In this issue we hear about the life and glorious passing of one of the Hare Krsna movement's pioneers, His Holiness Sridhara Swami. Known as "the jolly swami," he joined Srila Prabhupada's fledgling movement in 1969 and spent the next thirty-five years in service to his guru, in dedicated spiritual practice, and in teaching Krsna consciousness around the world.
Sridhara Swami spent his last days at ISKCON's center in Mayapur, West Bengal, in the heart of Lord Caitanya's holy land. Srila Prabhupada wanted the center to become a showcase for all aspects of the Krsna conscious life, including education. A group of devotees there have wholeheartedly taken up the task of creating an educational institution in Mayapur where members of ISKCON can grow in their spiritual knowledge and practice. "Seed of a Sage Vision" introduces us to the fruit of their efforts: Mayapur Institute for Higher Education.
Mayapur lies only about thirty miles from the border of Bangladesh, formerly part of India and its rich spiritual heritage, especially as connected to Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his followers. Indradyumna Swami's "Pilgrimage to Bangladesh" tells of a rare visit by Western devotees to some of Bangladesh's holiest sites.
Hare Krsna.—Nagaraja Dasa, Editor
• To help all people discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.
A Seed Bears Fruit
Many years ago, and it seems like lifetimes now, I had two high school friends who were a couple of years older than I and were Hare Krsna devotees. We used to go on the weekends to the Potomac, Maryland, temple together. From the beginning my faith was confident in SriKrsna and Srila Prabhupada. I was even fortunate to have darsana [audience] with His Divine Grace when my friends received initiation. I can't remember, after almost three decades, what my friends' initiated names were. But, Jerry and Sandy, may you know that the seeds of devotion planted so long ago established something which flourished over time. May Govinda bless you both for the most excellent of matchless gifts.
L. C. Hagerty
While chanting, is it wrong to listen to Krsna's bhajanas or read about Krsna?
OUR REPLY: The process is to hear and chant the holy sound of the Hare Krsna mantra. Revelation of the form, qualities, and pastimes of Krsna will then take place gradually in due course. To do other things while chanting Hare Krsna makes it more difficult to pay attention, and inattention is an offense to the holy name. Attentive chanting can vanquish our other offenses, but inattention can prevent us from attaining love of Godhead.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura has said that there is nothing of value in the whole material world except the holy name. Why then do we feel the need to do other things while we chant Hare Krsna? It may be that our realization of this point is lacking. So we should humbly return our attention to the mantra and continue, again and yet again, always trying to hear with attention.
Looking for a Guru
BTG seems to arrive just when my "Krsna battery" seems to be running out of power!
Where can I find out more detailed, practical information about initiation? I have contacted a couple of siksa [instructing] gurus who have Internet Web sites. They (I guess) in turn had a couple of their disciples contact me. Alas, they offered no tangible information that I could use. This "initiation thing" is like a "private club" that I can't get into. I'm forty-eight with family responsibilities, so it's hard to visit the closest temple (which is two hours away). I follow the four regulative principles and chant ten rounds a day. Any thoughts?
OUR REPLY: In different places in Srila Prabhupada's books the importance of initiation is described. It is an essential part of spiritual life. At initiation one receives transcendental knowledge about God and how to approach Him. The spiritual master also takes the karma of the disciple. Srila Prabhupada had a standard of having the devotees chant sixteen rounds a day and follow the four principles forbidding meat-eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex for at least six months prior to initiation. During this time, the disciple may also see that the guru is steadily qualified to represent Krsna.
Generally Srila Prabhupada taught that when one is serious about spiritual life, Krsna will send the guru. Therefore, you should not be overly anxious about it. You can pray to Krsna and Srila Prabhupada and keep your eyes open to see who they may be sending.
As a disciple you will have to dedicate your life to the service of your guru, so you should keep that in mind, and be sure you have that much faith in the person you accept as guru. The guru must be a faithful follower of his own guru in a line of succession going back to Krsna.
Srila Prabhupada gives some guidance about choosing a guru in The Nectar of Instruction (pages 25-30).
In reality, initiation is not a private club you cannot get into. It is beyond superficial appearances. It is Krsna revealing Himself to you through one of His confidential associates.
Why No Shoes?
I'm a student of anthropology, and I have a question regarding the removal of shoes before entering the temple. What is the significance of that?
OUR REPLY: The reason is that cleanliness is an important religious principle. Here are two statements by Srila Prabhupada about cleanliness in worship:
"In India it is still the prevalent custom that one put his shoes in a specified place and then enter the temple barefoot after washing his feet." (Sri Caitanya-caritamrta, Adilila 7.59, Purport)
"To keep the temple very cleansed, very attractive, that is also Deity worship. Those who are here working, they should keep this temple as clean as possible. Then Krsna will be satisfied. Krsna's body—this temple. Do not think it otherwise. Temple should be worshiped in that way. Therefore I ask you not to come with shoes." (Lecture, August 17, 1976)
Our shoes can become contaminated with so many unclean things, and thus we should not enter the temple wearing them. This is out of respect for the deity, who is considered an especially merciful form of the Lord, for He appears before the material senses of the neophyte worshiper.
I think that man has forgotten God. With all of his fancy inventions and technology, man has lost touch with God. Therefore a cleansing of some sort must inevitably come. Would you agree?
OUR REPLY: Yes, we will have to turn away from this absorption in materialism. There is no doubt about it. There is a counterculture of people turning away from it, and it will increase. We are confident that if the congregational chanting of the glories of God is promoted in human society, then all the sinful reactions will be dispelled. That is the great need at the present moment.
Please write to us at: BTG, P.O. Box 430, Alachua, FL 32616, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the last issue, the text on page 15 was laid out incorrectly. The right-hand column of text should be the first column on the page. Also, the deity on page 14 is Gadadhara, not Lord Nityananda as the caption states. We apologize for these mistakes.
The success of whatever we do in life will be tested by our ability to remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death.
by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
"The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life."
Ante narayana-smrtih. At the time of death, if you can remember Narayana—Narayana or Krsna, the same thing—then your life is successful, whatever you do. Very big stalwart spiritualist or yogis say, "Everything is leading to the Supreme." That has been described here: sankhyayoga, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, or dhyana-yoga. These yogis say, "Whatever path we may follow, ultimately we go to the same goal." That is very nice, provided you actually go to the same goal. Otherwise, it is misleading. You say, "Whatever path one may take, it leads to the same goal." We accept that. That is described here. Ante narayana-smrtih. Whatever you have done may be very good, but at the time of death, if you forget Narayana, then it's all useless, all useless.
Because that is the point—your mentality at the time of death. At that time, if your mentality is about Narayana, then your life is successful. You will be transferred to the spiritual world and associate with Narayana. You get complete perfection. But if you think of your dog at the time of death, then you go to become a dog. Finished. All your sankhya-yoga and philosophy and yoga practice—all go to hell. You become a dog.
One has to remember Narayana at the time of your heart. Lord Krsna's service, you always have the . . . death. Then why not directly practice remembering Narayana? What we are doing is the correct practice for that. The deity is there; the form of Narayana, or Krsna, is there. If you always engage in Lord Krsna's service, you always have the impression of Krsna within your heart.And if you continue it some way or other, then your life is successful.
Otherwise big, big talks, nose pressing, and keeping the head down—you can do that, waste your time in that way. But will that guarantee that at the time of your death you shall remember Krsna or Narayana? That remembrance of Krsna is wanted—ante narayana-smrtih—as Sukadeva Gosvami, the authority, says here.
There is a Bengali proverb. Bhajana kara sadhana kara murte janle haya: "You are very good transcendentalist. You are practicing so many nice things. That's all right. But do you know how to die? That is the point. If you die with God consciousness, Krsna consciousness, then your life is successful."
We are not God
[Reads from his Purport:] "Narayana is the transcendental Personality of Godhead beyond the material creation."
Narayana is not a person like us.The Mayavadis say,"Narayana is a person like us. So I can remember anyone. I can remember my wife; I can remember my husband or my child. Still, I am going to the same goal."
No, no, no. That is not possible. Therefore it is particularly said, ante narayana-smrtih. Not your other friend or other demigod or . . . No. Narayana-smrtih: "Remember Narayana."
[Reading:] "Everything that is created, sustained, and at the end annihilated is within the compass of the mahat-tattva (material principle)." In another place it is said,
dharmah svanusthitah pumsam
"The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.8)
That is also referred here: etavan sankhya-yogabhyam. Big, big sannyasis are discussing sankhya-yoga, metaphysics, or analyzing what is spirit, what is matter. Neti neti: "Not this." This is called sankhya-yoga. And the original sankhya-yoga is bhakti-yoga. The philosophy of the sankhya-yoga system was spoken by Kapiladeva, the son of Devahuti. That is purely bhakti-yoga. Later on, an atheist assumed the name Kapila and discussed sankhya-yoga. His is a materialistic analysis.
The sankhya-yoga system of philosophy is very much liked in Europe and Western countries because it is a system of metaphysics analyzing the whole cosmic manifestation.There are twenty-four tattvas. The first five tattvas are the material elements: earth, water, air, fire, and ether. Then ten senses: five senses for acquiring knowledge and five senses for enjoying. Then five principles of enjoyment: sound, form, touch, taste, and smell. Then mind, intelligence, ego, and finally the soul. In this way there are twenty-four elements.
The sankhya yogis very much analyze this study. They are of the opinion that besides these twenty-four elements, there is nothing more. No. There is: the one who is combining and annihilating the twenty-four—the Supreme Lord, pradhana, Visnu.
Whether you take the atheist Kapila's philosophical principle or that of the original Kapiladeva, that's all right. But after analyzing, if you do not find Narayana, the creator of this material atmosphere and the material elements, then it is only so much useless labor. The chemists and physicists are analyzing the material elements within the laboratory. But that does not mean they are going to all be liberated at the end of life. No. You are spirit soul.You are entangled with these twenty-four elements. So your real business is how to get out of it. That is wanted.
Suppose you are a diseased fellow and you analyze the disease. That is called pathology.The doctor examines your blood and he finds out, "This is an infection, that is an infection, this is this, this is this." That's all right. But simply understanding the blood analysis, pathology, does not mean one is cured. The cure is different.
Similarly, these sankhya-yogi philosophers may analyze very critically. They may even count the atoms composing the whole material atmosphere. But that does not mean they have understood the original force that has created all these things. That is discussed here. Etavan sankhyayogabhyam. You can become a very big scientist, a very big physicist or chemist.That is all right. But you must know how to remember Narayana at the time of your death.
The Scholar and the Boatman
An interesting story has been described in Back to Godhead: The learned scholar and the boatman. In Bengal there are many rivers, and so people generally travel by boat service. So a learned scholar from Calcutta, say, was going home to his village on a boat, and he was very happy.
He asked the boatman, "My dear boatman, do you know astronomy? Do you know how these stars are working?"
"No, sir, I do not know."
"Oh, your life is twenty-five percent lost. You do not know anything."
Then after some time: "Do you know geology? Do you know how earth and water are working?"
"No, sir, I am poor man. What can I know?"
"Oh, fifty percent of your life is lost."
Then all of a sudden there was a black cloud in the sky, and there was a storm.
The boatman asked, "Sir, do you know how to swim?"
"No, I do not know."
"Then one hundred percent you have lost." [Laughter.] "You are going to be drowned."
He jumped and he drowned.
This is the point. You are trying to understand the whole analytical study of the material world. That is very good. But if you do not know how to remember Narayana at the time of death, then you are going to be cats and dogs. That's all. Because you are very fond of dogs. Especially in the Western countries, every gentleman, every lady has a dog. So what will you think of at the time of death? Dog.
That is nature's law. Yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram. You will find this in the Bhagavad-gita [8.6].At the time of death, the mental condition you have created will carry you to the next body. Therefore don't create a doggish mind. Make it Krsna conscious. And that is very nice. Then at the time of death you will remember Krsna and you will be transferred to Krsnaloka. Therefore it is advised, "Whatever you may be, it doesn't matter. Practice Krsna consciousness. That will save you."
Otherwise, janma-labhah: getting different types of births. So-called scientists and physicists do not know why there are so many varieties of life. Why not only human beings? Why are there cats, dogs, rats, flies, serpents, trees, creepers, fish—8,400,000 species of life? They also take birth from a father and mother. Whether for the insect, the cat, the dog, or the human being, the process of birth is the same. Therefore a Vaisnava poet has sung, janame janame sabe pita mata paya, Krsna guru nahi mile bhaja hari ei: Whether you take birth as a man or a cat or a dog or an insect, there is the father and mother. You will get a father and mother in any type of birth, but not guru and Krsna. Therefore this birth is meant for achieving guru and Krsna.
Janmana jayate sudrah. Even in human society, every man is born a sudra. Samskarad bhaved dvijah. He requires a second birth, by samskara, reformation.The spiritual master gives the second birth, which is spiritual initiation. For the second birth, the father is the spiritual master and the mother is the Vedas. As the first birth is possible because of the material father and mother, the second birth, dvija, is possible because of the spiritual master (the father) and Vedic knowledge (the mother).That is possible in the human form of life.
If you do not take the privilege of accepting the second father and mother, then what is the difference between your birth and the dog's birth? You have got this human form of body, the best body. That is the instruction of all Vedic literature. But what is this material civilization? Simply working like cats and dogs. The same eating, sleeping, sex intercourse, and defending as animals.There are so many buildings in your city, Paris.Where is the culture to make the human life perfect? You have got very nice buildings. There is intelligence. So many nice buildings. People come to see the buildings. But that is not all. If you use your intelligence simply for the material activities, then you are not intelligent. You are a fool.
You must make a cultural institution where people may take education on how to remember Narayana at the time of death. That is required. Otherwise your activities are useless. What is their value? You waste so much time to construct a very nice house, but at the time of death you cannot remember Narayana. You remember your very nice friend—your dog. What is the value of that?
People do not understand that there is life after death. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.13):
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change." It is very simple philosophy. But the rascals will not understand it. I am changing my body. You may say it is growth, but in any case it has changed. I had a childhood body; that body is different from my present body. It has changed. Therefore I have already changed my body so many times. And I will change my body after this body is no longer useful.
An example is given: I put on this sweater, but when it is torn, no longer useful, I give it up. I get another one, a new one.This body is a dress.Therefore we do not give so much importance to the bodily dress.We stress the soul.We do not make the distinction that "This is Hindu dress, Muslim dress, Christian dress, white dress, black dress." No, no, we have nothing to do with the dress. We have to do with the soul within the dress. He is part and parcel of Krsna. He has forgotten Krsna. Therefore he is suffering.
Therefore our movement is meant to revive Krsna consciousness and go back home, back to Godhead. This is the purpose of the Krsna consciousness movement. Ante narayana-smrtih. It is a very important movement. Those who are very intelligent can take to it. Or you become intelligent or not intelligent, but know at least that unless one is pious, he cannot take to this movement. But somehow or other, if you take to this movement, then your valuable life is successful. Janma-labhah parah pumsam.
It is not cats' and dogs' life. It is the human form of life. Utilize it properly. "Properly" means to become Krsna conscious, not dog conscious, cat conscious. No. These will not help you. Krsna conscious. Then you will be able to remember Krsna at the time of death and your valuable life will be properly utilized. Janma-labhahparah pumsam. You have a very nice, valuable body, but it will be properly utilized if you learn how to remember Narayana at the time of death.
Thank you very much.
Lord Krsna reveals Himself through His holy names to chanters who honor and obey His agents.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
This is the fifth in a series of articles on offenses to be avoided when trying to progress spiritually by chanting God's names. This article discusses the offense of disregarding or disobeying the guru.
The celestial city Indrapuri is the residence of Indra, one of the devas who manage universal affairs in service to the Supreme Lord, Krsna. In Indrapuri the scent of smoke from aguru incense mixes with the fragrance of flowers that decorate the parks and the bodies of the residents. Strings of natural pearls adorn the buildings, and benches carved from diamond and coral line the spotless roadways. Indrapuri is off limits to the sinful, cunning, lusty, greedy, envious, violent, or falsely proud.
Indra's wife, Saci, sits beside him on his throne, as the dancers and singers of this material heaven entertain them with music glorifying Krsna. A white umbrella that glows like the moon is Indra's royal canopy
Although Indra is a powerful deva, his enemies, the asuras (demons), were once able to attack his heavenly kingdom and injure him and his associates. Because of disrespecting his spiritual master, Indra had become vulnerable.
Once, while enjoying his wealth and power on his jeweled throne, Indra saw Brhaspati, his guru, enter the palace hall. According to etiquette, Indra should have stood to greet him with a seat, sweet words, and some refreshment. But because Indra was used to seeing Brhaspati every day, he ignored him. Offended, Brhaspati left.
Indra quickly understood his omission and took to the standard method of rectification—he went to find his guru to fall in repentance at his feet. But Brhaspati, wanting to teach Indra a lesson, became invisible. Because Indra lost the blessings of Brhaspati, demonic forces were able to attack Indrapuri, wounding Indra and others.
The Need for a Spiritual Master
Like Indra, every human being needs the grace of a spiritual master. We may not face enemies like Indra's, but we still need protection as we pursue the business of human life: spiritual advancement. "Demons," such as our desires for material things, constantly seek our destruction.
Those of us who have taken to Krsna consciousness want to attain a kingdom far superior to Indrapuri. We're aiming for the spiritual world, the kingdom of God, Krsna.We know that the pleasure of serving Krsna there is higher than anything Indra enjoys. Our plea for entrance into that service is the mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
We can know about chanting the holy names only when we've learned the purpose of life from a bona fide guru. Human beings are mostly at a loss to see the purpose in the gigantic creation around them. Using only observation and experience, people sometimes reason that an intelligent being created everything for some purpose. But the nature of the creator, the purpose of His creation, and the means to align with that purpose escapes them. These things must be revealed from beyond the creation, by the creator or His representatives. Therefore, to understand these things, everyone needs a guru. All gurus also have gurus, the ultimate guru being the Lord Himself. The principle of accepting personal guidance in the mission of life is so important that when Krsna incarnates He also accepts a guru to set an example.
When we find a genuine guru who comes in a chain of teachers and disciples that starts with the Lord Himself, we learn that creation is meant to help fallen souls pursue material desires and ultimately return to their original spiritual position. A bona fide guru also teaches that the principal means of achieving the ultimate purpose of existence—loving union with Krsna—is the chanting of His holy names, especially the maha-mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Initiation and Spiritual Training
Even to know about the Lord's name requires some touch with a guru. So unquestionably someone who decides to dedicate his or her life to Krsna will need systematic training by a guru. Just as a young couple formalize their relationship with marriage, or a student officially enrolls in a school, a person serious about loving and surrendering to Krsna makes a vow of formal commitment. When we become officially initiated into a lineage of gurus and disciples, we receive a firm commitment to our deliverance from the guru who initiates us, the many previous teachers, and the Lord Himself. In ordinary life, when the admissions officer of a school accepts a student, all the teachers and staff, up to the chief administrator, give their implied assurance that they will do their utmost to ensure the student's education and graduation. Similarly, a faithful disciple in a transcendent school is sure to achieve spiritual success. At the time of initiation, the guru "plants the seed of devotion" and delivers the holy name by requesting Krsna to manifest Himself through the chanting.
Krsna will not manifest through the chanting if the chanter disrespects the guru—either the guru from whom one learned the chanting or the guru from whom one received formal initiation into the school of devotional life. Even in an ordinary school students who lack courtesy toward their teachers may be neglected or even dismissed. How much is the Lord displeased when someone disregards a spiritual master!
The offense to the holy name of disregarding or disobeying the guru stems from considering the guru an ordinary person. Of course, the guru almost always seems to be like us, appearing in a physical body made of the same ingredients as all other human beings. But the guru is the representative of God, is realized in the science of devotion, and is therefore extraordinary. Although police officers are human beings like you and I, we treat them with the respect due to the government as a whole because they represent the government and know the law. We respect a teacher as a representative of the school and a repository of knowledge and experience that exceeds our own. With such examples, we can easily understand that one should treat the guru, as we are taught, like God; the guru represents God and is our link to Him.
The scriptures list specific ways by which disciples must show respect for the guru. For example, they should sprinkle on their head water that has washed the guru's feet, and upon seeing the guru, they should offer prostrated obeisances. They shouldn't use the guru's bed, seat, shoes, or conveyances, worship anyone else as guru in the guru's presence, or act or speak in a way that displeases the guru.
One should worship the guru first and then take permission to worship Krsna. Therefore, along with the picture or deity form of Krsna, a disciple keeps a picture of his or her guru. The incense, flowers, and so forth, are offered first to the guru and then to Krsna. Even when chanting the holy name of Krsna, one keeps the guru in mind, with gratitude for the gift of chanting.
The disciple is expected to be not only respectful but also obedient. The guru's instructions—in both letter and spirit—should be the life and soul of the disciple. The guru often gives general and individual instructions. Some may apply to all times, places, and circumstances, such as the instruction to always remember Krsna and never forget Him. Some are to be applied in various ways and degrees, depending on the situation. And not everything the guru says is an order; he may also give guidelines.
The disciple must avoid both neglect of the rules and blind, fanatical following. The key is to distinguish between eternal principles and external details. Krsna therefore says that the disciple should inquire from the guru and follow the practical example of saints, or sadhus.
Beware of Cheaters
Some people today may feel that the scriptural rules for respecting one's guru are excessive. Yet respect for a person who represents and speaks for a greater power is a sign of civilization and culture. For example, modern social norms demand respect for one's employer, professor, or a district court judge.
Unfortunately, there will always be people seeking respect and prestige by claiming spiritual authority, just as there are criminals who dress as policemen and phony schools and businesses that cheat innocent people of their money. A prospective disciple should therefore determine if the guru is a disciple in a bona fide line of teachers and disciples, just as one examines the educational credentials of university professors. A guru's main qualification is knowledge of Krsna—not simply theoretical knowledge, but realized knowledge demonstrated by a practical life of dedication to the Lord.
Generally, when one finds a bona fide guru, the relationship is established for eternity. Still, a guru is obliged to renounce a disciple who seriously or repeatedly falls from the path, and a disciple should reject a fallen guru.
From the Guru, One Gets Krsna
If we please our spiritual master, then Krsna in the form of His holy name will easily reveal Himself to us, even if we are not very qualified otherwise. This principle operates even in ordinary material dealings. For example, a highly placed university professor who feels that a certain student shows promise can recommend that student for an advanced program for which the student would not ordinarily be eligible. The institution will back up the professor's recommendation. Krsna reciprocates in a similar way with His dear devotees. If Krsna's representative is happy with our service, Krsna accepts us despite our shortcomings. The obstacles to our chanting are then easily removed, and our progress is swift and sure.
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.
Here we continue a conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and the mother of one of his students, along with a Jesuit priest. It took place in the garden at Bhaktivedanta Manor, near London, England, on July 25, 1973.
Srila Prabhupada: I have to live. We agree that we have to live by eating another living entity. Jivo jivasya jivanam. But if I eat this grass, and if I eat some animal, do you think they are equal?
Jesuit Priest: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: They are equal? Then why don't you kill your child—your own child?
Jesuit Priest: Because there's a . . . I mean . . . that's logical. I just tried to show you the difference between vegetative life, sensitive life, and rational life.
Disciple: Animals have got rationality.
Jesuit Priest: No, they haven't.
Disciple: Modern psychologists will display to you rational life in the monkeys . . .
Jesuit Priest: No, no.
Disciple: . . . and so many other animals. Rats.
Jesuit Priest: No.
Disciple: They make rational decisions.
Jesuit Priest: No, they don't. All I can say is, this idea that animals have rationality has not been accepted by many Western philosophers.
Srila Prabhupada: So because some animal is not very intelligent, you are right to kill?
Jesuit Priest: No, no, no. We're not talking about killing. Your disciple's theme now is that there's no difference between us and the unintelligent dog.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. But even if the animal is not intelligent, you cannot kill him. The fact that your child is also not intelligent does not mean you can kill your child.
Jesuit Priest: Oh. But, Master, nobody would for a second think of killing an innocent child.
Srila Prabhupada: Still, that is not a very good reason—that because the animal is not intelligent, he may be killed. That is not a very good reason.
Jesuit Priest: Oh, no. That isn't the reason. That isn't the reason why we kill it. We kill the animal because we need it for a means of living.
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Jesuit Priest: As food.
Srila Prabhupada: You "need" it. For instance, if you can get nice fruits, grains, milk, why do you need some animal? You have to eat. You have to eat to live. You do not have to kill. In this way, if you can prepare nice foodstuffs from grains, from fruits, from flowers, from vegetables, from milk, why should you kill the animals? A reasonable man, a religious man—he should have discrimination, that "If I get my foodstuffs from here, why shall I kill a big animal?"
Mother: Well, I always think it's not for me to condemn people, whatever they do. All I ask for in life is . . . I'm not condemning you, but, uh . . .
Srila Prabhupada: No, we are thinking in that way. It is all right that we have to eat some living entity, but there is a difference. If we can get our foodstuffs without killing an animal . . . Besides that, when you get the grains, it is not actually killing. When you get the fruits—I am getting these fruits from the tree—it is not killing. The fruits are there; I take them. They fall down; I take them. The grains, also. It is not killing.
Mother: Well, I think . . . No, well, I don't think we're really worried about whether we kill or you—
Srila Prabhupada: So, similarly, if I take milk from the cows, that is also the cows' blood, but I don't kill them. So if I can live in such a nice way, without killing, if I get the fruits and flowers and the milk and the grains, why should I kill the animals?
Mother: There are a great number of people being vegetarians today.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mother: You're not the only people. I mean, a lot of people just have decided . . . Yes, they do this.
Srila Prabhupada: That is nice. That is nice, very nice. They should be vegetarian.
Mother: But we don't condemn people who eat meat.
Srila Prabhupada: Being vegetarian will make them less sinful. And that will qualify them to go back to home, back to Godhead. If they remain sinful, they cannot go.
Jesuit Priest: Would you say that because we—and I talk about myself—because I have meat and bacon and so on, I am a . . . does that make me sinful? If I didn't eat those, I would be less sinful?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. That is our philosophy.
Jesuit Priest: So if I give up eating meat and bacon and sausages and things, I'll suddenly become a different person.
Srila Prabhupada: Then you become pure. You become pure.
Jesuit Priest: That's very interesting.
Disciple: Recently, a gentleman told me exactly that. He's a businessman here in London, about forty years old, and a member of the Mensa Society, you know, for geniuses. And three months ago, he decided—because he had learned, had heard this from Prabhupada's followers—he decided to become a vegetarian. And a few weeks later, he said, "It's amazing—the difference in my consciousness." He said, "I've become a completely different man."
Srila Prabhupada: Well, yes. In the Vedic literature it is said the animal killers cannot understand God.
Mother: Well, this is very good, sir, that you find this. Of course, this is not my viewpoint.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. From any viewpoint, animal killing is not practical. I have seen the animal killers. They do not understand what is God. That is a fact. Nor have they got the brain to understand it.
Mother: But for yourselves, you don't need a brain if you're not going to study the sciences or to do anything further.
Srila Prabhupada: No, we are studying. And because we are preaching, we are studying the science of God. But the animal eaters—they cannot have any conception of God. Their brain is so dull.
Mother: What about your followers' children? Do they go to school?
Srila Prabhupada: Why not?
Mother: And do they go to college?
Srila Prabhupada: They are now little children. But we don't wish to send them to college. We have got sufficient books.
Mother: So you'll cut off their education like that?
Srila Prabhupada: What is this nonsense education?
Mother: Now, do you think that's not cruel to them?
Srila Prabhupada: We don't care for this.
Disciple: We cut off this nonsensical education, this evolution propaganda, that dead matter gives rise to life and consciousness, so no need for a creator. We get our education from the Vedas and our spiritual master. We learn how to read and write and handle numbers, and whatever we need practically for our work. And we learn the science of God from Srila Prabhupada, our spiritual master. And we find that sufficient
Jesuit Priest: But you're depending on other people, then, to do the other side of your life for you.
Srila Prabhupada: We are not depending on anyone.
Jesuit Priest: What happens if somebody gets very ill tomorrow morning?
Srila Prabhupada: So we give them medicine.
Mother: You call the doctor.
Srila Prabhupada: So do you mean to say that because we may sometimes require a medical man, we have to take the education of a medical man?
Mother: But you don't train people to be medical men.
Srila Prabhupada: Our training is . . .First of all, try to understand. For instance, you have got four divisions in your body for maintaining the body. So you have the brain division, the arm division, the belly division, and the leg division. The leg is doing its own work, walking. The hand is doing its own work. And the belly is doing its own work. And the brain is doing its own work. When the brain is working, it may require the help of the leg. But the brain does not require to learn the business of the leg. This is the idea. The brain sometimes requires the help of the leg. But this does not mean that the brain has to learn how to walk, also.
A friend, dear to many, leaves a legacy of humor, grace, and spiritual insight.
by Adbhuta Hari Dasa and Kalakantha Dasa
When His Holiness Sridhara Swami left this world on March 14, 2004, it was on his terms—in holy Mayapur, surrounded by loving Vaisnavas, and just after he'd helped install Sri Panca-tattva with his dearest godbrothers and friends. He had been terminally ill for years with Hepatitis C, so his departure surprised no one. The memory of his spiritual strength—conspicuous in his endless good humor and unfazed by his deteriorating body—continues to inspire and fascinate those of us who knew him as we await our appointment with the pyre.
The Bhagavad-gita describes a fully God-conscious death as the highest human achievement. How did this robust, ebullient, sociable Western born world traveler achieve a state of enlightenment more commonly associated with thin, reclusive yogis meditating in a remote Himalayan cave? In Sridhara Swami's life, Srila Prabhupada's sparked a thirty-five-year spiritual journey that began far from its ending point in holy India.
Sridhara Swami described himself as a shy person before coming to Krsna consciousness. Born John Colcleugh in 1948 in Vancouver, Canada, his quest for spiritual understanding led him, in 1969, from engineering school to a Sunday feast at the Frederick Street San Francisco Krsna temple. The first person he met at the door was a kind and energetic devotee named Jayananda Dasa. Since it was early in the day, Jayananda invited his young guest to vacuum the rug and help in the kitchen. By the end of the evening, John was ready for more. He moved in to the San Francisco ashram to begin his study of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Later, he transferred to the fledgling Krsna center in his native Vancouver.
In 1970 he returned to San Francisco for the Rathayatra festival and met Srila Prabhupada for the first time. John was deeply impressed and, having completed the required training, was initiated by Srila Prabhupada as Sridhara Dasa Brahmacari. He received more training in cooking, deity worship, and book sales. At one point he led a large group of devotees distributing Back to Godhead magazines to people leaving the popular musical Hair. It was hard for the early-rising devotees to be out so late, but they were happy to find that people were receptive to their message, having just seen Hare Krsna chanted onstage.
Sridhara Swami remembered, "We devotees were very close to each other in certain ways, maybe not maturely, but in the sincerity of desperation. We were trying to rush out of the material world. We had no idea of lifelong devotional service."
Sridhara found he had a strong taste for distributing books, so he joined one of ISKCON's first traveling parties. In Reno, Nevada, he set a record by selling four hundred BTGs in a day. Later he helped open ISKCON's first center in the conservative town of Salt Lake City.
"It was very enlivening and inspiring yet difficult" he said of the experience. "It was an austerity. You're approaching people who think you're weird. You don't know the philosophy that well. Every day you go out in any kind of inclement weather, any environment. It was a hard struggle, but I did well."
Feeling at Home in India
Sridhara and Buddhimanta, another successful young distributor, were sent to London to train others. After some time Sridhara, reasoning he was already halfway there, took an opportunity to visit India. On arriving in Delhi, he found the atmosphere strikingly familiar.
"It was dejm vu," he said. "I felt at home." He served in ISKCON's emerging centers in holy Mayapur and Vrndavana before again joining a traveling party. He and his comrades, headed by Tamal Krsna Goswami, conducted Vaisnava revival programs throughout the country, performing devotional bhajanas (hymns) and speaking to thousands in colorful pandal tents.
By this time, Sridhara Dasa Brahmacari knew what he wanted to do with his life: serve Srila Prabhupada and, specifically, teach Krsna consciousness all over the world. However, in those early days before ISKCON grew widely popular in India, the two goals were not always compatible.
When his traveling party reached Bombay, the young temple was in a critical situation. Srila Prabhupada had bought a large tract of land near Juhu Beach, but now the seller, having taken ISKCON's deposit, was trying to renege on the contract. The devotees had built a temporary temple on the mostly undeveloped land, but the seller, well-connected politically, had influenced municipal authorities to demolish the structure. Conservative Hindus were outraged.
Srila Prabhupada needed capable devotees to stay on the land, rebuild the temporary temple, and battle the deceptive seller in the media and courts. He asked Tamal Krsna Goswami, ISKCON's governing body representative for India, to ask the traveling party to redirect their efforts to Bombay. They agreed, leaving the excitement of the road to share a hut on the raw Juhu land with a tribe of rats, each "big enough to scare any cat." Poverty, mosquitoes, and snakes were constant obstacles.
In the emergency, Srila Prabhupada put the preacher Sridhara in charge of construction material. Sridhara, taking inspiration from young Giriraja Dasa, the temple president, faithfully and obediently carried out Srila Prabhupada's instructions. Through the austerity of his daily life, he worked hard to please Srila Prabhupada, for that was his only ambition. Later, Sridhara Swami said that Bombay taught him discipline and service as the means to attain happiness and to progress in devotional service.
"Disciple," he would often say, "means discipline."
Becoming a Swami
When Sridhara Dasa Brahmacari would enter Srila Prabhupada's room, Prabhupada would sometimes jokingly say, "Here is our Sridhara Swami." (Sridhara Swami is the name of a great acarya in our line.) When Sridhara asked Srila Prabhupada if he could take sannyasa, Prabhupada agreed and asked him when he would like to have the ceremony.
Sridhara replied, "Subhasya sighram," which means that auspicious things should be done at once.
By this time, Sridhara had no interest in family life. Externally he was a jolly, friendly person, but internally he was unemotional about the material world, seeing in it nothing of value for him. India had helped solidify his development and maturity in Krsna consciousness.
"It was very sobering," he later said, "seeing the miserable condition of the material world and the last vestiges of an ancient spiritual culture. India gave me a broad understanding of the tradition and potential of what I was receiving from Srila Prabhupada."
Thus, in Vrndavana, 1975, Sridhara Dasa Brahmacari became Sridhara Swami, accepting vows of celibacy and renunciation that he honored the rest of his life.
After taking sannyasa, Sridhara Swami felt uncomfortable receiving the traditional honor afforded to sannyasis in India. He returned to Bombay and joked with his colleagues, "Where is my maha-prasadam? Where is my maha-prasadam?"referring to special meals traditionally offered to honored guests.
Sridhara Swami thought himself duty bound to return to the West and spread Krsna consciousness, but Srila Prabhupada asked him to stay and help set up ISKCON in India. At that time manpower was scarce; ISKCON had few Indian-born members, and sickness and immigration made staying in India difficult for Westerners. Srila Prabhupada deputed Sridhara Swami to organize temples in Calcutta and, later, Hyderabad, a service he continued until Srila Prabhupada left this world in 1977.
Back to Juhu
Sridhara Swami was in Germany buying a van for the Hyderabad temple when he heard of Srila Prabhupada's departure. He felt, he said, "like a bird flying in the sky who is stunned by the sound of Krsna's flute and just falls to the ground." He was crushed at the thought of living without the company of his beloved spiritual master, whom he had seen regularly through his years of service in India.
Meanwhile, in Bombay, Giriraja Dasa [now Giriraja Swami], under Srila Prabhupada's direction, had led a successful fight to secure ISKCON's Juhu land and build a breathtaking temple. Srila Prabhupada departed just two months before the grand opening. Again, help was needed, so Sridhara Swami was asked to return to help lead and develop the new Radha-Rasabihari Temple in Juhu. He worked diligently there over the next twenty-six years, serving twice as temple president, and helping ISKCON Juhu become one of India's most famous and successful temples.
During his years in Juhu, Sridhara Swami enrolled and cultivated longterm relationships with ISKCON life members. The members loved him and were impressed with his knowledge of Vaisnavism, especially when he spoke in Hindi. Out of deep affection for him and appreciating his friendly, outgoing nature, two members, M. P. Maheswari and Brijratan Mohatta, nicknamed him "the jolly swami."
While enrolling members, Sridhara Swami met many aristocratic industrialists who had little interest in spiritual life. As a renunciant his needs were few, but he was enthusiastic to engage others in giving money for Krsna's service. Such giving helps implant spiritual life in the donors and bring them towards Krsna. Sridhara Swami compared himself to one of Lord Rama's monkeys who helped bring Sita (who is Laksmi, the goddess of wealth) back from the demoniac Ravana. He liked Canakya Pandita's assertion that "one should not be shy about money or prasadam."
The Jolly Inmate
At Juhu in the late seventies a thief was caught stealing and, in the altercation that followed, struck dead by a hired temple guard. The police arrested six temple leaders, including Sridhara Swami, and held them in the hellish Bombay municipal jail for two weeks. During the ordeal Sridhara Swami was a source of strength for all. He spoke enthusiastically about Krsna consciousness to the other inmates and helped the devotees pass the days by holding an imaginary Rathayatra festival, passing around an imaginary ghee lamp, and preparing massive imaginary feasts. The inmates were charmed. By the time the devotees were released, one inmate, a taxi driver, enrolled with Sridhara Swami as an ISKCON life member.
During his decades of service in Juhu, Sridhara Swami developed a deep love for the deities Radha-Rasabihari. Recalling that Srila Prabhupada carried Their photo wherever he went, he did the same.
Paraphrasing a statement of Prabhupada's, in his jovial way he would reflect, "Bombay was Srila Prabhupada's office, Mayapur his place of worship, and Vrndavana his home. For me, Bombay is everything."
Although he performed many services in Bombay, Sridhara Swami's most innovative contribution was the establishment of BHISMA (Bhaktivedanta Information Service and Management). In the early '90's, when the technology was just becoming available and was still unheard of in ISKCON and in India, Sridhara Swami set up a directmail fundraising program in Juhu. His investment in the program was met with much skepticism but proved to be highly successful. He went on to extensively study professional fundraising and non-profit management. He spent years traveling throughout the ISKCON world introducing principles and practices he'd learned.
Last year, he founded VAST (Vedic Academy for Spiritual Technology), whose members are academically trained devotees. The aim of VAST is to bring the message of Bhagavad-gita to business people in language and formats that appeal to them.
In recognition of his devotion and expertise, ISKCON's Governing Body Commission (GBC) appointed Sridhara Swami the GBC minister of membership and minister of fundraising. He served in those posts for nearly a decade until ill health forced his retirement. During his time as a GBC member, he expanded his portfolio to include shared responsibility for overseeing ISKCON's temples in Mumbai and the New York City area. Devotees in New York remember him for tackling the demanding and thankless task of cleaning up the large festival area each year after the New York Rathayatra. At the end of the long festival day he would jump to the stage and, with buoyant enthusiasm and good humor, attract and exhort all sorts of volunteers to complete the difficult job. He would perform this duty each year despite struggling with his steadily worsening liver disease.
The Silve Jubilee
Nothing symbolizes Sridhara Swami's courage, devotion, and kindness more clearly than his role in the Silver Jubilee celebration at the Juhu temple in January of 2003. He hatched a plan to gather the Juhu pioneers from all over the world for the event. For several days the magnificent temple was filled with astonishing, emotional, and humorous accounts of the struggles surrounding its birth. Sridhara Swami, who was quite ill, rose from his hospital bed to lead the event. For days he enthralled the large audience by serving generous portions of long overdue appreciation and recognition for the sacrifices of the assembled ISKCON Bombay pioneers.
Such was Sridhara Swami's mature realization—a hope that ISKCON could continue to evolve from its early struggles into a friendlier, kinder, and gentler institution. Beyond the book distribution, fundraising, and management of his earlier years, he said he considered his primary duty to help ISKCON make and keep Krsna conscious people.
"Losing devotees," he said, "is our real failure."
He was particularly sensitive to the needs of ISKCON youth and helped inspire the founding of Children of Krishna in 1996.
The international ISKCON community felt Sridhara Swami's love and loved him in return. He felt that the devotees' prayers had allowed him an "extension of visa"several years of active service even after his doctors, in 2000, predicted he would be dead in six months. Strengthened by his many well-wishers, he envisioned a Web site through which devotees in difficulty could ask for the blessings of Vaisnavas around the world.
Surely something helped Sridhara Swami survive, as he was less than an ideal patient. Despite the efforts of his loving disciples to get him to follow his doctor's prescribed diet, he would sometimes break it.
Quoting Srila Prabhupada, he would say, "To hell with the starvation committee." He reasoned, "If I eat I'll die, or if I fast I'll die, so I might as well die eating prasadam."
As a further risk, rather than retiring to Vrndavana to die he continued traveling and teaching Krsna consciousness. Wherever he went, his presence was poignant and uplifting.
He liked the positive spirit and would say, "There is no utility in negativity. Pain is inevitable; suffering is an option."
"Pain will be there," he once declared, "but for me it's an education."
Dedicated to Mayapur
Through his final years Sridhara Swami's great passion remained to see the development of Srila Prabhupada's grand Mayapur project. He constantly sought to inspire devotees to work cooperatively to build the historic temple, which he knew he would not live to see. In 2003 he organized meetings between project chairman Ambarisa Dasa and leading ISKCON life members in Bombay. He gave his disciples names related to Mayapur. And he constantly prayed to his private deities (Ugra Narasimha salagramas) to tear apart his obstacles so he could dedicate himself uninterruptedly to building Mayapur.
Naturally it was to Mayapur that Sridhara Swami turned as his death became imminent. In January of 2004 he was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. After the failure of a last-ditch effort to obtain a liver transplant, he flew, in great pain, from Canada to Mayapur. His elderly mother admonished him that he seemed "too cheerful for someone who is about to die." His two brothers accompanied him and some close disciples and Godbrothers on his final journey.
Sridhara Swami prayed intently to live long enough to attend the historic installation of the Pancatattva deities in Mayapur in February. The trip to Mayapur was arduous and his pain intense, but he survived with help from his friend Indradyumna Swami (See the sidebar "A Hero's Welcome"). As Sridhara Swami finally approached Mayapur, lying in the back of a van, he heard a thunderous kirtana. Hundreds of devotees had gathered to welcome him.
As it turned out, the jolly swami survived those last few days. On the day of the Panca-tattva installation, he again pulled himself from his sickbed and climbed the scaffolding behind the huge deities. With five thousand devotees chanting and cheering uproariously, Sridhara Swami poured the ceremonial liquids over the sacred form of Lord Nityananda.
Days later, on the auspicious day of Srivasa Pandita's appearance, Sridhara Swami peacefully passed away. He left this world as he had lived in it, fixed in devotion to Lord Krsna, who says in the Bhagavad-gita, "One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me."
Adbhuta Hari Dasa, from Croatia, is a disciple of His Holiness Sridhara Swami and served as his personal assistant.
Kalakantha Dasa, BTG associate editor and author of The Song Divine, writes and raises a family in Alachua, Florida.
Much of the information in this article came from an interview with Sridhara Swami conducted by Arya Devi Dasi for the ISKCON Oral History Project at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.
A Hero's Welcome
This excerpt from Diary of a Traveling Preacher, by Indradyumna Swami, begins outside the Calcutta airport. Indradyumna Swami is helping Sridhara Swami (referred to here as "Maharaja") make his final journey to Mayapur.
Maharaja's Disciple Mayapur Dasa was waiting outside for us and helped Maharaja to the van that was waiting. We put Maharaja inside and laid him down on a mattress that had been provided for the four-hour journey to Mayapur.
On the way, Maharaja spoke with affection about his disciples. In particular, he reminisced about the service of Mayapur Dasa, his first disciple. It was nectar to hear his reminiscences, but painful as well, for there would not be many more in this lifetime.
We were so absorbed in the discussion that at first we didn't hear the big kirtana on the road leading up to our property in Mayapur. I was the first to hear it, and when I looked out the window, I was stunned. The entire GBC body had come to greet Maharaja, as well as many sannyasis and other senior devotees. Hundreds of other devotees had assembled as well. Everyone was chanting and dancing to a blissful kirtana led by Danavir Goswami.
"Maharaja," I said, "the devotees have come to receive you. Look."
We lifted Maharaja a bit so he could see outside the front window, and when he saw the kirtana party, tears started rolling down his cheeks and he couldn't speak. Then slowly, he recovered his voice. "How I love my Godbrothers!" he said.
Because of the mass of devotees converging on our van, we had to slow down. As we inched our way along, many senior devotees came to the side window of the van to greet Maharaja and pay their respects. It was a touching sight to see the love expressed between Maharaja and these men. He had served alongside many of them through the years, and it was obvious that the camaraderie they had developed in service to guru and Gauranga [Lord Caitanya] ran deep.
We finally drove through the big gates and then up close to the temple of Sri Sri Radha-Madhava. By that time, news of Maharaja's arrival had spread and an even bigger crowd—over a thousand devotees—had assembled. "A hero's welcome," I thought, "and well deserved."
I helped Maharaja out of the van and began helping him towards the temple to take darsana of the deities. But at one point he pushed me away, as if disturbed that he even needed help. I didn't take offense but rather thought of him as an old soldier, distraught by the fact he needed help. Maharaja had been an active preacher throughout most of his life. He once told me that he would prefer to go down fighting than to die lying in bed with a prolonged illness. A noble sentiment for any preacher, but after a few steps Maharaja began to falter, and I had to catch him to help him along again.
We entered the temple. Maharaja stood before Sri Sri Radha-Madhava and the eight gopis, his eyes focused on their divine forms. He then surprised everyone by raising his arms and dancing a little. Ever intent on learning the art of dying, I watched him intently.
Afterwards several of us helped Maharaja to his room. Many devotees accompanied us, and the room soon filled with devotees wanting to see him. Despite his condition, he was the perfect host, receiving their blessings, words of appreciation, and encouragement.
But soon it became obvious that the long journey from Vancouver and the darsana were taking their toll on Maharaja. His abdomen appeared alarmingly swollen with liquid. A doctor was called, and those who were allowed to remain in the room were very sober as Maharaja lay there with his eyes closed and the doctor checked his stomach with a stethoscope.
Suddenly Maharaja opened his eyes. "It's a boy, Doc," he said. The room exploded in laughter. He was still the jolly swami.
From Diary of a Traveling Preacher, Volume 5, Chapter 16. (To read the full chapter, go to www.krishna.com/385.)
When meeting with followers of the Bible, Prabhupada would invariably urge them to stop the killing of animals.
by Satyaraja Dasa
At a recent interreligious conference, I happened to mention that we devotees of Krsna are vegetarian, and in the midst of the discussion, I referred to the Sixth Commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." A prominent Christian scholar, who was part of the discussion, asked what the commandment had to do with vegetarianism.
"It has everything to do with it!" I responded. "If you eat meat, you either directly or indirectly kill animals, and killing is what the commandment expressly forbids, isn't it?"
Well, my Christian friend sharply disagreed. He said that the commandment applied only to human beings. Though he insisted that this was so, he was at a loss for words when I asked him to explain his rationale in this regard. And that got me thinking . . . Srila Prabhupada says:
But when you're actually on the platform of love of God, you understand your relationship with God: "I am part and parcel of God—and this dog is also part and parcel of God. And so is every other living entity." Then you'll extend your love to the animals also. If you actually love God, then your love for insects is also there, because you understand, "This insect has got a different kind of body, but he is also part and parcel of God—he is my brother."Samah sarvesu bhutesu: you look upon all living beings equally. Then you cannot maintain slaughterhouses. If you maintain slaughterhouses and disobey the order of Christ in the Bible—"Thou shall not kill"and you proclaim yourself a Christian, your so-called religion is simply a waste of time . . . because you have no love for God.
Prabhupada frequently uses the "Thou shalt not kill" motif in his presentation of Krsna consciousness. It is one of the most persistently recurring themes in his books, and the attentive reader can find reference to it in nearly every one of them.* His insistence on its importance is clear not only from the number of times he refers to it, but from the force and intensity with which he does so. Some examples:
It is not that national leaders should be concerned only with human beings. The definition of native is "one who takes birth in a particular nation." So, the cow is also a native. Then why should the cow be slaughtered? The cow is giving milk and the bull is working for you, and then you slaughter them? What is this philosophy? In the Christian religion it is clearly stated, "Thou shalt not kill." Yet most of the slaughterhouses are in the Christian countries. (From The Quest for Enlightenment, "The Mercy of Lord Caitanya")
They should have been ashamed: "Lord Jesus Christ suffered for us, but we are continuing the sinful activities." He told everyone, "Thou shalt not kill," but they are indulging in killing, thinking, "Lord Jesus Christ will excuse us and take all the sinful reactions." This is going on. (From Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, Chapter 6)
As far as the Christian religion is concerned, ample opportunity is given to understand God, but no one is taking it. For example, the Bible contains the commandment "Thou shall not kill," but Christians have built the world's best slaughterhouses. How can they become God conscious if they disobey the commandments of Lord Jesus Christ? And this is going on not just in the Christian religion, but in every religion. The title "Hindu,""Muslim," or "Christian" is simply a rubber stamp. None of them knows who God is and how to love Him. (From The Science of Self-Realization, "What Is Krsna Consciousness?")
Jesus Christ taught, "Thou shalt not kill." But his followers have now decided, "Let us kill anyway," and they open big, modern, scientific slaughterhouses. "If there is any sin, Christ will suffer for us." This is a most abominable conclusion. (From The Science of Self-Realization, "Jesus Christ Was a Guru")
If we look at all of Prabhupada's proclamations on the subject, the ones that stand out are found in his conversations with two Christian clerics of some renown: Cardinal Jean Danielou, from Paris, and Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk from West Germany. While there is hardly enough space to reproduce these classic talks here, the reader is advised to look through Prabhupada's book The Science of Self-Realization, where both interviews are reproduced. Briefly, Prabhupada's main argument is that the commandment should be taken at face value—it is wrong to kill, plain and simple.
Biblical Allowances For Killing
But, those familiar with the Bible might ask, what about self-defense and capital punishment? Or when killing occurs by accident? The Bible makes allowances for these things and thus excludes them from the demands of this commandment. According to the Bible, enemies of Israel can also be killed. So where do we draw the line? If the command does not even include all humans, what hope is there to include animals in its scope?
Given the culture and context in which the commandment was revealed, in all probability it originally meant, "You shall not kill unnecessarily," for, as noted, the Bible clearly permits certain forms of killing. And it probably focused on human concerns rather than those of animals. However, given the ideals of peace and compassion espoused by the Judeo-Christian tradition, it would be natural to extend this command to include the lesser creatures, for modern science—especially the nutritional sciences—indeed teaches that we don't have to kill animals, even for food. Such foods are no longer deemed necessary for humans to maintain proper health.
Mark Mathew Braunstein, a scholar of some renown, is among those who see in the command a clear ordinance against harming any living beings. He writes, "Moses the messenger brought down the decree 'Thou shalt not kill.' Period. While coveting refers specifically to a neighbor's spouse, or honoring to one's parents, prohibition against killing is not specific: it says simply and purely not to kill."
This is an important point—the other commandments tell us exactly who falls within their jurisdiction, or who might be deemed their beneficiaries. But here we are simply told not to kill, without any such qualifying considerations.
This, too, is Prabhupada's argument: If the commandment doesn't specify whether it is referring to both humans and animals or merely to humans, then why should we interpret it? Why not just understand it in its most simple and direct way? But people do insist on interpreting, and for this reason we will look at the words in question to see if we can find some reasonable resolution to the dilemma.
A Closer Look At the Commandment
If we are to understand Prabhupada's insistence on "Thou shalt not kill" as a basis for universal compassion and vegetarianism, it is imperative to look at the Sixth Commandment (Exodus 20.13) more closely.
According to Reuben Alcalay, one of the twentieth century's great linguistic scholars and author of The Complete Hebrew-English Dictionary, the commandment refers to "any kind of killing whatsoever." The original Hebrew, he says, is Lo tirtzakh, which asks us to refrain from killing in toto. If what he says is true, we can analyze the commandment as follows: "Thou shalt not" needs no interpretation. The controversial word is "kill," commonly defined as (1) to deprive of life; (2) to put an end to; (3) to destroy the vital or essential quality of. If anything that has life can be killed, an animal can be killed as well; according to this commandment, then, the killing of animals is forbidden.
The problem is that not all manuscripts of the Bible are the same. Of the numerous references to this same command in the Old and New Testaments, some of them are nuanced in slightly different ways. Modern scholarship now leans toward "Thou shalt not murder" as opposed to "Thou shalt not kill." How do scholars come to this conclusion, and what really is the distinction between the two?
First, let us examine what the Bible actually says. The Hebrew word for "murder" is ratzakh, whereas the word for "kill" is haroq. The commandment, in the original Hebrew, indeed states: "Lo tirtzakh" (a form of ratzakh), not "Lo taharoq." In other words, it is "Thou shalt not murder," as opposed to "Thou shalt not kill." Why, then, does Reuben Alcalay say that tirtzakh refers to "any kind of killing whatsoever"?
The Words "Kill" And "Murder" In Biblical Tradition
The difference between these two words—"kill" and "murder"has more to do with modern usage than original texts: the demarcation between these words may have been different in biblical times. Indeed, the Bible appears conflicted in this regard, as do Bible translators. The HarperCollins Study Bible, which is the New Revised Standard Version and the rendition used by the Society of Biblical Literature, interprets the commandment as "Thou shalt not murder," but it then includes a footnote saying "or kill."The New Oxford Annotated Bible does the same.
The King James Version of the Bible, and others too numerous to mention here, translate the verse as "Thou shalt not kill," while others keep going back and forth, changing from "kill" to "murder" and, every few years, back again.
Perhaps the most important version to use the word "kill" instead of "murder" is The Holy Bible: From Ancient Eastern Manuscripts. This work is based on the earliest editions of the text, making use of rare Aramaic fragments. Here we find that the Exodus verse is unequivocally rendered as "Thou shalt not kill," though a lengthy Introduction explains why well-meaning translators might choose otherwise.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin writes about one of the many dangers of interpreting the word as "kill":
If the commandment had read "You shall not kill," it would have suggested that all killing is illegal, including that in self-defense. Indeed, certain religious groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses take this position, and insist that their members refuse army service (during World War II in Germany Jehovah's Witnesses refused to fight for the Nazis while their American co-religionists refused to fight against them).
These are very real concerns for biblical translators and commentators, and while they may have diverse opinions on whether to use "kill" or "murder" while addressing any number of complex issues, one thing is certain: In current usage, the two words carry different meanings. According to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, "killing" is straightforward, and its definition is given above. But "murder" is more complicated. Webster defines it in legal terms. Its first definition as a noun is "the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another"; as a verb, it is defined as "to kill (a person) unlawfully and with malice." These are first-entry definitions. If we look at secondary ones, we find "to kill inhumanly and barbarously, as in warfare," or "to destroy; to put an end to."
Prabhupada admits in his conversation with Father Emmanuel that "murder" refers to humans, and this is borne out by the primary definitions given above. But who defines these words? Because animals do not have the same rights as humans, at least in contemporary Western society, they are omitted from the definition of murder—and so it is not considered unlawful to take their lives. But if we look at murder practically—at what it really is, beyond mere legalistic formulas—we are confronted with the secondary definitions of "murder" given above, both of which can certainly be applied to animals.
Literalists might tightly cling to the primary definitions, saying that murder refers only to humans, and that this is where the argument should end. But, as if anticipating this response, the Bible tells us, "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man." (Isaiah 66.3). Perhaps this suggests a closer link between "kill" and "murder."
A Broader Definition of "Murder"
Moreover, traditional biblical commentators viewed "murder" in a way that expands on the formal definitions of today, with subtle nuances infused with heartfelt compassion. In commenting on Exodus 20.13, early Jewish scholars write as follows: "Sages understood 'bloodshed' to include embarrassing a fellow human being in public so that the blood drains from his or her face, not providing safety for travelers, and causing anyone the loss of his or her livelihood. One may murder by the hand or with the tongue, by tale bearing or by character assassination. One may murder by carelessness, by indifference . . ." Thus, rabbinical interpretation of the commandment includes more than just the literal taking of life. Or, to put it another way, accepted Jewish definitions of murder go beyond the word's standard boundaries. It would not be unreasonable, then, to include the killing of animals—which necessitates the taking of life—under the general rubric of murder, for this would in some ways be less of a stretch than other interpretations traditionally found in conventional Jewish definitions of the word.
But there is more. When Prabhupada refers to the "Thou shalt not kill" commandment, he generally refers to it as "the commandment of Jesus Christ," or he will preface it by saying, "Jesus says." This is quite telling. In fact, the New Testament reading of this commandment seeks to expand on its original definition: Luke (18.20), Mark (10.19), and Matthew (5.21) all exhort followers to go beyond conventional understandings of this command. To give but one example, let us look at Matthew: "You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, 'You shall not murder'; and 'whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister . . ."
In other words, we are no longer talking about "murder" but of inappropriate treatment. True, these statements address human interaction, first and foremost. But given biblical ideals about the original diet of man, which was vegetarian (see Genesis 1.29), and the ultimate vision of Isaiah (11.6-9)—that all creatures will one day live together in peace—it is clearly desirable that man begins to treat his co-inhabitors of the planet with dignity and respect. He can begin by not killing them.
This is Prabhupada's main point: In whatever way the original Jewish prophets and their modern representatives interpret the word "kill," a religious person should be able to invoke common sense and inborn human compassion—it is wrong to unnecessarily kill any living being. Prabhupada believes that a practicing religionist, especially, should have the good sense, character, and purity of purpose to know that taking life is not in our charge: We cannot create the life of an animal, and so we have no right to take it away. Prabhupada's understanding of "Thou shalt not kill" is thus clearly legitimate—especially in light of the commandment's restructuring as found in the New Testament. This is so because modern slaughterhouses go against the very spirit of the entire Judeo-Christian tradition—of religion in general—which seeks to abolish wrongful killing and to establish universal harmony and love throughout the creation.
This article was adapted from the author's book Holy Cow: The Hare Krishna Contribution to Vegetarianism and Animal Rights, just published by Lantern Books and available from the Krishna.com Store.
Satyaraja Dasa is a disciple of Srila Prabhupada and a regular contributor to BTG. He has written over twenty books on Krsna consciousness. He lives with his wife and daughter near New York City.
*I found references and explanations for "Thou shalt not kill" in the Srimad-Bhagavatam; the Caitanya-caritamrta; Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers; The Science of Self-Realization; Life Comes From Life; Matchless Gifts; The Journey of Self-Discovery; The Quest for Enlightenment; Dialectical Spiritualism; and in countless lectures and Back to Godhead magazine articles. His other works, while not addressing the biblical command directly, certainly deal with related issues, and the commandment's essence is not far in the background.
The Commandment and Diet
SEVERAL STUDIES discuss the significance of "Thou shalt not kill" from a vegetarian point of view. The most noted work from this perspective would be Aaron Frankel's "Thou Shalt Not Kill"The Torah of Vegetarianism, published in the year of Prabhupada's birth (1896). Since then, only a handful of outspoken vegetarian advocates have explained the commandment in terms of their dietary preference. In 1903, J. Todd Ferrier, a founding father of the Order of the Cross, released a little book called Concerning Human Carnivorism, later reprinted in 1968 as On Behalf of the Creatures. Some years later, The Reverend V. A. Holmes-Gore wrote a similar volume entitled These We Have Not Loved, which was followed by Geoffrey L. Rudd's Why Kill for Food? Such books are few and far between, but they do allow us to see the Sixth Commandment from a broader perspective.
A Special Year Begins
by Lokanath Swami
The year beginning on Prabhupada's Vyasa Puja this September and ending with his Vyasa Puja in 2005 marks the 108th anniversary of his birth. While everyone honors 100th anniversaries, Vaisnavas place great significance on the 108th anniversary, because 108 is a special number. Krsna enjoys with 108 principal gopis (cowherd girls), there are 108 Upanisads, and a round of japa on beads is 108 Hare Krsna mantras. ISKCON has created a special opportunity to glorify Srila Prabhupada on his 108th birthday and throughout the year afterwards. ISKCON's governing body commissioners in their annual meeting this year passed the following resolution.
In 1996 ISKCON celebrated Srila Prabhupada's Centennial. Participation in events far exceeded expectations. Throughout the Centennial year, followers of Srila Prabhupada made extraordinary efforts to spread his glories worldwide by inundating their countries, states, and cities with the holy name of Krsna, Krsna prasadam, and Prabhupada's books. Temples worldwide joined in celebrating many spectacular special events. Streets were named in Prabhupada's honor, and several biographies about him were published. There were also many wonderful special achievements and offerings by individuals and groups. But why was the Centennial so successful? We could only conclude that it was because Krsna wanted to glorify Srila Prabhupada. Krsna wanted to show the world that He is known as bhaktanama mana vardhanah, "He who enhances the reputation of His devotees."
Srila Prabhupada's teachings, which continue to be felt throughout all parts of ISKCON, are the universal inspiration for the 108 celebration. All initiated devotees and all followers of Srila Prabhupada have a high level of awareness, appreciation, and remembrance of him. They feel connected with him as their siksa guru, accepting as essential the teachings he gave in his books. Inspired by his powerful presence, they follow his instructions in their own lives and are able to bring others to follow them too.
The celebration of Srila Prabhupada's 108th anniversary will focus on a series of public events. Most of the international events that were so successful in 1996 will be held again. The events will bring about a heightened appreciation for Srila Prabhupada and his movement in the public and increase ISKCON's members' awareness of being part of a united worldwide movement.
The 108 Celebration is not limited to events. The spirit of the Celebration is to encourage each ISKCON devotee, member, and follower to make at least one personal offering to Srila Prabhupada during the year, in one or more of the following areas:
1. Help spread Srila Prabhupada's mission by expanding the congregation, distributing books, and chanting the holy name, especially at 108 events.
2. Dedicate oneself to glorifying Srila Prabhupada by a personally meaningful special achievement during the 108 year.
3. Build personal internal strength by a commitment to improve both personal spiritual standards and practices and those of your community.
The 108 Celebration is a great time to introduce the whole world to Srila Prabhupada and his mission. Let us all take seriously this very special opportunity and wholeheartedly glorify Srila Prabhupada.
By the time this issue of BTG reaches your hands, you should be preparing to take part in the kickoff of the 108 Celebration with Prabhupada's 108th Vyasa Puja. Don't hesitate. Get involved. In September, the planning and preparation for Feed the World Week can begin. Help make this occasion for prasadam distribution something wonderful and astounding. It will do good for you and the world. Distribute prasadam widely to as many people as possible, and join in the celebration of 108 for Srila Prabhupada. Go on glorifying Srila Prabhupada more and more.
FEATURED 108 EVENTS
108th Vyasa Puja, September 8:
Feed World Week,
At www.prabhupada108.net you'll find:
September 28: Srila Prabhupada's sannyasa day
January: Mumbai Original Pandal Program Returns
By the shores of the Ganges in Mayapur, West Bengal, an educational institution is arising to fulfill a global prophesy of ISKCON's founder/acarya, Srila Prabhupada.
by Suresvara Dasa
Although his friends in Melbourne, Australia, went to Krsna schools, Mahamantra Dasa always attended public schools and visited the local temple only on the weekends. But when he reached puberty, Mahamantra started to see what Srila Prabhupada meant when he referred to materialistic schools as "slaughterhouses."
"Sexual promiscuity was the norm," he says, "both inside and outside the classroom."
After he finished the ninth grade, his devotee parents gave him permission to leave school and move into the temple as a full-time brahmacari. Krsna consciousness, he knew from reading the Bhagavad-gita, is the "king of education."
Now twenty, Mahamantra has fond memories of his teenage years in the temple—lots of cooking and cleaning, public chanting, sharing Krsna consciousness with others, even a stint on the 24-hour chanting party at ISKCON's temple in Vrndavana, India—but he still felt incomplete in his education. So when an opportunity came along to attend the Bhakti-sastri course at the Mayapur Institute for Higher Education (MIHE) in India, he seized it with a passion—and was challenged by its goodness. His four month immersion in the basic books of Krsna consciousness awakened him to a calling in Prabhupada's mission.
"The course really sobered me," Mahamantra says with a handsome smile, "the way I see and deal with people. It was the teachers. They empowered and challenged me to apply what I was learning. To complete the course, I had to discipline my mind and senses more than ever. But I also tasted more love and trust with the devotees than I ever have. I want to learn more, and teach others."
An appreciation like this encourages the MIHE's director, Janmastami Dasa, who launched the institute's first semester in the year 2000, a small miracle of hard work and prayer. His inspiration? The Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education (VIHE). Organized by ISKCON educator Bhurijana Dasa in 1987, the VIHE was the first school to start fulfilling Prabhupada's desire to systematically educate his international disciples in a sacred setting, where the philosophy and culture of Krsna consciousness could be lived, breathed, and tasted.
"The first month I attended the VIHE," says Janmastami Dasa, "I felt I learned more than in my previous eleven years in Krsna consciousness."
That experience brought him back to the VIHE six more times, each semester increasing his taste and conviction to serve Prabhupada's mission. A highly successful seller of Prabhupada's books back then, he later moved with his wife and two sons to ISKCON Mayapur and committed himself to improving the education offered there. In 1999, when he arranged some teacher-training and leadership/management seminars, the response was so good that he had to turn devotees away. Inspired with the idea to do an "MIHE," he took the concept to Mayapur's management, who accepted it on the condition that he would commit to its development for at least five years.
"Five years and growing strong," Janmastami says with a grin, "especially in Bhakti-sastri. The fifty-four students who lived here to take it from November '03 to March '04 came away completely transformed. And with the top-notch teachers we have lined up this year, we're expecting seventy students or more."
Completely transformed. Hmmm. Is this an educator talking or a public relations man? The answer comes clearly as I speak with another MIHE student, nineteen-year-old Vijaya Devi Dasi, from Bolivia.
A medical student, Vijaya looks beautiful and bright-faced as she sits with me and her father, Hari Sankirtana Dasa from La Paz. Her father had encouraged her to take Bhakti-sastri the year before, but Vijaya rejected the idea. Medical training is long and rigorous, she reasoned. Better to get on with med school and do Bhakti-sastri later.
But her first year in college left her tired and a little shocked. In place of altruism and the quest for knowledge, she found a good-grades-at-any-price game.
"The way some students would flatter the teachers for high marks was outrageous," says Vijaya. "To continue medical school, I needed spiritual strength and focus. My father was right. I needed the foundation that Bhakti-sastri would provide."
To finish her first-year exams in Bolivia, she had to start Bhakti-sastri in Mayapur a full month late, a formidable handicap for anyone. But with the love and support of the MIHE's teachers and students—especially from her fiancee, Ekanatha Dasa—she caught up and even excelled.
"It was the way the teachers taught," says Vijaya, her eyes brightening. "Lots of group work and interactive learning, using music, art, and drama. At nineteen, I was the youngest student, and I was afraid to speak in front of so many senior devotees. But they encouraged me and gave me confidence that I could realize the truth of the Bhagavad-gita. I read it all the way through for the first time."
Vijaya is staying in India for the rest of this year to study Ayurveda. When she returns to med school, she wants to lead a spiritual study group and apply what she learned at the MIHE to help her friends entering college.
"Bhakti-sastri pacified my heart and gave my studies and career goals a transcendent purpose—to please Krsna. I owe a lot to my facilitators."
"The teacher as facilitator is an approach our students love," says Janmastami. "It's the standard set by the VTE—the Vaisnava Training and Education team headed by Rasamandala Dasa in Oxford, England. The aims and objectives of VTE courses are student-centered. The content must be consistent with Srila Prabhupada's instructions, of course, but trained facilitators know how to present the material to address students' real needs, interests, and concerns."
The Best Use Of a Hard Bargain
I begin to wonder what I did to deserve the years of irrelevant info I had to cram and forget the next day in materialistic schools. Yet we all pay our dues before receiving real knowledge at a place like the MIHE, and our next student is a classic example.
Twenty-four years ago, Santavigraha Dasa came into this world on the West Indies island of Trinidad, where he grew up in the village of Hardbargain. He has no recollection of his mother, who died in a car accident when he was seventeen months old. The bargain improved when his father gave him to his maternal grandparents for raising.
"That eased the pain of separation they felt after the departure of my mother," he explains. "The love and care I received from my grandparents was unimaginable. I am very grateful to them for their kindness."
Trinidad has a large Hindu population, Santa-vigraha's relatives among them, so from an early age, he was exposed to Hindi and the local Hindu temple. As a teenager, questions like What is the soul? and Who is God? started to surface in his mind.
"I began to ask these questions to a lot of the temple leaders and other learned Hindu pundits, but somehow I felt they did not have a clear idea of what they were speaking. Their answers weren't precise, and I was never satisfied."
His skepticism seemed to increase when he met Damodara Dasa, a Hare Krsna devotee. Though his friends were attracted to Damodara, Santavigraha found his scriptural preaching fanatical.
"I would raise challenges and even personal attacks, but every time he would shoot me down and lay my arguments to waste. I was impressed, but due to pride I would not relent. Then one day he challenged me: 'What is your problem? Do you have something personal against me?' I was taken aback, and from that day my mood changed. We became very good friends, and I began to associate with him very closely."
Once Santa-vigraha started reading Srila Prabhupada's books, he couldn't stop.
"I was so impressed with his style of presentation and how exact it was. Practically every question I could ever have was being answered so crisply and clearly. I was convinced that this was it."
He credits his schoolmate and devotee friend Rupa Gosvami Dasa for prodding him to chant sixteen rounds of the Hare Krsna mantra on beads, give up bad habits, and finally receive spiritual initiation from ISKCON's Guru Prasada Swami.
"After initiation, I moved to my father's place to pursue a college degree. His house was close to the college and the temple, Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha Mandir."
In 1999 a friend returned from Vrndavana and told him how wonderful it was to study Bhakti-sastri at the VIHE in the holy land. Already in love with Krsna's philosophy as presented by Srila Prabhupada, Santa-vigraha started to meditate and pray on how he could go to India to study deeply.
"I had no money, but I was always asking friends and India pilgrims to pray for me that I might be able to go someday."
By 2003 he still had no money, but when he heard about the upcoming installation of Panca-tattva in Mayapur, he determined that he would take Bhakti-sastri at the MIHE.
"I had no money, not one red cent. I was praying like anything, and a breakthrough came. The temple president said that the temple would be willing to fund me the equivalent of eight hundred U.S. dollars. With this, I went to my father and asked him to fund me the rest of the cash. After a grave and sober silence, he assented."
Though penniless, Santa-vigraha had paid the price—intense eagerness. And how the Lord loves to test and temper our eagerness! En route to Mayapur, Santa-vigraha stopped in Vrndavana and promptly caught one of its hardest bargains: malaria.
"I developed a nagging cough from the dust. The malaria was the worst. A friend said he could feel my temperature a foot away. By the mercy of Srimati Radharani, I survived and left for Mayapur at the end of October in time to start the Bhakti-sastri."
Great expectations. Poets and sages have warned us about them, and with good reason. Yet in the Lord's abodes, His mercy flows as fast and far as the Ganges, sweeping us all to a divine dimension, satisfied beyond our dreams. Listen carefully to Santa-vigraha:
"I must say that the Bhakti-sastri course exceeded my expectations. I thought it would be lectures with questions and answers, but it was so interactive; practically the students were involved in the teaching process from the beginning. The course materials and recordings were professionally done, the facilitators well trained and chosen, and the classes well organized. And the MIHE staff was always ready to help us with whatever inquiries or problems we had. I was astonished at how hard they worked, practically day and night, to make sure everything ran smoothly."
An Educator's Inspiration
It's midnight. Another MIHE Mayapur Festival semester has just ended, and Janmastami is pacing his office, catching up on his chanting. Before he and his family leave for Jagannath Puri for a much-needed respite from the pressures of the past five months, I want to thank him for making possible my studying and teaching. The headaches and heartaches of management sometimes break even seasoned administrators, and their families with them. When I ask what keeps him inspired, he presses play on his recorder, and once more I listen to Santa-vigraha:
"While taking Bhakti-sastri, I personally felt that I made some friends for life. I had the feeling that we in ISKCON are really part of a big family, and I got a deeper appreciation for the devotees from all over the world who are serving in their various capacities. I have gotten valuable gems of experience I cannot wait to take home to Trinidad and share with my friends, family, and well-wishers. I am convinced that by the mercy of my spiritual master and the devotees, I am able to remain as a servant in this unique and wonderful society of devotees founded by Prabhupada to fulfill the mission of Lord Caitanya."
Janmastami Dasa smiles and puts down his beads.
"When I hear responses like that, I know that we are receiving Srila Prabhupada's blessings."
He opens his laptop, searches the Vedabase, and stops at Prabhupada's first purpose for founding his International Society for Krishna Consciousness: "To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all peoples in the techniques of spiritual life, in order to check the imbalance of values in life and to achieve real unity and peace in the world."
As the words sink in, I start feeling like a revolutionary again. Restoring education as ISKCON's top priority is the life and soul of educators like Janmastami, who clicks on the MIHE website to read the lead quotation, a letter excerpt from Prabhupada:
"Throughout the whole world there is no institution to impart education in the matter of spiritual understanding. So we are going to open a big center in Mayapur where this education will be internationally imparted. Students from all parts of the world will go there to take education in this important subject."
Srila Prabhupada was empowered to spread Krsna consciousness worldwide, and his vision for Mayapur education soared to the summit of Lord Caitanya's Golden Age. The MIHE is the seed of that sage vision.
Suresvara Dasa has studied and taught at the MIHE. He distributes Srila Prabhupada's books from his base at ISKCON Hawaii and is currently pursuing a degree in Teaching English As a Second Language.
For up-to-date information about the MIHE and its Bhakti-sastri, Bhaktivaibhava, and Mayapur festival semester courses, please visit www.mihe.info.
MIHE Mission Statement
PROVIDE AN IDEAL facility and atmosphere in Mayapur that will help devotees:
(1) increase their abilities to associate lovingly with Vaisnavas,
Hare Krsna devotees from the West make a rare visit to sites in Bangladesh connected with Lord Caitanya's movement.
By Indradyumna Swami
January 30-February 10, 2004
The Bangladesh ambassador had just approved my visa to enter his country. As I got up to leave, he took a photo guidebook from his desk, quickly signed it, and gave it to me with a handshake.
It read: "To Mr. Tibbitts with love. May you find the happiness you're looking for in our beautiful Bangladesh. Mohammed Ilah."
I had no doubt I would find happiness in Bangladesh, but it would be of a specific nature. The former Indian State of East Bengal (known as East Pakistan after the partition of India by the British in 1947) became the sovereign state of Bangladesh in 1972 after a war for independence. Being part of India's rich spiritual past, it contains many holy places especially dear to the followers of Lord Caitanya. Numerous devotees of Lord Caitanya were born there, and the Lord Himself performed many divine pastimes throughout Bangladesh's towns and villages. The capital, Dhaka, was a favorite place of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in the 1930s. He once called Dhaka a second Vrndavana because it contains more than seven hundred Radha-Krsna temples.
I would be traveling to these holy places with a dear Godbrother, Radhanatha Swami. Months ago, we had met in our travels and discovered that we shared an attraction to the pastimes and songs of Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura, one of the principal acaryas in our Gaudiya Vaisnava line. He appeared after Lord Caitanya's departure from this world. For years we had longed to visit his birthplace, Kheturi, in Bangladesh. I would be meeting Radhanatha Swami and several of his disciples in Dhaka the next day.
Help at Immigration
At the Dhaka airport I handed the immigration officer my passport and a form all passengers had to complete with their personal details. I was in Western clothes, as Hindus make up only ten percent of the population and there is sometimes tension between them and the majority Muslims.
After studying the form for a moment, the officer looked up and said, "You wrote that you'll be staying in a hotel, but you didn't mention which hotel. You have to tell me which hotel or I can't let you in."
I had no idea of the name of any hotel in Dhaka. I stood there for a moment, and then the officer motioned me to a nearby room. Suddenly, an Indian man stepped forward and rebuked the officer.
"For goodness sake, man, he's a tourist. How is he supposed to know which hotels we have here? Foreigners don't come here often, and when they do we can't treat them like this. Let him through!"
Somehow his words worked, and the officer stamped my passport. As I collected my baggage, the Indian man walked by and whispered softly, "Hare Krsna. Have a good trip."
Outside the terminal I met Radhanatha Swami and twelve brahmacaris from his temple in Mumbai, also all in Western dress. We ate and then sat in a nearby field to discuss our itinerary. We had only ten days and had to select which holy sites to visit. We decided to begin our journey at the birthplace of Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami in Jessore, in the southwest of the country. Our guide, Caru Candra Dasa, ISKCON's regional secretary for Bangladesh, quickly bought our tickets, and two hours later we were on our way.
The Place of Haridasa
On Radhanatha Swami's suggestion, from the Jessore airport we took a taxi to Benapol, a small village in the jungle where Haridasa Thakura had awakened a prostitute to Krsna consciousness. It was dark when we arrived, but Haridasa Thakura's room was still open. I almost ran to it. Falling down before his image, I prayed for his mercy. As I studied the altar, I was curious to see the deity of a shavenheaded woman in a white sari.
"That's Lakshahira," Radhanatha Swami said, "the prostitute sent by a government official to seduce Haridasa Thakura. Soldiers hiding in the foliage were supposed to catch them in union and arrest and defame Haridasa. But after listening to Haridasa's chanting of the holy names for three days, Lakshahira became purified and took shelter of him. He initiated her, and she became a great devotee."
I prayed for the mercy of Haridasa Thakura and Lakshahira.
The next day we went to the birthplace of Rupa and Sanatana outside Jessore. Like most of the other holy places we would visit, there wasn't much to see. After partition, the minority Hindus were persecuted and many of their temples destroyed. The policy continued after the founding of Bangladesh. So, wherever we would go, all that would be left of most holy places was one or two reminders of the divine pastimes that took place there. This was particularly true at the home of Rupa and Sanatana. There was nothing but a single tree. But when we learned it was the very tree under which the Gosvamis performed daily worship, we nestled under it and chanted for several hours.
Often a holy place is built up with many shrines and temples to attract pilgrims and impress upon them its importance, but here we had only a single tree on which to focus. As we chanted in the simple jungle environment, I thought that one day it too might become a renowned holy place. For the moment it remains hidden from the world, retaining a charm rich in Gaudiya history and saturated with mercy. As the hours passed, I closed my eyes and absorbed myself in the holy names at the spot where Rupa and Sanatana chanted the very same names.
Our next destination was ISKCON's large temple a few kilometers away. As we drove there I asked Caru Candra why the temple had not been built at the auspicious site we had just visited. He replied that the local Muslim authorities would not sell it to us, so ISKCON accepted an offer from a Hindu organization that owned land nearby. It proved to be a better arrangement, because the ISKCON land is situated in the center of 96 Hindu villages. When the beautiful temple was opened in 1999 after years of construction, more than one million people from all over the country attended.
Narottama, Reservoir Of Love
Two days later, we flew to Rajshahi in the northwest, a short distance from Kheturi on the banks of the Padmavati River. As our car rumbled along the dirt roads leading to the isolated village, my heart beat in anticipation. I prayed we'd find more than a single tree. I wasn't disappointed. Though Kheturi consists of only forty families (thirty-eight Muslim and two Hindu), we were happy to discover a small, walled temple compound just outside the village.
One of Narottama Dasa Thakura's major contributions was organizing at Kheturi the inaugural Gaura Purnima festival, the yearly observance of Lord Caitanya's appearance. Many important Vaisnavas of the time attended, including Lord Nityananda's wife, Jahnava Mata. At that historic event, Narottama Dasa Thakura installed six deities: five Krsna deities and one pure gold Lord Caitanya deity. The six Vaisnava devotees currently living at the lakeside temple, built by a pious Hindu businessman more than a hundred years ago, told us that Jahnava Mata collected water from the lake for cooking for the Kheturi festival, and to this day the water is used only for cooking. I was unable to discover what happened to most of the deities. I do know that Vraja-mohana was sent to Vrndavana soon after the installation and the Caitanya deity was moved to India during Bangladesh's war for independence. I noticed on the altar, however, six beautiful salagrama-silas (deities of Krsna in the form of special stones from the Gandhaki River). When I later inquired about Them, the pujari (priest) told me They were from the Kheturi festival era.
We spent most of the next day hearing and chanting. The following day, we walked to a small hill where Narottama Dasa Thakura had performed his daily service to Krsna—reading, chanting, praying, writing songs, and so on. It was a four-kilometer walk through the fields, and I was again struck by the fact that such a holy site was so isolated. Marking the spot was only a small stone seat with no inscription. Of course, the fact that there was no significant shrine didn't diminish its spiritual potency, so we again immersed ourselves in chanting, trying to open our spiritual eyes and see the sanctity of the place.
In the afternoon, we visited the place on the Padmavati River where Narottama Dasa Thakura received the special mercy of Lord Caitanya. Once, while having kirtana with His associates, Lord Caitanya called out, "Narottama! Narottama! Narottama!" and fell to the ground unconscious. When He awoke He revealed that soon a great devotee named Narottama Dasa would be born and would be instrumental in carrying on His mission. Mahaprabhu told the devotees that He would deposit His prema (love of God) in the Padmavati and Narottama Dasa would bathe there and attain pure love of God. Years later, when Narottama Dasa was still a boy, he bathed in that exact spot and was overwhelmed with ecstatic love for Krsna. Imbued with that mercy, he was constantly floating in the ocean of love of God and was empowered to spread that love everywhere.
As we searched for the precise location of this pastime, we came to a small Vaisnava temple on the banks of the river. Inquiring further, we discovered it was indeed the place. The devotee couple and their two children who manage the temple were overjoyed by our unsolicited visit. Because Bangladesh is a Muslim country, it is rare that devotees visit such holy places. The man excitedly showed us the tree under which Narottama Dasa Thakura had bathed and which the couple worship daily. We paid our obeisances to the tree, had kirtana there, and then bathed in the sanctified waters nearby. I had brought a two-liter plastic water bottle for the occasion, and after emptying it, carefully filled it with water from the holy river.
A Priceless Gift
The next morning as we prepared to leave, I went to the main temple at Kheturi for one last viewing of the deities. The pujari was worshiping the salagrama-silas, and I was surprised to see him simply throw some water over Them, dry Them quickly, and place Them back on the altar. It was a simple worship at best. He didn't massage Them in oil, which is customary, or even offer sandalwood paste or Tulasi leaves. When I saw the small fruit plate he offered Them, I became disappointed. When the superintendent of the temple appeared, I mentioned the seemingly poor standard of worship.
He hung his head and said, "It's true what you say. I've tried to impress this on the priests for years, but they don't seem to care."
I thought, "These are such important deities, a part of the pastimes of Narottama Dasa Thakura. They deserve more than this."
I decided to take a chance.
"Narottama Dasa Thakura is a great source of inspiration for me," I said. "He's a great preacher and a deeply realized devotee. He's one of my heroes. I often think of him while spreading his message in Western countries."
Pausing for a moment and praying for mercy, I then said, "Would you consider giving me one of those salagramas? I'll take good care of Him, offering Him opulent worship. And He'll be part of Lord Caitanya's movement in the West, inspiring many devotees."
I was stunned by his reply.
"I've been observing your group closely," he said. "I can see that you are sincere Vaisnavas and that you all have deep affection for Narottama Dasa Thakura. So take any salagrama you want. Just indicate to the pujari which one you desire."
I had already chosen the principal salagrama on the altar. He was the biggest one, exquisitely beautiful and as smooth as glass.
"I'll take Him," I said, motioning with my head (not my finger, which is considered impolite in Vedic etiquette).
The superintendent instructed the pujari, who took the salagrama off the altar without any apparent emotion. He quickly put Him in my hand. I stood there, my hand trembling, trying to fathom the mercy I had received.
When I went back to my room to collect my belongings for our departure, I showed the deity to Radhanatha Swami, who was struck with wonder.
"He's so majestic!" he said.
Sadly, we then left Kheturi, the holy abode of Narottama Dasa Thakura's pastimes. While clutching the precious gift to my heart, I considered that the good fortune of Kheturi received by our small group of pilgrims would now go out to many Vaisnavas around the world.
We visited several other holy sites in the following days, such as those of stalwart associates of Lord Caitanya like Pundarika Vidyanidhi, Vasudeva Datta, Mukunda Datta, and Murari Gupta. We even visited the ancestral home of Lord Caitanya's father, Jagannatha Misra, an ancient array of stone buildings in the jungle in northern Bangladesh. But our experiences in Kheturi left the greatest impression upon me. After Kheturi I hankered to get back to my services in the West. In more ways than one, I had received special mercy, and I wanted to share it with others.
I didn't have long to wait. At the Dhaka airport, while in a lounge preparing to board my flight out of the country, a Muslim holy man approached me. As a security measure, I was dressed in Western clothes and sported a two-week beard. Many Muslims assumed I was one of them, and had been respectfully addressing me with the greeting "Salaam alaikum." This particular man pointed to my bottle of special water and said in broken English, "Allah hu akbar! I'm very dry. Very thirsty. Please, water."
I froze. He wanted to drink from my bottle of water from the Padmavati River where Narottama Dasa Thakura had received prema. Every drop in that bottle was sacred. It was capable of giving more than liberation; it could give love of God. But he thought it was just an ordinary bottle of water. I hesitated for a moment, and several Muslim men looked at me.
Obviously, you don't refuse a Muslim holy man's request for a simple drink of water. So I handed him the bottle, and he proceeded to drink with gusto. I watched in shock as he guzzled more than half the bottle.
He then turned to me and said, "Allah has been very kind to me today!"
"Yes, indeed He has," I replied with a smile.
I thought, "Even before leaving Bangladesh I'm sharing the good fortune of my pilgrimage with others. Indeed, this must be the perfection of visiting a holy place."
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.
Adapted from Diary of a Traveling Preacher, Volume 5, Chapter 14. To receive chapters by e-mail as they come out regularly, write to email@example.com. (Volumes 3 & 4 are available from the Krishna.com Store.)
NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES change people, often starting them on a sincere spiritual search. But they only happen to people extremely close to death who live to tell about it. So most of us won't get the benefit of such a traumatic event to jump-start our spiritual lives. The Krsna consciousness movement offers an alternative: a near-life experience.
Lord Krsna teaches in the Bhagavad-gita that real life exists on the platform of the soul. The body is always dead—it displays symptoms of life only while the soul is present. So, strictly speaking, a life absorbed in the body and everything related to it is not really life at all.
The Krsna conscious life offers a chance to get near the real life of the soul free from the chains of matter. Unlike some religious traditions, the Krsna consciousness movement doesn't claim that its members are saved merely by membership. Krsna consciousness entails the practice of living like the souls who exist eternally in God's company. Life in the spiritual world is real life. We approach that life through acts that mirror what goes on there.
While one could say that the Krsna conscious life here on earth is full life, our bodies will always limit how much we can replicate the life of the liberated souls in the spiritual world. In Brhad-Bhagavatamrta, Sanatana Gosvami gives a vivid description of Vaikuntha, the part of the spiritual world where Krsna as Lord Narayana is worshiped like a king, with full respect and limitless opulence. A striking feature of Vaikuntha is that the souls there can assume any form they desire for their service to the Lord. And no matter what the form, the residents of Vaikuntha can move from place to place at will and do many other things impossible for us.
Whether we know it or not, our actions in this world reveal that we all naturally yearn for a life of complete freedom. But that's available only in the spiritual world, a place reached only by those who never misuse their freedom. They can do whatever they want because, having awakened their innate love for God, they want only to please Him. And they think of endless ways to do so.
In Krsna consciousness we often refer to degrees of perfection. So while it may seem that nothing can surpass Vaikuntha, spiritual realms above it, especially Goloka Vrndavana, the abode of Lord Krsna, provide even greater freedom. Vrndavana's unequalled opulence is the freedom to enjoy with God in the familiarity of unrestricted love. Krsna's parents have the freedom to punish Him, His girlfriends the freedom to refuse His advances, and His playmates the freedom to wrestle with Him and defeat Him in games.
The freedoms of the spiritual world spring from pure love and selfless service. The culture of Krsna consciousness in this world delivers a taste of that freedom. In presenting the teachings of Lord Krsna, Srila Prabhupada always invited people to associate with devotees of Krsna and take advantage of all the ways we can experience—as closely as is possible in our situation—the happiness of the real life that is the life of the soul.
One who takes shelter of the Supreme Lord has nothing to fear, even in the midst of the greatest calamity.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the cause of all causes. He is the original creator, maintainer, and annihilator, of all universes. Whenever Lord Brahma and Lord Rudra are described as the creator and annihilator it is to be understood that they are empowered secondary agents under the instructions of Krsna, and therefore they are established as predominating deities of the modes of passion and ignorance.
Srila Bhaktisddhanta Sarasvati Thakura
The highest devotion is attained by slow degrees by the method of constant endeavor for self-realization, with the help of scriptural evidence, theistic conduct, and perseverance in practice.
What good is lust when youth has fled? What good is a lake that has no water? Where are the relatives when wealth is gone? Where is samsara [repeated birth and death] when the Truth is known?
Those who understand the principles of social interaction say that . . . friendship with a good man may be established simply by exchanging seven words with him or walking seven steps with him. Friendship with a very good man may be established in merely three words or steps. But saintly persons establish friendships at every step.
Sanaka KumaraNarada Purana 220.127.116.11
By performing the sacrifice of congregational chanting of the holy name, learned scholars in the age of Kali worship Lord Krsna, who is now non-blackish because of the great upsurge of the feelings of Urimati Radharani. He is the only worshipable deity for the paramahamsas, who have attained the highest stage of the fourth order (sannyasa). May that Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Caitanya, show us His great causeless mercy.
Srila Rupa Gosvami
Who, other than one who is not a human being, can exist in this world and not be interested in the ultimate goal of life? Who can refuse the nectar of narrations about the Personality of Godhead's activities, which by itself can deliver one from all material pangs?