IN THIS ISSUE we commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Bhaktivedanta Archives, which safeguards and makes available many of the gifts left by Srila Prabhupada, most notably his recorded words. Thanks to the efforts of the Archives, and to modern technology, we've gained an invaluable asset for spiritual life: instant access to Prabhupada's teachings on any topic.
Included in the Archives collection are hundreds of recorded lectures, which BTG draws from to bring you the Founder's Lecture in each issue. This time we have Srila Prabhupada speaking in New York City, 1971, about the compassion of Krsna's devotees.
Compassion is also a theme in "Free for My Life's Work." An ex-prisoner tells how the compassionate workers of the ISKCON Prison Ministry brought light to his dark cell. That light is Krsna's teachings, and in "Seeing by Krsna's Light," Caitanya Carana Dasa explains how it is the only hope for our misled modern world.
Compassion often drives great thinkers to look for ways to organize society for everyone's benefit. In "Social Dharma in Plato, Gandhi, Bhaktivinoda, and Prabhupada," Satyaraja Dasa discusses the Vedic social system and shows that its natural divisions are based on one's qualities and work, not one's birth.
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.
Attitude and Faith Matter
Thank you once again for another enlivening issue. The story of the three-year-old girl [March/April] was really touching. The message was quite clear: In preaching, age hardly matters—what matters is your attitude and faith in the sweet Lord.
Also the visit to Angkor Wat was really well covered and excellently presented. I think ISKCON should come forward to preserve these monuments and give fallen souls the real nectar of Krsna consciousness.
Vikram Aditya Pandit
I am searching for a new job, and I have recently been called to a few interviews. I was stressed, but then I read Rashi Singh's uplifting article in the March/April issue. I immediately started to see the interviews, regular workloads, job applications, and even my devotional service in a new light. The article reminded me that I was letting material pressures rule my consciousness. Instead of wallowing in worry and anxiety, I should realize that all successes and failures belong to Krsna and all work should be done as an offering to Him.
I'm a journalist, and it is challenging to keep Krsna at the center while I'm in the newsroom every day. But now, from 12:30 P.M. I block out the office's humdrum of shouting, teasing, and crude joking. I put on my headphones, log into Krishna.com, and download the radio. So I am transported from my office to Deity Greeting, Guru Puja, and Srimad-Bhagvatam class in Alachua, Florida. I try to avoid doing interviews or answering phone calls at that time, preferring to doing simple pieces of work on my computer so I can concentrate on the program. While tapping my finger on my desk to Srila Prabhupada's "three beat," I often have to stop myself singing!
Krishna.com radio is a wonderful idea—a breakthrough for devotees all over the world. It's especially merciful for devotees like myself who don't get to visit the temple or meet devotees in kirtana and Krsna talks everyday. A welcome addition to a normally cut-throat environment. I have urged all of my devotee friends at their desks to do the same. Thank you.
Krsna Rock and Reggae
Could you please answer a few questions? (1) Why is it that the ladies do not play any instrument while chanting, as the males do? (2) Do you consider males to have more rights? (3) Do you approve of Hare Krsna music in the form of reggae, techno, or rock?
OUR REPLY: (1) They do. There is no rule against it.
(2) In the culture from which Krsna's teachings come, the men more often played leadership roles. Today, a qualified woman can accept almost any position. More important, from the spiritual point of view what role a person plays in society is insignificant, as long as the soul develops devotion to God. So, from the spiritual point of view, men do not have more rights. All souls have the same rights to approach God.
(3) Many people take an interest in Krsna consciousness after hearing devotee bands, so they are of practical value. For example, during Indradyumna Swami's festival tours in Poland, many people appreciate the music of Village of Peace (reggae) and Shelter (hardcore). Their songs promote vegetarianism, discrimination between spirit and matter, and collective glorification of God. The performers just have to remember to act in the spirit of service to Krsna and not for fame or profit. It may be more of a challenge in that field, but it is possible if one is determined.
Insight on War
In light of the Gulf War, could you please give some Vedic insight besides chanting the holy name?
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: War arises from false claims of proprietorship over God's property and from accepting as real designations based on the body and acting according to them. These problems can be eliminated if we all chant the Lord's name, which purifies us from these defects, but unfortunately faithless people will never chant, and so the wars will continue to come and go, only to return again.
As long as we live in the material world, there will be lighting. Even in heaven, Lord Indra has to worry about people like Bali Maharaja usurping his position. But troublemakers cannot make it to Vaikuntha, the spiritual world, and therefore we should be determined to go there, and we should encourage others to make the same determination.
It is simple: In the material world there is always war, and in the spiritual world there is always peace; therefore we should aspire to go to the spiritual world. We should take advantage of the opportunity to encourage people to solve the problem of war by going back to Godhead. People do not consider that God is all good and all powerful and so in His world there is no anxiety. We should plan to go there by following the path chalked out by the great teachers who have understood the truth. Therefore chanting the holy name is the real solution to the ultimate problem. We cannot eliminate war from this planet, but we can elevate our consciousness to the point where we will be able to attain the spiritual world, and thus eliminate war from our life.
Chanting for Change
I really hope that you can help me with my problems. I heard the very last moments of a radio program where someone was talking about the chanting of Hare Krsna and how it has changed their life.
I really need to change my life. Nothing in my life is working, and I know that I have to turn to God for help.
How can this Hare Krsna mantra help me, and will it really change my life? Will it help with my material problems as well as helping me gain a deeper spirituality? Does it take many weeks or months to feel the effects of this practice in one's life? I appreciate deeply any insight or comments that you can take the time to give me.
[name withheld by request]
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: Chanting Hare Krsna is an excellent way to "turn to God" because it is composed of names of God, which are equal to God in potency. When you chant Hare Krsna, God is personally with you. In the beginning, because of our material conditioning we cannot fully appreciate this truth, but the more we chant the more God will reveal Himself to us in various ways.
One side effect of developing a deeper spirituality is that our material problems will be solved without separate endeavor. The perfection is to serve God with spiritual love, and by chanting the holy names of the Lord, that truth will be gradually revealed.
Many chanters notice benefits right away. Why not try chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra fifteen minutes a day for a week and see for yourself?
Please write to us at: BTG, P.O. Box 430, Alachua, FL 32616, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without concern even for their own salvation,
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
"O greatly fortunate and opulent Sukadeva Gosvami, now kindly tell me how human beings may be saved from having to enter hellish conditions in which they suffer terrible pains."
TODAY I SHALL SPEAK to you about the glorification of the holy name of God. This was discussed between Maharaja Pariksit and Sukadeva Gosvami in connection with a brahmana who was very fallen and addicted to all kinds of sinful activities but was saved simply by chanting the holy name. This history is found in the Sixth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
The universal planetary systems are very nicely explained in the Fifth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Within the universe there are some planets which are hellish. Actually, not only the Bhagavatam but all religious scriptures contain descriptions of hell and heaven. In Srimad-Bhagavatam you can find out where those hellish planets are and how distant they are from this planet, just as you can obtain information from modern astronomy. Astronomers have calculated how far the moon is from here and what the distance is between this planet and the sun. Similarly, the Bhagavatam contains descriptions of the hellish planets.
We have experience of different atmospheric conditions even on this planet. In the western countries near the North Pole, the climate is different than in India, which is near the equator. Just as there are differences in atmosphere and living conditions on this planet, there are many planets that have different atmospheres and conditions of life.
After hearing a description of the hellish planets from Sukadeva Gosvami, Pariksit Maharaja said,
"Sir, I have heard from you about the hellish planets. Men who are very sinful are sent to those planets." Pariksit Maharaja is a Vaisnava, a devotee, and a Vaisnava always feels compassion for others' distress. He is very afflicted by the miseries of others. When Lord Jesus Christ presented himself, for instance, he was greatly afflicted by the miserable conditions of the people. Regardless of which country or sect they belong to, all Vaisnavas, or devotees—any people who are God conscious or Krsna conscious—are thus compassionate. Therefore to blaspheme a Vaisnava, a preacher of God's glories, is a great offense.
Krsna, God, is never tolerant of offenses committed at the lotus feet of a Vaisnava. Krpambudhi: A Vaisnava is an ocean of mercy. Vancha-kalpataru: Everyone has desires, but a Vaisnava can fulfill all desires. Kalpataru means desire tree. There is a tree in the spiritual world called a desire tree. In this material world, you get a particular type of fruit from a particular type of tree, but in Krsnaloka, as well as in all the Vaikuntha planets, all the trees are spiritual and will fulfill all your desires. That is described in the Brahma-samhita: cintamani-prakara-sadmasu kalpa-vrksa.
A Vaisnava is addressed as mahabhaga, which means fortunate. One who becomes a Vaisnava and is God conscious is understood to be greatly fortunate.
Wandering The Universe
Caitanya Mahaprabhu has explained that the living entities are rotating in different species of life, in different planetary systems all over the universe. A living entity can go anywhere—to hell or heaven—as he likes and as he prepares himself. There are many heavenly planets, many hellish planets, and many species of life. There are 8,400,000 species of life. The living entity is wandering through these species and creating bodies according to his mentality in the present life. "As you sow, so shall you reap."
Caitanya Mahaprabhu says that out of all these numberless living entities who are traveling in the material world, one is fortunate, not everyone. If everyone were fortunate, they would all have taken to Krsna consciousness. It is being distributed freely everywhere. But why are people not taking it? Because they are unfortunate. Therefore Caitanya Mahaprabhu says that only those who are fortunate take to Krsna consciousness, and they get hopeful life, pleasant life, blissful life, a life of knowledge.
It is the duty of a Vaisnava to go door to door to make the unfortunate people fortunate. A Vaisnava thinks, "How can these people be delivered from their hellish life?" That was Pariksit Maharaja's inquiry. "Sir," he said, "you have described that on account of one's sinful activities one is put into a hellish condition of life or in a hellish planetary system. Now, what are the counter methods by which such persons can be saved?" This is the question. When a Vaisnava comes, when God Himself comes, or when God's son or His very condential devotees come, their only mission is to save the sinful persons who are suffering. They have knowledge of how to do this.
When Prahlada Maharaja met Nrsimhadeva, he said,
naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaranyas
"My dear Lord," Prahlada says, "I am not very anxious for my own deliverance." Mayavadi, or impersonalist, philosophers are very careful that their personal salvation is not interrupted. They think, "If I go to preach in association with others, I may fall down, and my realization will be finished." Therefore they do not come. Only the Vaisnavas come—at the risk of falldown. But they do not fall down. They may even go to hell to deliver the conditioned souls. This is Prahlada Maharaja's mission. He says, naivodvije: "I am not very anxious about living in this material world."
Prahlada Maharaja says further, "I have no anxiety for myself because somehow or other I have been trained to be always Krsna conscious." Because he is Krsna conscious, he is confident that in his next life he is going to Krsna. It is stated in Bhagavad-gita that if one executes the Krsna conscious regulative principles carefully, it is certain that he will reach the supreme destination in his next life.
Prahlada Maharaja continues: "There is only one source of anxiety for me." Just see—although he had no anxiety for himself, he still had anxiety. He says, soce tato vimukha-cetasah: "I am anxious for those persons who are not Krsna conscious. That is my anxiety. For myself I have no anxiety, but I am thinking of those who are not Krsna conscious." Why aren't they Krsna conscious? Maya-sukhaya bharam udvahato vimudhan: These rascals have created a humbug civilization for temporary happiness.
Maya-sukhaya. Actually this is a fact. We have a humbug civilization. So many cars are being manufactured every year, and for that purpose so many roads have to be excavated and prepared. This creates problem after problem. Therefore it is maya-sukhaya, illusory happiness, and yet we are trying to be happy in this way. We are trying to manufacture some way to be happy, but this only creates other problems.
In your country you have the greatest number of cars, but that does not solve any problems. You have manufactured cars to help solve the problems of life, but I have experienced that this also creates more problems. When my disciple Dayananda wanted to take me to a doctor in Los Angeles, I had to take the trouble to travel thirty miles before I could even consult the doctor. Once you create cars, then you must travel thirty or forty miles to meet your friends.
You can go from New York to Boston in one hour, but it takes even longer than that just to get to the airport. This situation is called maya-sukhaya. Maya means false, illusory. We are trying to create some very comfortable situation, but we have created another uncomfortable situation. This is the way of the material world. If we are not satisfied by the natural comforts offered by God and nature and we want to create artificial comforts, then we have to create some discomfort also. Most people do not know that. They think they are creating a very comfortable situation, but actually they are traveling fifty miles to go to the office to earn a livelihood and fifty miles to come back. In Hawaii, one boy, Gaurasundara, was working to maintain our temple. Unfortunately he had to go fifty miles from the temple to work. I was very sorry to see that this boy had to go fifty miles for Krsna's sake, but now Krsna has given us the facility so that we don't have to work.
Because of such conditions, Prahlada Maharaja says that these vimudhans—these materialistic persons, these rascals—have created an unnecessary burden on themselves simply for temporary happiness. Vimudhan . . . maya-sukhaya bharam udvahatah. Therefore, in Vedic civilization it is recommended that one free himself from material life, take sannyasa, the renounced order of life, and prosecute spiritual life with absolutely no anxiety.
If one can execute Krsna consciousness in family life, that is very good. Bhaktivinoda hakura was a family man, a magistrate, and still he executed devotional service so nicely. Dhruva Maharaja and Prahlada Maharaja were grhasthas, householders, but they trained themselves in such a way that even as householders they were faced with no interruption in their service. Therefore, Prahlada Maharaja says, "I have learned the art of always remaining in Krsna consciousness." What is that art? Tvad-virya-gayana mahamrta-magna-cittah: simply glorifying the victorious activities and pastimes of the Lord. Virya means "very heroic."
Krsna's activities are heroic. You can read about them in our book Krsna. Krsna's name, His fame, His activities, His associates and everything else are heroic. Prahlada Maharaja says in this connection, "I am certain that wherever I go, I can glorify Your heroic activities and be safe. There is no question of my falling down. But I am simply anxious for those persons who have created a civilization in which they are always busy working hard. I am thinking of them."
Prahlada says further:
prayena deva munayah sva-vimukti-kama
"My dear Lord, there are many saintly persons and sages who are very interested in their own liberation." Munayah means saintly persons or philosophers. Prayena deva munayah sva-vimukti-kama: they are very interested in their own liberation. They try to live in solitary places like the Himalayan mountains. They do not talk to anyone, and they are always afraid of mixing with ordinary people in the city and becoming disturbed or maybe even falling down. They think, "Better let me save myself."
Prahlada Maharaja regrets that these great saintly persons do not come to the city, where people have manufactured a civilization of very hard work all day and night. Such saints are not very compassionate. He says, "I am anxious for these fallen people who are unnecessarily working so hard simply for sense gratification."
Even if there were some point in working that hard, such people do not know what it is. All they know is sex. Either they go to a naked dance or to a naked club or to this or that. Prahlada Maharaja says, naitan vihaye krpanan vimumuksa ekah. "My Lord, I do not need salvation alone. Unless I take all these fools with me, I shall not go." He refuses to go to the kingdom of God without taking all these fallen souls with him. This is a Vaisnava. Nanyam tvad asya saranam bhramato 'nupasye: "I simply want to teach them how to surrender unto You. That's all. That is my goal."
The Vaisnava knows that as soon as one surrenders, one's path is clear. Naivodvije para duratyaya vaitaranyas tvad-virya-gayana-mahamrta-magna-cittah: "Simply, somehow or other, let them bow down before Krsna." This is a simple method. All you have to do is bow down before Krsna with faith and say, "My Lord Krsna, I was forgetful of You for so long, for so many lives. Now I have come to consciousness; please accept me." That's all. If one simply learns this technique and sincerely surrenders himself to the Lord, his path is immediately open.
These are the philosophical thoughts of the Vaisnavas. Vaisnavas are always thinking about how the fallen conditioned souls can be delivered. They are always involved in making plans like that, just like the Gosvamis. What was the business of the six Gosvamis of Vrndavana, Lord Caitanya's direct disciples? That is stated by Srinivasa Acarya:
"The six Gosvamis, namely Sri Rupa Gosvami, Sri Sanatana Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha Bhatta Gosvami, Sri Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami, Sri Jiva Gosvami, and Sri Gopala Bhatta Gosvami, are very expert in scrutinizingly studying all the revealed scriptures with the aim of establishing eternal religious principles for the benefit of all human beings. Thus they are honored all over the three worlds, and they are worth taking shelter of because they are always absorbed in the mood of the gopis and are engaged in the transcendental loving service of Radha and Krsna."
With similar Vaisnava compassion, Pariksit Maharaja says to Sukadeva Gosvami, "You have described the different types of hellish conditions of life. Now, tell me how those who are suffering can be delivered. Kindly explain this to me."
Narah means humans, those who are fallen. Narakan narah nanogra-yatanan neyat tan me: "How can they be delivered from their fierce miseries and horrible pains?" That is a Vaisnava heart. Maharaja Pariksit says, "Somehow or other they have fallen down to this hellish life. But that does not mean that they should remain in that condition. There must be some means by which they can be delivered, so kindly explain that."
Types Of Sin
Sukadeva Gosvami replied:
na ced ihaivapacitim yathamhasah
"Yes, I've already described the different types of hellish conditions and very severe painful life, but one has to counteract it."
How can this be done? Sinful activities are committed in various ways. We can make a plan—"I shall kill that man." That is sinful. When the mind is thinking, feeling, and willing, then there is action.
The other day I was reading in a book that if someone's dog barks at you when you are passing on the road, then that is an offense on the part of the dog-owner, according to law. No one should have to be scared by dogs barking, so one should take care of his dog. I read this. It is a law in your country. The dog is simply barking, but it is sinful. The dog is not responsible because it is an animal, but because the owner of the animal has made the dog his best friend, he is responsible by law. If an outside dog enters your house, it may not be killed, but the owners of the dog may be prosecuted.
Just as the barking of the dog is unlawful, so when you speak something offensive to others, that is also sinful. That is just like barking.
Therefore sinful activities are committed in so many ways. Whether we think of sinful activities, or we speak something sinful, or we actually commit a sinful activity, they are all considered sinful activities. Dhruvam sa vai pretya narakan upaiti. One has to suffer punishment for such sinful activities.
People do not believe in a next life because they want to avoid this botheration. But we cannot avoid it. We must act according to the law, or we will be punished. Similarly, I cannot avoid God's law. That is not possible. I can cheat others, commit theft, and hide myself, thereby saving myself from the punishment of the state law, but I cannot save myself from the superior law, the law of nature. It is very difficult. There are so many witnesses. The daylight is witness, the moonlight is witness, and Krsna is the supreme witness. You cannot say, "I am committing this sin, but no one can see me."
Krsna is the supreme witness sitting within your heart. He notes down what you are thinking and what you are doing. He also gives facility. If you want to do something to satisfy your senses, Krsna gives the facility for that action. That is stated in Bhagavad-gita. Sarvasya caham hrdi sannivistah: "I am sitting in everyone's heart." Mattah smrtir-jnanam-apohanam ca: "From Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness."
In this way Krsna gives us a chance. If you want Krsna, then He will give you a chance to have Him, and if you don't want Krsna, then He will give you a chance to forget Him. If you want to enjoy life forgetting Krsna, forgetting God, then Krsna will give you all facility so that you can forget, and if you want to enjoy life with Krsna consciousness, then Krsna will give you the chance to make progress in Krsna consciousness. That is up to you.
If you think that you can be happy without Krsna consciousness, Krsna does not object to that. Yathecchasi tatha kuru. After advising Arjuna, Krsna simply said, "Now I have explained everything to you. Whatever you desire you can do." Arjuna replied immediately, karisye vacanam tava: "Now I shall execute Your order." That is Krsna consciousness.
Krsna Will Help
God does not interfere with your little independence. If you want to act according to the order of God, then God will help you. Even if you fall down sometimes, if you become sincere—"From this time on I shall remain Krsna conscious and execute His orders"—then Krsna will help you. In all respects, even if you fall down, He will excuse you and give you more intelligence. This intelligence will say, "Don't do this. Now go on with your duty." But if you want to forget Krsna, if you want to become happy without Krsna, He will give you so many chances that you will forget Krsna life after life.
Pariksit Maharaja says here, "It is not that if I say there is no God then there will be no God or I will not be responsible for what I do." That is the atheistic theory. Atheists do not want God because they are always sinful. If they thought that there was God, then they would be forced to shudder at the thought of punishment. Therefore they deny the existence of God. That is their process. They think that if they do not accept God then there is no punishment and they can do whatever they like.
When rabbits are being attacked by bigger animals, they close their eyes and think, "I am not going to be killed." But they are killed anyway. Similarly, we may deny the existence of God and the law of God, but still God and His law are there. In the high court you may say, "I don't care for the law of the government," but you will be forced to accept the government law. If you deny the state law, then you will be put into prison and forced to suffer. Similarly, you may foolishly decry the existence of God—"There is no God" or "I am God"—but, nevertheless, you are responsible for all your actions, both good and bad.
There are two kinds of activities—good and bad. If you act nicely and perform pious activities, then you get good fortune, and if you act sinfully, then you have to suffer. Therefore Sukadeva Gosvami says:
tasmat puraivasv iha papa-niskrtau
There are different kinds of atonement. If you commit a sin and counteract it by something else, that is atonement. There are examples of this in the Christian Bible. Sukadeva Gosvami says, "You should know that you are responsible, and according to the gravity of sinful life, you should accept some type of atonement as described in the sastras, the scriptures."
Just as a diseased person must go to a doctor and pay doctor bills as a form of atonement, according to the Vedic way of life there is a class of brahmanas to whom one should go for the prescribed atonement according to the sins one commits. Sukadeva Gosvami says that one has to execute the prescribed atonement according to the gravity of one's sinful life. He continues the example: dosasya drstva guru-laghavam yatha bhisak cikitseta rujam nidanavit. When you consult a physician, he prescribes an inexpensive medicine or a costly medicine according to the gravity of the disease. If you simply have a headache he may prescribe an aspirin, but if you have something very severe, he immediately prescribes a surgical operation that will cost a thousand dollars. Similarly, sinful life is a diseased condition, so one must follow the prescribed cure to become healthy.
Acceptance of the chain of birth and death is a diseased condition of the soul. The soul has no birth and death and no disease because it is spirit. Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita: na jayate, the soul has no birth, and mriyate, it has no death. Nityah sasvato 'yam . . . na hanyate hanyamane sarire. The soul is eternal and everlasting. It is not lost with the dissolution of this body. Na hanyate hanyamane sarire. Na hanyate means that it is not killed or destroyed, even after the destruction of this body.
The missing point of modern civilization is that there is no educational system to instruct people on what happens after death. Thus we have the most defective education because without this knowledge of what happens after death, one dies like an animal. The animal does not know that he is going to have another body; he has no such knowledge.
Human life is not meant for becoming an animal. One should not simply be interested in eating, sleeping, sex life, and defense. You may have a very nice arrangement for eating, or many nice buildings for sleeping, or a very good arrangement for sex life, or a very good defense force to protect you, but that does not mean that you are a human being. That type of civilization is animal life. Animals are also interested in eating, sleeping, and sex life, and according to their own methods they defend also. Where, then, is the distinction between human life and animal life if you simply engage in these four principles of bodily nature?
The distinction is made when a human being is inquisitive—"Why have I been put into this miserable condition? Is there any remedy for it? Is there any perpetual eternal life? I do not want to die. I want to live very happily and peacefully. Is there a chance of this? What is that method? What is that science?" When these inquiries are there and steps are taken to answer these questions, that is human civilization; otherwise it is doggish civilization, animal civilization.
Animals are satisfied if they can eat, sleep, have some sex life, and have some defense. Actually there is no defense because no one can protect himself from the hands of cruel death. Hiranyakasipu, for instance, wanted to live forever, and so he underwent severe austerities. So-called scientists are now saying that we shall stop death by scientific methods. This is also another crazy utterance. That is not possible. You may make great advancement in scientific knowledge, but there is no scientific solution to these four problems of birth, death, old age, and disease.
One who is intelligent will be eager to solve these four prime problems. No one wants to die. But there is no remedy. I have to die. Everyone is very anxious to stop the increase of population by employing so many contraceptive methods, but still, birth is going on. So there is no stoppage of birth. You may invent up-to-date medicines by your scientific methods, but you cannot stop disease. It is not possible just to take a tablet to put an end to disease.
In the Bhagavad-gita [13.10] it is said, janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanu-darsanam: One might think that he has solved all the problems of his life, but where is the solution to these four problems of birth, death, old age, and disease? That solution is Krsna consciousness.
Krsna also says [4.9], janma karma ca me divyam evam yo vetti tattvatah/ tyaktva deham punar janma naiti mam eti so 'rjuna. Every one of us is giving up our body at every moment. The last phase of giving up this body is called death. But Krsna says, "If anyone understands My appearance and disappearance and My activities—not superficially but in truth—after giving up this body he never again accepts a material body."
What happens to such a person? Mam eti: he returns to Krsna. If you are to go to Krsna, then you have to prepare your spiritual body. That is Krsna consciousness. If you keep yourself in Krsna consciousness, then gradually you prepare your next body, a spiritual body, which will carry you immediately to Krsnaloka, and you will become happy. You will live there perpetually and blissfully.
Thank you very much.
Free For My Life's Work
Even prison walls couldn't
By Chris Matthews
I WAS FIRST INTRODUCED to Krsna in 1985, at age fifteen. I was fortunate to have the association of some very sincere disciples of Srila Prabhupada. They inspired in me a deep desire to practice Krsna consciousness. I wanted to run off and devote my life to Krsna, but other desires won out.
In 1986 I was introduced to morphine, which gradually dragged me to the darkest depths of addiction. In 1992 I started burglarizing drug stores to keep from the dreaded withdrawals that were a fact of everyday life. I once overdosed and "died"—flatlined for ten minutes. I came to in intensive care, cursing the doctors who had saved my life. I didn't want to go on in this living hell, and death seemed the only way out.
All my attempts at cleaning up ended in failure. In moments of clarity, I couldn't believe I had fallen to such a low level. How had I forgotten that I am an eternal servant of Krsna? How had I sunk so deeply into illusion? My bodily identification had robbed me of my aspirations for a life devoted to Krsna.
I remember thinking these things in 1993 as I awaited sentencing for stealing from drug stores. Still heavily addicted, and now with a daughter on the way, I lamented that I couldn't teach her about Krsna. How could I help my daughter while I was so far gone?
Conflicted, I resolved to never again plague my mind with thoughts of God; I would deny His existence. But it is never so easy. Krsna never leaves one who has had even a small desire for devotion. He sits patiently in the heart and waits.
In 1994 I was sentenced to eight years in the Tennessee state prison. I started my sentence with hopelessness and despair. My daughter was born ten days later. I was so despondent that I doubted I'd ever see the outside world again.
Quest For Freedom
Somehow, a short time into my term I decided I would break free—not a physical escape but a spiritual one. I would try to live a spiritual life in prison. With meditation, I thought, I would retain some sanity. I read and studied everything I could. I practiced a handful of meditation and astral-projection techniques. I studied Islam, Buddhism, Susm, Cabala, Christianity, Advaita Vedanta—anything available through various prison ministries.
The two years I spent in a solitary confinement unit were a great opportunity to turn my cell into an ashram. I spent countless hours meditating, but to no avail. I was trying to meditate on an impersonal concept of the Truth. But I quickly learned that trying to still the mind is, as Arjuna said, "impractical and unendurable . . ., for the mind is restless and unsteady." After years of trying the techniques Krsna describes in Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad-gita, I threw up my hands. Despite all my studies and practice, I was still miserable; they amounted to nothing.
For the first time in years I said a simple prayer to Bhagavan Krsna: "Lord, I am lost. I remember You. Please help me."
A few days later I was transferred and released into the general prison population. Somehow I came across the address for Candrasekhara Dasa of the ISKCON Prison Ministry. I wrote him, he replied, and about a month later I received Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Beyond Birth and Death, and The Science of Self-Realization. I devoured Sri Krsna's words and Srila Prabhupada's purports. They were new life. I already owned three editions of the Bhagavad-gita with commentaries by impersonalists, but receiving Prabhupada's was like greeting an old friend. I understood it much better now with age than at fifteen. It was so liberating to find out again my relationship to Krsna as servant. How much nonsense it is to meditate on "I am Brahman" and to be told I am God, you are God, we are all God—while I was incarcerated! How did God become incarcerated?
I started chanting and became a vegetarian, even though my only meal for those years was beans and macaroni and cheese. I made a set of japa-mala (chanting beads) out of a piece of cloth by tying 108 knots in it and tying the ends together. I set up an altar in my cell, using pictures from the books. I learned to offer my job assignments to Krsna, working in a spirit of detachment. Most inmates are bitter about having to work for the state. But when I was asked why it didn't bother me, I was happy to tell them I was working for Krsna.
I felt more free inside the razor wire than I had ever felt outside. It was all Krsna's mercy on a fallen devotee. The thought of Srila Prabhupada bringing Krsna consciousness to the West to help us regain our lost relationship with the Lord of creation, Sri Krsna, brought tears to my eyes while I chanted. I was registered with the state of Tennessee as a hardened career criminal. I had seen many acts of brutality in prison and not so much as blinked. But here I was, crying over the mercy and compassion shown to us through the gift of the maha-mantra, by which Krsna melts even the hardest heart and then comes in and steals it. When I was released in July 2000, I was a free man in more ways than one.
Finding My Service
Last year a friend and I went to the Atlanta temple for the Gaura Purnima festival. I hadn't been inside a temple for seventeen years. What bliss it was to have the company of devotees and be in front of the deities, hearing the transcendental vibrations of the maha-mantra! This stimulus made me decide to do what my life is meant for: serve Krsna, although I didn't know how.
After a few months, I figured it out. I decided to start a branch of the ISKCON Prison Ministry. I thought of how nice it would have been for me to have had the association of devotees while incarcerated. I wanted to give that opportunity to others. Devotees can go into the prisons, as other groups do, but they can hold kirtana and Gita class and distribute prasadam, as no one else can.
My heart felt great compassion for the souls who sat and walked where I once did. I thought of how in all the institutions I had been in, none of the libraries had any of Srila Prabhupada's books. So I started buying all the Prabhupada books I could at used book stores and saving them to send to someone. I put advertisements on the Internet, and I got in touch with every state, asking permission to send books and correspondence classes to inmates, general libraries, and chaplains' libraries. I didn't have the books or the correspondence courses, but I had a strong conviction and faith that I was serving Krsna and they would come by His mercy.
In only four weeks I received permission from seventy-six prisons to send them books, beads, and correspondence classes, and I received all the books and class materials to do it. Now I pray that devotees will come forward to go into the prisons, following Srila Prabhupada's example of compassion.
I'd like to thank Candrasekhara Dasa, who has struggled selflessly with the prison ministry for sixteen years—distributing books, corresponding with tens of thousands of inmates, and being a bright light in carrying out Lord Caitanya's edict that Krsna consciousness be spread everywhere. Candrasekhara Dasa's compassion reached me and many others. But many need our help and absolutely must have the opportunity to change and to practice Krsna consciousness.
The greatest gift I have received through the ISKCON Prison Ministry is a second chance to raise my daughter, now seven, in Krsna consciousness. I can sit with her and my fiancee's twins, also seven, and chant japa in front of our deities. We chant six rounds together. When I see the girls with their beads, my heart soars. Because of the ISKCON Prison Ministry, I realize now that I can teach my daughter about Krsna. That's my perfection as a parent.
ISKCON Prison Ministry Profile
IN 1962, Srila Prabhupada wrote as one of the goals in the prospectus of his League of Devotees (the precursor to ISKCON): "To take charge of moral upliftment by spiritual process even for the criminals and prisoners of the state, and to accept all kinds of help and facilities from the police and government concerned." Before he left for the West, Srila Prabhupada brought Krsna's message to the Tihar prison in New Delhi in the 1960s.
In the early 1970s, Prabhupada's disciple Visnujana Swami used to take his exuberant chanting and potent preaching to the Bexar County Jail near San Antonio, Texas. Later, there were pockets of prison preaching in Oklahoma, California, and other places.
In the 1980s, Dharma Dasa was corresponding with inmates when he became the temple president of ISKCON Miami, so he turned his prison work over to Candrasekhara Dasa, who was already sending packets of Prabhupada's books to prison libraries in Louisiana and other spots in the southeastern United States. Since then, Candrasekhara has been the backbone of the ISKCON Prison Ministry (IPM).
The IPM grew as it received inmate inquiries forwarded from temples, as the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust passed on its list of inmates who had asked about Prabhupada's books, and as prison advocacy groups agreed to run advertisements for free books on devotional yoga.
In the United States there are now more than two hundred inmates who have seriously taken up Krsna consciousness. Srila Prabhupada's books are owing into prison cells and chapel libraries. The IPM also helps inmates light for their right to a vegetarian diet, and it provides japa (chanting) beads whenever possible.
In the US, the IPM has two distribution centers, in San Diego and Chicago, managed by Syamapriya Devi Dasi and Balarama Dasa. Devotees connected with IPM are also working with prisoners in the United Kingdom, India, and Slovenia.
Here are some of the others who contribute significantly to the work of the Ministry in the US:
• His Holiness Candramauli Swami is IPM's spiritual leader
• Jagannivasa Dasa, in Cleveland, writes to inmates and writes articles for the IPM Freedom Newsletter.
• His Holiness Bhaktivallabha Puri Goswami and devotees in Scotland donate four hundred copies of each issue of BTG for distribution to prisoners in the USA.
• Amala-bhakta Dasa and Tamopaha Dasa contribute books regularly.
• Michael Singer and Radha of the Temple of the Universe in Alachua, Florida, have been giving regular financial contributions since the early 1990s.
• Kamlesh Patel is also a regular donor.
Many others support the work of the IPM various ways.
To contribute books or money for postage, write to Chandra Myers, 3543 Rushland Ave., Toledo, Ohio 43606.
Letters From Prison
Excerpts from the hundreds of inmate letters received by devotees at the ISKCON Prison Ministry over the years.
The Ministry has provided me with devotee correspondence and with books to read and study, thereby increasing my ability to grow closer to Krsna and break down the wall of loneliness that surround me. In fact, these walls tumble into nothingness—more so with each letter, book, and prayer that I receive.
Krsna has been so generous to me. He sent Bhakta Chris to help me understand who I am and hear the lovely words of Krsna. I was such a foolish rascal. Not anymore. I see things so clearly now. It's like a dream come true. I hope to stay on my path. I feel so much better. I no longer eat meat or drink coffee, but I do chant the maha-mantra.
I received the package of books. I hardly know how to express my thanks. It was the first time I have ever received a package that was really in line with what I wanted. I have never received a gift that was more meaningful to me. You opened the door to my heart.
I'm still doing my chanting—six rounds a day and loving every minute of it. I'm going to be doing seven rounds a day pretty soon. I love to chant to my Lord Krsna. He is so very good to me. He gives me everything I need.
We are continuing our weekly two-hour sessions here. We have six regular guys attending, and a few more drop in now and then. We just finished reading Chapter 1, and interest is growing. We need ten Gitas sent to the chapel here for the guys to use. All in all, I am doing well and learning more each day, mostly about how silly my life has been. I long to lift the veil that separates me from Krsna.
My progress is most astonishing. Some people close to me thought I was losing my marbles. I told them that I finally found them! I can't believe that someone would call me crazy for loving God. I try to engage others in Krsna consciousness, but it is very difficult to do this when my knowledge is still so limited. I will continue to try. Every Monday, devotees come to the prison, and we have a big attendance.
I am a prisoner in solitary confinement at a New York State correctional facility. I happened to notice a gentleman a few cells away who was very kind and seemed to have a very serene disposition. I inquired as to the source of his very humble attitude and serene disposition when all around us mayhem was the usual attitude. Prisoners were usually arguing and disrespecting each other. He explained that he was seeing spiritual life and that material life was a disease. He then lent me a book by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, called The Science of Self-Realization. It was the most fascinating thing I've ever read, and I truly wish to follow your teachings. I want to be a Hare Krsna disciple. I truly want to leave this material life and return to Godhead.
The program here is going stronger than ever, and last week set a new attendance record—twenty-four. Krsna's mercy is everywhere, even here in Terminal Island prison. I'm down to the last Gita, and we're running short of every other book. I do my best to make sure they only go to guys who are truly interested.
About eight months ago I was at the library here, and I came across The Science of Self-Realization. That was a turning point in this life we live. I stopped eating meat and talking the way I used to. After reading that book, Krsna became part of my daily life. I'm chanting Hare Krsna with every day that comes to pass. My life is so enjoyable, much like it was when I was in my youthful body. The next book I read was Krsna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga. That filled me with bliss, and I've become stronger in meditation. I feel that I now have what I need to grow.
I want to learn how I can use the gifts the Lord has given me to serve His will. I don't want to be a slave to material things, and I truly want to live a spiritual life. Hopefully, I will be released from this physical bondage soon. However, I don't want to slip back into material life. It would be wonderful if you could send me some books to help, and for which I would be grateful. When I wrote to ISKCON, I knew I was taking a step in the right direction.
Thinkers both inside and outside
by Satyaraja Dasa
IN A RECENT CONVERSATION with a well-to-do Hindu gentleman in New York City, I happened to mention that I was twice-initiated—a brahmana priest who regularly chanted the condential Gayatri mantra and sometimes officiated at Vedic ceremonies. He was taken aback.
"How is that possible?" he asked. "You're not born Indian or to brahmana parents."
My Hindu friend—his name, I soon came to learn, was Amarnath—obviously believed that brahmanahood is related to birthright, a common misconception in India. Wanting to set things straight, I decided to fill him in on the ancient varnasrama system as it was originally espoused in Vedic texts, millennia ago. This system is described in the earliest portions of the Vedic literature (Rg Veda 10.90.12), where the various classes of society are compared to the human body. One part may be positioned higher than the other, but all parts are necessary for the body's proper functioning. Varnasrama is further delineated in the Visnu Purana (3.8.9) and in Bhagavad-gita (4.13), where it is described as a natural component of any well-established society.
Briey, the varnasrama system comprises four basic material occupations or duties (varnas) and four spiritual stages (asramas). The varnas are (1) brahmanas (intellectuals and priests), (2) ksatriyas (warriors and administrators), (3) vaisyas (farmers and business people), and (4) sudras (manual laborers and general assistants). Most people exhibit qualities that reflect an overlapping of these categories, but one occupational inclination will eventually predominate.
The four spiritual stages (asramas) are (1) brahmacarya (celibate student life), (2) grhastha (married life), (3) vanaprastha (retired life), and (4) sannyasa (renunciation and complete dedication to the Absolute). But we will not concern ourselves in this short article with these spiritual stages of life, both because of limited space and because it was not the subject of the discussion between Amarnath and I.
Birthright Or Birth-Wrong?
I pointed out to Amarnath that Vedic culture takes into account the psychophysical nature of individuals before assigning a place for them in the varnasrama system. Unfortunately, this system has devolved into the modern-day caste system, where people are classified according to birth. If one is born into a brahmana family, for example, one is automatically considered a brahmana, regardless of qualifications. This superficial reading of varna has led to the jati system, with its innumerable sub-castes and variations on the original four varnas. This system has caused considerable confusion, civil strife, and social unrest in Indian society.
In the early 1970s, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, discussed this topic with a prominent Indologist in Moscow:
Prof. Kotovsky: According to the scriptures—the Puranas, etc.—every member of one of these four classes of varnas has to be born within it.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no, no, no.
Prof. Kotovsky: That is the foundation of all the varnas.
Srila Prabhupada: You have spoken incorrectly. With great respect I beg to submit that you are not speaking correctly. In the Bhagavad-gita [4.13] it is stated, catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah: "These four orders of brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras were created by Me according to quality and work." There is no mention of birth.
Prof. Kotovsky: I agree with you that this is the addition of later brahmanas who tried to perpetuate these qualities.
Srila Prabhupada: That has killed the Indian culture.
The Varna System According To Gandhi
The varnasrama system emphasizes "quality and work," not birth. People t into particular categories according to their qualifications, not the families they were born into. While birth may point one in a particular direction or help in other ways, it is never the sole factor in determining one's lifelong occupation. For example, birth in a judge's family may afford one a good education and provide one's vocational inclination early in life, but it doesn't guarantee judgeship. Again, this "quality and work" criterion in relation to varna is clear from the Gita itself, though few modern Indians are aware of this.
Amarnath, for instance, insisted that while ancient Vedic texts, and thus Prabhupada, as a modern representative of these texts, may endorse the idea that varna is about quality and work, "modern Hinduism," as he called it, has another story to tell. He pointed out that most Indians today say that varna refers to birthright. We both wondered aloud: What, if anything, do they base this on? Even Gandhi, considered by many to be the father of "modern Hinduism," himself totes the "quality and work" line:
Varna is generally determined by birth, but can be retained only by observing its obligations. One born of Brahmana parents will be called a Brahmana, but if his life fails to reveal the attributes of a Brahmana when he comes of age, he cannot be called a Brahmana. He will have fallen from Brahmanahood. On the other hand, one who is born not a Brahmana but reveals in his conduct the attributes of a Brahmana will be regarded as a Brahmana. * (1. M. K. Gandhi, "In Search of the Supreme," in Harijan, September 28, 1934, p. 260.)
A Few Words From Bhaktivinoda Thakura
Social stratification occurs naturally, and it cannot be dictated by birthright. Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914), a great scholar and saint in the Krsna conscious tradition, observes how the varna system naturally occurs in all societies:
When we consider the modern societies of Europe, whatever beauty exists in these societies depends upon the natural varnasrama that exists within them. In Europe, those who have the nature of traders are fond of trading and thereby advance themselves by trade. Those who have the nature of ksatriyas adopt the military life, and those who have the nature of sudras love doing menial service. * (2. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Caitanya-siksamrta, Bengali edition (Mayapura: Chaitanya Math, 1974, reprint), p. 107: V, 61. See also Sree Gaudiya Math translation of the same text, Chapter 2, entitled "Competence of Karma and Caste Distinctions," pp. 76-83.)
But Bhaktivinoda is critical of the prevailing caste system, specically because it points to birth as the selective criterion of one's varna. * (3. Ibid., Appendix V, 58) He writes that the original varna system was pure and based on scientific (vaijnanika) principles. * (4. Ibid., Appendix V, 59.) He further writes that from the time of the Mahabharata (roughly five thousand years ago) the system had become corrupt and deviated from its original purpose, that is, to help people gradually develop love of God. Bhaktivinoda called the original system, which centered on spiritual principles, daivi-varnasrama (divine varnasrama)—a far cry, he says, from the current-day caste system. * (5. Ibid., Appendix V, 60. See also Shukavak N. Dasa, Hindu Encounter with Modernity (Los Angeles: Sri Publications, 1999), p. 212.)
As for the societies of the Western world, while Bhaktivinoda recognizes a natural varna system within these societies, he stops short of calling them scientific (vaijnanika) varnasrama: "Though the nations of Europe follow the varna system to some extent, it is not scientific. . . . In Europe, and, for that matter, in all countries except India, it is the nonscientic varna system that guides them." * (6. Ibid., pp. 107-8.) Bhaktivinoda is here expressing his appreciation for the system as it is elucidated in Vedic texts, which elaborate on specific principles for determining the part of society in which a particular individual may belong.
Briey, Bhaktivinoda summarizes the Vedic perspective:
1. Varna should be determined by studying the nature of a child after examining a child's associations and tendency toward learning during childhood.
2. At the time of selecting varna there should also be some consideration of the varna of the mother and the father.
3. Varna should be determined, at the time of education, by the family priest, father, respectable seniors, and spiritual preceptor.
4. In case of dispute, there should be a two-year trial period and a review committee to examine the case after that time. * (7. Ibid. part 1, p. 113. See also Sajjana-tosani, Volume 2, 1885, p. 123.)
Bhaktivinoda goes on to write of an unscrupulous class of brahmanas and ksatriyas who, to establish authority over others, rewrote books like the Manu-samhita and other dharma-sastras so that these respected texts appear to endorse birthright as a preeminent qualication for brahmanahood. This, he writes, contributed to the fall of a once glorious society in the Indian world.
The Varna System According To Plato
The Greek philosopher Plato—though apparently unaware of Vedic texts—recognized social divisions that are strikingly similar to those of the varna system. In his Republic, he argues that social classes correspond to a hierarchy of personality types. The class predominated by the philosophical intellect, he says, is the highest, after that come those dominated by the emotions, and finally we find those in whom "the appetites" (sensual desires) predominate. Further, says Plato, one finds that society is naturally divided in a similar way. On top are the philosopher-kings, who rule; below them are the warriors, whom he refers to as "auxiliaries," since they assist the king; and finally we have the merchants and workers, whom Plato combines into one distinct category.*
He compares rulers to gold, auxiliaries to silver, and those in the third class to brass and iron. According to Plato, golden parents will tend to have golden children, as silver parents will naturally have silver children, and so on. But sometimes, he admits, golden parents may have silver, brass, or iron children, and the reverse is also true. When this occurs, says Plato, one must be flexible enough to acknowledge that a golden child born to an iron parent, for example, is indeed golden—his birthright should be disregarded in favor of his natural quality. * (8. See Plato's Republic, in The Dialogues of Plato (tr., B. Jowett, New York: Random House, 1965, reprint), vol. 1, p. 415.)
Prabhupada's teachings on this point concur with Plato's. Both say that birth is not the sole criterion but can afford one a better chance in a particular area of endeavor. Prabhupada says: "It is not that one automatically becomes a brahmana because he is born in a brahmana family. Rather, he has a better chance of being trained as a brahmana if his father is a brahmana, just as one has a better chance of being trained as a musician or a cobbler if those are his father's occupations. However, it is not that a cobbler cannot become a brahmana. If he acquires the qualifications, he should be considered a brahmana." * (9. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Dialectic Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy (Moundsville, West Virginia, Prabhupada Books, 1985), p. 287.)
All Varnas For Krsna
Amarnath accepted the point: Vedic texts and their modern-day representatives, like Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Srila Prabhupada, endorse the varna system as natural and beneficial, and as an asset in developing love for God. Further, Gandhi and Plato accept the basic premises of the varna system—even down to the fact that it should be based on inherent quality and natural inclination rather than family status and birthright. Still, we agreed, being born in a particular family may help because if one is educated from birth in the duties of a specific occupation, then one will more likely develop expertise in that field.
As we reviewed one of the other central points of our discussion, Amarnath was disturbed, but he had to admit that it rang true: In the present epoch of world history (Kali, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy), the actual varna system has degraded into what is now known as the caste system, so much a part of modern India. As noted, this is because brahmanas and ksatriyas wanted to maintain their status without developing the necessary education and qualifications to legitimately do so. They deceptively emphasized birthright and powerfully enforced their position among the common people, creating the oppressive atmosphere now associated with the Indian social system.
"What to do?" Amarnath asked.
In response, I presented the basic message of the Krsna consciousness movement: By proper work, according to one's inclination, one can gradually advance in one's pursuit of God. Anyone properly engaged can rise to the level of a brahmana and, further, to that of a Vaisnava, or a pure devotee of Krsna. Vaisnavas both embrace and transcend the varna system. They engage their God-given talents in Krsna's service—this is the essence of the varna system—but accept all classes equally, for all are directing their endeavors in the service of Krsna. This, as Bhaktivinoda tells us, is the daivi, or divine, varna system.
Prabhupada referred to a story from the Mahabharata known as "the enchanted pool." King Yudhisthira was once called upon to answer questions before being allowed to drink deeply from a pool of beautiful, clear water. One of the questions was "What makes a true brahmana? Is it birth, learning, or good conduct?" Yudhisthira replied, "Birth and superior learning do not make one a brahmana. Good conduct alone does." Thus, by action anyone can rise to a higher spiritual level. In this context, birthright is never mentioned, and is merely a peripheral consideration.
Amarnath was convinced.
"But how can we convince others?" he asked. "Get them to read Srila Prabhupada's books," I answered. "There one finds the essence of all Vedic knowledge, as well as the most valuable insights of thinkers like Gandhi and Plato."
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to Back to Godhead. He has written twenty books on Krsna consciousness, and is the editor of the recently published Holy War: Violence and the Bhagavad Gita. He lives with his wife and daughter near New York City.
To please Krsna by chanting His names, we must also please His servants.
By Urmila Devi Dasi
This is the first in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided by anyone trying to progress spiritually by chanting the names of the Lord. This article discusses the offense of blaspheming devotees who have dedicated their lives to spreading the holy names.
HOW TO INSTANTLY win people's hearts? Point out the good qualities of their children, or even their pets. How to make people dislike you? Insult or harm someone dear to them. Similarly, the most grievous way to block the Lord's mercy is to have contempt or irreverence for those who love and serve Him, especially those sacrificing to teach others about spiritual life. If we offend Krsna by insulting His dear sons and servants, we will fail to feel the ecstasy of love of God when we chant His holy names, as in the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The logic is easy to understand: Why should Krsna show us mercy—revealing that the taste of His name is concentrated sweet joy—when we are intolerant of others, serving them only the bitterness of criticism and fault-finding? Krsna in the form of His name is the most merciful, certainly. But why should He give mercy to the merciless?
The Skanda Purana lists six improper dealings with God's devotees that obstruct one's chanting: to kill a devotee, to blaspheme a devotee, to envy a devotee, to get angry at a devotee, to fail to offer respects or obeisances to a devotee, or to not feel joy upon seeing a devotee. (Vaisnava authorities say that our joy should extend to practitioners of other genuine spiritual processes, to devotees who have done or said something to cause us grief, and to devotees who have struggled with varieties of material enticements.) Some of these six unwanted interactions involve our bodies, others our words, and yet others our attitudes and thoughts.
Qualifying For The Spiritual World
Learning to interact properly with Krsna's servants is the key to entering His abode. In Krsna's kingdom, the spiritual world, everything is alive. Water, buildings, furniture, and clumps of grass are all living beings, far more realized in love of God than most of the devoutly religious of this world. All souls there are absorbed in thoughts of Krsna's name, form, qualities, and adventures, and all are in harmony not only with Krsna but with each other. Dedication to Krsna and His holy name is not enough to enter that abode. We require real love for Krsna—a love that fills our hearts so that it overflows with similar love for all living beings, who are part of Him.
If instead of loving Krsna's devotees, we offend them, we are unlikely to reach perfection in one life. Srila Prabhupada writes in The Nectar of Devotion (Chapter 18), "If it is seen that a person has developed a high standard of devotion without having undergone even the regulative principles, it is to be understood that his status of devotional service was achieved in a former life. For some reason or another it had been temporarily stopped, most probably by an offense committed at the lotus feet of a devotee. Now, with a good second chance, it has again begun to develop."
Caitanya Mahaprabhu explains that the effect of vilifying a devotee is similar to that of letting a wild elephant into a garden—one's spiritual progress is trampled. Unfortunately, a prime symptom of a neophyte, whose ignorance impedes his or her service to God, is mistreatment of other living beings. The beginner's lack of universal love and respect is evident in many sectarian religions. Congregations that show much reverence to God in their house of worship may exuberantly condemn all others who serve the same God in a different way. Going so far as to torture, persecute, or wage war against those whose rituals differ from theirs, such separatists displease Krsna and sully the very concept of religion in the minds of innocent people.
What Can We Do?
Understanding the danger of criticizing God's devotees, then, and desiring full benefit from our chanting, we may resolve to feel joy upon seeing or hearing about others who love, or aspire to love, the Supreme Lord. We may resolve not to look for faults or think ourselves superior. Yet time and again, our mind may induce us to slam against this most formidable of blocks to self-realization. What can we do?
First, we can avoid intimate friendship with people who will encourage us to fault religious people. Rather, we can choose as close associates those free from the propensity to criticize others. When teaching about Krsna consciousness, we may have to point out the flaws in a more elementary system of spiritual advancement, but we can still hold out all encouragement and love to those within that system. Our critique can be practical and constructive, without envy or hatred. And while we must carefully choose our intimates—selecting those most realized in spiritual science—we must mentally respect even the weakest who desire pure love of God.
Respect For Other Systems
It's easy to come up with excuses for criticizing and finding fault with others who are doing their best to serve the Supreme Lord. But if we consider who is guiding them and why these guides teach as they do, we'll see that our criticism is unfair. Sometimes the most exalted saint teaches in a circumstance where only lesser truth can be communicated, acting like a graduate professor teaching six-year-olds. We should remember that everyone needs to progress from his or her present position. So why fault the students or teachers in a religious system that teaches less than the highest knowledge and process? Rather than criticize beginning students, we should encourage and praise their attempt to love God. How happy the holy name is to know that we extend love and hope to those with less understanding or knowledge than ourselves! Is not criticizing them simply selfrighteousness and pride, perhaps envy? Of course, we can honestly evaluate systems of religious and spiritual practice, as much as we can distinguish between primary school and doctoral programs. But we should remember that today's primary students might achieve doctoral degrees, while some now in graduate programs might fail to persevere.
Is it safe to point out genuine defects in others striving for perfection? The monk Thomas a Kempis addresses this question in the thirteenth-century work Imitation of Christ:
Try to bear patiently with the defects and infirmities of others, whatever they may be, because you also have many a fault which others must endure. If you cannot make yourself what you wish to be, how can you bend others to your will? We want them to be perfect, yet we do not correct our own faults. We wish them to be severely corrected, yet we will not correct ourselves. Their great liberty displeases us, yet we would not be denied what we ask. We would have them bound by laws, yet we will allow ourselves to be restrained in nothing. Hence, it is clear how seldom we think of others as we do of ourselves.
In this connection, the great Bhagavatam commentator Sridhara Svami wrote, "Whether the words are true or not, pointing out the faults of a Vaisnava constitutes blasphemy."
Even if we meet a perfect, pure devotee who openly follows and teaches the principles at the pinnacle of spiritual life, we might find faults with his or her birth, background, past sins, unintentional sins, or traces of past sins. We might see a lack of some saintly qualities—kindness, peacefulness, truthfulness, magnanimity, cleanliness, and so on. But in time, full devotion to Krsna will certainly bring out these qualities. Just because some are developing gradually, we shouldn't dwell on their current deciency.
If despite our best efforts to cultivate respect and admiration for devotees of the Lord we instead offend them, we should lament, fall at their feet, and satisfy them with praise and respect. We should serve any unforgiving devotee for many days. If he or she continues to be angry with us, we should spend our time constantly chanting Krsna's holy name.
It is important to fall at the feet of a devotee we've offended, even if that devotee has no quarrel with our words, thoughts, or behavior. Such humble dealings will purify us and please Krsna, who is much more unhappy with an offense to His devotees than to Himself. It is said that without falling at the devotee's feet, the devotee may forgive but the dust of his or her feet will hold one accountable. Performing a physical act of repentance when asking for forgiveness shows great humility and sincerity.
Just as Krsna is the heartfelt friend of all living beings, one who wants to be His devotee should be a vehicle for revealing that friendship. A lover of God should love everyone who loves God. As we deal with Krsna's devotees with reverence, the holy name will gradually show His full power. Then chanting Hare Krsna will bring us to spiritual health, and we will know that there is nothing greater than the name, anywhere or at any time.
Urmila Devi Dasi and her family run a school in North Carolina. She is a frequent contributor to BTG and the major author and compiler of Vaikuntha Children, a guide to Krsna conscious education for children.
India's greatest treasure—
By Caitanya Carana Dasa
WE HAVE guided missiles and misguided men." This poignant remark by Martin Luther King, Jr., about the state of the modern world rings strikingly true. In recent times there has been an amazing increase in human ability to control the outer world through science and technology. But with that has come an alarming decline in human ability to control the inner world. The resulting variety of irrational passions lead to immorality and corruption at best, and terrorism and brutality at worst.
The current state of the world rests on the search for happiness, a quest that, Lord Krsna tells us in Bhagavad-gita, lies at the heart of all human endeavors. While asserting that happiness is our inalienable right, the Bhagavad-gita provides a clear pathway for its achievement. The fundamental teaching of Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita is that our current existence has two dimensions—material and spiritual; we are spiritual beings residing in material bodies. (2.13)* Modern scientific studies in fields such as past-life memories, near-death experiences, and consciousness also strongly suggest a spiritual part of our being that exists after bodily death.
Furthermore, Lord Krsna explains that just as the soul animates the body, the Supersoul, the Supreme Being, animates the entire cosmos.
Lord Krsna tells us that material existence is temporary and troublesome because of an existential disharmony: human beings tend to neglect the spiritual dimension of their lives and focus only on material ambitions and achievements. This imbalance stunts their ability to partake of the fullness of life. The resulting dissatisfaction appears individually as stress, depression, anxiety, irritability, and so on, and socially as disunity, violence, and war. This disharmony also results in the universal and inescapable evils of birth, old age, disease, and death (13.9).
Our innate longing for immortality in a world subject to death suggests that we belong to an immortal world. Lord Krsna posits a higher-dimensional world beyond the pernicious effects of time (8.20). That realm is characterized by a sweet harmony of divine love between the innumerable subordinate souls and the Supreme. There, the Supreme Person, being all-attractive, is the pivot of all relationships and is therefore best known as Krsna, "The All-Attractive One." There, all souls enjoy an eternal life of full awareness and bliss, provided they are in harmony with Krsna's will. If they rebel, they fall to the realm of matter, where they can see the results of disharmony and eventually decide to reform themselves.
Suffering And Its Solution
During their exile in the material realm, souls occupy different bodies according to their desires and activities. Each body, whether human or subhuman, imposes on the soul the demands of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The soul struggles hard to try to fulfill these bodily demands, whose repetitive nature makes life a continuous hardship, with only momentary relief whenever the demands are satisfied.
Suffering, however, is good, because it provides the necessary impetus to return to harmony, just as fever provides the impetus to accept a cure. Among the 8.4 million species that inhabit the cosmos, the human form is specially gifted: only in a human body does the soul have the requisite intelligence to question his suffering and attempt to remedy it. Bhagavad-gita addresses such intelligent human beings.
Asserting that material nature is endlessly mutable (8.4), Lord Krsna advises the seeker of true happiness to not be disturbed by the dualities of heat and cold, pain and pleasure, and so on, that result from the inevitable changes in the material world (2.14). But Krsna does not recommend a life of inane fatalism; He exhorts us to direct our energies in a fruitful direction. Because our anomalous condition results from a disharmony with our spiritual nature, Krsna recommends that attempts for improvement be directed not in the material realm but in the spiritual.
The Relevance Of The Bhagavad-Gita
It is here that we can see the relevance of Lord Krsna's teachings to the modern state of affairs. Over the past few centuries modern man has performed immense intellectual labor in an attempt to decrease the miseries of material existence. But all these efforts have been directed within the realm of matter, resulting in an improved ability to control material energy through science and technology. Modern man has, with almost a religious dogma, avoided applying his intellectual faculties to understanding the spiritual dimension. But all the cherished human qualities—love, compassion, honesty, selflessness—spring from the soul, the spiritual aspect of our being. Therefore negligence of spiritual life has had disastrous consequences, including a marked decline in human virtues. Hence Dr. King's observation that we live in a time of guided missiles and misguided men.
Lord Krsna systematically explains the difference between matter and spirit and provides a practical method for spiritual elevation. Lord Krsna thus helps us understand how ignorance and neglect of the spiritual dimension is the bane of modern civilization.
Returning To Harmony
Lord Krsna recommends yoga as the means to spiritual emancipation. Contrary to the general notion, Lord Krsna states that mere physical postures and breathing exercises do not constitute yoga; they are just the beginning of one type of yoga. Actual yoga involves harmonizing all energy—material and spiritual—with the original source of energy, the energetic Supreme. Lord Krsna states that meditation (dhyana-yoga), philosophical speculation (jnana-yoga), detached action (karma-yoga), and devotional service to the Lord (bhakti-yoga) are means by which a soul can advance on the path back to harmony. But ultimate success comes only by devotional service (11.53-54); other paths are only stepping stones to the attainment of that devotion (6.47, 7.19, 3.9).
The best method of devotional meditation for the current period in the cosmic cycle (Kali-yuga) is mantra meditation (10.25), especially the chanting of the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. A person moving forward on the path of harmony discovers in time a decrease in mental agitation from irrational passions, an unshakable inner tranquility, and finally an eternal ecstasy of love coming from the spiritual stratum (6.20- 23). Lord Krsna therefore concludes with an unequivocal call for loving harmony with the Supreme (18.66).
Lord Krsna declares the higher realities of life to be pratyaksa avagamam, directly perceivable within (9.2). Thus we see that Lord Krsna's approach to the study of the cosmos is not at all dogmatic; rather it is bold and scientific. He presents the postulates logically and systematically and provides the enterprising spiritual scientist with a practical method to verify those postulates.
Srila Prabhupada's Gift To The World
Lord Krsna's explanation of the truths of life is so cogent, coherent, and profound that, for most modern Western scholars who studied Bhagavad-gita for the first time in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was love on first reading. The remark of the famed American writer Henry David Thoreau is a sample: "In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita, in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial."
Unfortunately with the passage of time, imperial biases among Western scholars obscured the wisdom of the Bhagavad-gita from enlightening the whole of humanity. And Indian intellectuals, afflicted by feelings of cultural inferiority from prolonged foreign subjugation, did not give the Bhagavad-gita the importance it deserved.
It was only when His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada carried the wisdom of Bhagavad-gita to the West in the 1960s that the world started recognizing the glory of this philosophical masterpiece once again. Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is soon became the most widely read English edition of the Gita. Now translated into dozens of languages, Bhagavad-gita As It Is has transformed the lives of millions from confused despair to enlightened happiness.
Srila Prabhupada has been acknowledged as the greatest cultural ambassador of India to the modern world. His vision was a global East-West synthesis. If a blind man carries a lame man, they can both move forward. Similarly, Srila Prabhupada understood that if the materially prosperous but spiritually blind West and the spiritually gifted but materially impoverished India joined forces, the combination would usher in an era of peace and prosperity all over the world. ISKCON is working tirelessly at the grassroots level to make this vision a reality.
The West has embraced a hedonistic way of life. And the East, especially India, enamored by the glitter of Western culture, is casting away the treasure of Vedic wisdom that is its priceless heritage. It behooves all intelligent and responsible students of Bhagavad-gita to understand, assimilate, and distribute to their fellow human beings the gift of the wisdom of Lord Krsna.
Caitanya Carana Dasa, 25, is a disciple of His Holiness Radhanatha Swami. He holds a degree in electronics & telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. He runs a free cyber magazine, The Spiritual Scientist, which gives a scientific presentation of Krsna conscious philosophy. To receive new issues as they come out, write to email@example.com.
8: Sakhyam: Spiritual Friendship
We can enter a most intimate form of
By Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi
In Srimad-Bhagavatam, the devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a great spiritual authority, says, "Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu [Krsna], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge." Here we continue our series on the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Lord.
TWO MEN SIT in front of the television together watching a football game. The volume's turned way up, and they're eating and drinking and shouting till their throats ache. This goes on for hours. When it's all over, they slap each other on the back as if to say, "We really showed 'em, friend!"
In another part of town, two women sit knee-to-knee at a restaurant table. They talk to each other with an intensity that forbids even the interruption of an eye blink—voices lowered and heads nodding and fingers restless on napkins and forks. They discuss the details of their lives, letting their problems tumble over the empathy of the other until each burden is affirmed and appreciated. In the end, they stand and embrace, saying without words, "You're not alone, my friend!"
Meanwhile, two kids on the corner kick a ball against a wall, sounding off on the inanity of teachers and other useless adults. The ball bounds back against nearly identical pairs of Nike-clad feet, in a syncopated rhythm countering the music blaring from a boom box. The kids agree passionately on the major unfairnesses of life, which chafe against their hearts and minds like physical restraints. After a while, they drift apart, waving to each other with that kidlike nonchalance that says, "Stand fast, friend!"
Three kinds of friendship. Stereotypical, twodimensional exchanges of the kind we can all recall. As the influence of the media forces itself on collective global consciousness, the rituals of friendship begin to seem like commodities sold by Hallmark and Budweiser. Friends gathered around the bar. Running side-by-side through the park. Meeting for lunch in a trendy restaurant. These images define for us how friends ought to behave.
So when I tell you that the eighth process of devotional service is sakhyam, or friendship with the Lord, you might feel that smacks of presumption. How could devotional service to God have any elements in common with this most carefree form of relationship? Isn't the comfort of friendship the security of warts-and-all companionship? Fed as we are on the conditioning of materialistic friendship, we can hardly imagine offering such grimy intimacy to the Supreme Lord.
Let's think for a moment, though, about our spiritual selves, rather than our external image. We are by nature sentient spiritual beings entrapped in a material mind and body. Generally, we see as worth pursuing things that please our minds or bodies, if even momentarily. From the spiritual perspective, these pleasures—the euphoria of winning, the thrill of a compliment—are trivial. After all, what real benefit have we accomplished when someone admires our new car? But because we're so caught up in misidentifying with our material mind and body, we take transient pleasures to heart.
This is the terrain of material friendships. It solidifies our sense of belonging, though none of us belongs here at all. It validates emotions normal only to those who have forgotten their spiritual identity. It allows us to share temporal experiences in a temporal world, experiences that distract us from the inevitability of separation and death.
From this point of view, the friendships described earlier are most pleasurable when the soul is unaware of its identity apart from the material mind and body. But as soon as the spiritual entity increases awareness of its distinct nature, the casual rituals of material friendship grow unappealing. Most material friendships depend on some sense of "us and them" for adhesion. When we start realizing that spiritually we have only a transient connection to the body, all the designations of the body, such as age, gender, favorite team, or even religious affiliation, start to lose significance. On a spiritual level, there is no "them"; we're all spiritual entities struggling to make sense of our material condition.
So much for material friendship. But seeing spiritually and recognizing that I'm connected to all living beings might leave me feeling lonely. On the spiritual platform, how do I interact with others in a meaningful way?
Think about the aim of material friendship: to increase the pleasures of the material body and mind. But spiritual friendship aims to increase the spiritual pleasure of the soul. The soul is by nature joyful. So we don't need to contrive activities to share, but discover the activities that come naturally to the soul devoid of material interference. Those activities are familiar to readers of Back to Godhead, being the components of devotional service. Hearing about the glories of the Lord, reciting those glories, praying to Him, serving His purpose—all these are well described in these pages as well as in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Spiritual friendship is sealed when someone can reach through our material disguise to our true self, the soul thirsting for the eternal service of the Supreme Lord.
But isn't sakhyam supposed to be an offering of friendship to the Lord personally? If it's a stretch to form a spiritual friendship with another spirit soul, encumbered as we are by the trappings of material mind and body, what friendship could a hapless conditioned soul offer God?
Just as the body we see and feel around us now is temporal and aberrant, so also is the material world. But there is another world, composed exclusively of spiritual energy, in which everything is sentient and full of love for Lord Krsna. Even the blades of grass there have a vibrant relationship with the Lord, who spends His days taking care of His cows and playing with His friends. Think of those friendships! Krsna's friends chase Him in their games, massage His legs when He rests, and toss Him sweets in their food lights. Their love for Lord Krsna is so complete that they are blind to His divinity and only know how much they love their very wonderful friend.
Srila Rupa Gosvami cites Arjuna as the example of a devotee who achieved perfection through friendship with the Lord. Krsna and Arjuna were so close that they would share the same bed, so familiar that Arjuna asked Krsna to drive his chariot into battle for him, hardly a request you would make of the Supreme Lord. And yet, when Arjuna became confused as he faced his relatives on the battlefield, he turned to his friend and chariot-driver for help. Because Arjuna had such a friendly rapport with the Lord, his turning to Krsna for instruction was a shift in the relationship. This was the setting for the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Krsna reveals His magnificent universal form to His friend Arjuna. Aghast, Arjuna stammers out an apology. "I have in the past addressed You as 'O Krsna,' 'O Yadava,' 'O my friend,' without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love." (Bg. 11.41)
In his purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes:
Although Krsna is manifested before Arjuna in His universal form, Arjuna remembers his friendly relationship with Krsna and is therefore asking pardon and requesting Him to excuse him for the many informal gestures which arise out of friendship. He is admitting that formerly he did not know that Krsna could assume such a universal form, although Krsna explained it as his intimate friend. Arjuna did not know how many times he may have dishonored Him by addressing Him as "O my friend," "O Krsna," "O Yadava," etc., without acknowledging His opulence. But Krsna is so kind and merciful that in spite of such opulence He played with Arjuna as a friend. Such is the transcendental loving reciprocation between the devotee and the Lord. The relationship between the living entity and Krsna is fixed eternally; it cannot be forgotten, as we can see from the behavior of Arjuna. Although Arjuna has seen the opulence in the universal form, he could not forget his friendly relationship with Krsna.
Like all other processes of devotional service, sakhyam is both a means to purify the heart and an activity of the purified soul. Completely pure souls in the spiritual world enjoy a friendship with Krsna because they have no desire for anything else. We are unable to act with this full spiritual consciousness as yet, but that does not mean that we have no means of friendship with the Lord. After all, who is still with you when the restaurants close, when the mind begins to fail, when you leave the body at death? It is the Lord, Krsna, who is with you always. Now that's a friend! Recognizing that the Lord has already extended Himself to you, it's left to you to reciprocate His friendship.
Dvarakadhisa Devi Dasi, a longtime BTG contributor, has a Master's degree in library science and works as a librarian for the Alachua County [Florida] Library District.
A Pause For Prayer
THE living being caught in the cycle of birth and death does not know how he can be delivered from the material body, which brings him so much trouble. But You, the Supreme Lord, descend to this world in various personal forms, and by performing Your pastimes You illumine the soul's path with the blazing torch of Your fame. Therefore I surrender unto You.
—Sri Narada Muni to Lord Krsna
25 Years of Preserving Prabhupada's Legacy
Thanks to the efforts of many dedicated souls,
By Parama-rupa dasa
THE AUDIO TAPE BOXES STOOD thirty high and ten stacks deep, leaving just enough room to squeeze though the labyrinth to sit at my small desk, my arms forced against my body. I had accomplished phase one of the mission, which started with an unannounced raid on the front room of the Golden Avatar Studio in Culver City, Los Angeles. Stored there, relatively open to the public and the environment, were hundreds of reel-to-reel tapes of Srila Prabhupada. Some were originals recorded during Srila Prabhupada's travels around the world, and some were Golden Avatar master tapes. The lack of security for these tapes had always bothered me, and now I had successfully moved them to a safer place near New Dwaraka, the Los Angeles ISKCON temple.
To complete the operation, I now needed the help of Radha-vallabha Dasa, production manager of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT). He controlled the apartment where I hoped the tapes could be safely housed.
My small studio, now waist high in audio tapes, was a converted kitchen in the apartment that housed some of the brahmacaris (celibate students) working with the BBT. The kitchen space was clearly too small to house the tapes and the tape-mastering operation for the Bhaktivedanta Tape Ministry. I phoned Radha-vallabha, and on the pretext that a noisy water heater interfered with the mastering of the tapes, I invited him to come and look and listen for himself.
Radha-vallabha stood in the kitchen doorway and talked to me over the sea of boxes. While we discussed the malfunctioning heater, his face showed confusion and concern when he saw the huge stacks of tapes and heard my sheepish expressions of dismay at how difficult it would be to continue the work under these conditions. In his true take-charge fashion, he declared that the brahmacaris living in the apartment would have to "leave and go live in the Hilton Hotel," as the temple's brahmacari ashram building was affectionately named, so that the tapes could be housed in the bedroom of the apartment.
Thus, the first incarnation of the Archives was born in the kitchen of apartment #5, 9701 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles, in May of 1977. The next year, in January of 1978, after the departure of Srila Prabhupada, an official archive was set up to collect and preserve all the recorded instructions, history, images, correspondence, and paraphernalia of His Divine Grace.
A Vision For The Future
Srila Prabhupada himself created the audio core of the Bhaktivedanta Archives. On February 2, 1966, before he had made any Western disciples, before he had founded his ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder for $54.02. On February 19 and 20, he recorded his "Introduction to Geetopanisad." This is the earliest recording in the Bhaktivedanta Archives. When I listen to it, aware of his struggle to endure in a foreign land, I envision a solitary figure facing the microphone, seated in an almost bare office on New York's West 72nd Street. The reels turn slowly, moving a thin magnetic tape impregnated with the words of the pure devotee, words born from the collective past acaryas, indeed from Krsna Himself. These very words embrace us now and will enfold future generations in the world of Vaisnava history and tradition. Although those words were uttered to the four walls of a cold and sparse room, they have galvanized another solid link in the chain of the parampara, the line of disciplic succession that goes back to Krsna Himself. While Srila Prabhupada spent pennies on his bodily sustenance, he spent dollars on that tape recorder to carry his mission to those he was yet to meet. I marvel and feel invigorated to preserve those moments for all to share now and into the future.
Interacting With The Original
A working archive is dynamic and vibrant, far removed from a stuffy place of dust-covered boxes shoved away in a dark corner. The Bhaktivedanta Archives takes dusty boxes from dark corners around the world, and through conservation and preservation work injects them with new life and permanence, transforming them into offerings to the Vaisnava community. The Bhaktivedanta VedaBase, our most complete text-based digital presentation, offers a glimpse into the irreplaceable original items we work with. The visual, tactile, emotional, and intellectual experience of interacting with an original allows one to make a more solid connection with its provenance, the essence that gives a document, letter, or recording its life and authority.
I remember when I first saw The Prayers of King Kulasekhara, written on the back of a Soviet propaganda leaflet glorifying the orbit of Sputnik, the first space satellite. The paper quality, while not of a high standard, was heavy and had stood up well to the rigors of being shuffled around.
At first I thought, "What a shame that such a wonderful document had to be spoiled by this communist twaddle." As time went on, however, I realized that from an archival perspective this element was an archivist's dream. For the most part, Srila Prabhupada's handwritings are not dated, and for archival cataloguing would fall into the broad category of "circa." But the Soviet propaganda gives this handwritten piece by Prabhupada a definite date: it covers issues instantly recognizable from the late 1950s and early 1960s. These documents give not only dates but a timeline of what His Divine Grace was thinking and writing in contrast to what the world was thinking and fighting about, albeit through the bizarre view of Soviet propaganda. We discover also the contrast of material communism and man- or state-centered propaganda on one side, and the spiritual communism of God-centered propaganda on the other. All this from a single piece of paper!
And there's more to be gleaned: Srila Prabhupada wrote on the back of the Soviet propaganda handouts because he had very little money to buy writing paper. He got this paper for free from a local printer, left over from print runs paid for by the Soviet government to propagandize to the Indian population. This enabled Prabhupada to keep writing in preparation for the ultimate mission to come, namely to follow his guru's order and preach in the English language to the Western World.
From Behind The Transcendental Curtain
During my travels around the world to collect items for the Archives, I've had many adventures and made many new friends, and my appreciation for the mercy of Srila Prabhupada has grown greatly. In early 1979, I was in Australia procuring items for the Archives. I was looking for someone, whom I will call Mr. X, who had moved away from the devotee community. He was reported to have many original photos and slides of Srila Prabhupada. At first I failed to meet up with him, so I enlisted the help of Amogha Dasa, who was living in Sydney, to help track him down.
Amogha took up the challenge and became an Archives detective. After a two-year enquiry, Amogha finally arranged a meeting with Mr. X in Melbourne, some four hundred miles away. In true clandestine fashion, on the first appointment the contact failed to show with the goods. A day later, after Amogha's frantic phone calls, Mr. X called late at night to say he was just up the street. He agreed to meet Amogha behind the temple, but he had a request: "Can you bring prasadam?"
Armed with a pile of curd pakoras (batter-dipped, deep-fried milk-curd), Amogha made the exchange. He assured Mr. X he would protect his identity and return the images once the Archives had made copies. Meanwhile, Mr. X devoured the curd cache. The combination of dogged persistence and prasadam yielded three hundred slides and two hundred photographs that could have been lost forever.
Amogha, as it turned out, was also a photographer and had a collection of many slides, photographs, and recordings. It was worth the trip just for his collection. Some of these images later appeared in the 1980 Vyasa-puja book.
Acquiring other collections may not have been quite as dramatic, but the collections were often no less significant, such as the tapes of philosophical discussions recorded by Hayagriva Dasa, and the tape collections of Govinda Dasi and Hamsaduta Dasa, early disciples of Srila Prabhupada. Govinda Dasi also donated her photo collection, and just recently Yamuna Devi and Dinatarine Dasi donated their collection of letters and photos, including black and white negatives of Srila Prabhupada and his disciples with George Harrison, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono. Of special significance are the negatives of the recording sessions for "The Radha-Krishna Temple" album.
And then there is the BBT collection. In 1972 the BBT bought two reel-to-reel Uher tape recorders, one for India and one for the rest of the world, to accompany Srila Prabhupada on his travels. Srila Prabhupada's secretary and servant were given the task of doing the recordings. These efforts ensured the creation of hundreds of hours of classes and conversations.
At the same time, the BBT began to provide photographers with cameras and film to take pictures. Visakha Devi Dasi, Muralivadana Dasa, and Bhargava Dasa became the main photographers for the BBT. They were sent around the world to capture the activities of Srila Prabhupada and his ISKCON society. By their efforts and the efforts of others who filled in from time to time, the collection contains over 100,000 slides.
The Fragility Of The Personae
As a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, I am required to help with my guru's mission. My specific duty, and that of the other members of the Bhaktivedanta Archives, is to perpetuate Srila Prabhupada's transcendental words, both written and recorded, as well as his image for all to experience and embrace. We are so fortunate to have such a vast collection. The biographies and teachings of many great spiritual personalities are so fragmentary that their personae have lapsed into legend and mythology. We, on the other hand, have clear recordings of Prabhupada's public and private words, his formal and informal teachings, and movies and photographs. We can confidently say we know how he walked and talked. The Archives collection allows us to realize more fully the person behind the teachings and to preserve the Vedic knowledge and cultural heritage that such a great acarya brought to the Western world.
An archives faces six main causes of deterioration:
1. Climate, fluctuating or extreme temperatures and humidity
2. Abuse, from theft, vandalism, improper handling and storage
3. Biological damage, from molds, fungus, insects, and rodents
4. Light, causing chemical reactions and fading
5. Pollutants, from dust, gases, and particulates
6. Disasters, from fire, flood, and other natural disasters
We at the Bhaktivedanta Archives strive by all means to protect the collection. We continue to buy fireproof cabinets, acid-free containers, and conservation materials. We have built a room with controlled temperature and humidity and with fire detection and limited access. We have strict guidelines in place for security. As an adjunct for long-term storage, we use an underground room in Butler, Pennsylvania—coincidentally the town where Srila Prabhupada first resided when he came to the United States back in 1965, before moving to New York.
By distributing excerpts from the collection, the Archives helps spread Srila Prabhupada's teachings around the world, ensuring their perpetuation. The distribution has taken many forms, such as audio recordings from the Bhaktivedanta tape and CD ministries, books of transcribed recordings published on acid-free paper, and the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase computer program—all available to the devotee community, scholars, and interested members of the public, who in turn become custodians for their own libraries of Vedic culture. This individual library program augments book distribution by the BBT.
While all these efforts combine to prevent any complete catastrophic loss, the priority of the Bhaktivedanta Archives is conservation and preservation of originals. The many documents, letters, photographs, and audio recordings all require their own unique conservation discipline and techniques.
Our Thanks To Many
The 25th Silver Jubilee of the Bhaktivedanta Archives is an opportunity to acknowledge the work and sacrifice of all who have helped so far to gather, donate, and bequeath their collections of Srila Prabhupada's paraphernalia over the years. While abundant work still needs to be done to ensure the preservation of the collection, many thanks go to those special souls who tirelessly transcribed, scanned, recorded, cataloged, and performed countless other vital services to build and maintain the Archives. Thanks to all who have bought Archives products, thanks to the brahmacaris forced to vacate their apartment, and thanks to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and its trustees, whose continual support throughout the years has helped make possible this wonderful service to Srila Prabhupada.
Parama-rupa Dasa, a recording engineer and archivist, joined ISKCON in 1976 in London. In February 1977, he and his wife, BBT artist Jagat Karana Devi Dasi, moved to Los Angeles, where he started the New Bhaktivedanta Tape Ministry and later the Bhaktivedanta Archives. He now lives in North Carolina near the small community of Prabhupada Village, home of the Archives. He is the director of preservation.
The Cost of Preservation
THE BHAKTIVEDANTA Archives has been maintained primarily by sales of its publications, including books, CDs, tapes, and archival photos, as well as by an annual maintenance grant from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. This year the Bhaktivedanta Archives is launching a major fundraising campaign to achieve its goals. It is inaugurating the "Contributing Membership" program, which will call on supporters to give money for specific preservation projects and for maintenance. The Bhaktivedanta Archives needs $150,000 a year to keep its current level of activity, and more is required to accomplish its goals (see
For further information, reports on preservation projects, and directions on how you can help, email Gaur Sundar Das at Gaur@prabhupada.com or visit www.prabhupada.com, the Bhaktivedanta Archives site.
By Parama-rupa dasa
THE FRONT DOOR of the Bhaktivedanta Archives flies open, and the blur of a sari swooshes past me heading for Ekanatha Dasa's office. Mamata Devi Dasi slams a transcript on his desk.
"I think I typed this before. It sounds familiar, and I just spent four hours typing it again!"
As it turned out, she was often right. As discreetly as possible, I would extricate myself to tend to a sudden pressing matter in my studio, leaving Ekanatha to quell the fires of frustration.
The memory of such scenes brings nostalgia. In the early 1980s the transcribing of Srila Prabhupada's recordings was in full swing. There were hundreds of unmarked recordings, along with copies or parts of copies acquired from the devotees after Srila Prabhupada's passing. Ekanatha, who had joined the Archives in May 1978, performed the mighty and time-consuming task of transferring everything to cassette tapes for typing and cataloging. While the transfers were relatively easy, he quickly ran into the problem of not being able to cross-reference the programs without a great deal of detective work.
This need for an archival tool to help identify, cross-reference, and correlate all the recordings was a major impetus for the development of the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. This state-of-the-art text-retrieval program allows one to search all the thousands of lectures, morning walks, and conversations by keying in a few words or a word string. Now I can immediately check whether a tape has been transcribed, and determine whether the tape is an original or a copy.
Technology for Krsna
Srila Prabhupada taught that modern technology was good only if dovetailed in Krsna's service. With this guiding principle, we have worked countless hours developing this program for devotees and scholars. I find the program invaluable for my archival work, and just as important, it has become my oracle in answering daily personal questions, regardless how mundane they may seem.
In 1987, with the advent of affordable and practical personal computers, we began digitizing transcripts of Srila Prabhupada's recordings. Adi-purana Dasa, from New Zealand, commuted daily from Berkeley (where he lived in a friend's garage) to a computer bureau in downtown San Francisco, appropriately named "Krishna Copy." It was owned by an Indian businessman, Sanjaya, who later became an ISKCON life member. Adi-purana would help Sanjaya's customers use the Kurzweil scanner (then a $50,000 machine), and in return, Sanjaya would allow Adi-purana to use the scanner for transcendental purposes. In this way, single-handedly, Adi-purana scanned forty thousand pages of transcripts and around fifty volumes of Srila Prabhupada's books. These scanned files are the core of the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. (It is interesting to note that the word adi-purana means the "original, or first, history.")
In 1990, devotees from the Bhaktivedanta Archives attended the computer industry's annual Comdex convention to look for computer search programs. In a small nondescript booth, they came across the start-up company Folio Corporation. Their program, Folio Views, was by far the best in the industry at the time, and has remained so, even though the company has been bought and sold since. In 1991 we purchased the program, and later that year the Bhaktivedanta Electronic Library, running under DOS, was published. In 1995 we released a Windows and Macintosh version and named it Bhaktivedanta VedaBase. Other versions have been released since, with many additions and new features.
More direct evidence of Srila Prabhupada's life and works has been preserved than that of Jesus, Mohammed, and certainly Lord Caitanya Himself. Srila Prabhupada's life and accomplishments are a fascinating period of Vaisnava history. His achievements as a religious leader are undeniable, and they are now being enshrined within the digital technology of the twenty-first century. With the passage of twenty-five years since Prabhupada's departure, the intensity and scope of his personal power and achievements will begin to fade unless kept alive in the memory of his followers, and in turn become part of our verbal heritage. The Bhaktivedanta VedaBase is the technological cornerstone of this great record. It is rapidly becoming the canon of his ISKCON society.
The latest Bhaktivedanta VedaBase, version 2003.1, commemorates the Silver Jubilee. It is the most complete presentation of the direct utterances and writings of Srila Prabhupada. While the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase includes other Vaisnava authors and publications, its core will always remain the direct teachings of Srila Prabhupada.
All modern archives are increasing their use of digitization to connect with the public. We hope to develop the Bhaktivedanta VedaBase into a virtual archive that can be set up on any personal computer. Such an archive would allow access to all the materials of the Bhaktivedanta Archives, including images of all the letters, manuscripts and other documents, as well as the enormous audio, video, and photo collections.
No Urge to Merge
I OFTEN DRESS IN A WAY that identifies me, in the West at least, as a devotee of Lord Krsna. But when I'm asked, "Are you a Hindu?" I'm never ready to reply with an unequivocal "Yes!"
Why is that? As a member of the Hare Krsna movement, I, like Hindus, accept the Vedic literature as the best source of knowledge, especially spiritual knowledge. And I'm a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, who gave his life to spread the teachings of Bhagavad-gita, "the Hindu scripture." So why am I uneasy with the label "Hindu"?
You'll find one important reason if you look up "Hinduism" in any number of reference books: the goal of Hinduism is usually stated to be "to merge with the One."
Well, that's not my goal. I bristle when I hear it, as does any aspiring Vaisnava. Prabodhananda Sarasvati, a great devotee in our line, said that for him, merging with God would be worse than life in hell. Why? Because in hell he would be able to serve Krsna by remembering Him, chanting His names, and so on. Service to Krsna is the devotee's life; the thought of losing that service is unbearable.
Consider Krsna's greatest devotees, the cowherd girls of Vrndavana. They're so captivated by seeing Krsna that they want to curse Brahma, the creator, for making eyes that blink. They can't bear to lose the sight of Krsna for even a moment. Merge with Krsna? Never.
Some followers of the Vedas argue that all this devotion to Krsna, however intense, is temporary, a means to the real goal, which is to merge. A common claim is that bhakti is one of many paths. Accept bhakti if you like, but merging is the final goal.
But in the Bhagavad-gita (15.7) Krsna says that we jivas, minute souls, are eternally His parts (amsa). Earlier, in verse 2.12, He says that He, Arjuna, and all the soldiers on the battlefield exist as individuals in the past, present, and future.
Once, when Srila Prabhupada was speaking with a man in South India who was following the path of bhakti to attain "oneness," Prabhupada kept emphatically repeating a line from Bhagavad-gita (9.14): nitya-yukta upasate—"engaged in My worship perpetually." True devotees of the Lord never give up worshiping Him.
Various arguments are put forward to support the idea that bhakti should end in merging. The most despicable for devotees is the claim that one must merge into the unknowable beyond Krsna because Krsna is a product of the material energy. Of course, if Krsna is part of the material world, then there is no question of having an eternal relationship with Him. Ultimately, Krsna is not real, and any relationship with Him is only an illusion.
Krsna soundly refutes this idea in many places in the Gita, perhaps most notably in verse 7.6: "There is no truth superior to Me." Again, in 10.8, He says, "I am the source of all material and spiritual worlds."
True to the mood of his spiritual predecessors, Srila Prabhupada presented the direct meaning of Krsna's words, without interpretation. Despite what your encyclopedia might say, Prabhupada—with "the Hindu scripture" in hand—awakened in people's hearts not the urge to merge, but eternal devotion to Lord Krsna.
In the Hare Krsna movement, the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, the dancing in ecstasy, and the eating of the remnants of food offered to the Lord are very, very important. One may be illiterate or incapable of understanding the philosophy, but if he partakes of these three items, he will certainly be liberated without delay.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Every day hundreds and millions of living entities go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation. What could be more wonderful than this?
The sun, full of infinite effulgence, who is the king of all planets and the image of the good soul, is the eye of this world. I adore the primeval Lord Govinda [Krsna], in pursuance of whose order the sun performs his journey, mounting the wheel of time.
I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the abode, the refuge, and the most dear friend. I am the creation and the annihilation, the basis of everything, the resting place, and the eternal seed.
Lord Sri Krsna
What assurance of real happiness is there in all of one's wealth, youthfulness, sons, and family members? This life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal. Therefore, you should always serve and worship the divine feet of Lord Hari.
Srila Govinda Dasa Kaviraja
The holy name, character, pastimes, and activities of Krsna are all transcendentally sweet like sugar candy. Although the tongue of one afflicted by the jaundice of avidya [ignorance] cannot taste anything sweet, it is wonderful that simply by carefully chanting these sweet names every day, a natural relish awakens within his tongue, and his disease is gradually destroyed at the root.
Srila Rupa Gosvami
Let me therefore offer my respectful obeisances unto the Lord, who has become the son of Vasudeva, the pleasure of Devaki, the boy of Nanda and the other cowherd men of Vrndavana, and the enlivener of the cows and senses.
You should understand this essential fact: Life is temporary and filled with various kinds of miseries. Therefore, carefully take shelter of the holy name and remain always engaged in His service as your eternal occupation.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura
The living being caught in the cycle of birth and death does not know how he can be delivered from the material body, which brings him so much trouble. But You, the Supreme Lord, descend to this world in various personal forms, and by performing Your pastimes You illumine the soul's path with the blazing torch of Your fame. Therefore I surrender unto You.
—Sri Narada Muni to Lord Krsna