by Rohininandana Dasa
Bhagavad-gita is famous as a harbinger of peace and good fortune. Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote, “The Gita has always been my source of comfort. Whenever I was unable to perceive a silver lining on the horizon, I opened the Gita and found a verse that gave me new hope.”
Yet even Gandhi, a great advocate of ahimsa, or nonviolence, found some of the Gita’s verses puzzling and disagreeable. Lord Krishna explains that killing can be perfectly religious and a form of yoga: “One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions” (Bg. 18.17). Gandhi comments in his Anasakti Yoga, “The meaning of these verses of the Bhagavad- gita seems to depend upon an imaginary ideal which one cannot find a practical example of in this world.”
What should we make of this? If Krishna’s words, or some of them, do indeed depend upon imaginary ideals that are impractical for life today, we might wonder about Krishna’s overall authority as the “perfect, infallible Supreme Person” (Bg. 15.18). We might consider that Krishna’s opinion carries only relative importance, like Gandhi’s or anyone else’s, and so why should we base our lives upon the Gita’s doctrines?
Srila Prabhupada’s purport to the verse in question (18.17) endorses Krishna’s statement. Srila Prabhupada writes,
One who knows the instrument of work, himself as the worker, and the Supreme Lord as the supreme sanctioner is perfect in doing everything. Such a person is never in illusion. Personal activity and responsibility arise from false ego and godlessness, or a lack of Krishna consciousness. Anyone who is acting in Krishna consciousness under the direction of the Supersoul or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even though killing, does not kill. Nor is he ever affected by the reaction of such killing. When a soldier kills under the command of a superior officer, he is not subject to be judged. But if a soldier kills on his own personal account, then he is certainly judged by a court of law.
As a fellow countryman and contemporary of Gandhi, Srila Prabhupada knew well the pros and cons of Gandhi’s peaceful noncooperation ideals. He also knew of his American followers’ pacifistic ideals during the Vietnam war. But still he always stuck firmly to Krishna’s words, convinced that they contain the highest morality and gentility and will remain absolutely true for all time.
Those attached to their own sense of morality will certainly doubt Krishna’s conclusions. So let us objectively pursue the issue of violence and nonviolence and see whether or not Krishna is giving imaginary and impractical advice.
In our changing world it is not surprising that Krishna’s words often challenge some people’s conceptions. Clinging to whatever threads of peace remain today, they write of Krishna as unethical and immoral in persuading the reluctant Arjuna to fight. They commend Arjuna’s pacifism and condemn Krishna’s bellicoseness. But perhaps such opinions arise from an incomplete understanding.
For instance, if Krishna is actually a bellicose advocate of killing, war, and violence, why does He glorify ahimsa as “an exalted, divine quality stemming from proper knowledge” at least three times in the Gita (Bg. 10.5, 13.8, and 16.2)? Krishna fully supports the Vedic injunction ahimsayat sarva-bhutanam: “Do not commit violence to any living being.”
We should also note that although Krishna’s words and arguments are for everyone, His direction to kill is specifically meant for Arjuna. Not that someone can justify his crimes by pulling out of context a few sentences like “The self slays not nor is slain.”
Duty is the real principle determining what constitutes violence and nonviolence. Perhaps it was Arjuna who was proposing violence in the name of nonviolence—out of a mistaken sense of duty. Let us examine his apparent non- violent refusal to fight.
At first glance it appears that Arjuna had substantial reasons for not participating in the war. Friends and relatives opposed him, even his beloved grandfather, Bhishma, and his guru, Drona. If he won the war, he would be miserable without his friends, and he would suffer the sting of retribution from their wives and families. He foresaw that the women, bereft of their husbands and fathers, would be unprotected, and their bastard children would wreak havoc, the reactions to their sins resting upon his head. He reasoned that war is always wrong for those who see, and that blind men cannot be blamed. Why should he fight? Better the “nonviolent” path.
Lord Krishna gave a piercing reply to Arjuna’s arguments: “You try to speak so well. but you don’t know the truth of the soul. You’re forgetting your duty, and your heart is weak. Armed with yoga, arise and fight!”
Arjuna had a sacred duty to perform. As a soldier he was bound to protect the citizens from aggressors. The very word kshatriya (soldier) means “one who protects from harm.” Duryodhana, the main cause of the war, was an aggressor worthy of punishment. The Vedic scriptures describe six kinds of aggressors who should be checked and sufficiently punished, even by death: (1) one who gives poison, (2) one who sets fire to another’s house, (3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, (4) one who plunders riches, (5) one who occupies another’s land, and (6) one who kidnaps another’s wife.
Duryodhana had committed all six of these offenses. He had poisoned Bhima, Arjuna’s brother. He had tried to burn to death all five brothers with their mother, Kunti, his own aunt. He had usurped the Pandavas’ land and property and had tried to steal their wife, Draupadi and make her his slave. And now he was attacking the Pandavas with all the force he could muster. He was a violent man in every sense.
A dictionary definition of violence is “an outrage or injury: an unlawful exercise of force.” And outrage is defined as “a forcible violation of others” rights or sentiments, or an infringement on morality.”
Duryodhana’s violence was not confined only to the physical platform but extended to a violation of the spiritual rights of the citizens. In the monarchical system then existing, the people had a right to expect the king to represent God and give them full opportunity to develop their spirituality and God consciousness.
Arjuna’s duty was clear, and Krishna, far from being bellicose, was impartially removing the misconceptions preventing its execution. As a soft-hearted devotee, Arjuna hesitated to kill but Krishna reminded him of the reality of the soul which never dies in any circumstance. Certainly the souls present before them could never be touched by any of Arjuna’s powerful weapons. Only their bodies would fall. Such dull material bodies are always, in a sense, dead, whether or not they are occupied by a soul. How could Arjuna think his own “dead” body could be violent to others’ dead bodies? Furthermore, Arjuna would enable aging heroes like Bhishma and Drona to gain fresh, new bodies and so revive their depleted energy.
Someone may still complain: “Arjuna’s retaliation and punishment of Duryodhana is in itself an act of violence and is therefore censurable.”
But does force or even killing always mean violence? And does apparent friendly behavior always mean nonviolence? A factor appears to be causing injury by cutting off a limb, and a layman may jump to the wrong conclusion—“What a cruel and violent act!” Yet the doctor’s act is both lawful (because he is authorized) and protective of health. His actions are an exhibition of mercy.
A person may be trying to give up smoking, and if in the name of friendship I attempt to cajole him into accepting a cigarette, my apparent friendly gesture actually shrouds a violent attitude. Apart from causing injury to his health. I am also, perhaps unwittingly, interfering with his right of free choice.
Or suppose a policeman refrains from violence when duty dictates that he defend a person from attack? His apparent nonviolence is in fact a criminal violation of the right of a citizen to be protected by the state.
A child suffering from typhoid may be crying for food, but his doctor refuses to mitigate his hunger pangs. Giving food to the child would be an act of violence.
Without knowledge of an absolute standard, however, it is sometimes difficult for us to determine what is right.
Yet there is an Absolute Truth, in which all relative conceptions can be satisfied. According to the Vedic literature, Lord Krishna is the supreme lawmaker, and His laws are meant to be followed by everyone, in every time, place, and circumstance, for the immediate and ultimate good of all. “Unlawful” therefore means to break His laws. One who acts unlawfully, however kind and friendly he may appear, can hardly be called a good person, any more than a criminal can be called a good citizen. Thieves may talk about dividing up their loot honestly, but how can there be honesty among thieves, when the basis of their dealings is dishonest? Real honesty, morality, and goodness come from following the Lord’s laws, which are transcendent and therefore higher than any man-made edict.
A study of Bhagavad-gita under the guidance of Krishna’s representative, the bona fide guru, will reveal the universal relevance of God’s laws. For instance, as a soldier Arjuna was duty bound to defend the principles of religion, so grievously outraged by Duryodhana. And the Supreme Lord was requesting him to fight. Convinced at last, Arjuna fought and saved the people of the world from blind leadership.
Duryodhana and company were saved from severe karmic reactions and prevented from committing further sinful deeds. Everyone associating closely with Duryodhana had been influenced by his lust for power, his greed, anger, vanity, and envy. Thus, like Duryodhana’s, their own mentalities were also polluted. By destroying their bodies in battle. Arjuna acted like a doctor removing a limb to save the patient. His treatment was so effective that the soldiers killed in Krishna’s presence were liberated from all reactions to their sins. By removing such politically motivated aggressors, Arjuna and Krishna created a favorable social condition for the progressive march of civilization toward spiritual perfection.
The quest for such perfection is everyone’s highest duty. Srila Prabhupada once defined violence as “impeding a person in the performance of duty.” Duties possess different degrees of importance. Consequently the severity of a man’s violent offenses will also vary. Duryodhana, already an aggressor, made the fatal mistake of standing in the way of the spiritual right and duty of the citizens to practice self-realization under the protection of the self-realized king Yudhishthira, who, apart from being the rightful heir to the throne, had minutely studied all the Vedic truths.
Duryodhana did not care that God’s laws exist in this world to facilitate everyone’s spiritual progress. Souls who occupy the bodies of beasts, birds, and other creatures gradually evolve to the human form, where they should be offered all facility for continuing their spiritual development. If a leader is unqualified to help liberate a soul but instead acts to bind his followers further to the cycle of birth and death, he should be corrected and if necessary removed for his violation of their natural rights.
As there are clear standards today for examining the proficiency of such public services as medicine and catering, in the Vedic literature clear standards exist for every facet of individual and social behavior, both spiritual and material.
Take eating, for instance. We learn from the Gita and other Vedic literature that in this material world one living being is food for another. When an animal kills, it does not interfere with its victim’s spiritual evolution through different species, because all its activities are within the parameters of God’s laws.
When a soul is awarded a human body, however, he can make a conscious choice whether to cooperate with these laws or reject them. If he whimsically kills another creature, the soul in that creature is prevented from living out his term of imprisonment in that body and must take birth again in the same species before moving on to the next. If he kills a cow, for example, the soul in the cow will have to take birth again in a cow’s body before progressing to the next stage, the human form. A person with knowledge of this law decides to give up eating meat.
Eating plants also interferes with a soul’s evolution, although less dramatically. So what should we do?
The Bhagavad-gita supplies the answer by explaining that if we offer our food to the Lord, neither we nor the living being within the plant will be adversely affected. In fact the evolution of the soul in the plant’s body up through the lower species of life toward the human form will be accelerated. And by eating such offered food [prasadam], we will be purified of karmic reactions, and our inherent spiritual consciousness will gradually awaken. Far from advocating violence. Lord Krishna is concerned that the smallest detail of our lives be pervaded with sensitivity.
Krishna’s purpose is to free us from all ignorance and confusion. The world today is so dominated by violence, often even under the guise of spiritual life, that to save us the Lord comprehensively presents the highest principle of nonviolence, culminating in one clear course of action: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear” (Bg. 18.66). By acting according to Krishna’s direction, we will always be situated correctly. We should not think, “Here is yet another opinion.” When we fully accept Krishna as God, we will discover His advice to be perfect for everyone.
by Madhavananda Dasa
A lecture before The National Seminar on Values and Ethics in Business, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India, given on April 20, 2000.
Before coming here today I was considering how it is that a group of professors and professional businessmen would invite a shaven-headed renunciant dressed in simple dhoti and kurta, with no money of his own and no business experience, to be the chairman of the first session of this seminar. Why would you spend your valuable time unless there was some practical and profitable reason? You must be considering that the spiritual conception of ethics has practical value in today’s business world. Here we’ll discuss the spiritual conception of ethics from a most practical perspective, as presented by the famous son of Orissa Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.
Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914) was the great theologian who first presented the teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in a modern context. His pioneering efforts have manifested today as the Hare Krishna movement, which is being spread worldwide by ISKCON, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In a discussion on ethics it is significant to analyze the work of ISKCON. The cultural and philosophical teachings of ISKCON have inspired millions of people all over the world to reject immoral behavior and embrace a saintly way of life.
The term ethics refers to the systems of moral behavior accepted by individuals or groups. Different mature individuals will have different conceptions of what kinds of behavior are right and what kinds are wrong. Such conceptions of right and wrong define different ethical systems. As leaders of society we need to know which ethical systems are valuable in a progressive society and which are not, and those which are valuable should be promoted. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has offered a scientific conception of ethics and morality based on the Vedic literature, which states that a truly progressive society is one that discourages its members from exploiting others.
Societies that adopt ethical systems based on materialistic conceptions cannot be progressive because they cannot be free of exploitation. To establish this, Bhaktivinoda has described four categories of materialists:
- Those who have no ethics and no faith in God: immoral materialists.
- Those with ethics but no faith in God: non-theistic moralists.
- Those with ethics based on faith in God, but who give more importance to morality than they do to God: theistic moralists.
- Those who engage in immoral behavior while posing as theists: pretenders.
Those who follow no ethical system are the lowest of human beings. They are the primitive peoples and the hedonistic modern man. Indeed, such human beings are on the same level as animals. Bhaktivinoda describes the attitude of the hedonists: “They consider that this variegated universe is simply a chance combination of atoms and molecules with no creator. Any belief in God or the soul is simply blind faith and gross superstition. As we only live once, a person should try to enjoy as much as possible.”
With his far-seeing vision, Bhaktivinoda Thakura perfectly described the popular idea embraced by many today that life is simply a chance combination of chemicals with no intrinsic purpose. With such a conception there is no particular need to honor or respect others. Is it any wonder that a great ethical crisis has risen and sprouted into an increase of violent crimes and corruption?
Next, Bhaktivinoda describes that higher than the immoral materialists are the non-theistic moralists who accept some ethical system but are not concerned with God. Describing the view of the non-theistic moralists, he has written:
Being more intelligent, the moralist can easily defeat the immoral materialist. He says: “Oh brother, I respect what you say but I cannot accept your self- motivated actions. They are not at all good. You are seeking out happiness in life, but without morals how can there be happiness? Do not think that your life is everything! Consider society as well. Rules which can increase the happiness of the human being in society are advisable. That is called morality. Gaining happiness through morality makes man superior to animals. It is necessary for man to accept individual suffering where it will give happiness to society. That is called selfless morality, and it is the only path for man. You must cultivate all the positive sentiments such as love, friendship and compassion in order to increase the over- all happiness of society. By doing this, violence, hatred and other evil tendencies will not be able to contaminate the heart. Universal love is universal happiness. Take up ways of increasing this happiness.” Positivists such as Compte and Mill, Socialists such as Herbert Spencer, as well as lay Buddhists and Atheists firmly believe this philosophy.
The non-theistic moralists are superior to the immoral materialists, but they are still selfishly motivated. Although they follow the ethical and moral rules of society, they do so to avoid public censure, imprisonment, or execution. A businessman may adopt ethical principles just to ensure plentiful customers, or a politician may accept ethical principles to attract followers. This is a more intelligent position than that of the immoral materialist, as there is concern for long-term enjoyment rather than just immediate gratification. However, since there is still an underlying selfishness, a non-theistic moralist is likely to exploit others as soon as he or she thinks there will be no adverse reaction.
Included in this category are the mundane philanthropists who engage in work for the physical, mental, or emotional well- being of others. Because they are unable to appreciate the objects of their compassion as anything more than dull chemicals, the “good deeds” of such “selfless” moral materialists are invariably motivated for their own enjoyment, either subtle or gross. In actuality their “selflessness” is only a fashade, for their actions are motivated by the desire to have the satisfaction of thinking of themselves as, or being well known as, greatly pious persons.
The Scorpion And The Camel
The ethics of the non-theistic moralists are compared to those of the scorpion who once requested a favor from a camel. The scorpion wanted to cross a deep river but could not find any way to do so. Seeing a camel nearby, the scorpion approached him and asked the camel to carry him across. The camel refused, saying, “You will sting me.”
“No, no. I am an ethical scorpion. I promise I won’t sting you.”
The camel agreed and, taking the scorpion on his hump, began crossing the river. Halfway across, the scorpion suddenly stung the camel.
“Why did you do that?” the camel asked. “Now we will both die.”
“What can I say?” the scorpion replied. “It’s my nature.”
Similarly, although the non-theistic moralists try to live an ethical life, because their concept of the meaning of life is limited to dull matter any ethical behavior they adopt is selfishly motivated and quickly discarded.
Although they speak about universal love and brotherhood, the non-theistic moralists, like their immoral brothers, are unable to appreciate others as anything more than dull matter. Their perception is limited to the external body, and the relationships they form with others are similarly skin- deep—shallow, short-lived, and ultimately prone towards exploitation. Since they identify themselves as temporary matter, there is no reason for them to perform truly selfless acts. The best social message the non-theistic moralists can offer is, “You are just a bag of chemicals and molecules that somehow just appeared and has no intrinsic meaning. Other persons are also only bags of chemicals and molecules—but you should be nice to them.”
The natural reply will be, “Why should I be nice?”
“Because it’s the good thing to do, and if you don’t you’ll go to jail.”
Since the basic motivation of the ethical behavior of atheists is to avoid public censure, is it any surprise that as soon as they think they have an opportunity to gain some illicit advantage without getting caught they will do so?
More fixed in ethical conduct and hence superior to the non- theistic moralist is the theist. The theist is dissatisfied with the mechanistic concept of life offered by the non- theist. Bhaktivinoda describes the thinking of the theist as follows:
If consciousness arises by some special process through combination of atoms, there should be some evidence of this somewhere in the universe. There should be some example of this in human history. Man is produced from the womb of a mother. Nowhere is any other process observed. In spite of the growth of material science, nothing otherwise has yet been observed. Someone may argue that man has arisen by a chance combination of matter, and later man has adopted this particular process of birth from the womb. However, the succeeding events should be similar to the first event. Even now we should observe at least a few conscious entities arising by chance combination of matter. Therefore it can only be logically concluded that the first mother and father must have arisen from the supreme consciousness.
When the materialist becomes dissatisfied with the mechanistic idea that consciousness is simply a chance combination of chemicals, and thereby concludes that life must be something anti-material or spiritual, he comes to the platform of theism.
Bhaktivinoda points out many ways in which belief in God contributes to moral conduct:
- Even is someone has a strong sense of moral values, still the senses are often so strong that even great moralists are defeated. If the opportunity arises to enjoy immorally in secret, belief in God will act as a preventative measure. God can see what man cannot. One who thinks like that will be unable to secretly perform acts contrary to morality.
- Everyone will accept that faith in God produces a greater tendency to perform pious acts than morality alone.
- If God exists, then by faith in Him so much is gained. If He does not exist, believing in Him is harmless. On the other hand, if God does exist, to not have faith in Him is harmful.
- By belief in God, the tendency toward righteousness grows quickly in the mind.
- By faith in God, compassion and tolerance become stronger.
- By belief in God, one is more eager to perform selfless action.
- By belief in God, acceptance of afterlife arises, and man cannot be disappointed by any event in life.
Morality More Important
Bhaktivinoda states that among the theists, most are materialistic. He describes a group called the theistic moralists who worship God with some degree of faith, but who give more importance to their conception of morality than they do to God. Some of them believe there is no harm in imagining a God, worshiping him with faith, and then abandoning that worship when good conduct is achieved. Others believe that by performing worship of the Lord and acting ethically, the Lord will be pleased and will grant one’s material desires.
Either subtly or grossly, the worship of the theistic moralists is selfishly motivated. Although they consider themselves worshipers of God, they are not much interested in God’s form, personality, activities, or desires, but instead are interested only in what they can gain through worshiping Him.
Bhaktivinoda compares the relationship between the theistic moralists and God to the temporary meeting of travelers at an inn. When morning comes and the travelers leave for their separate destinations, the relationship is forgotten. Theistic moralists worship the Lord not out of devotion but simply because they think it to be the proper thing to do, which will result in their happiness.
Being motivated in this way, materialistic theistic moralists are still in the realm of selfishness. Although they conceive of their ethical behavior as being harmless to others, because they are not on the platform of spiritual vision they are unable to maintain impartial dealings and will inevitably fall prey to exploiting others.
In describing different types of acti-vities aimed at human welfare, Bhaktivinoda has stated in his Sajjana Toshani magazine: “Showing kindness to the soul is the best welfare work of all. By such kindness one attempts to save a person from all worldly sufferings by giving him devotion to Lord Krishna.”
Because the theistic moralists are not functioning on the spiritual platform, their ethical systems will never be able to alleviate all the worldly sufferings of the living entities; hence they are unable to completely serve society. They will always fall prey to narrow biases based on bodily, social, or religious differences. In actuality, their relationship with others is much like their relationship with God: as superficial as travelers meeting at an inn.
Although there is some partial social benefit from the ethics of the theistic moralists, because there is no spiritual bliss in the mechanical worship they perform there is every chance that they will either give up their theism or else adopt the ways of the cheating pretender.
The next class are those who engage in immoral behavior while posing as theists. Bhaktivinoda has described them as pretenders. He says:
Although the pretenders do not accept the eternal nature of devotion, they wear the dress and markings of a believer. They have their own motives, which any honest person would decry. Cheating everyone, they pave the way for a world of sin. Undiscerning people, allured by their external appearance, take up the same path and end up rejecting God. They may have beautiful tilaka, devotional dress, chant the name of Krishna, appear detached from the world, and give attractive speeches, but secretly they harbor desire for wealth and women. Many such persons exist.
Bhaktivinoda has compared such pretenders to the cat and the crane. Once some mice came and said, “Have you heard the news? The cat has become a saint. He is now wearing tilaka and neck beads. He is chanting and has become a vegetarian.” Thinking in this way, the mice gave up their fear of the cat. But when the mice started to come nearby, the cat gave up his pretense and pounced on them.
Similarly, the crane stands motionless on one foot for hours at a time, and thus looks like a great yogi. His real motivation, though, is to catch fish. As soon as a fish comes near, he abandons his saintly demeanor and gobbles it up.
Bhaktivinoda has said, “There is no worse association in the world than such pretenders. It is better to associate with immoral atheists than to associate with them. … Only if one gives up the association of crooked hypocrites can he honestly engage in devotional service. Honest worship is the only way to attain Krishna’s mercy.”
By presenting themselves as saintly and concerned for others, the pretenders sometimes gain positions of trust and responsibility in even spiritually-minded societies. But because their real motivation is to exploit others to satisfy their own subtle or gross pleasures, they are the worst enemies of society.
Devotees who are situated on the platform of pure love of God see their beloved Lord everywhere and see everything, moving and non-moving, in connection with God. From such a platform, to offer respect to all living entities regardless of material bodily designations is quite natural and genuine, and thus on this platform alone can one be free from the propensity to exploit others.
The Bhagavata Purana explains that even though one may follow religious ethics for some time, without genuine devotion to the Lord the subtle desires in the heart, which are the roots of immoral tendencies, are not destroyed and will rise again. Only pure devotion can remove all immoral tendencies. This is described in the Bhagavata:
kecit kevalaya bhaktya
agham dhunvanti kartsnyena
niharam iva bhaskarah
“Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord Vasudeva, Krishna, can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will revive. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun can immediately dissipate fog by its rays.”
One problem arises in our discussion of morality. Sometimes, understanding the moral behavior of devo-tees is difficult. A good example is the activities of Krishna’s most exalted devotees, the gopis of Vrindavana, who would leave their homes and husbands in the middle of the night to meet with Krishna. To accept such behavior as saintly is difficult for many persons. On several occasions Srila Prabhupada described the apparent contradiction between morality and the behavior of the gopis:
Any activities that are spiritual are all-good, and any activities that are material are all-bad. This is the difference between spiritual and material. The so-called morality and goodness of the material world is bad, but in the spiritual world even so-called immorality is good. This we must understand. For example, to dance with the wives of others at the dead of night is immoral, at least according to the Vedic civilization. Even today in India, a young woman will never be allowed to go to a young man at the dead of night to dance with him. But we find in Srimad-Bhagavatam that as soon as the gopis, the young cowherd girls of Vrindavana, heard Krishna’s flute, they immediately came to dance with Him. Now according to material conceptions this is immoral, but from the spiritual point of view this is in accord with the greatest morality. Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore said, ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu- vargena ya kal-pita: “There is no better mode of worship than that which was conceived by the vraja- vadhus, the damsels of Vrindavana.”
The gopis superficially seem to transgress the codes of mundane morali-ty. This perpetually puzzles mundane moralists. … The reason the Lord displays the rasa-lila is es-sentially to induce all the fallen souls to give up their diseased morality and religiosity, and to attract them to the kingdom of God to enjoy the reality. A person who actually understands what the rasa-lila is will certainly hate to indulge in mundane sex life. For the realized soul, hearing the Lord’s rasa-lila through the proper channel will result in complete abstinence from material sexual pleasure.
Our standard of morality and immorality is to see whether Krishna is satisfied. If Krishna is satisfied, then it is morality. If Krishna is dissatisfied, then it is immoral.
According to Bhaktivinoda, the best ethical system is that which is based on the awareness that all others are part of the Supreme Lord and meant to give pleasure to Him alone. Any system that gives prominence to the fulfillment of one’s own selfish desires will ultimately be exploitative and thus harmful to the progress of society.
These are some of the practical teachings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura on the topic of ethics. I hope that the respected and learned persons of this assembly will consider them deeply.
by Dhyana-kunda Devi Dasi
Devotee couples know from the start that their life together has a spiritual purpose.
In my mother’s wedding photo, she holds a thin bunch of flowers as if she wished to hide it somewhere. The Town Hall marriage chamber resembles a waiting room of an old- fashioned office. My parents, in their everyday attire of poor college students, look blissful but embarrassed, as if they cannot fully comprehend what is happening: Are we really married? What now? Get out and go back to our classes, or what?
In those times—the sixties—the young Polish intelligentsia took pride in abandoning the old rites of the Catholic tradition. Under Communist influence, marriage was thought of as merely a formality, a matter of signatures. Twelve years later, my parents placed their signatures on a divorce document.
I’m remembering this as I leaf through my own wedding album. In the background I can see my mother’s face. Touched, she is watching as my husband and I throw grains into the sacrificial fire, while a devotee softly explains to her the meaning of the rituals.
In my childhood, I used to wrap myself in a window curtain and dream I was wearing a beautiful silk dress, so long that I would have to lift it with both hands when stepping up the stairs. Soon enough, life forced me to admit I wasn’t a fairy-tale princess. But now my old dream was to be fulfilled at, of all places, a Hare Krishna temple—the same temple where I’d learned every day that I’m not my female body and not meant to be the center of attraction. A wedding ceremony was to be performed for two persons striving to understand that the attachment between man and woman is a trap of maya (illusion), and that our real family is Krishna’s family in the spiritual world.
Krishna consciousness is both idealistic and practical. It makes the highest perfection—love of God—accessible to people with various natures and inclinations. Celibacy and absolute dedication to spiritual practice are encouraged and praised, and so is a sincere desire to pursue Krishna consciousness in married life. Devotees wishing to create a family can have their material needs fulfilled while getting unlimited opportunities to keep Krishna in the center.
Devotee families have their own unique offering to make to Krishna. Theirs is not an inferior brand of spirituality. Nor is marital happiness something shameful, as was often believed in the medieval ages of Christianity. God does not envy our enjoyment. But if we want our happiness to last, it has to be built on the principle of serving Krishna’s enjoyment, because we are all His servants and cannot have lasting enjoyment by acting against our nature.
The night before my wedding, the devotee who would be dressing the temple Deities the next morning asked me which clothing I most liked seeing the Deities dressed in. I felt touched: she wanted to help me appreciate and remember our Deities on that special day.
Until recently, in all traditional societies, religious rituals accompanied major transitions in life, such as being born, taking up education, or getting married. The Vedic scriptures call those rituals samskaras, or purifying rites. Samskara means “impression,” like ruts in soft clay or a riverbed. The purpose of samskara is to create a deep, lasting impression in the mind of the person for whom it is performed. The impression will channel the stream of the person’s thoughts and emotions in a way conducive to spiritual advancement. On the social level, samskaras help clarify for members of the society their place in it: their rights, duties, progress. Psychologically, samskaras aid the development of one’s sense of identity, purpose, and fulfillment in life.
The vivaha-samskara (wedding rite) offers an excellent opportunity to spiritualize thoughts, emotions, and commitments that accompany being united with one’s chosen partner. A Vaishnava wedding (a wedding of devotees of Krishna) is not only a colorful, joyful ceremony but also a source of devotional inspiration for years to come. When difficulties arise in the relationship, we may ask ourselves, “How did I get into this situation? Why did I marry this person?” Then the mind will go back to the wedding day and automatically remember Lord Krishna, His devotees, and His loving service.
Sanctioning a relationship by a Vaishnava wedding is not all it takes to make a marriage successful. And one can even undergo this meaningful ceremony thoughtlessly. One person will meditate on the ritual’s essential meaning, while another may be preoccupied worrying about a pimple. The foundation for a good marriage is laid long before, beginning from childhood. Proper motives for entering the relationship are essential. A senior devotee, married for many years, once told me, “If we are honest and respect each other, Krishna can make our marriage like soft grasses, and if we are cheaters, He can make it like a swamp.”
Still, the Vaishnava wedding ceremony helps the couple take their first step together in harmony with each other and with God. Even if the partners have already lived together before accepting Krishna consciousness, undergoing the vivaha- samskara can deepen their relationship and make it more satisfying. It helps the couple realize, “We are together not because it somehow happened this way, not by mistake, not in a passing episode of blind passion. The life we share is sanctified and meaningful, an important aspect of our spiritual life. Any little effort to make our relationship pleasing to Krishna goes to our eternal benefit.”
Another photo: a woman devotee leads me to the temple. In my gorgeous red silk sari, with ornaments and flower wreaths in my hair, I’m nervous. What will my dear one think of me? “The princess! Ridiculous!”
Prayers for Success
Next moment, I’m inside. As sweet sounds of Hare Krishna chanting envelop me, suddenly the anxiety goes away. The bridegroom and I approach the altar and stand before the Deities. Mentally, we offer Them a prayer we have prepared:
“Our dear Radha and Krishna, O Divine Couple, please accept us. Please teach us to serve You and not try to imitate You. If You think we can help each other grow in love and devotion to You, then let this marriage ceremony be auspiciously performed under Your merciful glance. May we never forget this ceremony. Then our relationship will stand the test of time. May our parents, who are blessing us now, never feel sorrow remembering our wedding.”
Then I offer my own prayer:
“O Srimati Radharani, so beautifully decorated with ornaments and flowers, smiling with such simplicity and kindness, You are the real princess. I am happy standing before You in humble submission. The desire of my childhood has now melted away.”
by Sri Rama Dasa
Hundreds of Krishna conscious centers now dot the world, and sincere devotees live in thousands of other communities. Still, ISKCON has only about thirty schools for all its children. In previous columns, I’ve talked about some of the reasons for our slow development in education, as well as plans for growth. But talk of the future does little for parents who must address the need for Krishna conscious schooling today.
Many parents have given up hope of finding a Krishna conscious school for their children and are sending them to nondevotee schools. Judging from letters I receive, quite a few parents find this solution unsatisfying. I don’t blame them.
Here’s the biggest secret in the teaching world: The main purpose of education is not to give students knowledge and skills—it’s to put across to the next generation the culture and values of this one.
That’s why the values and character of the teacher are all-important. In devotional service, association is everything. Lord Caitanya advised devotees to avoid the association of nondevotees. How then can we neglect applying that instruction to our children? Every devotee child has the right to be educated by another devotee. Our duty as parents is to give them that chance.
Till we pull together a well-developed ISKCON school system, an increasingly popular alternative is home education.
Who should try home education?“I don’t have the time.”“I don’t have the money.”
Home schooling is for parents who want to take direct responsibility for their child’s education. The decision often comes down to this: “There’s no Krishna conscious school nearby, and I can’t bear sending my child to a school with nonspiritual values. So I’ll teach my kids myself.” If you’re willing to take the steps needed, you can do a good job of teaching—and comply with local laws.
But since most of us were educated in institutions, home education paradoxically seems foreign to us. Here are a few concerns, along with some short answers:
You’ll have to sacrifice some time. Raising children always takes time and effort. But a good teaching program need not monopolize your time. You can organize teaching to fit your schedule. Parents in the same community may even team up and share the teaching.
What you’ll need for home schooling costs less than sending your child to a private school (including most ISKCON schools). Of course, nothing is as cheap as a “free” public school. But there you pay by losing control of your child’s educational destiny. (British readers: What you call a “public school” is what Americans call a “private school.”)
“I’m not competent.”
Many packaged home-school curriculums are designed for inexperienced parents. In the beginning, most parents should probably use one of these. After a few years of experience, you’ll feel confident enough to be more flexible. Don’t be afraid to ask help from those who’ve been doing home schooling longer.
I want my child to get a quality education.”
A real “quality education” is one that helps your child develop spiritual values and strength of character. It’s one that helps your child become Krishna conscious and free from material existence. Apart from that, many home programs are accredited. With some planning and diligence, your child can go on to any program of higher education.
by Harakanta Devi Dasi
For a devotee, gardening means raising crops to offer Krishna. Of all the things we grow in the garden—fruits, flowers, vegetables—I think the best “crop” is our children. Parents, children, and gardens go perfectly together. The combination of love, fun, and work in the friendly environment of the garden ensures that whatever the children learn there they’ll remember in a treasured way.
In the garden, parents can entertain even the youngest toddlers. Let them use their dump trucks to deliver seeds, their toy shovels and wheel barrows to deliver compost or mulch. To keep children from stepping on new plants, I hill up all the rows so the children can easily see them and step over them—or jump over them. What four-year-old doesn’t love to jump and jump? If you make it so children can see the rows, they are free to run in the garden and make it a game not to touch the rows.
Teach children that gardening is fun. Be sensitive to their attention spans and size limits. When you give a child his or her own rows to care for, make sure the rows are very short—that way weeding is easy. And because children take pride in working with their own tools, it’s good to invest in tools their size.
As a child grows, his garden patch can grow along with him. Start by making the plot twice as long and twice as wide as the child’s height. As children get older, give them no more than they can work in one hour.
A garden is the ideal place to share lessons of Krishna consciousness. Show your child how the soul is present in every living entity, including plants. Plants can talk, but in their own way. Wilted plants are saying, “I’m thirsty! Please, give me some water.” Small scraggly plants are saying, “Help, the weeds are trying to choke me to death—save me!” Pale plants are saying, “I’m hungry! Please, give me some manure.”
Children easily develop an appreciation for manure. They know that Krishna loves the cows because they are friendly and playful and provide many benefits. People become strong by drinking milk, and plants become strong when you feed them manure. Encourage children’s pride in their work. Relatives and visitors who tour the garden are usually a good source of praise for fledgling green thumbs. Take pictures of children working in the garden during different stages and make a small book of the photos. If the children like to color or sketch, have them make pictures of the garden as it grows and changes.
In early spring you can start your own plants indoors. Peat pellets are good for kids to work with. You can also show them how to make their own evenly spaced seed tape. Unroll a long sheet of toilet paper. Have the child dab it every inch or so with a dot of wet flour-paste and press a seed into every dot. Allow the whole long sheet to dry. Roll it up carefully. Later on the child can dig a shallow trench, unroll the seed tape, and cover it with a thin layer of soil. In the moist earth, the paste and toilet paper will disintegrate, leaving only the child’s perfectly spaced row of seedlings.
As soon as the weather begins to warm up, build a compost pile with cow manure, forest leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen scraps (no fat, please). Children can see how Krishna has arranged that by some things decaying and decomposing, nutrients are recycled so that new plants can grow lush and strong.
If you are imaginative, you can turn work into play, but still get the job done. Make a bean teepee village. Plant your corn in a spiraling circle. Plant flowers among your vegetables. Marigolds help repel insects and hide young brassicas from greedy ground hogs. Nasturtium flowers (and leaves) can be offered to Krishna in salads.
These are just a few ways you can turn gardening into a form of devotional service your children will love. When Krishna and Balarama go to the forest with their friends to tend cows, their work is actually play. Similarly, successful gardening for kids and parents mixes play with work in such a way that no one can tell for sure which is which.
by Navina Krsna Dasa
We want our children to get an education, so we send them off to school—kindergarten through twelfth grade and then on through college. We want them to acquire all the information they need to become successful adults. We also expect our schools to properly enculturate our children, turning them into upstanding citizens and fine human beings who will inter-act acceptably with other educated adults.
But what is actually happening in the schools today? I was astonished recently to come across a comparison of the top seven disciplinary problems confronting schools in 1940 and those confronting schools today, compiled by the California Federation of Police and the California Department of Education.
Top Disciplinary Problems in 1940
- Chewing gum
- Making noise
- Running in the halls
- Getting out of line
- Wearing improper clothing
- Not putting paper in the wastebasket
Top Disciplinary Problems Today
- Drug abuse
- Alcohol abuse
Shocking, isn’t it? Yet when we understand that the primary purpose of traditional education is to socialize children, it’s not so surprising. In school, children learn and practice the value system of the dominant local culture. The top problems in schools today, therefore, undoubtedly reflect the problems of the dominant local culture.
How have things run amuck? According to the Bhagavad- gita, the problem is that people falsely conceive of the body as the self. Because of this misconception, they try their best to manipulate the material energy to get what they consider to be the most out of life. For persons in bodily consciousness, this means sensual and mental pleasures. These may appear dazzling and refined when one comes into the realm of M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, but they are based on a misconception nonetheless. And, as in a mathematical equation, when the first assumption is wrong, everything that follows will also be wrong.
So what is real education? What is real knowledge? And how do we help our children obtain these things? In Vedic times children were given the skills they needed for their occupation. But most importantly, their teachers instilled in them admirable qualities like truthfulness, piety, and self- control. Having these qualities, people naturally performed their duties, and society was peaceful. The atmosphere was thus suitable for spiritual practices, allowing everyone the opportunity to progress toward the real goal of life—liberation from repeated birth and death in the material world.
This, then, is what is missing today—understanding the goal of human life. The Vedas tell us that the human body is awarded to the living entity only rarely, and that it is a fit boat for crossing over the ocean of nescience. Unless we can deliver our dependents from the cycle of birth and death, the Srimad-Bhagavatam says, we should not become parents. We have to understand what a rare opportunity our children have to get out of this ocean of suffering once and for all. Our real obligation is to help our children achieve liberation. Education that leads them to this end is real education.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
The doctrine Of evolution is difficult to hide from. It is so pervasive in textbooks of science, geography, history, and literature that the reader, numbed by repetition, hardly notices the constant drone.
Our children need help to remain awake to spiritual life amidst this sleepy cloud of propaganda. We need to teach them the truth. And we need to show them, clearly and specifically, how evolutionists are lying.
Does it really matter? Is it important for our children to know the origin of life and the universe? Perhaps they can be clear about spiritual life without bothering to think about Darwin one way or the other.
But can they? In most standard modern versions, evolution links tightly with the outlook that all order, law, and life come about by chance. But spiritual life means connecting with the Supreme Spirit, Krishna, who is a person directing the cosmos and giving the seed of life.
Also inherent in most of today’s evolutionary views is the notion that life is a complicated organization of matter. But spiritual life begins when one understands that the self, the essential living being, is irreducibly spirit, always distinct from matter.
Therefore, we need to teach the truth. The order and law of this world are everywhere. For young children, we give simple analogies. “See the white line in the middle of the street?” We show them. “That means there is a government. I may not see the mayor or the governor or the president, but this line is proof that they exist. In the same way, the cycle of seasons and the intricate design of a plant are proofs of an intelligent creator.”
Materialistic evolutionists scoff at proving God by design. What of injustice and suffering, they ask? Did God design these?
“Yes,” we tell our children, “just as the government—made up of people—has designed the prison and court system.”
The problems posed by the materialists become an indication of God when resolved by explanations of karma and reincarnation.
In such ways, whether informally as opportunities arise or as part of a planned curriculum of science and social studies, we can teach young children to see Krishna in His creation.
We also need to teach the difference between life and matter.
The love of a cat for her kittens, the urge for survival that sends the ant over what to him is a hundred miles for a grain of sugar—these are constant signs that life is other than matter. The inability of a machine, even a computer, to become aware of its own existence tells the child that consciousness does not arise from a complex combination of matter. Rather, just as I, a conscious being, operate a computer, so I operate this body. My computer will never write this article by itself.
Srila Prabhupada’s books brim with evidence for God and the soul. Daily in-depth study of his books will awaken children’s true vision. They will see that behind the veil of maya is the face of the Supreme Lord.
We need to protect our impressionable and vulnerable children from the evolutionists’ propaganda machine. Films, television programs, textbooks, and science museums often conform to evolutionary doctrine unquestioningly. Exposure to these, especially frequent exposure, may draw the blind of darkness over the window of our children’s knowledge.
But how can we combat the evolutionists’ propaganda? When the child matures in the realm of intellectual and reasoning ability, we must systematically attack the unsound premises of evolution while giving evidence for the existence of Krishna and the soul.
Our first argument is that the bodily machine of even the simplest life form cannot arise from a chance combination of matter, any more than an explosion in a printing shop could bring into existence a dictionary or the works of Shakespeare.
Second, even if somehow the external body of a living being could spring forth from random material processes, the body cannot work without the soul. An airplane is built by intelligent people, not by a tornado in a junk yard. But however an airplane is built, it needs a pilot. Otherwise, it can sit on the runway for thousands of years without flying. Despite a machine’s complex technology, it still needs a living being to push the buttons.
In this way, we can explain that the symptoms exhibited by living beings—from the plant to the ant to human beings—indicate the presence of a “driver,” the soul. And as soon as this driver leaves, the body dies and decays.
Evolutionists say that life came originally from matter and that all species have gradually developed from the first life form. Practically speaking, that’s what evolutionists must say. Why? Because they’d never convince us that advanced life forms arose from matter. We’d never believe that giraffes appeared suddenly from a pond. Evolutionists would be a laughing stock if they asserted that each species developed independently in its present form from chance molecular collisions.
Yet how strong is the evidence for gradual evolution?At the chemical level, we can point out that scientists have failed to show how matter could by chance alone pull together even one protein needed for life. Going further down the supposed evolutionary line, we can show our children that crucial evidence for evolution is lacking in the fossil record, that mutations are generally harmful and do not change one species into another, and that intermediate forms of organs would be nonfunctional and therefore hinder rather than enhance the survival of their owner. We can give specific examples from the evolutionists’ bag of so-called proofs and show how they are irrelevant or distorted.
Finally, it’s helpful to expose children to mysteries scientists can’t explain. We can study well-documented instances of psychic ability and out-of-body experiences that support the conclusion that the mind is more than the brain. While we don’t rely on such empirical evidence or put full faith in what is sometimes sensationalism, a carefully chosen study of the most solid evidence can help a child know that many of the inexplicable occurrences described in the Vedas are still happening today.
For most of us, to refute evolutionist propaganda entirely from our own understanding and knowledge would be difficult. So I suggest some books and videos that can help structure an educational program, whether at home or at school. There are certainly many other useful resources, and I would be glad to hear of other suggestions. As Srila Prabhupada told us, “The more we kick out Darwin, the more we advance in spiritual consciousness.”
The following are books and videos I suggest for students at least thirteen years old. (Younger children may be able to grasp at least the basic ideas.) The materials not produced by ISKCON are quite valuable. They may not present a complete view of the soul and God, but they do a good job of dismantling evolution and establishing theism, at least in a general way. Please keep in mind, of course, that they may put forth some minor points with which we disagree.
Life Comes from Life, Srila Prabhupada (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 3764 Watseka Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034).
Human Evolution, video, Sadaputa Dasa (Bhaktivedanta Institute, P.O. Box 99584, San Diego, CA 92169).
Darwin’s Secret Identity, David Webb (Available from Krishna Culture, P.O. Box 12380, Philadelphia, PA 19119).
“Mysteries of the Unexplained,” Reader’s Digest, 1982. Often available through bookstores, it probes into such diverse topics as bizarre coincidence, unusual rain (frogs, nuts), inexplicable astronomical occurences, UFOs, psychic ability, spontaneous human combustion, miracles, monsters, and evidence for advanced ancient civilizations (including a reference to the Vedic brahmastra weapon). Each section includes only well-documented cases. The official scientific explanation is offered and then placed into doubt.
The following are available from Master Books, Creation Resource, P.O. Box 1606, El Cajon, CA 92022; (800) 999- 3777:
Understanding Genesis, Unit One: Creation: Facts and Bias, video, Ken Ham. This is excellent for preachers. Showing how our assumptions affect what we see, it throws doubt on the supposed authority of science. Some slight sectarian references.
Origins: Creation or Evolution, Richard Bliss. Simple and clear, this is the best general textbook I know of. It contains some slight references to a young Earth. No sectarian religious content.
Origin of Life: Evolution/Creation, Richard Bliss and Gary Parker. This only covers whether or not life could have first arisen spontaneously from matter. Easy to understand. Slightly nods to the idea that life is simply a complex organization of matter. No sectarian religious content.
Understanding Genesis, Unit Four: What’s Wrong With Evolution, video, Gary Parker. Shows that one species cannot evolve into another. Some slight sectarian references.
Back to Genesis: Is Life Just Chemistry?, video, Michael Girouard. Explains why life cannot originate by chance from matter. Deals with Stanley Miller’s experiment and various aspects of initial creation. Some slight sectarian references.
by Sri Rama Dasa
Parents often write and ask for advice about reading material for their children. They want to expose their children to as much Krishna consciousness as possible (and limit their exposure to materialism), but run into several practical problems, especially: (1) there is a shortage of good Krishna conscious books for children, and (2) many kids will read almost anything they can get their hands on.
So parents wonder what they can do to see that their children’s reading fosters Krishna consciousness. How can we exercise reasonable guidance without being oppressive? And, perhaps more important, how can we teach children discrimination when they read?
By discrimination I mean looking into something deeply enough to understand how it will influence one’s thinking and life. I mean going beyond the superficial mindset modern society conditions us to—a mindset in which most problems can be solved within the thirty minutes of an average television show, in which buying toys can give one true satisfaction, in which there’s no clear right and wrong, no one knows the Absolute Truth, and where the best we can do is come up with our own reality.
Since most of our children are exposed hundreds of times a day to the full force of corporate marketing and political/social propaganda, gross and subtle, we must teach them how to discriminate beyond the superficial and oversimplified.
The first step toward insuring that your kid reads acceptable books is this: before you give your child a book, read it yourself. Too often I’ve seen parents and teachers turn children loose in the library to select whatever appeals to them, not realizing that many innocent-looking books subvert the values they’re trying to teach them at home or in school.
Here are a few points to consider when evaluating a book:
- Theme. Stories are meant to be enjoyable. But most stories also teach something, even though the author may not directly say what it is. The plot, characters, conflicts, and outcome usually support one main idea, often philosophical or moral. This theme is the essence of a book. Parents should ascertain whether or not a book’s theme is compatible with a God-centered, Krishna conscious view of life.
- Heroes. Children naturally identify with the heroes or main characters of a story. When you look at a book, ask yourself: will you be satisfied seeing your children grow up emulating the qualities of those characters? You’ll rarely find characters who closely resemble devotees. But at least you can look for those who demonstrate good moral behavior, appreciation for God and His representatives, respect for authority, and so on.
- Morality. The best we can expect from many books is that they will teach children to behave morally. Look for books that show a clear sense of right and wrong, ultimately having its roots in the laws of God. Avoid books that push “situation ethics,” where there is no absolute right and wrong and everyone must come up with his or her own standards of morality for every situation.
- Good and evil. In the Vedic conception of drama, a work should have a happy ending where good is rewarded and evil punished. This leaves the reader with a sense of satisfaction and a feeling of faith in the purpose of life. Books without happy endings often leave children feeling empty, wondering if there is any order and justice in life.
- Wisdom. Does the book show respect for knowledge and wisdom? Does it treat spiritually-minded characters favorably, or as “naive sentimentalists”?
- View of God. Does the author present God as impersonal, either directly or indirectly? Does he or she hint that perhaps God is not there—or that if He is, He has no influence on the world’s affairs? Does the book equate service to man with service to God? We need books that do better than that.
- View of Religion. What is the author’s attitude toward religion? Writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often portrayed religion unfavorably. They were struggling to expose religious institutions that were rife with corruption and foolishness, and sentimental followers who allowed themselves to be exploited in the name of spirituality.
- Humanism. Humanism pervades modern society. It is so much a part of Western education that we may not recognize it, even when it’s blatant.
Roughly, humanism means faith that the intellect of man is sufficient to solve all problems for the individual and society. Man can achieve anything he puts his mind and efforts to. Humanism exalts man’s supposed superiority over nature and the irrelevance of God’s will and influence. It makes man the measure of all things.
If a book pushes humanism, avoid it.
In summary, the main question should be, “What benefit will my child get from reading this book?” Does it emphasize spiritual values or give good moral guidance? Is it well-written literature? Does it offer useful information or ideas? Does it reinforce Krishna conscious principles or values?
Schools should take the evaluation process one step further. As mentioned above, we must teach our children to evaluate books themselves—to look beyond the surface and judge for themselves the value of what they read, hear, and watch.
by Dhanurdhara Swami
Krishna encourages us to work for a living and, at the same time, to work on solving life’s real problems.
Once, in South India, a reporter asked Srila Prabhupada. “Sir, are you a monist or a dualist?” Sensing his pseudo intellectual tone. Srila Prabhupada responded quickly with reference to Bhagavad-gita. “What is the point of discussing such things? … Krishna says, annad bhavanti bhutani. (Anna) means ‘grains.’ The people have no grains. Grains are produced from the rains, and rains from sacrifice. So perform sacrifice.” The point: Even while pursuing self-realization, we must solve our economic problems.
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna encourages Arjuna to fight as a kshatriya (soldier) as part of Lord Krishna’s system of yajna, or sacrifice. Lord Krishna then describes sacrifice as anena prasavishyadhvam, “making one more and more prosperous.” and esha vo’ stv ishta-kama- dhuk, “bestowing upon you everything desirable for living happily and achieving liberation.”
Though dharma, one’s occupation as prescribed in the Vedas, brings prosperity, without spiritual guidance we tend to see economic development alone as life’s goal. As Jesus Christ warns. “What profiteth a man if he gains the whole world but loses his eternal soul?”
The limitations of the happiness we attain by economic, social, or political adjustment become even more clear when we understand the real problems of our life. For example, one Indian friend of mine became preoccupied with immigrating to America. Seeing his chances to be slim, he became distracted from his business. So I asked him to read the verse from Bhagavad-gita in which Lord Krishna says, janma- mrityu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarshanam: “The man in knowledge sees that the real problems in life are birth, death, old age, and disease.” I then asked him to think about these questions: Will living in America make you immune from heart disease and cancer? Don’t Americans also grow old and die? Later in the week he confided to me how silly it was for him to have thought that a geographical adjustment could actually solve his real problems.
But the solutions to those real problems are not so easily discerned. In Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna faces a great dilemma: if he fights to win the kingdom, he must vanquish those loved ones with whom he wishes to enjoy his royalty, but if he renounces the war, he not only forfeits his income but neglects his religious duty as a kshatriya. The depressing prospects give him an important realization: “I can find no means to drive away this grief which is drying up my senses. I will not be able to dispel it even if I win a prosperous, unrivaled kingdom on earth with sovereignty like the demigods in heaven.” In response, Lord Krishna speaks Bhagavad-gita to show that the perplexities of life can be dispelled by transcendental knowledge.
Any one of us, like Arjuna, can be led from perplexity to enlightenment by the guidance of Bhagavad-gita, while those guided only by economic ambitions are led to illusion. The Vedic histories are full of examples of men living under such illusion, and modern life gives us more examples every day. My youth brings two instances to mind.
While visiting my family during my third year at the university. I heard a news report about the industrialist Howard Hughes. America’s wealthiest man. He had mysteriously isolated himself from public view for more than ten years. Fearful of disease, he had confined himself to a small suite of sterile rooms in his mansion, touching the outside world only through his servant, who, dressed in white clothes and surgical gloves, brought Mr. Hughes his carefully cooked meals three times a day. But now Mr. Hughes had died of influenza. Somehow the wry comments of the newscaster revealed that he, too, realized how foolish were Mr. Hughes’s efforts to conquer disease and thwart death.
The other incident took place while I was living at our Hare Krishna center in Dallas, Texas. One day I went with another devotee to the nearby estate of the oil baron H. L. Hunt to offer him our edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. But his security arrangements were elaborate, and although our intentions were good, his guards rebuffed us at the gate. Unfortunately, his security men could not rebuff death. He died unexpectedly one week later.
But riches aren’t necessarily evil, for utility alone determines value. For example, a knife can be used as a deadly weapon or as a craftsman’s tool. Similarly, our busy activities may now distract us from spirituality, but Bhagavad-gita teaches us how to channel those same activities so that they help us solve the problems of life. Lord Krishna therefore instructs Arjuna, “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away. and whatever austerities you perform—do that, O son of Kunti as an offering to Me. In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its auspicious and inauspicious results.”
Here’s how material resources can assist spiritual development: A blind man can’t see. and a lame man can’t walk. But the blind man can carry the lame man on his back, and together they can see and walk. Similarly, we can best solve the problems of life, both individual and collective, when our material assets are guided by spiritual eyes.
Srila Prabhupada described India as lame, for although she has great spiritual vision, she is economically weak. On the other hand, the more developed countries are blind because although wealthy, they lack guidance and vision. Srila Prabhupada preached, therefore, that the resources of the industrialized countries, used according to the spiritual insights of India, could solve the problems of the world.
He also put this principle into practice. With funds from his Western disciples, Srila Prabhupada organized the printing of more than 100 million copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is in forty languages and arranged to distribute these books of wisdom all over the world.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a reporter took place in Philadelphia during July of 1975.
Reporter: The Krishna consciousness movement has been what some would consider sexist, because certain propensities for women have been defined, by the devotees or the Vedic scriptures—I’m not sure which—and I wondered if you would comment on that. The allegation is not necessarily that the movement is against women, but that it defines inferior roles for them by their natural traits.
Srila Prabhupada: We give equal roles spiritually. Materially, one person is an assistant, another person is a manager. How can you avoid this? Everyone will be a manager, nobody will be an assistant’ Can you achieve equality materially’ Materially one person is a parent, another is a child; one is an assistant, another is a manager; one is a woman, another is a man. How can you stop this? But spiritually they are all equal.
Reporter: So then what is happening materially is unimportant?
Srila Prabhupada: The thing is that when you come to the spiritual platform, when you see the spirit soul within everyone—then that is equality. For instance, you are differently dressed, in a red blouse, and I am differently dressed. This difference must be there. There are so many men and women—and they are differently dressed. You cannot say they are equal with respect to their dress.
But within the dress—as spiritual beings—they are all the same. In Bhagavad gita Lord Krishna says that through spiritual vision, we can see a learned scholar, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and even a dog-eater as equals. And yet materially, how can they be equal?
If I invite a learned scholar and ask him, “Please sit down with this dog,” will he be pleased? He will feel insulted. I may see that within the dog there is a spirit soul and within the learned scholar there is a spirit soul. But if I say, “Oh, you may be a learned scholar and you may think the dog is just a dog, but I see you as equals,” that will be an insult. So the fact is that we cannot disturb the divergent material situation, but at the same time we have to understand what the situation is spiritually.
Artificially, on the platform of the material body, you may make man and woman equal, but actually it is not a fact.
In one place in the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhead says that one who has spiritual vision sees everyone as equal. And yet in another place the Supreme Lord says, strishu dushtasu varshneya jayate varna- sankarah: unless you protect women, low-class men will seduce them, and society will be burdened with unwanted children. Just take this “women’s liberation”—it is simply a trick by the men. Now the men can have free prostitutes, that’s all. And once a man makes a woman pregnant, he can go away and let her choose between begging support from the government or killing her child … abortion. You may not like to hear it, but “women’s liberation” means that the men have tricked you. So to make progress toward the end of spiritual realization, we must make some slight material distinction: women must be protected.
If we were actually discriminating against women, then how could it be that in our temple we are enjoying together? We are enjoying because actually we are equal—on the spiritual platform. We do not say, “You are a woman. Oh, you cannot become a devotee.” No. We welcome everyone. We request everyone, “Come to the spiritual platform. Then everything will be nice.” When one is spiritually realized, he knows that spiritually there is no distinction between himself and anyone else—and so he becomes happy. In the material conception, one person is always trying to take another person’s position. But in the spiritual conception there is no more hankering and no more lamentation, because everyone understands that spiritually we are one.
Here at our temple you can see it practically: the boy is dancing, the father is dancing, the black is dancing, the white is dancing, the young are dancing, the old are dancing. You can see it practically. The woman is dancing, the man is dancing—everyone is dancing. They are not dancing artificially, like dogs. They are dancing out of spiritual ecstasy. This is the spiritual platform, the “dancing platform.” They are dancing naturally, spontaneously, because they are realizing God, because they are in relationship with God. They are feeling the ecstasy that “we are all servants of Krishna “
And this is despite any material distinctions. A man’s bodily structure and a woman’s bodily structure are different. How can you say they are equal? If a man and a woman are equal materially, then why doesn’t the man also become pregnant? The distinction is there by nature. Sometimes people think that I am making the distinction, but the distinction is already there. But despite this distinction, when the man and the woman think in connection with Krishna—“I am a spirit soul; my function into serve God”—then they are equal.
Our proposition is that artificially we should not try to make equality. That will be a failure. It is already a failure. For instance, in London I saw a woman police officer. So I was joking with her: “If I capture your hand and snatch you, what will you do? You will simply cry. So what is the use of your being a police officer?” A police officer requires bodily strength. If there is some hooligan, he can give him a slap or catch him; but what will a woman do? So we say, “Be practical.” Artificial equality will not endure.
We are all equal, undoubtedly, because we are all spirit souls. Asmin dehe: within everyone’s material body there is a spirit soul. That we have to understand first of all, and then if we cultivate knowledge and understanding on that platform of spirit soul, then we shall feel equal and there will be no disturbance. Everyone will be peaceful. That is wanted. We are stressing this point—that if you say artificially that we are equal, it will not have any effect. But when you understand that we are equal spiritually, that will be beneficial. That will bring peace and happiness all over the world.