A Conversation with A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and several of his disciples were joined by Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen, a Benedictine monk from Niederalteich Monastery. Noticing that Srila Prabhupada was carrying meditation beads similar to the Catholic rosary, Father Emmanuel explained that he also chanted a constant prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful unto us.” The following conversation ensued.
Srila Prabhupada: What is the meaning of the word Christ?
Father Emmanuel: Christ comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning “the anointed one.”
Srila Prabhupada: Christos is the Greek version of the word Krishna.
Father Emmanuel: This is very interesting.
Srila Prabhupada: When an Indian person calls on Krishna, he often says, “Krsta.” Krsta is a Sanskrit word meaning “attraction.” So when we address God as “Christ,” “Krsta,” or “Krishna,” we indicate the same all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead. When Jesus said, “Our Father, who art in heaven, sanctified be Thy name,” that name of God was Krsta or Krishna. Do you agree?
Father Emmanuel: I think Jesus, as the Son of God, has revealed to us the actual name of God: Christ. We can call God “Father,” but if we want to address Him by His actual name, we have to say “Christ.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. “Christ” is another way of saying Krishta, and “Krishta” is another way of pronouncing Krishna, the name of God. Jesus said that one should glorify the name of God, but yesterday I heard one theologian say that God has no name—that we can call him only “Father.” A son may call his father “Father,” but the father also has a specific name. Similarly, God is the general name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose specific name is Krishna. Therefore whether you call God “Christ,” “Krishta,” or “Krishna,” ultimately you are addressing the same Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Father Emmanuel: Yes, if we speak of God’s actual name, then we must say, “Christos.” In our religion, we have the Trinity: the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. We believe we can know the name of God only by revelation from the Son of God. Jesus Christ revealed the name of the father, and therefore we take the name Christ as the revealed name of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Actually, it doesn’t matter—Krishna or Christ—the name is the same. The main point is to follow the injunctions of the Vedic scriptures that recommend chanting the name of God in this age. The easiest way is to chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Rama and Krishna are names of God, and Hare is the energy of God. So when we chant the maha-mantra, we address God together with His energy. This energy is of two kinds, the spiritual and the material. At present we are in the clutches of the material energy. Therefore we pray to Krishna that He may kindly deliver us from the service of the material energy and accept us into the service of the spiritual energy. That is our whole philosophy. Hare Krishna means, “O energy of God, O God (Krishna), please engage me in Your service.” It is our nature to render service. Somehow or other we have come to the service of material things, but when this service is transformed into the service of the spiritual energy, then our life is perfect. To practice bhakti-yoga [loving service to God] means to become free from designations like Hindu, Muslim, Christian, this or that, and simply to serve God. We have created Christian, Hindu, and Mohammedan religions, but when we come to a religion without designations, in which we don’t think we are Hindus or Christians or Mohammedans, then we can speak of pure religion, or bhakti.
Father Emmanuel: Mukti? [liberation from material consciousness]
Srila Prabhupada: No, bhakti. When we speak of bhakti, mukti is included. Without bhakti there is no mukti,but if we act on the platform of bhakti, then mukti is included. We learn this from the Bhagavad-gita (14.26)
mam ca yo ’vyabhicarena
sa gunan samatityaitan
“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down under any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman.”
Father Emmanuel: Is Brahman Krishna?
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna is Parabrahman. Brahman is realized in three aspects: as impersonal Brahman, as localized Paramatma, and as personal Brahman. Krishna is personal, and He is the Supreme Brahman, for God is ultimately a person. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.11), this is confirmed:
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
tattvam yaj jnanam advayam
bhagavan iti shabdyate
“Learned transcendentalists, who know the Absolute Truth, call this non-dual substance Brahman, Paramatma, or Bhagavan.” The feature of the Supreme Personality is the ultimate realization of God. He has all six opulences in full: He is the strongest, the richest, the most beautiful, the most famous, the wisest, and the most renounced.
Father Emmanuel: Yes, I agree.
Srila Prabhupada: Because God is absolute, His name, His form, and His qualities are also absolute, and they are non-different from Him. Therefore to chant God’s holy name means to associate directly with Him. When one associates with God, one acquires godly qualities, and when one is completely purified, one becomes an associate of the Supreme Lord.
Father Emmanuel: But our understanding of the name of God is limited.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we are limited, but God is unlimited. And because He is unlimited, or absolute, He has unlimited names, each of which is God. We can understand His names as much as our spiritual understanding is developed.
Father Emmanuel: May I ask a question? We Christians also preach love of God, and we try to realize love of God and render service to Him with all our heart and all our soul. Now, what is the difference between your movement and ours? Why do you send your disciples to the Western countries to preach love of God when the gospel of Jesus Christ is propounding the same message?
Srila Prabhupada: The problem is that the Christians do not follow the commandments of God. Do you agree?
Father Emmanuel: Yes, to a large extent you’re right.
Srila Prabhupada: Then what is the meaning of the Christians’ love for God? If you do not follow the orders of God, then where is your love? Therefore we have come to teach what it means to love God: If you love Him, you cannot be disobedient to His orders. And if you’re disobedient, your love is not true.
All over the world people do not love God, but their dogs. The Krishna consciousness movement is therefore necessary to teach people how to revive their forgotten love for God. Not only the Christians, but also the Hindus, the Mohammedans, and all others are guilty. They have rubber-stamped themselves as Christian, Hindu, or Mohammedan, but they do not obey God. That is the problem.
Visitor: Can you say in what way the Christians are disobedient?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The first point is that they violate the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” by maintaining slaughterhouses. Do you agree that this commandment is being violated?
Father Emmanuel: Personally, I agree.
Srila Prabhupada: Good. So if the Christians want to love God, they must stop killing animals.
Father Emmanuel: But isn’t the most important point…
Srila Prabhupada: If you miss one point, there is a mistake in your calculation. Regardless of what you add or subtract after that, the mistake is already in the calculation, and everything that follows will also be faulty. We cannot simply accept that part of the scripture we like, and reject what we don’t like, and still expect to get the result. For example, a hen lays eggs with its back part and eats with its beak. A farmer may consider, “The front part of the hen is very expensive because I have to feed it. Better to cut it off.” But if the head is missing there will be no eggs anymore because the body is dead. Similarly, if we reject the difficult part of the scriptures and obey the part we like, such an interpretation will not help us. We have to accept all the injunctions of the scripture as they are given, not only those that suit us. If you do not follow the first order, “Thou shalt not kill,” then where is the question of love of God?
Visitor: Christians take this commandment to be applicable to human beings, not to animals.
Srila Prabhupada: That would mean that Christ was not intelligent enough to use the right word: murder. There is killing, and there is murder. Murder refers to human beings. Do you think Jesus was not intelligent enough to use the right word—murder—instead of the word killing? Killing means any kind of killing, and especially animal killing. If Jesus had meant simply the killing of humans, he would have used the word murder.
Father Emmanuel: But in the Old Testament the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” does refer to murder. And when Jesus said, “Thou shalt not kill,” he extended this commandment to mean that a human being should not only refrain from killing another human being, but should also treat him with love. He never spoke about man’s relationship with other living entities but only about his relationship with other human beings. When he said, “Thou shalt not kill,” he also meant in the mental and emotional sense—that you should not insult anyone or hurt him, treat him badly, and so on.
Srila Prabhupada: We are not concerned with this or that testament but only with the words used in the commandments. If you want to interpret these words, that is something else. We understand the direct meaning. “Thou shalt not kill” means, “The Christians should not kill.” You may put forth interpretations in order to continue the present way of action, but we understand very clearly that there is no need for interpretation. Interpretation is necessary if things are not clear. But here the meaning is clear. “Thou shalt not kill” is a clear instruction. Why should we interpret it?
Father Emmanuel: Isn’t the eating of plants also killing?
Srila Prabhupada: The Vaishnava philosophy teaches that we should not even kill plants unnecessarily. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.26) Krishna says:
patram pushpam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahritam
“If someone offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or a little water, I will accept it.” We offer Krishna only the kind of food He demands, and then we eat the remnants. If offering vegetarian food to Krishna were sinful, then it would be Krishna’s sin, not ours. But God is apapa-vijna—sinful reactions are not applicable to Him. He is like the sun, which is so powerful that it can purify even urine—something impossible for us to do. Krishna is also like a king, who may order a murderer to be hanged, but who himself is not subjected to punishment because he is very powerful. Eating food first offered to the Lord is also something like a soldier’s killing during wartime. In a war, when the commander orders a man to attack, the obedient soldier who kills the enemy will get a medal. But if the same soldier kills someone on his own, he will be punished. Similarly, when we eat only prasada [the remnants of food offered to Krishna], we do not commit any sin. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (3.13):
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ya pacanty atma-karanat
“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food that is first offered for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.”
Father Emmanuel: Krishna cannot give permission to eat animals?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—in the animal kingdom. But the civilized human being, the religious human being, is not meant to kill and eat animals. If you stop killing animals and chant the holy name Christ, everything will be perfect. I have not come to teach you, but only to request you to please chant the name of God. The Bible also demands this of you. So let’s kindly cooperate and chant, and if you have a prejudice against chanting the name Krishna, then chant “Christo” or “Krishna”—there is no difference. Sri Chaitanya said: namnam akari bahu-dha nija-sarva-shaktis. “God has millions and millions of names, and because there is no difference between God’s name and Himself, each one of these names has the same potency as God.” Therefore, even if you accept designations like Hindu, Christian, or Mohammedan, if you simply chant the name of God found in your own scriptures, you will attain the spiritual platform. Human life is meant for self-realization—to learn how to love God. That is the actual beauty of man. Whether you discharge this duty as a Hindu, a Christian, or a Mohammedan, it doesn’t matter—but discharge it!
Father Emmanuel: I agree.
Srila Prabhupada: [pointing to a string of 108 meditation beads] We always have these beads, just as you have your rosary. You are chanting, but why don’t the other Christians also chant? Why should they miss this opportunity as human beings? Cats and dogs cannot chant, but we can because we have a human tongue. If we chant the holy names of God, we cannot lose anything; on the contrary, we gain greatly. My disciples practice chanting Hare Krishna constantly. They could also go to the cinema, or do so many other things, but they have given everything up. They eat neither fish nor meat nor eggs, they don’t take intoxicants, they don’t drink, they don’t smoke, they don’t partake in gambling, they don’t speculate, and they don’t maintain illicit sexual connections. But they do chant the holy name of God. If you would like to cooperate with us, then go to the churches and chant, “Christ,” “Krishta,” or “Krishna.” What could be the objection?
Father Emmanuel: There is none. For my part, I would be glad to join you.
Srila Prabhupada: No, we are speaking with you as a representative of the Christian church. Instead of keeping the churches closed, why not give them to us? We would chant the holy name of God there twenty-four hours a day. In many places we have bought churches that were practically closed because no one was going there. In London I saw hundreds of churches that were closed or used for mundane purposes. We bought one such church in Los Angeles. It was sold because no one came there, but if you visit this same church today, you will see thousands of people. Any intelligent person can understand what God is in five minutes; it doesn’t require five hours.
Father Emmanuel: I understand.
Srila Prabhupada: But the people do not. Their disease is that they don’t want to understand.
Visitor: I think understanding God is not a question of intelligence, but a question of humility.
Srila Prabhupada: Humility means intelligence. “The humble and meek own the kingdom of God.” This is stated in the Bible, is it not? But the philosophy of the rascals is that everyone is God, and today this idea has become popular. Therefore no one is humble and meek. If everyone thinks that he is God, why should he be humble and meek? Therefore I teach my disciples how to become humble and meek. They always offer their respectful obeisances in the temple and to the spiritual master, and in this way they make advancement. The qualities of humbleness and meekness lead very quickly to spiritual realization. In the Vedic scriptures it is said, “To those who have firm faith in God and the spiritual master, who is His representative, the meaning of the Vedic scriptures is revealed.”
Father Emmanuel: But shouldn’t this humility be offered to everyone else, also?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but there are two kinds of respect: special and ordinary. Sri Krishna Chaitanya taught that we shouldn’t expect honor for ourselves, but should always respect everyone else, even if he is disrespectful to us. But special respect should be given to God and His pure devotee.
Father Emmanuel: Yes, I agree.
Srila Prabhupada: I think the Christian priests should cooperate with the Krishna consciousness movement. They should chant the name Christ or Christos and should stop condoning the slaughter of animals. This program follows the teachings of the Bible; it is not my philosophy. Please act accordingly and you will see how the world situation will change.
Father Emmanuel: I thank you very much.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krishna!
by Mathuresha Dasa
In the sixteenth century, the Muslim governor of Bengal loses two of his best men to the recently founded Hare Krishna movement.
Nawab Hussain Shah, who ruled Bengal from A.D. 1509 to 1532, had two expert and trusted ministers in the brothers Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik. The Nawab had recruited the brothers from the aristocratic Karnatic brahmana community, given them Muslim names, and taken satisfaction in seeing them shed Hindu ways and adopt Muslim dress and customs. In taking charge of the government secretariat and freeing the Nawab from the more cumbersome duties of his administration, Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik became his confidantes and two of the wealthiest and most influential men in Bengal.
Bengal’s Hindu community took a dim view of the brothers’ achievements. Muslims were not merely low- caste or outcaste, Hindu leaders proclaimed; they were meat- eaters and cow-killers. Rubbing shoulders with them in the slightest, even accidentally, clearly called for censure and ostracism. Because Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik, as they now called themselves, had accepted employment from the Nawab, they practically demanded their own excommunication. No other punishment fit their crime.
Finding no way to placate their critics and regain their status as respectable Hindus, the brothers in great humility and distress wrote several confidential letters to Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu at Jagannatha Puri, requesting His guidance. Lord Chaitanya promised to come resolve their spiritual difficulties, and in 1513, on His way to visit the holy land of Vrindavana, He arrived at Ramakeli, the brothers’ exquisite home village on the bank of the Ganges at the border of Bengal.
Great crowds of people joined Lord Chaitanya chanting Hare Krishna and dancing through the streets of Ramakeli, alarming Muslim and Hindu leaders alike and prompting them to wonder what had occasioned the Lord’s visit. Nawab Hussain Shah, while appreciating Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as a Hindu prophet and ordering local officials to leave Him alone, appeared to be on a short fuse. And to many Hindu leaders, Lord Chaitanya was a prophet only in the loosest sense, one fomenting a revolution against the brahminical caste system. There were Muslims and other untouchables chanting and dancing in those noisy crowds, and even the inner circle of the Lord’s Hare Krishna movement included at least one member, Haridasa Thakura, born in a family of cow-killing Muslims.
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s devotees and friends in Ramakeli, sensing tension in the air, feared for His safety. Honoring their loving pleas, and appearing inconvenienced by the crowds that followed His every step, the Lord postponed His Vrindavana pilgrimage and returned to Puri, leaving both Nawab Hussain Shah and Hindu leaders to their sighs of relief as life returned to normal.
The Brothers Resign
Or apparently normal. For only a matter of months later news shook Bengal that Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik, the Nawab’s right-hand men, had more or less vanished. Dabhir Kas had abruptly resigned his post, filled two large boats with his accumulated earnings in gold coins, and given away nearly all of it to relatives and religious charities at a place called Bakla Candradvipa.
Sakara Mallik too had requested permission to resign, and when the Nawab refused, had instead submitted sick reports and stayed home. Because Hussain Shah was planning an invasion of the neighboring state of Orissa, he was in no mood to allow Sakara Mallik to neglect the home front. Suspicious of the sick reports, the Nawab showed up at Sakara’s house and found him in good health and happily studying the scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam, no doubt under the influence of the Hindu prophet Chaitanya.
The temperamental ruler first tried coaxing Sakara back to work with friendly words. When that failed, he slapped him in jail and marched off to conquer the feudal princes of Orissa. In the Shah’s absence Sakara escaped and, according to the jailkeeper, drowned in the Ganges, dragged under by his prison chains.
But the drowning was a ruse. Sakara had bribed the jailkeeper with ten thousand gold coins Dabhir Kas had set aside for emergencies. The two brothers had slipped away to join Lord Chaitanya, who sent them to Vrindavana. Reliable sources confirmed too that during Lord Chaitanya’s recent visit to Ramakeli, the brothers, disguising themselves and crossing town in the dead of night to avoid the Nawab’s detection, had met with the Lord.
“Everyone is asking why I have come to this village of Ramakeli,” the Lord had told them. “I have come just to see you two brothers.”
Lord Chaitanya had initiated them into His Hare Krishna movement, changing their names to Rupa and Sanatana. So now Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik were known as Rupa Goswami and Sanatana Goswami. They had left wealth, family, friends, and practically unlimited spheres of influence in their homeland, and they had permanently set aside any thought of returning to regular Hindu society, all to serve Lord Chaitanya in a remote holy place.
Reports filtered back from Vrindavana that the brothers had shaved their heads, marked their foreheads with tilaka clay, and discarded the silken, bejeweled finery of their government days to wear torn cloth. With no fixed residence, they were living beneath trees, one night under one tree and the next night under another. They were begging a little food, eating only some dry bread and chickpeas, and sleeping hardly at all. Through these willing hardships they happily chanted the holy names of Krishna, dancing in great jubilation throughout Vrindavana. Finding the opportunity to employ their considerable erudition to scrutinize the world’s revealed scriptures (they were fluent in Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit), they were writing books to establish eternal, universal religious principles.
Back home, Muslim and Hindu alike wondered how the brothers could even talk of religion. Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik had first lost their status as Hindus, then offended Hussain Shah as well. Weren’t they aware that no religious person would take them seriously? And how long could these wealthy, aristocratic gentlemen survive as humble mendicants after their lives of luxury and prestige? Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s cult might temporarily attract those shaken by the crises of youth or middle age, and certainly the brothers had been traumatized by losing their Hindu birthright, but nothing could ultimately replace the identity everyone centers on the traditions of home, family, country, and career. As time wore on, Dabhir and Sakara would inevitably return to lives as stable, upwardly mobile professionals.
Yet as the years passed, Dabhir Kas and Sakara Mallik stayed in Vrindavana, joyfully writing and preaching for Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission. Competition for position at the Nawab’s secretariat had begun at the first hint of the brothers’ resignations, with Sakara Mallik’s former post as head of the secretariat finally going to an undersecretary named Purandhara Khan. As further reminders of the brothers’ absence, hundreds and thousands of followers of Lord Chaitanya were appearing in every town and village in Bengal and throughout India. Wherever Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had traveled, His devotees filled bustling marketplaces with their loud singing, greeted travelers at busy intersections and begged them to chant the holy names of Krishna, and in many ways reminiscent of Dabhir and Sakara, or Rupa and Sanatana, gave their lives to the Hare Krishna movement.
Ask these Hare Krishna devotees how Rupa and Sanatana were doing, and they would have the latest word on the brothers’ activities in Vrindavana. “Rupa and Sanatana Goswamis have received the causeless mercy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu,” these nonenvious followers might typically say with pride. “Deeply attracted by the transcendental qualities of the Lord, the brothers are exact replicas of Lord Chaitanya and are very, very dear to Him. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has empowered them to spread the transcendental news of Krishna’s pastimes. Rupa and Sanatana very carefully follow the principles enunciated by the Lord, constantly thinking of Lord Chaitanya and His mission. Srila Rupa Goswami, Sanatana Goswami, and their nephew Jiva Goswami, as well as practically all of their family members, live in Vrindavana and publish important books on devotional service to Krishna. What is impossible for persons who have been granted the Lord’s mercy?”
Rupa and Sanatana, once the pride of the Nawab’s cabinet, the envy of their Muslim under-workers, and the objects of scorn from caste-conscious Hindus, were now leaders in the Hare Krishna movement. Because true spiritual life is without envy, their leadership made them the objects of love and honor for all the great stalwart devotees of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
The Nawab’s Realization
Nawab Hussain Shah had to resign himself at last to the loss of his two talented ministers. Watching with wonder and apprehension as the Hare Krishna movement spread to every corner of his realm, he had occasion to remember his days with Rupa and Sana-tana. In Ramakeli during Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s visit, the Nawab had privately questioned Dabhir Kas, the future Rupa Goswami, about the Lord. Dabhir Kas had replied, “The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who gave you this kingdom and whom you accept as a prophet, has taken birth in your country. By His blessings, you will attain victory everywhere.”
“But why are you questioning me?” he had continued. “As king, you are the representative of God. What does your heart tell you about Lord Chaitanya?”
“I consider Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu to be the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead,” the Nawab had answered. “There is no doubt about it.”
But Hussain Shah had mixed feelings. He had acknowledged Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu both as the Supreme Lord and as a troublesome holy man. Hussain Shah was after all a ruler and a politician, and Lord Chaitanya, Personality of Godhead or not, had created a significant upheaval in his kingdom. What had the Lord said to cause two talented ministers to leave their lucrative posts and join the Hare Krishna movement? What had caused so many others to follow the brothers’ example, chanting the holy names of Krishna and dancing in the streets?
What, in short, had been the teachings of Lord Chaitanya to Rupa and Sanatana?
(Next issue: “Lord Chaitanya’s Teachings to Rupa Goswami.”)
by Mathuresha Dasa
In the year 1513, the Festival of the Chariots held a special meaning for Maharaja Prataparudra, the king of Jagannatha Puri.
The King’s Aspiration
ON Ratha-yatra day in the summer of A.D. 1513, Lord Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates rose in the dark and bathed. The predawn streets were busy with last-minute festival preparations as the Lord and His party hurried to the temple of Lord Jagannatha (Krishna as “the Lord of the universe”). For weeks carpenters and craftsmen had been at work building the festival’s three colossal wooden carts and decorating them with brightly colored canopies, with silk banners and flags, with mirrors, pictures, gongs, bells, camara whisks, and flower garlands.
Hundreds and thousands of pilgrims had arrived in Puri to see massive wooden deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balarama, and Subhadra Devi ride through the streets on these festival chariots. The entire town of Puri, residents and guests alike, joyously prepared to serve and glorify the deities, incarnations of the Supreme Lord, during the Jagannatha Rathayatra parade.
Maharaja Prataparudra, the king of Jagannatha Puri, was up early too, his mind occupied with the coming events. The king took a personal interest in the Jagannatha temple and in all the details of this annual celebration. The sheltering and feeding of the pilgrim throngs reflected upon him and was his pleasure. Friends and subordinate rulers attended as his guests, not to mention his own queens, children, and retinue.
The regular duties of administering a sprawling kingdom up and down the coast of the Bay of Bengal pressed upon him as well. But most of all, for the first time Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu would be attending Rathayatra, and Maharaja Prataparudra had the promise of a private audience with the Lord. Along with his festival functions, King Prataparudra could think of little else.
When Lord Chaitanya and His party arrived at the Jagannatha Temple, the king and his entourage were waiting to let Him through the crowds and give Him an honored vantage point to watch Lord Jagannatha emerge from the temple.
To the tumultuous sounds of various musical instruments, devotees specially chosen for their strength, carried the heavy deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra from the temple to Their festival chariots. Before crowds of his subjects and visitors, King Prataparudra took the part of a lowly street sweeper, using a broom with a golden handle to sweep the road in front of Lord Jagannatha as the deity moved toward His chariot. The king also sprinkled the road with sandalwood-scented water. Seeing this humble public example set by King Prataparudra, Lord Chaitanya became very happy.
A king and a street sweeper may be at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but in a society dedicated to the service of Lord Jagannatha everyone equally becomes a menial servant of the deity. We are kings or sweepers temporarily. Our permanent and exalted position is as humble servants of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya Himself had made it clear that He wished most of all to be a servant of a servant of the servants of Krishna, to serve Krishna holding all other servants as superiors.
In the two years since Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had first passed through Puri on His way to southern India, King Prataparudra had aspired to meet the Lord and had steadily served Lord Chaitanya’s followers. The king had released Ramananda Raya from government duties and provided him with a generous stipend for Lord Chaitanya’s service. He had respectfully approached Lord Chaitanya’s disciples in Puri and asked them to arrange a meeting with the Lord. And in the past several weeks he had eagerly provided lodging for two hundred of Lord Chaitanya’s followers from Bengal and had enjoyed learning their names and hearing of their exceptional qualities.
Now Maharaja Prataparudra had eagerly rendered menial service to Lord Jagannatha. As a humble servant both of Krishna and of Lord Chaitanya’s followers, King Prataparudra greatly satisfied Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the universal guru, and became a sure candidate for Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. While the Lord continued to outwardly regard King Prataparudra as a sensual materialist and to avoid him, He prepared to bless the king during the Rathayatra parade.
As the chariots rolled forward, drawn by sturdy servants of Lord Jagannatha tugging on thick ropes, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu wandered through seven chanting parties. He chanted the holy names and shouted “All glories to Lord Jagannatha! All glories to Lord Jagannatha!” Inspired by Lord Chaitanya’s participation, the devotees chanted and danced with all their hearts, forgetting all fatigue while the hours passed. In every direction the sound of the holy names and the music of sankirtana filled the air as Lord Chaitanya, to further raise the blissful atmosphere, displayed His inconceivable potency as the Supreme Personality of Godhead by expanding Himself into seven transcendental forms, dancing and chanting in all seven parties simultaneously. Everyone was thinking, “Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu stays with my group, showing us special favor. He does not go anywhere else.” Only the most confidential devotees, those absorbed in pure devotion, could see and understand that seven forms of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu danced and chanted.
One of those devotees, standing motionless in stunned astonishment, breathless with the vision before him, was King Prataparudra. Still externally singled out by the Lord as a dangerous worldly man, still refused a personal audience, Maharaja Prataparudra became an intimate devotee of the Lord by the Lord’s mercy, privy to the Lord’s confidential mystic powers. In all the crowds of celebrating pilgrims and among all the assembled followers of Lord Chaitanya, only Sarvabhauma Bhattacarya joined the king in observing and relishing the Lord’s seven-fold transcendental performance.
Catching his breath, Prataparudra informed Kashi Mishra of Lord Chaitanya’s feat, and Kashi Mishra replied with heartfelt congratulation, “O king, your fortune has no limit!”
Meeting At Last
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s expansive powers as the Supreme Lord were not all that had transfixed Maharaja Prataparudra. Lord Chaitanya’s demeanor as a devotee of the Supreme transformed the king as well. The Festival of the Chariots is a grand display of opulent worship commemorating the grandeur at Kurukshetra during Lord Krishna’s pilgrimage there with the royalty of the Yadu dynasty. Lord Chaitanya, with His first Rathayatra in this historic summer of 1513, sweetened the joyously opulent celebration of Lord Jagannatha’s glories with ecstatic remembrance of the residents of Vrindavana, who came to the Kurukshetra gathering to see Lord Krishna for the first time in many years. While many kings and devotees at Kurukshetra took satisfaction in observing Lord Krishna’s opulence and in glorifying His position as the Supreme, the villagers of Vrindavana saw Krishna as their fellow villager and prayed that He return home with them. Lord Chaitanya’s absorption in the mood of the residents of Vrindavana shone through in His performance of sankirtana with His devoted Bengali followers. This too entranced King Prataparudra.
When the procession reached a place called Balagandi, the carts stopped and from all sides pilgrims as well as local devotees offered their best cooked foods to Lord Jagannatha. King Prataparudra, his queens, ministers, friends, and all other residents of Jagannatha Puri made offerings wherever they could.
Taking advantage of this interlude, Lord Chaitanya and His followers went to rest in a nearby garden. Exhausted from hours of dancing and chanting, they lay down on the ground beneath the garden trees and enjoyed the cool, fragrant breezes.
King Prataparudra too, setting aside his royal apparel, entered the garden dressed in simple cloth like a devotee of Krishna. Humbly taking permission from Lord Chaitanya’s followers, the king bowed down before the Lord, who was lying on the ground with His eyes closed, and began to expertly massage the Lord’s legs. The king also recited verses from the Srimad- Bhagavatam about Krishna’s pastimes with the gopis.
Hearing this, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said again and again, “Go on reciting, go on reciting.”
As the king happily continued his recitation, Lord Chaitanya embraced him and cried, “You are most kind! You are most kind!”
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was in ecstasy and did not seem to recognize the king.
“Who are you?” the Lord asked. “You are doing so much for me. All of a sudden you have come here and made me drink the nectar of Lord Krishna’s pastimes.”
“My Lord,” King Prataparudra replied, “I am the most obedient servant of Your servants. It is my ambition that You will accept me as such.”
The devotees resting in the garden praised Maharaja Prataparudra’s good fortune in receiving Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, and in doing so their minds became open and blissful. As pure devotees, they were happy to see another servant elevated in devotional service. King Prataparudra replied by offering prayers to the devotees with folded hands. Then he bowed again before Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and humbly left the garden.
The king’s service to Lord Sri Chaitanya’s followers brought him a meeting with the Lord, and that meeting confirmed his desire to serve the devotees. Srila Prabhupada writes (Madhya-lila 14.8): “The greatest achievement for a devotee is to become a servant of the servants. Actually no one should desire to become the direct servant of the Lord. That is not a very good idea. ... Being the servant of the servants of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the highest benediction one can desire.”
by Satsvarupa Dasa Gosvami
Because Krishna wants us to enter His elite group of personal associates, He is ever eager to help us develop our love for Him.
Dhruva Maharaja performed austerities to gain a kingdom greater than that of his grandfather, Lord Brahma, the creator of the universe. By the grace of the saint Narada, however, Dhruva received the audience of Lord Vishnu.After being touched by the Lord’s conch shell, Dhruva offered prayers to the Lord. The last verse of his prayers sums up his previous materialistic attitude and his present devotional one:
My Lord, O Supreme Lord, You are the supreme personified form of all benedictions. Therefore, for one who abides in Your devotional service with no other desire, worshiping Your lotus feet is better than becoming king and lording it over a kingdom… . To ignorant devotees like me, You are the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who takes care of the newly born calf by supplying milk and giving it protection from attack.
Dhruva originally epitomized the type of devotee who approaches the Lord to have his material desires fulfilled. After meeting Lord Vishnu, however, Dhruva realized how cheap that material desire was.
I like to study Dhruva Maharaja’s prayers because although we have no such great material ambitions—our material ambitions extend only to a little insignificant sense gratification—we can relate to Dhruva’s transformation. We have spent lifetimes thinking ourselves the center of enjoyment. Now we have turned to Krishna consciousness with the hope of freeing ourselves from suffering (material desire) and of coming to pure love of God. Dhruva Maharaja has realized that serving Krishna’s lotus feet is much more relishable than the enjoyment of even a hugely opulent kingdom in the material world. So he prays to Vishnu as the protector of one on the devotional path, similar to a cow protecting her calf. And what is Vishnu protecting the devotee from? From him- self—from his own defective nature.
In the first sentence of the purport to this verse, Srila Prabhupada writes, “Dhruva Maharaja was cognizant of the defective nature of his own devotional service.” Even those fortunate enough to come in touch with the Krishna consciousness movement, to hear the message of bhakti, will not automatically be free of mistakes. We are faulty beings, and it takes time before we learn to offer our service in a pure way. Here, Dhruva describes Krishna as being active in our coming to the pure stage.
Unfortunately we don’t always value His participation. Often, devotees think that Krishna consciousness is so much a science that everything must happen by our own endeavor. They imagine Krishna at the top of a long line of pure devotees, sharing His pastimes with them and not thinking much of those further down the line. If we are not pure, we may think Krishna cares less for us than for those fully surrendered. We think that the path of bhakti has been scientifically organized and that Krishna remains neutral, waiting for our purity to develop, at which time He will love us more. In the meantime, we try to hoist ourselves up from one stage to another.
Of course, the truth is that we are not pure; we are defective. This fact was prominent in Dhruva Maharaja’s mind, and he felt a deep regret to see how materially motivated he had been. His regret lasted even beyond his audiencewith Krishna.
And the truth is that pure devotion is uncompromising: anyabhilashita-shunyam jnana-karmady- anavritam. We must offer our love without being motivated by karma (material endeavors) or jnana (mental speculation). We must learn to want only Krishna’s pleasure.
Neither of these truths—that aspiring devotees are not pure and that pure devotion is uncompromising—means that Krishna has no mercy toward a devotee before he or she comes to the unmotivated stage. Rather, like a cow, Krishna gives His calves milk and also protects them from danger. Although in the material sense, a cow is herself vulnerable to danger in this world, she is prepared to give her life to protect her calf.
Also, the calf remains completely dependent on the mother. A calf will follow its mother without regard for where she is going. The mother in turn shows even more tender concern for her calf. Krishna exemplifies this tender concern toward His faltering bhaktas.
What makes us so helpless, so dependent on Krishna, is not simply our smallness in the material energy, but the misleading desires within our hearts. Any mother knows that an infant is at risk not only from outside influences but from the child’s own nature.
Of course, despite Krishna’s tender concern, He will not interfere with the free will of the living entity. To receive His mercy, we must reveal some level of sincerity or inclination toward Him. In Sanatana Gosvami’s Brihad- Bhagavatamrita, after Gopa-kumara finally returns to the spiritual world, Krishna embraces him and says, “I’m happy that you have come back. For so long I was awaiting an opportunity to bring you to Me.”
Why did Krishna not simply rescue Gopa-kumara from the material world? Because we have free will. Krishna will never take that from us. His liberal attitude is like that of a kind parent: Krishna provides His children space to grow as they will, yet remains loving toward them and prepared to help if they turn to Him. In Bhagavad-gita He says that He provides the intelligence by which we can return to Him. He also says that He provides what we lack and carries what we have, and that He is the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
Even if these points are still theoretical for us, we should acknowledge the truth of the Lord’s intention toward us. We should not refuse Krishna’s gestures of protection. If we accept that our service is defective, that our hearts are filled with gross and subtle material desire, and that we are lost without Krishna’s guidance, we will better be able to accept that guidance in the form that He gives it. He is always giving it. We can pray to Him to protect us, to help us give up the lower stages of bhakti in favor of the higher forms of surrender, and to clarify our intelligence so that it is filled only with Him.
If our main purpose in life is to attain bhakti, we should trust Krishna to maintain our attempt. Krishna is, after all, “the causelessly merciful maintainer, just like a cow who gives milk and protection from attack.”
One of the symptoms of surrender is to know Krishna as the maintainer. In our stage, we often look to the Lord to protect us materially. We shouldn’t just look to Krishna to protect our possessions, however. Although Srimad- Bhagavatam provides prayers such as the Narayana-kavaca shield, wherein mantras are chanted over different parts of the body to provide armor against gross and subtle weapons, we are not interested in seeking Krishna’s protection so we can survive more comfortably in our material bodies. We see Krishna as the protector of our bhakti. We pray that our bhakti—our service to the spiritual master, our attempts to progress in chanting and hearing—may not be deviated.
The knowledge we receive from Bhagavad-gita is the sword with which we can slay our doubts. Krishna has also given us His elder brother, Balarama, to help us. It is Balarama who provides us with the strength to wield the heavy sword of knowledge. We will never become materially exhausted, never left without Krishna’s mercy in the form of the knowledge He provides us. Any advancement in Krishna consciousness is Krishna’s gift to us.
We need to trust in that. The material world is full of jivas trying to enjoy. As Kshirodakshayi Vishnu, Krishna maintains all of them. How much more will He maintain His devotees! The materially engrossed jivas receive His maintenance through the neutral auspices of the Supersoul, who guides their wanderings according to their karmic activities and desires. Krishna Himself personally attends to the relatively small group of souls who are interested in His direct love and protection.
Krishna’s Elite Group
In this regard, Prabhupada once commented that devotees have monopolized devotional service. They have cornered the market with their love. Still, the bhakti market is open to any who wish to pursue it. As soon as a jiva understands that Krishna is the maintainer of the attempt to approach Him, He welcomes that jiva into His elite group.
When we relate to Krishna personally in this way, we receive His heart. This is Krishna’s real nature: His desire to reciprocate with His devotees (bhakta- vatsala). Because He is responsible, He maintains all living entities, although He does it through His expansions and energies. But because He is bhakta- vatsala, He offers Himself to His devotees. Therefore, devotional service is rarely achieved.
But anyone who wants to try for devotional service can gain entrance. Despite their faults, Krishna will help those who want to enter. He wants His elite group to expand. He wants us to take to devotional service for our own sake. Why shouldn’t He help us?
Of course, material attachment may mean we don’t value the form in which His protection comes, just as a calf may not always appreciate the mother’s insistence on a certain path. Still, Krishna protects us.
by Urmila Devi Dasi
An investigation into the causes of suffering.
Dharma, religion personified, had taken on the form of a bull. Shaking in fear, he stood trembling on one leg, his other three legs broken. Kali, who personifies the present age of quarrel and hypocrisy, raised his club and swung it again and again, beating Dharma’s legs.
Although a common laborer, Kali was falsely dressed as a king, just as a criminal might dress as a policeman to gain trust. It seemed Kali was ready to beat his victim to death. Then Parikshit, the real king, arrived.
After ordering Kali to stop, Parikshit asked the victim to say who had caused his broken legs and pitiable condition. Dharma answered that suffering comes from many causes and therefore he couldn’t identify the real perpetrator. Besides, he said, the ultimate cause of everything is Lord Sri Krishna, and he didn’t wish to blame the Lord, who acts only for everyone’s good.
Parikshit praised the answer and declared Dharma to be the personification of religion.
“The destination intended for the perpetrator of irreligious acts,” Parikshit said, “is also intended for one who identifies the perpetrator.”
As part of his kingly duty, Parikshit then prepared to bring Kali to justice.
Several classes of philosophers try to explain suffering.
Some say that the cause is inscrutable and we simply have to bear grief without understanding its cause.
Others say that the laws of nature cause misery and, since those laws arise by chance, no one is responsible for suffering. These philosophers often seek to ease suffering through scientific advances that will, they hope, adjust nature to their own plan.
Other philosophers say that because all is spirit, Brahman, suffering is an illusion; it doesn’t really exist. These philosophers wish to destroy grief by destroying individuality, either by dissolving the self or by merging it into the total spirit.
Philosophers who know something of reincarnation suggest that the reactions to our desires and actions cause suffering, that an automatic law metes out justice.
Some theistic philosophers explain that God, the supreme controller, arranges for suffering and we simply have to trust that His reasons are good and sensible.
The Full Picture
Each of these philosophies is incomplete. Each has part of the truth—like the blind men asked to describe an elephant. The man touching the tail said that an elephant was like a rope, the one touching an ear said that an elephant was like a fan, and the one touching the trunk said that an elephant was like a large snake.
Each of the philosophies I listed fails to give as complete and satisfying an explanation of the cause of suffering as we find in the Vedic literature. The Vedas explain that each soul that enters the material world does so voluntarily, desiring to imitate God, Krishna. The soul by nature is a loving associate of the Lord, serving Him in unlimited activities of joy. But on entering this world, the soul develops desires and actions in disharmony with its very self. Just as eating something indigestible—such as plastic—will cause suffering, so thinking, feeling, and doing anything against our nature causes misery. The laws of nature, including what we term the “law of karma,” bring us the reactions to our work, just as the “law of digestion” brings the plastic-eater stomach pain.
The misery karma brings does not really affect the self, or soul, in any way, as much as the suffering of the hero in a drama has no actual effect on the lives of the audience. They suffer by identification. The soul “suffers” by identifying with the body and mind acquired to fulfill artificial desires. Just as the staged drama is real (actually taking place) but not reality (eternal spiritual existence), so is one’s suffering in this world.
This whole process—the soul’s acting in disharmony with his constitution, the laws of nature then bringing suffering, the soul identifying that suffering as his own—takes place under Krishna’s direction. But the process is not simply mechanical. Like a judge in this world, Krishna may choose to modify how the law is applied in a particular case.
The very complexity of the system makes the entire scheme inscrutable to a human mind. It involves the intertwining of many souls’ reactions, the playing out of justice over many lifetimes, and the freedom to make new choices while suffering reactions to old ones.
The Place of Compassion
What about compassion for those who suffer? In our school we were studying the Native Americans known as the Cherokees. They fully adopted European-American culture and set up a Christian society with a government modeled after the American constitution. Completely assimilated, they were model citizens who legally owned their land and homes. When government officials tried to seize their land, they won their case in court—as far as the Supreme Court. Yet the President ignored the ruling and allowed local officials to arrest the Cherokees and give away their land. Finally, the Cherokees were forced to migrate from Georgia to a reservation in Oklahoma. So many died on the way that the route is called “The Trail of Tears.”
As I study the suffering of the Cherokees, the injustice and greed of the perpetrators fill me with disgust. But does my pity for the law-abiding Cherokees who were robbed and exiled betray an ignorance of the laws of karma? After all, suffering doesn’t truly affect the real spiritual self. And everything that happened to the Cherokees resulted from their past actions, either in this life or previous ones. Besides, the Lord supervised and approved the infliction of suffering.
Still, one rightly feels compassion for the powerful, effulgent, and wise soul who has sown seeds that yielded a thorny harvest. Do we not mourn a person born into wealth and education who through his own choices lies in his alcoholic vomit in the gutter? We know he got himself there, yet we do what we can to bring him back to his rightful place.
What of those who do evil? Is the perpetrator of evil really to blame if the victims are truly only victims of their own past actions? Every religious system has a code for defining crimes and penalties. Therefore, Krishna, the ultimate designer of these codes, considers that an evildoer should be held responsible and accountable. The officers of the American government who stole the Cherokees’ land, imprisoning and exiling the Cherokees, did not have any right to cause such pain. And, through the laws of karma, they suffer for their sinful actions.
After all, God doesn’t need the evildoers’ help. All-powerful, He can independently deliver someone’s destiny. He can send a natural disaster or a disease that brings as much pain and destruction as any demonic person or group can invent. Or He can use the evildoer by bringing together the criminal and those whose karma merits their being the object of a crime. The evildoer does the Lord’s will then, certainly. Ironically he does so as an act of disobedience to that very will. How wonderful Krishna is that He can bend the most wicked and cruel actions of men into His own plan. All serve Him, willing or not.
Evildoers only hurt themselves. By acting against codes of morality and religion, they exchange spiritual joy for bad karmic reactions.
Another question may arise: If people get what they deserve, why should the government get involved in administering justice? The Vedas teach that when a government punishes evil, it acts as Krishna’s agent to deliver some or all of the evildoers’ reactions. As a bona fide agent of God, the government incurs no reaction in its administration of proper justice.
Enlightened victims see those who perpetrate evil against them as messengers of karmic destiny, like postal workers delivering parcels they ordered. Persons in knowledge don’t point to the perpetrator as the only or ultimate cause. Rather, they see the direct giver of pain as the messenger of their own karma and Krishna’s will.
The Vedas say that one who blames the evildoer as the ultimate cause is also guilty of the hate, anger, and other ignorant qualities that drove the perpetrator to perform evil. We can assign blame, but only to benefit the perpetrator through justice and, ideally, rectification.
Seeing the immediate cause of our suffering or enjoyment as the agent of God and our karma is easy when that cause delivers enjoyment. For example, we can sense the divine hand of Krishna when someone, without our asking, gives us something we desire. At the same time, we are grateful to the gift- giver, who, for the good deed, gets karmic credit and, if giving with the desire to serve the Lord, spiritual progress.
Similarly, whoever assails us with the unwanted is rightly punished, but we can see the suffering we receive as Krishna’s mercy, just as when we are materially pleased. And the truly saintly persons, who see Krishna with love everywhere and in everything, feel connected with Him in both types of reciprocation.
What About Remedial Measures?
How does one who has developed this vision act? Scriptures such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam describe saints who did nothing at all to remedy material suffering. They felt constant spiritual happiness and realized that the ultimate result of everything is good. They lived separate from society and sometimes seemed muddle-headed to common people.
Generally, however, even perfectly self-realized souls who always serve Krishna with love take up ordinary means to counteract suffering. For example, when sick, they take appropriate medicine and treatment. If a crime is committed against them, they report it to the authorities and try to bring the criminal to justice.
While attempting to remedy the difficulty, they are always aware that the results are in Krishna’s hands, and do not consider that they are the ultimate “doer” of their actions. They act to show an example to those less spiritually advanced, who cannot gratefully embrace both joy and sorrow. And they act to preserve justice in the world. Since Krishna wants justice, such actions are also part of serving Him.
Those of us who aren’t saintly and fully realized can turn to remedies while depending on Krishna. At least in theory we can understand that the Supreme Lord controls everything and that the efficacy of our cures depends on Him. Knowing that He is all good, we trust that if we continue to suffer despite remedies, the suffering is designed to assist us in coming to total spiritual joy. Life brings material happiness and suffering, just as it brings day and night or snowstorms and heat waves. When such changes no longer disturb us, inner, spiritual happiness begins.
by Subhananda Dasa
An ancient text offers us a vision of the spiritual world--a vibrant, transcendentally variegated world of devotion to Krishna.
The article that follows is adapted from the Introduction to the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust edition of Sri Brahma-samhita, a celebrated Vaishnava text. This important new publication is an expanded edition of the first English-language version of Brahma- samhita—published in India in 1932—featuring the translation and commentary of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Goswami (1874-1937). Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, a great Vaishnava saint and scholar, was the guru of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
The origins of the text known as Sri Brahma-samhita are lost in cosmic antiquity. According to Vedic tradition, these “Hymns of Brahma” were recited or sung countless millennia ago by the first created being in the universe, just prior to the act of creation. The text surfaced and entered calculable history early in the sixteenth century, when it was discovered by a pilgrim exploring the manuscript library of an ancient temple in what is now Kerala State in south India. Prior to the introduction of the printing press, texts like Brahma-samhita existed only in manuscript form, painstakingly handwritten by scribes and kept under brahminical custodianship in temples, where often they were worshiped as shastra - Deity, or God incarnate in holy scripture.
The pilgrim who rescued Sri Brahma-samhita from obscurity was no ordinary pilgrim, and His pilgrimage was meant not for self-purification, as is the custom, but for world-purification. He was Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu—saint, mystic, religious reformer, and full incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Sri Krishna, descending into the present epoch for the salvation of all souls.
At the time of His discovery of the text, Sri Chaitanya was touring south India, preaching His message of love of Krishna and promulgating the practice of sankirtana - congregational singing of the holy names of God. Sri Chaitanya commenced this tour shortly after becoming a monk (sannyasi), at age twenty-four, and the tour lasted approximately two years. After a southward journey from Puri (in Orissa State) to holy places such as Sri Ranga-kshetra, Setubandha, Rameshvaram, and finally Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), He turned northward and, traveling along the bank of the Payasvini River in Travancore State, reached the temple of Adi-keshava in Trivandrum District.
Sri Chaitanya’s principal biographer, Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, writes in Chaitanya-charitamrita (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya- lila, Ch. 9) that upon beholding the holy image of Adi-keshava (Krishna) in the temple, Sri Chaitanya swooned in spiritual ecstasy, offered fervent prayers, and chanted and danced in rapture, a wondrous sight that was beheld with astonished appreciation by the devotees present.
After discussing esoteric spiritual matters among some highly advanced devotees, Sri Chaitanya found “one chapter of the Brahma-samhita.” (What we now have as Brahma-samhita is, according to tradition, only one of a hundred chapters composing an epic work lost to humanity.) Upon discovering the manuscript, Sri Chaitanya felt great ecstasy and fell into an intense mystic rapture that overflowed onto the physical realm, producing a profusion of tears, trembling, and perspiration. (We would search the literature of the world in vain to find a case in which the discovery of a lost book inspired such unearthly exhilaration!) Intuiting the Sri Brahma samhita to be “a most valuable jewel,” Sri Chaitanya employed a scribe in hand copying the manuscript and departed with the copy for His return journey north.
Upon His return to Puri ( Madhya-lila, Ch. 11), Sri Chaitanya presented Brahma-samhita to appreciative followers like, Ramananda Raya and Vasudeva Datta, for whom Chaitanya arranged copies to be made. As word of the discovery of the text spread within the Vaishnava community, “each and every Vaishnava” copied it. Gradually, Brahma-samhita was “broadcast everywhere” and became one of the major texts of the Gaudiya-Vaishnava canon. “There is no scripture equal to the Brahma- samhita as far as the final spiritual conclusion is concerned,” exults Krishnadasa Kaviraja. “Indeed, that scripture is the supreme revelation of the glories of Lord Govinda, for it reveals the topmost knowledge about Him. Since all conclusions are briefly presented in Brahma- samhita, it is essential among all the Vaishnava literatures” ( Madhya-lila 9.239-240).
In spite of the seemingly topical complexity of the text, the essential core of the Brahma-samhita consists of a brief description of the enlightenment of Lord Brahma by Lord Sri Krishna followed by Brahma’s extraordinarily beautiful prayers elucidating the content of his revelation: an unearthly, beatific vision of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Sri Krishna, and His eternal, transcendental abode, Goloka Vrindavana, beyond the material cosmos. This core of the text stretches from verse twenty-nine through fifty-six, and a brief, subsequent exposition by Lord Krishna on the path of Krishna-bhakti, love of God, brings the text to a close.
The Brahma-samhita’s account of Lord Brahma’s enlightenment is quite interesting and can be summarized here. When Lord Garbhodakashayi Vishnu desires to recreate the universe, a divine golden lotus flower grows from his navel, and Brahma is born from the lotus. As he is not born from parents, Brahma is known as Svayambhu, “self-existent” or “unoriginated.” Upon his emergence from the lotus, Lord Brahma begins—in preparation for his role as secondary creator—to contemplate the act of cosmic creation but, seeing only darkness about, is bewildered in the performance of his duty. Sarasvati, the goddess of learning, appears before him and instructs him to meditate upon the kama-bija mantra, promising that this mantra “will assuredly fulfill your heart’s desire.”
Lord Brahma thus meditates upon Lord Krishna in His spiritual realm and hears the divine sound of Krishna’s flute. The kama-gayatri mantra, the “mother of the Vedas,” is made manifest from the sound of Krishna’s flute, and Brahma, thus initiated by the supreme primal preceptor Himself, begins to chant the Gayatri. As Srila Prabhupada puts it, “When the sound vibration of Krishna’s flute is expressed through the mouth of Brahma, it becomes gayatri” (Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, p. 322).
Enlightened by his meditation upon the holy Gayatri, Brahma “became acquainted with the expanse of the ocean of truth.” Inspired by his profound and sublime realizations, his heart overflowing with devotion and transcendental insight, Lord Brahma spontaneously begins to offer a series of poem—prayers to the source of his enlightenment and the object of his devotion, Lord Sri Krishna. These exquisite verses form the heart of Brahma- samhita.
There is nothing vague about Brahma’s description of the Lord and His abode. No dim, nihilistic nothingness, no blinding bright light, no wispy, dreamy visions of harps and clouds; rather, a vibrant, luminescent world in transcendental color, form, and sound—a sublimely variegated spiritual landscape populated by innumerable blissful, eternally liberated souls reveling in spiritual cognition, sensation, and emotion, all in relationship with the all-blissful, all- attractive Personality of Godhead. Here is a sample:
"I worship Govinda [Krishna], the primeval Lord, the first progenitor who is tending the cows, yielding all desire, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of purpose trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of lakshmis or gopis.
I Worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is adept in playing on His flute, with blooming eyes like lotus petals, with head decked with peacock’s feather, with the figure of beauty tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and His unique loveliness charming millions of Cupids… .
I worship [Goloka Vrindavana] … where every tree is a transcendental purpose tree; where the soil is the purpose gem, all water is nectar, every word is a song, every gait is a dance, the flute is the favorite attendant, … where numberless milk cows always emit transcendental oceans of milk."
The commentator [Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati] reminds us that in the transcendental region of Goloka are found the same elements as are found in the mundane worlds, but in their highest purity and beauty: “trees and creepers, mountains, rivers and forests, water, movement, speech, music of the flute, the sun and the moon, tasted and taste …” Krishna’s divine abode, Goloka Vrindavana, is a world in the fullest and most real sense.
There are those who will have difficulty with Brahma’s highly graphic and personalistic depiction of the spiritual world and of the liberated state. Some, for instance, whose conception of transcendence is determined by a certain logical fallacy based on the arbitrary assumption that spirit is the literal opposite of matter (and thus that because matter has form and variety, spirit must necessarily be formless and unvariegated), conceive of ultimate reality as some sort of divine emptiness. However, any conception of transcendence that projects or analogizes from our limited sensory and cognitive experience within the material world is, by its very nature, limited and speculative and thus unreliable. No accumulated quantity of sense data within this world can bring us to knowledge of what lies beyond it. Residents of the material world cannot get even a clue of transcendence, argues our Brahma-samhita commentator, “by moving heaven and earth through their organic senses.”
The Brahma-samhita teaches that transcendence, truth, ultimate reality can be apprehended only by the mercy of the supreme transcendent entity, the Absolute Truth Himself, and that perception of ultimate reality is a function not of speculative reason but of direct spiritual cognition through divine revelation. This revelation is evolved through bhakti, pure, selfless love of God. Only by such spiritual devotion can Krishna be seen: “I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord … whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love” (Brahma-samhita Bs. 38). Further, as our commentator explains, “the form of Krishna is visible [to the eye of the pure spiritual self] in proportion to its purification by the practice of devotion.”
Bhakti as a state of consciousness, then, is attained through bhakti as a practice, a discipline. For this reason, Lord Krishna, in His response to Brahma at the end of the text, summarizes the path of bhakti in five aphorisms. This devotional discipline goes beyond conventional piety. It necessitates “constant endeavor for self-realization” ( Bs. 59), involving both a turning from worldliness and sense gratification and an adherence to spiritual practices and behavior, under the guidance of authorized scripture. Through such practice, then, the materialist is soon purified of his tendency toward philosophical negation and comes to understand the nature of positive transcendence.
Others will find Lord Brahma’s vision of the spiritual realm problematic for a related, but perhaps more subjective, emotional reason that goes to the heart of the human condition. There is a kind of ontological anxiety, a conscious or subconscious apprehension about being-ness or existence itself, that goes along with embodied life in-the- world—that accompanies the soul’s descent into the temporal, endlessly changing world of matter. Material bodies and minds are subjected to a huge variety of objective and subjective discomfitures, unpleasantries, and abject sufferings. Viewed philosophically, embodied personhood, false- self (ahankara), is, to a greater or lesser degree, innately a condition of suffering.
Because personal existence has been experienced by materialists as essentially painful, writes Srila Prabhupada in his Bhagavad-gita commentary, “the conception of retaining the personality after liberation from matter frightens them. When they are informed that spiritual life is also individual and personal, they become afraid of becoming persons again, and so they naturally prefer a kind of merging into the impersonal void” ( Bg. 4.10, purport). Entering the path of bhakti, however, such persons can gradually begin to experience their real, spiritual selves and a release from egoistic anxiety. In that purified state, they become able to relish Brahma’s vision of blissful, personal spiritual existence in Goloka.
Still others, however, might criticize Brahma- samhita on the grounds that the text, being quite specific and concrete in its depiction, merely offers another limited, sectarian view of God and His abode—a view in conflict with other, similarly limited views. Such persons prefer a kind of genericized Deity who doesn’t offend variant theological views with definable, personal attributes. Brahma-samhita, however, is not a polemic against “competing” conceptions of the Deity (except those, of course, which would deny His transcendental personhood). Vaishnava tradition does not dismiss images of the Divine derived from authoritative scripture from beyond its own cultural and conceptual borders. It respects any sincere effort at serving the Supreme Person, although it holds its own texts as most comprehensive and authoritative. It promotes neither an arrogant sectarianism that would constrain transcendence to exclusive cultural, ideational, or linguistic forms (while burning a few heretics), nor a syncretistic ecumenism that would try to pacify all claimants on the truth by departicularizing it into bland vagary. Let the syncretists and the sectarians come together to appreciate, at least, the aesthetic magnificence of Lord Brahma’s theistic epiphany.
What we are experiencing through Lord Brahma in his samhita is not mystic hallucination or quaint mythologizing or an exercise in pious wishful thinking. We are getting a glimpse, however dimmed by our own insensitivities, into the spiritual world as seen by one whose eyes are “tinged with the salve of love.” We are seeing, through Brahma, an eternal, transcendental world, of which the present world is a mere reflection. Goloka is infinitely more real than the shadowy world we perceive daily through our narrow senses. Brahma’s vision of the spiritual realm is not his alone. It is shared by all those who give themselves fully unto the loving service of Lord Krishna—though Brahma admits that Goloka is known “only to a very few self-realized souls in this world” ( Bs. 56). We are asked not to accept Brahma’s account of transcendence uncritically and dogmatically but to avail ourselves of the spiritual discipline, bhakti-yoga, that will gradually lead us to our own experiential understanding of this highest truth.
In his commentary to the twenty-eighth verse of the Brahma-samhita Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati writes that Lord Chaitanya “taught this hymn to His favorite disciples inasmuch as it fully contains all the transcendental truths regarding Vaishnava philosophy,” and he asks his readers to “study and try to enter into the spirit of this hymn with great care and attention, as a regular daily function.” Srila Bhaktisiddhanta’s disciple Srila Prabhupada was very fond of Brahma’s prayers to Lord Krishna, and there are several recordings of Srila Prabhupada singing these prayers with intense devotion. We therefore invite readers to dive deeply into the sweet, transcendental ocean of Brahma’s hymns as a daily meditation.
by Patita Pavana Dasa Adhikari
From Vedic history comes the story of the avatar who purged the earth of demonic kings for twenty-one generations.
Once, many thousands of years ago in the age known as Treta- yuga, the great sage Richika approached Varuna, lord of the waters, and obtained one thousand horses, each as lustrous as moonlight and having one black ear. Richika Muni presented the horses to the great king Gadhi as a dowry for his daughter, the beautiful and qualified princess Satyavati.
After the marriage, Satyavati naturally wanted to give her husband a son, so with prayers and mantras Richika Muni created an oblation imbued with his powers of penance. By eating the oblation before procreative union, Satyavati would have her desire fulfilled. The oblation was imbued with brahmana mantras, thus ensuring that their son would have the qualities of a peaceful, content, and forgiving brahmana.
Satyavati’s mother, King Gadhi’s queen, asked that an oblation be created for her too. So Richika Muni prepared the oblation, enchanted with appropriate kshatriya mantras. This would bless the queen with a son of bold, courageous warrior qualities, willing to fight for truth and righteousness.
After preparing the two oblations, the sage went to the river for his ritualistic bath. Meanwhile, the queen, assuming that a husband out of natural affection would put a better effort into the oblation meant for his wife, exchanged the oblations, with her daughter’s permission.
When Richika Muni returned from his bath, he discovered the switch and scolded his wife.
“You have committed a great wrong,” he said. “Because of this your son will be a fierce kshatriya capable of punishing everyone. And your brother will be a scholar learned in all the spiritual sciences.”
Satyavati then begged that her son not be a kshatriya. Pacified by her charm and devotion, Richika Muni adjusted the reaction.
“Since the mantras must have an effect,” he proclaimed, “your grandson, rather than your son, will have an invincible kshatriya spirit.”
Satyavati became the mother of the austere and tolerant Jamadagni. His son was named Parashurama, or “Rama with the ax [parashu].” Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.3.20) says, “The sixteenth incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead (as Parashurama) annihilated the kshatriyas twenty-one times, being angry at their rebellion against the brahmanas.”
The Ninth Canto continues the narration.
A great warrior king named Kartaviryarjuna had received a thousand arms by worshiping the avatar Dattatreya. [See sidebar: “A Thousand Arms?”] The king had also received other opulence and mystic powers that only served to further inflate his ego.
Once Kartaviryarjuna was sporting in the company of many beautiful women in the Narmada, one of India’s seven major holy rivers. With his thousand arms he stopped the river’s flow. Upstream, where the demon-king Ravana had halted with his army, the water overflowed its banks, flooding Ravana’s camp. The powerful Ravana challenged Kartaviryarjuna over the insult, but he proved no match for the thousand-armed king, who captured and then neglectfully released Ravana as one might trap and then set free a wild monkey. King Kartaviryarjuna now considered himself all- powerful and invincible.
Some time after this incident, King Kartaviryarjuna traveled north and met the sage Jamadagni at his forest hermitage. With the help of his kamadhenu, a celestial wish-fulfilling cow, Jamadagni sumptuously fed the mighty king and his vast retinue. The envious Kartaviryarjuna, unable to tolerate a mere hermit’s owning an opulence surpassing anything of his, ordered his men to steal the cow along with her calf. Kartaviryarjuna then took the crying cows to Mahishmati, his capital on the banks of the Narmada in central India.
When Parashurama, the youngest son of Jamadagni, heard of this great offense, he became, the Bhagavatam describes, “as angry as a trampled snake.” Although born of a sage, Parashurama had been influenced by the kshatriya oblations, as predicted by his grandfather Richika Muni. Of course, the Supreme Lord or His plenary expansion is ever above the material world and cannot be influenced by the modes of material nature. Therefore, all these activities are simply His lila, or pastimes. The display of His pastimes is to attract fallen conditioned souls of various natures back home, back to Godhead.
Parashurama took up his ax, shield, bow, and arrows and pursued the thousand-armed king “as a lion chases an elephant.” At Mahishmati, Kartaviryarjuna gasped in fear as he saw the sixteenth avatar of the Lord swiftly approaching. Kartaviryarjuna sent hundreds of thousands of troops to battle Parashurama, but the Lord slaughtered every one of them by rushing here and there as swiftly as the mind. The battlefield at his feet turned to mud from blood spilling from the headless and armless torsos of slain warriors.
The courageous Kartaviryarjuna then decided to confront this ax-wielder on the field of battle. Taking up five hundred bows fixed with five hundred arrows, he issued a challenge. With only one bow, Lord Parashurama cut to pieces each of the king’s hundreds of bows and arrows. Furious, Kartaviryarjuna uprooted trees and hills and rushed at the ax- bearer, intent on killing him. With great force and speed, Lord Parashurama sliced off each of the king’s thousand arms, then beheaded the horrified and helpless king, who followed his fallen army to a grisly doom. As the ten thousand sons of Kartaviryarjuna witnessed their father’s defeat, they ran away in fear. Lord Parashurama then gently released the stolen kama-dhenu cow and her calf and returned them to his father’s ashrama.
Bowing before his father and greeting his brothers, the warrior-brahmana explained every detail of the war and the heroic death of Kartaviryarjuna. However, Parashurama’s father, the tolerant Jamadagni, scolded him.
“O great hero,” he said, “you have unnecessarily killed the king, who is supposed to be the embodiment of all the demigods. Thus you have committed a sin. We brahmanas are worshipable by others only due to our quality of forgiveness. It is through this quality of forgiveness that Lord Brahma has achieved the post of master of the entire universe. The Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Hari, the remover of obstacles, becomes pleased with those who are forgiving. Forgiveness is illuminating like the sun, and cultivation of this quality is the brahmana’s duty.”
Rishi Jamadagni then told his son how to atone for the sin. With a father’s love he instructed, tirtha-samsevaya camho jahy angacyuta-cetanah: “O son, expansion of my very self, you must worship the sacred places to atone for this sinful act. You must become Krishna conscious.”
With that, the sage sent his son on a pilgrimage tour of Bharata, ancient India. Lord Parashurama visited the holy cities, abodes, rivers, hills, and lakes throughout the land.
Actually Lord Parashurama had committed no sin in the execution of his divine lila. He awarded liberation to all the warriors who died valiantly before him. The Lord’s pilgrimage was to purify holy places and establish new ones blessed by his lotus feet. Since God is complete, all attributes must reside within Him, from creation and birth, to destruction and killing. That which is not complete cannot be God. But to teach that killing is generally improper, sage Jamadagni ordered Lord Parashurama to “serve the holy spots” (tirtha-seva). Many people visit holy places just to bathe in a sacred lake or river and consider their sins washed away. But the real purpose of tirtha-seva is to associate with holy devotees who reside at these places for the sake of human welfare. The blessings of all the holy places can be found in the instructions of pure devotees like Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose very presence created holy places all over the world.
Sage Jamadagni’s instructions to his son included the admonition to wash out the sinful act through achyuta- chetanah, Krishna consciousness. Thus Jamadagni took the position of spiritual master and instructed his son to become Krishna conscious. Here in the sacred Srimad-Bhagavatam is ancient scriptural proof that the Krishna consciousness movement is not a new fad, cult, or invention. It is an ancient process that has been followed by billions of pious souls for billions of years. Here we see the fruit of love of God, Krishna consciousness, being handed directly to Lord Parashurama. This pastime is displayed for our benefit. In the same way, Srila Prabhupada took the position of jagat- guru, “world spiritual master,” and on behalf of his guru freely handed out the Hare Krishna mantra all over the world.
Lord Parashurama’s example of obedience to his father is exemplary. He told his father, tatha iti: “Let it be so.” He then undertook a tour of India for a full year and increased the glory of many holy places by his exalted presence. Then he returned to the ashram of his family beside the Ganges.
Meanwhile the miserable sons of Kartaviryarjuna had been nursing a grudge against Lord Parashurama since the death of their father. One day while Parashurama was roaming the woods with his brothers, the vengeful sons of Kartaviryarjuna invaded their forest ashram. They murderously approached Jamadagni, sitting by the sacrificial fire and meditating on Bhagavan Sri Krishna. Renuka, Parashurama’s mother, entreated them not harm her husband, who was absorbed in trance. Despite her pleas, the invaders, devoid of noble kshatriya qualities, beheaded the sage and absconded with his head.
Deep in the forest, Parashurama and his brothers heard their mother shouting, “O Rama! O Rama!” They rushed to the ashram and found her beating her chest in frantic despair over the sudden loss of her husband. Lord Parashurama then vowed to rid the world of all devious members of the kshatriya class twenty-one times.
Parashurama sped to Mahishmati, which was doomed by the murder of a peaceful brahmana, and extracted a terrible toll. Just as Kartaviryarjuna’s sons had mercilessly beheaded his father, Parashurama created a mountain of heads severed from their bodies. When still other arrogant kings, who also lacked respect for brahmanas, saw the river of blood created by the Lord, they trembled in fear.
Eventually Lord Parashurama rid the world of sinful warriors twenty-one times. At Samanta Panchaka near Kurukshetra, where thousands of years later Lord Krishna would speak the Gita, Parashurama created nine lakes with the slain kshatriyas’ blood.
Lord Parashurama returned with his father’s head to the ashram by the Ganges. There, with the power of mystic arts and mantras, he rejoined the head to his father’s body, which had been watched over by his brothers. By the touch of the Lord, Jamadagni returned to life as if waking from a restful sleep. The all-victorious Lord Parashurama then completed his great sacrifice of ridding the world of unqualified leaders by taking his ritualistic bath in the Saraswati River.
These are some of the wonderful descriptions of Lord Parashurama’s lila as narrated in the Ninth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Other Puranas say that after ridding the earth of the burden of defiant kings maddened by a lust for power, Lord Parashurama per-formed penance in the Vindhya Hills, a chain of small mountains running through central India, roughly following the course of the Narmada River.
Lord Parashurama is known as one of three ciranjivas, or persons who will live as long as the earth exists. (The other two are Vyasadeva and Ashvatthama.) Before the Kurukshetra war five thousand years ago, Lord Sri Krishna’s brother Balarama met Parashurama at Mahendra Parvata. The Srimad-Bhagavatam (9.16.26) states, “Lord Parashurama still lives as an intelligent brahmana in the mountainous country known as Mahendra [in Bihar State]. Completely satisfied, he has given up all the weapons of a kshatriya.”
A Thousand Arms?
In the following excerpt from Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy (pp. 39-40), Sadaputa Dasa, in commenting on a pastime of Lord Krishna’s, gives a logical explanation for such seemingly impossible phenomena as a person’s having a thousand arms.
It is interesting to note that the Brahmas visiting Krishna had varying numbers of heads, ranging from four to hundreds of millions. It is rather difficult to understand how millions of heads could be arranged on one body in three-dimensional space, and it is also difficult to see how millions of Brahmas could all be seen simultaneously within one room. We suggest that these things are made possible by the fact that the underlying space is not three-dimensional.
Similar observations could be made about the incident in which Banasura used 1,000 arms to work 500 bows and shoot 2,000 arrows at a time at Krishna. In this case we are dealing with a materially embodied being living on the earth. One might wonder how 500 material arms could be mounted on one shoulder without interfering with one another. And if this is possible, how could they aim 500 bows in the same direction at once? (Did the bows pass through each other?) We suggest that stories of this kind implicitly require higher-dimensional conceptions of space.
We can sum up the idea of dimensionality of space by saying that the greater the degree of access between locations, the higher the dimensionality of the space. Since Krishna has simultaneous access to all locations, He perceives space at the highest level of dimensionality. Different living beings will perceive space at different levels of dimensionality, and thus they will have access to different sets of locations (or lokas).
The idea of higher-dimensional access between locations is a key feature of quantum mechanics. The quantum mechanical atom cannot be represented in three-dimensional space. In fact, to represent something as commonplace as an atom of carbon, quantum mechanics makes use of a kind of infinite- dimensional space called Hilbert space. The three-dimensional bonding of carbon and other atoms is made possible by the higher-dimensional interactions within the atoms. Thus, although the idea of higher-dimensional realms may seem to be an extreme departure from accepted scientific thinking, it is possible to interpret modern physics as laying the groundwork for such an idea.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #14-06, 1979
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Astronomer Carl Sagan’s theory of why man believes in God (“The Amniotic Universe,” Atlantic Monthly, April 1979) is a rather old-fashioned speculation, but with a few new twists. Sagan says our ideas of God and the afterlife are no more than remembrances of states we experienced as infants emerging from our mother’s womb.
Before elaborating on his birth theory, Sagan is quick to admit that anthropomorphism (which commonly means the idea that God was invented by man) is often simply a “desperate rationalist attempt to avoid a serious encounter with the mystical.” He also rejects as implausible the idea that religious experience is a mere evolutionary “wiring defect in the brain,” touched off in altered states of consciousness such as “near- death” and LSD experiences.
But Sagan’s own “new” anthropomorphic theory is weak and implausible in the extreme. He says he got his idea from a psychotherapist named Stanislav Grof. Grof asked patients undergoing LSD therapy to recollect memories of their birth, and subsequently he broke the birth experience down into four stages: initial restfulness and complacency, intense pain during the womb’s contractions, gradual passage into the light, and ultimate comfort, when the infant arrives in affectionate arms. Accepting Grof’s analysis, Sagan offers us his anthropomorphic guess: the relief experienced by the infant as he leaves the womb and passes into the light has created man’s notion of the kingdom of God, and the first figure who meets the newborn’s eyes, the midwife or the obstetrician or the father, forms man’s notion of God.
Has the astronomer, then, with one deft stroke invalidated the spiritual knowledge of Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and all other great religious thinkers? Not likely. Sagan’s attempt to explain it all away as purely physiological phenomena may please the atheistically predisposed, but it leaves the more objective observer a bit less than satisfied.
Why does Sagan attempt to explain man’s noblest impulse—love of God—as no more than a remembrance of physical birth? Sagan admits to a frailty: he cannot reconcile belief in God with his belief in his own supremacy. “I would be delighted if there were life after death … but I am also a scientist …” Apparently he thinks that as a scientist, he has a right to demand that the Supreme Being come under his scrutiny, much as a butterfly comes under the microscope or a planet appears in the lens of a telescope.
But clearly the Supreme Personality of Godhead cannot be approached by such a mundane, materialistic method. So Sagan—rather than turn to standard transcendental processes for approaching God, as taught by the great religious thinkers—has created his own explanation. Sagan cannot accept that God exists in truth, and so he seeks an alternative, a reason why so many “good and great people” believe in Him. He thinks he’s found it in his birth theory, “the only alternative, as far as I can see.” Is Lord Krishna, the speaker of the Bhagavad- gita; no more than a memory of an obstetrician? Are Jesus Christ’s prayers to God the Father just an inadvertent expression of thanks to the many midwives who deliver babies? Or perhaps it’s just Sagan who’s in illusion … forgetting God, creating vain “alternatives.”
Similar anti-religious theories of God are discussed in the ancient Vedic scriptures. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states, “I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My deluding potency; and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible……. Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” How can an ordinary human being make independent research into the nature of God? We are all beset with human limitations such as imperfect sensory perception and the tendency to make mistakes, to cheat, and to be illusioned. Because the existence of the Absolute is beyond our material vision, it is impossible for us to understand Him unless we take to one of the standard paths of spiritual purification.
When the atheist attempts to mock the Supreme—saying He is no more than the friendly father or obstetrician who welcomes the baby out of the womb—it is not actually the Supreme who is being described (and mocked and rejected), but an imagination of the Supreme created by the mental speculator. The transcendental position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is not perceivable by the conditioned souls, who are accustomed to judging everything according to material vision and who cannot understand that the Supreme exists in His own abode, which is beyond that vision. Even if a scientist could count all the atoms in the universe, he would still not be able to understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even if one tried to understand the Supreme for billions of years through the mental speculative process or by traveling at the speed of mind or the wind, still the Absolute Truth would remain inconceivable to him, because a materialistic person cannot measure the length and breadth of the Supreme Personality of Godhead’s unlimited existence.
We have to approach God by inquiring from realized saints and from the scriptures. This devotional method, bhakti- yoga, has its own scientific standards, its own theoretical and practical aspects of perception, and only if one takes to them can he come to realize his relationship with the Supreme. For example, in this age the Vedic literatures strongly recommend the chanting of the Hare Krishna maha- mantra. If one chooses not to take to the bona fide process of understanding that which is spiritual, then he can never realize God. But whether one understands Him or not, nonetheless He is existing in His own spiritual potency, beyond the dabblings of the psychotherapist or the astronomer.
Carl Sagan is well known for his belief that superior life forms exist on other planets. He ends the exposition of his “birth theory” of God by predicting that “sooner or later [through space travel] we will find other intelligent beings.” Sagan believes that most of the creatures we will find in outer space will be more advanced than present humanity. “In some very real sense they will appear to us as godlike.” He concludes that perhaps these superior beings will give us superior knowledge of God and science. The Vedic sources also inform us that there is superior life on other planets within this material universe. At any rate, the astronomer’s concession that his own theory is human speculation and may one day be improved by knowledge from higher beings has a seeming modesty. But why isn’t Sagan modest enough to see that beyond the advanced intelligence that we may find in beings in outer space, there must be higher and higher stages of intelligence and ultimately the intelligence from which all intelligence is coming? This fundamental principle—that God is the original cause—is expressed in the Vedanta aphorism, “The Supreme is that from which everything is emanating.” Even the small fragment of the universe we see around us is so complex and highly organized that we must conclude there is a great intelligence or brain behind it. We may speculate on which theory—“big bang,” “steady state,” “oscillation”—best explains the universe, but whatever way it has come about, it has come about and is evolving due to a supreme will and intelligence.
Nor do we have to wait for millions of years in the vain hope that ultimate knowledge will come to us only through a chance encounter with higher beings. For thousands of years compassionate, ultimate wisdom has been coming from the Supreme Being to the suffering beings in this material world, and even today the transmission continues. Unfortunately, a scientist like Sagan is too busy straining his own imperfect brain and senses and mouthing “alternatives” to God—too busy to be a little humble and give his ears a chance.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #13-07, 1978
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
I have been researching the centuries-old biographical tradition. In one collection of biographies, I came upon an editor’s introduction that riled me:
That from the ranks of humanity there can emerge a Socrates, a Cato, a Jesus, a More, a Newton, a Mozart, a Balzac, a Deburau, a Napoleon, is in my eyes a thing more wonderful than all the miracles ever imagined by the makers of religions.... Our desire for an immortality of the soul shall be dedicated to the belief that the great wonder of creation is man and the infinite possibilities that lie not within the theologies of religious leaders, but within ourselves.
Why does this man feel that to praise great men he has to decry God? This kind of humanism is nothing new, of course, but it is surely misplaced and misinformed and does justice neither to God nor to man.
For the sake of argument, let us accept that the extraordinary human being is the most wonderful thing in the world. Still we have to inquire, “Where does the extraordinary greatness of a particular man or woman come from?” In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna the Supreme Personality of Godhead affirms, “It is I who am the ability in man.” And the transcendentalist reasons that intelligence has to come from an original source of intelligence—an original, supreme consciousness. The skeptic may deny this, but he cannot offer any explanation why someone like Socrates suddenly arises. The appearance of a great personality may seem like a unique combination of historical exigency and individual merit, but a great man cannot be explained merely by historical, economic, sociological, genealogical, or psychological factors. What’s more, there is no scientific method for producing such a great personality. The intellectual community cannot produce an Einstein, the art schools cannot produce a poet or musician, nor can politicians or historians produce a great man of action. We may take pride in the achievements of great men, but these achievements are hardly the independent creation of humanity.
Even the “great man” cannot understand how he has come by his uncommon powers. Why, when his contemporaries appear to work just as hard and to have just as good an education, does he rise above all of them? If there really is no explanation, if greatness is simply an accident, why should we praise an accident? If Mozart’s music is superior by accident, then why give Mozart so much credit? Those who thoughtfully study the life of a great man usually conclude that “destiny” or “genius” or “inspiration” or “special power”—not accident—accounts for his high achievement. Of course, the Bhagavad-gita explains in detail that one’s karma, his activity in past lives, accounts for his abilities in this life. At any rate, everyone appreciates a person who makes a great contribution to humanity. But while most people wonder at the greatness of the man, a Krishna conscious person inquires even further—into the cause, the source of the greatness of all men and women and indeed of all life.
Thus far, for the sake of argument we have assumed that mankind’s ultimate object of study is mankind. But let’s think for a moment. Is man really the ultimate? No, he cannot be. As great as any man may be, he is still a tiny creature subject to the miseries of old age, disease, and death. This is true not just for the average man but even for a Napoleon, a Socrates, a Shakespeare, or an Einstein. So anyone who is actually advanced will acknowledge his frailty with all humility. He will acknowledge that he is actually a tiny creature in a vast universe, that he must bow to time and the control of the Supreme. In other words, a man’s relative greatness does not make him the supreme great.
As the Vedic literature explains, the supreme great is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan—“the one who possesses all the opulences: wealth, power, beauty, strength, knowledge, fame, and renunciation.” In this world a great man may have one or two of these qualities to some degree. But no human being possesses all these qualities to a greater degree than his contemporaries. The person who possesses all the opulences to an infinite degree, eternally, can be defined as God, and whatever greatness we see in man or in nature is but an infinitesimal spark of His greatness. As Lord Krishna informs us in the Bhagavad-gita, “I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being, moving or unmoving, that can exist without Me. There is no end to My divine manifestations. Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.” (Bg. 10.39-41)
Man is surely great, and his real greatness lies in his ability to understand God’s message: that he is made in God’s image; that he is an eternal soul, part and parcel of God; and that God is the supreme. Any man who doesn’t help other people recognize their identity as eternal souls, any man who doesn’t acknowledge that we are now in a state of ignorance that forces us to undergo repeated births and deaths, is not really a great man. Any man who cannot help his fellow beings become liberated from the sufferings of this material world cannot be considered a great contributor, even though he may have made a longlasting impression on his contemporaries. (How longlasting is this world’s fame, anyway? We may call Shakespeare or Socrates “immortal” for a few hundred or a few thousand years after their passing, but what is this compared to eternity?) Men who are actually great are quick to acknowledge the greatness of God, who out-dramatizes Shakespeare and out- thinks Socrates.
As I begin my study of the life of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I see that he did everything in the pure consciousness of glorifying God. And he helped others see that devotional service to Krishna is the very purpose of life. I can understand, that I won’t be able to do full justice to his life, but at least I can see that here is true greatness. As Srila Prabhupada showed us, a great person does not claim that he is dominating events or that he has created the greatest wonder, nor does he leave a legacy that does nothing to free mankind from birth and death. No, A great person is he who realizes that Krishna, the Supreme Being, is everything. A great person surrenders to Him, and he shares this enlightenment with others.
by Sadaputa Dasa
It was 9:00 P.M., April 22, 1886. The four researchers—Ochorowicz, Marillier, Janet, and A. T. Myers—crept quietly through the deserted streets of Le Havre and took up their stations outside the cottage of Madame B. They waited expectantly. Then it happened. “At 9:25,” Ochorowicz later wrote, “I saw a shadow appearing at the garden gate: it was she. I hid behind the corner in order to be able to hear without being seen.”1
At first the woman paused at the gate and went back into the garden. Then at 9:30 she hurried out into the street and began to make her way unsteadily toward the house of Dr. Gibert. The four researchers followed as unobtrusively as possible. They could see she was obviously in a somnambulistic state. Finally she reached Gibert’s house, entered, and hurried from room to room until she found him.
This was an experiment in long-distance hypnotic influence. Madame B., a person easily hypnotized, was the subject of many experiments arranged by Professor Pierre Janet and Dr. Gibert, a prominent physician of Le Havre. In these probes they were joined by F. W. H. Myers of the Society for Psychical Research, the physician A. T. Myers, Professor Ochorowicz of the University of Lvov, and M. Marillier of the French Psychological Society.
On this occasion the plan was that Dr. Gibert remain in his study and try to mentally summon Madame B. to leave her cottage and come see him. The cottage was about a kilometer from his house, and neither Madame B. nor any of the people living with her had been told that the experiment would take place. Gibert began issuing his mental commands at 8:55 p.m., and within half an hour she began her journey to his house. F. W. H. Myers wrote that out of twenty-five similar tests, nineteen were equally successful.2
This strange story tells of a kind of venture that meets with disapproval both from modern science and from the Vedic literature. The reasons tell us something interesting about both.
Let me begin by discussing how Dr. Gibert’s experiment is seen by scientists.
We rarely hear much about people being able to influence others at a distance by mental commands. But many similar experiments have been performed. Here is another example from the late nineteenth century.
One Dr. Dufay was using hypnosis to treat Madame C. for periodic headaches and sickness that the usual medical treatments had failed to relieve. He found he was able to put her to sleep and awaken her by mental commands, sometimes at a distance.
On one occasion when called out of town, he arranged that Madame C.’s husband telegraph him when one of her headaches began and then report any later developments by a second telegram.
One morning at ten o’clock he received a telegram announcing that a headache had begun. So he mentally ordered the woman to sleep, and at four o’clock he ordered her to awaken. The husband telegraphed that she had gone to sleep at ten a.m. and awakened at four. The distance between Dr. Dufay and Madame C. was about 112 kilometers.3
Experiments of this kind fall within a field of study that early in this century was called psychical research and today is more often called parapsychology. This field deals with apparent powers of the human mind that are “paranormal,” or hard to explain using accepted physical theories. Distant mental influence is a classic example of such a power.
How most scientists view parapsychology was recently summed up by Dr. James Alcock of Toronto’s York University in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He wrote: “Although there has been over a century of formal empirical inquiry, parapsychologists have clearly failed to produce a single reliable demonstration of ‘paranormal,’ or ‘psi,’ phenomena.… Indeed, parapsychologists have not even succeeded in developing a reasonable definition of paranormal phenomena that does not involve, or imply, some aspect of mind- body dualism.”4
Here Alcock brings up two important points. The first is that paranormal phenomena have not been reliably demonstrated. The experiments of Dr. Gibert and Dr. Dusart may indeed seem unreliable. They were rather loosely organized and didn’t use the strict laboratory protocols we expect in scientific work. But many carefully planned tests of distant influence have been performed in laboratory settings.
For example, take the work done in the 1920’s by Professor Leonid Vasiliev of the University of Leningrad. In one series of tests a subject named Fedorova would arrive at Vasiliev’s laboratory at about 8 p.m. After about twenty minutes of rest and conversation, she would lie on a bed in a darkened chamber. She was told to keep squeezing a rubber balloon attached to an air tube as long as she was awake, and to stop squeezing it when she began to fall asleep. The air tube was hooked up to an apparatus in the next room that recorded when she would fall asleep and wake up. While in the darkened room, she had no further contact with the experimenters.
When Fedorova entered the room, the experimenter who had been talking with her would signal a colleague, called the sender, who was waiting two rooms away. The sender would then climb into a special lead-lined chamber and open a letter prepared in advance and not yet read by the subject, by the sender, or by the other experimenter. This letter would instruct the sender to do one of three things: (1) stay within the lead-lined chamber and mentally order the subject to go to sleep, (2) stand with his head outside the chamber and issue the same mental commands, or (3) stand with his head outside the chamber and make no commands.
To show the kind of results Vasiliev obtained, here is a list of how long it took the subject to go to sleep in twenty- nine runs of this test.5 The times are in minutes and seconds.
Time to Go to Sleep
With no mental commands, the average time for the subject to go to sleep comes to 7 minutes and 24 seconds. In contrast, when commands were given inside the chamber the time averaged 4 minutes and 43 seconds. When the commands were issued outside the chamber, the time was 4 minutes and 13 seconds.
It seems the subject was falling asleep faster when a person two rooms away was mentally ordering her to do so.
Vasiliev ran many other carefully organized experiments of this kind, and he reported similar results. In one successful test, mental commands for sleeping and waking were even sent from Sebastopol to Leningrad, a distance of 1,700 kilometers.
Such research, of course, is rejected by scientists like Alcock. The methodology, they will argue, is flawed. In Vasiliev’s experiment, neither the subject nor the persons talking with her should know whether a command to sleep will be given. But how do we know that this condition was met? The experimenter talking with the subject might have learned what was in the envelope and cued the subject, either deliberately or inadvertently. This might have influenced how fast the subject fell asleep. Or the subject might have cheated by pretending to doze off faster when the command to sleep was given.
Many scientists will insist that results such as those of Vasiliev must be tossed aside unless the work is iron-clad against fraud. Yet many scientific experiments less cautious of fraud are accepted. Why the stricter standard for parapsychology?
Here we come to Alcock’s second point—that paranormal phenomena imply some kind of mind-body dualism.
When Vasiliev started his experiments, he argued that distant transmission of influences from one person to another must work through electro-magnetic waves. It must be a kind of radio, in which one brain sends signals to another.
As long as Vasiliev was able to argue this, his research was accepted and funded in the Soviet Union. But his experimental findings soon ruled out the radio hypothesis. For example, with the subject Fedorova the average time before sleep was the same whether the mental commands were sent within the lead-lined chamber or outside it. The chamber was designed to block radio waves, but it seemed to do nothing to halt mental signals.
These and other findings convinced Vasiliev that known forms of radiant energy were not involved in transmitting mental commands. But as soon as this became known, the support for Vasiliev’s work was cut off, and remote mental influence was officially condemned in the Soviet Union as “an antisocial idealist fiction about man’s supernatural power to perceive phenomena which, considering the time and place, cannot be perceived.”6
Here too in the West, scientists reject the idea that the mind can do things that violate the known laws of physics. To them, such phenomena must be miracles, and they follow the philosopher David Hume in saying, “No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous, than the fact which it endeavors to establish.”7 Since there is nothing miraculous about fraud, scientists still prefer it as the proper answer for anomalous parapsychological data.
Now, turning from modern science to the Vedic literature, we find a different outlook on the oddities we’ve been discussing.
According to the Srimad-Bhagavatam, there are eight primary siddhis, or mystic powers. These ultimately come from the potency of Krishna, and since all living beings are Krishna’s parts and parcels, living beings are potentially able to manifest these powers to a minute degree. From the Vedic point of view, this is completely natural and not at all miraculous.
One of the eight siddhis, called vashita, is described by Srila Prabhupada as follows:
“By this perfection one can bring anyone under his control. This is a kind of hypnotism which is almost irresistible. Sometimes it is found that a yogi who may have attained a little perfection in this vashita mystic power comes out among the people and speaks all sorts of nonsense, controls their minds, exploits them, takes their money, and then goes away.”8
This power is similar to the power of distant mental influence studied by Vasiliev and others. But here we find that the natural hypnotic power they studied can, it seems, be made stronger by appropriate techniques of yoga.
The point that yogis who acquire the vashita siddhi often use it to cheat people fits well with at least one idea of modern science. Scientists tend to think that people claiming this power are mostly cheaters, and the Vedic view agrees. Many psychics use their abilities, alleged or real, to separate foolish people from their money, and this gives a bad name both to psychics and to paranormal phenomena in general.
This brings us to an important Vedic point about the mystic siddhis. In the Uddhava-gita section of Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.15.33),Krishna says, “Learned experts in devotional service state that the mystic perfections of yoga I have mentioned are impediments and a waste of time for one practicing the supreme yoga, by which one achieves all perfection in life directly from Me.”
Thus scientists and great devotees both regard mystic siddhis as undesirable. For scientists they distract people from “scientific truth,” and for devotees they distract one from the path of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
- Vasiliev, L.L., Experiments in Distant Influence (London: Wildwood House, 1963) p. 211.
- Vasiliev, Ibid., p. 213.
- Myers, F. W. H., Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (New York: University Books, Inc., 1961) p. 145.
- Alcock, James E., 1987, “Parapsychology: Science of the anomalous or search for the soul?” Behavioral and Brain Science, p. 553.
- Vasiliev, Ibid., p. 144.
- Vasiliev, Ibid., pp. xviii, xxiii.
- Hume, David, 1966, 2nd edition, Enquiries Concerning the Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 115- 116.
- A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, (Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1982) p. 12.