by Ananta-Shakti Dasa
Man’s quest for the elixir of immortality goes on, and old age continues to shatter his hopes.
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?
“Not me, that’s for sure,” I muse while a grim countenance stares back at me from the bathroom mirror.As the years advance, crow’s feet spread from the comers of the eyes, varicose veins discolor the once clear skin, and the teeth are a constant concern. In the medicine cabinet are fortifiers for the over-forties and tonics to cure falling hair—just a hint of things to come.
Old age, the “daughter of time,” encroaches upon us all, whether we like it or not. This unwelcome lady is attended by many maidservants, such as deafness, arthritis, and senility. Her first flirtation staggers our steps and slackens our skin. We make futile attempts to forestall her advances with cosmetic surgery and organ transplants. Old ladies with pink permed hair and powder masks carefully disguise body odors with heavy scents and wear gloves and glittering rings to distract our eyes from their withering skin.
Alas! All this is vanity, a sad masquerade for old age. She is irresistible and compels us to surrender to her increasing demands, until as unwilling victims we are easily delivered into the hands of death.
There is nothing as effective asold age for dispelling the myth of eternal youth in this world. Even the yogi, who by virtue of breath control lives for hundreds of years—he too must eventually vacate his mortal frame.
Yet in spite of the facts being what they are, the aspiration for eternal youth is intrinsic to each of us, just as sweetness is present in each grain of sugar.
Is eternal youth an impossible dream, an imagination contrived to defeat despair? The perfect answer is given by the perfect person. Lord Krishna , God Himself. In Bhagavad- gita (2.20). Lord Krishna addresses Arjuna. His dear friend and devotee:
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah shashvato ’yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sharire
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever- existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”
The terms young and old refer only to the temporary body and not to the soul. One who is free from bodily consciousness can discover the ever-fresh nature of the soul.
The key to this desirable state of consciousness is to understand that as spirit souls we are eternally fragmental parts of the supreme spirit soul, Lord Krishna, and that our natural relationship with Him is one of loving service. When we act on this knowledge, we can enjoy unlimited happiness in relationship with the Supreme Lord.
Lord Krishna, although the oldest person, is celebrated as nava-yauvana, an eternally fresh youth. He is Govinda. giver of pleasure to the senses, and He is Adi- purusha, the original enjoyer. Thus Krishna is the fountain of eternal youth from which we desire to drink deep. If we enter His loving service. especially by chanting His names, we gain His association and become rejuvenated.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Dr. Hauser: You know, I met your student James before he was your student. And I must say he was a very aimless person—a person who hadn’t found anything very specific in life. He floated about very much. But when I met him yesterday, he was very happy; he felt happy about himself and his new life as a devotee, and that made me very happy. I liked James very much.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, Krishna consciousness is the original status of the living entity. For instance, a young child is always conscious that “I am the son of such-and-such person.” This consciousness is natural.
A person may go mad. But when he’s cured, he immediately understands, “I belong to such-and-such family, and I am such-and-such gentleman’s son.”
Similarly, once in contact with this material nature, the spiritual spark, the living entity—he’s in madness. Even though we are all part and parcel of Krishna and our original consciousness of Krishna cannot be broken, somehow here in this world we have forgotten our relationship with Krishna. This is madness.
You are a psychiatrist. You know very well—every man in this material world is more or less a madman.
Dr. Hauser: Or he has the germ within himself.
Srila Prabhupada: There is a Bengali poem that says, pishace paile jana mote channa haya/ mayara grasta jivera sei dasha upajaya: “Anyone who is living within this material energy—he is as if haunted by a ghost.” Do you have any experience of a man haunted by a ghost, or possessed?
Dr. Hauser: Oh, yes. That’s very often a symptom of a psychosis. They feel that they are persecuted by foreign powers.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Foreign powers. That is the idea. Our material conception of life—it is as if we are haunted by a foreign power. It is madness. “I am Christian.” “I am Hindu.” “I am Muslim.” “I am English.” “I am German.” These conceptions are all haunted. Mad. Because the soul is pure. Asango ‘yam purushah: the pure spirit soul has no connection with any designations of the body.
For instance, in a dream we see so many things that have nothing to do with us. This is our nighttime dream, and we recognize it when we wake up.
Unfortunately, when we wake up, generally we go back into our daytime dream. “I am this.” “I am that.” “I am white.” “I am black.” “I am American.” And so forth.
At night, when we dream, we are in a different situation and we forget everything from the daytime. And again, in the daytime we forget everything from the nighttime. But actually we are entering another dream.
When we leave our nighttime dream, we forget all about it, and we see it for what it was—a temporary situation, a dream. But our daytime situation is also temporary; it is also a dream. We have got to know the permanent reality: I am the permanent spiritual observer within this temporary material situation, nighttime and daytime.
The difficulty is, most of us see these two dreams and recognize only one as a dream; we take the daytime dream as the permanent reality. When someone takes a dream state as reality, you treat him, do you not?
Dr. Hauser: Hmm. Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: So for practical purposes, everyone who is in contact with this temporary material energy is mad. And we are trying to take him out of this mad, dreaming condition. That is the sum and substance of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Dr. Hauser: But does he stop dreaming? I mean, substantially, does he stop … does one stop dreaming?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, in the sense we are using the word: the soul no longer identifies with what is not his eternal self or with what is not his eternal duty. He knows, “I am separate from this dreaming condition.” So when one knows himself to be simply the observer and not actually a part of the dream, then he’s cured.
Dr. Hauser: But the dreaming of the night also has another function.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is not the idea. Dreaming at night and dreaming during the day are the same thing. Superficial, illusory. Simply their durations are different—at night you dream for a number of minutes, and during the day you dream for a number of hours.
But in the daytime if you think that you are English or you are Swedish, or that you are Hindu or Muslim, that is also a dream. You are none of these, any more than you are part of your nighttime dream. Because of madness, sometimes we take it, “This daytime dream is a fact,” or “That daytime dream is a fact.” But none of them are facts. Under their sway, we may accept them as facts, but none of them are facts.
So, once again, sanity means sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam tat- paratvena nirmalam: I have to become completely free from all dreamlike designations. For instance, during a nighttime dream I may think, “I have now become a king,” or “I am the proprietor of a factory.” But none of these are reality. They are only dreams. Similarly, in the daytime I may think, “I am Russian,” “I am African,” “I am this,” or “I am that.” But that, too, is all a dream.
In reality, I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Spirit, and my duty, my nature, is to serve Him. It is all very simple. So sanity requires that I become free from this dreaming condition, liberated from all kinds of false designations.
Dr. Hauser: But some of these false … false designations also are the necessary machinery of our society.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That society is also false.
(To be continued.)
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Srila Prabhupada: Just look at this fig. In this one fig, you find thousands of seeds—and each tiny seed can produce another tree as big as the original fig tree. Inside each little seed is a whole new fig tree.
Now, where is that chemist who can do such a thing: first, make a tree, and then, make the tree bear fruit, and next. make the fruit produce seeds—and finally, make the seeds produce still more trees? Just tell me. Where is that chemist?
Disciple: They talk very proudly, Srila Prabhupada, but none of these chemists and such can do any of these things.
Srila Prabhupada: Once a big chemist came to me and admitted, “Our chemical advancement, our scientific advancement, is like a man who has learned to bark. So many natural dogs are already barking, but no one pays any attention. But if a man artificially learns the art of barking, oh, so many people will go to see—and even purchase tickets for ten dollars, twenty dollars. Just to see an artificial dog. Our scientific advancement is like this.”
If a man makes an artificial imitation of nature, say by barking, people go to see and even pay money. When it comes to the natural barking, no one cares. And when these big so- called scientific rascals claim they can manufacture life, people give all sorts of praise and awards. As for God’s perfect, natural process—millions and millions of beings born at each moment—no one cares. People don’t give God’s process very much credit.
The fool who concocts some utopian scheme for creating living beings from dead material chemicals—he is given all credit, you see: the Nobel Prize. “Oh, here is a creative genius.” And nature is injecting millions and millions of souls into material bodies at every moment—the arrangement of God—and no one cares. This is rascaldom.
Even if we suppose you could manufacture a man or animal in your laboratory, what would be your credit? After all, a single man or animal created by you, and millions and millions created by the Lord. So we want to give credit to Krishna, who is really creating all these living beings we see every day.
Disciple: Prabhupada, you remember Aldous Huxley, who predicted in Brave New World a process of genetically screening babies, of breeding men for certain traits. The idea would be to take one strain of traits and breed a class of working men, take another strain of traits and breed a class of administrators, and take still another strain of traits and breed a class of cultured advisors and scholars.
Srila Prabhupada: Once again, that is already present in God’s natural arrangement. Guna- karma-vibhagashah: according to one’s qualities and activities in his past life, in this present life he gets a fitting body. If one has cultivated the qualities and activities of ignorance, he gets an ignorant body and must live by manual labor. If one has cultivated the qualities and activities of striving passion, he gets a passionate body and must live by taking charge of others—administration.
If one has cultivated the qualities and activities of enlightenment, he gets an enlightened body and must live by enlightening and advising others.
So you see; God has already trade such a perfect arrangement. Every soul receives the body he desires and deserves, and the social order receives citizens with required traits. Not that you have to “breed” these traits. By His natural arrangement, the Lord equips particular souls with particular kinds of bodies. Why even try imitating what God and nature already do perfectly?
I told that scientist who visited me, “You scientists—you are simply wasting time.” Childish. They are just imitating the dog’s barking. The scientist pays no attention, gives no credit to the real dog doing the real barking. Actually, that is today’s situation. When the natural dog barks, that is not science. When the artificial, imitation dog barks, that is science. Isn’t it so? To whatever degree the scientist succeeds in artificially imitating what the Lord’s natural arrangement is already doing—that is science.
Disciple:When you heard, Prabhupada, about the scientists claiming they can now produce babies in a test tube, you said, “But that is already being done in the mother’s womb. The womb is the perfect test tube.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Nature is already doing everything with utter perfection. But some puffed-up scientist will make a shabby imitation—using the ingredients nature supplies—and get the Nobel Prize.
And what to speak of actually creating a baby—let us see the scientists produce even one blade of grass in their proud laboratories.
Disciple: They should give the Lord and Mother Nature the Nobel Prize.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, yes.
Disciple: Really, I think they should give you the Nobel Prize. You’ve taken so many foolish atheists and created devotees of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, I—I am a “natural dog,” so they’ll not give me any prize. [Laughs.] They will award the prize to the artificial dogs.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Interviewer: Your Divine Grace, you mention that you and your followers are following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya. He’s the one who appeared on earth five hundred years ago?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Interviewer: In India.
Srila Prabhupada: India, yes. So He is Krishna Himself, and He is teaching how to love Krishna. Therefore, His process is most authorized. For instance, in this establishment you are the expert. If some new person is doing something and you personally teach him, “Do like this,” that is very authorized. So when God appears as Lord Sri Krishna Caitanya, God Himself is teaching God consciousness.
Or take the Bhagavad-gita. Krishna—God—is speaking about Himself, and at last He says, “Just surrender unto Me. I’ll take charge of you.” But people misunderstood. So Krishna came again as Lord Caitanya, to teach people how to surrender. And because we are following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, this method is so sublime that even foreigners who never knew Krishna—they’re following it.
This method is so potent. So that was my purpose in coming here. We don’t say, “This religion is better than that religion” or “My process is better.” We want to see by the result. In Sanskrit there is a phrase—phalena pariciyate: “A thing is judged by the result.”
You can say, “My method is very nice.” You can say your method is very nice. But we have to judge by the result. The Srimad-Bhagavatam says, “A process of religion is very good if, by following it, one becomes a lover of God.”
Interviewer: Yes. But, you know your religion is not the only one which teaches this particular precept.
Srila Prabhupada: That I am explaining—that this is not the only one. There may be many that teach the precept “Become a lover of God.” But this one is practically effective.
Interviewer: Now, in the part of the world where this particular philosophy originates—which is in India, right?—in the Eastern part of the world, at least as we look at it, is it successful there?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Do you have a large following there?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Recently, I was in India. I held two meetings that lasted for ten days each, and twenty to thirty thousand people were attending daily. The Indian people’s position is that they’re naturally Krishna conscious, but at the present moment, thanks to their so-called leaders, they want to replace Krishna consciousness with material consciousness.
Interviewer: Is the Krishna consciousness philosophy compatible with the Hindu religion?
Srila Prabhupada: Any religion.
Interviewer: Any religion.
Srila Prabhupada: Because God is one. Krishna consciousness is the science of God. Two plus two equals four—it is understood by everyone. Not that it is to be understood by the Christians and not by the Hindus. Two plus two equals four is a fact for everyone. Similarly, God is a fact for everyone. Now, when it comes to the method for loving God, this is the only process.
Interviewer: Now, do you claim, then, that your way of loving God is the way to love God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. At least for this age.
Interviewer: For this age?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Interviewer: You mean for Kali-yuga?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Interviewer: For the time we live in right now?
Srila Prabhupada: Because the method is authorized. Krishna prescribes this—Krishna Himself in His original form, and also in His manifestation as Lord Caitanya. He says that in this age this is the only method for self- realization, or for God realization, or to learn how to love God.
He says. Krishna says. Therefore, it is authorized. And it is practically happening. Otherwise, these boys and girls—they’re foreigners. They never knew Krishna. But now I have got sixty centers, and in each center there are, on average, a hundred devotees. And they have dedicated their life. So how is it happening, unless it is authorized?
Interviewer: Well, you know, they say they never knew Krishna, and you are, of course, right. But different people name their Gods in different ways. You name your God Krishna. In the Western world many, many people name their God Jesus.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That’s all right. We say in that connection that if you have got a name which is actually referring to God, that will also do—just as we are chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare …
Interviewer: Right. Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: So according to the Vedic literature, krishnas tu bhagavan svayam: “Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” He has got many names, thousands and millions of names. This is the original name. So Lord Caitanya says that you have to chant Krishna, but if you have got another actual name for God, then chant that. We are not asking that you chant Krishna. If you have got another actual name for God, then you can chant that. We are requesting this: “Chant God’s holy name.”
Interviewer: But before, when you came here—now, you came here in the middle sixties, less than a decade ago—what … what was it … this is what I’m trying to find out from you … what was the motivating force behind your coming to the United States?
Srila Prabhupada: That is already explained. Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted that this propaganda be made all over the world—and that people will accept. And my Guru Maharaja said to me, “You go and try to do this.” So I came with this purpose, and it is becoming fulfilled.
Interviewer: There must have been an element, though, of dissatisfaction on your part with the way God was being professed in this part of the world before you came. Otherwise, there would have been no sense in your coming.
Srila Prabhupada: Dissatisfied not just with this part of the world. Every part. In every part of the world, practically everyone—very little interest in God. There’s more interest in dog.
Interviewer: You are trying to increase the interest in God. Is that correct?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is the only interest we must have in human life.
Interviewer: And you were not particularly interested in what name this God has.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. Our purpose or mission is that people may become God conscious. And the process is, in this age, chanting the holy name of God. If you have got any name for God which is actually a name of God, then you’ll be successful by chanting that.
Interviewer: The chanting of Krishna’s name, the Hare Krishna mantra, seems to play a very important role in the profession of your religious belief. Right? In fact, I think I will ask you—and some of your followers who are sitting here with us tonight—a little bit later to chant the name of Krishna. That probably would be a proper ending to this particular program.
However, I’m still wondering, you know, about some of the aspects. In reading a little bit—and I have not read much, of course—but in reading a little bit of your writings in your magazine and your other publications, it seems to me, sir, that there is a very high emphasis placed on the relationship between the individual and God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is for everyone.
Interviewer: In fact, there seems to be more emphasis on that relationship than on the relationship between one individual and another individual. Am I right in that?
Srila Prabhupada: No. We have to reestablish first our lost relationship with God. You see? Then we can understand what is the relationship between one individual and another.
by Stambha Dasa
High-tech training of Olympic athletes adds fuel to an old controversy: Are human beings just machines?
Once every four years, human society is presented with the great spectacle called the Olympics, full of stirring images of human endeavour and achievement. In magazines and on television—even on postage tamps—everywhere are the exciting figures of exuberant young bodies running and jumping, lifting and diving, their intense exertions reaping for some the fruits of lavish praise, medals of gold, and the pleasures derived from a sense of accomplishment and honor.
As we behold any masterful performance of this sort, the rest of us may quite naturally be moved to think how thrilling it would be to perform with such speed, power, and grace, just as one might dream of playing some instrument and spontaneously producing beautiful music that gives expression to one’s deepest feelings. Apart from these fantasies, though, we know that even patently gifted persons engage in countless hours of practice with expert guidance—often aided by expensive high-tech equipment—to be able to manifest such feats.
This great Olympic spectacle inspires us, then, to consider what accomplishments might be possible for us. Do we have latent abilities that might be brought forth quickly or greatly enhanced by the application of the new technologies and techniques we hear about? And would we want to do these things even if we could? Would it be worth the cost in time and energy and tension to become a gold medal winner, an accomplished specialist in some field?
In assessing the cost, we are well aware that the energy expended for results in one area is thus made unavailable for investment elsewhere. Unknown numbers of other possibilities will remain forever unrealised once we have limited ourselves to acting upon the choice that has been made. For example, one couldn’t be developing a closer relationship with a friend or spouse and at the same time be pole vaulting with full concentration.
And so the thought may then arise that “Perhaps I wouldn’t want to sacrifice so much of life by focusing so intensely on just one area. Maybe I should spread my resources a little thinner and gain a broader experience of the possibilities life holds.” But then of course one runs the risk of becoming not merely a dilettante but someone who gradually becomes habituated to vacillation, noncommitment, and noninvolvement—another one of millions of spectators who move about like so many shadows in our society. Passively trickling into the stadiums and theatres to merely watch and perhaps dream of being like their idols, they have no real life-flow of their own, only the shining images of their stars glimmering upon the surface of their minds along with their own projected fantasies.
Those not so inured sense a tragic loss in this modern limbo. Apart from the health considerations of such passivity, there is a more disturbing feeling that somehow real life is being missed. The opium den’s sickening-sweet scent of surrender hands about the living rooms where the self- proclaimed “couch potatoes” undergo a parody of growth in the mutagenic glow of the tube.
All too frequently confronted with this pervasive vortex of inaction, ineptitude, and ennui in our modern society, we find the hustle and bustle of the athletes a relief, and their dedication and determination to overcome their limits and set new records an inspiration and a challenge to our own acceptance of different forms of limitation.
In recent years our concepts of what is possible for human beings have been greatly expanded by the application of new methods of analysis of physical and mental processes. “We look at the human body as if it were a machine,” says Dr. Charles Dillman, one of the scientists who has worked with U.S. athletes at Olympic training centers. “For us, muscles and limbs are pulleys and levers with their own measurable moments of inertia and torque. For every motion in each sport, we hope to find something close to an optimal movement of the body, whether it be the most efficient way a hockey player can accelerate on the ice or the maximum torso rotation over the high-jump bar.”
Observation of the laws of physics and the application of concepts of mechanical efficiency have brought about the use of machines like the ubiquitous Nautilus, as well as a number of other devices for developing the body. Now there is even something called “Electrical Muscle Stimulation” (EMS), in which electrodes strapped to the skin deliver a mild electric current to the muscles, making them twitch and flex and thus grow bigger. Since the nerve signals that normally stimulate muscles are themselves electrical pulses, EMS can lead to enhanced muscle bulk and definition. Whether or not strength is increased as well as bulk remains a question, but this does not seem to bother many of the young professional men who form the principal clientele at most salons.
In addition to these “biomechanical” analyses of the body, there has been an increase in the analysis of the human mind that plots the competitive strategies, guides the senses, and controls the emotions of the would-be superstars. Here again we find we find many mechanistic concepts, with a great deal of computer lingo, talk of proper mental “programming,” and so forth.
Noting the connections between states of relaxed concentration, with their accompanying brain-wave frequencies, and enhanced possibilities for suggestion and learning, scientists and entrepreneurs have sought to make more readily available through technology some of the great “mind- over-body” control experienced by yogis in deep meditation after prolonged physical and mental cultivation.
One of the specialists assisting U.S. athletes uses a form of visualisation called “Visual Motor Behavioral Rehearsal” to “program,” as he says, mind and body to work together for the event. Flotation tanks, soothing musical tapes, and alpha-wave-producing “brain machines” are often used to create the relaxed state seen to be an important part of this process. They are also used with hypnosis and subliminal suggestions to break down undesirable emotional, behavioural, and thought patterns as a necessary preliminary to effecting desired changes in personality and performance.
Many things thus seem possible now that were scarcely dreamed-of before. In sports, for example, the concept of “EMG cloning” has recently been introduced. This technique seeks to employ procedures developed in dealing with stroke victims, whereby computer-stored electromyograms of the patterns of normal muscle activity are played back through electrodes to stimulate the muscles of the victim. In the EMG cloning concept this same principle would be applied to produce the muscle patterns of superstars in other athletes.
EMG cloning, the use of anabolic steroids, and a number of other controversial new techniques based on biomechanical analysis have caused some to wonder if we may not be awarding medals to synthetic athlete-cyborgs. Thus new fuel is added to an old controversy: Is the human body just a machine? And—even more disquieting for many—is the human brain just a computer? Is there anything we can do that machines cannot?
Back as far as the 1600s, Descartes suggested that the human body “be considered as a kind of machine,” and these days the machine is widely used as a metaphor for human existence—and not surprisingly: even children play with computers now. Biomechanics, robotics, and artificial intelligence have become quite common in sports and industry, and androids and cyborgs frequently appear in science fiction books and films.
In a popular movie of a few years back, Blade Runner, the hero, played by Harrison Ford, drove off with his girl for the traditional happy ending—even though he knew she was an android! A very advanced, organic android, to be sure, a very attractive illusion of humanness with a brain- unit containing two trillion constituents. In the book version, Rachael the android tells our hero that having sex with an android is “convincing if you don’t think too much about it. But if you think too much,” she says, “if you reflect on what you’re doing—then you can’t go on ... don’t think about it, just do it. Don’t pause and be philosophical, because from a philosophical standpoint it’s dreary.”
While the thought of android sex may be somewhat dreary, the thought of being an android is downright bleak. Perhaps that’s why so many people rush to take advantage of the by-products of the results of observing the machinelike nature of the human body and mind but scrupulously avoid reflecting on the implications that might spoil the show. Yet increasingly subtle analysis of the body and brain is leading us to precisely this conclusion—that we’re nothing more than androids.
In fact, with the development of modern physics, our comfortable concepts of ourselves have been undermined in an even more fundamental sense. Our bodies—and, for that matter, all the physical phenomena that make up the familiar world of our experience—which at one time had seemed to be such solid physical matter, were first revealed to be congeries of atoms and molecules. Then Einstein showed that matter is a form of energy and that even the particles cannot be thought of as separate from the space that surrounds them. Now quantum theory characterises particles as only “having a tendency to exist,” and matter has in effect been reduced to a kind of mathematical fiction. Our so- called real world now seems to be based upon a phantom world consisting of transformations of energy.
The parallels between these concepts in physics and the Sankhya cosmology of the Vedic knowledge, with its philosophy of maya, or cosmic illusion, have not gone unnoticed. A number of books have come out in recent years exploring those areas in which physics and “Eastern philosophy” tend to agree that the universe is really a dynamic interplay of varying aspects of energy and consciousness.
This feature of consciousness is the crucial factor for consideration. The question is not whether the human brain is like a computer. According to the Vedic philosophy, these mechanistic metaphors, though crude in their present form, are essentially correct in envisioning the human body and brain- mind as mechanisms; in fact, the word used for the body is the Bhagavad-gita is yantra, or “machine,” and the subtle mental bodies are often referred to as “vehicles.”
The Vedic philosophy goes beyond these manifestations of material energy, however, and describes consciousness as being of an altogether different nature. Consciousness is the symptom of the true self, referred to as atma in the Vedas. This self is a spiritual being, different from and unattached to the machinelike material bodies and minds he inhabits in material existence. The self is the constant, conscious principle underlying all the perpetually changing states of psychological consciousness, such as waking “conscious” awareness, the so-called “subconscious,” and the dream state. The self is capable of things no android will ever do. The self desires, wills, and loves, although—and mark this well—when the self expresses these through the mechanisms of the material body and mind (the firing of synapses and the creation between these events and their reproduction by some analogous material mechanism becomes blurred.
The nature of the real, spiritual self is described by the terms sat, cit, and ananda. The self is eternal—he has always existed and always will. The self is full of knowledge, and the self is by nature blissful in a manner transcending all the temporary and relative forms of so- called pleasure experienced through matter.
And now here is the real point: In all our endeavors for knowledge or gold medals, we are really seeking to overcome the limitations on our natural eternality, knowledge, and happiness. We seek to become “Olympians” (godlike, immortal) because we are eternal and this imposition of death is terribly unnatural. In forgetfulness of this fact, however, and not knowing how to re-experience our original consciousness, we are forced to try symbolically to transcend the limitations of time and space by beating the clock or vaulting over a bar. Through games, in other words—be they favoured with the name “Olympic” or otherwise. But precisely because they are mere games, symbolic victories only, they cannot offer true happiness, but merely some manufactured challenges and consolation prizes in the face of inevitable death.
Our plight is that we chosen to dream of being something we are not, in a situation that obscures our true connection and relation with the greater whole of which we are all parts, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. This material cosmos, somewhat like a multidimensional holographic projection interacting with its observer, is the stage where we act out our delusions of separateness from Krishna through a series of alter-egos, which are like the karate figures on the screen of an arcade video game with which the player identifies himself.
It is this identification with the material alter-ego that involves the consciousness of the real self in the transformations of matter, which appear to his mind and body—according to the nature of the “hardware,” “software,” and “programming” he has received—as pain and pleasure. These “read-outs,” reflected in the consciousness of the self, where it has been projected into the material mind, are then taken by the self to be his own feelings. This false ego is the knot that binds the consciousness of the self to the play of the material energy.
Therefore, the pursuit of real “gold medal” happiness begins first with dismantling the underlying delusion and the false ego responsible for the innumerable desires for material objects and situations. These desires keep the mind constantly agitated as it schemes and plans to satisfy them, only to discover that as soon as one is satisfied another quickly pops up. As these are removed, consciousness can gradually shift to more and more refined states in which the light of truth becomes increasingly reflected. “The greatest common understanding for all yogis,” the Srimad-Bhagavatam extols, “is complete detachment from matter, which can be achieved by different kinds of yoga.”
In ashtanga (“eight-fold”) yoga, the yoga that includes the exercises with which the term yoga is commonly associated in the West, this process of refinement is really a kind of progressive withdrawal of consciousness away from the grosser mechanisms like the physical organs and into increasingly subtle vehicles of mental energy. But ashtanga-yoga is totally impractical in our age. With the exception of a very few “gifted” yogis who have already spent many lives reaching their present levels, those endeavouring on this path—even with the assistance of such things as alpha-wave-generating “instant meditation” machines—are largely wasting time and deluding themselves.
Vedic cosmology describes the evolution of the universe as cyclic, there being a cycle of four ages, or yugas, that the universe repeatedly passes through. The age we are now in, which began approximately 5,000 years ago, is called Kali-yuga. Far from being the “Age of Aquarius” so wistfully imagined by naive New Agers, Kali-yuga is a 432,000- year-long devolution, a progressive breaking down of a universal pattern to total disorganisation.
In such a time as this, what can be done? What reasonable hope of spiritual progress is there?
In the Katha Upanishad it is stated that although there are innumerable spiritual living beings, among all of them is one supreme living entity who is the Absolute Godhead, the Lord of all. Throughout the Vedic literature it is stated that this supreme being is Krishna, the Personality of Godhead. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains that He Himself enters into the cosmic manifestation periodically as an avatara for the benefit of the conditioned souls. The avatara descends into the cloud of material energy, where the “movie lot” is manifesting and erring souls are acting out their robot romances and android adventures with special effects created by Krishna’s illusory potency. By His teaching and actions the avatara re-establishes the principles that once again make clear the distinction between playing games and actual living, and that make the return to real life possible.
At the end of the previous age, just before the beginning of Kali-yuga, Lord Krishna appeared and left His instructions in the form of Bhagavad-gita, in which He asked all living entities to abandon their egoistic desires and pursuits and take up their true positions in relation to the Supreme. He promised that for anyone who did so, He would Himself cut the intricate network of chains of cause and effect (karma) that bind the conditioned soul to the wheel of repeated birth and death.
Since the beginning of Kali-yuga, however, people have been practically unable to surrender to Krishna, being victimised by ever-increasing materialism and a deteriorating environment, which combine to further the obfuscation of the soul’s covered spiritual instincts. Therefore, five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna appeared again as Sri Krishna Caitanya just to teach the world how to surrender unto the Supreme Lord in this difficult age.
Lord Caitanya, popularly known as Gaura, or “golden,” because of His brilliant golden aura, offered a special dispensation of the age of Kali, namely that by humbly and sincerely chanting the names of God, we can free our consciousness from contamination. Lord Caitanya taught that the name of God is the sound incarnation of God. Thus, by chanting the holy name of Krishna one can directly associate with the Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead, by sound vibration. As one does so, one’s consciousness naturally becomes purified of all illusion, and one’s original, formant Krishna consciousness is uncovered, just as a cloud dissipates in the presence of the mighty sun, leaving the clear sky. Furthermore, the seeds of latent reactions to one’s sins are all nullified by this process, just as seeds that have been cooked will never germinate. Thus freed of all material contamination, the soul returns to the spiritual world in his original, spiritual body, where he eternally experiences the highest perfection of life and spiritual ecstasy in variegated relationships with the Supreme Lord and the liberated souls.
Faced with these wonderful possibilities, will we then remain “couch potatoes,” languishing amid the stage props of maya, dreaming of fool’s gold, or will we truly “go for the gold”—the greatest happiness of all, awarded by the merciful Golden Avatara? The choice is ours.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Dr. Singh: Now scientists have organized a whole department called gerontology, in which they study how to prolong life.
Srila Prabhupada: Their real aim should be to stop the suffering. Suppose an old man is in great pain, suffering from many diseases, and suddenly the doctors increase his life-span. What is the profit?
Dr. Singh: That is what they do with heart transplants.
Srila Prabhupada: It is nonsense! Let them stop death; that would be an achievement. Let them stop all disease: ah, that would be an achievement. They cannot do these things! Therefore, all their research is simply a struggle for existence. Krishna says in Bhagavad- gita [15.7], “The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.”
Student: Now there is a shortage of oil.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we have built a civilization that is dependent on oil. This is against nature’s law, and therefore there is now an oil shortage. By nature’s law, winter is now coming. Scientists cannot stop it and turn it into summer. They wrongly think they control nature. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that the living being thinks himself to be the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by nature. The sun is now rising. Can they make it dark? And when it is dark, can they command the sun, “Get up!”? They do not realize that if they really want to conquer nature, they should try to conquer birth, death, old age, and disease. In Bhagavad-gita [7.14] Krishna says, This divine nature of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.
Dr. Singh: So, is it very hard to overcome nature’s laws?
Srila Prabhupada: For the materialists, it is impossible. But if one surrenders to Krishna it becomes easy.
Dr. Singh: To explain why there are so many varieties of living entities, the scientists say that at a certain time during evolution, the cells’ genes, which normally reproduce themselves perfectly for thenext generation, sometimes make a mistake in copying—something like the printing press that sometimes makes mistakes. In some circumstances these mistakes, or mutations, have stood, and different species of living entities have been formed because of the difference in the genes.
Srila Prabhupada: But that “mistake” has been continuing since time immemorial, for you will find that all varieties of living entities have always existed. Therefore the “mistake” is eternal. But when a “mistake” is permanent, it is not a mistake; it is intelligence!
Dr. Singh: But scientists say that without mutations there would be only one kind of living entity in the whole universe.
Srila Prabhupada: No. Every living entity has a different mind, and therefore there are so many different species of life to accommodate the different mentality For example, we are walking here, but most people are not coming to join us, because they have different mentalities than we do. Why does this difference exist?
Dr. Singh: Maybe it is a mistake.
Srila Prabhupada: It is not a mistake. It is their desire, and at the time of death everyone will get a body exactly according to his desire. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita 18.61, “Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” What you are thinking of at the time of death exactly determines your next body. Nature will give you the body; the decision is not in your hands, but in nature’s, and she is working under the direction of God.
Dr. Singh: But science seems to have evidence that different species of life do arise by mistakes.
Srila Prabhupada: That is their mistake! In the laws of nature there are no mistakes. In railway cars there are first-class, second-class, and third- class sections. If you purchase a third-class ticket but by mistake go to the first-class section, you will not be allowed to stay there. It is not a mistake that there are sections: that is the arrangement. But it is your mistake that you have gone to the wrong section. So, God is so thorough that He knows all the mistakes that will be made. Therefore, according to the mistakes you commit, you enter a particular body: “Here, come here. The body is ready.” There are 8,400,000 species of life, and nature works, assigning different bodies, with mathematical precision. When the government builds a city, it builds a prison even before the city is complete, because the government knows that there will be many criminals who will have to go to prison. This is not the government’s mistake; it is the criminals’. Because they become criminals, they have to go there. It is their mistake.
In nature there are no mistakes. Krishna says, “This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and producing all moving and nonmoving beings.” [Bg. 9.10] Nature works under the supervision of God, Krishna, so how can nature make mistakes? But we commit mistakes, we are illusioned, our senses are imperfect, and we cheat. That is the difference between God and man. God does not have imperfect senses; His senses are perfect.
Dr. Wolf-Rottkay: Because our senses are defective, the technological enlargements of our senses, like microscopes and telescopes, must also be defective.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Material existence means defective existence. If you construct something with defective knowledge and imperfect senses, whatever you construct must be defective. Therefore we conclude that whatever the scientists say is defective.
Dr. Singh: But they seem quite satisfied.
Srila Prabhupada: The ass is also satisfied to carry the load of the washerman. In some parts of India one may sometimes see a dog starving to death. But as soon as it gets a female dog, it is satisfied with haying sex. Is that satisfaction? The dog is starving, but still it is satisfied with sex. Everyone is satisfied, even the worm in the stool. That is nature’s law.
by Nagaraja Dasa
For those who think perfection is unattainable, the Vedic literature says think again.
Claims of perfection generally draw skeptical responses. I saw a bumper sticker that read “Christians Aren’t Perfect, Just Forgiven,” implying that if we claim to be perfect no one will believe it. It seems the old adage “Nobody’s perfect” is as popular today as ever. Yet despite popular opinion, the Vedic literature assures us we can indeed become perfect.
Ordinarily we say that something is perfect when it does what it is supposed to do. A nut may fit a bolt perfectly. A certain gift may be the perfect one for a friend—one that genuinely satisfies him. Or we may have just eaten the perfect chili pepper—hot!
The example of the chili pepper helps illustrate the Vedic idea of perfection. The chili is supposed to be hot. You might say that to be hot is its function, the reason for its existence. In Sanskrit the function or intrinsic qualities of an object are said to be its dharma. Thus something is perfect when it displays its dharma, when its activity is consistent with its constitutional character.
We also have a dharma, an activity we are inherently meant to do. The Vedic literature explains this by first clearing up any misconceptions we may have about our identity. Without knowing who we are, knowing what we are meant to do is impossible. The Vedic literature reveals to us our eternal identity as an infinitesimal spirit soul. We are all tiny parts of the unlimited supreme spirit soul. Lord Sri Krishna. Since we are subordinate parts of God our constitutional function is to serve Him. The Vedic literature further states that the pure spirit soul originally and naturally serves God in the mood of unalloyed love. The dharma of the living entity, therefore, is to engage in pure devotional service to the Supreme Lord.
Now, does this agree with our everyday experience? Well, don’t we all want to love someone? And don’t we all want to be loved in return? A boy wants to love a girl, and a girl wants to love a boy. We love our children, our parents, our community, our nation, all of humanity. We even see that those who cannot express their love to other people often live with pets and invest their love in them. The desire to love is intrinsic. It comes from deep within and cannot be checked. And intrinsic to love is service. No one can claim to love without serving the loved one.
Consider the reasonableness of the Vedic declaration that we are meant to love and serve God. We feel a driving need to love and serve, but we do not find satisfaction in the temporal relationships of this world despite our honest endeavors to love and serve. Our attempts to express love and service in the limited, temporary relationships of this world are destined to fail because our love is specifically meant for God. By trying to satisfy our loving propensity independent of God, we remain imperfect.
The perfection of human life, therefore, is to attain to the stage of pure devotional service to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And there is a way to reach that stage. The Vedic literature describes not only the process for attaining perfection but also the various levels of perfection along the way.
The Vedas emphatically and unequivocally declare that the process for advancing from our condition of materially contaminated consciousness to the exalted state of pure consciousness, wherein one serves God with spontaneous, unadulterated love, is the chanting of the holy names of God:
harer nama harer nama
harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva
nasty eva gatir anyatha
[Cc. Adi 17.21]
“In the present Age of Kali, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way.” (Brihan-naradiya Purana)
When Krishna descended five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, His specific purpose was to inaugurate the sankirtana movement—a movement meant to purify anyone who adopts the simple process of chanting the holy names of God. Lord Caitanya especially recommended the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Not only did He spread the chanting of Hare Krishna all over India, He also empowered His disciples to continue His mission.
Although Lord Caitanya was widely renowned as a scholar, He did not write any books. He left the task of presenting the philosophical and scriptural basis of the Hare Krishna movement to His intimate disciples. Foremost among His disciples was Rupa Gosvami, an erudite scholar and former minister in the government of West Bengal. In his treatise on the science of Krishna consciousness, entitled Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Rupa Gosvami elaborately described the stages through which one passes as he progresses in spiritual life to the ultimate perfection of pure love of God.
Rupa Gosvami, after a scrutinizing analysis of the vast library of Vedic literatures, defined nine steps to perfection: 1) preliminary faith, 2) association with devotees of the Lord, 3) engaging in regulated devotional activities, 4) becoming free from sinful habits, 5) remaining steady in self-realization, 6) acquiring a taste for hearing about the Supreme Lord, 7) attachment for Krishna consciousness, 8) ecstasy, and 9) pure love of God.
By understanding the characteristics of these nine levels of realization, the candidate for spiritual perfection can continually monitor his or her advancement. The aspirant will also be able to determine who, among those claiming to love God, exhibits the symptoms of God realization.
Each level of spiritual advancement warrants elaborate description, but for our present purpose we will simply explain the prominent characteristics.
The first level of realization is called shraddha, or the point at which one has a little faith that the spiritual path may be the solution to the problems of life. As we previously explained, the soul’s innate craving for fulfillment in love can never be satisfied in the material world. No matter how hard we try to be happy, we will inevitably meet with frustration. Realizing the futility of material life, the intelligent and sincere soul will become attracted to the spiritual path.
One who has awakened his attraction to spiritual life, one who possesses a small degree of faith, will naturally want to associate with those who have already progressed to advanced stages of realization. Sadhu-sanga, associating with saintly people, is the second stage. If one is sincere, then Lord Krishna, who knows everyone’s heart, will direct one to other sincere souls.
In the association of devotees one hears spiritual truth, receives spiritual instruction, develops a stronger faith in the Lord and in the process of Krishna consciousness, and prepares to make lifelong vows and to receive formal initiation from a bona fide spiritual master. The Vedic literature declares that one who wants to advance in spiritual life must accept a spiritual master. If one wants to learn some mundane subject, one requires a teacher. Certainly to even hope to understand supramundane subject matter, one requires the guidance of a God-realized spiritual master.
In the third stage one accepts a spiritual master and begins to follow his instructions. This stage is called bhajana-kriya. It is generally understood that one’s spiritual life actually begins at the point of initiation. “Initiation,” of course, means “beginning.” At the time of initiation the disciple begins a new life, regulated by the spiritual master, a life that will enable him to advance surely and steadily toward the final goal.
Developing pure love of God is something like cultivating a plant. At the time of initiation the spiritual master gives the seed of the plant that will one day bear as its fruit pure love of God. Just as a gardener must prepare the earth before seeding it, the disciple must have already prepared his heart (by developing faith and by associating with devotees) to receive the seed of spiritual life at initiation. Now he must give the tender seedling of devotion regular care, hearing and chanting about Krishna and following the directions of the spiritual master.
The bona fide spiritual master initiates the candidate into the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. Chanting Hare Krishna is itself sufficient for self-realization; however, one must chant properly, without offenses. One waters the delicate devotional plant by chanting Hare Krishna, but one must simultaneously pull the weeds: material desires, offenses against devotees, offenses against the holy name. The continual guidance of the spiritual master is essential to insure that the disciple applies the process correctly and thus makes steady advancement.
The fourth stage is called anartha-nivrittih, freedom from all materialistic pursuits. This has nothing to do with repression, but is a natural stage in spiritual evolution. When one regularly chants the Hare Krishna mantra and follows the program of spiritual activities prescribed by the spiritual master, one’s material desires will undoubtedly diminish. Initiates in the Krishna consciousness movement vow to refrain from meat-eating, illicit sexual relations, intoxication, and gambling. Thus they immediately shun sinful habits and, by the potency of chanting Hare Krishna, gradually purge the desire to commit even the smallest sins.
Unless one is completely pure, understanding God will not be possible, what to speak of entering a loving relationship with Him. God is the supreme pure; to associate with Him we must also become pure. A genuine religious process must have the power to purify one of the tendency to sin.
The fifth stage is called nishtha, steadiness. When one is freed from sinful habits, spiritual advancement is rapid and steady. Only when one abandons all desire to act independently of the order of the Lord can he attain steadiness in self-realization. If one’s consciousness is not free of material desire, he will sometimes become distracted from his spiritual pursuit. One on the platform of nishtha has firm faith that the single act of perfecting his devotional service to Krishna will certainly fulfill all his desires. Therefore, he is not disturbed by the desire to perform extraneous activities.
Due to his full faith in Krishna, the steadily devoted soul acquires a taste for Krishna consciousness. This taste is called ruci, the sixth stage of advancement. The transcendental taste of Krishna consciousness is far greater than any taste within our worldly experience. Krishna is the reservoir of all sublime tastes, and as one begins to reawaken his relationship with Krishna, he relishes those tastes with ever-increasing pleasure. One highly advanced devotee has revealed the depth of spiritual pleasure available in Krishna consciousness by declaring:
Since I have begun to enjoy the transcendental exchanges of love with Krishna, which are always newer and newer, whenever I remember the pleasure of past sexual activities, my lips curl and I wish to spit on the idea.
Although sexual pleasure is generally considered the highest pleasure in material life, the devotee who has attained the stage of ruci finds it repulsive.
The devotee savors such great pleasure in Krishna consciousness that he naturally becomes increasingly attached to Krishna. That attachment is the seventh level of spiritual realization, called asakti.
It is the nature of pleasurable objects that one becomes attached to them. In material life this attachment causes great anguish, because we inevitably separate from the objects of our attachment. The devotee who has attained the seventh level of realization need not fear separation from the object of his attachment, because that object is Krishna, who is ever existing and ever present. A devotee who is attached to Krishna will never give up Krishna consciousness, for nothing can sway his determination to serve his supremely attractive master. Madhavendra Puri, an eminent devotee of Lord Krishna, prays,
Let the sharp moralist accuse me of being illusioned; I do not mind. Experts in the Vedic activities may slander me as being misled, friends and relatives may call me frustrated, my brothers may call me a fool, the wealthy mammonites may point me out as mad, and the learned philosophers may assert that I am much too proud. Still my mind does not budge an inch from the determination to serve the lotus feet of Krishna, though I am unable to do it.
The pleasure experienced by the devotee in the ruci stage gradually intensifies to the point of overwhelming spiritual ecstasy, called bhava, which is the eighth level of transcendental realization. When a devotee reaches this stage, certain symptoms indicative of transcendental ecstasy appear in his body. Rupa Gosvami discusses eight symptoms: perspiration, becoming stunned, standing of the hairs on end, faltering voice, trembling, changing bodily color, tears, and devastation.
Sometimes one who has not advanced through the preceding seven stages of realization—one who is not even free from material desires—may imitate the ecstasy of an advanced devotee. Don’t be fooled. Spiritual ecstasy does not come cheaply; it is the result of dedicated practice of the principles of Krishna consciousness for many, many years.
The bhava stage is the preliminary stage of love of God, because one’s love for Krishna is almost mature. The ecstatic bodily transformations mentioned above are evidence of this, just as the lightening horizon is evidence of the rising sun. An even more reliable demonstration of the devotee’s level of advancement can be seen in his normal activities. Rupa Gosvami describes the standard of behavior for a devotee absorbed in ecstatic love (bhava) as follows: 1) He is perseverant and forgiving. 2) He is concerned that no time is wasted outside of devotional service to Krishna. 3) He is detached from worldly affairs. 4) He is free of false prestige. 5) He has great hope for receiving Krishna’s mercy. 6) He is intensely eager for Krishna’s association. 7) He chants Hare Krishna with great relish. 8) He is attached to hearing descriptions of the transcendental qualities of the Lord. 9) He has deep affection for those places where the Lord resides.
Having progressed through all subordinate levels of spiritual realization, the devotee finally reaches the stage of pure love of God, known as prema. The great spiritual teachers of the Vedic tradition define prema as the stage in which one invests all of his love in one object—Krishna. At this ultimate level of spiritual perfection, the devotee is fully liberated from the influence of the material energy. Although apparently existing within this world, he is undeniably situated in the spiritual world by dint of his complete absorption in the name, form, qualities, and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The fully matured devotee has now completely reestablished his eternal loving relationship with Krishna. Hehas attained perfection.
Although perfection is rare, it is nevertheless possible. In this age especially, by the inconceivable mercy of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, one can steadily and quickly progress to the ultimate goal of life by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
by Mandaleshvara dasa
When you reach it, will you see a burning bush, a pillar of fire, or a person with unlimited, all-attractive qualities?
My first encounters with concepts about God came during my strong Protestant upbringing, as I grew up in a southern Mississippi family of faithful church-goers. Later, in the sixties, I met up with a lot of ideas about God while studying and questioning life and religious philosophies as a ministerial student at Oklahoma Baptist University.
I could tell you about the ideas I sampled and savored in reading Aquinas, Buber, Altizer, Tillich, and so on, but in those days, truths for me weren’t so much in the books I read as in the flow of life around me. As much as anybody else trying to make it through the sixties, I was affected and molded by what I saw going on all around me. Books were only part of the milieu.
Ideas of God bombarded me: from the folk philosophy of the Flower People, the lyrics of certain popular songs, my readings in Eastern literature, and my daily interactions with people trying to realize God and the Divine. In the myriad of seemingly ordinary events and situations I would find spiritual significance. I didn’t need a church or a sermon to think and speculate about the nature and existence of God. In fact, I came to find the traditional religious setting uninspiring.
My exposure to the popular voidistic, impersonalistic, and psychedelic philosophies led me to believe that God was perhaps a clear light or an unending emptiness, or that I was God. Persons I knew claimed to have seen God during their yogic meditations or psychedelic experiences. Meanwhile, religious leaders I had grown up revering—Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and others—were also allegedly seeing and conversing with God. I found little agreement, however, as to who God was, what He looked like, or what His plan for His creatures was—if in fact He was even alive (the God-is- dead philosophy was rampant) or in any way connected with all of us down here.
My philosophical odyssey went on for the four years of college, until one day I saw my first picture of Lord Krishna. “This is God,” the Hare Krishna devotee told me. You can just imagine my surprise. In that picture (similar to the one at left) Lord Krishna was running in fear from someone the devotee told me was His mother.
The mother of God? “But God is the father of everyone,” I reasoned. “How can He have a mother? And how is it that He’s afraid? ‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,’ the Psalmist says. How can God be afraid? How can the ‘Rock of Ages’ be running in fear from His mother?”
I was bewildered. You may remember that to Moses God appeared in a burning bush: “I am that I am!” And to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, God appeared as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. You may also remember the Cecil B. De Mille version of all this in The Ten Commandments: When God summoned Moses up onto Mt. Sinai, Moses was in terror of the awesome might of Yaweh, who spoke in a rumbling voice out of the smoke and flames: “Thou shall not kill!” That had been my favorite part. God was great and had nearly scared the pants off Charlton Heston.
More than twelve years have passed now since I saw my first picture of Lord Krishna running from Mother Yashoda, and my questions have been satisfactorily answered. I know now that although God is one. He reveals Himself variously according to His own purposes—sometimes as the most attractive child, sometimes as the most terrifying destroyer.
Ultimately, God is a person—Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead—who eternally engages in pleasure pastimes with His most intimate devotees in the spiritual realm. So intimate are those ecstatic exchanges between the Lord and His eternal servitors that He even plays as the perfect son of one of His devotees who desires to relate with Him as a mother. And as the ideal child. He sometimes steals the heart of His mother by His naughty behavior and then runs in fear of her, charming her and the entire universe with His captivating beauty. These dealings are the quintessence of love of God, which is the perfection of all religion and the culmination of wisdom.
Now, if we accept that fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, we should also accept that a fearsome, wrathful God is only the beginning of God-realization. Every authorized scripture in the world describes the unlimited might of the Supreme, teaches humanity to obey His laws and commandments, and warns against disobedience. So, fear can be a handy impetus for obeying God—when one has not yet awakened his love for God.
Of course, all religions teach us to love God also, and that is the essence of religion. But from the beginning of God realization—fear of God—to the perfection—pure love of God—is a long path of increasing obedience. Therefore, when God instructs Moses on Mt. Sinai that the first commandment is to love God, that commandment is set amid threats and warnings: “For I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children into the third and fourth generation of them that hate me” (Deut. 5:9). In other words, “You should love Me. But if you can’t, then at least fear Me and obey Me. Through obedience you will eventually develop love for Me.”
This is God’s kindness, for only by obeying His commandments can we learn to love Him and become happy. God in His highest, most attractive and lovable form is not a burning bush, a pillar of fire, or a pillar of cloud—you can’t love those things—and He doesn’t speak in menacing tones, such as at Sinai, when the Israelites exclaimed, “If we hear the voice of the Lord our God anymore, then we shall die” (Deut. 5:22).
It’s only when men are very sinful that this show of force is necessary to keep them in line. But there is no scope for loving God out of fear. Love of God is natural and spontaneous, and it begins to awaken only when one has become practiced at obeying Him. The more we develop obedience to God, the more we will develop our love and devotion for Him—and the more personal and intimate will His revelation to us become. As Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, “As they surrender unto Me, I reciprocate with them accordingly.”
For the perfect devotees, those whose hearts are free of all desire save to satisfy the desires of their beloved Lord—for them the Lord becomes the constant friend, the darling child, or the dearest lover. He takes more pleasure in His devotee’s chastizing Him for being naughty than He does in chastizing sinful people for their naughtiness. In fact. He doesn’t personally involve Himself with anyone but His pure devotees; punishing the sinful is deputed to His representatives.
So, by Krishna’s mystical power of yogamaya, a pure devotee like Mother Yashoda forgets that He is Almighty God. This is hardly the forgetfulness of the errant soul, who denies the existence of God and must be frightened into accepting His authority. Rather, this forgetfulness is a blessing, for it lets the pure devotee serve God in the way most pleasing to them both.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #17-04, 1982
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Critics sometimes charge that Krishna consciousness is “brainwashing,” a dogmatic, authoritarian power that denies the individual his personal integrity and free will. Supposedly, this authoritarian control forces an otherwise free-thinking person to conform to such a degree that he loses his identity and becomes a “mindless robot”; he loses his capacity for free thought and self- actualization. But such criticism is unfounded, for only by great inner resolve and personal volition can someone succeed in Krishna consciousness.
A perfect example is Brahma, the first being in the universe, who attained spiritual realization eons ago, before there were any teachers, books, or institutions. In fact, according to the Vedic literatures, when Brahma first came to consciousness before the dawn of creation, he looked around and beheld only darkness pervading everywhere. He then sat in meditation for one hundred years, until Krishna revealed to him within his heart the essence of all spiritual and material knowledge. Later, Brahma presented this knowledge as the original Vedic scriptures.
Like Brahma, each of us is a unique, individual person. And each of us must discover his own spiritual identity by unique effort and unique reciprocation with the Supreme. Unfortunately, the widespread influence of materialism nowadays has practically destroyed people’s capacity for deep introspection. We cannot meditate for even a hundred minutes, what to speak of a hundred years. On the other hand, we have several great advantages over Brahma in our quest for self-realization: We have recorded knowledge of the Absolute Truth in the form of the Vedic literatures, and we have the guidance and example of perfected spiritual masters coming in a line of disciplic succession beginning with Lord Krishna Himself.
Another example of strong determination in seeking self- realization is Sanatana Gosvami, a highly advanced devotee and scholar who lived in India five hundred years ago. Sacrificing the great wealth, power, and prestige that went along with his position as a high government minister, Sanatana underwent severe hardships to submit himself before the most exalted spiritual authority and master. Lord Caitanya. Sanatana said, “Although I have a reputation as a learned man and a sophisticated politician, I must admit to You that I do not know the real meaning of my life. Like every creature, I am suffering, but I do not know why I suffer or how to end my suffering. Please instruct me.” These are the statements of an instrospective individual breaking free from the complacent conformity of the masses and seeking an ultimate solution to life’s problems. And Sanatana, by taking advantage of his spiritual master’s instructions and the Vedic literature, attained enlightenment as surely as had the original Vedic sage, Brahma.
Now, that Brahma, Sanatana, and many other persons in the past have succeeded in Krishna consciousness does not mean anyone in the present can become self-realized simply through blind conformity to a religious authority. Spiritual realization must always be a matter of personal search, surrender, and growth. Each of us is an individual spirit soul, a part of the Supreme Being, and as such we have each been endowed with all the qualities of the Supreme, including free will. This is why Lord Krishna concludes his teachings to Arjuna in Bhagavad-gita with these words: “Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Emphasis added.) So God will send His representative, the spiritual master, to teach us spiritual science, He will make transcendental knowledge available to us in the Vedic literatures, and sometimes He will even instruct us personally, as He did Arjuna in Bhagavad- gita—but He will never interfere with our free will and independence.
You may ask, “If God is merciful and He sees us suffering here for lack of self-realization, why doesn’t He force that realization upon us? Why doesn’t He drag us back to the spiritual world?” The answer is that true self-realization, the kind that leads one back to the spiritual world, depends on attaining love of God. And without freedom, how can there be love? So the tiny soul must surrender to God, but that surrender must be voluntary.
Still, although it is not true that Krishna consciousness robs a person of his individuality and then forces upon him an unnatural conformity, it is true that an aspiring devotee can find much assistance by associating with others on the path back to Godhead. Far from “brainwashing” a person or robbing him of his individual integrity, such association prepares a spiritual aspirant for the difficult tests and temptations of spiritual life, which he must meet and overcome on his own. Srila Prabhupada explains this point with the analogy of a jet pilot. In flight school a pilot receives many hours of instruction and help from teachers and other pilots, but when he takes his first solo flight none of his instructors can help him if he runs into trouble. Similarly, during our lifetime we can avail ourselves of the valuable instructions of the spiritual master and the scriptures, and we can associate with other devotees of the Lord, but we must face death alone.
So attaining Krishna consciousness is not a matter of nominally joining a sect or blindly repeating a mantra or a doctrine. Pure Krishna consciousness is attainable only by one who sincerely approaches Krishna and Krishna’s representatives and realizes within himself his higher nature as an eternal soul with an eternal relationship to God.
Those who criticize Krishna consciousness as “brainwashing” or as “tyranny over the will” are ill informed, and often malicious. Under the sway of a materialistic misconception of their own identity, they are usually motivated by a desire to avoid surrendering to God. Thus when they see genuine surrender to God, they decry it. The influence of materialistic philosophy has largely obliterated genuine spiritual life from modern society, and there is great pressure for us to conform to the life of materialistic values. There are even materialistic brands of religion. With all this materialism in the air, it’s not surprising that when an individual, thinking for himself, decides seriously to seek spiritual life, he meets criticism from his family, friends, teachers, priest, psychiatrist, and so on. Only the rare, genuine individualist has the courage to embark on the path of real spiritual life.
Although criticism of Krishna conscious devotees as “brainwashed robots” may make effective propaganda for the cause of materialistic conformity, it is a lie nonetheless. Krishna consciousness is actually the best method for liberating the self from the miseries of repeated birth and death. Ultimately the Krishna conscious devotee achieves the stage of eternal freedom from material miseries by realizing his eternal loving relationship with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And this freedom is attainable only for one who chooses it of his own free will and works for it in earnest.
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Guest: Can you explain subordination?
Srila Prabhupada: Subordination? Yes, it is simple. Everyone must be subordinate to somebody else. Are you not subordinate to somebody?
Guest: Yes, in a material sense. But in the spiritual sense, I don’t feel subordinate to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: When you understand what spiritual life is, you will see that in the spiritual sense also you are subordinate, because your nature is to be subordinate. What do you mean by spiritual and material?
Guest: Well, for example, at my job I’m subordinate to my boss, but in my real being, my spiritual being, I don’t feel I am subordinate to my boss or anyone else. In other words, I don’t feel that I have to bow down to anybody, and I don’t feel that anybody has to bow down to me.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you not want to bow down?
Guest: Because I don’t feel that I owe anyone anything, or that anyone owes me anything.
Srila Prabhupada: So, this is the material disease. We are forced to bow down, yet we think that we do not have to bow down. This is the disease.
Guest: No one can force me to bow down.
Srila Prabhupada: Just try to understand. You say that you do not want to bow down-is that right?
Guest: That’s basically true, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Why?
Guest: Because I don’t feel that I’m inferior to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: This is the disease of material existence. You have diagnosed your own disease. Everyone is thinking, “I want to be the master. I don’t wish to bow down.” Everyone is thinking like this. This is not only your disease; everyone has this diseased mentality: Why shall I bow down? Why shall I become subordinate?” But nature is forcing me to become subordinate. Now, why are people dying? Can you answer this question?
Guest: Why are people dying?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, nobody wants to die, yet everyone is dying. Why?
Guest: Well, death is biologically determined-
Srila Prabhupada: That means biological force! You are subordinate to biology. Then why do you say that you are independent?
Guest: Well, I feel that I’m—
Srila Prabhupada: You are feeling wrongly. That is my point. You are subordinate, and you must bow down to biological force. When death comes, you can’t say, “Oh, I don’t obey you.” Therefore, you are subordinate.
Guest: I am subordinate to God, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: No, forget God for now. God is far away. Now we are speaking of the material nature. Just try to understand that although you do not want to die, you are forced to die because you are subordinate.
Guest: Oh, yes, that makes sense.
Srila Prabhupada: Then you understand your position-that you are subordinate. You cannot declare, “I am free; I am not subordinate.” If you are thinking that you don’t wish to be subordinate, that you don’t have to bow down, then you are diseased.
Guest: O.K.But who or what should Ibow down to?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all try to fully understand your disease. Then we shall prescribe your medicine. You are bowing down to death, you are bowing down to disease, you are bowing down to old age—you are bowing down to so many things. You are forced to bow down, yet still you are thinking, “I cannot bow down; I don’t like to bow down.” But you have to bow down. Why do you forget your position? That forgetfulness is your disease.
The next step is to understand that since you are being forced to bow down, now you have to find where you shall be happy even by bowing down. And that is Krishna. Your bowing down will not be stopped, because you are meant for that, but if you bow down to Krishna and Krishna’s representative, you become happy. That’s the difference. If you don’t bow down to Krishna and His representative, you’ll be forced to bow down to something else—maya [Krishna’s material nature]. That is your position. You cannot be free at any moment.
But if you bow down to Krishna and His representative, you’ll be happy. For example, a child is always bowing down to his parents, and he is happy. His mother says, “My dear child, please come and sit down here.” “Yes,” says the child, and he is happy. This is the nature of the child’s relationship with his mother. Similarly, Krishna and His representative are like loving parents, and we are like helpless children in the clutches of maya. But if we bow down to them we shall be safe and happy.
So you cannot stop your bowing down—that is not possible. But you simply have to seek out the proper persons to bow down to. That’s all. If you artificially think, “I am not going to bow down to anyone—I am independent,” then you suffer. You simply have to bow down to the right person—and that is Krishna, or Krishna’s representative.