Culture

How He Creates

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Did a supremely intelligent being create the universe? The elaborate Vedic description of creation can make even an atheist curious.

The universe around us appears to be orderly and symmetrical. The planets rotate perfectly in their orbits. Our bodies possess complex circulatory, respiratory, and digestive systems. Even the atoms are highly structured. All this suggests that the universe was created not by chance, but by an intelligent person. If human beings can create houses, skyscrapers, and many other structures, it is plausible that a person far more powerful than any human created the universe and everything in it.

But although the design evident in every corner of the visible world strongly indicates the plan of an intelligent creator (God), by logic alone we cannot be absolutely certain that He exists. The origin of the cosmos is beyond our experience. We did not observe the creation of the universe, and for all we know it could have happened in any number of ways that we have not considered or are unable to consider. On the platform of logic, therefore, the debate over whether or not there is a Supreme Being, a Creator, must always end in stalemate.

The Vedic literature confirms that we cannot conclusively understand the Supreme Being by logic alone. The Bhagavad- gita declares that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, who is the creator of both this universe and the spiritual world beyond it, can be understood only by His mercy, when He is pleased to reveal Himself to His faithful devotees. Although our logic and mental gymnastics cannot rise to embrace the Lord, He can by His omnipotence pierce through the uncertainty and ignorance of His faithful servants and show Himself to them.

While confirming the fallibility of human reasoning, however, the Vedas do not recommend that we abandon reason. If we lack a deep philosophical understanding of God, our faith in Him tends toward sentiment and fanaticism and easily falls prey to atheistic arguments. The Vedic literature therefore includes all manner of logical arguments—including the argument from design—indicating that the universe is the work of a supremely powerful person. But the Vedic literature goes further as well, describing in detail the stages of creation, the age and dimensions of the universe, the purpose of the creation, and the origin of the material elements. The Vedic literature, in other words, not only proclaims “God created” but also tells us how and why He created.

To begin with, the Vedic literature asserts that the Supreme Lord is not obliged to participate directly in the creative work. While theists sometimes conceive of God as an extremely hardworking old man, who has little time off from His duties as creator, the Vedic literature explains that God creates by His desire alone, without having to exert Himself in the least. Since He possesses unlimited power and wealth, He can, like any wealthy person, get others to do the work for Him. If a wealthy financier wants to construct an office building, he doesn’t do everything himself. He conceives a general plan or chooses a building site, then hires lawyers, architects, engineers, contractors, and so on to execute His will. The financier doesn’t have to dig the foundation, pour the cement, or lay the bricks.

Like the wealthy financier, the Supreme Lord is aloof from the work of creation, but just how He delegates the creative duties, and to whom, is unique. Unlike ordinary persons, Krishna can expand Himself into innumerable forms, known as plenary expansions, who are equal to Him in power and opulence. These expansions are all the same Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, and yet at the same time They are individuals with independent thoughts and actions. Brahma-samhita gives the analogy that just as one candle can light many other candles, each with the same power to illuminate, so Krishna, the original Personality of Godhead, can expand Himself into innumerable plenary forms and still maintain His identity as the supreme, original person.

A person’s appearance on millions of television screens at once partially illustrates Krishna’s power to expand, the difference being that the television expansions are only images of the original person and must move and speak as that person does, whereas Krishna’s expansions, although non-different from Him, can act as They please. They are not mere images, but complete individuals.

While the wealthy financier must employ others to fulfill his desires, Krishna creates the universe through these individual expansions of His own self. Further elucidating this transcendental phenomenon, the Svetashvatara Upanishad explains that to achieve our goals, we rely on three attributes, knowledge (jnana), strength (bala), and activity (kriya). To construct a large building, for example, the architects and engineers need sufficient knowledge of the building sciences, the construction company must have sufficient strength in the form of manpower and machines, and everyone has to engage in various activities. The Supreme Lord, however, possesses within Himself all knowledge, all strength, and all potential to act and can therefore accomplish anything He wants. By investing these powers in His various expansions. Krishna effortlessly executes the business of creation. The financier works through his money, while Krishna works through His personal expansions and energies.

Krishna’s ability to expand Himself is inconceivable—beyond the range of ordinary logic. But it is inconceivable only in that we human beings cannot do it and have not seen anyone else do it. Otherwise, accepting that God is all-powerful, nothing He does is inconceivable. Rather, His apparently inconceivable attributes serve as testimony to His omnipotence. Therefore the Vedic literature, by describing Krishna’s attributes in detail, does not preclude a logical approach to understanding the Supreme Lord, but rather draws our use of logic onto a higher, transcendental platform.

Krishna’s first expansion for the creation is Maha- Vishnu, who begins by manifesting the material elements from His transcendental body. Modern scientists will object to the mention of a creator. The material energy is eternal, they say, so why bring in God? But the Vedic literatures respond that Maha-Vishnu is also eternal and that the material elements are His eternal energy. God and His energy are like the sun and the sunshine, which exist simultaneously, although one is the origin of the other. Both God and the material energy are eternal, and yet God is the source of the material energy.

We might also wonder how Maha-Vishnu could perform the gigantic act of creating all the material elements without becoming totally depleted, dispersing Himself into the elemental creation. Materially speaking, when we take something from a particular source, we gradually exhaust that source. Withdraw money from your bank account, and the balance goes down. Pour water from a glass, and the glass empties. Take milk from a cow, and the cow gradually dries up—unless she can replenish her supply from a pasture or feed bin. Since God is by definition the source of everything, there is nothing outside of Him to replenish Him. So what happens to Maha-Vishnu when He creates the material elements from Himself?

The Ishopanishad says that nothing happens to Him at all. Maha-Vishnu is unaffected and unchanged, even while supplying an unlimited quantity of elements. How could this be? Because depletion and exhaustion are properties of matter. Maha-Vishnu, however, is not matter, but pure spirit, and therefore He has no material properties. He produces the complete cosmic manifestation from His own form, yet remains perfect and complete. As Krishna expands into Maha-Vishnu without changing His form or identity, so Maha-Vishnu creates the material elements, yet remains complete in Himself.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam informs us that from the material elements Maha-Vishnu produces not one, but innumerable universes, or, rather, universal shells. These gigantic shells are hollow spheres. The lower half is filled with water, and the upper half is—at least initially—empty. The Bhagavatam also states that our particular universe is the smallest of all the universes, and yet the space inside the shell measures four billion miles in diameter, while the shell itself is billions of miles thick.

Maha-Vishnu expands His personality and enters each universe as Garbhodakasayi Vishnu. Garbhodakasayi Vishnu then generates Brahma, the first living entity in the universe.

Although Lord Brahma is an eternal, individual person, he is not a plenary expansion of the Lord. He, like you and me, is a jiva-tattva expansion, in quality equal with Krishna but quantitatively minute. The jiva-tattva expansions are part and parcel of Krishna, and as such their eternal, blissful function is to render loving service to Him. In fact, they have no other function, just as a finger has no other function than to render service to the entire body. When the jiva souls are separated from the eternal service of Lord Krishna, they lose their eternal blissful nature, just as a finger loses its very life when severed from the body.

Before coming to the material creation, the jiva souls live in the eternal spiritual world, which lies beyond the material universes. There they act in their relationships as servants, friends, and associates of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. Since these relationships with Krishna are based solely on love, however, the jiva souls have a minute degree of independence: they can choose to remain subordinate to the all-powerful Supreme Person, or they can desire to neglect His service and become independent lords themselves. Without this choice, this freedom to serve or not to serve, there is no question of loving God, since love is necessarily an act of free will. A minority of jiva souls, misusing their independence, desire to enjoy life without Krishna.

It is to fulfill—as well as to reform—this unnatural desire of a relatively small number of jivas that Lord Krishna creates the material world. Walled within the shells of material universes, the independently-minded jivas are awarded bodies in any of the millions of species and are allowed to forget their eternal life of bliss and knowledge with Krishna. According to Bhagavad-gita, a jiva soul is situated in each living body just as a driver is situated in an automobile. The driver is different from his car, although he directs its movements. Similarly, the jiva soul, although doggedly trying to enjoy a body made of the material elements, is separate from it. Each kind of body—from the microbe to the human being—affords the jiva a particular kind of sense enjoyment, a different means for trying to satisfy his godless longings.

Within each of the innumerable universes, Garbhodakasayi Vishnu expands as Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, who then expands Himself unlimitedly to enter the hearts of all the living entities in His particular universe. This expansion of Krishna is known as Paramatma, the Supersoul, who accompanies each jiva soul in his search for material pleasure. In the Gita, Lord Krishna says that, as the Supersoul. He directs the jivas’ search by supplying them with memory, knowledge, and forgetfulness. Al death, the jiva soul is taken from his present body and prepared for his next birth in one of the 8,400,000 species. All this is arranged by the Lord in the heart. The human body is just suitable for austerity, self-realization, and rewakening Krishna consciousness, but if a human being acts and desires like an animal, he is allowed, in his next life, to enjoy in the body of an animal.

In marked contrast to the jiva soul, the Supersoul, although situated within the material body, is never controlled by a desire to enjoy matter. Krishna and His expansions are the controllers of the material energy, whereas the jiva, as long as he desires to forget Krishna, is controlled by the same energy. In the Upanishads the jiva soul and the Supersoul are compared to two birds sitting in the same tree of the body. One Bird (the jiva) tries to enjoy the fruits on the tree—material pleasures—forgetting the other bird (the Supersoul), who is patiently watching. The Supersoul observes and directs the jiva’s activities, unaffected by material desire. Only the jiva souls assume material bodies and try to enjoy matter.

We all have experienced, however, that this material world is not a place of unadulterated enjoyment. In fact, it is sometimes argued that even if there is a God. He could not he good or just. since His creation is filled with disease, old age, death, and many other miseries. Krishna, however, creates the material world not just for our independent sense enjoyment, but also to remind us that enjoyment outside of His service is illusory. When a man goes mad, forgetting his friends, relatives, and his own self, whatever enjoyment he experiences in that maddened state is worthless. In the same way, the jiva souls have forgotten their eternal relationship with their dearmost friend, Krishna. Until they reestablish that relationship, they will be able to realize but a small fraction of their potential for happiness, even if they acquire wealth, fame, beauty, education, and other temporary material advantages. The material desires are designed to remind the jiva that the material creation is foreign to him, and thus they evince God’s concern for our true welfare. The jiva who comes to his senses and practices Krishna consciousness can very quickly return to the spiritual world.

Lord Brahma, the first jiva soul in each universe, is in charge of constructing all the planets and planetary systems. He is also in charge of creating the 8,400,000 species of life, including aquatics, insects, plants, birds, animals, and human beings. Inspired and empowered by Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, Brahma assembles the creation using the material elements. Starting from just above the waters of the ocean that fills halt the universe and extending up to his own planet in the topmost reaches of the dome of universal space, Brahma constructs fourteen planetary systems, one above the other. The earth planet is in the seventh of those fourteen planetary systems.

Brahma doesn’t create his own materials—the elements—and even in manipulating them he is dependent on Lord Vishnu for guidance and inspiration. Nor does Brahma create the life which animates each body, for life is not the result of a combination of the material elements. Brahma only assists in creating the bodily vehicles, while the life, the eternal jiva souls, is supplied by the Supreme Lord.

Of the many differences between this short description of Brahma’s creation and currently popular scientific descriptions, two are especially important. The first is that the Vedic literature portrays the original creature in each universe as highly intelligent, more so than even the greatest modern scientist. Brahma’s intelligence, and his resultant creative accomplishments, are surpassed only by Lord Vishnu Himself. Modern scientists, on the other hand, assert that the original creature in the universe was a microbe, and that the forefathers of modern man were apes and cave- dwellers.

The second contrast is that the Vedic literature asserts that all species were produced more or less simultaneously at the beginning of the creation, while popular evolutionary theory holds that the species have gradually evolved. According to the evolutionists, aquatics evolved into land animals and land animals evolved—only a relatively short time ago—into human beings. Evolutionists acknowledge, however, that one of the many flaws in their theories is that there is still—more than a century after Darwin’s debut—no fossil record showing one species evolving from another. For dedicated Darwinists this lack of evidence is only an impetus to revamp their theories. But for the dedicated devotee of Krishna it is a confirmation of the Vedic version that all species of life, including the civilized human beings, have existed since the dawn of creation.

In this connection it is also interesting to note the Vedic calculations of the age of the universe. The Vedic literature states that Lord Brahma lives for one breath of Maha-Vishnu. When Maha-Vishnu exhales, the material elements and universes emanate from Him, and when He inhales, the universes are destroyed and merge back into His body. Thus the universes and their respective Brahmas are created and destroyed with every breath of Maha-Vishnu. The entire cycle—one breath of Maha-Vishnu, or one lifetime of Brahma—takes 310 trillion solar years. According to Srimad-Bhagavatam, Brahma’s life is half over at present, which means that this universe has existed, along with all the species, for 155 trillion years.

There are many other contrasts between the Vedic version of creation and other versions—both theistic and atheistic. The Bhagavatam and other Vedic texts analyze the relation of time to the universe and to the Supreme Lord, the role and development of each material element, the origin of gravity, and many other details of the creation. At each step the Vedas reveal a unique understanding of the creative process.

Many people will argue that few if any of the Vedic descriptions can be scientifically proven. But neither can they be “scientifically” disproven. How can you prove or disprove the gigantic form of Maha- Vishnu?

And why should we not at least consider the Vedic literature as evidence? It is the oldest, most voluminous, and most consistent body of literature known to man, and it contains information not only of the creative process, but of every science human society needs, including medicine, economics, and so on. By its comprehensive nature alone, the Vedic literature deserves serious study by researchers in every field.

Devotees of Krishna accept Vedic statements as evidence—as axiomatic truths—not due merely to the length and detail of the Vedic texts, but because the author of the Vedas is Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, “By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” For the devotees, at least, statements made by the Absolute Truth are perfect evidence, irrefutable proof.

Into the Spiritual World

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Krishna assures us in the Bhagavad-gita that if we want to live there He will make the arrangements. But first we must demonstrate that we are ready.

Though the spiritual world is the abode of the highest pleasure, hardly anyone wants to go there. We say we’d like to go, and we may think we are going, but our actions speak differently. Either we don’t fully believe in a spiritual world, or the information we have about it hasn’t inspired us to act in a way that will get us there.

Most of us, having only scanty information of the spiritual world, imagine a place where angels float on clouds and play harps and trumpets all day—a boring existence when compared to our present life, with its friendships, family relations, fancy cars, nightclubs, restaurants, and Sunday afternoon football. Without these things how can heaven be enjoyable? We even joke that hell would be better than heaven, because all our friends would be there. Fortunately, from the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature we get a much clearer, more inviting picture of heaven.
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The spiritual world is not the creation of someone’s imagination. It is God’s eternal abode. Because God is a person, He has His own abode, called Vaikuntha in Sanskrit, meaning “devoid of anxiety.” Being God’s home, Vaikuntha possesses unlimited beauty and opulence. It’s not a boring place. It is the realm of the original, spiritual forms of everything we find in the material world.

In other words, it’s full of variety: birds, animals, forests, lakes, cities, airplanes, skyscrapers—everything. But they’re all spiritual.

For example, in the many forests of Vaikuntha, the trees—being fully conscious living beings like everything else there—supply everything the residents desire. Chintamani, a spiritual wish-fulfilling gem, serves as construction material in Vaikuntha. The residents, unalloyed devotees of God, possess spiritual bodies that never become diseased, grow old, or die. Free from the frustrations and anxieties of material life, these eternally liberated souls enjoy unending happiness.

We conditioned souls, habituated to the dualities of happiness and distress in the material world, cannot conceive of the pleasure available to the inhabitants of Vaikuntha. Material pleasures come only from the interaction of our senses with the sense objects (sound, form, touch, taste, and smell). Since the senses and their objects are limited and temporary, the pleasures derived from their interaction must also be limited and temporary—and therefore not really satisfying to the self, which is eternal.

Further analysis of material pleasures shows that they give only respite from our normally distressful condition. The material world, by its very nature, gives us distress: our own bodies and minds trouble us; business competitors, government officials, foreign governments, insects, dogs, and all sorts of other creatures harass us; and excessive heat, excessive cold, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other unconquerable forces of nature torment us. No one is exempt from these miseries. They constantly attack, and if we can momentarily overcome them—or even forget about them—we think ourselves happy.

Spiritual pleasure is in another category altogether. In the spiritual world everyone derives pure happiness by serving God, Krishna. Such service is the innate function of the soul. Once one tastes the happiness derived from that service, one automatically spurns even the highest material pleasure. A great devotee has explained that even one drop of pleasure obtained from devotional service to Krishna far exceeds an ocean of material pleasure. Thus Vaikuntha, which is permeated by service to Krishna, is the abode of unlimited pleasure.

Because we all want pleasure, when we hear from authorized sources that Vaikuntha offers it unlimitedly, we should naturally want to go there. And we can if we want to. In fact, we were all there originally, but we left. Why? Because we didn’t fit in.

To live in Vaikuntha, we must be like its other inhabitants. Because of their full devotion to God, they never consider their own welfare; selfish desires do not exist there. The devotees serve Krishna and each other in total selflessness. Were we to enter Vaikuntha to fulfill our own desires, we would create a disturbance to the inhabitants, who are absorbed in satisfying Krishna’s desires. So even though we may claim that we want to go to the kingdom of God, how many of us are ready to live as its residents do?

As evidenced by our deeds in this world, most of us would rather live some other way. We’d rather be selfish than selfless. We’d rather go to Las Vegas for the casinos or to the Bahamas for the sun and surf. Travel agents sell plenty of tickets to these places. But few people want to go where everyone selflessly serves the Supreme Personality of Godhead without personal interests. Krishna assures us in the Bhagavad-gita that if we want to live there He will make the arrangements. But first we must demonstrate that we are ready.

We’re in the material world because we’re not ready; we want to enjoy the kingdom of God without God. Krishna created us to enjoy with Him. That’s our eternal service, and it’s blissful—it’s ecstatic! But we don’t want it. We don’t want to serve Krishna, because we covet His position. We want to enjoy here. Our original, pure consciousness—our Krishna consciousness—is infected with the impure desire to enjoy the material world without Krishna.

Without overcoming this disease of material consciousness, we’ll never want to go back to Vaikuntha. But if we sincerely desire eternal happiness, we must go back there. We’ll need to recover our spiritual health.

That means we’ll need a guru, a spiritual doctor who is going to ask us to do things we may not like. Patients usually dislike their medicine, but if they take their medicine and follow the regimen the qualified doctor prescribes, they’ll be cured.

Similarly, the spiritual master, guided by scripture, prescribes the activities—which, like medicine, may sometimes appear distasteful—that will restore our original, healthy condition. If, on the other hand, we try without proper guidance to enter God’s spiritual kingdom, we’ll be in a precarious position because we have not properly qualified ourselves.

For example, many people think they are leading a good life and will go to the kingdom of God after death. They feel no need to accept a spiritual master or the scriptures. They have their own conception of what “good” is. Certainly we may try to be good and hope God will grant us entrance into His abode after death. But what happens if our idea of goodness is inaccurate? What happens if it falls short of the mark? According to Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, the standard of goodness required of the inhabitants of Vaikuntha far exceeds the characteristic piety of good people in this world.

Philosophers have long debated whether there exists an absolute standard of goodness. Nowadays, people tend to favor the idea that goodness is relative to the individual, as the common expression “Whatever is right for you is all right” indicates. But what I think is right and what you think is right are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s reasonable and practical, therefore, to accept a definition of goodness from an authority. For example, we don’t run society on the premise that everyone is right. Rather, our lawmakers set up standards of acceptable behavior for those who want to enjoy the benefits of living in society. Then, even if a citizen doesn’t like the laws, he must either submit to them or risk punishment; they are not relative.

Similarly, God makes His laws, and we’re liable for punishment if we violate them—knowingly or unknowingly. This may seem unfair, but the same principle applies in the state: ignorance of the law is no excuse. To live in the state we must know its laws; to live in this world, which God created, we must know His laws. As human beings, with higher intelligence than the animals, we must accept that responsibility.

Fortunately, we can easily find out God’s laws, His standards of goodness, because the scriptures reveal them. So we should not reject the scriptures and invent our own religious path. As we read in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat-pranitam: God Himself enunciates religious principles. Religion essentially means God’s method for us to approach Him. Since we are in the subordinate position (He knows us but we don’t know Him), we must accept His direction on how to approach Him. That acceptance is the symptom of true goodness.

So if we really want to be good, if we really want to go to heaven, then we ought to let our actions speak the same as our words. That is the price for going back to the kingdom of God.

The painting shows a devotee of Krishna entering the spiritual world.

How God is Great

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #34-02, 2000

Srila Prabhupada would often say that from the Vedic literature we learn not only that God is great but in what ways He is great. Before coming to Krishna consciousness, I had only a vague idea of God. Now, like millions of others, I’ve gained a wealth of knowledge about God from Srila Prabhupada through his presentation of revealed Vedic wisdom. The following short list includes just some of the many things Srila Prabhupada taught us about God:

God is the supreme person, whose form is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge.

God has innumerable forms, of which the original is Krishna, a beautiful dark-blue cowherd boy who plays the flute and sports a peacock feather on His head.

God is unlimited in all respects.

God is the source of everything.

God can be seen by devotees whose vision is purified by unalloyed love.

God attracts everyone, either directly or through His material energy.

God knows everything—past, present, and future.

God has His eternal home, Goloka Vrindavana, in the spiritual world.

God’s all-powerful Narayana expansions rule innumerable spiritual planets, called Vaikunthas.

Although God expands forms equal to Himself in power, He is never diminished in the least.

God breathed the Vedas, which contain all knowledge required for human existence.

God spoke the Bhagavad-gita five thousand years ago.

God is all-loving, and He created each of us to enjoy eternally with Him in one of His innumerable forms.

In His original form as Krishna, God enjoys the most intimate exchanges with His confidential devotees.

God especially enjoys with His pleasure potency, Srimati Radharani.

God’s agents manage the universe while He enjoys with His devotees.

Though eternally residing in Goloka Vrindavana, God is simultaneously present everywhere, even within the atom.

As the original male, God impregnates nature with rebellious souls, who then take on material bodies.

As the Supersoul, God accompanies us throughout our sojourn in the material world.

We living beings are infinitesimal parts of God, and our qualities—consciousness, the will to live, and so on—are samples of His unlimited qualities.

God is fully present in the sound of His names, which are identical with Him.

God appears in the form of the Deity to accept our worship.

God is called Bhagavan (“possessor of opulence”) because He possesses in full the six primary opulences: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and renunciation.

God comes to this world repeatedly in various forms to subdue the demonic, please His devotees, and reestablish religion.

God descended five hundred years ago as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and introduced the chanting of His names as the religion for the age.

God controls the sun, the rain, nature—everything—and unlike us is never subject to anyone’s control.

The powerful forces of nature are only a hint of God’s omnipotence.

God directs the creation, maintenance, and destruction of the universe.

In His form as Maha-Vishnu, God creates millions of universes when He exhales and destroys them when He inhales—one breath taking hundreds of trillions of years.

God’s expansion Ananta Sesha, who has innumerable mouths, has never been able to adequately describe God’s glories, although trying to do so eternally.

The Krishna Books: Antidote for Suffering

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Among the selected books of Vedic literature His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translated and wrote commentaries on, the trilogy known as Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is unique. Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna books directly tell us what God is like in His original, personal form and what He and His liberated associates are doing in the eternal, spiritual world. In our temporary world of manifold miseries, one who properly understands Krishna’s transcendental activities can attain the transcendental platform of eternal existence in full bliss and knowledge. So the Krishna books provide much more than fascinating stories: they provide invaluable spiritual knowledge.

Upon first seeing the Krishna books, however, many people express doubts: “Isn’t this mythology? I can’t take this literally.” They conclude that Krishna is just as imaginary as popular heroes like Superman or the mythological gods of ancient lore. To such people I would say. Rather than reject Krishna as imaginary and the Krishna books as mythology, you should understand who Krishna is. Krishna is far more than a popular hero or cultural myth. He is the Absolute Truth, and His pastimes described in the Krishna books are transcendental. The Krishna books deal exclusively with the highest philosophical understanding of the cause of all causes.

Now one may ask, “How can the ultimate truth be a person?” And the answer is that Krishna’s personality is not limited or material. The Vedic sages address Him as Bhagavan, “He who possesses to an infinite degree the opulences of wealth, fame, beauty, knowledge, strength, and renunciation.” The Sanskrit word Krishna literally means “all- attractive” and is therefore the perfect name for the Supreme Being.

Because we have all had bitter experience that persons are always imperfect and mortal, we are prone to conclude that the Absolute Truth can have no personal form or activities. But Jiva Goswami, the great sixteenth-century philosopher of Krishna consciousness, informs us that unless we accept the Absolute Truth as inconceivable we can never even begin to understand Him. In other words, Krishna is a person, but He is not a person like us—limited, frail, and mortal.

Still, there is another pressing objection to taking Krishna consciousness seriously: “Granted that there is a formidable and convincing philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and granted that the concept of God as the Supreme Person is valid. But how is all this relevant to us today? The people of the world are faced with the practical and urgent problems of economic and class struggles, and there is the imminent threat of nuclear war. So even if Krishna is God and is enjoying a life of eternal bliss with His devotees in the spiritual world, how does that help us here in our day-to-day predicaments?”

The answer is that unless we know the Absolute Truth, we can never solve problems arising from the immediate, relative truths. An expert physician knows that certain symptoms indicate a specific disease and that by curing the disease he can cure all the symptoms. Similarly, the world’s problems of conflict, scarcity, oppression, disease, and so on are merely symptoms of our ignorance of life’s real purpose: to know, serve, and love God. Unless our leaders themselves become enlightened in God consciousness and attack the root cause of social ills—widespread spiritual ignorance—no palliative measures can ever succeed in curing the body politic.

The human propensity for love has to be satisfied in terms of the real self and its spiritual needs, not just in terms of immediate physical, familial, or social needs. Our ultimate need is to understand our intimate loving relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. So Krishna is not irrelevant; rather, attempting to solve our problems without Him is irrelevant. Forgetting the Supreme Personality of Godhead and disobeying His codes of universal religion are the causes of all suffering. Careful study of the Krishna books, therefore, is not a waste of time but an activity of the utmost importance.

For those of us not interested in reading lengthy treatises on transcendental philosophy, Srila Prabhupada has presented the Krishna books in the attractive form of short stories comprising ninety chapters. The Krishna books are actually a summary study of the Tenth Canto of the Sanskrit scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, which describes Lord Krishna’s all-attractive pastimes. In the Krishna books Srila Prabhupada has made the essence of this most sublime Vedic literature accessible to modern readers all over the world.

The relevance of the Krishna books to our modern difficulties becomes even clearer when we consider the setting of the original narration of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The scene was a sacred forest in India five thousand years ago. The sage Sukadeva Gosvami narrated the pastimes of Lord Krishna to the emperor Parikshit, who had been cursed to die within seven days. By their practical example, these two exalted persons teach us that life’s ultimate purpose is to hear about, glorify, and remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead. King Parikshit was especially intent on hearing about Krishna, because he knew he would die in a matter of hours. He was confident that by hearing about Krishna during his last moments, he would attain the eternal, spiritual world and thus escape the cycle of birth and death.

Not only King Parikshit but every one of us should be aware of death at every moment. And since the purpose of life is to become fully Krishna conscious before death, hearing or reading about Krishna is our prime need. Thanks to Srila Prabhupada, his Krishna books let us fulfill this need in a most pleasurable way.

Who Is God?

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from Back To Godhead Magazine #25-05, 1991

One Christmas, Life magazine did a cover story entitled “Who is God?” They asked that question of many people and printed the replies. The color photos of worshipers throughout the world showed many ways of approaching God. Life said, “The God of our story is the God of personal, private faith.” Intrigued by the topic, I asked myself, “Okay, what’s your answer to ‘Who is God?’”

My personal faith in God comes from my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, and from the Vedic scriptures. The intimations I had of God’s presence when I was a child were faint indications only. Real God consciousness began for me when I met Srila Prabhupada and heard about Lord Krishna. It is the Supreme Lord who speaks the Bhagavad-gita whom I wish to serve and love.

God is revealed not only in the Vedic scriptures but in other scriptures of the great world religions. The worshipers appear to have different understandings, yet the expert spiritual master knows that the essence of religion is one—love of God. The details differ with the time in which religion is taught, the persons to whom it is taught, and the place where it is taught.

We cannot deny that God comes to people in His own way. One Life testimony was from an old woman who didn’t know for sure whether there is a next life or whether there is God. A housemaid from Beirut said that God is a very old black person and He wears a long white robe.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own faith. But there is a science of revelation. God shouldn’t be discussed only by hunches. We have a right to our own feelings, but the feelings need to be directed.

I cannot claim to be more directly touched by God than others. But my point is that we should become educated in our God consciousness. We shouldn’t deliberately avoid this education, thinking that it’s sectarian. And we shouldn’t, like some people, take God in a sentimental way and think that sacred books and teachers are useless.

In our relationship with God, the most important relationship of our lives, it is best that we approach reliable sources of study. Srila Prabhupada used to say that religion without philosophy is sentiment or fanaticism, and philosophy without religion is dry speculation. Therefore pure devotees of Krishna are bhaktivedantas: they approach God through devotion (bhakti) as well as through scriptural knowledge and the power of reasoning (vedanta).

Who is God? Only God Himself knows this answer completely, and therefore we should hear from Him. In the Bhagavad- gita and other scriptures, Lord Krishna tells us, “I can be known only by devotional service.” Krishna also makes it easy for us to know Him by telling us He can be seen even within the material world. He says, “I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and the ability in man” (Bhagavad-gita 7.8).

There are symptoms of a person who has realized God. The chief symptom is that he always serves and praises his Supreme Beloved. He cannot bear to be away from Krishna’s service for even a moment. When people come in contact with such a pure devotee, they also become attracted to hearing and chanting about the Supreme. And the result of such knowledgeable devotional service is that one can ultimately attain to Sri Krishna’s eternal abode.

Frankly, some of the witnessing in Life turned me off. A rancher thinks God is pleased when he kills cows.

A boy from India says, “It would be pretty boring sticking to one God every day.… My dad bought this lottery pen. It shoots out numbers like in the lottery … so when I pray I take a number. Whichever number comes out I pray to that God.”

I know that any progress toward God-worship is worthwhile. The Supreme Lord considers all worshipers pious, even when they approach Him for material relief through the demigods. But should we consider all God conscious persons to be on the same level? Krishna says, “As all approach Me I reciprocate. Everyone is on My path.” But He also advises that the best devotees are they who approach the Supreme Personality of Godhead not for any profit but just out of love. This topmost way of knowing God is bhakti- yoga. Krishna calls it “the king of all knowledge.” And He advises that we eventually give up all lesser forms of religion and “Just surrender to Me.”

In former ages, persons determined to know “Who is God?” used to undergo severe austerities to reach the goal. Because the difficult practices of yoga and meditation are mostly no longer possible in the present age, Lord Caitanya has taught us an easy method, one authorized by scriptures: chanting the holy names of God. The holy names are not different from God Himself, so a sincere chanter can make quick advancement in God consciousness.

For the most part I enjoyed reading Life’s faithful testimonies. They’re certainly more encouraging than statements by nonbelievers. I honor the witnesses. It is an education to meet God-fearing, God-loving persons. And if we can learn to appreciate one another, we can go a long way toward defeating atheism. When devotees of God meet with open minds, I will find that “my” God is not so different from yours.

Fierce Lord of Love

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #37-03, 2003

Of the Avatars of Lord Krishna described in the Srimad- Bhagavatam, Lord Nrisimha, whose appearance coincides with this issue of BTG, is especially intriguing to many of us. Half man, half lion—and all God.

People encountering a picture of Nrisimhadeva ferociously ripping apart Hiranyakashipu are often taken aback. “You believe this is God?”

Why not? God is the ultimate in everything. He can light like no one else. He can tear up the mighty terrorist Hiranyakashipu with little effort.

But if you find the fierce aspect of God unappealing, know that His supreme anger is a display of His intense love for His devotee Prahlada, Hiranyakashipu’s son, who was being tortured by his atheistic father.

But Nrisimha’s actions were also motivated by love for Hiranyakashipu, His apparent victim. Hiranyakashipu is one of the Lord’s eternal servants, a gatekeeper in the spiritual world. Lord Vishnu yearned for good light, so He arranged an incident in the spiritual world that ended with His servant’s fall to the material world to spend three lives as the Lord’s greatest enemy. What to our eyes seems like the attack of a bloodthirsty creature is in fact a dance of love between the Lord and His servant.

We must always be careful to understand God’s activities under proper guidance. God’s devotees know that He can do no wrong. Everything He does springs from His love for us and His infinite desire to exchange love with each of us in a deep, personal, unique relationship. We may look at Hiranyakashipu and feel sorry for him, but that’s the wrong reaction. We should praise him for his great fortune at having been chosen to assist the Lord in His quest for a knock- down, drag-out light. If only we could be so privileged!

We learn from the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic books that we have a unique relationship with God and should use our human life to revive it. When Krishna comes to this world in His countless forms, He shows some of the endless variety of ways we can exchange love with Him. In Lord Nrisimha’s appearance, for example, we see extreme contrast in His displays of love for Prahlada and Hiranyakashipu.

Another example of Lord Nrisimha’s unique love is His relationship with Lord Brahma, His empowered servant who creates the universe. Brahma had given Hiranyakashipu several boons—up to Brahma’s limit of power to bestow—through which Hiranyakashipu believed he had become immortal. He could not be killed by any known being in the universe, by any weapon, during the day or night, inside or outside, in the sky, in the sea, or on the land. Lord Nrisimha showed respect and love for His devotee Brahma by honoring his benedictions. Outsmarting Hiranyakashipu, He assumed a form as half man, half lion to kill Hiranyakashipu with His fingernails, at dusk, on His lap, in the doorway of the palace. The Lord could have disregarded Brahma’s benedictions, but He chose to show his affection for his servant by honoring them. When we carefully study the activities of the Lord’s incarnations, we’ll find them to be the highest expressions of love, no matter how violent they may seem at first glance.

Emphasis on Living

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from Back To Godhead Magazine, #35-05, 2001

Not long ago I gave a talk about the importance of preparing our consciousness for death. We have to face the fact that death is inevitable, I said, so we’d better be ready for it.

Several people in the audience were hearing about Krishna consciousness for the first time. After the talk, one of them, Jerry, commented that my emphasis on death was a negative way of looking at life.

“I try to concentrate on living a full life,” he said, “and not worry about death.”

His comment made me think that I could have delivered my message differently. Maybe my talk had come across as rather negative.

“Actually, you’re right,” I said, trying to redeem myself. “If we live right, we will be ready for death. So let’s concentrate on living right. That’s what Krishna consciousness is all about.”

It’s good to have a positive outlook on life, but I have to admit that the fear of death and of the test that comes with it is a significant part of my motivation to keep up my spiritual practices. Krishna says that if we remember Him at the time of death we’ll go to Him and if we don’t remember Him we’ll have to accept another material body. Along with each body come the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. I fear the alternative to going to Krishna. Being somewhat (well, maybe more than somewhat) claustrophobic, the thought of being packed in a womb again helps me press on.

This type of negative motivation might not be the ideal, but Krishna does mention it in the Bhagavad-gita. He says that we should always be conscious of the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. This vision is one of the items of real knowledge, woefully absent in modern times. “Material civilization,” Srila Prabhupada writes, “is a patchwork of activities meant to cover the perpetual miseries of material existence.” People absorb themselves in everyday life, trying to live with gusto and trying to forget that the material world is not a happy place.

I was giving my talk in Sarasota, Florida, a balmy, well-to- do city on the Gulf of Mexico. When speaking to an audience like this (people enjoying their good karma), I often have to remind them that although life may seem great to them right now, they can easily see how millions of people around the world are suffering tremendously from war, disease, poverty, starvation—on and on. And are they themselves really that well off? The citizens of Sarasota are not exempt from misery. It just comes in different flavors: stress, depression, bankruptcy, divorce.

We have to step back from our “patchwork of activities” and see things as they are. Fortunately, the life of Krishna consciousness that Srila Prabhupada gave us includes both taking a hard look at material life and living a fully satisfying spiritual one. Devotees of Krishna do concentrate on living, because, after all, real life is spiritual. Real life is the undying exchange between the soul and Krishna.

Later, as Jerry and I spoke while enjoying a feast of Krishna- prasadam, I had a chance to tell to him more about the well-rounded life of Krishna’s devotees.

“If this food is any indication,” he said, “I’d say you live a great life!”

You Can Take It With You

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“I’m taking some good courses in college.”

“That’s great. Tell me about some of them.”

I cradle the phone on my shoulder as I help Jahnu, my three- year-old grandson, settle down to his lunch. Sitting next to him, I listen as a graduate of our school tells me about his classes, teachers, and life in general.

“What about all those classes you took in that university overseas?” I ask.

“Oh, credit for them doesn’t transfer. Here in America, half a year is a complete course, but over there you need three years to finish a course, and I only had one and a half years.”

“That’s not very good. What a lousy deal!”

Jahnu is eating pieces of fried homemade cheese by nibbling around the edges. He has finished most of them but hasn’t touched the noodles. I had put basil on them, which he identifies as “spices,” disqualifying them as edible.

“No, I don’t get any credit for that,” my former student replies.

“What about your study toward your pilot’s license? Can any of that transfer to your present school?”

“No.” A pause. “I’m not getting my degree in aviation, so none of that work will count toward the credits I need.”

“How awful!” I say, and then smile and quip, “So you’ve wasted the last four years of your life.”

“Really? But I’ve been chanting Hare Krishna!”

“Oh, yes, that transfers!”

“Even if you get a D grade, it still transfers!” he says, and we laugh.

Carrying Reactions

We’re busy in life trying for success, however we measure it. As we depart from our body at death, some of us may be able to check off our list of accomplishments. But how useful are achievements that end with the body? And the body may end at any time. Of course, while in our body we have responsibilities. But we are eternal beings. Shouldn’t we be mostly concerned with successes that benefit us forever? Like my student’s hard work at his former university, our academic degrees, job skills, bank balance, and artistic creations won’t follow us to our next body.

What we do carry from one life to the next are the reactions—good and bad—to our desires and actions. And we might also take along tendencies or interests that help us learn something faster in our new body. We may have a natural feel for something if we’ve done it for many lifetimes. But even those tendencies may fade after many births, and, except in rare cases, we still have to learn and practice rigorously, no matter what level of success we achieved in other bodies.

Achievements of the soul are different. When the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna appeared on earth thousands of years ago, His friend Arjuna asked about transferring spiritual credits. Arjuna’s question is part of their recorded conversation, the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna understood the difficulty in achieving total purity in spiritual life, especially gaining control over one’s mind and senses. What would happen, he asked, if someone started spiritual life but didn’t complete the process? Wouldn’t he or she lose everything? Since spiritual life can mean less emphasis on material goals, those would go unfulfilled, and one would have gained neither spiritually nor materially. So would one end up with a grade of “Incomplete” on the cosmic transcript? No credits toward the degree?

No, Krishna assured Arjuna. Evil never overcomes real goodness, and the slightest progress keeps one enrolled in the school of spiritual life.

What’s the observable result of past spiritual progress? One takes birth in a family where spiritual life is safe, or, if one’s progress has been great, strongly encouraged. And one feels a natural interest in developing a relationship of love and service to the Supreme Lord. That interest surpasses sectarian rituals and dogma; it is a craving to know and live the essence of religion.

Jahnu’s Studies

Jahnu had helped me offer our food to Lord Krishna before he ate. Now done, noodles untouched, he sits and looks at books of Krishna’s pastimes, identifying the characters and praising Krishna. Jahnu’s spiritual credits have transferred to this life. Perhaps he will complete his “studies” this lifetime. Perhaps he will love Lord Krishna fully, free from lust, anger, greed, and envy. We hope for that, guiding him as we ourselves strive for perfection. But even if his life’s achievement is less than perfect, all his spiritual emotions and realizations will follow him through his lifetimes until he’s eligible to regain his place as Krishna’s pure devotee.

“Servant” Is a Good Word

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from Back To Godhead Magazine #33-04, 1999

The philosophy of Krishna consciousness is vast and deep. After twenty-five years of study I’ve yet to master all its subtleties. Still, I’ve found that contemplating even the basic concepts can be highly satisfying.

Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of studying the teachings of Lord Krishna every day. Just the other day I was reading Srimad-Bhagavatam when one of Prabhupada’s explanations struck me as so self-evident I just had to chuckle: “Of course. How could anyone argue with that?”

Srila Prabhupada was making the point—as he did over and over again—that we are all eternal servants of God and by realizing that we attain perfection.

“Everyone must serve someone,” Srila Prabhupada pointed out. We can’t exist without serving. We serve our family, friends, pets, boss, country. Even if we manage to avoid all those services, we can’t escape serving the demands of our own body and mind and, ultimately, the forces of nature that ravage and destroy our very bodies.

We all must serve. This point is an example of what Prabhupada meant when he used to say that he was not teaching a sectarian religion. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, or Jew; American, Indian, European, or Asian—we all must serve.

“So what?” you might ask.

So it follows that since we’re servants by nature, we’re subordinate to a higher power. And to control, that higher power must have intelligence, and must therefore be a person.

God is the only person not under anyone else’s control. We’re not God. Unlike us, God doesn’t have to serve anyone. We’re subordinate to Him; we’re His servants.

Realize that one simple point, and all our problems will be solved because we’ll stop fighting our real nature.

Because our original consciousness, now in touch with the material energy, is polluted, we resent being told we’re “eternal servants.” We don’t want to serve; we want to be served. (That’s probably why people like going to restaurants.) We’re all here trying our best to be God. Even in our self-styled attempts at spirituality we want to keep God out of the picture.

There’s another reason we resent being told we’re servants: Our experience of serving in this world tends to be unsatisfying.

Yet selfless service, which we glimpse in, for example, a mother’s loving service to her child, is highly satisfying. And great philanthropists no doubt derive pleasure in sacrificing for others. Srila Prabhupada pointed out that the philanthropists’ urge to serve others without reward indicates our eternal nature as servants of God.

Service in devotion is not drudgery. Limitless bliss awaits us in serving God. Because God, Krishna, is a person, in our liberated state we can serve Him as playmates, family members, even girlfriends. To me, this is one of the most wonderful aspects of the Krishna conscious explanation of our position as servants of God. He wants us to serve Him the way a friend serves a friend, a lover serves a lover. We simply have to give up our stubborn insistence on trying to take His place.

A Brief Case for Detachment

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from Back To Godhead Magazine #33-05, 1999

The sage Chanakhya wrote, “There is no misery like attachment. There is no happiness like detachment.”

I lost my briefcase recently, and although it was a relatively insignificant loss, I felt disappointed and thought about how painful it can be to lose things we value greatly. Attachment often leads to disappointment. Either the object of our attachment doesn’t continue to satisfy us, or it doesn’t last forever. The things we work so hard to acquire quickly lose their thrill. Our loved ones may let us down, even hurt us deeply—as only those close to us can. Or circumstances separate us from those we love.

The final separator is death. Our own death drags us from everything we’re attached to. And the death of a loved one is surely one of life’s most painful experiences.

In the material world this kind of suffering, like many others, is inevitable. But we can do something to ease the pain. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that we must tolerate distress because it’s part of life. But Krishna doesn’t leave Arjuna without support. He tells him that a true understanding of the self and its situation in this world will give him the strength to carry on even when things go against him. Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna that he is not the body but the soul within. The soul has no lasting connection with either the body or anything related to it. Knowing just that can inspire detachment.

Beyond that, Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna the art of transferring attachment from the temporary to the eternal—specifically to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord Himself. All the attachments we develop in this world are misplaced attachment for Krishna. Or, seen another way, everything we’re attached to is, in a sense, Krishna. Because He creates and pervades everything, all our attachments are to some aspect of His energy.

Yet while Krishna and His energy are identical, they’re different too. So although attachment to Krishna leads to liberation from all suffering, attachment to His material energy binds us to the material world, where we must suffer repeated birth, disease, old age, and death.

Every transcendentalist knows that attachment to the temporary is the root of all suffering. Various philosophers prescribe different ways to stop all attachment, but because it’s part of our original love for Krishna, it can never be stopped. The solution to the problem of attachment and the misery it brings is to love Krishna. That will fulfill all the desires we’re trying to satisfy in other ways.

Loving Krishna includes loving things related to Him, especially His devotees. One thing I miss from my briefcase is my collection of hundreds of index cards with scriptural verses on them. One of those verses says, “Attachment for the material is the greatest entanglement of the spirit soul. But that same attachment, when applied to the self- realized devotees, opens the door of liberation.” With or without my briefcase, I can benefit from remembering that.