The year 2004 marks the sixtieth anniversary of Back to Godhead. When His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada launched the magazine in India, it was his first major effort toward fulfilling the mission he'd received from his guru: to spread the teachings of Lord Krsna to the English-speaking world. Working alone, Prabhupada could publish only intermittently in India, but after 1966, the magazine came out regularly, thanks to the help of his disciples.
The pages of Back to Godhead have naturally reflected the growth of the Hare Krsna movement over the last thirty-eight years. The cover story for this issue, for example, wouldn't have been possible thirty years ago. Back then, most of Prabhupada's disciples were unmarried, and they themselves were traveling across America—even to other parts of the world—to spread Krsna consciousness. Now, it's their children (or grandchildren) who are doing so.
And thirty years ago, who would have guessed that today possibly the most successful presentation of Krsna consciousness to others would be taking place in Poland?
(See "Post-Woodstock Bliss.")
Still, while some things have changed, the essentials never change, as Prabhupada reminds us in "The Real Thing Is Bhakti."
Hare Krsna.—Nagaraja Dasa, Editor
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
I was reading the book on self-realization by Srila Prabhupada. In one chapter, when he talks about bhagya [fortune] he says that our every material success, failure, and achievement is predetermined. Is death also predetermined? If yes, then if a person is destined to die by murder, or if a chicken is destined to be killed by a butcher, then why do we say that the killers have committed a crime or a sin? If we eat the chicken that was destined to die by killing, then what's wrong in that? Why do we consider it a crime, when it was destined to happen?
Our Rely: Our time of death depends on our destiny, but our activities in this life can change our destiny and thus our duration of life. Bhakti-yoga can remove or reduce one's karma and thus change one's duration of life, and offenses to saints and innocent beings are described as reducing the duration of one's life.
Someone who kills a person or an animal destined to die is responsible because he or she desired to kill. Had he or she not wanted to do it, Krsna would have arranged for someone else to do it, and that person would have been held accountable. Krsna arranges that people who deserve to die are killed by people who want to kill, and so the killers are responsible for their desire to kill their victims and have to suffer the result. The same is true in the case of the chicken.
People could use your reasoning to kill others and deny responsibility. That, of course, would create chaos in society, and cannot be Krsna's idea.
Vaisnava View On Resurrection
I am a Christian who has an interest in Eastern religions. I recently purchased a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is along with a couple of other books by your guru Srila Prabhupada. One question I have that I have not been able to get an answer to is in regards to 1 Corinthians 15. In this chapter the Apostle Paul expounds on the doctrine of the resurrection. I have read a number of articles by devotees referring to Matthew 16 and John 9 to show references to reincarnation but nothing dealing with the resurrection. Paul points out that there is a difference between a natural body and a spiritual body; however, he also points out that the resurrection is a specific event in time (1 Thes. 4:13-17). If possible, I would like to know the Vaisnava understanding of the resurrection "event."
Our Rely: Srila Prabhupada considered Lord Jesus Christ to have a spiritual body that was not under the laws of material nature and could not be killed. In a conversation with a disciple he said, "It is not possible to kill him. Such a great personality—representative of God—he is not killed. That is not possible. . . . He made a show that 'I am killed.' That is resurrection."
Srila Prabhupada often stated that God and His representatives have spiritual bodies that cannot be destroyed. The Vedic scriptures say specifically that Lord Krsna and the devotees Yudhisthira and Arjuna attained the spiritual world in the same bodies that were visible on earth, and so Srila Prabhupada did not consider resurrection to be unique to Jesus Christ.
A Swami Misses the Mark
Thank you for Srila Prabhupada's detailed lecture "God Beyond the Void" in the September/October issue. It was most appropriate, as I had recently accompanied my father to a recital of the Bhagavad-gita by a famous Indian swami.
I was intrigued by the swami, who had a full audience who listened to him laugh, cry, tell jokes, and so on. He was, on the whole, a good orator.
I sat amongst them, but with Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is open before me. As I listened to the speaker's sweet words, I checked them against Srila Prabhupada's. The exercise became fun. I didn't mean to search for any shortfall, but sadly it soon became apparent.
Though the swami was handsome, had a great singing voice, and spoke poetic Gujarati, there was little substance. Though he declared that to love God was perfection, he failed to describe a process for awakening that love. Though he glorified Bhagavad-gita, he discredited Krsna by saying that the Lord did not speak it Himself. He spoke of a great Hindu culture, but presented no concept of surrender to Krsna.
As Srila Prabhupada explained in his lecture, if we have no positive destination, simply abandoning our present condition is of no value. This became apparent as I followed the speaker, comparing his words with those of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. With each word that jumped off the open book like a firecracker, Srila Prabhupada seemed enormous—detailing a science and a process to love the Supreme Personality of Godhead, while with his every sweet word the swami paled in comparison.
A little amazed, I felt sorry for the other listeners. They were being cheated. I am so thankful to Srila Prabhupada and the disciplic succession, and I wish that the same mercy could be spread to those who are being misled by the cheaters.
Right Response to Criticism
Please accept my belated "thank you" for publishing Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasis touching article "Why Do We Criticize Others?—A look at the causes and cures for faultfinding, a major obstacle to spiritual progress." (May/June 2003).
The emotional disturbance caused by faultfinding generally affects two parties: the person doing the criticizing and the recipient of the criticism. The article mentions the incident where Ramacandra Puri invented fault in Lord Caitanya's spotless character. When he saw ants where the Lord was living, he criticized the Lord for eating sweets—a sign to Ramacandra Puri that the Lord was not acting as a proper renunciant.
Arcana-siddhi Devi Dasi writes, "Because Ramacandra Puri was the Godbrother of Lord Caitanya's spiritual master, the Lord respectfully abstained from responding to his offense." Very few of us can maintain our composure in such circumstances. Even if we abstain from responding, we will likely feel some bitterness or hostility inside us.
What should we, the recipient of faulty criticism, do in such instances? We can chant the holy names of Krsna. That will pacify our agitated mind and purify our heart. We can also take the shelter of the most important Purana, the Srimad-Bhagavatam. "These people are not the cause of my happiness and distress. Neither are the demigods, my own body, the planets, my past work, or time. Rather, it is the mind alone that causes happiness and distress." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.23.42)
"A sober person, even when harassed by other living beings, should understand that his aggressors are acting helplessly under the control of God, and thus he should never be distracted from progress on his own path." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.7.37) These realizations will soothe the emotional turmoil inside us caused by unjustified criticism.
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Lord Krsna tells us how He reveals Himself to us in many ways just to draw out our love for Him.
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
punyo gandhah prthivyam ca
"I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics." Bhagavad-gita 7.9
Krsna is describing in detail how He is spread everywhere. Before this verse, He has mentioned so many ways. We can see Krsna at every step and every moment. If we practice seeing Krsna, that is not difficult.
Whenever there is a fragrance—from a rose, for example—you can immediately remember Krsna: "Here is Krsna." You simply have to practice.
As soon as you remember Krsna or you say or utter the word "Krsna," Krsna contacts you. You are in contact with Krsna immediately. And if you remain constantly in contact with Krsna by studying all the details He mentions here, then where is the lack of Krsna consciousness? And if you remain always in that way, Krsna conscious, then you are the topmost yogi. Yoginam api sarvesam [Bhagavad-gita 6.47]. Very easy. It is not at all difficult. You simply have to practice.
In another place it is said that the blooming flower is the smiling of Krsna. So you can see Krsna smiling as soon as you see a flower.
I do not know why people say, "Can you show me Krsna?" Krsna is showing Himself in so many ways. They will not accept that. It is not at all difficult to see Krsna every moment, at every step, if we study what Krsna says: "I am,""This is."
Punyo gandhah prthivyam ca: "I am the original fragrance of the earth." Now, within the earth, every stock is there. The flavor of the rose is there, and the flavor of some other flower is also there, but you cannot take it out by your so-called scientific chemical process. Take some lump of earth and extract from it the flavor of a rose. It is there. That is a fact. You sow the seed of a rose, and it will exact the rose flavor from the earth. That's a fact. Who can deny it? Otherwise, where is the flavor coming from?
Here Krsna says, jivanam sarva-bhutesu: He's life. In the next verse He'll say, bijam mam sarva-bhutanam: "I am the original seed of all existences."Bija: the seed. The seed is so nicely made by Krsna's brain that as soon as you put the seed within the earth and add some water, it will fructify and gradually grow and exact the flavor, the color, everything. This is a fact. Everybody knows it. Not only that, but Krsna is within the small seed of the gigantic banyan tree. Otherwise how can this wonderful thing happen? How can a huge tree come from a small seed? And not only one tree—there are many millions of fruits on the tree, and in each fruit there are many millions of trees. This is the power of Krsna's brain. You cannot do that. The so-called manufacturers can manufacture a very complicated watch, but from that watch many watches will not come. No, that is not possible.
But Krsna is so powerful—omnipotent—that He has manufactured such a thing, because He is there in the seed. Bijam mam sarva-bhutanam [Bg. 7.10]. Wherever He is, He can play in wonderful ways.
The Cause of All Causes
This is the study of Krsna consciousness. Where is the difficulty? Now, this electric lamp, it is brilliant and it has some heat. Where is it coming from? It is coming from Krsna. That's a fact. He's the cause of all causes.
isvarah paramah krsnahsac-cid-ananda-vigrahahanadir adir govindahsarva-karana-karanam
"The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Krsna, and He has a body of eternity, knowledge, and bliss. He has no beginning, for He is the beginning of everything. He is the cause of all causes." [Brahma-samhita 5.1]
But we should not, like the Mayavadi philosophers, make mistake of thinking that because the electric light is being caused by Krsna, the electric light is Krsna. No, not that. Krsna is always separate from the electric light. The Mayavadi says, "Because Krsna is there in the electric lamp, or in the tree, or in the seed, or in the color, or in the flavor, Krsna is finished. There is no more Krsna. Because Krsna has spread Himself in so many ways, Krsna is finished." This consideration is material, not spiritual. If you take a piece of paper, tear it into small pieces, and throw it, then the original paper is lost. This is material.
But Krsna is not like that. Krsna is a person, and from His energies so many varieties of productions are coming out. But still, He is existing.
Purnasya purnam adaya purnam eva avasisyate [Isopanisad Invocation]. He's purna, complete. Not that because so many things have been taken from Krsna, He is finished. This misconception is part of material life. The Mayavadis cannot conceive of the omnipotence of God. They accept that God is omnipotent, but they cannot understand His omnipotence.
Krsna's omnipotence means that so many things are being manifested by His energies, but Krsna is not lost. Krsna is there. We haven't got to worship so many things—pantheism. "Krsna, or the Absolute Truth, has be-come divided in so many ways; there-fore everything combined together is the Absolute Truth." This is the theory of pantheism. But ours is the Vedic proposition: Krsna is the cause of everything. Varieties of material and spiritual things are there, but Krsna in His original identity is present in Vrndavana.
Krsna is this electric lamp, and still, He's not the electric lamp. Krsna is this pillow, but He's not the pillow.
Not Everything is Krsna
In one big mission, the leaders say, "We accept anything as God." No. We do not say like that, nor does Krsna. When Krsna speaks of worshiping, He does not say that you should worship the electric light or something else. Mam ekam: "Me alone." That is the instruction. Not that "Krsna has become everything; therefore everything has to be worshiped." No. That is wrong.
Our philosophy is acintya-bheda- abheda: simultaneous oneness and difference. We have to take shelter of Krsna personally, not the varieties. Mam ekamsaranam vraja: "Surrender unto Me alone." You have to understand that varieties are dependent on Krsna. Not that "Because there are varieties, Krsna is finished." No, that is not the philosophy.
Here it is said, tapas casmi tapasvisu: "I am the penances of all ascetics."Tapasvi means those who seek eternal happiness. Karmis, yogis—there are many tapasvis. But the real tapasvi is interested in tapah divyam. Divyam means transcendental. Just perform tapasya for realizing Krsna.
The demon Hiranyakasipu also performed tapasya. What was that tapasya? He performed severe tapasya, so much so that the whole universe became perturbed and Brahmaji came to see him.
"What do you want?" Brahma asked Hiranyakasipu.
"I am performing tapasya to become immortal. So if you make me immortal, it will be very kind of you."
Brahma replied, "I am myself not immortal. How can I make you immortal? That is not possible."
So Hiranyakasipu also performed tapasya, but that tapasya was for material gain. That is not real tapasya. Tapasya means to undergo voluntarily some bodily inconveniences. We are accustomed to enjoy bodily senses, so tapasya means voluntarily to give up the idea of sense gratification. That is tapasya.
Ekadasione day of fasting each fortnight—is also tapasya. Or fasting on some other auspicious day. That tapasya is good, even for health, and what to speak of advancing in Krsna consciousness. So we should accept this tapasya. There are many prescribed days for fasting. We should observe them. And the preliminary tapasya is no illicit sex, no gambling, no intoxication, no meat-eating. There may be some inconvenience for those of us who were accustomed to these practices, but we'll have to accept this tapasya if we want to purify our existence.
At the present moment our existence is not purified; it is impure. Therefore we are suffering. When one's physiological condition becomes infected, he suffers from fever and other symptoms of disease. Similarly, we are suffering in this material world on account of this material body. If we want real happiness, then we must accept tapasya. Tapasya is required. If you think, "Without tapasya, I can get spiritual advancement simply by imagination," then you become a sahajiya, one who take things very cheaply. No. Tapasya is required.
Therefore Krsna says tapas casmi tapasvisu. Tapasya is itself Krsna. You associate with Krsna. When you voluntarily give up meat-eating or intoxication, this giving-up process is Krsna.
Krsna Is So Kind
Tapasya means to accept voluntarily something as enjoined in the sastra, the scripture. Whatever Krsna says is sastra. What is Veda? Veda means what Krsna says. There is no other Veda. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is said, tene brahma hrda. Brahma means Veda. Krsna imparted the Vedas to Lord Brahma through the heart. Krsna is situated in everyone's heart. Lord Brahma had no other spiritual master, but Krsna is there within his heart. Krsna's name is Caitya-guru, "The Guru in the Heart." Krsna is so kind. He is the guru within, and when we are serious, He manifests Himself as a spiritual master. That is described in the Caitanya-caritamrta.
The guru helps from inside and outside. Krsna is so kind; He manifests Himself as the spiritual master. Therefore Visvanatha CakravartiThakura says, saksad-dharitvena samasta-sastraih . . . : A pure devotee is empowered by Krsna to act as the spiritual master. Therefore the spiritual master should be accepted as Krsna's representative. Tatha bhavyata eva sadbhih: Those who are learned scholars, actual devotees—they accept the spiritual master as such.
But that does not mean that the guru is Krsna. "Accept" means that you honor the spiritual master as being as good as Krsna, because he's Krsna's representative. That's not the same as the Mayavada philosophy, which says that the guru and Krsna are the same. In fact, they are simultaneously one and different.
Kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya: The guru is as good as Krsna because he is very dear to Krsna. Why is he dear? Because he's preaching on behalf of Krsna. What Krsna wants, he's doing that. Therefore he's very dear.
Krsna wants everyone to surrender unto Him. A guru's business is to teach that. A guru does take the position of Krsna. He simply teaches people, "Accept Krsna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Surrender unto Him. Always think of Him. Always offer your obeisances. Become a pure devotee of Krsna."
That is the guru's business. It is not very difficult. Anyone who is sincerely following Krsna's instruction and instructing others to do that is an acarya. Behave exactly as stated in the sastra, as ordered by Caitanya Mahaprabhu, as ordered by Krsna. And teach all your disciples the same thing.
So acarya, guru, representative—it is not difficult. One simply has to become very, very sincere. One must undergo the simple tapasyas as prescribed in the sastras. By personal example, Lord Caitanya's associate Haridasa Thakura was preaching the glories of chanting Hare Krsna; therefore he is accepted as a guru. In our line, all the Vaisnavas, all the Gosvamis acted accordingly and preached. Therefore they are acaryas.
In the Krsna consciousness movement we teach that one should always remember Krsna. Now, because we are materially attached, we cannot think of Krsna twenty-four hours a day. Remembering Krsna is very pleasing, but because we are materially attached, we cannot do it. Therefore Krsna is prescribing, "See the varieties of this material world and try to remember Me." These are the varieties: punyo gandhah prthivyam ca tejas casmi vibhavasau. "Study nature and see these important points. And there I am."
It is very scientific. You study nature and pick up some point and Krsna says, "I am this." Where is the difficulty? This is Krsna consciousness. You drink water—you remember Krsna. You see the light—remember Krsna. You smell the aroma of a nice flower—immediately remember Krsna. Practice this. It is not difficult.
Actually, we have to think of Krsna always. Therefore we chant Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. That is the way to always think of Krsna. And Krsna is present before us in His form as the deity in the temple. Therefore we have to worship the deity. If we constantly worship the deity, then Krsna's form is always impressed upon our minds. We will be able to see Krsna any time. If I close my eyes, I will see Krsna, how Krsna is nicely dressed. I will see how Krsna is very pleasingly eating what I have prepared with devotion, bhaktya.
The real thing is bhaktya, not simply official worship. Krsna does not accept anything if it is not offered with bhakti and by the bhakta, the devotee. Why should He accept it? Is He hungry like me? No. He simply wants to see how you have learned to love Krsna, how you are eager to serve Krsna. Otherwise He does not require your service. He's always being served by hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune.
People pray to the goddess of fortune, "My mother, Goddess of Fortune, give me some fortune." But the goddess of fortune is afraid that Krsna may reject her. For example, when Krsna was joking with His wife Rukmini, she thought, "Maybe Krsna is going to leave me." Immediately she fainted.
The goddesses of fortune are humbly, fearfully engaged in Krsna's service. What service can we give Krsna in comparison? What are we compared to the goddesses of fortune? We are nothing. Insignificant. So why does Krsna accept our service? Why does He come as the deity to accept our service? Just to induce us to serve Him with bhakti. That is wanted.
Therefore He says, "Give Me even a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water. It doesn't matter. But give Me with bhakti."
That is our real business. If you have no bhakti, if you offer something only officially, Krsna does not touch it. Krsna is not so poor.
Whatever you do, you should always be humble: "Krsna, I am quite unfit. So whatever I could collect with my capacity, kindly accept it."
This is our only plea to Krsna. Don't proudly think, "I am doing so much for Krsna. Krsna will be obliged to accept it."
The process is very easy, very sublime, but we have to learn it. And that is not very difficult. Here in this verse Krsna is showing how to see Him in a variety of ways. Always think of Krsna, and Krsna will give you intelligence.
You cannot cheat Krsna. That is not possible. Krsna is within your heart. He sees everything—your intention, your purpose, your activities, everything. Upadrasta: He is the witness. You cannot cheat Krsna. Be sincere, and try to serve Him. He'll accept your service. And He will give you intelligence. Your life will be successful.
Thank you very much.
The Vedic literature reveals the sounds that can truly awaken the soul.
by Satyaraja Dasa
What?" asks my eighty-three-year-old mother.
This has become something of a personal mantra for her. Her hearing has been going for some time now, and "What?" is her frequent response to nearly every sound she hears. Or doesn't hear.
My sister and I have been urging her to get a hearing aid for almost a decade.
"The ear is an important organ," I tell her. "If it's not working right, it affects more than your ability to hear. It can also affect your equilibrium, your sense of balance."
"So I'll sit," she says.
On a more serious note, she wanted me to ask her doctor about her loss of hearing, and what, if anything, should be done about it. So I did. The doctor explained to me that the ear is made of three parts: the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. The fluid in the ear canals and the hairlike nerve cells at the end of each allow us to hear and to keep our balance when we stand, run, walk, ride a bicycle, and even when we sit.
The doctor said my mom's inner ear was worn down and that this happens to a good number of people over time.
As his barrage of technical words entered my own ears, my mind wandered to another kind of sound vibration, and another use of the auditory sense altogether. The inner ear is an entirely physical phenomenon. But I was more interested in an inner meaning to the inner ear—one I've learned from Srila Prabhupada and the texts of ancient India.
The Unheard World of Sound
Human beings can't perceive portions of the known vibratory spectrum. While extremely sensitive to sound waves of about 1,000 to 4,000 cycles per second (cps), man is all but deaf beyond 20,000 cps. Dogs and cats, on the other hand, can hear up to 60,000 cps, while mice, bats, whales, and dolphins can emit and receive sounds well over 100,000 cps.
In other words, there are definitely things we just don't hear. And India's ancient Vedic texts tell us that if this is true in the material sphere, it is even more true of sounds that exist beyond the material world. Such spiritual sounds, these texts tell us, can be vibrated and received only by people who qualify themselves through spiritual practice. Only then can these sounds be truly heard.
Despite our inability to hear certain frequencies, whether material or spiritual, we tend to hear better than we see. Psychologist Katharine Le Mee writes in her book Chant:
The sense of hearing . . . connects experientially with the heart, and music and sound touch us most directly. We do not resonate so deeply with the visual as with the auditory. This may be explained by the fact that our visual apparatus has a frequency range of slightly less than one octave, from infrared to ultraviolet, whereas our auditory system has a range of about eight octaves, approximately 60 to 16,000 hertz, or number of vibrations per second. We are sensitive to sound frequency as pitch and to light frequency as color. The frequencies of the visual field are much higher than those of the auditory field (by an order of 1010), and, as is well known, the higher the frequencies, the lesser the penetration of a given material. For instance, a piece of cardboard shields us easily from the light, but it takes a thick wall to block out sound, and the lower the pitch the deeper the penetration. We are very sensitive to sound, not just through the ear but through our whole skin, and all our organs are affected by it.
Thus, science has shown that our human senses are imperfect and limited and that there is a world of sensual experience beyond human perception. Vaisnava scriptures confirm these limitations in man's seeing and hearing and elucidate untold categories of spiritual sound.
Spiritual Sound in the Vedic Literature
Portions of the Vedic literature are almost like textbooks on sound, informing us about an ancient art in which sound was used as a spiritual tool. The same concept is echoed in other cultures. Chronicles from lands as diverse as Egypt and Ireland tell us of a time when vibrations lying at the foundation of our universe were harnessed by spiritual adepts for the benefit of mankind. Like the Bible, which states, "In the beginning was the Word (John 1.1)," Vaisnava scriptures affirm that the entire cosmic creation began with sound: "By His utterance came the universe." (Brhad-aranyaka Upanisad 1.2.4) The Vedas add that ultimate liberation comes from sound (anavrttihsabdat).
Primal sound is referred to as sabda brahman, God as word. Closely related to this is the concept of nada brahman, God as sound. Nada, a Sanskrit word meaning "sound," is related to the term nadi, denoting the stream of consciousness—a concept that goes back to the ag Veda, the most ancient of the Vedas. Thus, the relationship between sound and consciousness has long been recorded in India's ancient Vedic texts, which, again, describe sound as the preeminent means for attaining higher, spiritual consciousness.
Mantras, or sacred sounds, are used to pierce through sensual, mental, and intellectual levels of existence—all lower strata of consciousness—for purification and spiritual enlightenment. The sounds of different letters, particularly Sanskrit letters, have been shown to affect the mind, intellect, and auditory nerves of those who chant and hear them. The seven energy centers (cakras) of the spinal column, as well as the ida, pingala, and susumna nadis, or the three pranic channels of the subtle body, all respond to mantras, bringing practitioners to elevated levels of awareness.
The Power of God's Names
Vedic texts tell us that in much the same way that sound can awaken someone, calling out the name of God can awaken the soul from conditioned, materialistic slumber. In fact, the world's major religious traditions concur that it is by chanting the name of God that one attains enlightenment and freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
Mohammed counseled, "Glorify the name of your Lord, the most high." (Koran 87.2) Saint Paul said, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved." (Romans 10.13) Buddha declared, "All who sincerely call upon my name will come to me after death, and I will take them to paradise." (Vows of Amida Buddha 18) King David preached, "From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised." (Psalms 113.3) And the Vaisnava scriptures assert, "Chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. In this age of quarrel there is no other way, no other way, no other way to attain spiritual enlightenment." (Brhan-naradiya Purana 38.126).
Praise of the holy name of God is found throughout the Vaisnava scriptures. Here are two examples:
Oh, how glorious are they whose tongues are chanting Your holy name! Even if originally low-born dog-eaters, they are to be considered worshipable. To have reached the point of chanting the Lord's name, they must have executed various austerities and Vedic sacrifices and achieved all the good qualities of true Aryans. If they are chanting Your holy name, they must have bathed in all holy rivers, studied the Vedas, and fulfilled all prescribed duties. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.7)
The holy name of Krsna is the spiritually blissful giver of all benedictions, for it is Krsna Himself, the reservoir of pleasure. Krsna's name is complete in itself and is the essential form of all spiritual relationships. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krsna Himself. This name is not tinged by any aspect of material nature, because it is identical with Krsna. (Padma Purana 3.21)
And, finally, Krsna says, "I do not live in Vaikuntha, in the hearts of the yogis, or inside the sun. Rather, My dear Narada, I am present wherever My devotees sing about Me." (Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda 92.21-22)
Because chanting the name of God is so much emphasized in Vaisnava texts, we focus on chanting as a central devotional practice. Thus, deep meditation and great emotion accompany japa (soft chanting) and kirtana, or sankirtana (congregational chanting). When perfected, the chanting leads to awareness of God's absolute nature, i.e., that there is no difference between nami ("the named one") and nama ("the name"). Elucidation on the absolute nature of Krsna and His name is the heart of Vaisnava practice, leading to love of God.
Norvin Hein, Professor Emeritus at Yale University, has witnessed enthusiastic Vaisnava kirtana. In his essay "Chaitanya's Ecstasies and the Theology of the Name," he captures its most emotional components:
In the singing of verses like these, each line, separately, is incanted by the leader first, and the whole assembly repeats each line after him, one by one. As the verse is gone through again and again, the leader steps up the tempo. When the speed of utterance approaches the utmost possible, the whole group, in unison, begins to shout the lines, at the same time beating out the rhythm with sharply-timed clapping of hands. The singers begin to sway and let themselves go in ungoverned gestures. Faces flush. From the line of instrumental accompanists the bell-like peal of small brass cymbals swells up with the rising shouting and pierces through it. The whole process approaches a crashing, breathtaking crescendo. The point of explosion is reached: eyes flash, mouths drop open, a tremor runs through the entire assembly. The Power, the Presence, has been felt!
Chanting Hare Krsna
Scripture asserts that the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, or "the great chant for deliverance," is the most powerful of incantations, for it includes the potency of all other mantras. Thus, for the current age the Vedic literature recommends the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Statements to this effect can be found in the Brahmanda Purana, the Kali-santarana Upanisad, and other Vedic texts.
In this sacred mantra, the word Hare refers to Lord Hari, a name for Krsna that indicates His ability to remove obstacles from His devotees' path. In a more esoteric sense, Hare is a vocative form of Hara, which refers to Srimati Radharani, the divine feminine energy—Lord Krsna's eternal consort and transcendental counterpart.
Krsna means "the all-attractive one," God in His original form. Etymologically, the word krs indicates the attractive feature of the Lord's existence, and na means spiritual pleasure. When the verb krs is added to the affix na, it becomes Krsna, which means "the absolute person, who gives spiritual pleasure through His all-attractive qualities." According to Sanskrit semantic derivation (nirukti), it is also understood that na refers to the Lord's ability to stop the repetition of birth and death. And krs is a synonym for sattartha, or "existential totality." Another way of understanding the word Krsna, then, is "that Lord who embodies all of existence and who can help the living entities overcome the repeated suffering of birth and death."
Rama refers to both Balarama (Krsna's elder brother) and Lord Ramacandra, a prominent incarnation of the Lord who is the subject of the epic known as the Ramayana. It is also said, however, that Rama refers to Radha-ramana, another name for Krsna, meaning "one who brings pleasure to Srimati Radharani."
Thus the maha-mantra, composed solely of the Lord's most confidential names, embodies the essence of the divine. As a prayer, the mantra is translated in the following way: "O Lord! O divine energy of the Lord! Please engage me in Your service." The selflessness of this mantra—asking to serve God rather than asking God to do something for us—situates it in a unique category, even among the best of prayers and the most powerful of incantations. But its pure form can only be heard by the pure devotee—in his "inner ear," which is in his heart of hearts.
The Right Hearing Aid
When I returned to my mom's home to tell her about my meeting with her ear doctor, she had already made up her mind: "I'm not getting a hearing aid."
She just didn't want to be bothered. Truth is, her doctor said that a hearing aid would just add to her discomfort and probably wouldn't help her much anyway. I told her how, as I spoke to her doctor, my mind had wandered to Vedic mantras and spiritual sound vibrations. But she couldn't hear what I was saying, literally or figuratively.
She asked me if I would get a hearing aid if I were her.
"Probably not," I said.
I spoke up: "No, I wouldn't get one."
After some time, I added that I had already accepted a hearing aid many years ago. She knew what I meant, and let out a loud guffaw.
"You mean your Swami Prabhupada, right?" She smiled. "Your hearing was definitely in trouble, but Prabhupada taught you to hear things in a way that serves you well."
She thought for a second, and added, "I should have such an effective hearing aid."
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to BTG. 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.
The Touchstone of the Holy Name
harinama cintamani akhilamrta khani
"This touchstone of the holy name is a limitless mine of luscious gems. The fortunate soul who discovers it by Krsna's grace is inevitably fulfilled by it. Such a person always experiences ever-increasing joy, for it leads him to worship Krsna in the mood of spontaneity.
—Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Harinama Cintamani 15.114
This conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the mother of one of his students, along with a Jesuit priest, took place in the garden at Bhaktivedanta Manor, near London, England, on July 25, 1973.
Srila Prabhupada (with an airliner roaring overhead): The airplane botheration was not in Switzerland. They do not fly so low, for fear of the mountain peaks. That was the only place in the world where there was no such sound. Otherwise, everywhere. In America we have got so many temples. Even in West Virginia, quite a hilly tract, there is also the sound of airplanes, although less loud. Anyway, here it is near London, so there must be this sound. Yes. Formerly, people were satisfied to remain in their village. That is the defect of the modern civilization.
Mother: In India, you mean. You're talking of India now.
Srila Prabhupada: Everywhere.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Everywhere.
Mother: What about India? I mean, do they believe in this Vedic culture—the villagers?
Srila Prabhupada: In India, actually, they do so.
Srila Prabhupada: The villagers have cows and land. That is sufficient for their economic problem. But the industrialists are alluring them: "To get more money, come here."
So the villagers are going to the cities. And the food production in the village is neglected. And therefore the grain price is rising. Actually, everyone should be engaged to produce food, but the modern setup of civilization is that few people are engaged in producing food, and others are eating.
The industrialists are artificially getting money. And they are offering paper: "Here is one hundred dollars." Although it is simply a piece of paper—cheating. The ordinary people are captivated by cheating. They are thinking, "I have got now one hundred dollars."
What is this hundred dollars? It is paper. So some people are cheating, and some people are being cheated. This is the society.
Mother: But I think one has to be clever enough not to let people cheat you.
Srila Prabhupada: "Clever" means that the person must stay on his own land. He should not be cheated by the paper and go to the city.
Mother: But we have to teach our young to be able to define between those who cheat and those who . . . be able to tell people who . . .
Srila Prabhupada: The whole civilization is a plan for cheating others. That's all. And they're all sinful. According to our Vedic understanding, there are four things sinful, four pillars of sinful life: illicit sex, unnecessary killing of animals, intoxication, and gambling.
Mother: But you can lead a very happy life, still.
Srila Prabhupada: Our students are trained in that way.
Mother: There are a lot of very good people in the world.
Srila Prabhupada: Just see. You can see from your son. These devotees can sit down anywhere. They can lie down. There is no artificial living. They are satisfied with nice foodstuffs made from vegetables and milk. And chanting Hare Krsna, the holy name of God.
Mother: I see my son Michael is happy. But, you know, he came from a very happy home. So he should be happy, shouldn't he?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mother: Very happy home. Brothers and sisters. And we've all been very happy. And I hope he will remain happy.
Srila Prabhupada: Now he's even happier.
Mother: Yes, I can see.
Srila Prabhupada: He was happy; now he's happier. That is the difference.
Mother: Yes. Oh, I don't think he's happier. [Laughter as she glances at her son, who is nodding in the affirmative.] You are? I didn't think it was possible.
Srila Prabhupada (playfully): You are not happier.
Mother: I didn't think it was possible.
Srila Prabhupada: Because your son has come here, you may not be happier. But he's happier.
Mother: Oh, you're saying this. I'm not saying this. I'm very disappointed that he is not continuing with his education. I'm not sorry that he's happy. I'm happy for his happiness, wherever he is.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is the purpose of education?
Mother: You're a cultured man. You're educated.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mother: Did you not learn? Who gave you the talent to translate your Vedic scriptures?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mother: Who gave you the talent, Father?
Srila Prabhupada: No. I'm asking, What is the best part of education? So far as my schooling or college education is concerned, that is not being perused here.
Mother: Oh, but you're cultured. You in your old age are getting tremendous comfort from being able to read and to understand what the world is doing—the goodness of your books—and you're able to understand the spiritual way of life.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mother: If you couldn't, if you hadn't been educated, Father, well, how would you be able to have achieved all these things?
Srila Prabhupada: No, education is required.
Mother: Now, I am so happy that my son is happy, truthfully. But I am very distressed. [To devotees on hand:] And, little boys, don't laugh, because this is serious. Um. I am very distressed that none of these boys continue their education. [In fact, Srila Prabhupada encouraged his academically inclined students to complete their university training. Ed. Note.] What is going to happen to them when they are like you, when they're older, but they have no talents?
Srila Prabhupada: But your educational system—in the Western countries, you have got big universities. Why are the students becoming hippies?
Mother: Oh, well, there are always a certain amount becoming hippies, in America, anywhere. But we must develop the good ones that have talent. We must develop them. You have the power to give these boys . . .
Srila Prabhupada: I mean to say that in India for the most part there are no such big, big universities, such big facilities, but in your Western countries you have got nice universities, a nice teaching system. Why is the result hippies?
Mother: Oh, but we're talking of you. You have got the power. People follow you because they believe in you. So you have the power to educate them. And you and your people are not hippies, are you?
Srila Prabhupada: My point is that this education simply for eating, sleeping, mating, and defending—this sort of education will not satisfy.
Mother: Well, you're educated, you see.
Srila Prabhupada: No, I am educated.
Mother: Yes, but how many of these are?
Srila Prabhupada: But I am not educated only on this platform—eating, sleeping, sex life, and defense. I am educated on a different platform.
This South Indian hill temple served as a refuge for many Vaisnavas during the Mogul era, including one of the greatest saints of Indian history.
by Adbhuta Hari Dasa
Melukote sits on a hill about thirty miles north of Mysore, in the South Indian state of Karnataka. It is one of the four most important holy sites for Sri Vaisnavas, the followers of the great spiritual master and reformer Sri Ramanuja (A.D. 1017-1137). Ramanuja spent at least twelve years in Melukote (may-lu-ko-tay), setting up strict standards of deity worship still followed today.
The main temple in Melukote is that of Tiru Narayana. ("Tiru" is the Tamil equivalent of "Sri," an honorific meaning "opulent."). Resting prominently on a hill above the town is the temple of Yoga Narasimha, the Lord's half-man, half-lion incarnation seated in a yoga posture.
I visited Melukote with my spiritual master, His Holiness Sridhara Swami, accompanied by three other ISKCON members, including two from China.
In many South Indian temples, pilgrims who sponsor special worship of the deity are granted an exclusive viewing of the ceremony. Taking advantage of this custom, Rohini Tanai Dasa, a member of our group, arranged for Sridhara Swami to sponsor a bathing ceremony for Yoga Narasimha.
We arrived at the base of the hill at 11:00 A.M. and conquered countless steps to reach the entrance tower. Af-ter passing through several halls and corridors, we were greeted in the main temple hall by the chief priest, Nara-yan Bhatta. He had everything ready for the ceremony and began bathing the deity with water, milk, yogurt, honey, and sugarwater. Priests chant-ed prayers for purification from the Pavamana-sukta and prayers for glorification of the Lord from the Narayana Upanisad and the Visnu-suktas.
After the bathing, the doors to the deity's chamber were closed for five minutes. When they reopened, the deity in the dark room looked fearsome—He was covered with turmeric powder. A priest ended the ceremony by offering the deity some camphor, a ghee lamp, betel leaves, betel nuts, and a banana and then giving them to Sridhara Swami. This indicated that all the blessings were transferred to the person who sponsored the bathing of the deity.
At that point a priest allowed other people to have a glimpse of the Lord while we stayed in the inner sanctum of the deity room. Then the priest again closed the altar, humbly asking us to wait for some time until they finished dressing the Lord. They offered us caranamrta (water that had bathed the Lord) mixed with banana, jaggery (unrefined sugar), honey, coconut, and tulasi leaves.
While waiting for the deity to be dressed, we went to the roof of the temple, from where we could see Melukote spread out below. The most prominent places we noticed were the Tiru Narayana temple, Kalyani ("Auspicious") Pond, the large entrance gate of a time-ravaged fort (Melukote means "upper fort"), and the Academy of Sanskrit Research, where computer scientists are working on, among other things, a program that can perform natural language processing with Sanskrit grammar. The Academy also has a well-stocked library of old manuscripts, a garden of purely Vedic plants, and livestock carefully bread to recapture the characteristics of early Vedic herds.
All the surrounding area was clearly visible from the hill. One of the priests told me that at night one can see the lights of Mysore.
The priest also told me that according to the Naradiya Purana, Prahlada Maharaja installed the deity of Yoga Narasimha thousands of years ago while visiting Visnucitta, a celibate performing penance here. The priest invited us to see the cave under the temple where it's said that Prahlada Maharaja meditated. Some of us happily accepted the proposal and went down from the northern, back side of the temple. The entrance had narrow steps, and then we had to bend our heads and even crawl. The point where Prahlada Maharaja meditated is just below the deity. From there we crawled some more and then came out under the lower part of the temple.
By then the deity was dressed, so we went to see Him. One priest offered Him 108 tulasi leaves while others chanted 108 names of Lord Narasimha.
The temple was now open to all pilgrims, and they flooded in to see the Lord sitting in the yoga posture, dressed in red-and-white cloth, and wearing garlands of flowers and tulasi. On His head rested a beautiful crown, and He wore metal gloves. Two of His hands rested on His folded knees, and the other two held a disc and a conch shell.
From the Yoga Narasimha temple we came down the hill to meet a resident priest, Sudarshan Acharya. On the way to his house, we offered our respects to Kalyani Pond, the chief of several sacred ponds in Melukote, by sprinkling some of its water on our heads. According to the Isvara-samhita, when Lord Krsna in His incarnation as Lord Varaha lifted the earth from the universal ocean, some drops of water clinging to His body fell on the hill at Melukote, creating Kalyani Pond. The Padma Purana mentions Kalyani Pond, and according to the Matsya Purana, Garuda, Lord Visnu's eagle-carrier, brought white clay here from Svetadvipa, Lord Visnu's planet within this universe.
After passing through the main street, we arrived at the house of Sudarshan Acharya, where we stayed for two hours. He told us that the following great personalities had all visited Melukote: Lord Krsna, Lord Balarama, Lord Ramacandra, Lord Datta-treya, the Pandavas, Narada Muni, Sanat-kumara, Prahlada Maharaja, Ambarisa Maharaja, Parasara Muni, and Sri Ramanujacarya.
Sudarshan Acharya showed us his deities of Sudarsana (the Lord's disc) and Laksmi-Narasimha, given to his ancestors by Ramanujacarya, who had also authorized his ancestors to give mantras of Lord Narasimha and Sudarsana for health and for protection in spiritual life.
After lunch at Sudarshan Acharya's home, we left for the daily 4:00-P.M. opening of the Tiru Narayana temple.
It is said that Lord Narayana came to Melukote hill in response to a penance performed by Lord Brahma by which he assumed the form of a divine temple. Today the Tiru Narayana temple is not architecturally identical to the original one described in the Panca-ratragama, but it is still honored as a self-manifested sacred place.
As we entered the temple, the deity Tiru Narayana was directly in front of us. He is five to six feet tall. Priests chanted 1,008 names of the Lord, who gave blessings with one hand and held a club, a disc, and a conch shell in His other three hands. Ramanujacarya discovered the deity in an ant hill after the Lord directed him to the spot in a dream.
On the right side of the entrance, in a separate shrine, is a small Narayana deity, the processional deity, known as Cheluva Narayana, Cheluva Pillai, Sampad-kumara, and Ramapriya"one who is dear to Lord Rama." [See sidebar "The Devotion of a Princess."] Lord Rama worshiped this deity with great love. In the Naradiya Purana, sages ask Narada Muni how Lord Narayana came to this place. He tells them that the deity was first presented to Brahma to worship, and Brahma gave the deity to Sanat- kumara, one of his sons. Lord Visnu then ordered Ananta Sesa, the lord of the serpents, to assume the form of a mountain at Melukote and wait for His arrival. Sanat-kumara transported the deity with His entire temple complex to Melukote. Later he presented the deity to Lord Rama. Rama's son Kusa gave the deity as a dowry for his daughter, who married a prince of the Yadu dynasty.
Lord Krsna appeared in the Yadu dynasty and worshiped the deity. During that time, the diamond crown of the Lord Aniruddha (Visnu), residing in the milk ocean, was stolen by Virocana, the son of Prahlada. Garuda killed Virocana and retrieved the crown. But on the way back he found Krsna playing in Vrndavana with His friends and cows. So Garuda gave the crown, known as Vajramukti, to Lord Krsna, and Krsna offered it to the deity Ramapriya. (Today, Vairamudi—"The Festival of the Diamond Crown"is one of the temple's main festivals.)
When Lord Balarama returned to Dwarka after one of His pilgrimages, He told Lord Krsna that the deity in Melukote (discovered by Ramanujacarya) was identical to their deity.
So they took Ramapriya to Melukote and placed Him before Tiru Narayana. They found no difference between them. Ramapriya stayed in Melukote, and thereafter the Yadus frequently visited there to worship the Lord, who became their family deity.
Hall of Pillars
We offered prayers to the deity Ramapriya and then walked around the temple, stopping at the small shrines of Hanuman, Sri Laksmi, and the twelve Alvars, saints of the South Indian tradition. Sri Laksmi, the consort of Lord Narayana, is known here as Yadugiri Nachiyar. Her grace is considered even more important than the Lord's. In front of her shrine is a hall of pillars carved with great dexterity. Each one is unique, filled with ornaments, dancing figures, and scenes from the Ramayana.
While examining the pillars, we arrived in front of the deity of Ramanuj-acarya, which was made during his lifetime and approved by him. When he had decided to leave Melukote, his disciples asked his permission to make the deity. Overwhelmed by their love and devotion, he consented.
During Ramanuja's twelve years in Melukote, a tyrant named Kullotunga Chola ruled southern India. He could not tolerate any worship of Lord Visnu. Many Vaisnavas fled to Melukote, where they were given refuge by the local people. Moved by the benevolence of the people of Melukote, Ramanuja called them Tirukulattar, "the kind people."
At that time in Karnataka, a Jain named Bittideva was ruler of Belur. He became a disciple of Ramanuja and received the Vaisnava name Vishnuvar-dhana. As a service to his guru, he renovated the temple of Tiru Narayana.
In the late evening we left for Bangalore. I was inspired by the spirit of service to Vaisnavas shown in Melukote, and by the residents' surrender in devotion to the Lord, the same principles accepted and emphasized by Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Adbhuta Hari Dasa joined ISKCON in 1994 in Croatia. He serves as personal assistant to his spiritual master, Sridhara Swami.
For more information, consult Holy Places and Temples of India, by Jada Bharata Dasa, available from the Krishna.com Store.
See more photos of Melukote at www.krishna.com/melukote.
How to Get There
Melukote is about thirty miles north of Mysore. Take a bus or taxi from Mysore to Melukote. The closest airport to Mysore is in Bangalore, ninety miles away.
Several trains run between Mysore and Bangalore each day, the trip taking 2-3 hours. The trip by bus takes 3-4 hours.
Where to Stay
Melukote is a village, with no lodging. Mysore, a popular tourist destination, has many hotels. Here are some suggestions in three price ranges:
Low—Hotel Sangeeth (phone: 24693), Gayatri Bhavan (21224), Hotel Aashraya Mysore (27088).
Medium—Hotel Mayura Hoysala (25349), Mysore Hotel Complex (26217), Hotel Shreekrishna Continental (37042).
High—Kings Kourt Hotel (25250), Lalitha Mahal Palace Hotel (26316), Southern Star Mysore (27217).
Where to Eat
Vegetarian restaurants in Mysore: Akshaya Restaurant in the Dasaprakash Hotel, Hotel Siddhartha, Sujata, Modern Hindu Hotel, Indra Bhavan, and Chandra Vihar.
A History in Names
Melukote has been known by different names in the course of time. These are the most prominent ones:
Prayer to Lord Tiru Narayana
by Nammalvar (Tiruvaymoli 4.1.1)
Even kings who rule the world as
One day go shamefully begging,
Their legs bitten by a black dog,
So be quick!
The Devotion of a Princess
Temples with a large stone deity on the altar generally have a smaller deity called the utsava-murti ("festival form"), who leaves the temple for processions and festivals. The utsava-murti in Melkote is called Tiru Cheluva Narayana (or Cheluva Pillai), and the temple is also referred to as the Tiru Cheluva Narayana temple.
The Lord once informed Ramanujacarya in a dream that the utsava-murti, which had been stolen by invading Moguls, was in Delhi. Ramanujacarya went there with his disciples, met the sultan who had plundered temples in South India, and requested him to return the deity. The sultan showed him several deities, but Ramanuja did not approve any of them. He said that his deity was in the harem of the princess. The sultan told Ramanuja that if he wanted his deity, he would have to ask the deity to come to him.
Ramanuja sang a sweet song and called out, "Please come, my dear child." ("Cheluva" means "dear child.") The deity came as a beautiful boy and sat on his lap. Ramanuja embraced the divine child with great affection, calling him Sampad-kumara ("Youthful Lord"), and brought Him to Melukote.
The princess, unable to bear separation from the deity, followed Ramanuja. The sultan then sent his army to accompany the princess, but when they couldn't enter a rival's kingdom, the princess continued on alone. When she came to Melukote, she was not allowed to enter the temple, being a Muslim, so she decided to spend her life in penance. Hearing that she was not allowed to see the deity, Ramanuja ordered his disciples to allow the her to enter the temple. She walked in and merged with the Lord.
Ramanuja installed a deity of the princess, Bibi Nacciyar, at the feet of Tiru Cheluva Narayana. Since then every offering made in the temple is done through her.
Twelve city festivals keep spirits high for the team of devotees who presented Krsna consciousness to hundreds of thousands at the Polish Woodstock.
by Indradyumna Swami
It took fifty devotees three full days to break down our festival at the Polish Woodstock. By the time we left, not a soul could be seen on the huge field. As we drove away, I thought back on the success of our festival. Most of the 500,000 people who had come to Woodstock had passed through our site at some point and experienced the blissful world of Krsna consciousness.
We rounded the last turn onto the main road, and I looked back. I felt empty inside. I would have to wait a full year to experience such a great festival again.
As we headed north, my attention turned to the final two weeks of our summer festivals along the Baltic coast. If anything could come close to the taste of spreading Krsna consciousness at Woodstock, it would be the twelve festivals that lay ahead. Well-to-do families take their vacations along the coast, providing a golden opportunity for reaching the higher echelons of Polish society.
After we arrived at our base near the sea, the devotees took a much-deserved three-day break while I waited impatiently for the festivals to begin. One day, several of my disciples returned from a swim at the beach near Pobierowo.
"Srila Gurudeva!" they said excitedly, all talking at once. "As soon as we walked onto the beach, people began crowding around us. They were asking us when the festival in Pobierowo would be. They want to know if there will be a new theater this year and how many Indian dancers will be performing."
I couldn't help picking up their enthusiasm.
"What did you tell them?" I asked.
"We told them the Pobierowo festival would be in two weeks. It would be the final one. One family said they would extend their vacation an extra week just to come."
Four days later, we chanted on the beaches of Ustronie Morskie, where we would hold the first festival. All of Europe was in the midst of a sweltering heat wave. The beach at Ustronie Morskie was so crowded that with our kirtana party of eighty devotees, we could hardly make our way onto the sand.
I was happy to be chanting in public again, and I felt like a thirsty man who had finally found water. I wanted to have an exchange with the people, so I told a devotee to ask the first couple we met if they would come to our festival.
"Of course we will come," the man said. "We've been waiting for you."
His wife smiled.
"We plan our vacation each year around your festivals," she said. "Summer wouldn't be the same without you."
Three days later, a crowd of thousands came to the festival. It was easy to see the difference between those who had come before and those who were coming for the first time. The newcomers were a little reserved at first, but the veterans came to the festival with an enthusiasm much like what I had felt while chanting on the beach again. They headed right for their favorite spots—the restaurant, the gift shop, the book tent, a front row seat on the benches in front of the stage. I saw their eagerness as an initial but real stage of Krsna consciousness.
I started walking around and wandered into the book tent. Our Radha-Krsna deities, Sri Sri Gandharvika- Giridhari, stood there on a beautiful carved wooden altar, placed between tables displaying Srila Prabhupada's books. The deities are over two hundred years old, and with Their beautiful clothes and ornaments, They cap-tured the attention of anyone who walked into the tent. I was surprised to see a family down on their knees in front of the deities, crossing themselves, as Catholics do in church. After saying a few prayers, they stood up and walked out.
I turned to Madhuvati Dasi, who serves the deities.
"That was unusual," I said.
"Not at all, Srila Gurudeva," she replied. "People often kneel down before the deities and pray when they come into the tent. I've seen guests stand there reverentially for fifteen or twenty minutes. I've even seen people speak to Them."
The pleasant weather kept up over the next two weeks, and for once I didn't worry about rain and wind, the natural enemies of our festival tours. We had record crowds in every town.
Changing of the Guard
One evening, as I was speaking from the stage in Mrzezyno, a man dressed in shorts and a T-shirt caught my eye. He was standing in the crowd, listening attentively, nodding in agreement as I explained Krsna con-sciousness. Suddenly I recognized him. He was one of the security guards we had hired during the spring tour. After my talk, he came to thank me and said that he had just come to the coast.
"When I first started working with you last spring," he said, "I had almost no interest in spiritual life. I just did my job, looking out for troublemakers, but while I was there, I was hearing you sing, listening to your lectures, and watching how you people act. Something changed inside me.
"When I went home after your spring tour, I couldn't stop thinking about all of you. As soon as my summer vacation came, I drove up here with my wife and kids. We plan to attend every festival."
"Every festival?" I asked.
"It may sound strange," he said, "but I never get tired of these festivals. There's something magical about them."
Waiting for the Chariots
Lord Caitanya was quickly soothing my feelings of separation from Woodstock, and at the year's last festival, in Pobierowo, He satisfied my heart.
The devotees had mixed feelings on that day. We all knew it was the last festival of the year, but we had little time to lament. We were busy with the biggest crowd of the year.
We chanted on the beach that morning, but around noon it began raining, bringing an end to the longest period of good weather on the coast in living memory. Everyone on the beach had to find shelter, but even though the skies cleared in the late afternoon, no one went back there. They all came to the Festival of India.
Every tourist in town must have come. I was sure of that because, as on the beach, it was difficult to walk through the festival grounds. People were everywhere—the restaurant, the shops, the booths, crowded in front of the stage. Of particular interest was our towering Rathayatra cart, which we had put near the stage. Towards evening we put a light inside the canopy, making the cart look like a gigantic lantern. It was a real crowd-pleaser. People lined up to take photos in front of it.
At one point, I noticed a man standing in front of the cart, looking at it and shaking his head as if in disbelief. I was wondering what he might be thinking, so I went up to him, along with Rama Acyuta Dasa as my translator.
"Is there some problem, sir?" I asked.
He kept his eyes fixed on the huge cart.
"I can't believe it," he said. "It's the real thing. It's a Rathayatra cart."
I was surprised that he even knew the right name.
"How do you know what a Rathayatra cart is?" I asked.
He turned to me for a moment, then looked at the cart again.
"Nine years ago I worked in a coal mine in the south," he said. "It was a dismal job, and dangerous too. One time, some of my colleagues were killed when a mineshaft caved in. I didn't go back into that black hole again. I quit my job and stayed home, praying to God to deliver me from this horrible world.
"One day I decided to go to the town library and look for books about spiritual life. As I searched through the shelves, I found the Caitanya-caritamrta, translated by Bhaktivedanta Swami. There were eight volumes. I glanced through the first one, but I couldn't understand a thing. I decided to check it out anyway and take it home. When I went to the desk, the librarian smiled. She said the book had been there for years and I was the first person to take it out.
"I was desperate for spiritual knowledge, and I read the book over and over. Gradually, I began to understand it. Two weeks later, I went back for the second volume, and the week after, for the third. I didn't do anything but read day and night. After several months I had read all eight volumes at least twice.
"I learned a lot. I was amazed by Caitanya, an incarnation of God. And there was the explanation of the five ways to love God. I had never imagined that spiritual life could be so profound, so deep.
"My favorite part was the Rathayatra festival, where Caitanya sang and danced with His people. I lamented that I had been born too late to take part in those historic times.
"Sometimes Swami mentioned a movement that was spreading all over the world, a movement whose followers sang Hare Krsna, like Caitanya. I wrote to the addresses in the books, but never received a reply. I prayed to God to help me find the movement, but to no avail.
"Then this morning, as I lay on the beach after a swim, I suddenly heard people singing Hare Krsna. I sat up with a start. I couldn't believe my eyes. There must have been a hundred people, many with drums and cymbals. It was as if the books I'd read about Caitanya were coming to life.
"But one thing confused me: there was no Rathayatra cart. For this to be real, there had to be a Rathayatra cart. At first I thought you people were doing a theatrical performance, but then I thought, 'Maybe this is the movement that Swami wrote about. Is God finally answering my prayers?'
"I took an invitation, and when it started to rain I went back to my hotel. I was waiting anxiously for the festival to begin. When the time came, I walked quickly from my hotel. When I came near the festival site and heard the singing, I started to run, and I soon found myself at the entrance. But there was such a crowd! I couldn't see anything. I pushed my way through the people and made it onto the field.
"I was stunned by it all: the colorful tents, the big stage, the singing. But was it real? Was it Caitanya's movement? Then suddenly, to my amazement, I saw the Rathayatra cart. I walked over here and touched it. The Lord has answered my prayers. I have found Caitanya's movement."
Some devotees had gathered to listen, and when he finished we were all speechless. I was overwhelmed by his story and the mercy of Lord Caitanya.
He was still looking at the cart.
"Excuse me if I seem a little emotional," he said. "I hope you understand."
"I do understand," I said.
He turned to me with tears in his eyes.
"What do I do now?" he said slowly.
I took his hand.
"You weren't born too late," I said. "You've come at the perfect time. You can help us spread this movement. The saints say that Lord Caitanya is present wherever His devotees are serving Him."
His Holiness Indradyumna Swami travels around the world teaching Krsna consciousness. In Poland each summer he oversees dozens of festivals. Since 1990 these festivals have introduced Krsna to hundreds of thousands of people.
For more on Indradyumna Swami's Festival of India, go to Krishna.com/381
Lord Caitanya at Rathayatra
"Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu danced down the main road in great ecstasy before Lord Jagannatha, the master of Nilachala, who was sitting on His car. Overwhelmed by the transcendental bliss of dancing, and surrounded by the Vaisnavas who sang the holy names, He manifested waves of ecstatic love of Godhead. Will He again become visible before the path of my eyes?"
—Srila Rupa Gosvami,
"I resolved to spend the rest of my life cultivating devotional remeberance of Lord rsna."
by Surapriya Devi Dasi
On August 18, 2002, my life took a fateful turn. A persistent leg-pain was diagnosed as being caused by malignant terminal breast cancer that had spread all over my body.
Till then my life had been more or less similar to that of most Indian Hindu housewives. I was born and brought up in Maharashtra, a province in Western India, in a cultured and pious family and had married a respectable school teacher, Bhagavan Malwadkar, who went on to become the principal of his school. Our three sons became well-educated young men, with bright careers in front of them.
Then Lord Krsna entered my life. Two of my sons—Siddhanath and Santosh—met devotees of the ISKCON Youth Forum, Pune, in the middle of 1997. Being inspired by the devotees' association, they took to the practice of Krsna consciousness enthusiastically. I was somewhat taken aback by their sudden transformation, but after I met Gaursundara Dasa, the devotee who was teaching them about Krsna, I too was attracted by his disarming simplicity and profound wisdom. My husband and I invited him to start a weekly Bhagavad-gita program at our house in Kothrud, one of the main suburbs of Pune, and he agreed. As the weeks passed by, I was drawn more and more toward Krsna consciousness.
In the middle of 2000, my devotee sons decided to renounce their promising careers to join ISKCON full-time to become brahmacaris (celibate students). I was aghast; all the dreams of their glorious future I had cherished since their birth lay shattered. But I continued my devotional practices and gradually came to accept this as the inconceivable sweet will of the Lord. Meanwhile I suffered periods of poor health, but nothing seemed seriously wrong—till the day of that devastating diagnosis.
Within days of the diagnosis I underwent surgery, but it was a lost cause. The cancer was so widespread, doctors told my family members, that treatment could at best delay the inevitable by a few months. Not only was the disease itself very painful, but the treatment brought its own pains, with little chance of success.
As the horrifying reality of my plight sank in, I sensed that the pain, already excruciating, would worsen till death took its final toll. I felt it would be far easier to end my life myself right away than to try to endure the pain in an agonizing wait for an uncertain yet imminent death.
My sons, who had by now become initiated (Siddhnath had become Sankirtanananda Dasa, and Santosh had become Sundaravara Dasa), were alarmed when I revealed my thoughts to them. In gentle yet firm words, they told me that suicide would not solve my problems; rather it would aggravate them. They explained how all suffering comes from our past deeds and cannot be avoided by artificial means. They cautioned me that my trying to escape my destined suffering through suicide would only postpone the suffering to my next life.
Besides that, the reaction to the sinful act of destroying one's own body by suicide only adds to future suffering. It was better, they told me, to take shelter of Lord Krsna through devotional service, tolerate the suffering, seeing it as His mercy, become purified, and return back home, back to Godhead, never to take birth again in this world of suffering. They reassured me that prayerful remembrance of the Lord would provide me relief from pain even in this life.
I was stunned to hear such profound philosophy from the sons I had nourished with my own breast milk. But soon the truth and wisdom in their words entered my heart, and I became filled with new hope. I resolved to spend the rest of my life cultivating devotional remembrance of Krsna.
The doctors told me I had around seven months left. I started thinking of King Pariksit, who had only seven days to prepare for his death. He had gone to the banks of the Ganges, heard Srimad-Bhagavatam continuously for those seven days, and perfected his life. I decided to follow in his footsteps. I told my husband that I wanted to spend the last days of my life at the ISKCON temple in Pune. The temple president, Radhesyama Dasa, whom I had always revered as a compassionate saintly person, promptly agreed to provide us a room. I was moved by his kindness, as I knew there was an acute space shortage at the temple—forty-three brahmacaris lived in three rooms.
We quickly moved into the temple. As I started visiting the deities daily, hearing the classes and kirtanas, and reading Srila Prabhupada's books, I discovered something amazing: fixing my consciousness on Krsna protected me from the unbearable pain my body was inflicting upon me.
For a short time, my health seemed to improve, and my husband and I returned home, freeing up some space at the temple. But as soon as I left the temple, my pain became so excruciating that I felt like I was being pierced from within at a thousand places. No amount of painkillers helped, but whenever I returned to the temple, my pain subsided.
I realized again that it was Lord Krsna who was protecting me from my pain, not the medicines. I begged Radhesyama Dasa to please allow me to spend the brief remainder of my life at the temple, and he graciously consented, despite the inconveniences it would invariably cause him and the other devotees there.
Since childhood I had heard about Krsna bhakti, and I knew that devotion was incomplete without initiation from a bona fide spiritual master. I started praying intensely, "Dear Lord Krsna, please give me the shelter of a guru before I leave this body."
On January 23, 2003, I underwent a major surgery. During the operation, my breath stopped for several minutes. During those traumatic minutes, I realized my identity to be distinct from my body; I could see, from a vantage point above the operation theater, my frail body lying lifeless on the operation table. I saw the doctors and nurses running around, trying frantically to revive me. I don't know what happened after that, but I woke up to find myself inside my body again.
After that out-of-body experience (OBE) I felt intuitively that Krsna had given me a fresh lease on life just so I could get the shelter of a guru. And, sure enough, on April 4, 2003, His Holiness Radhanatha Swami, the spiritual master of my devotee sons, accepted me as his disciple.
When I look back at my life and the great spiritual transformation that has taken place over the last few months, I feel strongly that cancer has proved to be a blessing for me. Had it not been for this deadly disease, I would never have risen from ritualistic piety to heartfelt devotion; I would simply have grown old, got diseased, died, and continued on aimlessly in the cycle of birth and death. I would never have got the great fortune of living in the Lord's temple, and I would probably never have sought or received initiation. And certainly I would never have experienced the sweetness of helpless remembrance of Lord Krsna. I feel therefore that the Lord has blessed me by giving me cancer and by simultaneously giving me shelter through His devotees and mission.
Generally when a young son renounces the world to serve God, his parents in particular and people in general are shocked at what they consider to be irresponsibility and escapism. I was no exception to such sentiments. My anguish was, in fact, much greater, because not one, but two, of my sons decided to forsake everything for the Lord's service. But now on the verge of death, when the futility of all material achievements stands exposed before me and the inestimable value of devotional service is dawning upon me, I realize how wise my sons were in dedicating their life to the service of the Lord in the prime of their youth.
During my sickness, my two devotee sons carefully attended to my needs, arranging for me to come and stay in the temple with them, cooking for me, accompanying me to the hospital, and taking turns in serving me. Whenever I was in pain or distress, they were always there by my side to support and encourage me. They did all a faithful son can be expected to do for his mother.
But over and above caring for my body, they cared for the real me—the soul. They provided me with spiritual knowledge and devotional practices, which saved me from unbearable bodily pain and brought me indescribable inner happiness. I therefore feel that what they have done for me is far more than what an ordinary son can ever do for his mother.
I feel proud that they were so intelligent that they took to devotional service even before I did. It is sometimes said that the child is the father of the man. In my case, the sons have become the spiritual guides of their mother.
Lastly I feel profound gratitude to Srila Prabhupada, his followers, and his mission, ISKCON, for having provided me with the shelter of Lord Krsna's lotus feet in my last days, when I so desperately needed it. It is only by their grace that for me cancer has been transformed from a curse into a blessing.
* * *
Surapriya Devi Dasi passed away on June 13, 2003, at 3:15 A.M. within the premises of the Sri Sri Radha-Kunjabihari temple, ISKCON, Pune. At that time, a CD player was playing a recording of Sria Prabhupada singing the Hare Krsna maha-mantra and her youngest son, Sundaravara Dasa, was chanting on his beads next to her. Before losing consciousness the previous night, she repeatedly chanted the name of Srila Prabhupada and said that she very distinctly felt his presence in the room, something she had felt dimly on several occasions earlier. A few hours before her departure, her husband told her that his presence next to her would distract her from thinking of Lord Krsna at the time of death and that he would therefore go to a nearby relative's house for the night. She readily agreed.
During her last days, her relatives said that they saw no fear of death in her; rather they felt a divine peace pervade her being progressively. Even the doctors treating her commented that they had never seen a bone cancer patient so peaceful amid so much pain. (Cancer spread through the bones is known to be extremely painful.) She also requested of her husband that, after her death, he take to the vanaprastha (retired) order of life and dedicate his life to the service of Lord Krsna in ISKCON.
At the time of her initiation, Surapriya Devi Dasi wrote on her initiation form that she would like to preach Krsna consciousness. Devotees were skeptical that she could possibly preach, being in such a precarious physical condition. But she would fervently request every relative who came to see her to start chanting at least one round on beads of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. Most of her relatives, being moved by her earnest concern for their spiritual well-being despite being herself on her deathbed, started chanting at once.
Moreover Lord Krsna fulfilled His devotee's pure desire in a very special way. June 13 and 14 happened to be the dates of a spiritual camp at the Pune temple for over 150 young people from all over India. By arranging for her death on the first day of this camp, Krsna gave all these young people a timely reminder of the harsh reality of death, a reality that modern society tries to hide and ignore. Through her shining example, they also realized the necessity of accepting the saving grace of devotional service. Surapriya Devi Dasi thus preached the glory of devotional service through the way she accepted death. Krsna also glorified Surapriya Devi Dasi for her sincere devotion by arranging to have many devotees chanting to create an auspicious atmosphere at the time of her departure from her body.
Surapriya Devi Dasi spoke the gist of this article to her husband in Marathi, her mother tongue. Caitanya Carana Dasa translated the information and compiled the article.
The mercy of guru and Krsna salvaged a life of degradation born of childhood abuse.
by Yoginatha Dasa
When Tota Gopinatha Dasa arrives at the Chilliwack Community Services building driving a shiny black Harley Davidson motorcycle, the loud rumbling pouring out of the polished silver tailpipes turns every head in the parking lot. At first sight, the long hair tied back into a ponytail and the big belt buckle might suggest that another biker from the halfway house has arrived for an appointment with his parole officer. But when he walks in and takes his seat behind the supervisor's desk, you notice something different about this biker. His clothes are clean, there's a warm glisten in his eyes, and he wears neck beads and tilaka. He may indeed be an angel, but he's clearly not one of hell's.
Tota Gopinatha is a well known, easily recognizable, and highly valued social worker in this town of fifty thousand people in British Columbia, Canada. When he gives motivational lectures to high school audiences and other groups, people listen. His total honesty in confronting human despair and his complete faith in the power of people to heal themselves through prayer has saved and inspired hundreds, if not thousands.
Against the Odds
Although Tota is regarded as confident, happy, well-adjusted, and deeply religious, the road he traveled was filled with violence, addiction, and sexual abuse.
After hearing Tota tell his story to a packed courtroom audience, a highly seated provincial judge said, "In my experience, anyone who has gone through what you have is either dead or serving a life sentence in our federal prisons."
By the time Tota Gopinatha moved into the Vancouver temple at age seventeen, in 1976, he had already been living alone on the streets for seven years. He had escaped the clutches of a violent alcoholic father, who was later tried and convicted for his attempts to murder Tota.
On the streets, Tota was periodically picked up and placed into different missions and foster homes, where sexual abuse was common. He recalls being brought into a steam-bath house where a number of sweaty men lined up to impose sexual favors on the boy.
"I had 'victim' written all over my face," Tota explains.
Mercy to Last More than a Lifetime
Somehow he ended up on Krsna's doorstep and spent eight years chanting Hare Krsna and following the regulative principles of devotional life. It was during this initial encounter with Krsna consciousness that Tota feels he received the mercy that would later save him. One episode stands out. Tota recalls once spending eighteen straight hours distributing Srila Prabhupada's books—640 in one day. He was later told that when an ailing Srila Prabhupada had seen the book-sales report, he had touched Tota's name at the top of the list and commented that seeing his disciples taking up this work with such great enthusiasm gave him life. Close to thirty years later, Tota remembers that event with great satisfaction. He feels certain that for at least a moment he received the mercy of his spiritual master, and that's more than enough to guarantee his ultimate spiritual success.
That moment of glory unfortunately was followed by a decade of degradation. Ten long years of drug and alcohol abuse, financed by stealing and cheating, ended in a jail term at British Columbia's Ocala prison.
As Tota now laughingly puts it, "I still had a few issues to work out."
The emotional trauma of a wickedly cruel, almost inhuman, childhood filled with sexual abuse had yet to be reconciled.
In 1990 Tota hit rock bottom. It was on the front lawn of a wild bikers' party. Inside, behind darkened windows, his friends were engulfed in hysterical revelry fueled by cocaine and alcohol. Outside, a weeping Tota was on his knees begging Lord Krsna for help. As he did so, a familiar voice in his heart reassured him. From that moment he turned his back on addiction and never returned.
That was the beginning of his road to recovery. It was followed by endless hours of counseling and prayer. Gallons of tears from his heart poured out over the weeks, months, and years that followed.
Tota's childhood trauma was eventually brought to closure when a highly publicized court case sentenced his father to prison for the wrongs he had inflicted upon his son over a quarter of a century earlier. After a three-day hearing, regularly interrupted by a tearful court reporter who found it difficult to record the history of Tota's tormented childhood, Tota was award-ed a court settlement from the province of Ontario. He invested it in real estate, and the one-time penniless, skid-row drug addict and ex-con now expects to retire by age sixty.
Using Life's Lessons
It was during the years of rehabilita-tion that Tota began an in-depth study of the psychology of addiction and sexual abuse. Nearly every waking hour has found him enrolled in one course or another. His certificates now fill a fat binder and cover the better part of a wall.
His early training in the philosophy and principles of Krsna consciousness, coupled with his own real life lessons and the same passionate enthusiasm that once made him a top book-salesman, synthesized into a dynamo of a self-made social worker infused with the power to heal. His deep understanding of human suffering and his overpowering belief in the ability of prayer to salvage damaged lives have made him popular with local law enforcement agencies, regional educators, government ministries in the top echelons of the social services field, and especially with his clients.
When asked to summarize effective methods for overcoming addiction and the trauma caused by sexual abuse, the big, gruff biker with a helmet in one hand and a bead bag in the other will tell you he owes everything to his guru and Krsna.
"I never gave up on Krsna, and He never gave up on me. But I never take His blessings for granted. I begin every day on my knees praying, and I end it the same way. If I do that, everything in between seems to work out fine."
Yoginatha Dasa lives in ISKCON's Saranagati Dhama community in British Columbia, Canada. His "How I Came to Krsna Consciousness" appeared in our November/December 2003 issue.
In the spirit of Prabhupada's young disciples in the '70s, a new generation hits the roads of America with Krsna's names and message.
by Manu Dasa and Jaya Radhe Devi Dasi
"Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all."—Helen Keller
Those words could be our motto as we zoom down a deserted Arizona highway at 2:45 A.M. aboard Garuda II, our big yellow Hare Krishna Youth Ministry tour bus. We've just completed the first of two months of our Festival of India tour across America and are on a mission to reach Los Angeles before sunrise. Janaka asi's at the wheel. Jaya, Citra, and Daksina are keeping him awake by rehearsing lines for our play at the upcoming Venice Beach Rathayatra.
"Isn't this, like, totally surreal?" Daksina interjects. "Just a few hours ago we were eating watermelon at the edge of the Grand Canyon, and now we're in the middle of the Arizona desert. By sunrise we'll be in Los Angeles, setting up another Rathayatra. And we still have San Diego, Laguna Beach, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, San Francisco, Van-couver, and Denver to go!"
"I know," Citra adds. "I've lived in North Carolina all my life and have never done anything like this before. This is just awesome!"
Tucked away on bunk beds behind the driver's cabin, the rest of our crew —forty-one devotee youth and their chaperones—are all sound asleep. When we reach LA, they'll rise to the occasion, as they have five times this summer, to help set up the festival, perform "The Advent of Lord Jagannatha," sing and dance to kirtanas on stage, and serve the free feast to thousands of people. And at the end of the festival, we'll take down the tents and exhibits, load them into the Festival of India trailer, and drive through the night to our next destination. Nine Rathayatras, dozens of temples across the USA and Canada, camping, hiking and swimming at national parks, exuberant kirtanas, whitewater rafting—the summer adventure of a lifetime.
"We just crossed into California. That's 8,628 miles for the fuel log," Janaka asi reminds the night-shift volunteers. "I think I'll pull over at the welcome center and let Dravinaksa drive for a bit. We're carrying the most precious cargo in the universe."
Transcendental Road Show: Then and Now
The year is 1973. Visnujana Swami, Tamal Krsna Goswami, and several other disciples of Srila Prabhupada, all in their late teens and early twenties, take an old Greyhound bus and put on festivals in city parks across North America.
Since June of 1973, we have taken the Supreme Lord Himself (in His Deity form called Radha-Damodara) all over the United States. Along with ten other devotees, we bring the Lord to colleges, fairs, any large festive gathering. There we set up tents and spread Krsna consciousness by chanting Hare Krsna, accompanied by ancient instruments, distributing prasada, preaching individually to interested people, and distributing books by our spiritual master.
Today, thirty years later, we have come full circle. The next generation of Hare Krsna youth are taking to the road with a renewed spirit of adventure, to spread Sri Krsna's message all over North America.
Dravinaksa Dasa was a bus driver for the original Radha-Damodara Traveling Sankirtana Party. Today, he relives his teenage years, driving our modern MCI 102-DL3 Greyhound "Garuda II." He recalls: "We would buy these old GMC buses for cheap. They must have been twenty years old even back then—they looked like buses from the 1950s. And we'd drive them into the ground, until the engine stopped running. We didn't have the money to rebuild transmissions in those days. This bus is a blessing in comparison. When people see this bus—clean, bright, shiny yellow, with 'Hare Krishna Youth Ministry' written on the sides—they go, 'Wow! Cool! I'm so glad to see that you Hare Krsnas have such a nice program for your youth.' That's what one gas station attendant told me."
Another one of our bus drivers, Jaya Dasa, was talking with a friend about the trip: "We pulled into a small town in the middle of nowhere, in upstate New York. There was a raging kirtana going on inside the bus. We stopped at this small supermarket to shop for lunch. As everyone got off the bus, you should have seen this place! Within minutes, a dozen local youth were gathered around us, asking us who we were, where we were headed, and if they could come and join us. They were totally mesmerized."
After a full day of whitewater rafting on the Thompson River near ISKCON's Saranagati community in Canada, Shane, our Native American rafting guide, had to ask, "Where do you guys come from? I've never met so many bright and happy young people in one place before. You even smell good. Hare Krsnas, eh? You guys are amazing!"
"Now there's a name I haven't heard in years: Hare Krsna," a ranger commented as she gave us a huge smile and a large discount on the park entrance fees. "Enjoy your stay at Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks."
Temple on Wheels
In many ways our big yellow bus, affectionately called ISKCON Garuda, is like a temple on wheels. For two months, the bus tour participants are members of this youth temple, associating with other devotee youth during morning and evening kirtana programs for our traveling deities and having discussions with Swamis and older devotees who join us for a few days on the tour. We visit temples, put on festivals, and stop for inspiration at places of pilgrimage. The experience is ever fresh, and there's something unexpected around every turn, with every new day.
The day before the Toronto Rathayatra, we caught up with Bhakti Marga Swami on his second walk across Canada. We walked with him for a few hours through magnificent Elora Gorge, two hours west of Toronto. At one point we all sat down in a circle at a bluff overhanging the river gorge below and listened intently as he told of his many adventures along the cross-Canada walk. Hearing of the many pairs of shoes he had worn out, and the austerities he had to endure from traffic, heat, cold, insects, rain, and snow, made any inconveniences we had to undergo on our bus tour seem trivial.
At the Fourth of July Rathayatra in Washington, D.C., we set a new record for the fastest take-down of the Festival of India. In only one hour and twenty minutes our boys and girls disassembled the exhibits and tents, rolled everything up, and tucked it all away in the Festival of India trailer.
In New York City, we went on a sight-seeing tour to 26 Second Ave., the "Matchless Gifts" storefront temple in lower Manhattan where Srila Prabhupada began the Hare Krsna movement in the West over thirty-seven years ago. Jayadvaita Swami, who had joined ISKCON here, served as our tour guide, giving us background information about the neighborhood and what it was like in the mid-sixties.
We walked to Tompkins Square Park, hugged the tree Srila Prabhupada had sat under, chanted, and honored prasadam. Then we took the subway to Ground Zero, the site of the World Trade Center bombings, and were reminded of how death can come at any moment. Just being there brought tears to our eyes.
In Boston we visited Commonwealth Pier #5, where Srila Prabhupada landed in the U.S.A. in 1965, aboard the steamship Jaladuta. Here again, Jayadvaita Swami brought the place to life with vivid descriptions of what it was like when Srila Prabhupada was there.
Later, we performed our play to an intimate audience in the small Boston temple.
"I was very moved by the play," Radhanatha Swami related, "practically crying. The youth acted with such devotion. In India, actors performing spiritual plays are respected and worshiped because they represent demigods and deities. It is said that when the actors are sincere, the saintly personalities depicted actually manifest during the performance."
His words inspired the youth to continue performing the play at all of the eighteen temples and Rathayatras we visited.
On Sunday after Chicago Rathayatra, someone informed us of a large festival downtown. So after an uneventful morning at a cold lakefront beach, we decided to have some fun; we changed into devotional clothes, grabbed our instruments, and headed for a Chicago train bound for the "Taste of Chicago" festival.
We were chanting on the platform when the train arrived, so we all piled into one car together and continued, completely entranced and practically oblivious of the world around us. At every station, more and more people piled onto the train, and we watched their stunned expressions as they left mundane Chicago behind and entered a spiritual realm of blissful, sweet, melodious kirtana led by dozens of bright, young, exotically dressed boys and girls. Some passengers just assumed we were part of a performing arts troupe headed for the "Taste of Chicago" festival.
At the entrance of the festival, we found a small park with an open lawn, the perfect spot for chanting. Tens of thousands of people streamed in and out of the entrance gates. We chanted. We danced in circles. We had fun. We drew some stares and a lot of attention. A group of Irish tourists stood at the edge of our circle and watched us for about ten minutes. When we stopped the kirtana to change leaders, they came over and introduced themselves. They wondered if our circle dance was in any way related to some of their Irish folk dances. They gave us a demonstration of their Irish jigs, and asked if we would mind if they joined in the fun.
Montreal, Canada. Friday night before Rathayatra we boarded our bus and drove into downtown Montreal. There were people everywhere, walking about from one club to the other, or sitting at sidewalk cafes and restaurants. We danced with abandon as slightly inebriated Montrealers danced and cheered us on. We handed out hundreds of invitations to the festival. As we drove back to the temple, we were high on the holy names, shouting out of the windows at passers-by in broken French—"Bonjour! Au revoir! Merci!"—over the top of a raging kirtana.
Seeing the kids totally happy chanting the holy names is what we live for on the bus tour. When they realize that they can have a great time engaging in Krsna conscious activities, that chanting on the streets of a big city can be a lot of fun, that putting on devotional festivals such as Rathayatra is cool, and that people are curious and appreciate the Vaisnava arts and culture—those realizations are precious and irreplaceable.
Kansas City, 7:15 A.M. On the second to last day of our tour, we pull into one of hundreds of Flying-J truck stops along the highway. The scene is familiar. We've slept all night on the bus while traveling and are eager to refresh ourselves. Forty sleepy-faced youth in their pajamas exit the bus looking for a bathroom. Balarama stumbles along in his sarong.
The gas station attendant asks him innocently, "Are you people Hare Krsnas?"
Next thing he knows, Balarama is absorbed in a lively half-hour discussion about the meaning of life. He equips the curious attendant with a copy of Srila Prabhupada's Chant And Be Happy and a phone number to the nearest temple.
Everywhere we hold our sacred Krsna conscious festivals, people become convinced of the Krsna conscious way of life. They become inspired to join us in this divine mission of traveling and preaching, and so in only a few months we have started the same program with a second bus. And soon, by Krsna's desire, we hope to see hundreds of buses bringing these blissful festivals to every town and village.
Manu Dasa and Jaya Radhe Devi Dasi, husband and wife, grew up in the Hare Krsna movement and are part of the ISKCON community in Alachua, Florida. They have organized youth programs and festival tours with ISKCON Youth Ministry since 1994. Manu is the graphic designer for Krishna.com, and Jaya Radhe teaches third and fourth grades at the Alachua Learning Center elementary school.
View more stories and testimonials about the bus tours, hundreds of color photos, and bus tour video clips at www.krishna.com/bustour.
"The whole point of the tour was to present a way of having fun that is literally "out of this world." There is nothing like having fun in Krsna consciousness with our devotee family. So many of us realized this as we were spiritually recharged during each Rathayatra, each Bhagavatam discussion, each rockin' kirtana.
"About halfway through the tour, one girl told me that she had done many things in life that she had thought would make her happy. "Sure," she said, "I thought I was happy for a little bit, but there was always misery after that." Then she told me that, for the first time, she was happy doing devotional service on the bus tour, without any misery or regrets afterwards. She said she had never been so happy in her life. Although I had heard many times before how one is truly happy in Krsna consciousness, I really stopped to think about it after my talk with that girl. I came to the conclusion that it was indeed true, because I was experiencing the same happiness."
—Saranagati Devi Dasi, age 18
"The bus tour was more wonderful than I could have ever dreamt possible. I got so much inspiration from being more Krsna conscious, realizing it is not something I have to do but want to do. My parents have always been prodding me to be more Krsna conscious. So in my rebellion, I felt for so long that I couldn't be as Krsna conscious as I would like, because my parents would be thinking they'd won. I don't like to think my relationship to Krsna should be something for them to win. Nevertheless, I came to realize I can do it the way I like. I don't quite know when or where this thought came to me on the tour, but it is there, and I say thank you!
"I could fill a whole page with one thank you after the other, and it would be a more accurate picture of how truly thankful I am that somehow the universe intervened and sent me from Sweden over the Atlantic and into the presence of so many people that I now share a bond with, and that I hope will last a lifetime."
—Niscaitanya Devi Dasi, age 25
"One of the most amazing experiences for me as an organizer of the tour is to see the spark of Krsna conscious enthusiasm catch and light up the faces of young people who at the beginning of the tour may have shown little interest in devotional activities. At one point on the tour, during another soul-stirring kirtana, one boy finally decided to pick up a drum, started playing like I didn't know he could play, started chanting like I didn't know he had it in him, out of his own volition—that's when tears welled up in my eyes and I told myself it's all worth the effort and austerity. It's for real. The process of bhakti-yoga, devotional service, works. I was reminded of a verse from the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 22.107): "Pure love for Krsna is eternally established in the hearts of the living entities. . . . When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, this love naturally awakens."
—Manu Dasa, Tour Organizer
Be Part of the Tour
Last summer marked the ninth year of the Hare Krishna Youth Ministry's Festival of India bus tour. For the first eight years, the tour traveled in an old school bus that broke down on the road twenty-two times. Last summer, with the help of Madhuha Dasa, director of the Festival of India, and several donors, the Youth Ministry made a downpayment on Garuda II, a real cross-country tour bus. By the summer of 2004 they would like to have paid for this bus and take a second bus on the road. And the year after that, four buses.
To join the tour as a bus driver, pujari, book distributor, chaperone, sponsor, location scout, cook, helper, or youth participant, contact the authors at ISKCON Youth Ministry, P. O. Box 283, Alachua, FL 32616, USA. Phone: (386) 418-3839.
Because Krsna's name has immense spiritual power, we must be careful how we use it.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
This is the third 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 sinning while relying on the power of the holy names to protect one from the reactions to the sin.
The students of my Government class and I sat hushed, without even rustling papers, listening to the amazing story in the courtroom. At least it amazed these fifteen- and sixteen-year-old students whose lives never touched those of drug addicts and criminals.
"You've broken your probation three times," the stern judge said. He leaned forward on the desk and glared at the man in shackles and bright orange prison clothes. "You've had to go to a drug-rehabilitation program. Each time you start the program, but then you leave.
Do you know the penalty for breaking probation?"
The young accused—with muscular arms and a nearly shaved head—stood straight like a soldier and said nothing. He almost succeeded in appearing repentant. At least the judge might have thought so.
"Fifteen years," the words came heavily and slowly. "Fifteen years. Back in prison for fifteen years." There was a long pause. "Do you want to go back to prison for fifteen years?"
"No, your honor. I just hated that treatment program I was sentenced to. I'd like a chance at another kind of program. Please. One last chance. If it's the program I'm asking for, I'll definitely stick with it and kick this cocaine for good."
The court reporter held her fingers above the keys. No one moved.
"Okay," the judge said, still leaning forward with his full weight on his arms.
We all realized we hadn't breathed for a minute or so. Now a cough, now a shuffle.
"But this is your last chance!" the judge almost spat out, and we either slightly jumped or suddenly leaned forward. "You cannot keep breaking probation and asking for another chance. This is it. Make it good."
He broke eye contact and turned to the papers on his desk.
And the prisoner left to complete the procedures.
Krsna, the Merciful Judge
Was this criminal ready for reformation? Or was he just using the judge's mercy to try to cheat the system? We didn't follow up on the case, but we doubted the young man's motives.
Like the judge, Krsna and saintly persons, including the guru who takes responsibility to bring us to Krsna, are happy to forgive our mistakes, even grievous sins. But what if we deliberately use the Lord, His servants, or any aspect of His service—especially the chanting of His name—to get relief from sins? Then Krsna will cease His leniency and block our realization of Him, because we're trying to engage Him as our servant.
In 1992, Charles H. Keating, Jr., was found guilty of stealing over a quarter of a billion dollars through fraud. He gave at least a million dollars of this, much taken from others' life savings, to Mother Teresa to help the poor of Calcutta. The District Attorney who prosecuted Mr. Keating wrote to Mother Teresa asking her to give the donation back to the crime victims.
"It is not uncommon for 'con' men to be generous with family, friends and charities," the District Attorney wrote. "Perhaps they believe that their generosity will purchase love, respect or forgiveness. However, the time when the purchase of 'indulgences' as an acceptable method of seeking forgiveness died with the Reformation. No church, no charity, no organization should allow itself to be used as salve for the conscience of the criminal."
The District Attorney was referring to the Protestant Reformation, which was largely fueled by objection to "indulgences," where in exchange for donations the Church would promise remission of punishment for sin.
The mentality of using religion or spiritual practice to avoid punishment is often called the worst offense to the Lord; it blocks our spiritual progress. Srila Prabhupada termed this offense, when applied to the chanting of the Lord's holy name, "sinning on the strength of chanting." There is no remedy if a person schemes to defraud the Lord in this way. One who thinks "I'll do this bad thing and then chant Hare Krsna to be excused" will find that Krsna will put obstacles on his or her path, especially if the sin or crime was done against the Lord's devotee.
Generally, if a person is constantly serving Krsna and chanting Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, the very process of chanting and performing other service to Krsna will gradually render offenses and sins ineffective. But if one takes advantage of the protection offered by chanting, one's chanting will remain just alphabet sounds—Krsna will not manifest Himself there.
What, exactly, do we mean by "sin," and is there a difference between deliberate and accidental sin?
Some definitions Srila Prabhupada gives us are "breaking the laws of nature,""deepening involvement in the complexities of material nature," and doing something that "leads us away from the Supreme Lord." Once we understand that our most essential nature is loving service to Krsna, anything other than that, or anything opposed to it, is sin. Sin isn't exactly something bad that God doesn't want you to do because He's a cruel rule-enforcer, but it's something that causes misery because it's against one's very self.
For example, the nature of the human body is to digest organic material, especially fruits, grains, vegetables, and so forth. If we choose to eat Styrofoam, we do something against the nature or "law" of the body and will therefore suffer. Similarly, anything we think, say, or do that doesn't nourish our love for Krsna is spiritually indigestible and brings the pain of material involvement, which is disease for the soul.
A person whose consciousness is in disharmony with Krsna may not know, however, what is and is not in accordance with spiritual reality. Therefore bona fide scripture lists condemned acts that require atonement. These acts—of the body, mind, or speech—are sins.
Certainly one who hasn't attained the pinnacle of purity is living in an interim state between sin and a pure life. While striving for purity, we retain mental impressions of sin and a strong tendency to use the body, mind, and words in ways that take us away from Krsna. Srila Visvanatha CakravartiThakura writes in Madhurya Kadambini, "Seeing that material enjoyment is forcibly carrying him away and impairing his steadiness in serving Krsna, the devotee resolves to renounce his addictions and take shelter of the holy name. But many times the attempt at renunciation ends in enjoying what he is trying to renounce."
Striving to Improve
This struggle with our persistent tendency to turn away from Krsna is not a block if we continually take up the challenge to improve. Krsna explains: "Having awakened faith in topics about Me, My devotee is disgusted with all material activities, knowing that sense gratification leads to misery. Still, though he tries he is unable to give up his material desires and sometimes engages in the same sense enjoyment that brings only misery. But, repenting such activities, he should worship Me with love, faith, and firm conviction." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.20.27-28)
Srila Prabhupada writes: "An ordinary man with firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even though unable to execute such orders, becomes liberated from the bondage of the law of karma. In the beginning of Krsna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness." (Bhagavad-gita As It Is 3.31, Purport)
Minor sins that we commit as we struggle to advance are considered accidental. By repentance we should burn the reaction to those sins. But if we sin thinking that either ordinary religious penance or transcendental activities such as chanting will deliver us from the reaction, the reaction will increase rather than decrease.
If a person externally takes on the appearance of a religious or saintly person while still secretly doing materialistic activities for sense pleasure, such behavior is also sinning on the strength of chanting. There are more subtle aspects as well. For example, we may think, "I'm a devotee of Krsna and please Him in so many ways. If I just do this little thing wrong, surely He'll overlook it."
For our chanting to have full effect, therefore, we must throw out the cheating tendency if it even sticks its toenail into the doorway of our mind. If we find ourselves planning to use Krsna and His name to cover our devious purposes, we should strongly call to Krsna for protection. Our gurus—both the one who has initiated us into the chanting and those who give us relevant spiritual instruction—are our guardians and will also chase away the thieves of sin and cheating if we loudly and strongly beg for their help.
A remedy for all obstacles is the regular, close companionship of pure devotees of Krsna. Their examples and teachings help us recognize our difficulties and desire to be free of them.
Of course, we want not only to be free of the desire to use chanting to cheat our way out of suffering for sin, but to give up our sinful tendency completely. Only a pure life fully in harmo-ny with the truth of our spiritual nature will give us the satisfaction we are always seeking. And only a pure life will prepare the ground for the garden that will grow the flowers and fruits of love of God.
We will never sin if we have contempt for the illusion of material enjoyment. Part of that contempt will arise naturally if we have the superior pleasure of serving Krsna. At the same time, we should study the true nature of material life from scriptures and saintly persons. The root of sin is ignorance, or ignoring the obvious truths of what it really means to turn away from Krsna. The results of sin are birth, death, old age, and disease. One will never be satisfied with the pleasures of the body and mind separated from Krsna, and even things that apparently satisfy for a time will quickly fade, being temporary by nature. Why delight in what is temporary and superficial? Such delight is the true nature of sin.
Krsna as Rama promises, "It is My vow that if one only once seriously surrenders unto Me, saying 'My dear Lord, from this day I am Yours,' and prays to Me for courage, I shall immediately award courage to that person, and he will always remain safe from that time on." (Ramayana, Yuddha-khanda 18.33) From what is one safe? Krsna says, "Just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear." (Bhagavad-gita 18.66) Those sinful reactions include the very desire—even potential desire—to sin.
And how do we surrender? We accept whatever will help us in spiritual life and reject what will be harmful. We learn from scriptures, gurus, and saintly persons what will be favorable or unfavorable. We see that ultimately only Krsna is our protector and maintainer, and we are happily willing to put His interest as our interest. And no matter what our qualifications and achievements, we give Krsna the credit, remaining humble.
This mood of surrender will quickly vanquish our tendency to sin and to misuse the holy name to cheat. It will allow the power and beauty of the name to blossom in our hearts.
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.
Back to Godhead has inevitably undergone changes over its sixty-year history. When Srila Prabhupada's disciples took up the service of producing the magazine, he gave them general guidelines and left most of the details up to them. Occasionally he would give specific instructions. One of those, which BTG editors have held sacrosanct ever since, was that each issue should contain an excerpt from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Once, when some disciples expressed concern that the spiritual content of BTG seemed to be declining, Prabhupada said, in effect, "At least the Bhagavatam is there."
The Srimad-Bhagavatam was at the heart of Prabhupada's mission. In a poem he wrote on arriving in America, he expressed his deep faith that the message of the Bhagavatam, which he had come to deliver, could rescue the people of the West from their debilitated spiritual condition.
I was in the U.S. Air Force when I came to Krsna consciousness and started reading the Bhagavatam. Because I wanted to live at the temple and serve there full time, I submitted my resignation from the Air Force. During the six-month wait for the resignation to be approved, I was excused from reporting for duty but had to spend my normal work hours in my room on the base. That proved to be a blessing: I had nothing else to do but read Prabhupada's books. I dove in. I especially loved reading the Bhagavatam and felt that my concentration on its words was a perfect meditation.
The Bhagavatam is known among Vaisnavas as grantha-raja: "the king of books." Although listed as one of the eighteen Puranas, or Vedic histories, it is called "the spotless Purana." It stands above all other works because of its exclusive focus on topics related to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the very beginning of the Bhagavatam, we come across the striking assertion "What is the need of any other book?" The third text tells us that the Bhagavatam is the ripe fruit of the Vedic literature. The book abounds with praise from great saints who have realized its supreme position. They tell us that the Bhagavatam is God in book form, that it is sufficient in itself for God realization, that by reading it one becomes a pure lover of God, that once one gains a taste for hearing its message, all attraction for lesser topics gradually disappears, that it is meant for bringing about a spiritual revolution in the impious lives of the world's misdirected civilization.
"Bhagavatam" means "in relation to God." Anyone interested in learning about God—as every human being should be—need look no further than the Bhagavatam, which Prabhupada called the post-graduate study of spiritual knowledge. It is a guide book to the summit of human aspiration.
As with any subject, the science of God is best received from one who has mastered its intricacies. Since mastery of the knowledge presented in the Bhagavatam results in pure devotion to Krsna, we should be careful to receive its message only from Krsna's pure devotees, whose character and realizations qualify them to be His authorized representatives. Srila Prabhupada was undoubtedly among that esteemed group, and we can enter their company by taking advantage of his presentation of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, "The Beautiful Story of the Supreme Lord."
If one sincerely searches for spiritual salvation, then Krsna, being situated in everyone's heart, gives him the intelligence to find a suitable spiritual master. By the grace of a spiritual master . . . , one gets the proper instruction and advances in his spiritual life.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
And I declare that one who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence.
Lord Sri Krsna,
The Supreme Lord, who is greater than the greatest, becomes submissive to even a very insignificant devotee because of his devotional service. It is the beautiful and exalted nature of devotional service that the infinite Lord becomes submissive to the infinitesimal living entity because of it. In reciprocal devotional activities with the Lord, the devotee actually enjoys the transcendental mellow of devotional service.
Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu
As oil stays in sesame seeds, as fire stays in wood, as butter stays in milk, and as fragrance stays in flowers, so I, the Supersoul, stay in the hearts of all living creatures.
Devotional service alone is the eternal supreme occupational duty. It is applicable to and beneficial for everyone. Nondevotional activities, such as karma, jnana, yoga, austerity, and vows are known as inferior religious principles because they are temporary. Sectarianism and narrow-mindedness are the two trademarks of these inferior religious systems. The Supreme Lord is the only object of worship; therefore He delivers everyone by manifesting His various pastimes. This is His unique quality.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura
Let the transcendental pastimes of the blackish personality Krsna and the golden cowherd girl Radha, who are constantly overwhelmed with ecstatic love for each other, who always reside in Vrndavana, whose beauty attracts the minds of everyone, and who are the reservoir of wonderful loving pastimes, become constantly manifested in my heart.
Srila Prabodhananda Sarasvati
One who actually satisfies the Supreme Personality of Godhead during one's lifetime becomes liberated from the gross and subtle material conditions. Thus being freed from all material modes of nature, he achieves unlimited spiritual bliss.