from Back To Godhead Magazine #23-12, 1988
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Atheists think that a prayer to God is sheer imagination. But for centuries, thousands of sincere practitioners have accumulated definite evidence of the positive results of prayer. The serious doubt regarding prayer is not whether God can hear and respond, but whether the things people pray for are worthwhile. According to St. Teresa of Avila. “More tears are shed in this world from prayers that are answered than from those that go unanswered.” Those who pray, therefore, need more than the conviction that the Supreme can fulfill our desires. Before we approach God with our requests, we ought to become educated as to what to pray for. The pure devotees of the Lord can teach us this ultimate truth.
One form of popular prayer emphasizes the pragmatic results. These “prayers” are actually nontheistic. As advised by psychologists, a person who believes strongly in his prayer can awaken from within his own subconsciousness huge stores of confidence and power and thus achieve his desired goal. Dale Carnegie, in his books on positive thinking, likes to narrate stories of people like the unsuccessful salesman who in desperation resorted to prayer and the next day was able to convince many customers to buy his vacuum cleaners. In such “prayers” the Personality of Godhead is hardly even acknowledged.
Another shortsighted type of prayer comes from those who believe in God but who are interested not so much in Him as in getting a bit of His opulence. Most prayers fall into this category, as the supplicants request health, riches, family happiness, and so on from a God whom they ask to function as a supreme order supplier. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna declares that persons who come to Him asking for material (and therefore temporary) benefits are sukritina, or pious. They are certainly better than those who never approach the Supreme, for although prayers for material benefits are ultimately foolish requests, the sukritinas get into the habit of approaching the Supreme, and thus they may purify themselves for higher communion with God.
An example of a successful sukritina is Dhruva Maharaja, whose prayers are described in the Vedic scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam. Dhruva prayed to God in a spirit of revenge against his parents, and he requested the most opulent kingdom that had ever been awarded to a mortal being. After performing severe austerities. Dhruva gained the audience of Lord Vishnu (a form of Lord Krishna. the Supreme Personality of Godhead). But when the Lord asked Dhruva what he wanted, Dhruva said, “Now that I have seen You, my Lord, I am fully satisfied, and I do not want anything else.”
This should be the goal of all prayer to attain loving service of the Supreme Lord, with no other desire. Lord Caitanya prayed, “I do not want to enjoy beautiful women, nor do I want wealth or many followers. All I want is Your causeless devotional service in my life, birth after birth.”
On hearing a prayer of full surrender and devotion to God, we may think, “That is a beautiful sentiment, but it’s only for the rare pure devotee, the saint” Yet we are all eternal, pure souls, part of the Supreme Lord. Because of the influence of illusion, we have lost our original connection with God and are wandering in the material world, suffering repeated miseries and continuing in illusion. The sincere call to God to be reconciled with His will is not just the practice of a saint; it is indeed the need of all fallen living entities.
When we think that we are independent and don’t really need God, and don’t need to pray, then we are in the most dangerous illusion. Sometimes our illusion is smashed by bitter suffering, or the truth may be revealed to us by association with pure devotees. When this happens we may realize that we are actually tiny, helpless creatures striving to survive but doomed to bodily annihilation. When a conditioned soul realizes his dangerous and fallen position, he deeply wishes to reform. Since all of us, to different degrees, are in the category of “fallen,” we all need to pray to Lord Krishna. But we cannot become reconciled with the Lord unless we receive His special mercy. We may pray, therefore, “My dear Lord, although I am unworthy to receive your special mercy to be relieved of false ego, I beg You to please give me the qualities of love and surrender. Please give Your gift of mercy and relieve me of my impurities. Please reconcile my heart to Yours. If You do not give me Your mercy. I shall be lost.”
True prayer is not mechanical recitation but the sincere cry of the contrite heart. When through prayer one receives even the first inclination of his revived association with Krishna, one wants to call on Him constantly and remain in the soothing shelter of His protection. It is for this reason that Krishna conscious spiritual masters recommend that we chant the holy names of God, especially the Hare Krishna mantra, as often as possible. (Kirtaniya sada harih: “One should always chant the name of Lord Krishna.”) The Hare Krishna mantra is itself a prayer invoking good fortune and petitioning the Lord, “O energy of God, O Supreme Lord, please engage me in Your service.”
Prayers of spontaneous pure devotion may take different forms, such as prayers of petition, praise, adoration, and thanksgiving. Krishna is known as Uttamashloka. which means “one who is praised with beautiful prayers.” The Vedic scriptures contain many excellent prayers, which can be recited by devotees seeking union with the Supreme. At the end of one excellent prayer to Lord Krishna, which is offered in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.24.76) by Lord Siva, it is stated, “Although rendering devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and worshiping Him are very difficult, if one vibrates or simply reads this prayer, he will very easily be able to invoke the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” In his commentary to this verse, Srila Prabhupada states. “Any devotee of Lord Krishna can attain all perfection simply by offering prayers to Him.”
One should recite the excellent prayers given in the scriptures, and one should also call upon God with one’s own feelings, thoughts, and words. The child-devotee of Lord Krishna named Prahlada Maharaja realized that the Lord is actually interested only in our devotion. Therefore even if we are unqualified to compose uttamashloka prayers, we can please the Lord if we are sincere. Srila Prabhupada states, “Despite whatever limitations you have, if you express feelingly, ‘My God! My Lord!’ that will be accepted.”
The real purpose of prayer is not to gain material resources or even spiritual salvation for oneself. The power of prayer comes w hen we call to Krishna out of a desire to do His will. Such pure prayers are not means to the end but are themselves loving exchanges between the Lord and His pure devotees. Whether we call on Him from the darkness of our fallen state in the material world, or whether we praise Him in the midst of His liberated associates in the kingdom of God, the pure prayer is the same: “Please engage me in Your service”—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #27-03, 1993
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Misery and happiness come and go in this world, just like winter and summer. The Bhagavad-gita advises us to tolerate both happiness and distress. We are meant to tolerate while we keep performing our duties, and we are meant to keep worshiping Krishna despite everything. The Bhagavatam (10.14.8) states, tat te ’nukampam su- samikshamano… “My dear Lord, one who earnestly waits for You to bestow Your causeless mercy upon him, all the while patiently suffering the reactions of his past misdeeds and offering You respectful obeisances with his heart, words, and body, is surely eligible for liberation, for it has become his rightful claim.” This verse defines the mood of a devotee facing adversity.
Suffering is caused by our past acts. Therefore, a devotee should not expect immediate relief from his or her past karma. Prabhupada has assured us that Krishna minimizes our karmic reactions when we take up devotional service. But a devotee also looks at the suffering in the material world as a reminder of the harshness of illusion. Suffering is a teacher. Our hands are being rapped: “Pay attention! Work to get out of this material world! Remember Krishna!”
There can be no peace in the material world, where no one is free from karmic reactions. As long as we stay in material existence we must continuously suffer or enjoy the results of our past acts. The Nectar of Devotion describes these acts and their reactions as an almost unbreakable chain. Not only are we getting reactions to sins we have committed in the past, but present sinful activity is creating new reactions, reactions we will suffer in the future. And we have material desires within us that we have not yet acted upon. These also will have their reactions.
Devotees sometimes think they should be exempt from suffering because they are surrendered to Krishna. At initiation (the beginning of devotional life), the chain of karmic reactions is broken. Krishna tells us in Bhagavad-gita, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja, aham tvam sarva-papebhyo: all papa (sin) will be removed by surrender to Him. But Prabhupada tells us that Krishna will still give us a token reaction as a reminder of the dangers of the material world and as an impetus to greater surrender. He gives us enough suffering to break our attachments. He wants to wean us from sense gratification and free us from further entanglement. And He wants us to love Him completely.
A devotee doesn’t want to be detained in the material world. So he always looks for ways to increase his remembrance of Krishna. Happiness and distress are the same for a devotee because they push the mind toward Krishna. Our real solace as devotees is to spend our days in that spirit.
The Bhagavatam states that liberation becomes the rightful claim for one who thinks like this. The exact word used to describe him is daya-bhak, “a rightful heir.” A pure devotee who is prepared to undergo any tribulation for Krishna consciousness becomes fit to enter the transcendental abode. Sridhara Swami comments, “What does a son have to do to get his father’s property? He simply has to stay alive.” To inherit a place in the spiritual world, we have to stay spiritually alive in all situations.
An example was set by Maharaja Yudhishthira. He was a great devotee of Krishna, but he suffered heavily, both in exile with his brothers and after the Kurukshetra War. Maharaja Yudhishthira was an honest and pious king. So when he thought of all the deaths caused by the war—a war fought simply to enthrone him—he felt weighed down by guilt and sorrow. No one could relieve him. Krishna then advised him to go for instruction to Bhishma.
At that time, Bhishma was lying on a bed formed by the arrows shot through his body. He was in great pain. Yet instead of going to him to ease his last days, Yudhishthira and his four brothers approached Bhishma to ask for help. Bhishmadeva said,
sarvam kala-kritam manye
bhavatam ca yad-apriyam
sapalo yad-vashe loko
vayor iva ghanavalih
“In my opinion, your suffering is all due to inevitable time, under whose control everyone in every planet is carried, just as the clouds are carried by the wind” (Bhagavatam 1.9.14). God’s ways are unknown. Everything happens under the control of time, according to the will of the Lord.
We are so tiny. Who are we to question the vast intelligence of the universe? Who are we to demand to fathom or change that which Krishna has set up? As Prabhupada says about Yudhishthira, we should not be sorry for the inconceivable action of time.
Hrid-vag-vapurbhir vidadhan namas te… All we can do is continue to offer obeisances to Krishna from the core of our hearts. Yudhishthira’s sufferings were not reactions for sins committed in his past, but “everyone has to bear the actions and reactions of time as long as one is within the conditions of the material world.” Even the most pious person has to suffer because of material nature. If this were not so, the material world would be nondifferent from the spiritual world, Vaikuntha—the place of no anxiety.
Bhishma added, “Oh, how wonderful is the influence of inevitable time. It is irreversible—otherwise, how can there be reverses in the presence of King Yudhishthira, the son of the demigod controlling religion; Bhima, the great fighter with a club; the great bowman Arjuna with his mighty weapon Gandiva; and above all, the Lord, the direct well-wisher of the Pandavas?” In the face of that which is inevitable, only a fool holds a grudge. As Bhishmadeva states, there is no need to lament when something is beyond the control of any human being.
A devotee, though, goes beyond the inevitabilities of material nature and sees the hand of Krishna present in everything. Still, precisely what Krishna intends is beyond our knowing. “O king,” said Bhishmadeva, “no one can know the plan of Lord Sri Krishna. Even though great philosophers inquire exhaustively, they are bewildered.” And Prabhupada adds in his purport:
The bewilderment of Maharaja Yudhishthira over his past sinful acts and the resultant sufferings is completely negated by the great authority Bhishma. Bhishma wanted to impress upon Maharaja Yudhishthira that since time immemorial, no one, including such demigods as Siva and Brahma, could ascertain the real plan of the Lord. So what can we understand about it?
Why did this happen to me? Bhishma considers this a useless question. Even the exhaustive philosophical inquiries of the sages cannot ascertain the reason. A devotee can simply have faith in Krishna’s ultimate kindness, continue to worship Him with heart, mind, and words, and continue to patiently accept Krishna’s mercy in whatever form it appears, whether in happiness or distress. In this way, a devotee earns the right to return to the spiritual world.
by Vishakha Devi Dasi
If tended with care, the creeper of devotional service will one day reach the abode of Radha-Krishna.
When my mother-in-law came to visit us for the first time in our new mountain home, she noted our persimmon tree standing in its two-gallon pot, waiting to be planted. Over our heads, the tree’s leaves and branches swayed in the breeze.
“This poor tree is so root-bound,” she remarked, “I don’t know if it’ll ever recover.”
Two weeks later, when my husband and I finally planted it, I saw its roots—hopelessly tangled in an unnatural maze, desperately searching for new soil, for freedom.
And here I am, I thought, in this time-bound world, pointlessly searching and researching for happiness within the confines of my small pot, going round and round, seeking something new where there is only the old, ignoring the need to plant myself in my true habitat, the spiritual world, where I can spread my roots and thrive.
Fortunately, our persimmon tree did recover, and by the grace of my spiritual master I may also.
According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.—Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 19.151
As a novice gardener one of my first lessons was on seeds: they may look insignificant, but if you treat them as such you’ll get disappointing results. Broccoli seeds, for example, look like tiny black dots. Each time I tried to pick up one of them I got at least four. “And I’m supposed to plant these twelve inches apart?” I thought. In frustration I tossed the whole packet into the garden—and got dozens of plants so crowded they couldn’t give any broccoli. So, seeds must be respected.
Infinitely more respect is due for the seed of the creeper of devotion.
When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of hearing and chanting, the seed will begin to sprout.—Cc. Madhya 19.152
As a gardener recognizes and responds to the needs of his seedlings, so a devotee recognizes the need to spiritualize his life and responds by hearing and chanting about the Lord, nurturing his devotional creeper. Water is free and watering is easy. All that’s needed is to steadily and patiently do it.
As one waters the bhakti-lata-bija [the seed of the creeper of devotion], the seed sprouts, and the creeper gradually increases to the point where it penetrates the walls of this universe and goes beyond the Viraja River between the spiritual world and the material world. It attains brahma-loka, the Brahman effulgence, and, penetrating through that stratum, it reaches the spiritual sky and the spiritual planet Goloka Vrindavana.—Cc. Madhya 19.153
Although this creeper is so powerful it can transcend the material realm, it is not without powerful enemies.
If the devotee commits an offense at the feet of a Vaishnava while cultivating the creeper of devotional service in the material world, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper are dried up.—Cc. Madhya 19.156
Around my home there are no elephants, mad or otherwise, but there are enough deer, gophers, and rabbits to cause the same amount of destruction. The safeguard is fencing, both below and above ground.
Spiritual fencing consists of following the instructions of the spiritual master and associating favorably with devotees of the Lord, giving up the company of nondevotees. (“The gardener must defend the creeper by fencing it all around so that the powerful elephant of offenses may not enter.” Cc. Madhya 19.157)
But impenetrable fencing only protects; it does not ensure a plant’s growth. Weeds, insects, diseases, and erratic weather make growth tricky. And when a plant stops growing, it’s in trouble.
Similarly, if my spiritual growth ends, then, like a stagnant vegetable, I’m in trouble. And, unfortunately, spiritual growth can be choked:
Sometimes unwanted creepers, such as the creepers of desires for material enjoyment and liberation from the material world, grow along with the creeper of devotional service. The varieties of such unwanted creepers are unlimited. Some unnecessary creepers growing with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration, and mundane importance. All these are unwanted creepers.—Cc. Madhya 19.158, 159
For proper growth we need death—to the weeds that sap the water and nutrients meant for the plant, to the unwanted habits, thoughts, and characteristics that keep consciousness rooted in matter.
Mysteriously, growth seems effortless for weeds. They flourish everywhere without watering, fencing, or control of disease and insects. But for my fruits and vegetables, growth is effortful. Lust, greed, anger, envy, and faultfinding thrive easily, and so do desires for profit, honor, and adoration. Uprooting these to help the devotional creeper grow takes humility and a concerted, determined, enthusiastic effort.
The best way to get rid of both material and spiritual weeds is diligent weeding. Ease off and the small, delicate plants are smothered. (If a weed is especially hard to pull, all the more need to get it up—deep roots draw more strength from the plant. Hint: Weeds come out readily after thorough watering.)
Neglect weeds too long and they’ll go to seed. And the problems they create then multiply geometrically—just as my material desires, left uncountered by spiritual life, bring about more material desires that implicate me more in material life.
To uproot these insidious weeds, I have to bend down and grasp them by the stem at ground level—a humble position. Without humility I won’t be able to uproot the weeds that choke my devotional creeper.
But, novice that I am, I can’t tell which seedlings are weeds and which are my plantings. So I wait and watch, and one morning after two days of rain it becomes obvious: each carefully planted seedling is unique and emerges looking fresh, in the pattern of my planting.
The bhakti-lata, the creeper of devotion, is supremely unique. Where this divine plant flourishes, material desires die out, and unmotivated, uninterrupted service to Krishna blossoms.
If one does not distinguish between the bhakti- lata creeper and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused because the other creepers are nourished while the bhakti-lata creeper is curtailed. As soon as an intelligent devotee sees an unwanted creeper growing beside the original creeper, he must cut it down instantly. Then the real creeper of bhakti-lata- bija grows nicely, returns home, back to Godhead, and seeks shelter under the lotus feet of Krishna.—Cc. Madhya 19.160-161
A promise to Gaura Nitai
To think of Them
As the garden progresses.
A promise to thank Them
For kindly allowing it to grow.
A promise to share Their bounty
With whoever comes nearby.
by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
The visit of Pope John Paul II to America last fall may come to be remembered most for the strange contrast it presented between the overwhelming enthusiasm shown for the man and the decided lack of enthusiasm shown for what he had to say. Among the unpopular positions espoused by the Pope was his insistence on maintaining the celibacy of priests. On the evening of October 3 he reiterated this position before an audience of seminarians at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, a complex of imposing buildings of huge grey granite blocks, where the Diocese of Philadelphia trains its priests. The Pope’s visit here particularly interested me, since a few years earlier I myself had spoken before the seminarians of St. Charles—and on the very same topic.
It is rare but not odd that a Pope should speak before American seminarians, but it is perhaps rare and odd that a Hare Krishna devotee should do so. What the Pope had to say was not unexpected. He stressed the full commitment the life of a priest demands, urged prayer as necessary for priests “to remain in a state of continuous reaching out to God,” and praised celibacy for priests as the “concrete response in their lives to express the totality of the ‘yes’ they have spoken to the Lord.” Naturally he was received enthusiastically, and the seminarians were reportedly “touched” by his speech. My own reception was somewhat more subdued, though respectful. But it is interesting that the Pope did not hear the seminarians voice the protests against celibacy that I—a member of “another religion”—did.
I had been invited specifically to address a class on the topic of revelation. Fifty or so young men in black filled the lecture hall when I arrived. I had thought over carefully what I would say: it must be clear to them that I had no sectarian message. I could speak on the general principles of religion that ought to apply as much to their faith as to my own.
And I knew some of their problems. I knew that the Church was losing priests at an alarming rate, and that there was agitation among the clergy for a married priesthood. Indeed, I had seen some of this turbulence at an appallingly close range: while doing graduate work in religion at Temple University, I had watched as one Catholic religious after another abandoned their vows to take up secular life. Some got married; others simply hit the streets.
I wrote the Hare Krishna mantra on the blackboard and then explained to the class that it was simultaneously a prayer and the prayer’s fulfillment. As a prayer, it begs the divine energy that unites us to God to join us with Him through service, and at the same time it is that union, for by chanting we directly associate with God in the form of His divine names (Krishna the person and “Krishna” the sound are nondifferent). Then I taught the seminarians how to pronounce the words of the mantra and asked them to chant it with me in call-and-response fashion. And then, to my immense delight, we had a wonderful kirtana, as fifty strong voices clearly and vigorously chanted the Hare Krishna mantra with me. After years of lecturing, I could get just about any audience to chant, but this chanting was exceptional; it was robust, spirited, with none of the sectarian reluctance I had feared. It was alive. These were clearly not ordinary men.
After the kirtana, I began to explain how chanting was related to the subject of revelation. Revelation is two- sided: there is the giver and the receiver, and then the receiver becomes the giver to another receiver, in turn. In Sanskrit this process is called parampara, or disciplic succession. Since the All-perfect reveals Himself perfectly, His revelation must be passed down without any change or alteration. For God’s revelation to be potent, it must be preserved intact, in all its original integrity.
How is this possible? The original giver, God, may be infallible, but the receiver is all too fallible. And yet, as I explained, we must understand that the divine revelation is not merely a collection of sentences, not just propositional truth. Memorization and rote transmission are machinelike functions that do not in themselves suffice for transmitting the revelation. God’s revelation—His word—like His names in the mantra, is absolute, and therefore God Himself is given in His word, in His own revelation. For this reason, the word of God possesses a concrete power. Just as a potent antibiotic injected into the bloodstream destroys the agents of infection, so the word of God, injected into the ears of a fully submissive receiver, destroys all his material contaminations, and he becomes transformed into a fitting receptacle, into an unsullied transparent medium. Such a person not only speaks the word of God; he lives it, and living it, becomes the word personified.
Thus the potency of God’s revelation is exhibited through the devotees, who are living exemplars of the purifying power of God. The word that is in relation to God can be received as-it-is only from those persons who are in relation to God. They are the life in which the letter lives. The revelation of God becomes a dead letter, like a law without government, when there are no pure devotees living the life of the letter.
So far, I had their full attention. Now I began to explain the four regulative principles, which are absolutely necessary for a person to observe if he wants to transmit the revelation of God intact. I enumerated: no eating of animal flesh, no indulgence in illicit sex, no taking of intoxicants, and no gambling—and I saw that I was losing my audience. Feet shuffled, eyes wandered ... and then the monsignor, their instructor, announced that it was time for a short break.
He and I sat down together. I wanted to talk with him about meat-eating, but before I could begin to offer reasons why a Christian ought to refrain from animal slaughter, he began to offer reasons why a Christian could indulge in alcohol. This was not an auspicious sign, to say the least, and as I began the second part of my lecture, I was somewhat less sanguine about the spiritual chances of these wonderful chanters. The monsignor, after all, was their teacher.
I spent the second part of the lecture explaining the spiritual principle that it is possible to give up the material activities of the senses not by rigid nullifications or barren abnegations, but only by giving the senses superior engagements in divine service. It is first of all necessary to control the tongue, I explained; only then can the other senses (including the genitals) be controlled. In the Krishna consciousness movement, I told them, we control the tongue by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and by talking about the transcendental activities of the Lord and His devotees, and we eat only the sacred food called prasada (or God’s mercy), which is sanctified by having first been offered to the Lord. Similarly, the eyes, ears, nose, hands, and legs are all controlled by spiritual engagements in divine service. Our senses are not repressed by such engagements; rather, they become purified by being kept in contact with the divine through active service. And thus our mind, the hub of the senses, becomes fixed in constant remembrance of the Lord, and such recollection gradually reawakens our dormant love for God. When this original love is misdirected, it assumes the guise of material desire, of lust. This is why, when spiritual purity is restored, material desire is not present even in a repressed state, where it can break out at any time; rather, it has been wholly transmuted back into its original and natural form, pure love for God.
I answered a number of questions, mostly concerning the particular practices of Krishna devotees, while they passed around the large bowl of sweetballs (prasada) Ihad brought for them.
After the class was dismissed, about a dozen seminarians lingered behind, all very friendly and inquisitive, and began to question me, mostly about the four regulative principles. I saw that several of them had lit cigarettes.
In the course of our discussion, I finally asked one of the smokers, “Do you really find that impossible to give up?" I wasn’t prepared for his answer—or for the vehemence of it.
“If I could just take a girl out on Saturday night, he exclaimed, “instead of having to sit around here, crawling up the walls, I might not have to smoke!” There were murmurs of assent. And with much bitterness and resentment, they began criticizing the celibacy rule.
The Krishna consciousness movement, of course, has married priests. (I’m one.) But I told them that even married couples restrict sexual intercourse to once a month, and then only if they are trying to have a child. (“Rhythm” we regard as another form of cheating.) One of them said that it sounded worse than celibacy: they clearly didn’t want marriage on those terms either.
I was appalled by the amount of sexual frustration these men were giving voice to. It was wrong. So I started to question them about their life in the seminary, and it soon became quite clear why they were having such immense difficulty. To begin with, they had large stretches of idle time on their hands. And then, they freely read novels and magazines, habitually watched television. All these activities certainly agitated their senses. There was nothing spiritual about their eating habits. It was strictly for the tongue, and they were accustomed to drinking beer and smoking. They had lots of idle time, their senses were kept continuously under the bombardment of materialistic stimulation, and then—they were told to be celibate!
No one could be celibate under those circumstances. They were being cruelly, exquisitely tortured. Then I remembered the monsignor with his perverse syllogism: “Everything God has made is good. God has made alcohol… .” (He made arsenic, too, but you don’t ingest that!) I became angry. It was criminal to do this. These seminarians were not ordinary men: they wanted, and wanted very badly, to dedicate their lives fully to God. But nobody was showing them how. They were living in a way to agitate all their senses, and then commanded to be celibate! Of course they were always falling down, always laboring under a huge load of guilt. No wonder they were so cynical, so bitter and resentful. I wondered why nobody was teaching them. They didn’t even know the practical ABCs of spiritual life. They were being criminally betrayed.
It was so frustrating for me. I had told them what to do—but could they do it in the context of the Church? To chant God’s names and dance with His devotees, to eat the sumptuous feasts of His mercy, to hear and read the always- fresh stories of His activities and pastimes, which fill volume after volume, to let their eyes feast on the gorgeous form of the Lord in the temple ... could they do things like these? I had an overwhelming urge to take these men, right now, out onto the streets to chant. Then, I knew, they would be all right, they would be safe. They wanted a pure life (a rare thing), they wanted to surrender fully to God, they wanted to overcome the powerful “law of the flesh”—and I knew how they could do it.
But here they were, all in black. As we began walking down the long corridor, I asked one of them if there were some spiritually advanced person here he could follow. He shrugged.
“I don’t know.” He turned to his friend: “What d’you think?”
“I don’t know.” Silence for a few paces.
“Hey!” another suddenly exclaimed. “What about Holy Joe!”
“Hey, yeah! Holy Joe!” They began to laugh.
My depression deepened. We walked through the high, deserted halls, our footsteps ringing in the emptiness. The massive stone of the seminary loomed over us.
We stopped at the entrance to the chapel (the one where the Pope would speak a few years later). They wanted me to see it. They were proud of it. But it was huge, dark, and cold. Walls of bone-white marble shone dully. It was like a sepulcher. I shivered and mumbled something polite.
Before I left I told them that I had not come to criticize their religion. But as I looked at their faces, still clearly marked by the purity of their calling, I could only think that they were being horribly betrayed. I do not want to criticize their religion now, either, but I can only honestly report that I did not see there the spiritual energy that the word of God bears when lived by his pure devotees.
With John Paul II there has come hope. He is young, energetic, and is said to have charisma. But the sign of real renewal will not be the protestations of affection, the big turnouts, the cheers, and the applause. It will be when those seminarians embrace their vows not with bitterness and resentment but with joy, enthusiasm, and confidence.
You may not believe such a thing is possible, but I have seen it. I have been blessed to meet a pure devotee of God. Some of us have not been betrayed.
by Rohininandana Dasa
Vegetarians are just self-righteous vegetable-killers, some people say, and their milk-drinking implicates them in violence.
Nowadays vegetarianism is becoming popular for various economic, health, and ethical reasons; but spiritual reasons are more difficult for people to comprehend. Some people ask, “What’s the difference between being a vegetarian and being a meat-eater? An animal has a soul, and a plant has a soul, and if you’ve got to kill the plant, then why not kill an animal? It’s the same. You just killed a carrot. The carrot’s dead, and the animal’s dead. So what’s the difference?” Suppose you’re trying to convince somebody to become a vegetarian, and he says that to you. What are you going to say?
Response: There are spiritual reasons, and there are also material reasons. The spiritual reason is that you cannot offer meat to Krishna, and materially, you can argue that vegetables are not as developed.
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. The carrot has a less developed consciousness than an animal. So the amount of inconvenience you put a carrot through is considerably less than that of an animal. That’s clear. You could also reply. “Well, why don’t you eat a human child? If there’s no difference between killing a carrot and killing a cow, then why not eat a human baby?”
Seriously, if you look at a small human baby, there is not much difference between it and an animal, is there? The animal feels a bit of pain, and the baby feels a bit of pain, so we might as well eat the human baby. But of course nobody wants to eat a human baby. “No, no, I couldn’t eat a human baby. They’re very different from animals. They’ve got different potential.” So if there is such a great difference between a human baby and an animal, how much more is there between a cow and a blade of grass or a carrot? Obviously, then, there is a difference in consciousness.
The other reason is that we’re “Krishna- tarians.” We eat only what we offer to Krishna. We’re not exactly vegetarians. We find out what Krishna wants us to offer Him. He says He wants a leaf, a fruit, a flower, or water. This means that vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, juice, and all kinds of produce can be offered to Him and then eaten.
Question: The Bible says you can offer meat to God.
Rohininandana dasa: Not always. In Isaiah 1.11, the Lord says. “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices to Me? I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of your fed beasts: and I delighteth not in the blood of bullocks or of lambs or of goats… . Bring no more vain oblations… . Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth… . and when ye spread forth your hands. I will hide Mine eyes from you. Yea, when you make many prayers. I will not hear, for your hands are full of blood.” And in Isaiah 66.3:“He that killeth an ox is as he that slayeth a man… . Yea they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.”
You may cite other verses, where the Bible appears to recommend animal sacrifices, but could it not be that the Bible sanctions animal sacrifices for the die-hard flesh- eaters?
It’s very clear, at least in the Vedic literatures, that God doesn’t want us to offer Him flesh and blood, and even the Christians sense that because if you go to church on Thanksgiving you’ll see wheat, apples, oranges, grapes, and other produce. You never see decorations of intestines and sheep’s heads on the altar. You never see that.
But why not? It means that they can’t think animal- killing is really wonderful. People sing, “We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” You go into the church, and there are flowers and all kinds of pleasant things. People in church don’t sing. “We butcher the beasts and spill their blood”! Those unpleasant things—the decaying flesh and the screams—are out of sight and mind, far away in some secluded slaughterhouse.
Now, somebody could say. “Well, you Hare Krishna people are drinking milk, eating butter and cheese, and using ghee for cooking. In a factory farm, when the cow can’t give milk anymore, she is slaughtered for her meat. By drinking milk you are supporting this system. Therefore you should become a vegan like me.” What would you say then?
Response: To get the milk doesn’t mean you have to kill the cow.
Rohininandana dasa: But the vegan will say, “The cow’s milk is meant for her calf, and you’re taking it.” What do you say then?
Our explanation is that if you offer that milk to God, the cow benefits spiritually, even though she’s living on a factory farm. From the Vedic point of view, it is important for human beings to have animal protein, especially if you want to cultivate spiritual life. And that animal protein comes in the form of cow’s milk. Milk is actually the blood of the cow miraculously transformed into milk. The cow eats grass, the grass becomes blood, then the blood becomes milk, which we can drink as it is or prepare in many different ways.
Milk is the most miraculous of all foods. According to the Vedas, milk is meant for consumption by human beings. In fact, the Vedas say that five thousand years ago, cows gave more milk than they do today. It’s incorrect to think that our breeding practices have enabled cows to produce more milk. No, it’s their nature to produce much milk. The calf needs perhaps a tenth of the milk in the udder. And cows can give eight to ten gallons of milk a day. That’s a lot of milk! This extra milk is meant for human consumption, to help develop fine brain tissue.
In Vedic society, every brahmana would have not only a cow but also a bull for plowing the land to produce grains. The cow is like a mother because she gives us milk. She should be protected and taken care of. In the Krishna consciousness movement we have farms, and we look after the cows with great care. In the summer we let them roam in the woods and pastures, and in the winter we house them in barns and take care of them. We don’t kill them.
The Vedas describe the relationship between cows and humans. That relationship is God’s arrangement for human society. If we try to figure things out for ourselves, well get so many imperfect solutions. What is the cow going to do if you don’t milk her? Shell suffer great pain and eventually die. because she must be milked. A cow is actually dependent on human beings.
In the spiritual world, Krishna is taking care of the cows. One of Krishna’s names is Gopala. “He who protects the cows.” Another of Krishna’s names. Govinda, means “He who gives pleasure to the cows.” There is a natural relationship between God and the cows, and also between mankind and the cows.
In the Krishna consciousness movement we live in cities not because we want to. for no one who practices spiritual life likes to live in the middle of a city. We prefer to live in a very simple place, like the villages of India. At least I do! But the reason we’re here is that we’re trying to tell other people about Krishna. And therefore we have to drink the milk that’s coming to us from the factory farms. We don’t agree with their methods at all, but we’re using their products to help bring down materialistic selfishness. And we are confident that the poor cows are greatly blessed when their milk is offered to the beautiful Deities. Sri Sri Radha-Kunjabihari [the Deities in the Detroit temple]. Does anyone have a question or a comment?
Question: Why not be vegans if we’re living in the city?
Rohininandana dasa: That’s a good point, but it’s enough austerity just to live in these cities. We have to compromise in so many ways. Just to drive a car you’ve got to have tires, which are made with animal products. Practically speaking, even though you think that you’re wearing vegetarian clothes, and that everything you have is vegetarian, if you analyze you will find that there are animal products in almost everything you have. The film in your camera is made from gelatin. Even vegetables are fertilized by animal bones. So there comes a point where you just have to not be too fanatical about it.
What we are basically trying to do is remove a thorn with a thorn. We’re using modern technology to change modern technological society. So sometimes we have to compromise by drinking store-bought milk. But by our preaching in the cities, many people are becoming vegetarians, and therefore many cows are being saved. If you convince just one person to be a vegetarian, you’re saving many animals every year.
How many animals and birds do you think an average American eats in a year? Let’s say he eats twelve chickens. Does this sound reasonable? No? More? Double, then? OK. And how many pigs each year? Will he finish a whole pig? Probably. Let’s say he gets through one pig. How many fish? Thirty? How many sheep? Two? How many cows? One whole cow? Two sheep, one pig, a couple of turkeys, twenty-four chickens, thirty fish, and one cow. And he may eat more bizarre things than that! Maybe you’re also saving a few snails, a horse, some squirrels, and a monkey.
If by your influence someone becomes a vegetarian, in one year you’ve saved all these animals. What if that person stays a vegetarian for the next thirty years? How many creatures are being saved? To be really effective we’ve got to situate ourselves in the cities; otherwise, if we were tucked away in the country somewhere, we would only influence a few people. But we do both. We’re in the cities and also in the country. And vegetarianism is just one benefit of our work, because if a person is Krishna conscious, he’s automatically going to be kind and gentle and possess all good qualities.
Question: What’s wrong with eggs?
Rohininandana dasa: Well, first, they’re not the most pleasant things to eat when you think about what they are: female chickens’ menstrual waste products. It’s not such an edible food. Of course, modern nutritionists may say how wonderful eggs are, but eggs are not the most elevated food. And in their natural condition, they should be fertilized anyway. Go to one of these factory farms and see how the chickens are suffering. Sometimes the hens are so cramped in their cages that their claws just grow around the wire. When the “farmers” come to get them out of the cages, they find that their feet are firmly clamped to the wires. And they’ve got so many diseases; it’s an abominable life. I used to work in a place like that. I tell you, it’s abominable.
Comment: Some people call eggs “liquid flesh.”
Rohininandana dasa: Yes. Of course, eating eggs is not as bad as eating flesh, but it’s bad enough. I remember when I was giving up eggs, it was tough because I used to like omelets. I was camping on the side of a mountain, and I got down to my last egg. I thought “Whew! What am I going to do?” I suddenly felt a surge of strength coming—“I’ve got to give this up!”—and I took the egg and I slung it down the mountainside. And I’ve never eaten another egg since. I felt very pleased after that. If you try, Krishna will help you. You’ll get enough protein, you’ll get enough strength, you’ll be able to do it.
Especially nowadays, there are so many vegetarian cookbooks; there are so many ways of understanding good eating. How to mix your grains together—if you mix rice with dal, it increases the potency of both. It is a science. By eating meat and eggs, you get too much protein. Too much protein is bad for you.
Does that answer your question? You can’t offer the egg to Krishna. We’re Krishna-tarians; we offer Krishna only what He wants us to eat. We’re trying to awaken our love for Krishna, which is really the important thing. It’s not whether I’m a vegetarian—that’s coincidental—but whether I am trying to serve God, to please God.
In the ultimate issue, if there’s nothing else to eat, you can eat meat If you’re starving and there’s an animal, you can kill the animal and eat it. This is stated in the shastras. or lawbooks. Human life is actually more important than that of an animal, only because human life enables us to practice self-realization. Of course, if we’re not practicing self-realization, then human life doesn’t have any more importance than animal life.
Srila Prabhupada would often say that without rationality man is just an animal. But if the human being is trying to cultivate spiritual life, then his life is more valuable. If a tiger comes at you, you can certainly defend yourself; Krishna consciousness is practical.
But here in the United States there’s no food shortage. We grow so much grain every year. In her book Diet for a Small Planet, Francis Lappe, a nutritionist, gives amazing statistics about how much grain we grow each year to feed livestock. You have to give the animal thirty pounds of grain to get one pound of flesh. You could eat the thirty pounds of grain quite easily. So it’s very practical. But in today’s discussion we want to concentrate more on the spiritual side of vegetarianism.
Once Srila Prabhupada took a gulabjamun in his hand—gulabjanums are ball-like sweets made out of milk powder that are fried and then soaked in a solution of rose water and honey or sugar. They are very sweet. He popped it into his mouth and said. “We’re eating our way back to Godhead.” So by eating, anyone can make spiritual advancement. That’s a fact.
So try to give all your friends some prasadam [food offered to Krishna]. If you’ve got a grandmother who’s dying in the hospital, take her a little prasadam, and make sure she eats it. It’s said that whoever eats prasadam is guaranteed a human body in the next life. If somebody is destined to become an animal, he will get the opportunity of another human body.
And if you give an animal some prasadam, then that soul will be elevated very quickly through the different animal species back to human life again. If a soul loses his human form, it’s very troublesome for him, because he must go through the different species, and it may be a long time before he gets back to human life. So if you have some leftover food, give it to the birds and other creatures in your backyard. Sometimes we take the water we’ve offered to Krishna on the altar and pour it on the base of a tree so it w ill benefit.
People may think this is madness, but no, it is spiritual. For one in material consciousness, spirituality seems like ignorance, and for one who is spiritually awake, material consciousness is seen as ignorance. In simple words, they say we’re crazy, and we say they’re crazy. So the question is, “Who is crazy?” That’s the question we have to ask—who is actually crazy? Krishna says, “What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled, and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.”
People who don’t offer their food to Krishna have to accept karmic reaction. even if they just kill a carrot. Even if they’re vegetarian, when they kill a carrot they’ve inconvenienced that soul. Maybe in a minor way, but still there’s some inconvenience. Therefore, they have to suffer a karmic reaction. That carrot was living. It had a right to live, and I killed it for my own sensual pleasure, so I’m simply eating a sinful reaction.
No one should be proud: “I’m a vegetarian; I’m OK.” Even a monkey is a vegetarian.
Being a vegetarian is not the Absolute Truth. It doesn’t even save you completely from karma. You will save yourself from a tremendous amount of karma by being a vegetarian, because you won’t have to suffer a reaction for every hair on the cow’s body, but there is still a small reaction for killing a carrot. Offer that carrot to Krishna, however, and there’s no reaction for you at all. The carrot benefits and everyone who eats your offering will benefit. Krishna says. “Whatever reaction there is. Hi take it, because you’re doing it under orders.”
When a soldier kills in war there’s no question of any penalty, because he acted under orders. He might even get a medal. Even if the fight was a mistake—his officer made a blunder—the soldier is not punished, because he acted under superior orders. This is an analogy. We are not saying that soldiers are free from karma, but they are free from the social consequence of their actions. But if a soldier kills somebody in peacetime, he must suffer the penalty, because he has taken the law into his own hands.
Similarly, if we act under Krishna’s direction, and eat only those things He recommends, there’s no karmic reaction, and everyone benefits. Whereas if I start making up my own ideas, even if I’m a vegan trying to do the right thing. I’m still going to create karma. Even a vegan is still eating and therefore creating karma. He may not be inconveniencing cows, but he’s inconveniencing vegetables, which are also living beings. He may also indirectly support animal slaughter by buying food from a store or company that sells animal products. But a person who follows the Lord’s direction by preparing his allotted quota of food and offering it to Krishna benefits everyone.
Why stop at human beings or cows? If you’re going to be humanitarian, why not think of the animals? If you’re going to think of the animals, why not think of the fish’.* If you’re going to think of the fish. why not think of the plants? They re also living. They also feel pain. In India, if someone is building a wall and a tree stands in the way. it’s quite common to build around it. In the West, we just mow anything and everything down. Isn’t that right? If a tree is growing in front of our window and is blocking the sunlight we just cut it down.
But in India, only uncivilized people do such a thing. Sometimes people build their houses around a tree. They make a courtyard for the tree with an open roof for it to get sunshine. The tree also has a right to a little space to live, a little air and sunlight. That’s culture. Why kill anything unnecessarily? And we cut down whole forests in Brazil just to get beef. Whole forests so we can print Playboy magazine and The New York Times. And people chew half of a hamburger and read one or two pages of a fifty-page newspaper and just chuck it all away. No thought of any responsibility! Just by buying a materialistic magazine you’re going to get a karmic reaction for all the trees that have been killed. But if you cut a tree down and you make a book about Krishna, the soul in that tree will benefit, because its wood has been used in Krishna’s service.
And the book is kept Very often in India, the books are wrapped in silk cloth and kept on the altar, and when people want to read they unwrap them very carefully and offer prayers before they begin reading. And those books are passed down from one generation to another.
Does this philosophy sound reasonable? It is reasonable. A religion without reason is just a sentimental thing—”Oh, you’ve got to believe in this. If you don’t believe in this, you’re going to burn.” It becomes fanaticism. But religion must have some philosophy behind it.
Similarly, philosophy on its own is just mental speculation, as when you try to figure things out on your own and become a vegan. It’s a speculation, not based on any scriptural evidence, and therefore it’s not perfect. It may have some degree of truth—there’s something good about most things—but if you want something to be absolutely perfect, then you’ve got to get it from a bona fide scripture, under the guidance of a bona fide guru.
by Sadaputa Dasa
The term science refers to knowledge we can reliably verify by practical methods. So to study a subject scientifically, we must clearly understand how to use our senses to obtain trustworthy knowledge of what we are studying. This article, which concludes a series from the book Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science, examines how a person can take advantage of his innate transcendental senses to obtain direct knowledge of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, who is the ultimate object of study in the science of bhakti-yoga.
One of the basic principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that the Absolute Truth is not an impersonal void but rather the Supreme Person, full of variegated attributes. The Supreme Person, Krishna, possesses unlimited personal qualities, and He also performs unlimited transcendental activities in reciprocation with the innumerable jivatmas (living beings) who enjoy His association in a state of pure consciousness. The goal of one who practices devotional service is to revive that state of pure consciousness and enter Krishna’s personal association.
Service to Lord Krishna can take many forms, but since becoming aware of our relationship with Krishna requires that we first hear about Him. the process of hearing (shravanam) is fundamental. Hearing about the attributes and pastimes of Krishna reminds the materially conditioned jivatma of his own natural relationship with the Lord. Gradually, as the jivatma continues hearing, his desire to know about Krishna increases, and simultaneously his attachment to the affairs ofthe material bodyand mind diminishes.
The philosophy of bhakti-yoga holds that knowledge of the Absolute must descend directly from the Absolute. Krishna is the original source of all material forms, and He is also the source of the literature of bhakti-yoga. This literature consists of scriptures that are either directly produced by Krishna Himself or else written by persons who are directly linked with Krishna in a transcendental relationship. Bhagavad-gita is a scripture of the former type, and Srimad-Bhagavatam and Chaitanya-caritamrita are scriptures of the latter type. As we have already pointed out (BACK TO GODHEAD, Vol. 16, No. 9), the subject matter of bhakti-yoga is preserved and disseminated by a community of gurus and sadhus (highly advanced souls), whose role in the regulation of transcendental knowledge is like that of the community of experts in a scientific field.
All literature is simply information encoded in sequences of symbols, and unlimited amounts of information about Krishna can be encoded in this form. But since Krishna is all-pervading, information about Him differs from information describing ordinary configurations of matter. In our everyday experience we encounter patterns of symbols arranged according to the conventions of a language so as to represent certain events in a limited region of time and space. When we hear or read this information we are able to interpret the coded patterns, and as a result we become aware of a mental image of the events. But this mental image is something quite different from the events themselves.
In contrast, when a jivatma perceives information describing the Supreme Person, the resulting mental images actually bring the jivatma into direct contact with the Supreme Person. Since Krishna is all-pervading, images and sounds representing Krishna are nondifferent from Krishna Himself, and the jivatma can directly understand this identity when free of his material conditioning. Such understanding cannot, of course, be simply a matter of manipulating material symbols; it directly involves the higher sensory and cognitive faculties of the conscious self.
Since this point is quite important, let us explore it in greater detail. According to the philosophy of Bhagavad- gita, nothing is different from Krishna and yet nothing is Krishna except His own primordial personality. This seeming paradox is resolved in the following way: Krishna is the cause and the essence of all phenomena, and in this sense all phenomena are identical with Him; yet the phenomena of this world are merely external displays projected by Krishna’s will, and His real nature is His eternal personality. The Absolute is highly specific, and therefore only certain symbolic patterns, and not others, can represent Krishna. By means of these patterns Krishna can make Himself available to the conditioned jivatma, and thus these material configurations are, nondifferent from Krishna in a direct personal sense. Such configurations remind the jivatma of Krishna, by whose mercy the jivatma soon revives his own higher vision and can see the Lord directly.
This explanation may convey some idea of how the embodied jivatma, restricted entirely to material modes of sense perception, can begin to perceive the transcendental Supreme Person. In the initial stages of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma’s perception of Krishna may seem to be completely dependent on the interactions of matter, but the essence of the jivatma’s experience is not material. We can begin to understand this by considering that matter itself is a manifestation of Krishna and that material perception is simply a limited, impersonal way of seeing Him.
In the highest stage of realization, the reciprocation between the jivatma and Krishna has nothing to do with the material manifestation. This relationship does not depend on the material body of the jivatma in any way, and it continues after the body has ceased to exist. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, the material manifestation represents only a minor aspect of the total reality. There is a higher realm, inaccessible to material sense perception but nonetheless full of variegated form and activity. Since we are concerned here with how a materially embodied person can acquire knowledge, we shall not discuss this higher realm in detail. (Readers interested in this subject may consult Srimad-Bhagavatam and Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita.)
The process of shravanam, or hearing, is complemented by the process of kirtanam, or glorifying the Lord by singing or reciting His names, qualities, and pastimes and by discussing these with others. We have argued (back to godhead, Vol. 16, No. 10) that the process of bhakti-yoga is scientific in the sense that it is a practical method of obtaining verifiable knowledge about the Absolute Truth. In the science of bhakti-yoga, however, the researcher approaches the Absolute with an attitude of reverence and devotion, in stark contrast to the aggressive and exploitative approach prevalent in modern science. By glorifying Krishna, the jivatma can awaken his natural love for Krishna, and then Krishna will be fully accessible to him on a personal level.
One important form of kirtanam is the chanting of Krishna’s names. Krishna has innumerable names, and there are innumerable ways to chant them, but by far the most common way of performing kirtanam is to chant the Hare Krishna mantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
The Sanskrit term mantra refers to a pattern of sound that has a purifying effect on the mind. The Hare Krishna mantra consists of two names of the Supreme Person (Krishna and Rama) and one name of His energy (Hara). Grammatically the mantra is in the vocative case, so it is, in effect, an address to the Lord and His energy.
The names that constitute the Hare Krishna mantra are examples of patterns of symbols that directly represent the absolute person and therefore have an absolute, inherent meaning. According to the philosophy of bhakti-yoga, Krishna’s holy names are nondifferent from Krishna Himself, and one who chants and hears these names is brought into personal contact with Him. A person who has awakened his higher sensory capacities can actually perceive Krishna in His name. For others, the chanting of Krishna’s names purifies them by reminding them of Krishna, and thereby brings about this awakening.
One can obtain the results of chanting the holy names of the Lord by using any names that are actually connected with the Supreme Person and that are not mere concoctions of the material imagination. In His Sikshashtaka (Eight Verses of Instruction), Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the great teacher of bhakti-yoga who appeared in India in the fifteenth century, describes the significance of chanting the holy names of God:
O MyLord, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, in Your holy name there is all good fortune for the living entity, and therefore You have many names, such as “Krishna” and “Govinda,” by which You expand Yourself. You have invested all Your potencies in those names, and there are no hard and fast rules for remembering them. My dear Lord, although You bestow such mercy upon the fallen, conditioned souls by liberally teaching Your holy names, I am so unfortunate that I commit offenses while chanting the holy name, and therefore I do not achieve attachment for chanting. (Sikshashtaka 2).
From this statement we see that the conditioned jivatma, benumbed by his preoccupation with the material mind and senses, will initially feel little desire to chant the Lord’s holy names. Yet by regularly chanting the holy names and following the regulative injunctions of bhakti-yoga, the jivatma gradually awakens his transcendental taste for the name and attains the stage of loving reciprocation with Krishna.
Since the goal of one who chants the names of God is to develop love for Him, one must chant with an attitude compatible with this emotion. Caitanya Mahaprabhu described this attitude as follows:
One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor but is always prepared to give all respect to others, can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord. (Sikshashtaka 3).
Generally a person who has no direct knowledge of the Supreme Person cannot understand at first what it might mean to love the Supreme. But such a person can lay the groundwork for this understanding by adopting a nonexploitative attitude toward the Supreme Person and His creation. Indeed, this attitude is the key to success in bhakti-yoga. For one who wishes to exploit the Supreme, the Supreme will remain unknowable. But if one truly gives up the desire for such exploitation, then the Supreme Person will reveal Himself by His own mercy.
Once, in a letter to Max Born, Albert Einstein declared that his goal was to capture the Absolute Truth. Unfortunately, Einstein went about it the wrong way. The Absolute Truth cannot be forcibly captured by a minute part of the Absolute, but according to the philosophy of bhakti- yoga, the Absolute can be captured by love. Once one attains this love, direct knowledge of the Absolute becomes readily available. Yet, ironically, the development of this love is incompatible with the desire for knowledge or power. Knowledge is indeed a by-product of the process of bhakti-yoga, but it cannot be the goal of that process, for the key to the process itself lies in a fundamental reassessment of one’s innermost goals.
Although superficially this reassessment may seem simple, carrying it out requires a deep insight into one’s own psychology. By bringing the inner self into personal contact with the Absolute, the process of bhakti-yoga enables one to attain this insight. Only by this means can one capture the Absolute—once all desire to conquer the Absolute has been forsaken.
by Mathuresha Dasa
Ages ago, Saubhari Muni was so accomplished at yoga that he could meditate underwater. Everything was going fine, until …
To practice yoga, or silent meditation, you first of all need a secluded place. Traditionally, yogis have retired to Himalayan caves, to remote corners of dense, unexplored jungles, even to the depths of an ocean or river. The great yogi Saubhari Muni meditated for many years within the Yamuna River, with only the local fish for company. He was able to do so because he possessed many mystic powers—the sign of a true yogi—and could, like his aquatic companions, breathe underwater.
Why such extreme measures? Because the purpose of yoga is to withdraw the senses from all material engagements and fix the mind on the Supersoul (the form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead who dwells within the hearts of all living creatures). The aspiring yogi must completely abstain from even the thought of sex, reduce and regulate his eating and sleeping, and even restrict what he sees and hears. By extended, uninterrupted practice, the yogi transcends material nature and returns to the eternal spiritual world, the abode of Lord Krishna.
So don’t expect to properly practice the yoga of silent meditation in a city or a suburb or, for that matter, even in most rural areas; there are just too many distractions nowadays. You may practice sitting postures and breathing exercises, trying to improve your health, your aura, or your sexual prowess, and if you like you can call that yoga. But according to the ancient Vedic literature, the sourcebooks of yoga instruction, the purpose of yoga is to fully and continuously restrain the senses and fix the mind on the Supreme Person.
With this purpose fixed in his mind the yogi Saubhari Muni long ago entered the Yamuna River. Surely there he would be undisturbed. There were no attractive girls in designer jeans strutting along the river bottom, no ads for cigarettes, beer, or fashionable clothing to divert the attention, no business-wise yoga instructors crooning that their brand of spiritualism makes one a better executive or a better student or a better lover. No distractions whatsoever. Hardly a sound. Just Saubhari and the river. And the fish.
Poor Saubhari. He was a qualified, sincere, no-nonsense yogi, so well endowed with mystic powers that he could meditate underwater, yet his mind was diverted by a pair of fish. After many years of underwater meditation, Saubhari observed two fish copulating, and feeling the desire to enjoy sexual pleasure awaken within himself, he emerged from the river and went looking for a mate.
From this we can understand that meditational yoga, also known as ashtanga-yoga, although recommended in the Vedic literature as a means of ascending to the spiritual plane, is extremely difficult. We are all by nature active and pleasure-seeking. Most of us find it difficult to sit still even for a few minutes. We want to enjoy life by seeing, hearing, touching, walking, talking, and so on. To abruptly stop all these activities and meditate on God is almost unthinkable. Even such a highly qualified yogi as Saubhari Muni, who lived thousands of years before the rise of our noisy, polluted, fast-paced modern civilization, had a hard time of it.
So why would anyone attempt such a difficult form of yoga? Well, the aspiring transcendentalist, the yoga candidate, usually understands that bodily and mental activities alone cannot bring satisfaction. He has heard from Vedic authorities that we are not these material bodies but are eternal spirit souls dwelling within the body. The yogi wants to free himself from bodily encagement.
In the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna teaches that the body is a temporary vehicle for the soul and that after the demise of the body the soul takes a new body. The unenlightened soul transmigrates from body to body in the painful cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death, trying to enjoy life but is ultimately frustrated in every attempt. To become free from this cycle of misery and to experience transcendental bliss, the yogi is advised to reduce bodily activity and to meditate on the Supersoul, Lord Krishna. According to the Bhagavad-gita,the state of mind at death determines our next life. Thus, the yogi who passes away fully absorbed in meditation on Krishna attains an eternal, blissful body in the spiritual realm and never returns to take birth and die in this material realm.
In previous ages many yogis were able to perfect the process of ashtanga-yoga. In fact, Saubhari Muni himself, after exhausting his desire for material enjoyment, completely renounced the life of sensual pleasure, returned to his meditation, and attained perfection. In the present age, however, ashtanga-yoga is more or less impossible, and the Vedic literature recommends instead the path of bhakti- yoga, devotional service.
The purpose of bhakti-yoga is the same as that of ashtanga-yoga: to withdraw the senses from all material activities and to concentrate the mind in unswerving meditation on the Supreme Person. In bhakti-yoga, however, we actively use our senses in Krishna’s service. In particular, bhakti-yoga involves hearing—hearing about Krishna’s qualities and pastimes, about the activities of His incarnations and great devotees, and about the transcendental philosophy spoken by the Lord Himself in the Bhagavad-gita. The bhakti- yogi learns to see everything in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to see that the material universe is His creation. The bhakti-yogi alsoregularly meditates on the beautiful Deity form of the Lord in the temple. The bhakti-yogi can even employ his tongue in Krishna’s service—by tasting food offered to Krishna and by chanting His holy names.
In this way the bhakti-yogi is always active within the realm of devotional service. He attains the same result as the inactive ashtanga-yogi; but easily and naturally. The bhakti-yogi can live with his friends and family in the midst of modern civilization. In fact, many of the practices of bhakti-yoga are best performed in the company of other devotees—the more the merrier. Far from distracting, the association of devotees is an inspiration for the performance of devotional service. The serious ashtanga-yogi; however, must remain alone. and even then, as in the case of Saubhari, there is a chance of falling away from the path of austerity and renunciation.
The purpose of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) is to make the spiritual association of devotees (Bhakti-yogis) available in every part of the world. ISKCON centers are open to anyone interested in hearing about the Supreme Personality of Godhead and rendering service to Him in the company of devotees. Aspiring yogis can thus attain perfection, unperturbed by the distractions of modern life.
from Back To Godhead Magazine, #35-03, 2001
by Nagaraja Dasa
A dozen or so students gathered in the assembly room of the college dormitory for an introductory talk on bhakti- yoga. I got their attention and said we’d now do some yoga. About half of them pulled their legs up into some semblance of the lotus position, waiting for tips on breathing and concentration.
But instead of the sound of silence, they heard the sizzle of a small pair of hand cymbals. Eyes opened, jaws dropped.
It didn’t take long, though, before the students got the idea. Soon many were singing along with the Hare Krishna mantra, their faces lit up with smiles.
After the demonstration, I asked the students to tell me what they thought yoga meant. I got the predictable responses, mostly having to do with sitting, stretching, twisting, and concentrating. Someone spoke of clearing the mind of all thoughts. Someone mentioned picturing yourself as “identical with the One.”
“Bhagavad-gita says that yoga means to connect with God,” I began my talk, “and that’s why we chant Hare Krishna.”
Their pleased expressions showed they were losing misconceptions. When people see Hare Krishna devotees singing in the street, they probably don’t think we’re doing yoga. But in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna teaches us how to make our whole lives yoga. Srila Prabhupada often said that his students were practicing yoga twenty-four hours a day.
Today’s so-called yoga usually aims at a healthy body and a peaceful mind. That’s fine if that’s all you want. But the real purpose of yoga is to reestablish our relationship with Krishna—clearly a much loftier goal. The word yoga means “to connect,” and from it we get the word yoke. Krishna covers various kinds of yoga in the Gita, but they’re all meant for the same thing: to awaken our love for Him.
Bhakti-yoga is not only the easiest type of yoga; Krishna declares it the best: “And of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me—he is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion.” (Bg. 6.47)
Since the goal of yoga is to concentrate on God, what better way to do that than by bhakti- yoga—serving Him in love? Prabhupada would scoff at the practice of doing fifteen minutes of meditation in the morning and then spending the rest of the day in material pursuits. Bhakti-yogis take their meditation to work. Krishna tells Arjuna to fight and remember Him. “In all activities be conscious of Me,” He says.
Prabhupada taught his disciples to mold their lives so they could never forget Krishna. He gave us a program of morning and evening practices focused on Krishna. He told us, as Krishna does, to offer the fruits of our work to Krishna. He told us to try to chant Hare Krishna always.
After my talk, one of the students, Mira, thanked me for clearing up some confusion.
“I was always attracted to stories of yogis,” she said, “and now I’m happy to hear I can be a student and a yogi at the same time.”
And I was happy to hear she understood.
by Sadaputa Dasa
This ancient Vedic text gives an accurate map of the planetary orbits known to modern astronomy.
Today we take for granted that the earth is a sphere, but the early Greeks tended to think it was flat. For example, in the fifth century B.C. the philosopher Thales thought of the earth as a disk floating on water like a log.1 About a century later, Anaxagoras taught that it is flat like a lid and stays suspended in air.2 A few decades later, the famous atomist Democritus argued that the earth is shaped like a tambourine and is tilted downwards toward the south.3 Although some say that Pythagoras, in the sixth century B.C., was the first to view the earth as a sphere, this idea did not catch on quickly among the Greeks, and the first attempt to measure the earth’s diameter is generally attributed to Eratosthenes in the second century B.C.
Scholars widely believe that prior to the philosophical and scientific achievements of the Greeks, people in ancient civilized societies regarded the earth as a flat disk. So to find that the Bhagavata Purana of India appears to describe a flat earth comes as no surprise. The Bhagavata Purana, or Srimad-Bhagavatam, is dated by scholars to A.D. 500-1000, although it is acknowledged to contain much older material and its traditional date is the beginning of the third millennium B.C.
In the Bhagavatam, Bhumandala—the “earth mandala”—is a disk 500 million yojanas in diameter. The yojana is a unit of distance about 8 miles long, and so the diameter of Bhumandala is about 4 billion miles. Bhumandala is marked by circular features designated as islands and oceans. These features are listed in Table 1, along with their dimensions, as given in the Bhagavatam.
- how to receive pure knowledge through the Parampara system
by Jayadvaita Swami
In the pages of Back to Godhead (and Krishna.com) you may often come across the term “disciplic succession.” It’s an English rendering of the Sanskrit word parampara. The meaning of the word is simple yet important.
The parampara is the chain of spiritual masters and disciples through which Krishna consciousness is taught and received. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “I taught this ancient science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan. Vivasvan taught it to his son Manu. And Manu taught it to his son Ikshvaku. In this way, through the system of parampara, disciplic succession, the science was understood by the saintly kings.”
In the parampara system, then, the original teacher, the original spiritual master, is Lord Krishna, God Himself. The Lord gives perfect knowledge, and that knowledge is handed down from master to disciple. It’s like a ripe fruit handed down from person to person, from the top of the tree to the ground.
In the chain of parampara, each spiritual master has the duty to transmit the knowledge of Krishna consciousness as it is. He is not to add anything, subtract anything, or change anything. He simply has to deliver the message, just as a postman delivers a letter, contents fully intact.
According to the Vedic scriptures, one who is serious about attaining self-realization or God realization or the ultimate goal in life must approach such a bona fide spiritual master. It is not optional; accepting a bona fide spiritual master is essential.
The method of accepting the spiritual master is explained in Bhagavad-gita: one must surrender to him, inquire from him, and serve him. Inquiry alone is not enough. One must humbly submit oneself before the spiritual master, accepting him as a representative of God.
The spiritual master is not God, and any so-called master who claims to be God should at once be rejected as bogus. But the spiritual master is honored as much as God because he intimately serves God through the disciplic chain. Because each spiritual master serves his own spiritual master, all the members of the chain are ultimately servants of God and therefore very dear to God. More precisely, the bona fide spiritual master is the servant of the servant of the servant of God, or Krishna.
This is one of the secrets of the parampara system: to be a genuine master, one must be a genuine servant. The student, therefore, surrenders to the spiritual master as a disciple and serves him, and the master responds by answering the disciple’s questions, enlightening him with transcendental knowledge. For the sincere disciple who has full faith in Krishna and equal faith in the bona fide spiritual master, all the truths of spiritual realization are factually revealed.
The genuine disciple feels everlastingly indebted to the spiritual master and continues to serve him forever. In this way, even when the spiritual master leaves this world, the master and disciple are connected. The disciple continues to serve the spiritual master by following what the master has taught him, and by teaching it to others. Thus the bona fide disciple becomes a bona fide spiritual master, and the chain of succession continues.