by Ravindra Svarupa Dasa
A NUMBER OF readers have written—several at formidable length—to express doubts or objections concerning the essay “On Conceiving the Inconceivable.” I hope it will be helpful for me to respond to the more significant points raised.
You may recall that the essay addressed the conceptually vexing question, "How did the conditioned soul—the jiva—get that way?" Upon this topic—“the jiva issue”—a small but prolix band of people in and about ISKCON have piled up a great number of words. I was loath to add to them, for to expend time and energy on this issue goes counter to the instructions of Srila Prabhupada. “What is the use of such discussion?” he wrote about efforts to comprehend the causal history of the jiva’s falldown. “Don’t waste your time with this.” 1
Why did I go against such clear instruction? How did I become so foolish as to rush in where angels fear to tread? It happened like this.
ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, on which I have served, once had to deal with an uproar caused by a 300-page book on the “jiva issue” that a couple of devotees had just written and published.
The controversy arose over the way in which the authors attempted to resolve the issue. The reader may recall that the issue centers upon the apparent incompatibility of two authoritative accounts of the origin of conditioned souls. One account—which receives by far the most stress in Prabhupada's teachings—tells that the conditioned souls were originally Krishna conscious, but that they willfully repudiated service to Krishna and in so doing fell from the spiritual into the material world. The second account holds that conditioned souls have been so perpetually, while the eternally liberated souls in the spiritual world never fall.
How are these two accounts to be reconciled? The controversial book before the GBC reconciled the two simply by throwing out the first of them. Yet how is it possible to dispose of that account? After all, it is a prominent leitmotif* of Srila Prabhupada's teaching. It is presumed by the name Srila Prabhupada gave this very magazine. The story of the jiva’s fall, theorized the book’s authors, is Prabhupada's benevolent fiction. It is a myth, a white lie, invented by Prabhupada because we Westerners are mentally incapable of accepting the concept of a soul that has simply always been conditioned.
Asked to pass judgment on this theory, the GBC resolved that this way of solving the jiva issue was unacceptable. The GBC ruling went no further, but naturally in discussion the question came up of what sort of resolution would be acceptable. To further the GBC’s discussion, I produced the little paper later published in these pages. I labored to keep the paper short—a minimalist work—because I wanted to be considerate of the GBC as well as faithful to Srila Prabhupada's instruction not to waste time—mine or the readers’—on this issue.
The editor of Back to Godhead read the little essay, liked it, and published it here. He saw the brevity of the article as a virtue.
Some readers, however, have seen it as a vice. Several in particular have deplored the paucity of “quotes”—they mean explicit citations and quotations from authorities. One reader claims that such references are a requirement, especially when presenting “a new elucidation,” while another asserts their absence sufficient in itself to prove the article “mental speculation” and nothing more. 2
It is not the case that a Krishna conscious article requires explicit citations and quotations. As a brand-new devotee, I received much knowledge and inspiration from a little piece by Srila Prabhupada called “On Chanting Hare Krishna.” 3 A paradigm of brevity and elegance, 4 it is innocent of any quotations or references. Yet one who knows the philosophy of Krishna consciousness recognizes that every word is faithful to authority.
When I wrote the jiva article, I had supposed that devotees would similarly have little trouble recognizing the source of the ideas in it: Srila Prabhupada. Rather than presenting “a new elucidation,” my article set forth my spiritual master’s own resolution of the “jiva issue.” In the rest of this essay, I will provide the quotations to show that.
Some of the demand for proof-texting focused on a premise of the article: that the account of the fall of the jiva is an authoritative narration. Is there indeed scriptural and traditional authority for it?
In the Fourth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Narada Muni narrates the allegorical story of King Puranjana. In the part that concerns us, Puranjana has just died and his widow, Vaidarbhi, is lamenting piteously. A brahmana approaches the queen and introduces himself as her “eternal friend.” The brahmana, who symbolizes the Supersoul, says to the grieving queen:
"My dear friend, even though you cannot immediately recognize Me, can’t you remember that in the past you had a very intimate friend? Unfortunately, you gave up My company and accepted a position as enjoyer of this material world. My dear gentle friend, both you and I are exactly like two swans. We live together in the same heart, which is just like the Manasa lake. Although we have been living together for many thousands of years, we are still far away from our original home."
Commenting on these verses, 6 Srila Prabhupada explains that the passage “gave up My company and accepted a position as enjoyer of this material world” refers to the soul’s fall from the spiritual into the material world. To explain “how the living entity falls down into this material world,” Srila Prabhupada quotes Bhagavad-gita 7.27: “All living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.”
“In the spiritual world there is no duality, nor is there hate,” Prabhupada says. But “when the living entities desire to enjoy themselves, they develop a consciousness of duality and come to hate the service of the Lord. In this way the living entities fall into the material world.” He elaborates further: “The natural position of the living entity is to serve the Lord in a transcendental loving attitude. When the living entity wants to become Krishna Himself or imitate Krishna, he falls down into the material world.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam, 4.28.53, purport)
In Narada’s allegory, the brahmana speaks of himself and the queen as two swans—symbolically the Supersoul and the soul—who have wandered together far away from their “original home.” What place is that? Prabhupada explains:
"The original home of the living entity and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the spiritual world. In the spiritual world both the Lord and the living entities live together very peacefully. Since the living entity remains engaged in the service of the Lord, they both share a blissful life in the spiritual world. However, when the living entity wants to enjoy himself, he falls down into the material world."
It is clear that Narada Muni teaches here in Srimad-Bhagavatam that the conditioned souls dwelt originally in the spiritual world, their homeland, where they enjoyed a relation of active service with Krishna. However, these souls willfully gave up Krishna's company in order to become enjoyers. Srila Prabhupada explains that they wanted to imitate Krishna rather than serve Him. As Prabhupada states it elsewhere in his Bhagavatam commentary:
“The first sinful will of the living entity is to become the Lord, and the consequent will of the Lord is that the living entity forget his factual life and thus dream of the land of utopia where he may become one like the Lord.”
In addition, Srimad-Bhagavatam repeatedly speaks of liberation in Krishna consciousness as a restoration, a return, a reawakening, a recovery, a remembering. Narada Muni uses such language himself a little further on in his allegory of the soul and Supersoul:
"In this way both swans live together in the heart. When the one swan is instructed by the other, he is situated in his constitutional position. This means he regains his original Krishna consciousness, which was lost because of his material attraction."
In this verse “regains his original Krishna consciousness” is a translation of nashtam apa punah smritim. Krishna consciousness is literally a lost (nashtam) memory (smritim) which is gained (apa) once again (punah). In Srimad-Bhagavatam this terminology of forgetting and once again remembering is invoked over and over. 10 Remembering, regaining, returning, recovering—all these terms presuppose a past state that had once been ours, had then become lost, and will be ours once more. Srimad-Bhagavatam teaches it, and so, of course, does Srila Prabhupada.
Srila Prabhupada as Authority
What I have given is sufficient to establish the authority of the account of the jiva’s fall, and I will leave it at that. I may disappoint readers who will want proof-texting from authorities who stand between Narada Muni and Srila Prabhupada in the disciplic succession. I am confident, however, that Srila Prabhupada is a bona fide spiritual master. As such, he is a “transparent medium” who represents (literally, presents over again) the entire tradition coming from Krishna. To those readers who claim not to have found in those authorities confirmation of the teaching spelled out here, I can only suggest that you go back and look again. Srila Prabhupada undoubtedly understands those authorities better than you or I. Go back, and this time use Srila Prabhupada as your guide.
Srila Prabhupada is uniquely qualified to understand spiritual teaching. Such understanding is hardly a matter of academic scholarship. The Svetasvatara Upanishad, in its concluding verse (6.23), tells who among its readers will have revealed to them the purport of what they’ve read: only a great soul, a mahatma, who possesses pure devotion (para bhakti) to the Lord and, in equal measure, to his spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada himself exhibited extraordinary devotion to the Lord and to his guru. Only because of that devotion was he empowered to achieve unprecedented success in preaching Krishna consciousness throughout the world. I take the greatness of his success as a measure of his greatness of soul, and therefore I accept him as empowered by Krishna also with the ability to penetrate deeply into the meaning of spiritual teaching. It is therefore my policy to follow him in his understanding.
This is what I tried to do in my Back to Godhead article. It is not that Srila Prabhupada was silent on the “jiva issue.” His disciples brought it up a number of times, and there are lectures, letters, and conversations in which he addressed it head on. Never once do we find him so much as hinting that Narada Muni’s account of the origin of bondage is a myth or fiction. Rather, he defends that account vigorously and teaches his disciples how to reconcile it with the statements that there is no fall from Vaikuntha, the spiritual world.
The central point in Srila Prabhupada's reconciliation is that every single soul is in fact eternally liberated (nitya-mukta) and not a single soul ever really leaves the spiritual world. The so-called “conditioned souls” (nitya-baddha) only superficially appear to be so to themselves, and their apparently bound state is an illusion of such vanishingly small duration and significance that it is virtually of no weight at all in the true scale of things.
Thus, Srila Prabhupada said that the appellation nitya-mukta is factual, while the appellation nitya-baddha is only a manner of speaking. “You are not eternally conditioned,” Srila Prabhupada wrote one disciple.
"You are eternally liberated, but since we have become conditioned on account of our desire to enjoy [the] materialistic way of life, from time immemorial, therefore it appears that we are eternally conditioned. Because we cannot trace out the history of the date when we became conditioned, therefore it is technically called eternally conditioned. Otherwise the living entity is not actually conditioned."
As Srila Prabhupada affirmed in a Srimad-Bhagavatam lecture, 12 “We cannot be eternally conditioned, because we are part and parcel of Krishna. Our natural position is ever liberated, eternally liberated.” The term “eternally conditioned,” according to Srila Prabhupada, is not accurate from the philosophical point of view, but is a figure of speech.
"Constitutionally every living entity, even if he is in Vaikuntha-loka, has [a] chance of falling down. Therefore the living entity is called marginal energy. But when the falldown has taken place for the conditioned soul is very difficult to ascertain. Therefore two classes are designated: eternally liberated and eternally conditioned. But for argument’s sake, a living entity being marginal energy, he can’t be eternally conditioned. The time is so unlimited that the conditioned souls appear to be eternally so, but from the philosophical view they cannot be eternally conditioned."
Even as Srila Prabhupada speaks of the soul’s fall from Vaikuntha, he also upholds the statements that Vaikuntha is that place from which no one falls. The deep truth of the matter is that we are even now in Vaikuntha but we don’t know it. Lecturing on Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.9.1, Srila Prabhupada directly says that now he will reply to those who ask, “How did the living entity, who was with Krishna, fall into the material world?” Prabhupada then states that the fallen condition is merely an appearance: It “is simply the influence of the material energy, nothing more; actually he has not fallen.”
Prabhupada gives this example: Just as clouds passing in front of the moon at night make the moon appear to move, so the material energy makes the soul, who is eternally with Krishna, appear to be fallen. “Actually, the moon is not moving. Similarly, the living entity, because he is a spiritual spark of the Supreme, has not fallen. But he is thinking, ‘I am fallen. I am material. I am this body.’ ” (Quest for Enlightenment, Chapter 2, "Fall of the Soul") 14
The second example Srila Prabhupada uses comes directly from the Bhagavatam verse. A dreaming person manufactures an alternate dream-self that he temporarily takes to be his real identity. Thus, the dreamer imagines himself undergoing all kinds of adventures. Say in a nightmare he dreams he is running in panic through a dense jungle at night, a huge and hungry tiger chasing him down. With a thudding heart, he hears the tiger coming inexorably closer. Then claws rake his back, and fangs crush his neck, and he wakes up screaming in terror. With relief he sees he is safe in bed. The fictional dream-self is gone. All along he had been safe in his own bed. He was never lost in any tiger-infested jungle.
So, when someone asks, “When did we come into contact with this material nature?" the answer is that we have not come into contact. By the influence of the external energy we think we are in contact. Actually we are not fallen. We cannot be fallen. We have simply created a situation. Rather, we have not created a situation; Krishna has given us a situation. Because we wanted to imitate Krishna, Krishna has given an opportunity.
As the dreamer forgets that he is safe in his own bedroom, so we have simply forgotten where we really are: the spiritual world. 15
Crow and Tal Fruit
Srila Prabhupada gives a more elaborate description of the nature of the jiva’s bondage in the paper entitled “Crow-and-Tal-Fruit Logic.” 16 He sent this paper to the GBC representative in Australia in June of 1972 to settle a controversy that had arisen there over this issue. 17 “Crow-and-Tal-Fruit Logic” presents Prabhupada's most thorough statement of the solution, and the paper was circulated throughout ISKCON. I saw it in Philadelphia that year and studied it carefully. Upon it I have based my reflections in the Back to Godhead article on eternity and time.
Prabhupada begins his paper by asserting our eternal and permanent relation with Krishna. “We never had any occasion when we were separated from Krishna,” he says, and then he uses Srimad-Bhagavatam’s analogy of a dream to explain how the illusion of separation arises. He also takes care to explain how it is possible for even a liberated soul to become illusioned:
"Our separation from Krishna is like that. We dream this body and so many relationships with other things. First the attachment comes to enjoy sense gratification. Even [when we are] with Krishna the desire for sense gratification is there. There is a dormant attitude for forgetting Krishna and creating an atmosphere for enjoying independently."
He then continues his exposition:
"We cannot say, therefore, that we are not with Krishna. As soon as we try to become the Lord, immediately we are covered by maya. Formerly we were with Krishna in His lila, or sport. But this covering of maya may be of very, very, very, very long duration; therefore [in the interim] many creations are coming and going. Due to this long period of time it is sometimes said that we are ever-conditioned. But this long duration of time becomes very insignificant when one actually comes to Krishna consciousness.
It is like in a dream: We are thinking it is a very long time, but as soon as we awaken we look at our watch and see it has been a moment only. To give another example: Krishna's friends were kept asleep for one year by Brahma, but when they woke up and Krishna returned before them, they considered that only a moment had passed.
So this dreaming condition is called non-liberated life, and this is just like a dream. Although in material calculation it is a long, long period, as soon as we come to Krishna consciousness this period is considered a second."
Here Srila Prabhupada explains how this condition of illusion is “very insignificant.” Not only is it insubstantial like a dream, but it is also momentary. Although within the dream unlimited years seem to pass, in reality the dream lasts virtually no time at all—a “moment” or a “second.”
Then Srila Prabhupada offers another example of how a seeming long duration of time can last only an instant. He recalls the story of how the cowherd boys napped under the spell of Brahma for only one truti (or 8/13,500 of a second) of Brahma’s time while an entire year passed in human time. 19
Srila Prabhupada invokes the relativistic temporal structure of creation to explain how the illusion of the jiva is insignificant, and I followed him in my article. I attempted only to elaborate Srila Prabhupada's explanation in a more systematic and explicit manner. In the example of the cowherd boys, one truti of Brahma’s time is contrasted to one year of human time. If we consider the case of the sleeping jivas rather than the sleeping cowherd boys, how much greater would be the contrast between real time (in the spiritual world) and dream-time (in the material world)? Obviously, the “moment” in real time would become vanishingly small—infinitesimally small—while in “dream-time” it would become infinitely great—anadi, without a traceable beginning.
In short, Srila Prabhupada uses the example of dreaming to say that the soul never really leaves Vaikuntha. And he alludes to the contrast between eternity and time to show that the soul’s period of illusion is objectively instantaneous, that it lasts virtually no time at all.
This is how I derived my explanation from Srila Prabhupada. I focused my article on the relation between time and eternity because that seems the source of much of the difficulty in thinking about the jiva issue. I did not for a moment think that I was going to figure out the inconceivable, as some readers have charged. Rather, I simply tried to highlight what makes the subject so difficult to conceive.
One reader objected that the account in my article presents “Mayavada philosophy.” Quoting from my article, he writes, “ ‘For the logic of eternity dictates that no one falls from eternity—even if he does so.’ Here the author attempts to convince the reader that conditioned existence is an absolute illusion, a mere figment of the imagination, because the conditioned soul never really left the spiritual world.” As I have shown, Srila Prabhupada teaches that conditioned existence is indeed a figment of the imagination, and that the conditioned soul never really does leave the spiritual world.
This is not Mayavada philosophy, however. The impersonalistic Mayavada philosophy claims that the Absolute has no energies: There is no material world, no dreaming existence; indeed, there is no jiva who dreams. On the contrary, Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.9.1 clearly states that the agent which produces the jiva’s illusion is Krishna's own, real energy. My statement “No one falls from eternity—even if he does so” can only be construed as denying material existence by ignoring the second half of the statement.
Another reader seems to have been misled by taking the diagram of the temporal structure of the world somewhat too literally. For simplicity’s sake, I depicted that structure by means of an equilateral triangle. A more accurate diagram, of course, would have the two ascending sides converging infinitely toward the center axis—an asymptote—never actually to meet. Similarly, the two sides in descending would infinitely diverge as they grew closer and closer to the baseline.
A triangle with an apex, however, could suggest that the illusion of matter doesn’t exit at all; it “disappears” absolutely. In fact, that illusion does exist as illusion. From the point of view of reality, however, that illusion suffers a radical reduction in value and being. Material existence is like the flicker of a hallucination so quick, so close to subliminal, that afterward you are not sure it was there at all.
Did it happen or not? Never mind—here’s Krishna. Let’s get on with our game.
Ravindra Svarupa Dasa served for many years on ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission. He joined ISKCON in 1971 and holds a Ph.D. in religion from Temple University.
*A "leitmotif" is a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation.
1. See “Srila Prabhupada Speaks Out,” page 29.
3. Once the title article of a street distribution booklet published by ISKCON Press (New York), “On Chanting Hare Krishna” has been reprinted under the title “Chanting the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra,” in the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust anthology The Science of Self-Realization.
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.31.15
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.20.25
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.16.57
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.84.24-25
- Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.2.37
14. The lecture, given in Tokyo on April 20, 1972, is included in the book Quest for Enlightenment, Chapter 2 p. 57.
15. During a class in London (July 30, 1971) on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.15, Srila Prabhupada answered a question about our position in the spiritual sky before we fell by saying, “You are already in the spiritual sky. . . . Actually we are always in the spiritual world.”
16. The paper appears in this magazine, on page 29.
17. In that case, some devotees were propagating the theory that since no one falls from Vaikuntha, the conditioned souls must have fallen from the Brahman effulgence. In “Crow-and-Tal-Fruit Logic,” Srila Prabhupada rejects this theory. A few years earlier he had responded to the same theory in a letter to Revatinandana Dasa (June 13, 1970): “Those who are in the Brahman effulgence they are also in the fallen condition, so there is no question of falling down from a fallen condition. When fall takes place, it means falling down from the non-fallen condition. The non-fallen condition is Krishna consciousness.”
18. Srila Prabhupada consistently taught that souls do in fact have the option of exercising their freedom even in the spiritual world and hence of falling into the illusion of material existence. Because the soul is a spiritual part of God, he has inherent independence or free will, which some misuse. For a sample of Srila Prabhupada's elucidations on the point, see: Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.5 (London, July 30, 1971); discussion at the end of lecture on Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila 7.108 (San Francisco, February 18, 1967); conversation with Dr. John Mize in Los Angeles (June 23, 1975); conversation with disciples in Mayapur (February 19, 1976); conversation with disciples in Washington, D.C. (July 8, 1976); letters to Jagadisa Dasa (February 27, 1970, and April 25, 1970).
19. “When Lord Brahma returned after a moment of time had passed (according to his own measurement), he saw that although by human measurement a complete year had passed. …” Srimad-Bhagavatam 10.13.40. The word for “moment” in this verse is truti. A truti is the smallest measure of material time. According to Srila Prabhupada's purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.11.14, a truti equals 8/13,500 of a second.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #33-01, 1999
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
In her book Mightier Than the Sword, Kathleen Adams has a chapter called “Authenticity.” She writes, “The discrepancy between image/being, external/internal, acculturated self/authentic self—the maintenance of the lie—reverberates in the journals of men like an echo bouncing off canyon walls. The search for authenticity is a modern-day grail quest. It is the beating heart of many men’s writings.”
The search for authenticity is the beating heart not only of people’s journals but of many people’s lives. It means asking that age-old question: Who am I? That question is deep; we can’t lie when we answer it. Authentic means the answer has to be real.
But “real” has different levels. From the Vedic literature we learn that real means I am an eternal, separated part of Krishna, constitutionally a servant. On another level, it feels real that I am sitting in this room, at peace for a moment, seeing a flock of swans land on a calm lake. Yet another level of real is the acculturated self, shaped largely by the society we live in. Then there is the voice within us that rebels against that self and lives in a private, confidential world of spiritual and material aspiration.
So which is the authentic self? Or are they all authentic? Sometimes we have to start with the negative side of the question: Who am I not? By peeling off identities one after another—marital status, occupation, responsibilities, desires—we can learn to redefine ourselves by what we find important.
Srila Prabhupada speaks about authenticity in terms of self- interest. He says self-interest is good but most of us know neither what our real self-interest is nor how to pursue it. We pursue a limited self-interest, starting with physical gratification and extending that to identification with community and nation. Because we don’t recognize the authenticity of our constitutional nature as servants of Krishna, we don’t remember that the goal of life is to satisfy Him. Which takes us back to that ultimate level of understanding our authentic self: we are servants of God, eternally. If that truth remains only theoretical to us, we cannot be single-minded in our endeavor to satisfy the ultimately authentic self. The only way to satisfy that self is to act out of love for Krishna.
Therefore we are still searching for authenticity. We haven’t found the truth yet. For people in our condition, the guru recommends regulative devotional service (vaidhi-bhakti). When we are living our authenticity, we will love Krishna spontaneously. In the meantime, we have a list of shoulds and should-nots to follow, and often we have to accept the discipline they impose in spite of ourselves. Srila Prabhupada explains that the more we practice devotion even when we don’t always feel it bubbling up within us, the more we will uncover our original, authentic natures. When we uncover our pure intelligence, he says, we won’t know anything but surrender to Krishna.
But it’s a razor’s edge. We can’t lose ourselves in the following. As Srila Rupa Gosvami writes in Sri Upadeshamrita, a too-rigid following of rules and regulations without understanding the ultimate goal can be just as detrimental to our search for authenticity as not following at all. The goal of life is to love Krishna with our pure selves, but if we don’t know who that pure self is, we have to love Krishna with whatever we are now. We have to make room for all those other voices within us—the physical voice, the mental voice, the emotional voice—and imbue them all with the truth of our spiritual aspiration. Then we can turn to something we love to do, something meaningful to us, and offer it to Krishna.
And we have to consider not what is authentic but how much we are willing to be authentic. It’s that “being” that constitutes surrender of the self to Krishna. If we are searching for the authentic self, we can’t remain mere imitators of spiritual life. Imagine going through an entire life with the blessings we have been given and choosing to remain inauthentic. A devotee wants to be tuned to the ring of truth within himself. He wants to get behind the image, even the one he has of himself, to find his honest, loving offering to place at Krishna’s lotus feet. Eventually, as we practice expressing devotion, the outer self will harmonize with the inner self, and we will become whole.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #32-04, 1998
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Imagine you are at the ancient forest known as Naimisharanya, hearing directly from the learned Suta Gosvami. He has just finished describing the instructions given by the sage Narada to Vyasadeva, the author of the great book of wisdom Srimad-Bhagavatam. Suta says that Narada is “bhagavan,” then tells us that after Narada took leave from Vyasadeva, Narada “left to wander at his free will.” Just imagine being free like that. Narada has no obligations and no reason to be anywhere, and as Srila Prabhupada states, “No one can stop him from his free movement.”
Everyone hankers for a life free of restriction because it’s the natural, transcendental state of the soul. Unfortunately, a soul who chooses material consciousness also chooses unlimited restrictions. Every action performed in material consciousness entails reactions, forced upon us as the result of what we do. If we choose birth, we have to accept death. If we choose to enjoy ourselves at another’s expense—and all enjoyment is had at the expense of another—we have to be enjoyed by someone else doing the same.
Therefore, the scriptures say that freedom is to be found only when we practice devotional service. Because Krishna is above the laws of cause and effect, performing acts for His pleasure carries no reactions.
The main pivot of devotional service is freedom. Krishna is free to bestow His mercy upon us, and we are free to accept His mercy or not. Without choosing to depend upon Krishna’s strength, power, and love, we cannot free ourselves from the restrictions imposed upon us by illusion. Bhakti, devotional service to Krishna, is given freely only when someone wants it.
To prove we want it, however, we may have to accept some restrictions. The mind and senses have to be controlled. We need to be careful to avoid people who disdain the devotional path. Prabhupada calls these restrictions “the regulative principles of freedom.”
It sounds like a paradox: surrender equals freedom. It’s like entering into a contract. We give up our so- called freedom and agree to practice pure Krishna consciousness to achieve the real freedom of our true nature. Real freedom doesn’t mean sleeping late or not having to go to work; it means freedom from birth and death. To be free, we give up pretending we’re enjoyers to become what we really are: servants. To be free we abandon our conquest of the world to turn to love of God. Then Krishna, the unconquerable, consents to be conquered.
Getting to the point of wanting real freedom is not as easy as it looks. People usually equate freedom with the ability to fully express themselves without guides or regulation. They think freedom is not to be found in charted waters but in uncharted explorations. They think real freedom starts when they overcome fear of the unknown.
Even those who try to free themselves from the pull of their senses do not always find satisfaction. The Bhagavatam (1.6.35) states, “It is true that by practicing restraint of the senses by the yoga system one can get relief from the disturbance of desire and lust, but this is not sufficient to give satisfaction to the soul …”
To feel real satisfaction the soul has to be in a natural condition. The Vedas define such a natural condition as that of full bliss, full knowledge, and full eternality. If we are constitutionally eternal but find ourselves bound, then that’s called imprisonment.
Then how to end our incarceration? Surrender is first practiced by hearing the words of those who are engaged in devotional service. By hearing, we remember who we are. Narada emphasizes this point: “It is personally experienced by me that those who are always full of cares and anxieties due to desiring contact of the senses with their objects can cross the ocean of nescience on a most suitable boat—the constant chanting of the transcendental activities of the Personality of Godhead.”
That takes us back to Naimisharanya and the words and activities of the sages. Suta Gosvami has just related the story of Narada Muni instructing Vyasa. He will now go on to describe Vyasadeva’s meditation and the perfect vision of the Absolute Truth that Vyasa received. We can be with Narada through the pages of the Bhagavatam, living as we like in the world of freedom-seeking and freedom-tasting souls.
by Jayadvaita Swami
On learning that the material world is not our real home, we naturally wonder, “How did we get here?”
When we hear that we live in this material world because we are “fallen souls,” it’s natural for us to ask, “Where have we fallen from?”
Srila Prabhupada says that as living souls we are all originally Krishna conscious. But what does that mean? Were we all originally with Krishna in the spiritual world? And if so, how could we ever have fallen? In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “Once you attain to that spiritual world, you never fall.” So how then could we have fallen from there to begin with?
Some have tried to work around this problem by suggesting a different idea: We fell not from Krishna’s personal abode but from the brahmajyoti, the effulgent light that surrounds it. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, yogis who seek the impersonal aspect of the Supreme may merge into that effulgent light—only to fall back later to the material world. Perhaps, then, we originally fell from the brahmajyoti.
Srila Prabhupada rejected this idea. Those in the brahmajyoti, he wrote, are not Krishna conscious, so they too are fallen. “So there is no question of falling down from a fallen condition. When fall takes place, it means falling down from the non-fallen condition.”
Well, then, since we’re called “eternally conditioned,” eternally illusioned, perhaps we’ve never really fallen at all—we’ve just always been down.
That idea, too, Srila Prabhupada rejected. “Eternally conditioned,” he explained, simply means that we’ve been down so long that when we fell is no longer possible to know.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, three generations before Srila Prabhupada in the line of spiritual teachers, put it this way: “Please avoid the misleading question ‘When were these jivas [living beings] created and enthralled?’ The Mayik time has no existence in spiritual history, because it has its commencement after the enthrallment of jivas, and you cannot, therefore, employ Mayik chronology in matters like these.”
“The Relationship is Eternal”
Here, then, is how Srila Prabhupada described our original state and the way we fall and leave it.
“Constitutionally,” he said in one letter, “every living entity, even if he is in the Vaikunthaloka [the personal spiritual abode of the Lord], has a chance of falling down. Therefore the living entity is called marginal energy.”
“Usually,” he explained, “anyone who has developed his relationship with Krishna does not fall down in any circumstance, but because the independence is always there, the soul may fall down from any position or any relationship by misuse of his independence.”
In another letter, Srila Prabhupada gave further insights. “We are always with Krishna. Where is Krishna not present?” But “when we forget this fact we are far, far away from Him. In the Ishopanishad it is clearly stated, tad dure tad v antike: ‘He is very far away, but He is very near as well.’ (Ishopanishad, Mantra Five). So this forgetfulness is our falldown. It can take place at any moment, and we can counteract this forgetfulness immediately by rising to the platform of Krishna consciousness.”
Our relationship with Krishna is never lost, Srila Prabhupada said. “Simply it is forgotten by the influence of maya.So it may be regained or revived by the process of hearing the holy name of Krishna, and then the devotee engages himself in the service of the Lord which is his original or constitutional position. The relationship of the living entity with Krishna is eternal, as both Krishna and the living entity are eternal; the process is one of revival only, nothing new.”
In still another letter, Srila Prabhupada restated this in yet another way: “We are all originally situated on the platform of Krishna consciousness in our eternal personal relationship of love of Krishna. But due to forgetfulness we become familiar with the material world, or maya.” But when we chant the Hare Krishna mantra sincerely and without offense, our original Krishna consciousness is at once revived. “So naturally everything about Krishna is originally known to us all, and as soon as we begin to associate with the devotees of the Lord and chant His holy name, this memory gradually becomes stronger as we remember our constitutional position of always serving Krishna in different ways.”
Our separation from Krishna, Srila Prabhupada taught, is like a dream. We dream, “I am this body,” and we dream of happiness in material relationships. This dreaming condition is our non-liberated state. But although this state of dreaming may seem to last for lifetimes, as soon as we become Krishna conscious we awaken, and the dream at once disappears. “After millions and millions of years of keeping oneself away from the lila [pastimes] of the Lord, when one comes to Krishna consciousness this period becomes insignificant, like dreaming.”
Don’t Figure It Out—Get Out
Ultimately, Srila Prabhupada would stress, puzzling over when we fell or where we fell from won’t solve our problem. “The conclusion is that whatever may be our past, let us come to Krishna consciousness and immediately join Krishna.”
Again: “One should know he is in conditioned life and try to cure it.… Forgetfulness of Krishna is the disease, so let us keep ourselves always in Krishna consciousness and get out of the disease. That is healthy life.”
Still again: “Rather than taking account of how things happened that [we] came here, our best occupation is to get out of the scene by constantly chanting Hare Krishna and being engaged in the transcendental service of Lord Krishna.”
The advice is clear enough. But still the intellect hangs on, trying to figure out what can’t be figured out. So we delve into books to find out what was taught by other great acaryas (spiritual teachers) of the past. And what do we find? Different teachers—all Krishna conscious—seem to express different views. So then what? We take sides with one view or another, or simply become confused. Our mental circuits start to burn out.
Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, therefore gave this advice. We should avoid, he said, “vain empirical wranglings,” which he called “false and full of specious verbosity.” He reminds us, “What the unalloyed devotee of the Supreme Lord says is all true and is independent of any consideration of unwholesome pros and cons.”
When such pure devotees disagree, he says, there is “the element of mystery in their verbal controversies.” And “those whose judgment is made of mundane stuff” can’t “enter into the spirit of the all-loving controversies among pure devotees.” Lacking pure devotion, such people “are apt to impute to the devotees their own defects of partisanship and opposing views.” Therefore, he counsels, whenever such disputes arise about the pastimes of the Lord, we should remember what was taught by Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates the Gosvamis, “that the Truth Absolute is ever characterized by spiritual variegatedness that transcends the variegatedness of mundane phenomena; but He is never featureless.”
Endless Arguments: Maya’s Trick
The Mahabharata tells us that we can’t know the truth simply by logic and arguments (tarko ‘pratishtah). Acintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet: “There’s no use arguing over that which is inconceivable.” After all, it’s inconceivable.
Sripada B.R. Sridhara Maharaja, one of Srila Prabhupada’s Godbrothers, respected for his deep philosophical realization, used to stress the same point, one of his followers told us. Repeatedly asked about where the living beings fell from, Sripada Sridhara Maharaja grew weary of the question. “Why do you always ask about the most difficult thing to understand?” he once responded. “Why not try to understand the most easy thing?” That is: how to become Krishna conscious and go back to Godhead.
Pure devotees of Krishna avoid endless arguments. Such devotees know that such arguments are merely another distraction offered by maya. As stated in Srimad- Bhagavatam (6.4.31):
yac-chaktayo vadatam vadinam vai
kurvanti caisham muhur atma-moham
tasmai namo ‘nanta-gunaya bhumne
“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the all- pervading Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has unlimited transcendental qualities. Acting from within the cores of the hearts of all philosophers, who propagate various views, He makes them forget their own souls while sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing among themselves. Thus He creates within this material world a situation in which they are unable to come to a conclusion. I offer my obeisances unto Him.”
Therefore, the student in transcendental science is best advised to simply accept what has been accepted by his own bona fide Krishna conscious acarya, or spiritual master. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says, “It is a great offense to disrespect the acharya and to seek to establish a different doctrine in opposition to him.”
The Crow-and-Fruit Philosophy
To illustrate the uselessness of arguing about where the soul fell from, Srila Prabhupada once gave the example of the crow and the fruit of an Indian palm, the tal fruit. On the top of a tree was a nice tal fruit. A crow went there and the fruit fell down. Some learned scholars saw this and began discussing. The fruit fell because the crow shook the limb, one said. No, said another, as the crow was landing the fruit happened to fall. This frightened the crow, so the crow flew away. No, said a third, the fruit was ripe, and the weight of the crow’s landing broke the fruit from the branch.…
“What is the use of such discussion?” Srila Prabhupada said.
Whether we came from Krishna’s pastimes or from some other spiritual source, Srila Prabhupada said, “at the present you are in neither. So the best policy is to develop your Krishna consciousness and go there [to Krishna], never mind what is your origin.”
“At the present moment you are in maya’s clutches,” he wrote, “so our only hope is to become Krishna conscious and go back to home, back to Godhead.”
Don’t waste time with the crow-and-tal-fruit logic, Srila Prabhupada advised. “Now the fruit is there. Take it and enjoy.”
NOTE: The letters from Srila Prabhupada quoted in this article appear at greater length in Srila Prabhupada Sikshamrita, Volume Two, pages 1157-1176. The quotations from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura come from his commentary on Sri Brahma-samhita. The quotation from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura comes from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—His Life and Precepts.
by Sadaputa Dasa
The ancient Greek writer Aratos tells the following story about the constellation Virgo, or the virgin. Virgo, he says, may have belonged to the star race, the forefathers of the ancient stars. In primeval times, in the golden age, she lived among mankind as Justice personified and would exhort people to adhere to the truth. At this time people lived peacefully, without hypocrisy or quarrel. Later, in the age of silver, she hid herself in the mountains, but occasionally she came down to berate people for their evil ways. Finally the age of bronze came. People invented the sword, and “they tasted the meat of cows, the first who did it.” At this point Virgo “flew away to the sphere”; that is, she departed for the celestial realm.
The Vedic literature of India gives an elaborate description of the universe as a cosmos—a harmonious, ordered system created according to an intelligent plan as a habitation for living beings. The modern view of the universe is so different from the Vedic view that the latter is presently difficult to comprehend. In ancient times, however, cosmologies similar to the Vedic system were widespread among people all over the world. Educated people of today tend to immediately dismiss these systems of thought as mythology, pointing to their diversity and their strange ideas as proof that they are all simply products of the imagination.
If we do this, however, we may be overlooking important information that could shed light on the vast forgotten period that precedes the brief span of recorded human history. There is certainly much evidence of independent storytelling in the traditions of various cultures, but there are also many common themes. Some of these themes are found in highly developed form in the Vedic literature. Their presence in cultures throughout the world is consistent with the idea that in the distant past, Vedic culture exerted worldwide influence.
In this article we will give some examples of Vedic ideas concerning time and human longevity that appear repeatedly in different traditions. First we will examine some of these ideas, and then we will discuss some questions about what they imply and how they should be interpreted.
In the Vedic literature time is regarded as a manifestation of Krishna, the Supreme Being. As such, time is a controlling force that regulates the lives of living beings in accordance with a cosmic plan. This plan involves repeating cycles of creation and destruction of varying durations. The smallest and most important of these repeating cycles consists of four yugas, or ages, called Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali. In these successive ages mankind gradually descends from a high spiritual platform to a degraded state. Then, with the beginning of a new Satya-yuga, the original state of purity is restored, and the cycle begins again.
The story of Virgo illustrates that in the ancient Mediterranean world there was widespread belief in a similar succession of four ages, known there as the ages of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. In this system humanity also starts out in the first age in an advanced state of consciousness and gradually becomes degraded. Here also, the progressive developments in human society are not simply evolving by physical processes, but are superintended by a higher controlling intelligence.
It is noteworthy that Aratos’ story specifies the eating of cows as a sinful act that cut mankind off from direct contact with celestial beings. This detail fits in nicely with the ancient Indian traditions of cow protection, but it is unexpected in the context of Greek or European culture.
One explanation for similarities between ideas found in different cultures is that people everywhere have essentially the same psychological makeup, and so they tend to come up independently with similar notions. However, details such as the point about cow-killing suggest that we are dealing here with common traditions rather than independent inventions.
Another example of similarities between cultures can be found among the natives of North America. The Sioux Indians say that their ancestors were visited by a celestial woman who gave them their system of religion. She pointed out to them that there are four ages, and that there is a sacred buffalo that loses one leg during each age. At present we are in the last age, an age of degradation, and the buffalo has one leg.
This story is a close parallel to the account in the Srimad-Bhagavatam of the encounter between Maharaja Parikshit and the bull of Dharma. There, Dharma is said to lose one leg with each successive yuga, leaving it with one leg in the present Age of Kali.
According to the Vedic system, the lengths of the Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali yugas are 4, 3, 2, and 1 times an interval of 432,000 years. Within these immense periods of time the human life span decreases from 100,000 years in the Satya-yuga to 10,000 years in the Treta-yuga, 1,000 years in the Dvapara-yuga, and finally 100 years in the Kali-yuga.
Of course, this idea is strongly at odds with the modern evolutionary view of the past. In the ancient Mediterranean world, however, it was widely believed that human history had extended over extremely long periods of time. For example, according to old historical records, Porphyry (c. 300 A.D.) said that Callisthenes, a companion of Alexander in the Persian war, dispatched to Aristotle Babylonian records of eclipses and that these records covered 31,000 years. Likewise, Iamblicus (fourth century) said on the authority of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus that the Assyrians had made observations for 270,000 years and had kept records of the return of all seven planets to the same position. Finally, the Babylonian historian Berosus assigned 432,000 years to the total span of the reigns of the Babylonian kings before the Flood.
We do not wish to suggest that these statements are true (or false). The point here is that people in the old Mediterranean civilization evidently had a much different view of the past than the dominant view today. And this view was broadly consistent with Vedic chronology.
Although the Bible is well known for advocating a very short time-span for human history, it is interesting to note that it contains information indicating that people at one time lived for about 1,000 years. In the Old Testament the following ages are listed for people living before the Biblical Flood: Adam, 930; Seth, 912; Enos, 905; Kenan, 910; Mahaleel, 895; Jared, 962; Enoch, 365; Methuselah, 969; Lamech, 777; and Noah, 950. If we exclude Enoch (who was said to have been taken up to heaven in his own body), these persons lived an average of 912 years.
After the Flood, however, the following ages were recorded: Shem, 600; Arphachshad, 438; Salah, 433; Eber, 464; Plelg, 239; Reu, 239; Serug, 230; Nahor, 148; Terah, 205; Abraham, 175; Isaac, 180; Job, 210; Jacob, 147; Levi, 137; Kohath, 133; Amaram, 137; Moses, 120; and Joshua, 110. These ages show a gradual decline to about 100 years, similar to what must have happened after the beginning of Kali-yuga, according to the Vedic system.
Here we should mention in passing that the Biblical Flood is traditionally said to have taken place in the second or third millennium B.C., and the traditional date in India for the beginning of Kali-yuga is February 18, 3102 B.C. This very date is cited as the time of the Flood in various Persian, Islamic, and European writings from the sixth to the fourteenth centuries A.D. How did the middle-eastern Flood come to be associated with the start of Kali-yuga? The only comment we can make is that this story shows how little we really know about the past.
In support of the Biblical story of very long human life- spans in ancient times, the Roman historian Flavius Josephus cited many historical works that were available in his time:
"Now when Noah had lived 350 years after the Flood, and all that time happily, he died, having the number of 950 years, but let no one, upon comparing the lives of the ancients with our lives … make the shortness of our lives at present an argument that neither did they attain so long a duration of life. …
Now I have for witnesses to what I have said all those that have written Antiquities, both among the Greeks and barbarians, for even Manetho, who wrote the Egyptian history, and Berosus, who collected the Chaldean monuments, and Mochus, and Hestiaeus, and beside these, Hiernonymus the Egyptian, and those who composed the Phoenician history, agree with what I here say: Hesiod also, and Hecataeus, Hellanicaus, and Acuzilaus, and besides Ephorus and Nicolaus relate that the ancients lived a thousand years: but as to these matters, let everyone look upon them as he sees fit."
Unfortunately, practically none of the works referred to by Josephus are still existing, and this again shows how little we know of the past. But in existing Norse sagas it is said that people in ancient times lived for many centuries. In addition, the Norse sagas describe a progression of ages, including an age of peace, an age when different social orders were introduced, an age of increasing violence, and a degraded “knife-age and axe-age with cloven shields.” The latter is followed by a period of annihilation, called Ragnarok, after which the world is restored to goodness.
The Norse Ragnarok involves the destruction of the earth and the abodes of the Norse demigods (called Asgard), and thus it corresponds in Vedic chronology to the annihilation of the three worlds that follows 1,000 yuga cycles, or one day of Brahma. It is said that during Ragnarok the world is destroyed with flames by a being named Surt, who lives beneath the lower world (appropriately called Hel) and was involved in the world’s creation. By comparison, the Srimad- Bhagavatam ( 3.11.30) states that at the end of Brahma’s day, “the devastation takes place due to the fire emanating from the mouth of Sankarshana.” Sankarshana is a plenary expansion of Krishna who is “seated at the bottom of the universe” ( Srimad- Bhagavatam 3.8.3), beneath the lower planetary systems.
There are many similarities between the Norse and Vedic cosmologies, but there are also great differences. One key difference is that in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, all beings and phenomena within the universe are clearly understood as part of the divine plan of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In contrast, in the Norse mythology God is conspicuously absent, and the origin and purpose of the major players in the cosmic drama are very obscure. Surt, in particular, is a “fire giant” whose origins and motives are unclear even to experts in the Norse literature.
One might ask, If Vedic themes appear in different societies, how can one conclude that they derive from an ancient Vedic civilization? Perhaps they were created in many places independently, or perhaps they descend from an unknown culture that is also ancestral to what we call Vedic culture. Thus parallels between the accounts of Surt and Sankarshana may be coincidental, or perhaps the Vedic account derives from a story similar to that of Surt.
Our answer to this question is that available empirical evidence will not be sufficient to prove the hypothesis of descent from an ancient Vedic culture, for all empirical evidence is imperfect and subject to various interpretations. But we can decide whether or not the evidence is consistent with this hypothesis.
If there was an ancient Vedic world civilization, we would expect to find traces of it in many cultures around the world. We do seem to find such traces, and many agree with Vedic accounts in specific details (such as the location of Surt’s abode or the sacred buffalo’s loss of one leg per world age). Since this civilization began to lose its influence thousands of years ago, at the beginning of Kali-yuga, we would expect many of these traces to be fragmentary and overlain by many later additions, and this we also see. Thus the available evidence seems to be consistent with the hypothesis of a Vedic origin.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
It’s 5:20 in the morning. For twenty minutes I’ve been chanting the maha-mantra on my beads: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. A group of children aged five through twelve had been sitting around me in a circle, also chanting. Forty minutes remain for my personal mantra meditation.
I lean over and unlock a wooden cabinet with my left hand.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna …”
Please, Lord, let me realize that You are fully present in Your holy name. Let me try to hear Your name—without my mind wandering—for at least a minute.
“… Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Jahnu, my grandson, sees the cabinet open and shuffles over in his funny, awkward run. From out of the cabinet, Arjuna and Nimai grab the pictures of Krishna they’ve been coloring.
“… Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare …”
Lord, let me be Your servant.
Balarama walks over to get the picture of Lord Vishnu he’s been coloring (so far, in one solid color), speaking to Cintamani in his jumbled English-Spanish with intensity. I close my eyes.
“… Hare Hare …”
Jahnu has sat down by the markers with his picture of demons taunting the saint Prahlada. I open my eyes. For each marker he opens, I have to make sure he closes the lid tightly and puts the marker back. This I do with my left hand around his tiny palms. I am trying to teach him how to do this himself, as I did with Balarama two years ago.
My right hand continues to go from bead to bead.
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna …”
Please remove my envy so I can serve You nicely. Help me to fix my mind on the sound.
“… Rama Rama …”
Lalita Madhava and Sitarani are throwing markers instead of coloring, distracting some of the adults who surround us, chanting with an intense desire for purification and love of God. I must not let the children disturb them. If I can get the girls’ attention and then slightly shake my head “No” while bending my eyebrows, I can continue to hear—pray to deeply hear—the Lord’s names.
For years I wondered whether caring for children during much of my chanting time would greatly impede my spiritual progress. Finally I understood: If we serve Lord Krishna’s devotees, Krishna is more pleased than when we just serve Him directly.
With an awkward tilt like a wooden puppet on strings, Jahnu now runs across the room to Subhadra, who has a bag of stuffed- animal toys. No longer having to help him close pens, I chance shutting my eyes and hope for a long, uninterrupted time to hear.
“… Hare Hare; Hare Krishna …”
Unfortunately, in my inner playground my mind jumps down slides, and swings into the sky. I think about what I need to do today. I think about how this morning’s chanting session would be a good inspiration for this column.
No—away flickering thoughts! Just hear.
“… Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Arjuna and Nimai are fighting because Nimai started to color Arjuna’s picture. They’ve had enough of coloring and are now taking copies of Srila Prabhupada’s books and looking at the pictures. Both can read, and Arjuna can read well enough to understand most of what’s in the book in his hand. Still, right now they just look at pictures, one book after another. Balarama also stops coloring and gets his own book. He’s now old enough to know not to put the book on his feet or the floor.
“… Krishna Krishna …”
The sound of Your holy name is so sweet. When will I become fully absorbed, fully meditating on the sound of Your name?
“Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna …”
Now Jahnu has toddled back to the cabinet. On the way, he has babbled to several of the adults in the temple room, smiling, and nodding his blond curls. Following with her pull- hands/drag-legs crawl, Subhadra also approaches the cabinet. We must watch her closely; if she takes the tops off the markers, she will put the ink into her mouth. She may also crumble the other children’s pictures.
This time, Jahnu points to a book. We get out a children’s version of the story of Krishna killing Aghasura. There’s a color picture on every page. The book goes on top of a mat so as not to be on the floor, and I turn the pages with my left hand while Jahnu and Subhadra look, enthralled.
“… Krishna, Krishna …”
Krishna is so beautiful. Someday may I enter into His pastimes.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Lord Krishna demands surrender, and Srila Prabhupada explains that without obedience one cannot attain to the Lord’s kingdom. So how do we teach our children obedience? Here are some ideas:
BY EXAMPLE:We need to show our children how happy we are to obey the scriptures, Lord Krishna, and our spiritual master. Children will think it fair that we ask them to do something we are also willing to do. They will imitate our example.
BY REASONS: I try to be sure I can explain to the children the reason for whatever I ask. They may not always agree with me, but at least they know I’m not asking selfishly or whimsically.
BY CONCERN: An important way to show that we care for our children is to listen to their concerns, their likes and dislikes. Children will follow an adult they feel understands them. What motivated people to follow Srila Prabhupada’s guidance was in large part that he constantly showed them care and understanding.
BY TALKING: At least in the West, children today don’t respond well to authoritarian commands. So we need to learn indirect ways of instructing. And whenever possible we can adopt a relatively democratic process, asking for our child’s suggestions and reaching an agreement about what is to be done, how, and when.
It’s important, though, to hear from the child before we make a decision or give an instruction. Better to say, “Let me think about it” rather than an automatic “No” that later changes to an “Oh, all right.” We shouldn’t change our decision if the child’s response is to whine, argue, or criticize. Otherwise, the child will learn to use these responses to get us to renege on a firm decision.
BY CUES: Children are restless by nature and need time to run and play. Giving children certain times and places for normal frivolity will help them behave at other times. Srila Prabhupada told teachers to give children, between academic classes, a ten- or fifteen-minute break when they would have, as he put it, “nothing to do.” This way of motivating good behavior is called “putting the bad behavior on cue.”
BY REWARDS: A reward for good behavior can serve as a powerful motivator. Too often we notice a child’s misbehavior but fail to acknowledge his obedience. External rewards, such as sweets or toys, have some value if used carefully and occasionally, but a far better reward is to sincerely commend the child for behaving or performing well. For example, Srila Prabhupada’s letters to his disciples are full of praise, describing the disciples’ specific activities and showing how those activities please Krishna.
Sometimes we inadvertently reward misbehavior, as when we let a child do what he wants after he has been rude or offensive. The desire for happiness motivates all behavior, so we may need to examine carefully what happiness the child thinks he is getting when he behaves badly. We then need to help the child get a taste for spiritual happiness.
BY CHALLENGE: Srila Prabhupada wrote that a good manager inspires subordinates with fresh challenges. Children should strive to improve in all areas of service to Krishna. The standards we set for a child should be a bit higher than the child’s present level, but not so high as to be discouraging.
Challenges can include some friendly competition, which Prabhupada said “gives life.” Excessive competition can lead to envy, cruelty, and cheating. But if the competition comes with a team spirit—an understanding that we are working together to best serve the Lord—we can keep competitive enthusiasm and yet avoid competitive trouble.
BY FLEXIBILITY: Whether a child is shy or outgoing, fast-paced or slow-paced, people-oriented or task- oriented, stirred by ideas or awed by facts, he or she can use those tendencies in Krishna’s service. No type of personality is intrinsically good or bad, and children with different natures find inspiration or discouragement differently.
When the method we’re using with a child fails to work, we tend to simply keep at it. That’s like speaking to a foreigner one’s native language, louder and louder. Instead, when what we are doing fails to inspire our children to obey the Lord and cooperate with us, we need the flexibility to try a different tack.
BY DEPENDENCE ON KRISHNA: Only Krishna knows our children’s hearts, so only He knows perfectly what will help them think, act, and speak properly. We therefore need to depend on Him constantly by chanting His name, studying His instructions, and praying for His guidance.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
Holidays! A break from routine, a special mark on the calendar, a day that can absorb a child’s mind for weeks or more beforehand. Holidays connected with Lord Krishna help children become absorbed in pleasing Him. The calendar of the Hare Krishna movement overflows with days to celebrate. Major festivals commemorate the divine birth, or appearance, of Krishna and His incarnations. Other festivals celebrate Krishna’s pastimes and the anniversaries of the appearance and passing of pure devotees of the Lord.
Unfortunately, we might neglect to take full advantage of the intense spiritual effect Krishna conscious holidays can have on a child’s life. On minor festival days, the occasion may pass by unnoticed, or there may be only a scriptural reading geared to an adult audience. Adults may even plan events mostly for adults. Children come to the adult gathering, but they simply learn that a holiday means being bored, or running and playing wildly.
How can our children find the spiritual highlights of their lives in festivals?
PLAYS: Putting on a play about the holiday is exciting for children. They love rehearsing, dressing up, and getting on stage. And they love pleasing the adults, who enjoy the plays in spite of (and to some extent because of) the imperfections. Older children can spend many weeks striving for professional results. They can also write or adapt a script, buy costumes and make-up, create the soundtrack, and so on.
Children can also prepare a dramatic reading related to the holiday. Such readings require far less work for the adults directing the show, and absorb the children’s minds almost as much as a full production.
PROJECTS: Every year at the Govardhana Puja festival, honoring Lord Krishna’s lifting of Govardhana Hill, our students make a small hill of papier mache over wire and balloons. We paint it and decorate it with plants, streams, pools, plastic or clay animals, and so on. (We make the pools from mirrors and the streams from tinsel over tin foil). One year, to celebrate Rathayatra each student made his or her own cart from a shoe box and cardboard. We’ve also made dioramas inside boxes. A simple one- or two-day project: writing about the festival and then mounting and decorating the poem or essay.
GAMES: To celebrate the appearance of Lord Varaha, the Lord as a giant boar who lifted the earth with His tusks, the children play “stick the earth on Varaha’s tusks.” Some years we have groups of students make a picture of Varaha and the earth and then play the game with the best picture. Last year our grown daughter drew Varaha, and the students competed for the best earth drawing. Then, blindfolded, each of us tried to tape the earth as close as possible to the tips of the Lord’s tusks. A simple prize awaited the winner.
KIRTANAS:Children love singing “Sita- Rama” on Lord Rama’s appearance day, or whatever songs and prayers relate to the incarnation or event we are celebrating. Sometimes we make copies of a song in Devanagari, the original Sanskrit alphabet, to have the children practice their Sanskrit while they learn the prayer.
STORIES: What is more fun for a child than a story? But so often we adults just read, without expression or explanation, from a book written for adults. If we dramatize a little, have lively questions and answers, and concentrate on the story line, children will be entranced. Today we also have many Krishna conscious stories on audio and video tape.
CHILDREN HELPING ADULTS: Children can decorate the temple, help with cooking a feast, and do extra cleaning at home or at the temple. If they worship a Deity of the Lord, they can make Him a special flower garland or a new outfit, or decorate His altar with flowers. Older children can help in many ways at the temple.
FASTING: Fasting may not sound like fun for a child, but most children delight in performing some austerity for Krishna. Many festival days call for fasting, either until noon or the evening. I generally ask children under age seven to eat, even if they want to fast. I encourage children over ten to try the fast, and I have prasadam available if they can’t stick to it. Children remember with fondness the first Janmashtami they fasted until midnight.
GENERAL MOOD: We can find many more ways to include children in holidays. The real key is the mood of the adults. We need to remember that celebrating the glory of the Lord is for children too.
In the next issue, we’ll look at celebrating secular holidays.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
What We See and Think Of, We Become
When our oldest son, Madhava, was small, he had few toys—some blocks, some clay. We never had a television or a video player, so he played with his toys in imitation of what he saw—worship of Krishna, chanting of His names, initiation ceremonies, bathing of the Deity. Today, having grown up without television, he has transformed his childhood play into adult service to the Lord.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.3.15) Prabhupada describes the benefit of growing up in a family of devotees:
By the grace of Lord Sri Krishna, we had the chance of being born in a Vaishnava family, and in our childhood we imitated the worship of Lord Krishna by imitating our father. Our father encouraged us in all respects to observe all functions such as the Ratha-yatra and Dola- yatra ceremonies, and he used to spend money liberally for distributing prasada to us children and our friends. Our spiritual master, who also took his birth in a Vaishnava family, got all inspirations from his great Vaishnava father, Thakura Bhaktivinoda. That is the way of all lucky Vaishnava families. The celebrated Mira Bai was a staunch devotee of Lord Krishna as the great lifter of Govardhana Hill.
The life history of many such devotees is almost the same because there is always symmetry between the early lives of all great devotees of the Lord. According to Jiva Goswami, Maharaja Pariksit must have heard about the childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna at Vrindavana, for he used to imitate the pastimes with his young playmates. According to Sridhara Swami, Maharaja Pariksit used to imitate the worship of the family Deity by elderly members.
Maharaja Parikshit heard the pastimes of Krishna and imitated them. Our son saw the worship of Krishna and imitated that. These activities transform one’s consciousness from matter to spirit. Children should see Krishna and hear about Him, because they’ll become what they see, hear, and think about. Krishna explains this in the Bhagavad-gita (8.6): “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.” Prabhupada comments:
A person who at the end of his life quits his body thinking of Krishna attains the transcendental nature of the Supreme Lord, but it is not true that a person who thinks of something other than Krishna attains the same transcendental state. This is a point we should note very carefully.… Maharaja Bharata, although a great personality, thought of a deer at the end of his life, and so in his next life he was transferred into the body of a deer.… Of course, one’s thoughts during the course of one’s life accumulate to influence one’s thoughts at the moment of death, so this life creates one’s next life.
Television’s ideas, sounds, and images are not of Krishna. In Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Jerry Mander writes:
When you are watching TV, … you have opened your mind, and someone else’s daydreams have entered.… Your mind is the screen for their microwave pictures. Once their images are inside you, they imprint upon your memory. They become yours.… What’s more, the images remain in you permanently.… Please bring to mind any of the following: John F. Kennedy, Milton Berle, Captain Kangaroo, Captain Kirk, Henry Kissinger. Were you able to make a picture of them in your head? … Now would you make the effort, please, to erase these TV people from your mind? Make them go away. Erase Johnny Carson or Henry Kissinger.… Once television places an image inside your head, it is yours forever.
Just as children absorbed in spiritual images imitate them, children absorbed in television images imitate those images. Mander writes, “Children’s games are largely based on their experiences. If they live in the country, their games will involve animals. If they go to movies, their games will reflect that. If they watch television, you can see it in their games. In all cases, the characters and creatures they are imitating are based upon the pictures of them which they carry in their minds.”
We must ask whether we want our children to become like a television character, or like Krishna. Do we want them to attain the spiritual world after death, or take a body according to their television-influenced thoughts?
Association with Passion and Ignorance
Quoting the Vedic scripture Hari-bhakti-sudhodaya, Srila Prabhupada writes, “Association is very important. It acts just like a crystal stone, which will reflect anything which is put before it.” And in commenting on the importance of proper association for one wishing to attain ecstatic love for Krishna, Prabhupada writes, “It is essential, therefore, that one constantly associate with pure devotees who are engaged morning and evening in chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. In this way one will get the chance to purify his heart and develop this ecstatic pure love for Krishna.” He also writes that one should strictly avoid association with persons not interested in Krishna consciousness. Unfortunately, television means association not with saintly people but with those in the darkness of passion and ignorance. In The Big Book of Home Learning, author Mary Pride writes that TV may keep kids off the street corners, but “it also brings the street corners into our living rooms.” Children between the ages of three and seventeen see an average of eighteen thousand acts of violence. According to Jim Trelease, author of Read-Aloud Handbook, you would have to see all thirty-seven of Shakespeare’s plays to see as many acts of human violence (fifty-four) as you would see in just three evenings of prime-time television.
Prabhupada spoke of this violence, in Los Angeles on June 26, 1975, in the following conversation:
Prabhupada: Dog and television and whiskey and cigarette. That’s all. [Laughter.] Is it not? … In India these things are entering—dog, television. Cigarettes and wine have already entered.
Disciple: This is the degradation.
Prabhupada: Ah, yes.
Disciple: So much sex—everything you watch.
Prabhupada: And not only that—horrible scenes.
Prabhupada: Killing and like that.
Children are affected by this violence. Marie Winn writes in The Plug-in Drug:
There is no doubt that the children involved in serious crimes today are not normal. Their histories reveal without exception a background of poverty, degradation, neglect, scholastic failure, frustration, and heavy television viewing. But while poverty and family pathology did not appear for the first time in American society in the decades between 1952 and 1972, a frightening new breed of juvenile offender did. “It is as though our society had bred a new genetic strain,” writes a reporter in The New York Times, “the child-murderer who feels no remorse and is scarcely conscious of his acts.…” The problem is not that they learn how to commit violence from watching violence on television (although perhaps they sometimes do), but that television conditions them to deal with real people as if they were on a television screen.
The ultimate violence of television goes beyond desensitizing children to cruelty. It also goes beyond the violence TV often ignites in viewers, regardless of program content. The ultimate violence of television is that it encourages a sensual, materialistic life of acquiring and consuming. Companies spend millions or billions of dollars for TV advertising because it’s effective. Not only are the advertisements effective in producing a materialistic mentality in viewers, but the shows themselves must appeal to the advertisers. Otherwise, a network or local station can’t afford to produce the program. Most programming, therefore, is designed to attract and produce the type of person who will be influenced by the advertisements. This is the real violence. As Prabhupada writes, “To train the innocent boy to be a sense gratifier at the early age when the child is actually happy in any circumstance is the greatest violence.”
Therefore, in The Nectar of Instruction Prabhupada writes that intelligent persons interested in Krishna consciousness should never take part in such activities as watching television.
Television as Intoxication
It is bad enough that the content of most television shows is firmly in passion and ignorance, filling our children’s consciousness with images and desires in these lower modes of nature. But there is also ample evidence that the act of watching television is itself a type of intoxication, firmly in the mode of ignorance. “TV is a drug,” wrote Eleanor Randolph in an article in The Detroit Free Press (May 9, 1990). “Like other addictions, such as cigarettes, booze … and drugs, television may be something else in our society that feels good for the moment, but only makes things worse.… If someone tunes in to relieve loneliness, they will feel even lonelier when they tune out.”
Television viewers can even suffer visual-motor conflicts similar to those experienced by drug users.
In “Crack and the Box,” an article in Esquire Magazine (May 1990), Pete Hamill wrote, “Television, like drugs, dominates the lives of its addicts.… One third of a group of four- and five-year- olds would rather give up their daddy than television. Given a similar choice (between cocaine or heroin and father, mother, brother, sister, wife, husband, children, job), almost every junkie would do the same.”
In a 1990 article in The Detroit News, Anne Roark wrote:
Television is more likely than any other leisure activity to leave people passive, tense and unable to concentrate.… The longer people watch, the less able they are to concentrate. They become increasingly drowsy and bored. As time goes on, they grow sadder, lonelier, more irritable and more hostile. Although it is true people are relaxed while the television set is on, when they turn it off, they are even less relaxed than before they began to watch.
Also, the content and nature of the shows and commercials may predispose children to take shelter of chemical intoxication to solve life’s problems. After all, TV trains its viewers to change their mood by the turn of a dial. In Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Treleasecomments, “It is implicit in every one of television’s commercials that there is no problem which cannot be solved by simple artificial means. Whether the problem is anxiety or common diarrhea, nervous tension or the common cold, a simple tablet or spray solves the problem.… Instead of thinking through our problems, television promotes the easy way. The cumulative effect of such thinking is enormous when you consider that between ages 1 and 17 the average child is exposed to 350,000 commercials promoting simple solutions to problems.”
Srila Prabhupada once put it succinctly: “If we do not become hypnotized by Krishna, then we must be hypnotized by this television.”
In his book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl writes:
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen,
They loll and slip and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotized by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Television shows or videos can sometimes be a valuable adjunct to an educational program. From an in-depth study of the effects of TV and many years of experience using video in a classroom, I have found that TV and video can have their place when used with great care. Generally, if children have already studied a subject by reading about it, writing about it, and discussing it, a video can supplement and enhance their education in ways that are difficult to duplicate. But merely watching an “educational” video or TV show about, for example, the desert in Southern California has little or no value. And too much time spent watching any form of television or video is time lost from the way children learn best—by seeing, hearing, and practicing. Nearly every study I’ve seen on the relationship between television and children emphasizes that television is most likely to harm, and least likely to educate, young children. A good guideline is that a child under five years of age should watch no more than one or two hours a week of educational video or television.
In fact, programs designed to educate young children have proven to have the opposite effect. In Sesame Street Revisited, the New York Russell Sage Foundation writes, “The American program ‘Sesame Street’ was specially designed to help disadvantaged pre-school children catch up cognitively and verbally with those from more fortunate backgrounds. A 1975 survey suggests that ‘Sesame Street’ widened the achievement gap, and that light viewers exhibited more gains in learning than heavy viewers.”
Marie Winn writes in ThePlug-in Drug, “Poor children have not caught up with their more advantaged peers, or even made significant gains of any sort, though they watch ‘Sesame Street’ faithfully year after year. Schools have not had to re-adjust their first-grade curricula to accommodate a new breed of well-prepared, ‘Sesame Street’-wise children with higher levels of language maturity.… Their language skills do not show any significant or permanent gains as they progress through school.”
My own experience as a teacher bears this out. I could always tell the children who had watched much so-called educational television. They were less responsive to teaching, had a shorter attention span, were less interested in learning to read, and had a difficult time adjusting to any disciplined learning.
It is far better to prepare a child for school by reading to him and letting him see you read. “Compared to reading, television is still the more passive of the two activities,” says Jim Trelease in Read-Aloud Handbook. “In reading, educators point out, a child must actively use a variety of skills involving sounds, spelling rules, blendings, as well as constructing mental images of the scene described in the book. Television requires no such mental activity.”
Can videos be used for spiritual education? We have a large and growing library of Krishna conscious videos available for our children. Yet even these should be used only rarely, especially when children are very young. Prabhupada wanted our young children to play games about Krishna, running and jumping outside. As they mature, our children should spend the bulk of their time chanting Hare Krishna, going to school, or doing some practical service. Certainly entertainment centered on Krishna and His incarnations was an important feature of Vedic life. But the average child today watches six or seven hours of television daily. Is there any history of a society that entertained its children for seven hours a day?
Parental Control—Can’t or Won’t
In The Big Book of Home Learning, Mary Pride writes, “Do you really want to know how it is that some mothers of seven can find time to write books or make patchwork quilts or run Bed and Breakfast operations while other mothers of one don’t even get around to making the bed? Those who can, do. Those who watch TV (more than 15 minutes or so a day), can’t.”
An article in The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 2, 1975) said about such parents: “There is an immediate remedy available that does not seem to have occurred to them—turn off the set.”
Is it that we can’t throw away our TV, or that we don’t really want to? We can stop our children from running in the street or playing with kitchen knives—why not from watching TV? Are we so attached to the box as a babysitter that we have no concern about its material and spiritual effects on our children? The Srimad- Bhagavatam states that one should not become a parent unless he can liberate his children from the material world. The price of life without TV seems a small one to pay.
More advice from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:
The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set—
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
Children Without TV?
In 1987, several parents at one of our ISKCON centers in England met to discuss the problem of television. Madhavi Devi Dasi related how, when her children were very young, they were satisfied with a small variety of Krishna conscious videos. As time went by they wanted more and more variety. Gradually it got out of hand as she let them fill in with materialistic programs. In desperation she got rid of the TV, apprehensive of how the children would react. To her surprise, they never seemed to miss it and have rarely asked for it.
Children can play. They can read. They can garden. They can learn useful crafts. They can worship the household Deity.
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
As the children get a higher taste for Krishna conscious engagement, they will have no interest in watching mundane movies or television. We want them to come to the standard that Srila Prabhupada set in his personal life, as he relates in the following story:
“There was an incident in my life. I was, of course, at that time a householder. So one friend was going to the cinema with his family, and he saw me. I was in the street, and he stopped his car and asked me, ‘Come. We are going to cinema.’ So I refused, ‘If you give me one thousand dollars, still I shall not go to the cinema.’ So he dragged me. He took me to the cinema house, but I never entered. I came back. You see? Because it was detestful.”
Another time Prabhupada said, “The sign of a devotee is that the devotee is no more interested with material enjoyment. So these young boys and girls, they do not go to cinema. Why? They don’t want this! … They don’t want this material happiness. … That is the test. When one becomes detestful of material enjoyment, you will know—or he’ll know, personally, how much he is advanced in spiritual life.”
Dahl, Roald, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,Bantam Skylar, U.S.A., 1964.
Hamil, Pete, “Crack and the Box,” Esquire Magazine, May 1990.
Randolph, Eleanor, “TV is a Drug,” Detroit Free Press, May 9, 1990.
Roark, Anne, “TV: It Can Leave You Tense and Passive, Studies Find,” Detroit News, April 29, 1990.
Gurukula Standards Committee—Minutes of Meeting 9/15/87 in England.
Mander, Jerry, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Quill Press, New York, 1978.
Pride, Mary, The Big Book of Home Learning, Vol.4, Crossway Books, Illinois, 1990.
Sesame Street Revisited, New York Russell Sage Foundation, 1975.
Trelease, Jim, Read-Aloud Handbook, Penguin Books, New York, 1982.
Winn, Marie, The Plug-in Drug, Bantam Books, U.S.A., 1977.
by Vishakha Devi Dasi
How may Krishna conscious women serve the Lord?
“These women are not ordinary women. They are preachers. They are Vaishnavas. By their association one becomes a Vaishnava.” (Srila Prabhupada, morning walk, March 27, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada, India’s greatest emissary to the Western world, set up in the West not only ashramas and temples, but an entire spiritual society. To do this he inspired women as well as men to become devotees of Lord Krishna. He authorized women to live in ashramas and serve the Lord in a wide variety of ways, some of them unconventional, although exactly in line with Lord Krishna’s teachings.
What is the position of women in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the society Srila Prabhupada founded? To answer, let’s first look at the purposes of ISKCON. In its founder’s vision, the members of ISKCON dedicate themselves to practicing spiritual life and distributing spiritual knowledge and techniques to others. Srila Prabhupada taught that real spiritual life means to render transcendental devotional service to the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna. Devotional service entails engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the master of the senses. That service purifies our senses and frees us from all material designations. So by teaching devotional service, Srila Prabhupada showed that he wanted all his followers—men, women, and children—to become free from all material designations and regain their original pure identity.
Another way to understand Srila Prabhupada’s message and mission is to reflect on the Sanskrit word dharma. Dharma is the essential function or nature of a thing. One can say that the “dharma” of fire is heat, the “dharma” of water, liquidity, and the “dharma” of sugar, sweetness.
What is the dharma of the living being? To render service. Srila Prabhupada writes,
We can easily see that every living being is constantly engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being serves other living beings in various capacities. By doing so, the living entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants serve their master. … One friend serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the husband, the husband serves the wife, and so on. If we go on searching in this spirit, it will be seen that there is no exception in the society of living beings to the activity of service … and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service is the eternal religion [dharma] of the living being.”
—(Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Introduction)
In the material world every living being dwells within a body made of material elements. Each of us is a living being (soul), now covered with a gross and subtle material body. Because of our original nature, which is spiritual, and our covering, which is material, each of us has two types of dharma: eternal (sanatana) dharma, our spiritual service to the Supreme spirit, Lord Sri Krishna; and our own (sva) dharma, the appropriate service for our particular mind, intelligence, and senses.
Lord Krishna says (Bhagavad-gita 4.13) that one’s qualities and activities, not one’s birth, determine one’s sva-dharma. According to the qualities and activities of human beings, the Lord created four general types of occupation for the smooth functioning of human society: brahmanas (learned priests, teachers, and advisors), kshatriyas (government leaders and military men), vaishyas (farmers, businessmen, and cow- protectors), and shudras (laborers and artisans). (In our present confused age, many people don’t fit neatly into any one occupation but express their talents in several areas.)
The Husband-Wife Team
Whatever one’s position in this societal system, those who fill the various roles generally do not do so alone, but together, as a husband-wife team. Men and women of compatible natures and propensities marry, and the wife assists her husband and takes primary charge of the home and children. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A wife should not only be equal to her husband in age, character, and qualities, but must be helpful to him in his household duties.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.22.11, Purport) And the Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.60.15) declares, “Marriage and friendship are proper between two people who are equal in terms of their wealth, birth, influence, physical appearance, and capacity for good progeny, but never between a superior and an inferior.” So a brahmana’s wife is like a mother for her husband’s students, the queen is considered a mother by the citizens, the agricultural women are expert in using milk and other products of the cows and land, and so forth. In this way husband and wife are fully engaged, and in a society composed of such families, peace, happiness, fulfillment, and a cooperative spirit prevail.
Yet our sva-dharma is not complete unless also bonded with sanatana-dharma. “The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.8) In explaining this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes,
The self [soul] is beyond the gross body and subtle mind. He is the potent active principle of the body and mind. Without knowing the need of the dormant soul, one cannot be happy simply with emolument of the body and mind. The body and the mind are but superfluous outer coverings of the spirit soul. The spirit soul’s needs must be fulfilled. Simply by cleansing the cage of the bird, one does not satisfy the bird. One must actually know the needs of the bird himself.
The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON to this end: to enable people to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and meet the Supreme Lord. Although in the renounced order of life (sannyasa), Srila Prabhupada arranged and sometimes conducted the marriages of his disciples. And he engaged these young people in myriad services according to both their propensities (sva-dharma) and their service to the Lord (sanatana-dharma). Under Srila Prabhupada’s direction, devotee men and women served as artists, writers, typists, speakers, singers, managers, Deity caretakers, book distributors, and so on. For example, my husband, Yaduvara Dasa, and I, both trained photographers, served in ISKCON together, my husband as a cinematographer, and I as the photographer and sound technician. We sometimes filmed and photographed Srila Prabhupada, who more than once commented, “Husband and wife working together in Krishna consciousness—this is very nice.”
Another example: When three married couples successfully started a Krishna conscious center in London, Srila Prabhupada praised their efforts. He noted that his spiritual master had wanted a center in London many years before, but his spiritual master’s sannyasi disciples had been unsuccessful in starting one. Srila Prabhupada’s young, Western Krishna conscious householders had succeeded where mature Indian renunciants had not.
Srila Prabhupada’s vision was for his disciples to marry and serve the Lord together in harmony. He writes, “A wife is necessary to assist in spiritual and material advancement. It is said that a wife yields the fulfillment of all desires in religion, economic development, and sense gratification. If one has a nice wife, he is to be considered a most fortunate man.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.21.15, Purport) Srila Prabhupada wanted to see happy Krishna conscious couples of like dispositions and proclivities offering their services to the Lord, making their home conducive for spiritual life, raising their children to be godly, and making gradual, solid spiritual advancement.
Service with Protection
While this ideal is quite attractive for most people, it also raises questions. What, if anything, can a woman do beyond assisting her husband, beyond her housework, and beyond her sacred duties as a mother? And what of women who are unmarried, widowed, married but childless, or married with grown children? Their services to their children are nonexistent or minimal, and their services in the home also minimal.
In answer, the first point is that women must always be protected. Srila Prabhupada criticized the so-called woman’s liberation movement, which encourages women to become unprotected and thus available to be exploited by unscrupulous men. Srila Prabhupada noted how the unwanted progeny from such unfortunate combinations are an embarrassment for the government, which is obliged to provide for many husbandless mothers and fatherless children. In the culture Srila Prabhupada introduced, a young man is trained to be a responsible, first-class person. He then marries a compatible, faithful young woman. In such a culture women are protected and children grow up in a peaceful, stable, two- parent home.
Yet it is certainly possible for a woman to be protected and at the same time to serve the Lord according to her unique ability. Srila Prabhupada encouraged and occasionally insisted that his women disciples lead kirtanas, speak in public, and distribute his books. And while Srila Prabhupada disapproved of women leading a country, he found no fault with women being leaders within his spiritual society. For example, in the late 1960s, when his movement was still quite young, he put one of his first women disciples, Yadurani Devi Dasi, in charge of all the men and women artists creating paintings to illustrate his books.
A little later, in the spring of 1970, when Srila Prabhupada was forming the Governing Body Commission (GBC) as the management arm of ISKCON, he included women on the list of disciples he was considering for the position.
When asked if a woman could become a temple president (Chicago, July 5, 1975), Srila Prabhupada replied, “Yes, why not?” and then explained that a woman should remain dependent on either her first-class father, first-class husband, or first-class son. (In the final analysis, only the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, is independent, but Vedic culture specifically enjoins that women should remain dependent on their intimate male relation.)
Here Srila Prabhupada states that a woman may be a temple president, but he also says that she also must be dependent. Is this contradictory? To gain some insight, we can turn to a conversation between Vallabha Bhatta, Advaita Acarya, and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu:
One day Vallabha Bhatta said to Advaita Acarya, “Every living entity is female [prakriti] and considers Krishna her husband [pati]. It is the duty of a chaste wife, devoted to her husband, not to utter her husband’s name, but all of you chant the name of Krishna. How can this be called a religious principle?”
Advaita Acarya responded, “In front of you is Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the personification of religious principles. You should ask Him, for He will give you the proper answer.”
Hearing this, Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “My dear Vallabha Bhatta, you do not know religious principles. Actually, the first duty of a chaste woman is to carry out the order of her husband. The order of Krishna is to chant His name incessantly. Therefore one who is chaste and adherent to the husband Krishna must chant the Lord’s name, for she cannot deny the husband’s order.” (Caitanya- caritamrita, Antya-lila 7.103-7)
Similarly, under the guidance of her spiritual master, a chaste, Krishna conscious woman encouraged by her Krishna conscious father, husband, or son may render whatever service she’s qualified to do, whether as a mother, a cook, a temple president, a GBC, or a spiritual master.
In a letter to Silavati Devi (June 14, 1969), Srila Prabhupada wrote, “Now if you can induce all the women of Los Angeles to place an altar in their homes and help their husbands have peaceful, happy home life in Krishna consciousness, that will be very great service for you. The actual system is that the husband is the spiritual master to his wife, but if the wife can bring her husband into practicing this process, then it is all right that the husband accepts the wife as the spiritual master. Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said that anyone who knows the science of Krishna should be accepted as spiritual master, regardless of any material so- called qualifications, such as rich or poor, man or woman, or brahmana or shudra.”
This same point was confirmed again, years later (June 18, 1976), when Professor O’Connell of the University of Toronto asked Prabhupada, “Is it possible, Swamiji, for a woman to be a guru in the line of disciplic succession?”
Srila Prabhupada replied, “Yes. Jahnava Devi was Nityananda’s wife. She became. [Jahnava Devi was an initiating spiritual master who had male disciples.] If she is able to go to the highest perfection of life, why it is not possible to become a guru? But not so many. Actually one who has attained the perfection, she can become a guru. But man or woman, unless one has attained the perfection … Yei krishna-tattva-vetta sei guru haya. The qualification of the guru is that he must be fully cognizant of the science of Krishna. Then he or she can become a guru. Yei krishna-tattva- vetta, sei guru haya. In the material world, is there any prohibition that a woman cannot become a professor? If she is qualified, she can become a professor. What is the wrong there? She must be qualified. That is the position. So similarly, if the woman understands Krishna consciousness perfectly, she can become a guru.”
In spiritual circles one’s sex is not a disqualification.
As being dependent and being a leader are not necessarily contradictory, so being protected and being a leader are also not contradictory. A woman can be protected (as all women must be throughout their lives) and yet be a leader also. In Srila Prabhupada words, “The child must be taken care of. That is good. Similarly, woman also. And an old man like myself—I am always taken care of … That is civilization.” Although a topmost Vaishnava, Srila Prabhupada here humbly identifies himself as an “old man.” And since old men are one of the five groups society must protect (the other four being cows, women, children, and brahmanas), Srila Prabhupada sees himself as protected. Yet at the same time he was an unparalleled leader.
In the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhupada trained men to see all women except their own wife respectfully as “mother,” and women to see all men except their husbands respectfully as their “sons.” As the son’s duty is to protect his mother, so one of the duties of Srila Prabhupada’s men is to protect Srila Prabhupada’s women. A devotee-woman leader is protected by her husband and her “sons.”
The Platform of Equality
Therefore in the Lord’s spiritual society and for His pleasure, a woman may do whatever service is suited to her. While this principle may seem straightforward and clear, to some it is a point of great controversy. They believe that a woman’s birth precludes her from doing certain services for the Lord, even though she may be qualified for them. Sometimes such thinking is culturally based. For example, traditionally in India women don’t perform certain Deity services in the temple—a standard Srila Prabhupada respected there. But often the thinking comes from the male ego, which Srila Prabhupada identified as “the temperament of always wanting to be in a superior position.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.3.10, Purport).
To function successfully in such a difficult milieu, a woman spiritual leader must be astute, guileless, sensitive, soft-hearted, clear-headed, and fixed in Krishna consciousness, seeing herself as a servant of all. Her saving grace is her natural, humble service attitude, as well as her gracious and urgently needed contribution to Srila Prabhupada’s society.
Srila Prabhupada founded ISKCON so that devotees could please the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, by serving Him with devotion. The Lord is pleased by all service sincerely rendered to Him; in one sense there are no superior and inferior services. And from the perspective of the Lord and His pure devotees, all the Lord’s servants are equal. Grila Prabhupada explains, “Therefore in the bhakti platform, Krishna consciousness, there is no such distinction: ‘Here is an American, here is an Indian, here is an African, here is this and that.’ No. Everyone is Krishna conscious. So actually if we want equality, fraternity, then we must come to Krishna consciousness. This is the purpose of the Krishna consciousness movement. And actually it is becoming a fact. These boys and girls are no longer thinking they are American or European or Canadian or Australian or Indian. They are equal. So if you want equality, fraternity, friendship, love and perfection, the solution to all problems—economic, political, social, religious—then come to Krishna consciousness. Come to this platform. Then all your ambitions will be fulfilled, and you will be perfect.” (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 13.4)
Let us be enlightened by the perspective Srila Prabhupada reveals in this conversation:
Srila Prabhupada: In the spiritual platform there is no such distinction—man, woman, or black, white, or big or small. No. Everyone is spirit soul. Panditah sama-darshinah. Vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini shuni caiva shva-pake ca panditah. One who is actually learned is sama- darshinah. He does not make any distinction. But as far as our material body is concerned, there must be some distinction for keeping the society in order.
Woman: The women could become panditas, then?
Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Te ’pi yanti param gatim. Not only become—she can also attain perfection. There is no such restriction. Krishna said.
Woman: Do you have any panditas in the Western movement?
Prabhupada: There are so many Western women, girls, in our society. They are chanting, dancing, taking to Krishna consciousness. Of course, because superficially, bodily, there is some distinction, we keep women separate from men, that’s all. Otherwise, the rights are the same.” (June 18, 1976, Toronto)
To help them stay fixed on the goal of life—rendering pure, uninterrupted devotional service to Krishna—men and women should not mix (except if they are married), but they have the same rights. What is the most important right? The right—the privilege—to serve the Lord according to their propensity, according to their heart’s desire. Ultimately the real occupational duty, dharma, of women is the dharma of all living beings: to eternally serve Krishna. A woman sincerely and seriously serving the Lord in whatever capacity she chooses should be honored and encouraged. In his Purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.12, Prabhupada writes, “Everyone should be allowed to render service to the Lord to the best of his ability, and everyone should appreciate the service of others. Such are the activities of Vaikuntha [the spiritual world]. Since everyone is a servant, everyone is on the same platform and is allowed to serve the Lord according to his ability.”