As the astonished devotees looked on, the full-grown tree soon hung heavy with hundreds of mangos. These mangos had no seeds inside and no skins outside. They were so sweet, and filled with so much juice, that after eating only one each, the devotees were completely satisfied.
—Made by Campakalata and Jahnu
Saranga Thakura Initiates a Dead Boy
There was a devotee during Lord Caitanya's time named Saranga Thakura. Lord Caitanya was very pleased with Saranga's devotion and asked him to make some disciples. Saranga assured the Lord that the next day he would initiate the first person he saw. The next morning, as he was about to step into the Ganges to bathe, he saw a boy's dead body float past. Remembering his promise to Lord Caitanya, he brought the dead boy's body to the shore and chanted the initiating mantras into his ear. As soon as the dead boy heard the mantras, he came back to life.
He offered his obeisances to the feet of Saranga and told him, "Yesterday I was undergoing a ceremony to accept initiation, but a black snake came and bit me. I can't remember anything after that."
—Made by Cintamani
Jagannatha Dasa Babaji Dances
Jagannatha Dasa Babaji's samadhi [memorial tomb] is located here. This great acarya in the Gaudiya Vaisnava line lived over 150 years ago. He was regarded as the chief of the Vaisnavas of his time. In 1893, when he was 142 years old, he went with Bhaktivinoda Thakura to try to find the real birthplace of Lord Caitanya. He was so old that he could not walk and his body was stooped over. His eyelids drooped so much that if he wanted to see something, his disciples would have to hold his eyelids open. He was able to travel to the holy places of Navadvipa in a basket his disciples carried on their heads. Despite his decrepit condition, when he reached the spot where Lord Caitanya was born (in Antardvipa) he jumped out of his basket and danced in ecstasy.
—Made by Saci and Parijata
Nitai Falls Unconscious
Once Lord Nityananda, along with His associates, entered the wonderful forests of Ritudvipa. The beauty of the forests reminded the Lord of His intimate pastimes with Krsna as Krsna's older brother, Balarama.
In the mood of Balarama, Lord Nityananda called out, "Quickly bring Me My horn! My cowherd friends are far ahead of Me. Krsna is fast asleep and won't get up. I can't herd these cows alone."
The devotees with Him tried to calm Him. They reminded Him who He actually was.
They said, "O Nityananda Prabhu, Your brother, Lord Caitanya, has gone and taken sannyasa, leaving us here alone."
Lord Nityananda became so heartbroken at hearing this that He lost consciousness.
—Made by Kundalata, Dhanistha, and Campakalata
Jahnu Muni Releases Ganga
Near Kapila's ashram, on this island of Jahnudvipa, a great sage named Jahnu once had his ashram. One day while sitting in meditation, he heard the deafening roar of the Ganges River as she followed the sage Bhagiratha. Afraid that Ganga would destroy the planet, Jahnu Muni swallowed her up in one gulp. Bhagiratha was overcome with anxiety. Ganga was supposed to liberate his ancestors! With great devotion, he worshiped Jahnu Muni, offering beautiful prayers. Pleased with Bhagiratha's sincerity, Jahnu Muni allowed Ganga to emerge from his ear. Thus, Ganga is known as Jahnavi Devi, the daughter of Jahnu Muni.
—Made by Sitarani, Lalita, and Campakalata
Lord Siva Rides Brahma's Swan
On this island there is a forest called Naimisharanya, where at the beginning of Kali-yuga thirty-three thousand sages assembled to hear the Srimad-Bhagavatam spoken by Srila Suta Gosvami. Lord Siva, who was also eager to hear this narration, mounted His bull carrier, Nandi, and left His abode on Mount Kailasa. However, He feared that the recitation would end before His arrival because Nandi was too slow. So He abandoned Nandi and mounted Brahma's swift swan carrier, who brought Him to Naimisharanya just in time.
—Made by Ananda
Narada Sees God Everywhere
A short history of one of the most famous saints of the Vedic tradition.
By Amala Bhakta Dasa
THE ANGRY SNAKE LAY coiled in the grass, waiting to spring at the oncoming feet.
The feet belonged to Narada's mother, who couldn't see the agitated viper. Not only was it too dark, but her mind was centered on getting to the cowshed. There, she would milk a cow and then bring the milk back to the house.
The snake saw the feet coming closer closer. Then, just as one foot was about to trample it, the serpent lunged and sank its deadly fangs into the foot, venom squirting rapidly into its victim's bloodstream.
Narada's mother screamed and gazed down fearfully. Seeing the snake attached to her foot, she grabbed it by the neck, pulled it off, and flung it as far away as she could.
As she hastily continued toward the barn, she suddenly felt a weakness, a limpness, come over her. She halted, rubbing the side of her head where it had begun to throb. Then, no longer able to stand, she helplessly collapsed to the ground. Her breath came in tense, painful gasps. She tried to cry for help, but her weakened voice failed her. Feeling alone, distressed, and helpless, she knew she would soon be dead.
When her five-year-old son, Narada, learned that she had passed away, he could not help thinking about her. She had been a maidservant at a brahmana's house while trying to raise him. He recalled the last rainy season—when it had just begun. Several itinerant devotees of Lord Visnu had asked for and received shelter at the house. The master had assigned Narada's mother to cater to their needs during the four months they would be there. Gladly serving them, she delegated some of her duties to her son. Narada would, for example, deliver their food to them and clean their quarters.
As a result of serving the holy men—and receiving their blessings—Narada suddenly became very spiritually inclined. He was self-controlled and uninterested in childish sports. Never ill behaved, he spoke only that which was necessary.
The Power Of Prasadam
One day, while he was taking away the renunciants' leftovers—prasadam, or eatables that had been offered to and blessed by God—he asked if he could eat them. Understanding his purpose, they gladly consented, and Narada consumed and relished all their remnants.
Just from this holy contact, all the karmic punishments that Narada would normally have received from the sins he had committed in his past lives were instantly eradicated. Thus, his heart became purified and he became strongly attracted to transcendental living. He therefore eagerly listened to the sages describing the attractive activities of Lord Krsna. And with each telling, he became increasingly enrapt—so much so that his taste for knowing about Krsna's divine exploits escalated daily. This resulted in his realizing that he was not his material body or mind but an eternal, spiritual soul.
As Narada continued serving the sages, he developed strong faith in them. They, in turn, instructed him in confidential, spiritual knowledge. He learned where souls originally come from, why they are in this world, what causes them to suffer, and how they may become free from all misery. He also discovered that he had an eternal relationship with God and even though it had become dormant, he could revive it by the process of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Him. He further learned that he could eventually enter the divine world—where God dwells and acts—and personally meet and serve Him there. To Narada, there was no higher goal than this.
At the end of the rainy and autumn seasons, the holy men bid Narada goodbye and wandered off to other places.
Now that Narada's mother was dead, what would he do? Who would attend to him? Considering this, he felt quite helpless. Though he was sad from being separated from his mother, he knew that she had merely gone to another realm—and that the Lord would take good care of her. He also understood that her leaving him while he was so young was God's special mercy, for now he would have to depend solely on the Lord to guide and help him. Since he had full faith in God, he left the brahmana's house and walked onto the road. Completely alone and determined to be an itinerant devotee—just like the sages who had initiated him—he now headed north.
Seeing The Lord In The Heart
Narada passed through many thriving cities, towns, villages, valleys, vegetable and animal farms, flower and nursery gardens, and natural forests. He saw hills and mountains full of gold, silver, and copper, as well as land tracts with water reservoirs filled with attractive lotus flowers fit for the residents of the heavenly planets. He ventured through numerous forests, bamboo reeds, sharp grasses, weeds, and caves, which were difficult for him to forge through alone. And he saw dark and dangerous forests that were the playgrounds of snakes, owls, and jackals.
After a while, he felt not only physical and mental exhaustion, but also intense hunger and thirst. But he soon came upon a lake, and after bathing in it and drinking its water, he felt relieved and refreshed.
Continuing on, Narada discovered an uninhabited forest, where he sat down under the shade of a banyan tree and began to meditate. Then, as the sages had taught him, he focused his attention on the Supersoul in his heart. As he gazed resolutely at the Lord's lotuslike feet, his heart became filled with transcendental love, and tears flowed from his eyes.
Narada instantly saw Lord Krsna in his heart, and this vision filled him with indescribable happiness. Every part of his body became thrilled and enlivened with ecstasy. In fact, Narada became so blissful that he could no longer see the Lord. And yet he wanted to continue seeing Him, for the vision gave him total satisfaction. Perturbed by the loss, Narada concentrated firmly on his heart and tried again and again to see that divine form. But hard as he tried, he could not succeed. This greatly frustrated and distressed him.
Noting the child's grief, the Lord within suddenly but gravely said to him, "Narada, I'm sorry to say that you will not see Me for the rest of your life."
"What!" Narada was taken aback.
"Because you're still incomplete in devotional service."
"Yes. But the more service you perform, the purer your heart will become."
"But why did You let me see You today?"
"To increase your desire for Me."
"Yes. The more you remember Me and hanker after Me, the more you'll be freed from your worldly desires."
"And when I'm free from them, will I be able to see you then?"
"Yes, always—and everywhere."
Narada became hopeful.
"By My mercy, you will never forget Me."
When the Lord stopped speaking, Narada felt relieved and grateful. He therefore offered Him his obeisances.
From that time on, Narada remembered and chanted the Lord's name and glories regularly, for he knew how immensely beneficial those practices are. Thus, he continued traveling all over the world, fully satisfied, humble, and content. At the end of his life, he was free from all materialistic desires and karma. The Lord then awarded him a transcendental body, which is eternally knowledgeable and blissful, and which enables one to see the Supreme Lord always.
Many years later, when Lord Brahma's day ended (after 4.32 billion years), the world was destroyed. At that time Narada, along with Brahma, entered the Supreme Lord's body and remained there in divine consciousness. At the end of Lord Brahma's night (4.32 billion years), when Brahma awoke he once more created the world. Then Narada appeared from Brahma's body in the same transcendental form he had when he had previously entered God's body. Since then, by the grace of Lord Visnu, Narada travels everywhere without restriction, both in the material and spiritual worlds, performing devotional service for Him.
Wherever Narada travels, he always sings God's glories and plays devotional music on his vina. This stringed instrument is charged with transcendental sound and was given to him by Lord Krsna Himself. As soon as Narada sings about the Lord's holy activities and plays a devotional melody, Lord Krsna, as if summoned, instantly appears in Narada's heart.
Narada's message to everyone is "You can cross over the rough ocean of materialistic desires, anxieties, and miseries with the boat of constant conversation about the transcendental activities of the Supreme Lord. This gives you pure love of God and complete delight and fulfillment. Possessing these, you need nothing else."
Thus, Narada not only achieved his spiritual goal—of being able to see God always—but by his expert teaching and perfect example, he continues to instruct many other souls on how to do the same.
Lord Krsna's holy names bring light to downtown London on a Saturday night.
By Urmila Devi Dasi
WE CROSS Oxford Street with five mrdanga drums, two loud and deep African drums, karatala cymbals, an accordion, and an electric guitar. Our chanting party consists of over a hundred members, from so many countries and ethnic backgrounds that the diversity is startling. There are men in dhotis, in suits, and in jeans, women in saris, colorful dresses, and subdued business clothes. We race or dance down the street, singing as fast as we run, churning up waves of spiritual joy.
The lead singer wears a wireless microphone on his head, and one member of the group carries a loudspeaker in a backpack. The electric-guitar player has his own speaker. So many devotees respond to the lead singer's chanting that all the words of the great mantra for deliverance—Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—distinctly echo through the London streets.
To this native New Yorker, the streets are narrow and the buildings short, but the atmosphere is that of any major Western city on a Saturday night. Many in the crowd must see us each week, but there are also large numbers of tourists and people who come from around the country to sample the culture of central London. And there is much to sample—pubs, gambling houses, live theater, movie houses with multiple screens, discotheques that open at 9:00 P.M., and shops of all variety.
But all the glitter of this great Western city, old with history and achievement, is, from the spiritual point of view, a subculture. The activities here, advertised by seductive models under flashing colored lights, draw humanity far away from the qualities that build a foundation for enlightenment, qualities that demarcate us as human. The people lining the streets are not thinking of enlightenment as they laugh in the outer darkness of night and the inner darkness of lust, greed, intoxication, and sensual enticements.
Yet the chance for enlightenment comes. Our group randomly runs, jumps, and leaps across the streets, under archways, and even into the subway, where the acoustics intensify the chanting. In parks or streets closed to traffic, we linger for some time, sections of our group spontaneously performing dances that seem choreographed. An appreciative crowd gathers. I'm amazed by how many people join the dancing, carry our flags and banners for a while, sing with us, or simply smile, wave, or nod. I try to make eye contact with as many onlookers as possible, smiling and drawing them into the chanting. Hecklers appear, too, but their harsh condemnation drowns in our overflowing happiness and enthusiasm.
One man quietly tells me he has read Bhagavad-gita but doesn't understand why there should be love and violence in a spiritual treatise. Alongside the chanters, we talk for a while about how God is the source of everything, including love and fighting. In God, Krsna, these feelings and activities exist in their original, pure form. Reading or hearing of these will purify us from the base forms of lust and anger. Lust, anger, and greed are gates to suffering in this and future lives, but the spiritual originals, of which these are a twisted counterpart, are a source of varieties of great pleasure.
Some members of the party hand out books, magazines, or invitations to the next festival, but most of us are caught up in the mantra, the melody, and the movements that naturally express themselves in our bodies. We cannot help but dance. How can we dance and sing publicly with such abandon? Some onlookers probably assume we've been drinking, but we take no alcohol or other intoxicants and many of us are shy. Others only familiar with quiet personal meditation may be surprised that total absorption in a mantra would express itself as public exuberance. One member of the chanting party is out for the first time, nervously wondering if his boss is sitting at a restaurant window we pass. Perhaps some of us consider what people will think of our acting like madmen, but most of us are so absorbed in the chanting that public opinion seems like a far-away dream of no value.
The Great Call To God
The greatest mystery is the mantra itself, its meaning and power, and the effect on those of us who abandon ordinary decorum to sing it on busy streets. It is a prayer, a hymn, but of the greatest intensity and intimacy of all calls to God.
The mantra is a direct address: "O Krsna, Supreme Lord, Absolute Truth, the most attractive person because of Your incomparable and unlimited beauty, wealth, fame, strength, intelligence, and renunciation! O Hara, Radha, female consort of the Lord, who steals His mind with love and takes away our material attachment and suffering! O Rama, supreme reservoir of all pleasure, who enjoys transcendent love in Your own kingdom!"
What do we ask for when we call out to Krsna and His supreme energy? Service. The mantra is a plea for loving service and for connection—yoga—in divine love.
We ask not for material wealth, fame, sensual and mental pleasure, or even salvation apart from serving Krsna. As such, the mantra we sing with captivating melodies and expert musical accompaniment is the key to the highest levels of religious and spiritual understanding and experience. It embodies the summit of purity and ecstatic divine love. The mantra is composed of the names of God, and His name is more than blessed—it is God Himself in a form of utmost mercy. Additionally, hidden in the arrangement of the divine names is the most secret and intimate beatitude shared between Krsna and His consort, Radha: Their meeting and blissfully anguished separation, only to meet and separate again.
Entering All Hearts
How is it that the Hare Krsna maha-mantra—which invokes supreme mystery and power and is the most secret inner truth of the Absolute Truth—appears from our mouths among the weekend revelers? To fully enter into the chanting of the maha-mantra, to even be qualified to hear and chant it, would seem to be reserved for the most pure and austere of spiritual adepts. Yet the maha-mantra, while containing essential truth generally revealed only to the most exalted saints, is a form of Krsna so benevolent that it enters the hearts of even the most materialistic. The tipsy passerby who sings with us in his partying mood gets a seed of spiritual understanding. The people who nod and wave or merely hear start their journey to perfection.
Those of us for whom chanting the Hare Krsna mantra is a way of life chant not only periodically on the street but daily in group singing and in quiet personal meditation. Indeed, the ripe fruit of perfection is to chant incessantly, the mantra becoming the essential part of one's life.
Cultivating the fruit is a science, from planting the seed to harvesting. An expert gardener in this spiritual science learns and practices the art of chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare to achieve the full effect expeditiously and without deviation.
The science requires expert guidance, a life of purity and goodness, a mood of self-surrender, and avoidance of pitfalls. The essence is to have a life where everything is done as an offering to Krsna, with the help of a spiritual master to whom one has firmly committed. Such a life includes the regular study of scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, living in a holy place (or sanctifying one's home), and making intimate friendships with like-minded devotees.
The pitfalls are intoxication, illicit sex (sex should be only in marriage for procreation), gambling, and eating of meat, fish, or eggs. One should also avoid offending or displeasing the mantra, understanding that the mantra is the same as the person Krsna and wants to be approached in a particular way.
The Padma Purana lists the following offenses to the Lord's name: To offend devotees of the Lord, to consider Krsna's name to be equal to that of an ordinary being (even a demigod), to disobey the spiritual master, to blaspheme scripture, to interpret the mantra in a mundane way, to think its glories are exaggerated, to intentionally sin with the idea that the mantra will purify one, to consider the chanting to be material piety, to tell the name's glories to the faithless, to chant without attention, and to chant without faith or while keeping material attachments.
By carefully applying both the positive and negative standards, an aspirant for entering eternal bliss and knowledge will achieve the result quickly, even in this life. But anyone, serious or not, can take pleasure in the surge of spiritual energy that transforms the streets when Krsna's devotees share the best secret with the world.
Hard To Stop
Our large group gradually makes its way around Soho Square and back to the temple. Few people are on the streets here, and it's late for us, who rise well before the sun. Yet we cannot stop so easily. Someone is collecting the flags and banners, but the chanting continues to fill the street for a while. We remember how Lord Krsna finds the greatest pleasure by appearing—as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu—in the mood of His own devotee and chanting like this all night in the company of His associates. Regrettably, my body, made of bone, muscle, and blood, must rest. But I hope that Krsna mercifully allows me one day to sing His name forever.
College and university libraries in North America are getting an irresistible opportunity to put Srila Prabhupada's books on their shelves.
By Kalakantha Dasa
RECENTLY A couple of my friends have launched a creative method of placing Srila Prabhupada's books in libraries. They call their project "The Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust"—with Rasamrita (rasamrta) referring to the "immortal nectar" found in these books. Their efforts reminded me of my own experiences with Srila Prabhupada's writings.
* * *
The admissions officer smiled at my father and me. Clearing his throat, he leaned forward slightly over his tidy desk and said with a hint of condescension, "St. John's has a unique curriculum. Rather than conventional liberal arts courses, our students study the great books. Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Kant, Hegel, Thoreau—all the classics. The St. John's experience allows a student to grow by associating with the greatest minds the world has ever known."
I was seventeen and interested in higher knowledge. But my heart grew uncertain as Dad and I toured the campus, meeting students and professors. The books might have been great, but the people seemed ordinary. "Are these people really enlightened?" I wondered. With high school graduation just a few months off, I disappointed my college-educated parents and decided not to go to St. Johns.
A few months later I received a copy of Sri Isopanisad, with Srila Prabhupada's translation and commentary. It managed to fascinate while remaining incomprehensible. I visited the local Krsna center to ask about it. The devotees answered with reason and conviction. Moreover, they seemed to swim effortlessly upstream against the prevailing culture and counterculture of '60s and '70s America. I was impressed. Before long I enrolled to study the great books of Vedic India, presented through an ancient line of brilliant teachers culminating in the modern world in Srila Prabhupada.
In the late 1950s, when Srila Prabhupada was struggling in India to publish Back to Godhead magazine, a friend suggested he publish Krsna conscious books instead of magazines. "Magazines come and go, but books stay in homes and libraries," the friend said. Srila Prabhupada agreed and turned his attention to a daunting task: an English translation, with comments, of the 18,000-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Canto One—the first of twelve—required three hefty volumes and several years to complete. In 1965, shortly after publishing the third volume of the First Canto, Srila Prabhupada left for America. His primary luggage: trunks full of Srimad-Bhagavatams.
Srila Prabhupada soon saw that Americans needed an authentic translation of the most basic Vaisnava text, Bhagavad-gita. His Bhagavad-gita As It Is attracted MacMillan publishers, who printed the popular book in abridged and later unabridged editions. Gita in hand, over the next twelve years Srila Prabhupada opened more than a hundred ISKCON centers around the world. Remarkably, during the same years, Srila Prabhupada completed over thirty volumes of the Srimad-Bhagavatam—Cantos One through Nine—and began work on the famous and particularly lengthy Tenth Canto. During one two-year span he also completed the first English translation of the Bengali classic Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. With his commentary, that work extended to seventeen volumes.
Srila Prabhupada's prodigious literary output—one of his numerous major accomplishments—amounted to a small library of distinguished texts on devotion (bhakti) and Vedic culture. Abandoning commercial publishers, Prabhupada established the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) to produce his three major works (Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta). Some of Prabhupada's disciples produced and illustrated the gor-geous books. Others translated them into dozens of languages. Still others sold millions of copies around the world.
A Tempting Invitation
Two years into my study of Krsna consciousness a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, sent me a tempting invitation.
"The BBT is organizing a team to sell Srila Prabhupada's books to libraries," he said, "and you're welcome to join us."
That began, for me, a wonderful four-year adventure on the BBT Library Party. My service took me to the offices and classrooms of hundreds of college professors. I enjoyed the chance to meet these scholars—in some cases nationally and internationally famous in their fields—and enter into deep discussions on many topics. My older and college-educated colleagues took me under their wings as we visited college campuses throughout America and, later, Europe. Nearly everywhere, we met professors who were pleased and impressed with Srila Prabhupada's books. Many ordered Bhagavad-gita As It Is as textbooks for their classes in religion and philosophy. Most of the colleges ordered Srila Prabhupada's major works as reference sets for their libraries. Dozens of professors wrote glowing reviews, praising Srila Prabhupada's scholarship and clarity.
Sales were good, and Srila Prabhupada was pleased. He wrote to Satsvarupa Goswami: "I am always very much pleased with our Library Party's preaching. Their work is most important. The BBT office has sent me some recent review from professors, and there is no doubt that these intelligent men are deriving benefit from reading my books. These reviews make me very encouraged."
When we would occasionally meet Srila Prabhupada, he encouraged us to read the books as well as sell them. One colleague admitted that he found it hard to study systematically while traveling.
"Never mind," Prabhupada said. "Just pick up any of my books and open it to any page. Sugar tasted on any side is sweet."
By the time we were through, nearly every major academic library in America and Europe had at least some of Srila Prabhupada's books. The Library Party's focus shifted to India, and most of us original members went on to other services. I earned a Bhakti-sastri theology degree and began teaching Krsna consciousness to new students in ISKCON Los Angeles. Over the years I would occasionally be reminded of my old service by people who had first learned about bhakti-yoga through one of Srila Prabhupada's books they picked up in a library.
A New Approach
Recently Visvaretah Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has joined with Baladeva Vidyabhusana Dasa, a disciple of Satsvarupa Goswami, to establish the Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust (PRT). Their approach is different, but their purpose in the same as that of the old Library Party: to place Srila Prabhupada's books in libraries around the world. Unlike our constant traveling sales—much better suited for the young—they are raising funds from Srila Prabhupada's many admirers to sponsor sets of his books for libraries. The devotional community in New Vrindavan, West Virginia, has graciously hosted their project. One of their main sponsors, Muktavandya Dasa, found his first Krsna conscious book in the library at the University of Massachusetts.
These enthusiastic and dedicated devotees have already distributed thousands of Srila Prabhupada's books. In return, they have received many letters of appreciation, such as this from the librarian of a liberal arts college: "Our students and professors will value these translations and commentaries. They will become the centerpiece of our collection on Indian religion and philosophy."
Academic as well as public libraries have expressed interest in PRT- sponsored books. The PRT is efficient; one hundred percent of the money they receive goes to buy and ship the books. This is a way to turn hard-earned cash into pleasure for Srila Prabhupada while helping people better their lives for years to come.
The Trust also sells Srila Prabhupada's books. On receiving a set ordered from the Trust, a doctor in California thanked them with a sentiment shared by me and countless others: "I will treasure these books until the day I die."
Kalakantha Dasa is the author of The Song Divine (a poetic rendition of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is) and a forthcoming edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam in the same format. He is the resource development director for the Mayapur Project and lives with his family in La Crosse, Florida.
Donations can be sent to The Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust, RD 1, NBU 44, Moundsville, WV 26041, USA. Phone: (304) 843-4880; email: email@example.com.
Librarians Value Srila Prabhupada's books
More than 150 college and university libraries have received sets of Srila Prabhupada's books through the Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust. Here are excerpts from some of the many letters of gratitude the Trust has received.
New York University
"I am certain that this wonderful collection will enhance the study of one of the world's great religious cultures by students at New York University for years to come."
St. Mary's College of Maryland
"The books are very beautifully produced, and will be of interest to students in many academic departments. The faculty member who specializes in Vedic philosophy is particularly grateful for the gift. Now he can direct students to a broader range of primary Vedic literature, which until now has been represented in our collection by excerpts and commentaries. Thank you for your generous contribution to the intellectual life of our college. We look forward to seeing the books well used by generations of students and faculty."
Louisiana State University
"Thank you on behalf of LSU Libraries for the splendid collection provided by the Trust. This is a very scholarly edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam. . . . It should be valuable to Western scholars. We are delighted to have the opportunity to add A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's works to our collection."
"I am writing to express our appreciation for your donation of an excellent collection on the culture of India. These volumes, including Srimad-Bhagavatam, are valuable additions to the religious, philosophical, and cultural collections of the Humanities, Social Science, and Education Library. . . . We will be more capable of achieving our mission, and serving the students and faculty of the Purdue community."
University of Cincinnati
"These volumes are truly remarkable—beautifully bound and illustrated. I know that our students, faculty, and other scholars and researchers will treasure these volumes for many years to come."
"Our Religious Studies department has a strong Asian religions component, and the members of that department seem quite excited about [the books]. One professor in particular plans on using some of these volumes in the upcoming semester."
St. Ambrose University
"Having Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada's definitive and scholarly translations and purports to the major scriptures of India is essential to our student's understanding of India's spiritual heritage and practices."
University of California, Santa Cruz
"It is our ambition to provide students with as wide a ranging exposure to religious and philosophical ideas as possible, and your generous donation has aided us in that effort. We will use this well."
"A Dog Will Never Ask, 'How to Control This Barking Habit?'"
Here we continue a conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Professor John Mize. It took place in Los Angeles on June 23, 1975.
Srila Prabhupada: [To a disciple:] Find this verse: brahma-bhutah prasannatma na socati na kanksati.
Disciple: Okay, Srila Prabhupada. Let's see. That will be Bhagavad-gita, fifty-fourth verse in the Eighteenth Chapter. Should I read?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Disciple: Brahma-bhutah prasannatma na socati na kanksati/ samah sarvesu bhutesu mad-bhaktim labhate param. "One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me."
Srila Prabhupada: That means one has to come to the platform of brahmana. Then he can enter into devotional service. Samah sarvesu bhutesu mad-bhaktim labhate param: in that brahminical state, he sees every living entity as part and parcel of God. That is samah, equality. He does not see like this: that the human being has a soul and the cow has no soul. He does not see like that. He sees the cow has a soul, the ant has a soul, the elephant has a soul, the tree has a soul, the human being has a soul. That is samah sarvesu bhutesu.
By ignorance, one thinks, "The tree has no soul, the cow has no soul, the other animals have no soul—simply we have got a soul." That is ignorance, base quality. But when you come to the purity of goodness, samah sarvesu bhutesu, this qualification will arise. A devotee is not willing to kill even an ant, because he knows, "He is also a soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Soul. By his karma he has become an ant, while I have become a human being. So I have the same quality of soul as he; he has the same quality of soul as I. He has a different body from mine. He is suffering in that way. I have got a different body from his. I am also suffering—but I am thinking I am enjoying." That is samah sarvesu bhutesu.
[To the disciple who read the verse:] What is the meaning—samah sarvesu bhutesu?
Disciple: Samah means "equally disposed"; sarvesu means "all"; bhutesu means "living entities." "He is equally disposed to every living entity."
Srila Prabhupada: So you can see on an equal level when you become a brahmana. Brahma-bhutah, the spiritual platform, is not understood in the United Nations. There they are passing resolutions, and yet fighting is going on outside, because they have no spiritual vision—samah sarvesu bhutesu. So the politicians should be guided by the brahmanas. That is the proper social structure—guided by those who are first-class men in spiritual understanding. Or to put it another way, the politicians, the administrators—they should take instruction from the brahmanas first and then take part in politics. Then they will be also first-class men. You won't have to drag them down after electing them.
This business of first elect and then drag them down—this is a mistake. Just like you elected Nixon president, then dragged him down because you made a mistake. You do not know whom to elect, because you are not guided by brahmanas. This is the fault. The whole society is being guided by sudras and some portion vaisyas. Mostly sudras, or workers, and a certain percentage of vaisyas, mercantile men.
But at the present moment no guidance is being given by ksatriyas or brahmanas, properly trained administrators and intellectuals. Therefore, for peaceful life in human society, there must be four divisions.
[To a disciple:] Find this verse: catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah.
Disciple: That's also going to be in Bhagavad-gita, thirteenth verse in the Fourth Chapter. Catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah/ tasya kartaram api mam viddhy akartaram avyayam: "According to the three modes of material nature and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable."
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, Krsna created hese four divisions—brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, sudra—but He does not belong to any one of them. He is neither brahmana nor ksatriya nor vaisya nor sudra. He is transcendental, only looking toward human society's best interest. Similarly, our philosophy—just to make the human society very peaceful and progressive, we wish to establish this system. A first-class group of men, brahmanas—they will guide the ksatriyas. And the ksatriyas, the administrators—they will guide the vaisyas. Vaisyas are those who engage in agriculture and cow protection and trade. And sudras are those who are neither brahmana nor ksatriya nor vaisyas. They are simply workers, assistants.
So there must be divisions like this. The brahmanas should guide the ksatriyas, the ksatriyas will administer the state, the vaisyas will produce foodstuffs, and the sudras will help. Cooperation for common benefit—and the aim is spiritual realization. That is perfect society. If everyone is a sudra, without any aim of life, then there will be chaos. Just like in your country—in spite of so much facility for education, the students being produced are hippies, useless for all purposes. Why is this happening? I have gone to so many universities. I have seen the stu-dents—hippies. And if you say, "If you act like cats and dogs, you will become cats and dogs in your next life," they say, "What is the wrong if I become a dog?" [Laughter.]
This is the result of your so-called modern education. The student is prepared to become a dog. The student does not learn what is the distinction between a dog and a human being. As a result, he is seeking after the dog's facility—that the dog can have sex on the street. The student is thinking the dog's life is advantageous. This is the situation. Therefore, Professor Judah [of Berkeley's Graduate Theological Union] has written me a letter saying, "I am simply amazed at how you have converted the drug-addicted hippies into servants of Krsna and humanity." These are his words.
Dr. Mize: May I ask you another question?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Dr. Mize: The relationship of the mind to the soul—how the mind comes to know that it has or that there is a soul.
Srila Prabhupada: By taking lessons from professors who have their minds clear. Why does a student go to you? Because his mind is not clear. You have to clear his mind by teaching him psychology—the intricacies of thinking, feeling, willing. Therefore, the student has to go to a learned man who knows how to understand the mind, how to understand the activities of the mind, how to deal with them.
That requires education. A dog cannot take this education, but a human being can take it. Therefore, it is the duty of the human being to learn how to control the mind, not to act like cats and dogs. That is a real human being. He should be inquisitive—"Why is this happening? Why is that happening?" And he should take education. That is human life. And if he does not inquire, if he does not take education, then what is the difference between him and the dog? He remains a dog. He has got this opportunity of human life. He should take advantage of understanding what is what and not keep himself in the dog status—simply eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. That is the distinction between a dog and a human being. If he does not become inquisitive how to control the mind, he is not even a human being. A dog never inquires. A dog knows that "When I bark, people become disturbed." But he'll never ask, "How to control this barking habit?" Because he is a dog, he cannot do that.
A human being can ask, "People hate me when I do something wrong—how to control my mind?" That is a human being. That is the difference between a human being and a dog. Therefore, the Vedic injunction is "Go and inquire. You have got this human form of life." Athato brahma-jijnasa: "Now, this is the time for inquiring about the soul." Tad vijnanartham sa gurum eva abhigacchet: "If you want to understand this science, then go to a proper guru and take lessons from him." This is the same thing as we instruct our children: "If you want to be educated to reach a higher status of life, go to school, go to college, take lessons." That is human society. The dog's father will never ask the dog, "Child, go to school." No. They are dogs.
The World's Largest Temple Complex
Though much of it lies in ruin, this centuries-old temple still evokes respect for the devotion of its builders.
By Adbhuta Hari Dasa
IN OCTOBER 2000, I was in Bangkok serving my Guru Maharaja, Sridhara Swami. Because my visa was expiring, I had to leave Thailand to renew it. Choosing between Myanmar, Malaysia, and Cambodia, I thought Cambodia would be the most interesting, especially since I could visit Angkor Wat, the largest complex of religious buildings in the world.
Friends warned me, though, that Cambodia could be extremely dangerous. Land mines left over from the civil war still litter the landscape, and the remote areas have a high rate of armed robbery, kidnapping, and murder. I was disappointed to hear that and feared I'd have to change my plans, but after a day or two I met a few Americans who had lived in Bangkok for several years and had visited Angkor Wat recently. They said that Siam Reap, the town closest to Angkor Wat, was a perfectly safe place to stroll through even at night. The main route from the Thailand border to Siam Reap was safe too, but out at the temples I should stick to clearly marked trails.
Traveling as a shaven-headed monk in Vaisnava attire, I felt I'd be an unattractive target for criminals. In Bangkok everyone had been kind to me. As a monk, I could travel on local buses for free. So I hoped that as a monk in Cambodia I'd be treated the same way.
A Grueling Ride
After a seven-hour train ride, I reached the Cambodian border, where I packed into a truck with a few other tourists, and we started for Siam Reap. I was relieved to be driving with other foreigners. It seemed that Cambodia wasn't so dangerous after all, but it still looked damaged from war and had a bad economy, as we would soon find out. Our rainy-season drive on the pot-holed road reminded me of the famous Camel Trophy car race through the Amazon jungle. The 150 kilometers from the border to Siam Reap took eight painful hours. We had only one half-hour stop, where an ocean of kids tried to sell us bread, biscuits, and cold drinks.
Stiff and bruised, we reached Siam Reap late at night. A young man accompanying the driver offered us his guesthouse to stay in, so a Japanese man and I accepted his offer.
The next day I hired a guide—nineteen-year-old Sopeak, who drove me on motorcycle to some of the seventy temples of Angkor Wat. After buying a one-day ticket, the first temple we went to was the Bayon, a Buddhist temple built around A. D. 1200 by Jayavarman VII. There we saw more than two hundred smiling faces of Avalokitesvara and many carvings on the outer wall of the first level depicting vivid scenes of life in twelfth century.
While climbing up to the main tower, I met a professor from England who was surprised to see a Krsna devote. He was interested to hear that the main temple of Angkor Wat was built for Lord Visnu, an expansion of Krsna, and that Vedic culture had great influence in Southeast Asia. I told him that even today people in Thailand, Indonesia, and other countries in the area worship Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, Ganesa, Garuda, and other demigods—evidence that Vedic culture was spread all over the world, as stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and Ramayana, a Vedic scripture still popular in Southeast Asia.
The next temples we visited were the Baphuon, a pyramidal representation of Mount Meru, built by Udayadityavarman II, and the Bakong, built by Indravarman I and dedicated to Lord Siva.
We also visited a few temples dedicated to Lord Buddha. In one of them I met four Buddhist monks who tried to figure out which sect of Buddhism I belong to.
In Angkor Thom, a fortified city where some of the temples are found, we came upon five monumental gates, each topped by four serene faces of Avalokitesvara; Terrace of Elephants, used for public ceremonies and decorated with bas-reliefs of Garuda and lions; and Terrace of the Leper King, on whose platform stands a statue of Lord Siva and whose front walls are decorated with carvings of seated apsaras, the heavenly dancing girls mentioned in the Vedas.
We ended the day with a visit to the main temple, because it's not possible to visit all seventy temples in one day, and probably not worth the effort. Sopeak told me that many of them are not much more than heaps of stone, having been destroyed by vegetation and vandalism.
Lord Visnu's Temple
To reach the main temple, we had to cross a wide moat that forms a rectangle 1.5 kilometers by 1.3 kilometers. From a distance we could see the central tower, which rests on the three-story building and rises 60 meters above the ground. At the entrance to the temple complex is an 800-meter-long series of a bas-reliefs, one of which one depicts the churning of the ocean of milk, with demons on the left and demigods on the right. Some reliefs depict the pastimes of Lord Ramacandra.
To reach Lord Visnu, we passed through three large square galleries and then up a narrow, steep staircase to the central tower. On seeing the 2.5-meter-tall deity of Lord Visnu with eight arms, wrapped in a saffron shawl, I amazed a few tourists by offering prayers and bowing my head to the floor. Worship of the deity still goes on. Two old women were selling fragrant, colorful, half-meter-long incense sticks that everyone could offer, and I took the opportunity to offer a few of them.
The temple was built by king Suryavarman II, a unifying monarch who fought to earn the title of absolute ruler. He campaigned in the east against Vietnam and the ancient nearby kingdom of Champa, and was the first Angkorean king to begin diplomatic relations with China.
Archeologists and astronomers have found correlations between dimensions of the temple and important numbers in the Vedas. For example, distances between the entrances and the main tower correspond exactly to the length of the four Vedic ages. At the summer solstice an observer standing in front of the west entrance can see the sun rise directly over the central tower. This day, June 21, marked the beginning of the solar year for Indian astronomers and was sacred to King Suryavarman, whose name means "protected by the sun." A devotee of Visnu, he started building the temple in 1112, at the beginning of his reign. It was completed after his death, about 1150. The deity of Visnu was installed in July 1131, probably when Suryavarman turned thirty-three—a significant number in Vedic cosmology.
Sanskrit poems of that time describe the history of Angkor Wat, and kings of Angkor Wat had Sanskrit names. The name Angkor derives from the Sanskrit word nagara, meaning "city." From A.D. 802 to 1431, Cambodia—known in its own inscriptions as Kambuja-desa—was the mightiest kingdom in Southeast Asia.
More Vedic Links
Among the many kings whose reigns showed evidence of Vedic links, Jasovarman, who ruled from 889 to 910, established the royal city named Sri Yasodharapura. He had monasteries built for sects that honored Siva, Visnu, and Buddha. Inscriptions from his time show him to have been aware of the grandeur of Indian civilization and tolerant of different religious beliefs. One reads, "His eyes were the Veda; His glory was like a roar in all directions; his virtues made up his name."
At dusk we drove back to Siam Reap. I was deeply impressed by the devotion and opulence with which King Suryavarman II had glorified Lord Visnu. The greatness of Angkor Wat is known all over the world, attracting hundreds of tourists daily. With my new visa in hand, I returned to Bangkok hoping that people in Cambodia, having witnessed firsthand the curse of a materialistic, godless society, will again take up their now almost lost Vedic civilization.
See an expanded photo gallery for this article at www.krishna.com/372
"'I wanna preach!' she said. Her eyes grew wider and gleamed brighter with each word."
By Campakalata Devi Dasi
MY THREE-YEAR-OLD daughter watches intently as I polish the small wooden rocking chair in her bedroom. "My rocking chair," she says as she lifts her chin authoritatively then drops it to her neck.
Her pouty lower lip sticks out ever so slightly, daring me to disagree with her.
Vivid memories flood my mind suddenly and overwhelmingly. I picture a girl very similar-looking in many ways to my little Padma. Radha Govinda was also three years old. Like my daughter, she too had curling ringlets encircling her face. Only her curls were much tighter and smaller, suggestive of the African blood she inherited from her father. Like my little girl, she too had dark, almost black eyes. Only hers were doe eyes, large and bright, framed by long, thick, curling lashes. Those eyes would often stare at no one and nothing in particular, only to turn their sparkling innocence abruptly my way as she solemnly recounted that she had picked a flower or dropped a toy.
Radha Govinda was a perfect mix of her two parents. Her hair was fine like her mother's and curly like her father's. She had her mother's petite Caucasian nose and her father's round face. Her skin was a compromise between them both, much lighter than her father's and much darker than her mother's, an olive-tan. Her cheeks were her own, poochy and squeezable like a baby's. My mother called her "stunning." To me, three-year-old that I was, she was just a girl. I liked playing with her.
Meeting On The Sidewalk
One cloudy day I wanted to meet Radha Govinda on the corner sidewalk right outside my home. I wasn't supposed to go there. I was young, but old enough to understand my mother's persistent warning: "Never go outside by yourself. Either your older brother, your mother, or your father must go with you."
I would nod solemnly.
"This city is very dangerous," she would say. "There are many bad people who steal little girls like you."
But I was three. When I saw my friend meandering in her usual thoughtful manner down the sidewalk past my house, I thought surely she had every intention of turning at the corner and heading for our front door. When she finally reached the corner, her gaze had wandered to the treetops as her head rocked back and forth. I couldn't hear her, but seeing how her lips were moving, I decided she was probably singing one of the many songs she had learned at the temple. She sang those songs a lot.
I tapped the window. She was looking at the ground now, her lips still forming the words of her song. I knocked impatiently. This time she stared across the street away from our house, away from my window into the woods.
Pots clanged and a kitchen cabinet closed sharply. The strong smell of cinnamon mixed with hot apple cider tingled my nose. My mother was busy. The door could be opened quietly, especially with the racket in the kitchen. Within moments I was outside.
Radha Govinda was in the street. I scampered to the edge of the sidewalk.
"Radha Govinda, the street is dangerous!" I yelled.
I was proud I knew a big word like "dangerous." Big girls use big words.
She turned, flashing her typical bright-eyed smile.
"I have a stick," she announced matter-of-factly.
She showed me a twig she must have picked up off the sidewalk.
"The street is dangerous!" I repeated, more urgently this time.
We both turned to the sound of an oncoming car. She ran quickly to my side.
"Come to my house. Let's play with my toys."
I spoke to half a cheek and a tangle of curls.
Her eyes stared through the car as it turned at the corner, bumping over potholes, then revving its engine as it sped away.
"Let's play at my house," I repeated impatiently.
She looked at me this time.
"I wanna preach!" she said.
Her eyes grew wider and gleamed brighter with each word.
Preach? What did she mean?
"Come on," she insisted.
She beckoned with the hand that wasn't holding the twig. We trotted side by side past my house, past our neighbor Pete's house, and past her house. I glanced back the way we had come. My house was still there. It stood like a towering box in a straight line with so many other boxes. It was a special box, though—my home box. And I was too far from its flaps of safety. I had never been such a distance from my home without one of my parents. Even my brother never took me this far.
We turned up the driveway to the house past Radha Govinda's. A black girl, her hair hanging in so many little braids with colorful beads at the ends, peered down at us from a high window. I tried to disappear behind my friend. I didn't know the girl in the window. What if she was mean? For Radha Govinda, the girl was the perfect opportunity to "preach."
"Say, 'Hare Krsna.'"
My friend's voice was loud and confident. The girl didn't yell at us. Instead, she cocked her head, the plastic beads slanting in unison away from her ear. She stared at us quizzically for a moment, and I knew she was going to yell.
"Hare Krsna!" she said.
I jumped. Her voice was husky, but clear.
Radha Govinda then spoke each syllable deliberately and painstakingly, as if she herself had a hard time with the words: "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
We said the mantra every day at the temple. Radha Govinda repeated it exactly.
I stared at her and then at the girl in the window, who was repeating it flawlessly.
A car door slammed, awakening me to the reality that my house was still very far away.
"I wanna go home," I whined softly, directing my voice toward the ground.
"Bye!" said Radha Govinda to the girl in the window, her hand flopping rapidly back and forth in some kind of a wave.
She had dropped her twig. The girl in the window waved back and smiled.
We stepped back out to the sidewalk. Two men were standing outside Pete's house, blocking the way. Both had crossed arms, bald heads, bellies that protruded from under their T-shirts, and beefy cheeks that hung over their thick necks. Cigarette smoke hazed the air around them. Surely these were the kidnappers my mother had so often warned about. Their drunken laughter hit my ears like a long, drawn-out thunderclap, or like the sound of trees cracking or houses crumbling.
I stepped back, slipping my hand into Radha Govinda's. Her face still bore the angelic look she'd had when she preached to the girl in the window. Her eyes focused their innocence on the kidnappers. Was she going to preach to them next?
We were passing her house now. Her home would be almost as good a haven as my own. I tugged at her hand, pulling her in the direction of safety.
She drew the word through her lips into a thin whine, jutting her chin toward me.
"We have to preach!"
A familiar voice rang out from somewhere beyond the kidnappers. My mother! The men moved aside to make way for her. They were scared of my mother! Well, of course they were.
My mother's worried scolding was jumbled in my brain, a mess of words and gestures. I was safe at last. The kidnappers could never get me. My mother was here.
Radha Govinda was shooed toward her house. I watched her kick up her heels as she bounded up the driveway, her mass of curls bobbing with every step.
My mother grabbed my hand. The men were a blur of gray, white, and peach as we whisked past them.
A police car was parked around the corner, directly in front of my house. Two uniformed men got out. A quiver shook my legs. I was in big trouble now. Did police take away girls who ran away from home? I hoped they were scared of my mother like the kidnappers were.
My next thought froze my heart to ice cold fear. Maybe my mother had told them I was a bad girl.
But they didn't look at me. I saw why they were there. A man lay on his back on the sidewalk. His eyes were closed. A cigarette stuck up from his pursed lips. His elbows rested on the rough sidewalk, while his hands relaxed on his chest, his body blocking the small path leading to our house. He didn't stir in the slightest while the police picked him up and placed him in the back seat of their car.
I was amazed that he didn't mind being hauled off like that. My mother must have seen my face. Her expression was sterner than ever.
Again she rattled on and on about the dangers of this city and how I should never go outside by myself. I let my mind wander back to Radha Govinda. How come she never got scared? How come she always wanted to talk about Krsna even to mean kidnappers? I resolved to ask her the next time we met. I pictured her doelike eyes widened with enthusiasm. "I wanna preach," she had said. She was so brave.
I don't know if I ever got to ask her my questions. My next memory of her is also my last. She looked very different this time. We were at the temple celebrating Vyasa Puja, Srila Prabhupada's birthday anniversary. Festivals at the temple were always great fun. The temple's lawns and gardens were our huge playground, a place where we could roam freely—well, as long as our mothers could see us. We were in the dining hall, my mother, my baby brother, and I. The feast had been good, and my full tummy and I were ready for some more play time.
Then a man ran into the room, his frantic voice echoing through the hall.
I know now that he said, "Does anyone know CPR?"
Back then, my three-year-old ears heard nothing but a jumble of crazy, mixed-up shouts. At his second sentence, my mother bolted from the room. I saw enough of her face to know that something was wrong, terribly wrong. I followed her as quickly as my little legs would carry me, but she was soon swallowed up by a crowd of people all heading the same direction, toward the pool.
Feet, most of them bare, bounded up the wide curving stone steps that led to the rose garden and the pool beyond it. There were so many feet, big feet attached to big legs attached to big people. Could I squeeze through such a mass of humanity? I made my way through the gate to the pool easily. The spaces here and there between the many converging bodies afforded plenty of room for my little form.
Then I saw her. Radha Govinda was blue. Not gray-blue, but bright, shocking blue. Her curls, straightened in their wet state, hung limply around her face. She lay in a woman's lap, a woman I recognized as the mother of some of my friends. The woman was squeezing her nose.
"All children out!"
I felt myself shoved into a mass of protesting, squirming children. Indignation swelled my chest, ready to burst any second. I don't know who kicked us out. But later I linked the person to a teenage boy in school I disliked. That mean boy must have been the one who had so unceremoniously torn me from my friend.
I wandered aimlessly on the temple grounds for a while, thoughts racing. What happened to my friend? Was she sick? Why was I thrown out? What were they doing to her? Why was that lady plugging her nose?
Finally the large group emerged from the pool. Radha Govinda was being carried by her father. They were singing loudly. The chant was a happy one, one that was sung daily as part of the temple services, but this time it reflected the somber mood of the crowd that sang it.
Something was so dreadfully wrong. Where was my mother? She could tell me what was going on. The mother of one of my friends was sobbing, her bright red face wet with tears, the way my baby brother's face looked when he was throwing his biggest tantrum. But mothers didn't cry like that. Babies did. Something was so wrong.
Over the next few days I pestered my mother with questions. One day I found her crying in the kitchen over the pot she stirred on the stove.
"Mommy, why are you crying?" I asked.
"I miss Radha Govinda."
She tried to smile.
"Don't cry," I said. "She's happy now. She's playing with Krsna."
Fresh sobs racked my mother's chest. This time a partial smile came naturally to her wet face, even amid her sobs.
I still idolize Radha Govinda's death. To me she was a perfect child, so angelic in every way that Krsna couldn't wait to call her home to His kingdom, the spiritual world.
I look at my daughter sitting in the freshly cleaned rocking chair—"my rocking chair."
But to me it will always be Radha Govinda's rocking chair. After she died, her parents gave it to me. Death was such a simple thing to the three-year-old I was twenty years ago. But I know now how much Radha Govinda's death devastated her parents. They gave me her rocking chair not because they had no other use for it—their baby boy would have used it—but because of the pain it carried between its miniature armrests.
Sitting in the chair, my daughter looks beautiful to me right now.
"Will you hug me?" I ask, looking at her pleadingly.
She comes to my arms willingly.
"Yes," I say to myself, "there is a God—Krsna—and I know He had his reasons for taking my little friend so many years ago. But motherly attachment is so intense."
As Padma's soft cheek presses mine and her arms encircle my neck, I feel a painful squeeze at my heart. I now know the answer to my question of twenty years ago: "Mommy, why are you crying?"
Krsna's Special Form for US
SOME YEARS AGO, when I was the treasurer of our temple outside Washington, D.C., I went to the bank one Friday afternoon as usual, only to find it closed. Puzzled, I asked a woman standing nearby why it wasn't open.
"Are you living in a hole out there at that Hare Krsna place?" she replied. "Don't you know today's Good Friday?"
I didn't say anything, but I thought, "Well, I'm sure you don't know that last Friday was Gaura Purnima, the appearance anniversary Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu!"
Gaura Purnima, along with Janmastami, should be the most important day on anyone's calendar. The greatest misfortune for people today is that they don't know Lord Caitanya, who came to give them love of God.
Lord Caitanya appeared five hundred years ago to declare that in the present age chanting God's names is the best way to attain love for God. Today, awakening our God consciousness without reference to Caitanya Mahaprabhu is difficult. Why? Because Lord Caitanya is Krsna, or God Himself, the evidence of which can be found throughout the Vedic literature. No doubt that evidence is a little hard to find, and that's because Krsna wanted to protect the secret of His descent: in this age He comes disguised as His own devotee. Still, learned contemporaries of Lord Caitanya discovered many scriptural passages that prove His identity as Krsna, and those can be found in authoritative biographies about Him.
Srila Prabhupada points out that in our time, following Caitanya Mahaprabhu can be said to be more important than following Krsna. Of course, since They're the same person, Their instructions are the same. Krsna says, "Surrender to Me," and Lord Caitanya says, "Surrender to Krsna." But Lord Caitanya came to show us exactly how to surrender to Krsna. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna asked everyone to surrender to Him, but people either misunderstood the order or failed to execute it. So Krsna came as Caitanya Mahaprabhu to show us exactly how to surrender.
The essence of Lord Caitanya's method of surrender is the chanting of Krsna's names. As important for us as chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra is chanting the names of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His chief associates with the mantra jaya sri-krsna-caitanya prabhu nityananda sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadi-gaura-bhakta-vrnda. Worshiping the Lord as He appears in the current age is appropriate—or, rather, imperative—because He has come specifically for us.
People in the West hardly know anything about Krsna, what to speak of Caitanya Mahaprabhu, but even the people of India, who all know something about Krsna, know little or nothing about Lord Caitanya. Many believe He was a sixteenth-century Bengali saint, but He is much more than that.
Lord Caitanya mostly hid His identity as Krsna because He had taken on the mood of a devotee of Krsna. He showed that love of Krsna is so wonderful that Krsna becomes His own devotee to taste it. By worshiping Caitanya Mahaprabhu and accepting His teachings, we too can taste the only love that can fully satisfy us.
Just worship Sri Gaurahari [Caitanya Mahaprabhu], who is always affectionate toward His devotees. He is the same Supreme Godhead, Krsna, who sported in the cowherd pastures of Vraja and stole the hearts of Nanda and Yasoda.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
All the Vedas describe the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Katha Upanisad 1.2.15
I, the Soul of all beings, am not as satisfied by ritual worship, brahminical initiation, penances, or self-discipline as I am by faithful service rendered to one's spiritual master.
Lord Sri Krsna
All the Vedas declare, "Chant the holy name of Lord Krsna. By chanting you will attain spiritual love and bliss that has no end." Again they say, "The great liberated souls in the spiritual world always chant the holy name."
Srila Haridasa Thakura
My dear friend, if you are indeed attached to your worldly friends, do not look at the smiling face of Lord Govinda [Krsna] as He stands on the bank of the Yamuna River at Keshi Ghat. Casting sidelong glances, He places His flute to His lips, which seem like newly blossomed twigs. His transcendental body, bending in three places, appears very bright in the moonlight.
Srila Rupa Gosvami
A pure devotee, who is attached to the activities of devotional service and who always engages in the service of My lotus feet, never desires to become one with Me. Such a devotee, who is unflinchingly engaged, always glorifies My pastimes and activities.
The Lord of Gokula [Krsna] is the transcendental Supreme Godhead, the own Self of eternal ecstasies. He is the superior of all superiors and is busily engaged in the enjoyments of the transcendental realm and has no association with His mundane potency.