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What’s Wrong with Our Politicians

To say that most politicians are incompetent, and in many cases downright dishonest, isn’t very controversial. We’ve all read about their blunders, their tricks, and their schemes. So the aim of this article is not to give proof of their failure to bring about world peace and prosperity; it is rather to show that the root cause of their incompetence is selfish materialism, and that the remedy is the re- spiritualization of society through the worldwide propagation of Krishna consciousness.

The following are some of the reasons why a self-centered materialist is incapable of bringing about a peaceful and harmonious world society:
He has no sense of spiritual brotherhood

The materialistic leader can never bring harmony to society because he fails to see the spiritual unity of all mankind. Preoccupied with superficial distinctions such as race, class, or nationality, he cannot understand that all living beings are his brothers, being children of God, the Supreme Father. As Lord Krishna puts it in the Bhagavad-gita (4.35)

And when you have thus learned the truth, you will know that all living beings are but part of Me, and that they are in Me and are Mine.

He has a one-sided view of life:

Instead of using his influence to bring about social conditions favorable for both spiritual as well as economic development, the materialist considers economic development to be the all in all. Thus he promotes the creation of an artificial environment that is far from peaceful, contemplative, or healthful. Devoid of spiritual culture, the people become alienated from God, nature, and each other. And the more alienated and materialistic the people get, the more frustrated, angry, and bewildered they become. Thus a materialistic leader takes the people on a “progressive” march to a hellish existence.
He’s ambitious and self-serving:

The materialistic politico, having neglected the spiritual side of life, is never satiated in his drive for power and position. Since his number one consideration is his own political advancement, he continually campaigns for office, and after winning the election, he’s afraid of being removed from his seat. He is so preoccupied with the fear of losing his job, status, power, and wealth that this fear itself—not love, or actual concern for the people—is the primary motivation for his activities. Materialistic leaders are merely merchants, trading empty promises for votes, and the people naturally distrust them. Everyone knows that a sly merchant must be watched very carefully: even when offering a “good bargain,” he ultimately has his own bank balance in mind.
He’s always disturbed and often irrational:

Because the materialistic politician is not at peace with himself, he cannot help others find peace, either individually or collectively. Unable to realize all his political ambitions, he is often subject to deep inner frustration, which may cause him to behave irrationally. A person in such a disturbed state of mind cannot have the clear intelligence needed to solve today’s complex problems. Even if his mind is razor-sharp, his decisions will never be clear if his heart is infected with selfish desires. A crooked politician may be intellectually astute, but an envious person with a sharp mind is like a poisonous snake with a beautiful jewel on its forehead. The snake is still dangerous, despite its fancy ornaments.
His perception is blurred:

Due to the pressures of power, many of today’s leaders try to forget their miseries by dimming their awareness with intoxicants like alcohol, amphetamines, caffeine, and nicotine. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times revealed that the highest rate of alcoholism in the United States is in Washington, D. C., and in Washington, D. C., the area most affected is Georgetown, the suburb where most U. S. senators and congressmen live. A true leader sharpens his awareness; he doesn’t blur it with a haze of intoxication.
He neglects God’s laws:
Today’s politicians are too busy wheeling and dealing to pay much attention to the laws of God. As Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (3.21):

Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.”

A good leader must be an ideal example for the people to admire and try to follow. If he is able to set the standard of perfect behavior, then the people will naturally be inclined to follow. Therefore he must obey God’s laws and possess godly qualities himself. Of course, many politicians go to church and publicly declare their piety. A person is known, however, not by his words, but by his deeds. Certain qualities must be present in a worthy leader, and certain ones must be absent. For instance, a spiritually enlightened leader is free from lust, anger, and greed. Although strong in his determination, he is gentle, compassionate, and ready to respect others. Above all, he actually follows God’s laws; he doesn’t simply proclaim himself to be pious and then act sinfully beyond the range of the TV cameras.

These are just a few reasons why a materialistic person is unqualified to be a leader of society. The list is endless, but they all point to the same conclusion: a materialistic politician, devoid of spiritual knowledge and ignorant of the goal of life, can never help bring about world peace and prosperity. Since the problem stems from ignorance, the obvious solution is education. Unfortunately, present-day educational institutions provide no information about our spiritual nature and our relationship with God. In a recent conversation with Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins of Franklin and Marshall College, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada expanded on this theme:

“People want material gain because they have no spiritual information. If I take care of my shirt very nicely, but I do not care for the person inside the shirt, then what is my position? Similarly, this whole material world is busy taking care of the body, not the soul inside the body. Therefore all these so-called educational institutions are blind. It is a society of the blind leading the blind. The solution is first of all to understand that you are spirit. Then find out what is your relationship with God and act accordingly.”

This, then, is the goal of human life. As long as we ignore our relationship with God and remain caught up in the pursuit of material wealth and physical comforts alone, we will always find ourselves alienated, confused, and anxious about the future. World peace and prosperity do not depend upon more sophisticated weaponry or increased productivity, but on the widespread propagation of genuine spiritual knowledge.

This knowledge can be easily acquired through the practice of bhakti-yoga,especially the hearing and chanting of the holy names of God. The result of chanting the name of the Lord is that the heart of the chanter becomes cleansed, and he sees his true spiritual identity as an eternal servant of God. God has many names, and they are given in the various scriptures of the world. Different names refer to His different attractive features: Jehovah means all-powerful, Allah means all-compassionate, and so on. The name Krishna, however, means all-attractive and thus contains all other names of God within it. Therefore the Hare Krishna mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is especially purifying and can rapidly awaken our consciousness of God.

Of course, it is not possible to present even an adequate summary of the sublime process of bhakti-yoga in a few short pages. The inquisitive reader is referred to the works of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. In his books, especially the Bhagavad-gita As It Is,the Srimad-Bhagavatam,and the Sri Caitanya-caritamrita,he has presented a crystal-clear picture of the bhakti-yoga process.

By reading these books and chanting the holy names of God, the people of the world can become spiritually strengthened and convinced of the need for genuine spiritual leadership. Then, when the time comes to choose their leaders, they will naturally select a person with the qualities necessary to guide human society on the path back to home, back to Godhead.

“Material Education Will Make You Even More Of A Rascal”

Srila Prabhupada: In Montreal a Bengali gentleman inquired, “Swamiji, you are using very strong words—’fools and rascals.’ Can it be explained otherwise?”

And I replied, “No. These are the only words—that you are all rascals and fools.” [Laughter.]

Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, you once said, “Anyone who has a material body is a rascal.”

Srila Prabhupada: A rascal. That’s all. And yet these rascals are trying to make the body permanent, even though they know they cannot. You cannot make the material body permanent. You are not allowed to keep it for more than several decades. Nor will you ever be allowed. Still, punah punash carvita-carvananam: [you are chewing what you have already chewed].Repeatedly, these fools go on trying for the impossible. What is impossible, what cannot be allowed—they are trying for it.

Disciple: Well, it appears people just can’t accept that all their endeavors to make the body permanent will be defeated.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, they are seeing—they are experiencing—that their endeavors are doomed. History never says that any man has become immortal. Even a great demon like Hiranyakashipu could not become immortal. And what to speak of these tiny demons? One kick is sufficient to kill them.

Disciple: Well, Srila Prabhupada, how is it that the Americans and Europeans, especially, have become the vanguard of these rascal ideas, this rascal culture?

Srila Prabhupada: Because they are Rakshasas, flesh-eaters. They are eating flesh and drinking wine and having illicit sex. Rakshasa civilization. Hiranyakashipu civilization. Hiranya means “gold,” and kashipu means “soft bed.” Simply learning how to attain these things—this is Rakshasa civilization. These people are simply searching after an existence of soft beds and gold, sex and money.

Of course, what they are trying for is impossible. It will not be allowed. And yet they are trying for it. After all, how can the material body be made permanent? But these fools say, “Yes, we are trying. Now disease has been reduced. Now we are living a few more years.” These are their foolish words. They will never say, “No, it is impossible.” Rather, they will go on glorifying their rascal endeavors.

Modern science—what actual advancement have they achieved? We are talking on that point. These so-called scientists and other leaders are simply misleading.

In this connection Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura has composed a nice song. He says, jada-vidya jato, mayara vaibhava. Jada-vidya means “material education,” so- called material science. Vidya means “education.” So this expansion of knowledge means expansion of maya, illusion.

The result is tomara bhajane badha: people will forget God. With the advancement of so-called material science or material knowledge, the result will be that people will forget God.

And next is moha janamiya, anitya samsare: “I am already captivated by the material world—a temporary place where I cannot stay—but the advancement of material knowledge will make me more captivated, and I shall work just like an ass.” That’s all.

Now, tell me whether Srila Bhaktivinoda is right or wrong. His charge is that advancement of material education is advancement of the influence of the material energy. And if you say, “What is the wrong there?” the wrong is, “You are already rascals, and this education will make you even more of a rascal.” Moha janamiya, anitya samsare: “I am already captivated by the temporary material world, and these things will simply make me more completely, more thoroughly captivated.” Now, this is the verdict of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. So if you don’t like it, tell me your reason.

As for material “education,” we are already captive under the laws of material nature, and the more we advance in material education, the more rigidly we’ll be captive. So this is the verdict of Bhaktivinoda Thakura. What is your answer? Can anyone refute Bhaktivinoda Thakura and prove that he is wrong?

Disciple: Well, some may say that without material education we couldn’t even read the knowledge Bhaktivinoda Thakura has written.

Srila Prabhupada: Who says we are against learning to read? The question is what we should read. If you dedicate yourself to reading Bhaktivinoda Thakura, that is real education.

We want that you learn from Bhaktivinoda Thakura, from Vyasadeva, from Narada. But why are you learning from Darwin, Freud, and other rascals? Education means you should learn from a person who is divinely authorized, who is without mistake, who is without illusion, who does not cheat—just as, for instance, we are learning from Krishna. That is education. And if you learn from rascals and fools, then what is that education? Education means to learn from a learned person.

Education is required, but we require that which is actually education, that which is not cheating. And yet, thanks to so-called modern education, we are being cheated. We are being taught simply to work for the body—which we are not. Is that education? Or is it cheating?

You may say, “I am looking after my own personal interests. Every day I turn on the water, and I thoroughly wash my shirt and coat.”

But is that knowledge? “And what about you, sir? What about your food?”

“Me? My food? I don’t care about that. Daily I wash my shirt and coat.”

Is that education? You keep yourself starving, while you keep your shirt and coat very clean. Is that education? This is going on. Therefore, people are restless. They are hungry, starving. But what can their cars and big buildings do for them? Why are they committing suicide? Because they are not happy. There is no food for the spirit soul—the actual self. Is that education?

That is not education. So Bhaktivinoda Thakura is right when he says, jibake karaye gadha: “Material education means making everyone more and more of an ass.” That’s all. Everyone is already an ass, because he’s in the material world, and material so- called education means keeping him in that condition more and more.

Disciple: So, Srila Prabhupada, after a person leaves this particular material body and takes another one, then he starts off all over again?

Srila Prabhupada: No. He starts again according to the kind of new body he has earned. He will have to work according to whatever kind of body he has earned. If he has earned a dog body, he will work as a dog. If he has earned a tree body, he will work as a tree. “Previously you went naked, without any shame. Now stand naked for five thousand years in the scorching heat and freezing cold. You cannot protest, even when your limbs are being cut off.”

So these natural laws are there to be understood. But what do the modern so-called educators know about this science? Krishna says, tatha dehantara praptih: “At the end of this lifetime you have to take a different body.” He does not specify what form of body you are going to take. By your actions you are determining that.

And you can see, by practical experience, that there are millions of forms of body for you to take. Actually, there are 8,400,000 forms of body. You have to enter one of them. That’s all. So what can you do? Nature will force you: “Enter this body.”

It may be a better body, or it may be an abominable body. But you have to enter another body. Now, where is the educational institution to remind me, “I’ll have to enter another body after death, so let me be careful about what kind of body I shall have”? Where is that educational institution? These so-called educators are blind.

“What is the Value of Your Education?”

Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, the universities nowadays don’t teach any courses in the nature of the soul.

Srila Prabhupada: Therefore, the young person says, “What is the wrong if I become a dog?” Because there is no education. He does not know the difference between the dog and the human being. Therefore, he says, “What is the wrong if I become a dog? I will get more facility for sex without any criminal charges.” This is the advancement of education.

Dr. Mize: How does the mind, then, come to know that there is a soul?

Srila Prabhupada: You have to be educated. How are these people, my students, convinced about the soul? They have been educated by knowledge and by practice. Everything has to be learned by being properly educated. And therefore, the Vedic injunction is tad- vijnanartham—”In order to know that science”—sa gurum evabhigacchet—”you must go to a guru, a teacher.” So the answer is that you must go to the teacher who can teach you how the soul is there.

Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, you’re teaching us how the soul is there, and is there a way to describe the connection between the soul and the mind?

Srila Prabhupada: The mind is there in the soul. But the mind is now polluted by material contamination. Just like a madman: he has got his mind, but his mind is contaminated. Therefore, he requires treatment by a psychiatrist. You cannot say the madman has no mind. He has got a mind, but it is contaminated. You have to see about treatment.

So the mind is there—everything is there in the soul. And now the mind, contaminated by matter, is perverted. The same example: a madman has got a mind, but it is useless. He is simply acting in madness. The same madman, when properly treated, will act like a sane man. So the mind is there always, whether we speak of the pure soul or the soul encaged in the material body. Everything is spiritual. The soul is spiritual; the mind is spiritual; the intelligence is spiritual. But it is now contaminated. So you have to see about treatment. When it is purified, by Krishna consciousness, then the mind is controlled, the intelligence is properly acting, and the soul is in his proper position. Therefore, those who are under treatment must observe it strictly. They must not do something wrong, such that the treatment may be hampered.

Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, philosophers generally try to use their minds to speculate about the nature of the soul. But with the mind alone, they can never understand.

Srila Prabhupada: Just like the madman is speculating. He is thinking, “I am president.” He is lying down on the street. “Oh, I am completely independent. Why shall I go on the foot path?”

Dr. Mize: When the soul was in the spiritual sky, he also had a mind and an intelligence like he has here?

Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Yes. Unless he has got a mind, how does he misuse his intelligence?

Dr. Mize: But he misused that intelligence in his freedom, his independence.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Yes. In the spiritual world, the mind is there also. Spiritual mind. Everything is spiritual. There is nothing material. The body is spiritual; the mind, spiritual; the intelligence, spiritual; each person, spiritual; the land, spiritual; the water, spiritual. Everything is spiritual. That is the spiritual world.

Here in the material world, except the spirit soul everything is material. And he is encumbered with this material atmosphere, by twenty-seven strata, layers. For instance, the five gross elements, then ten senses, and then three gunas, or modes of nature.

In this way, there are twenty-seven layers. The soul is within, and he has to be taken out. That is called liberation. For instance, if you are covered with twenty-seven layers of dirty things, it is a very difficult position. But there is a process to clear the garbage and take the soul out. That is this Krishna consciousness movement—to take the soul out of the covering of twenty-seven layers of material atmosphere. That shloka we read before says nashta-prayeshu abhadreshu: “almost cleansed”—prayeshu abhadra. Abhadra means dirty things. So this clearing process is going on. When the soul is almost cleansed, he feels, “Oh …”

And that process: nityam bhagavata- sevaya—constantly being engaged in the service of the Bhagavata: the grantha, or book, Bhagavata and the person Bhagavata. Then the covering will be cleansed away.

And then, when the soul comes out, that is brahma- bhutah prasannatma: “Oh, I am now free.” Na shocati na kankshati—no more lamentation, no more greediness. Everything finished. Then he begins his real business, as part and parcel of God. That is perfection.

Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, in the thirteenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita, “Nature, the Enjoyer, and Consciousness,” in texts six and seven, Lord Krishna mentions those twenty-seven coverings: “The five great elements, false ego, intelligence, the unmanifest, the ten senses, the mind, the five sense objects, desire, hate, happiness, and distress, the aggregate, the life symptoms, and convictions—all these are considered, in summary, to be the field of activities and their interaction.”

Srila Prabhupada: In material life, these are our field of activities. The body is a combination of all these things, like a huge computer. The body is made of these material things, but the mechanical parts are very minute, different. All these are matter. But within this matter, because the soul is there, this finest machine is working. Just like our composition machine for publishing my books—kut-kut-kut-kut-kut. But one has to push the button; otherwise, it is useless. However very nicely made the machine, without a living being’s touch, it is useless. So this whole big machine, the material body, is wonderful so long as the soul is there. And as soon as the soul is out, the body is a lump of matter. Useless. Not worth a penny. Throw it away.

But in modern civilization, we are giving importance to the machine—not to the person who is dealing with the machine. This is the folly of modern civilization. We are thinking like a child: “The machine is working independently.” But that is not the fact. The big airship, the 747, is flying because the pilot is there. And the pilot is a soul, covered by another bodily machine. And that is the missing point in modern civilization: who is working with the machine. That they do not know. That is ignorance. It is said … [glancing at a disciple:] you see Bhagavad-gita … ishvarah sarva-bhutanam hrid-deshe ’rjuna tishthati/ bhramayan sarva-bhutani yantrarudhani mayaya. Yantra means “machine.” So the modern education is missing the pilot. They are simply wandering with the machine. [Glancing again at the disciple:] Read it.

Disciple: “The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”

Srila Prabhupada: That’s it. They do not consider this body a machine. In spite of all education, they are thinking there is no other element than this machine. And yet actually, they are finding that such a big, nice machine as a computer—without an operator, it does not work. And this huge machine, the material nature, is working without any spiritual touch? Just see how much foolishness. They think, “Automatically working. Nature is working automatically.” Do they not think this?

Dr. Mize: They think there’s a mind, but not a soul.

Srila Prabhupada: No, that’s all right. Something is there which is working. Now, that may be debatable—you call it soul or mind. That is the next understanding. But the machine is not working independently. That should be understood first. Then how the machine is working—that will be the next chapter.

So they have no understanding, even, of how the machine is working. Mudho ’yam nabhijanati loko mam ajam avyayam…. Mayadhyakshena prakrtih suyate sa- caracaram: God is directing everything—that fact these mudhas, asses, do not know.

So if you do not know how the machine is working, then what is the value of your education? Education means enlightenment. But you do not know what is the final cause. That huge body is working as nature: so many planets—big planets like the sun and moon—they are oating in the air. Who has made this arrangement? We see it every day. And yet these great professors will never accept that God is the original cause. That thing does not come to their brain. They are putting forward different theories, and those are being accepted. One theory is accepted today, and tomorrow, “No, this is not accepted any longer. Here is another—an advanced theory.” That “advanced” means he does not know.

On Real Intelligence

The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in May 1975, during an early-morning walk in Melbourne.

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, I read in one of your books that one way we can learn about God is through a process called anumana. What is that?

Srila Prabhupada: Logic. For example, as soon as we see a machine, we know there must be an operator of that machine. This is logic. You cannot expect the machine to work without an operator. Similarly, this material nature is a machine and the operator is God. Even though you cannot see God, by logic you can know He exists. This is human reasoning.

But the atheistic scientists will not accept this simple argument. Even an ordinary typewriter cannot work automatically; it requires an operator to push the buttons. Then how can this big machine of the material nature work without an operator? What is this nonsense!

The scientists say, “There is no God. Everything is working by the forces of nature.” But what is nature? Nature is simply a machine, just as our bodies are machines. The operator of the bodily machine is the soul, and the guide is the Supersoul, Lord Krishna in the heart. As soon as the soul goes away from the body, the bodily machine stops working. And the same is true for the machine of the material nature. It does not work without an operator. But the so-called scientists have no common sense to understand this logic. Therefore they are rascals.

Devotee: Who is the greater rascal, the material scientist or the ordinary atheist?

Srila Prabhupada: Anyone who does not accept God is a rascal. That is Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad-gita [7.15]: na mam dushkritino mudhah prapadyante naradhamah. Who doesn’t recognize God? Those who are sinful rascals, the lowestofmankind.

Now, someone may say, “No, the scientists are so educated.” But that education is false education. Real education means to understand God. Vedaish ca sarvair aham eva vedyah.

If one does not understand God, his education is useless. It has no meaning. When someone claims to be educated, we should simply ask, “Will that education save him from death?” If not, then what is the value of his education? Our real problems are birth, old age, disease, and death. Can materialistic education solve these problems? Can the scientists stop anyone from growing old? Nobody wants to become old; everyone wants to keep himself youthful. But no scientist can stop old age. Then what is the value of the scientists’ education? We acquire an education so we can solve our problems. The scientists are solving only temporary problems, but they cannot solve the ultimate problems. Therefore their education is useless. Srama eva hi kevalam: it is simply hard labor for nothing. That’s all.

Devotee: The leaders seem to have adopted a stop-gap policy. They keep the people in ignorance and fool them into believing progress is being made, when actually it’s not. In this way the leaders can maintain their position.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the blind leading the blind: andha yathandhair upaniyamanah. The leaders tell the people that by material adjustments they will be happy. But that is not possible. Still, the people are such fools that they do not think, “Where is the solution to my problems? You have given me the chance to live in a skyscraper building, but is that the solution to the problems of birth, old age, disease, and death?” No one has brain enough to ask this question.

Everyone is trying to save himself from disease, from old age, from death. Why do people go to a physician as soon as there is some disease?

Devotee: They want to get well.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. And ultimately, they do not want to die. But even if you have the best physician, death will eventually come in any case. Then where is the solution to the problem of death?

Still, people accept science as the solution to all their problems. Therefore the Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.3.19] says, shva-vid-varahoshtra-kharaih samstutah purushah pashuh. “Those who are like dogs, hogs, camels, and asses praise leaders who are also like animals.” Both the leaders and their followers are animals; none of them is a human being. The big animal bluffs, “I have done so much for you, and I promise to do more. Give me your vote.” And the small animal thinks, “Yes, he has done so much for me. Let me vote for him. “This is going on. Andha yathandhaih: one blind man is leading other blind men. What is the use? If I am blind and I say, “Come follow me and I shall take you to Melbourne,” as soon as we go in the road, I will be killed and you will also be killed. That’s all.

Devotee: Srila Prabhupada, sometimes when we tell people this life is full of miseries, they say, “What do you mean? There are high points and low points, but basically I am a happy person.”

Srila Prabhupada: That is their foolishness. They cannot distinguish misery from happiness. They are being kicked by material nature, the agent of Krishna. Because they are desiring in various ways to become controllers or enjoyers, they are being offered various types of bodies and suffering repeated birth and death. But because people have no sense, they think this material life is pleasurable.

Now, as Australians, you may have so many nice facilities, but you cannot enjoy them perpetually. By the force of nature you will have to change your position. Today you may be living in a nice apartment, and tomorrow you may become a rat in that apartment. It is not in your power to change the strong laws of nature. You must change your position.

Actually, everyone is being controlled by the material nature at every moment. So an intelligent person asks how to get out of this material nature, how to end the suffering of repeated birth, old age, disease, and death. And Krishna explains how to end this suffering in Bhagavad-gita [7.14]: mam eva ye prapadyante mayam etam taranti te. “As soon as the rascal surrenders to Me, he is out of the control of My material nature.” Surrendering to Krishna is real intelligence.

The Album of My Festive Year

Skimming through a photo album of my ten months at Bhaktivedanta College (2002–2003), I slowed down near the end and remembered my mixed feelings on June 28, our graduation day, as we walked through a forest at Radhadesh, Belgium. We were the first graduating class. We played drums and karatalas and sang Krishna’s names as we walked toward a green field where we would hold our last meeting.

Our months together were the best time of my life. I felt happy, inspired, and enlightened by the experience, but I was sad it was all ending. And I had to abruptly leave my classmates the next day to visit my family and the devotees in Israel. While sitting together, sharing thoughts, exchanging concluding words, and looking into the future, we reflected on various experiences throughout the year. Those ten months were like a long hallway, and the various courses like so many open doors on both sides.

According to our inclinations, we eventually chose different paths to pursue. Bram received initiation (as Vasudeva Dasa), returned home to Holland, and became the new president of the Amsterdam temple for one year. Krishna Candra, our youngest classmate (her parents are disciples of Srila Prabhupada), went to a university in Canada, where she is from. Rabin, of Indian descent and from Holland, had inspired us with his meditations on Lord Chaitanya. He has now dedicated two years to serving on the College staff. After visiting Israel, I accepted an earlier invitation to join the staff of the Vaishnava Academy for Girls in Alachua, Florida. In my service here I use the knowledge, skills, and values I acquired during my studies. I often take guidance from the teacher training I received, and sometimes I refer to my textbooks. I still turn to my College friends, too, and obtain much inspiration from them.

Since we graduated from the one-year ministerial program, Bhaktivedanta College has formed a partnership with the University of Wales, Lampeter (UK). The university’s Open Learning Theology and Religious Studies Program allows the College to offer its students different levels of accredited courses, each with a corresponding certificate or diploma as part of the student’s development towards the award of a degree from the University of Wales, Lampeter. Bhaktivedanta College is now running its one-year program for the third time, with fifteen students. In September 2005, the second year of studies will be launched, and in 2006 the third year of accredited courses. The trustees and supporters are planning a building for the College and discussing how the College’s success can be duplicated in Mayapur and Mumbai.

Hooked on the Idea

My Bhaktivedanta College experience started in late 2001, when two trustees, Braja Bihari Dasa and Shaunaka Rishi Dasa, gave a presentation at Radhadesh about the College, which was to open the following academic year. They said that for many years systematic adult education had been the dream of some devotees. A Krishna conscious education, they said, could include academic studies, vocational skills, and personal introspection and devotion. As they described the courses, my enthusiasm grew. I learned that the teachers would be senior devotees, some of whom I’d always aspired to learn from, and the students would be devotees too. I thought that our quiet, rural location was highly conducive for studying. This would be a big step in my personal and spiritual development. What more could I ask for? It was what I had often dreamed of when I joined ISKCON.

At that time I was teaching at Radhadesh’s children’s school. After two years there, the Radhadesh temple had become my home, and its community my family. Radhadesh is in a beautiful green mountainous area. The ISKCON property is well maintained, and the project is constantly developing. Couples are raising families, and the visitors program brings in thousands of people. Since I love studying, I was attracted to staying there to study.

So I was looking forward to it all: diving into Srila Prabhupada’s books under the guidance of advanced devotees and learning how to apply the spiritual wisdom in my attempts to become Krishna conscious; expanding my knowledge of other philosophies, religions, and social and ethical theories, and evaluating them in the light of spiritual knowledge; becoming equipped with the tools and methods of teaching others, inside and outside of ISKCON; deepening my faith, increasing my taste for hearing and chanting Krishna’s names, and coming closer to the desired surrender at the Lord’s lotus feet.

A College trustee and the sponsor of the library, Mahaprabhu Dasa, then gave me a full scholarship. How could I refuse? I was extremely eager to go. And I wasn’t disappointed in the least. My experience exceeded my expectations.

Initial Apprehension

As the time drew nearer to start the College, though, some doubts crept in: Would I, a young devotee from Israel, be able to write academic and devotional essays in English? Would I be able to fit in with a group of students I mostly didn’t know? This was the first year of the College, and we were the guinea pigs, so who knew what could go wrong? But soon my doubts were all dispelled.

Many senior devotees attended the opening ceremony, in early September 2002, and offered blessings and support. The College, like a newborn baby, was attended to by many well-wishers, just as parents and relatives nourish and caress an infant with love. All the assembled Vaishnavas (and even many who were not there) had already taken great care for the College’s early development. After a few years of labor, so to speak, the successful birth had taken place. Finally, the College had become a reality, and very soon, with great support, it began safely and successfully taking its first steps.

During the orientation week, we received excellent training in needed skills such as note taking, speed reading, and essay writing. Sita Rama Dasa and Anuradha Dasi (both from ISKCON Education in the UK) guided us through useful and pleasant exercises that dispelled both academic and social doubts. Although at first we students seemed like a coincidental collection of individuals, without losing that individuality we soon began to cooperate as a team. Day by day my appreciation for my classmates grew.

Students with Purpose

The oldest member of our class was Jaya Bhadra Devi Dasi, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada. After performing devotional service for thirty years in various capacities with great determination, she wanted to undertake a structured study of Srila Prabhupada’s books and develop more skills to increase her service. She took her studies seriously and shared many of her experiences with us. Now she has begun teaching Bhakti Shastri courses to devotees who enroll in this separate, four-month scriptural study program offered annually at the College. She has also traveled to Spain promote Krishna consciousness.

Jaya Govinda Dasa came to deepen his Krishna consciousness and to increase his service for ISKCON Italy. His contributions are too numerous to mention here, but I always hope to carry with me the many lessons I learned from him about Vaishnava behavior.

My dear roommate (in the beautiful new Radhadesh guesthouse) was Vrindadevi Dasi, from Switzerland, who became like a sister to me. We dealt with each other with great care, and our intimate sharing softened our hearts. After we graduated, she served on the College staff.

Daniel returned to England and is now a confident student of psychology at the University of Brookes, Oxford. Claire, from America, later received initiation (as Kumari-priya Devi Dasi) and returned to the College to help for some time; then she enrolled at Oxford University, where her father had studied.

Expert Vaishnava Teachers

After orientation week, each week-long (or two-weeks–long) course led smoothly to the next. We relished each seminar as we relish delicious preparations at a meal. I felt honored to receive personal training from teachers who are not only experts in their fields (communication, interfaith, management, world religions, philosophy, and so on) but also exemplary Vaishnavas and devoted followers of Srila Prabhupada.

We received an interesting overview of the six Indian philosophies from Pranava Dasa, a graduate student in Sweden. We were carefully given teacher training in two seminars by the teachers’ teacher Rasamandala Dasa, who started and runs the Vaishnava Training and Education office in England. Others, like Anuttama Dasa (ISKCON’s communications director), Krishna Kshetra Dasa (who was working on his Ph.D. at Oxford), and Shesha Dasa (the minister of ISKCON education), to mention just a few, shared their knowledge with us, and also their hearts. Every time a course ended and a teacher had to leave, I lamented because I had become attached to the teacher’s association. Each of them cared about us and extended themselves in many ways. Some attended our weekly student meetings and exchanged gifts with us or invited us for a pizza party at the cafeteria.

Among our teachers were two second-generation devotees who invoked our great admiration. Radhika Ramana Dasa and Kartamasa Dasa are both academically qualified (in Sanskrit and sociology, respectively), but they are even more exalted even because of their Vaishnava qualities and personal warmth.

A special blessing came upon us twice in the form of Shacinandana Swami, with his two courses on the holy name and the processes of devotional surrender.

Essay writing, though at times challenging, became almost one of my hobbies, and it was nice to have the tutorial help we received in polishing our papers, offered by Tattvavit Dasa, whose main service in ISKCON has been editing.

Our teacher in residence and the college principal, Yadunandana Dasa, in his unfailing, devoted support on all levels, was our primary guide and shelter. His course on the first two cantos of the Srimad-Bhagavatam ran throughout the year.

During the year we also took part in temple activities. Some of us served Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha by cooking or making garlands, some of us by cooking for the devotees. Some delivered classes in the temple, some spoke at various programs, and some organized cultural events or dramas for the Radhadesh community. We actively took part in the temple’s morning programs. The College wonderfully integrated with the community, thanks to everyone involved. The festival-like year passed with great delight. My colleagues were like my family, our classes and student meetings my very means of nourishment. I gained great hope and confidence for my future practice of devotional service.

Taking It With Us

And so it was that the end of our school year was a time of great lamentation. But we had all learned to increase and improve our service, and it was now time to turn theory into practice. I was sad to leave, sad it was over, but happy to have gone through it and ready to move on and use it before I would lose it.

Lord Chaitanya instructed us to tell everyone we meet about Krishna, wherever we go. So I am spreading the word about the College. What is our impetus for sharing Krishna consciousness, if not our great love for it? Is it not our happiness and the recognition of the valuable gift of mercy that we have received? And is it not deep feelings of gratitude to those who kindly offered this gift to us? For these reasons I am writing about my experiences at Bhaktivedanta College.

And, no, my album is not yet closed. I leave it open. My affiliation with Bhaktivedanta College is still not over. You may meet me there sometime.

The Most Confidential Knowledge

In the Ninth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (9.34)Lord Krishna explains that the most confidential of all knowledge culminates in the activities of devotional service:

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee. Offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”

Who is Krishna that absorption in thought of Him is the most confidential knowledge? The Bhagavad-gita, and indeed all the Vedic literatures, answer: Krishna is the Supreme Person. The Brahma-samhita (5.1)states,

“The supreme controller is Krishna. He has an eternal, blissful, all-cognizant spiritual body. He is without beginning, He is the origin of everything, and He is the cause of all causes.”

As living entities we are each part and parcel of Krishna and therefore eternally connected with Him. Thus our most intimate, most confidential relationship is our relationship with the Supreme Lord.

For most people who profess some religion, an intimate relationship with God is a vague idea at best. They worship God only as the supreme father and the supplier of necessities. And in this age many people do not even believe in God, what to speak of being aware of their confidential relationship with Him. They say that God is dead or that He is merely a product of man’s imagination. Or they say that belief in a Supreme Person is a superstition of primitive cultures. Just to clear up these and other misconceptions, Lord Krishna spoke the Gita to His friend and disciple Arjuna.

Arjuna knew Krishna to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore he accepted Krishna’s every word as fact. To understand the Gita we should follow in Arjuna’s footsteps and accept, at least theoretically, that Krishna is the supreme person, the supreme authority. One might object that this is blind faith. But there is no need of blind faith. We can remain aloof and think, “Let me theoretically accept that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate authority. Then what are the implications of His instructions in the Bhagavad- gita?”

The Gita itself recommends this process of understanding. When we purchase some prescription medicine, a label on the bottle tells us how to take it. “Two pills every four hours:’ the label might read. If we take two pills every eight hours, the medicine will be ineffective, and if we take two every hour, the overdose may make our illness worse. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gita (4.3)we learn of Arjuna’s qualifications for understanding Krishna’s instructions:

“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as my friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.”

This is the Gita’s “label,” so to speak, and if we study it in this way, accepting Krishna as the supreme authority, as Arjuna did, then our study becomes very rewarding. Just as we confide only in someone we can trust, Krishna reveals the confidential meaning of the Gita only to those who approach Him with a devotional mood.

In the Second Chapter of the Gita Krishna elaborately explains the difference between the body and the self. Understanding of this difference—understanding that “I am not this body”—is the beginning of confidential knowledge.

Krishna explains that although the body changes from childhood to youth to old age, the person within the body does not change. A grown man can remember his childhood body, although it is long gone. Who is remembering? The person within the body—the self, or soul. We customarily say “my hand,” “my leg,” or “my mind,” indicating that these are our possessions; they are not we ourselves. Similarly, we can say “my body,” indicating that we are not the body but that it belongs to us, to the living soul within it.

The body is like an automobile, which requires an intelligent person to drive it. A car is simply a pile of inert metal, rubber, glass, and so on, and without a driver it remains parked at the side of the road. Only with an intelligent driver at the wheel does it move from place to place. No one but a fool would think the car is moving by itself. Similarly, the body is only a lump of dead matter that appears alive and active only as long as the living entity, the self, is present within it. When the individual living soul leaves the body, the body dies. But, says the Gita (2.20),for the self there is no death:

“For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”

The body has a beginning and an end; but we, the spirit soul within each body, are eternal. This is the beginning of confidential knowledge: to understand our eternal identity apart from the body.

As mentioned above, confidential knowledge culminates in absorption in thinking about Krishna and serving Him. In the Bhagavad-gita (9.2)Lord Krishna calls this the “king of education.” Real education begins with understanding the difference between the body and the self, or soul, and ends with our full surrender to the Supreme Soul, Lord Sri Krishna. Unfortunately, modern educational institutions almost completely neglect these topics.

No modern educational institution has a department for understanding the difference between’ the body and the self. Institutions of higher learning are interested in the sciences of physics, chemistry, sociology, psychology, politics, astronomy, anthropology, and so on, which focus exclusively on the body and its extensions but neglect the spirit soul. But of what relevance are these sciences to a dead body? A dead body takes no interest in them, nor can any scientist revive the body. These sciences are valuable only when the body is alive, and the life within the body depends on the presence of the soul. Therefore the science of the soul is the most important science, the “king of education.”

When a body passes from life to death, something has radically changed. What, exactly, is missing in the dead body? Is it a certain chemical? A certain atomic or subatomic particle? If so, then what is that chemical or particle? Even if we deny the existence of an eternal soul, our educational interest should still focus on finding that element within the body which causes the living symptoms. This is essential, for without life our education has no meaning.

Without knowing what life is,a person cannot properly say what he is. One may say, for example, “I am Mr. Bob Jones, a twenty-eight-year-old lawyer.” But when the life leaves his body, we will say that Mr. Jones is “dead and gone” or that he has “passed away.” Mr. Jones’s dead body may still be lying in the casket, but we know that Mr. Jones himself is gone. One way or another, whether we are spirit souls or combinations of chemicals, when our body dies we will no longer be present. So to be in ignorance of the exact difference between a living body and a dead body is to be in ignorance of who we are.

As we have seen, the path of intellectual research through the various material sciences is limited and faulty. Indeed, after many thousands of years of this research, no one can say with assurance what life is. One school of thought may rise to prominence for some time, but in due course it is rejected and another school established. The intellectual skyline is always changing.

To call this change “progress” is misleading, for each school is in turn rejected as faulty, and therefore we are left with only a progression of mistakes. Two centuries ago no one had heard of Darwin or Freud, and two centuries from now they will be all but forgotten. Thus the path of material research is never safe or certain.

We must conclude, therefore, that our present research tools are themselves inadequate for finding out the nature and origin of life. If life originated in chemicals, we could find its source in the chemical laboratory. And if life and consciousness were a function of our mental activity, we could fully explain them by psychology. But since the origin of life and consciousness is the eternal spirit soul, who is beyond the material body and mind, our material sciences have not succeeded and never will succeed in reaching satisfactory conclusions in this field. The Bhagavad-gita therefore proclaims that after many lifetimes spent pursuing knowledge on the path of intellectual research, an intelligent man at last surrenders to Krishna and accepts the path of devotional service.

Being a spiritual process, devotional service is the proper context in which to study life and consciousness. As spirit souls we are part and parcel of Krishna, the Supreme Soul, just as the hand is part and parcel of the body. The hand’s natural position is to serve the body by supplying food to the stomach. Then both the hand and the body as a whole are nourished. The hand cannot directly benefit from the food; it can get nourishment and energy only by feeding the stomach. Similarly, if we satisfy Krishna by our service, we ourselves will automatically feel satisfied.

To experience this satisfaction directly, we must engage in devotional service to Krishna. There are nine methods of devotional service: hearing about Krishna, chanting His glories, remembering Him, serving Him, praying to Him, worshiping Him, befriending Him, carrying out His orders, and surrendering everything to Him. By executing even one of these processes, we begin to reestablish our relationship with the Supreme Lord. For example, we can hear Krishna’s own words from the Bhagavad-gita, and we can hear about Krishna from the Srimad-Bhagavatam (the foremost of the Vedic literatures known as Puranas, ancient histories). Then we can discuss what we have heard, and we can also chant the names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Ram-a, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By hearing and chanting in this way we can reawaken our remembrance of Krishna, and as our knowledge of God develops we will want to render service by worshiping, carrying out His orders, and so on. We can also cook for Krishna. Devotees offer sumptuous vegetarian dishes to Krishna, as. He Himself requests in the Gita (9.27):“If one offers Me with devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” After offering the dishes to Krishna, the devotees partake of the delicious remnants, which are called krishna- prasada (the Lord’s mercy). All these activities are easily and joyfully performed.

This is spiritual education, and we can directly perceive and judge the results. In an ordinary university the student requires periodic examinations to confirm that he’s learning something. Otherwise, he might doubt that he is getting an education—or others might doubt it. But in the spiritual education of devotional service, we directly perceive our advancement. When a hungry man eats a hearty meal, he feels satisfaction directly; he doesn’t need anyone to tell him he’s satisfied. Similarly, we don’t need diplomas to confirm that we’re getting a spiritual education, because the outcome of a spiritual education is that one becomes happy and satisfied in every way. This is the result of pleasing Krishna with our service. Anyone who participates in the activities of devotional service feels transcendental pleasure. The purpose of the centers of Krishna consciousness in cities and towns around the world is to give people an opportunity to culture the most confidential knowledge and participate in this happiness of serving Krishna.

Why Our Schools Don’t Have a Prayer

This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a divinity student took place in Los Angeles, during January of 1974.

Student: Many people are frightened about the way the schools are falling apart … students not even learning how to read and write, many turning to drugs and robbing and raping their teachers.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. What is the value of this kind of schooling?

Student: Not an awful lot.

Srila Prabhupada: It is all cheating. You have left God out. That is the height of cheating. So naturally the rest of your socalled schooling must also be cheating. Suppose you are doing a mathematical calculation and you start by figuring, “2 + 2 = 3.” After that you may use the most sophisticated techniques and formulas, but your whole calculation will be wrong.

Student: Now things have gotten to the point that we can’t even have prayer in the public schools. We used to have a prayer at the beginning of each school day. But then one atheist lady (and no doubt other people behind the scenes) pushed and pushed until the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. Now prayer in the schools is banned.

Srila Prabhupada: But even if prayer were allowed, that would not help. Prayer is still going on in the churches, and what is the benefit’! People are losing interest, because it has all become simply a ritualistic show—“Churchianity.” The thing is, you have to become educated in the science of God. You must have direct, scientific experience of God. People aren’t interested in dry words. They have become scientific-minded; they want results.

Student: Well, most people Still have a sentimental attachment to God, so most likely they would like to see at least a semblance of prayer in the schools …

Srila Prabhupada: No. Do something practical! “Prayer” means chanting the holy name of the Lord. If you don’t know the holy name of the Lord we are giving it. You’ll have no expenditure, and no loss. So why don’t you try this? Chant Hare Krishna. And if you actually chant Hare Krishna, you will get scientific, realized knowledge of God—direct, personal experience of God. Then everything beneficial will follow for society.

Student: Yes. But, you see, right now you can’t chant Hare Krishna in the schools. That law is still there on the books. You can’t chant until somebody changes the law.

Srila Prabhupada: So my disciples can do that.

Student: They should try to fight the law?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Just recently I heard that the senators and congressmen have set aside one special day each year for public prayer. Just one day—but they still want prayer. So if they actually want prayer, why are they prohibiting it all the rest of the year? Just see the contradiction! They have banned prayer because of their inexperience. And now they are experiencing, “This does not help us:” Otherwise, what is the use of introducing prayer again? They have experienced that without prayer things have failed. That is a fact.

Student: You were saying earlier that fifty to sixty percent of the senators and congressmen are lawyers …

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, and nowadays “lawyer” means cheater. One who can tactfully break the law—he is a good lawyer. They will find some flaw in the letter of the law so that they can avoid the spirit of the law.

Student: Actually, to ban prayer in the schools they had to avoid the whole point of the First Amendment—that “Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.” They said a prayer might trample an atheist’s right not to pray.

Srila Prabhupada: So now the children cannot have a prayer in their schools. These government men are mostly lawyers, cheaters. Like Nixon. What is Nixon’s situation now?

Student: Well, he couldn’t get any less popular; so now he’s getting more popular. People forget.

Srila Prabhupada: People have become cheaters, and that is why they elect such cheaters as their representatives. You Americans can make all the propaganda you want, but you will not be happy without offering prayer to God.

Student: That’s right.

Srila Prabhupada: But be scientific. To begin with, follow God’s laws and lead a pure life: no illicit sex, no meat-eating, no intoxication, no gambling. If you reinstate prayer in the schools, that is not bad; but unless you first become pure, your prayer will have no practical effect. You yourselves must be free from all these impure activities. Then from among yourselves you can elect a good leader. If you really want a good leader, then you yourselves must become good. And you can become good by offering prayer to God.

Student: Forgive me, but this sounds like we’re getting into some sort of vicious circle. A moment ago you said we have to become pure or good first … otherwise our prayer will have no effect. So now how can you say we can become good by offering prayer?

Srila Prabhupada: Not just any kind of prayer. “Prayer” means that you chant the name of God. If you simply’ chant Hare Krishna, you will be in touch with God—the all-good. And then naturally you will become good. Why don’t you try it?

Student: We have little more to lose.

Srila Prabhupada: But if you chant Hare Krishna, you will be the gainer. Just chant and see the result.

Bhagavad-gita—A Book of Violence?

Bhagavad-gita is famous as a harbinger of peace and good fortune. Mohandas K. Gandhi wrote, “The Gita has always been my source of comfort. Whenever I was unable to perceive a silver lining on the horizon, I opened the Gita and found a verse that gave me new hope.”

Yet even Gandhi, a great advocate of ahimsa, or nonviolence, found some of the Gita’s verses puzzling and disagreeable. Lord Krishna explains that killing can be perfectly religious and a form of yoga: “One who is not motivated by false ego, whose intelligence is not entangled, though he kills men in this world, does not kill. Nor is he bound by his actions” (Bg. 18.17). Gandhi comments in his Anasakti Yoga, “The meaning of these verses of the Bhagavad- gita seems to depend upon an imaginary ideal which one cannot find a practical example of in this world.”

What should we make of this? If Krishna’s words, or some of them, do indeed depend upon imaginary ideals that are impractical for life today, we might wonder about Krishna’s overall authority as the “perfect, infallible Supreme Person” (Bg. 15.18). We might consider that Krishna’s opinion carries only relative importance, like Gandhi’s or anyone else’s, and so why should we base our lives upon the Gita’s doctrines?

Srila Prabhupada’s purport to the verse in question (18.17) endorses Krishna’s statement. Srila Prabhupada writes,

One who knows the instrument of work, himself as the worker, and the Supreme Lord as the supreme sanctioner is perfect in doing everything. Such a person is never in illusion. Personal activity and responsibility arise from false ego and godlessness, or a lack of Krishna consciousness. Anyone who is acting in Krishna consciousness under the direction of the Supersoul or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, even though killing, does not kill. Nor is he ever affected by the reaction of such killing. When a soldier kills under the command of a superior officer, he is not subject to be judged. But if a soldier kills on his own personal account, then he is certainly judged by a court of law.

As a fellow countryman and contemporary of Gandhi, Srila Prabhupada knew well the pros and cons of Gandhi’s peaceful noncooperation ideals. He also knew of his American followers’ pacifistic ideals during the Vietnam war. But still he always stuck firmly to Krishna’s words, convinced that they contain the highest morality and gentility and will remain absolutely true for all time.

Those attached to their own sense of morality will certainly doubt Krishna’s conclusions. So let us objectively pursue the issue of violence and nonviolence and see whether or not Krishna is giving imaginary and impractical advice.

In our changing world it is not surprising that Krishna’s words often challenge some people’s conceptions. Clinging to whatever threads of peace remain today, they write of Krishna as unethical and immoral in persuading the reluctant Arjuna to fight. They commend Arjuna’s pacifism and condemn Krishna’s bellicoseness. But perhaps such opinions arise from an incomplete understanding.

For instance, if Krishna is actually a bellicose advocate of killing, war, and violence, why does He glorify ahimsa as “an exalted, divine quality stemming from proper knowledge” at least three times in the Gita (Bg. 10.5, 13.8, and 16.2)? Krishna fully supports the Vedic injunction ahimsayat sarva-bhutanam: “Do not commit violence to any living being.”

We should also note that although Krishna’s words and arguments are for everyone, His direction to kill is specifically meant for Arjuna. Not that someone can justify his crimes by pulling out of context a few sentences like “The self slays not nor is slain.”

Duty is the real principle determining what constitutes violence and nonviolence. Perhaps it was Arjuna who was proposing violence in the name of nonviolence—out of a mistaken sense of duty. Let us examine his apparent non- violent refusal to fight.

At first glance it appears that Arjuna had substantial reasons for not participating in the war. Friends and relatives opposed him, even his beloved grandfather, Bhishma, and his guru, Drona. If he won the war, he would be miserable without his friends, and he would suffer the sting of retribution from their wives and families. He foresaw that the women, bereft of their husbands and fathers, would be unprotected, and their bastard children would wreak havoc, the reactions to their sins resting upon his head. He reasoned that war is always wrong for those who see, and that blind men cannot be blamed. Why should he fight? Better the “nonviolent” path.

Lord Krishna gave a piercing reply to Arjuna’s arguments: “You try to speak so well. but you don’t know the truth of the soul. You’re forgetting your duty, and your heart is weak. Armed with yoga, arise and fight!”

Arjuna had a sacred duty to perform. As a soldier he was bound to protect the citizens from aggressors. The very word kshatriya (soldier) means “one who protects from harm.” Duryodhana, the main cause of the war, was an aggressor worthy of punishment. The Vedic scriptures describe six kinds of aggressors who should be checked and sufficiently punished, even by death: (1) one who gives poison, (2) one who sets fire to another’s house, (3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, (4) one who plunders riches, (5) one who occupies another’s land, and (6) one who kidnaps another’s wife.

Duryodhana had committed all six of these offenses. He had poisoned Bhima, Arjuna’s brother. He had tried to burn to death all five brothers with their mother, Kunti, his own aunt. He had usurped the Pandavas’ land and property and had tried to steal their wife, Draupadi and make her his slave. And now he was attacking the Pandavas with all the force he could muster. He was a violent man in every sense.

A dictionary definition of violence is “an outrage or injury: an unlawful exercise of force.” And outrage is defined as “a forcible violation of others” rights or sentiments, or an infringement on morality.”

Duryodhana’s violence was not confined only to the physical platform but extended to a violation of the spiritual rights of the citizens. In the monarchical system then existing, the people had a right to expect the king to represent God and give them full opportunity to develop their spirituality and God consciousness.

Arjuna’s duty was clear, and Krishna, far from being bellicose, was impartially removing the misconceptions preventing its execution. As a soft-hearted devotee, Arjuna hesitated to kill but Krishna reminded him of the reality of the soul which never dies in any circumstance. Certainly the souls present before them could never be touched by any of Arjuna’s powerful weapons. Only their bodies would fall. Such dull material bodies are always, in a sense, dead, whether or not they are occupied by a soul. How could Arjuna think his own “dead” body could be violent to others’ dead bodies? Furthermore, Arjuna would enable aging heroes like Bhishma and Drona to gain fresh, new bodies and so revive their depleted energy.

Someone may still complain: “Arjuna’s retaliation and punishment of Duryodhana is in itself an act of violence and is therefore censurable.”

But does force or even killing always mean violence? And does apparent friendly behavior always mean nonviolence? A factor appears to be causing injury by cutting off a limb, and a layman may jump to the wrong conclusion—“What a cruel and violent act!” Yet the doctor’s act is both lawful (because he is authorized) and protective of health. His actions are an exhibition of mercy.

A person may be trying to give up smoking, and if in the name of friendship I attempt to cajole him into accepting a cigarette, my apparent friendly gesture actually shrouds a violent attitude. Apart from causing injury to his health. I am also, perhaps unwittingly, interfering with his right of free choice.

Or suppose a policeman refrains from violence when duty dictates that he defend a person from attack? His apparent nonviolence is in fact a criminal violation of the right of a citizen to be protected by the state.

A child suffering from typhoid may be crying for food, but his doctor refuses to mitigate his hunger pangs. Giving food to the child would be an act of violence.

Without knowledge of an absolute standard, however, it is sometimes difficult for us to determine what is right.

Yet there is an Absolute Truth, in which all relative conceptions can be satisfied. According to the Vedic literature, Lord Krishna is the supreme lawmaker, and His laws are meant to be followed by everyone, in every time, place, and circumstance, for the immediate and ultimate good of all. “Unlawful” therefore means to break His laws. One who acts unlawfully, however kind and friendly he may appear, can hardly be called a good person, any more than a criminal can be called a good citizen. Thieves may talk about dividing up their loot honestly, but how can there be honesty among thieves, when the basis of their dealings is dishonest? Real honesty, morality, and goodness come from following the Lord’s laws, which are transcendent and therefore higher than any man-made edict.

A study of Bhagavad-gita under the guidance of Krishna’s representative, the bona fide guru, will reveal the universal relevance of God’s laws. For instance, as a soldier Arjuna was duty bound to defend the principles of religion, so grievously outraged by Duryodhana. And the Supreme Lord was requesting him to fight. Convinced at last, Arjuna fought and saved the people of the world from blind leadership.

Duryodhana and company were saved from severe karmic reactions and prevented from committing further sinful deeds. Everyone associating closely with Duryodhana had been influenced by his lust for power, his greed, anger, vanity, and envy. Thus, like Duryodhana’s, their own mentalities were also polluted. By destroying their bodies in battle. Arjuna acted like a doctor removing a limb to save the patient. His treatment was so effective that the soldiers killed in Krishna’s presence were liberated from all reactions to their sins. By removing such politically motivated aggressors, Arjuna and Krishna created a favorable social condition for the progressive march of civilization toward spiritual perfection.

The quest for such perfection is everyone’s highest duty. Srila Prabhupada once defined violence as “impeding a person in the performance of duty.” Duties possess different degrees of importance. Consequently the severity of a man’s violent offenses will also vary. Duryodhana, already an aggressor, made the fatal mistake of standing in the way of the spiritual right and duty of the citizens to practice self-realization under the protection of the self-realized king Yudhishthira, who, apart from being the rightful heir to the throne, had minutely studied all the Vedic truths.

Duryodhana did not care that God’s laws exist in this world to facilitate everyone’s spiritual progress. Souls who occupy the bodies of beasts, birds, and other creatures gradually evolve to the human form, where they should be offered all facility for continuing their spiritual development. If a leader is unqualified to help liberate a soul but instead acts to bind his followers further to the cycle of birth and death, he should be corrected and if necessary removed for his violation of their natural rights.

As there are clear standards today for examining the proficiency of such public services as medicine and catering, in the Vedic literature clear standards exist for every facet of individual and social behavior, both spiritual and material.

Take eating, for instance. We learn from the Gita and other Vedic literature that in this material world one living being is food for another. When an animal kills, it does not interfere with its victim’s spiritual evolution through different species, because all its activities are within the parameters of God’s laws.

When a soul is awarded a human body, however, he can make a conscious choice whether to cooperate with these laws or reject them. If he whimsically kills another creature, the soul in that creature is prevented from living out his term of imprisonment in that body and must take birth again in the same species before moving on to the next. If he kills a cow, for example, the soul in the cow will have to take birth again in a cow’s body before progressing to the next stage, the human form. A person with knowledge of this law decides to give up eating meat.

Eating plants also interferes with a soul’s evolution, although less dramatically. So what should we do?

The Bhagavad-gita supplies the answer by explaining that if we offer our food to the Lord, neither we nor the living being within the plant will be adversely affected. In fact the evolution of the soul in the plant’s body up through the lower species of life toward the human form will be accelerated. And by eating such offered food [prasadam], we will be purified of karmic reactions, and our inherent spiritual consciousness will gradually awaken. Far from advocating violence. Lord Krishna is concerned that the smallest detail of our lives be pervaded with sensitivity.

Krishna’s purpose is to free us from all ignorance and confusion. The world today is so dominated by violence, often even under the guise of spiritual life, that to save us the Lord comprehensively presents the highest principle of nonviolence, culminating in one clear course of action: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear” (Bg. 18.66). By acting according to Krishna’s direction, we will always be situated correctly. We should not think, “Here is yet another opinion.” When we fully accept Krishna as God, we will discover His advice to be perfect for everyone.

Ethics & Devotion

A lecture before The National Seminar on Values and Ethics in Business, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India, given on April 20, 2000.

Before coming here today I was considering how it is that a group of professors and professional businessmen would invite a shaven-headed renunciant dressed in simple dhoti and kurta, with no money of his own and no business experience, to be the chairman of the first session of this seminar. Why would you spend your valuable time unless there was some practical and profitable reason? You must be considering that the spiritual conception of ethics has practical value in today’s business world. Here we’ll discuss the spiritual conception of ethics from a most practical perspective, as presented by the famous son of Orissa Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914) was the great theologian who first presented the teachings of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in a modern context. His pioneering efforts have manifested today as the Hare Krishna movement, which is being spread worldwide by ISKCON, or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In a discussion on ethics it is significant to analyze the work of ISKCON. The cultural and philosophical teachings of ISKCON have inspired millions of people all over the world to reject immoral behavior and embrace a saintly way of life.

Ethical Systems

The term ethics refers to the systems of moral behavior accepted by individuals or groups. Different mature individuals will have different conceptions of what kinds of behavior are right and what kinds are wrong. Such conceptions of right and wrong define different ethical systems. As leaders of society we need to know which ethical systems are valuable in a progressive society and which are not, and those which are valuable should be promoted. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has offered a scientific conception of ethics and morality based on the Vedic literature, which states that a truly progressive society is one that discourages its members from exploiting others.

Societies that adopt ethical systems based on materialistic conceptions cannot be progressive because they cannot be free of exploitation. To establish this, Bhaktivinoda has described four categories of materialists:

  1. Those who have no ethics and no faith in God: immoral materialists.
  2. Those with ethics but no faith in God: non-theistic moralists.
  3. Those with ethics based on faith in God, but who give more importance to morality than they do to God: theistic moralists.
  4. Those who engage in immoral behavior while posing as theists: pretenders.

Immoral Materialists

Those who follow no ethical system are the lowest of human beings. They are the primitive peoples and the hedonistic modern man. Indeed, such human beings are on the same level as animals. Bhaktivinoda describes the attitude of the hedonists: “They consider that this variegated universe is simply a chance combination of atoms and molecules with no creator. Any belief in God or the soul is simply blind faith and gross superstition. As we only live once, a person should try to enjoy as much as possible.”

With his far-seeing vision, Bhaktivinoda Thakura perfectly described the popular idea embraced by many today that life is simply a chance combination of chemicals with no intrinsic purpose. With such a conception there is no particular need to honor or respect others. Is it any wonder that a great ethical crisis has risen and sprouted into an increase of violent crimes and corruption?

Non-Theistic Materialists

Next, Bhaktivinoda describes that higher than the immoral materialists are the non-theistic moralists who accept some ethical system but are not concerned with God. Describing the view of the non-theistic moralists, he has written:

Being more intelligent, the moralist can easily defeat the immoral materialist. He says: “Oh brother, I respect what you say but I cannot accept your self- motivated actions. They are not at all good. You are seeking out happiness in life, but without morals how can there be happiness? Do not think that your life is everything! Consider society as well. Rules which can increase the happiness of the human being in society are advisable. That is called morality. Gaining happiness through morality makes man superior to animals. It is necessary for man to accept individual suffering where it will give happiness to society. That is called selfless morality, and it is the only path for man. You must cultivate all the positive sentiments such as love, friendship and compassion in order to increase the over- all happiness of society. By doing this, violence, hatred and other evil tendencies will not be able to contaminate the heart. Universal love is universal happiness. Take up ways of increasing this happiness.” Positivists such as Compte and Mill, Socialists such as Herbert Spencer, as well as lay Buddhists and Atheists firmly believe this philosophy.

The non-theistic moralists are superior to the immoral materialists, but they are still selfishly motivated. Although they follow the ethical and moral rules of society, they do so to avoid public censure, imprisonment, or execution. A businessman may adopt ethical principles just to ensure plentiful customers, or a politician may accept ethical principles to attract followers. This is a more intelligent position than that of the immoral materialist, as there is concern for long-term enjoyment rather than just immediate gratification. However, since there is still an underlying selfishness, a non-theistic moralist is likely to exploit others as soon as he or she thinks there will be no adverse reaction.

Included in this category are the mundane philanthropists who engage in work for the physical, mental, or emotional well- being of others. Because they are unable to appreciate the objects of their compassion as anything more than dull chemicals, the “good deeds” of such “selfless” moral materialists are invariably motivated for their own enjoyment, either subtle or gross. In actuality their “selflessness” is only a fashade, for their actions are motivated by the desire to have the satisfaction of thinking of themselves as, or being well known as, greatly pious persons.

The Scorpion And The Camel

The ethics of the non-theistic moralists are compared to those of the scorpion who once requested a favor from a camel. The scorpion wanted to cross a deep river but could not find any way to do so. Seeing a camel nearby, the scorpion approached him and asked the camel to carry him across. The camel refused, saying, “You will sting me.”

“No, no. I am an ethical scorpion. I promise I won’t sting you.”

The camel agreed and, taking the scorpion on his hump, began crossing the river. Halfway across, the scorpion suddenly stung the camel.

“Why did you do that?” the camel asked. “Now we will both die.”

“What can I say?” the scorpion replied. “It’s my nature.”

Similarly, although the non-theistic moralists try to live an ethical life, because their concept of the meaning of life is limited to dull matter any ethical behavior they adopt is selfishly motivated and quickly discarded.

Although they speak about universal love and brotherhood, the non-theistic moralists, like their immoral brothers, are unable to appreciate others as anything more than dull matter. Their perception is limited to the external body, and the relationships they form with others are similarly skin- deep—shallow, short-lived, and ultimately prone towards exploitation. Since they identify themselves as temporary matter, there is no reason for them to perform truly selfless acts. The best social message the non-theistic moralists can offer is, “You are just a bag of chemicals and molecules that somehow just appeared and has no intrinsic meaning. Other persons are also only bags of chemicals and molecules—but you should be nice to them.”

The natural reply will be, “Why should I be nice?”

“Because it’s the good thing to do, and if you don’t you’ll go to jail.”

Since the basic motivation of the ethical behavior of atheists is to avoid public censure, is it any surprise that as soon as they think they have an opportunity to gain some illicit advantage without getting caught they will do so?


More fixed in ethical conduct and hence superior to the non- theistic moralist is the theist. The theist is dissatisfied with the mechanistic concept of life offered by the non- theist. Bhaktivinoda describes the thinking of the theist as follows:

If consciousness arises by some special process through combination of atoms, there should be some evidence of this somewhere in the universe. There should be some example of this in human history. Man is produced from the womb of a mother. Nowhere is any other process observed. In spite of the growth of material science, nothing otherwise has yet been observed. Someone may argue that man has arisen by a chance combination of matter, and later man has adopted this particular process of birth from the womb. However, the succeeding events should be similar to the first event. Even now we should observe at least a few conscious entities arising by chance combination of matter. Therefore it can only be logically concluded that the first mother and father must have arisen from the supreme consciousness.

When the materialist becomes dissatisfied with the mechanistic idea that consciousness is simply a chance combination of chemicals, and thereby concludes that life must be something anti-material or spiritual, he comes to the platform of theism.

Bhaktivinoda points out many ways in which belief in God contributes to moral conduct:

  1. Even is someone has a strong sense of moral values, still the senses are often so strong that even great moralists are defeated. If the opportunity arises to enjoy immorally in secret, belief in God will act as a preventative measure. God can see what man cannot. One who thinks like that will be unable to secretly perform acts contrary to morality.
  2. Everyone will accept that faith in God produces a greater tendency to perform pious acts than morality alone.
  3. If God exists, then by faith in Him so much is gained. If He does not exist, believing in Him is harmless. On the other hand, if God does exist, to not have faith in Him is harmful.
  4. By belief in God, the tendency toward righteousness grows quickly in the mind.
  5. By faith in God, compassion and tolerance become stronger.
  6. By belief in God, one is more eager to perform selfless action.
  7. By belief in God, acceptance of afterlife arises, and man cannot be disappointed by any event in life.

Morality More Important

Bhaktivinoda states that among the theists, most are materialistic. He describes a group called the theistic moralists who worship God with some degree of faith, but who give more importance to their conception of morality than they do to God. Some of them believe there is no harm in imagining a God, worshiping him with faith, and then abandoning that worship when good conduct is achieved. Others believe that by performing worship of the Lord and acting ethically, the Lord will be pleased and will grant one’s material desires.

Either subtly or grossly, the worship of the theistic moralists is selfishly motivated. Although they consider themselves worshipers of God, they are not much interested in God’s form, personality, activities, or desires, but instead are interested only in what they can gain through worshiping Him.

Bhaktivinoda compares the relationship between the theistic moralists and God to the temporary meeting of travelers at an inn. When morning comes and the travelers leave for their separate destinations, the relationship is forgotten. Theistic moralists worship the Lord not out of devotion but simply because they think it to be the proper thing to do, which will result in their happiness.

Being motivated in this way, materialistic theistic moralists are still in the realm of selfishness. Although they conceive of their ethical behavior as being harmless to others, because they are not on the platform of spiritual vision they are unable to maintain impartial dealings and will inevitably fall prey to exploiting others.

In describing different types of acti-vities aimed at human welfare, Bhaktivinoda has stated in his Sajjana Toshani magazine: “Showing kindness to the soul is the best welfare work of all. By such kindness one attempts to save a person from all worldly sufferings by giving him devotion to Lord Krishna.”

Because the theistic moralists are not functioning on the spiritual platform, their ethical systems will never be able to alleviate all the worldly sufferings of the living entities; hence they are unable to completely serve society. They will always fall prey to narrow biases based on bodily, social, or religious differences. In actuality, their relationship with others is much like their relationship with God: as superficial as travelers meeting at an inn.

Although there is some partial social benefit from the ethics of the theistic moralists, because there is no spiritual bliss in the mechanical worship they perform there is every chance that they will either give up their theism or else adopt the ways of the cheating pretender.


The next class are those who engage in immoral behavior while posing as theists. Bhaktivinoda has described them as pretenders. He says:

Although the pretenders do not accept the eternal nature of devotion, they wear the dress and markings of a believer. They have their own motives, which any honest person would decry. Cheating everyone, they pave the way for a world of sin. Undiscerning people, allured by their external appearance, take up the same path and end up rejecting God. They may have beautiful tilaka, devotional dress, chant the name of Krishna, appear detached from the world, and give attractive speeches, but secretly they harbor desire for wealth and women. Many such persons exist.

Bhaktivinoda has compared such pretenders to the cat and the crane. Once some mice came and said, “Have you heard the news? The cat has become a saint. He is now wearing tilaka and neck beads. He is chanting and has become a vegetarian.” Thinking in this way, the mice gave up their fear of the cat. But when the mice started to come nearby, the cat gave up his pretense and pounced on them.

Similarly, the crane stands motionless on one foot for hours at a time, and thus looks like a great yogi. His real motivation, though, is to catch fish. As soon as a fish comes near, he abandons his saintly demeanor and gobbles it up.

Bhaktivinoda has said, “There is no worse association in the world than such pretenders. It is better to associate with immoral atheists than to associate with them. … Only if one gives up the association of crooked hypocrites can he honestly engage in devotional service. Honest worship is the only way to attain Krishna’s mercy.”

By presenting themselves as saintly and concerned for others, the pretenders sometimes gain positions of trust and responsibility in even spiritually-minded societies. But because their real motivation is to exploit others to satisfy their own subtle or gross pleasures, they are the worst enemies of society.

The Devotees

Devotees who are situated on the platform of pure love of God see their beloved Lord everywhere and see everything, moving and non-moving, in connection with God. From such a platform, to offer respect to all living entities regardless of material bodily designations is quite natural and genuine, and thus on this platform alone can one be free from the propensity to exploit others.

The Bhagavata Purana explains that even though one may follow religious ethics for some time, without genuine devotion to the Lord the subtle desires in the heart, which are the roots of immoral tendencies, are not destroyed and will rise again. Only pure devotion can remove all immoral tendencies. This is described in the Bhagavata:

kecit kevalaya bhaktya
agham dhunvanti kartsnyena
niharam iva bhaskarah

“Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to the Supreme Lord Vasudeva, Krishna, can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will revive. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun can immediately dissipate fog by its rays.”

Moral Behavior?

One problem arises in our discussion of morality. Sometimes, understanding the moral behavior of devo-tees is difficult. A good example is the activities of Krishna’s most exalted devotees, the gopis of Vrindavana, who would leave their homes and husbands in the middle of the night to meet with Krishna. To accept such behavior as saintly is difficult for many persons. On several occasions Srila Prabhupada described the apparent contradiction between morality and the behavior of the gopis:

Any activities that are spiritual are all-good, and any activities that are material are all-bad. This is the difference between spiritual and material. The so-called morality and goodness of the material world is bad, but in the spiritual world even so-called immorality is good. This we must understand. For example, to dance with the wives of others at the dead of night is immoral, at least according to the Vedic civilization. Even today in India, a young woman will never be allowed to go to a young man at the dead of night to dance with him. But we find in Srimad-Bhagavatam that as soon as the gopis, the young cowherd girls of Vrindavana, heard Krishna’s flute, they immediately came to dance with Him. Now according to material conceptions this is immoral, but from the spiritual point of view this is in accord with the greatest morality. Caitanya Mahaprabhu therefore said, ramya kacid upasana vraja-vadhu- vargena ya kal-pita: “There is no better mode of worship than that which was conceived by the vraja- vadhus, the damsels of Vrindavana.”

The gopis superficially seem to transgress the codes of mundane morali-ty. This perpetually puzzles mundane moralists. … The reason the Lord displays the rasa-lila is es-sentially to induce all the fallen souls to give up their diseased morality and religiosity, and to attract them to the kingdom of God to enjoy the reality. A person who actually understands what the rasa-lila is will certainly hate to indulge in mundane sex life. For the realized soul, hearing the Lord’s rasa-lila through the proper channel will result in complete abstinence from material sexual pleasure.

Our standard of morality and immorality is to see whether Krishna is satisfied. If Krishna is satisfied, then it is morality. If Krishna is dissatisfied, then it is immoral.

According to Bhaktivinoda, the best ethical system is that which is based on the awareness that all others are part of the Supreme Lord and meant to give pleasure to Him alone. Any system that gives prominence to the fulfillment of one’s own selfish desires will ultimately be exploitative and thus harmful to the progress of society.

These are some of the practical teachings of Bhaktivinoda Thakura on the topic of ethics. I hope that the respected and learned persons of this assembly will consider them deeply.

A Sanctified Union

Devotee couples know from the start that their life together has a spiritual purpose.
In my mother’s wedding photo, she holds a thin bunch of flowers as if she wished to hide it somewhere. The Town Hall marriage chamber resembles a waiting room of an old- fashioned office. My parents, in their everyday attire of poor college students, look blissful but embarrassed, as if they cannot fully comprehend what is happening: Are we really married? What now? Get out and go back to our classes, or what?

In those times—the sixties—the young Polish intelligentsia took pride in abandoning the old rites of the Catholic tradition. Under Communist influence, marriage was thought of as merely a formality, a matter of signatures. Twelve years later, my parents placed their signatures on a divorce document.

I’m remembering this as I leaf through my own wedding album. In the background I can see my mother’s face. Touched, she is watching as my husband and I throw grains into the sacrificial fire, while a devotee softly explains to her the meaning of the rituals.

In my childhood, I used to wrap myself in a window curtain and dream I was wearing a beautiful silk dress, so long that I would have to lift it with both hands when stepping up the stairs. Soon enough, life forced me to admit I wasn’t a fairy-tale princess. But now my old dream was to be fulfilled at, of all places, a Hare Krishna temple—the same temple where I’d learned every day that I’m not my female body and not meant to be the center of attraction. A wedding ceremony was to be performed for two persons striving to understand that the attachment between man and woman is a trap of maya (illusion), and that our real family is Krishna’s family in the spiritual world.

Krishna consciousness is both idealistic and practical. It makes the highest perfection—love of God—accessible to people with various natures and inclinations. Celibacy and absolute dedication to spiritual practice are encouraged and praised, and so is a sincere desire to pursue Krishna consciousness in married life. Devotees wishing to create a family can have their material needs fulfilled while getting unlimited opportunities to keep Krishna in the center.

Devotee families have their own unique offering to make to Krishna. Theirs is not an inferior brand of spirituality. Nor is marital happiness something shameful, as was often believed in the medieval ages of Christianity. God does not envy our enjoyment. But if we want our happiness to last, it has to be built on the principle of serving Krishna’s enjoyment, because we are all His servants and cannot have lasting enjoyment by acting against our nature.

Lasting Impressions

The night before my wedding, the devotee who would be dressing the temple Deities the next morning asked me which clothing I most liked seeing the Deities dressed in. I felt touched: she wanted to help me appreciate and remember our Deities on that special day.

Until recently, in all traditional societies, religious rituals accompanied major transitions in life, such as being born, taking up education, or getting married. The Vedic scriptures call those rituals samskaras, or purifying rites. Samskara means “impression,” like ruts in soft clay or a riverbed. The purpose of samskara is to create a deep, lasting impression in the mind of the person for whom it is performed. The impression will channel the stream of the person’s thoughts and emotions in a way conducive to spiritual advancement. On the social level, samskaras help clarify for members of the society their place in it: their rights, duties, progress. Psychologically, samskaras aid the development of one’s sense of identity, purpose, and fulfillment in life.

The vivaha-samskara (wedding rite) offers an excellent opportunity to spiritualize thoughts, emotions, and commitments that accompany being united with one’s chosen partner. A Vaishnava wedding (a wedding of devotees of Krishna) is not only a colorful, joyful ceremony but also a source of devotional inspiration for years to come. When difficulties arise in the relationship, we may ask ourselves, “How did I get into this situation? Why did I marry this person?” Then the mind will go back to the wedding day and automatically remember Lord Krishna, His devotees, and His loving service.

Sanctioning a relationship by a Vaishnava wedding is not all it takes to make a marriage successful. And one can even undergo this meaningful ceremony thoughtlessly. One person will meditate on the ritual’s essential meaning, while another may be preoccupied worrying about a pimple. The foundation for a good marriage is laid long before, beginning from childhood. Proper motives for entering the relationship are essential. A senior devotee, married for many years, once told me, “If we are honest and respect each other, Krishna can make our marriage like soft grasses, and if we are cheaters, He can make it like a swamp.”

Still, the Vaishnava wedding ceremony helps the couple take their first step together in harmony with each other and with God. Even if the partners have already lived together before accepting Krishna consciousness, undergoing the vivaha- samskara can deepen their relationship and make it more satisfying. It helps the couple realize, “We are together not because it somehow happened this way, not by mistake, not in a passing episode of blind passion. The life we share is sanctified and meaningful, an important aspect of our spiritual life. Any little effort to make our relationship pleasing to Krishna goes to our eternal benefit.”

Another photo: a woman devotee leads me to the temple. In my gorgeous red silk sari, with ornaments and flower wreaths in my hair, I’m nervous. What will my dear one think of me? “The princess! Ridiculous!”

Prayers for Success

Next moment, I’m inside. As sweet sounds of Hare Krishna chanting envelop me, suddenly the anxiety goes away. The bridegroom and I approach the altar and stand before the Deities. Mentally, we offer Them a prayer we have prepared:

“Our dear Radha and Krishna, O Divine Couple, please accept us. Please teach us to serve You and not try to imitate You. If You think we can help each other grow in love and devotion to You, then let this marriage ceremony be auspiciously performed under Your merciful glance. May we never forget this ceremony. Then our relationship will stand the test of time. May our parents, who are blessing us now, never feel sorrow remembering our wedding.”

Then I offer my own prayer:

“O Srimati Radharani, so beautifully decorated with ornaments and flowers, smiling with such simplicity and kindness, You are the real princess. I am happy standing before You in humble submission. The desire of my childhood has now melted away.”