Srimati Tulasi Question|
by Prayag das
Posted October 20, 2012
I would just like to submit a question to the devotee community.
Can the leaves of Kapoor or Vana Tulasi be offered to Krsna?
Thank you. Hare Krsna! (Click here for the full article)
Ethical Dilemmas of Suffering at Life’s End
by Rohini dasi
Posted July 16, 2012
Is there a devotee who is researching or specialising in ethical dilemmas such as euthanasia? We know that we should not kill, but is it really so black-and-white when a devotee is in extreme pain?
What about pets? Sometimes accidents take place and the animal cannot function anymore. Do we keep them alive under every circumstance?
In the case of humans, it seems unbearably cruel to allow someone to continue living if they have third-degree burns on over 90 percent of their body. Is it really an absolute rule in Krsna consciousness that there should be no hastening of death under any circumstances?
For many of us, our gurus are not physically present anymore, and no
one else may be able to replace their direct instruction. I would be
keen to hear some response on this matter from devotees.
Looking at ISKCON’s actions, both past and present, an objective viewer could not help but wonder if we have something against children. We are all aware of the lawsuit against ISKCON for the atrocities committed against her children. Now, after being sued for the shocking abuse and neglect of her own children, ISKCON is suing to stop other children from being fed with Krsna prasadam, on a scale which boggles the imagination- millions of meals...every day!
The basis of this lawsuit is a matter of belief, and it also begs belief, being in the realm of the absurd and ridiculous: Because those who are feeding millions of India’s “poorest of the poor” with delicious and nutritious mercy from the Lord, happen to hold a belief that only Srila Prabhupada is qualified to initiate disciples, in other words, because they are “ritviks”, they are worthy of being dragged before the courts as if they were common criminals, and the faith and good publicity that won them government support for their program of material and spiritual upliftment, all brought to naught, if ISKCON is successful.
In sheer contrast, in the sastra we read about and glorify the actions of great devotee ksatriyas, such as Maharaja Sibi, Pariksit, Arjuna and others, who were foresworn to protect anyone in distress- focussing especially on the most vulnerable citizens of all- the children, animals, widows, the elderly and the sick. They were never allowed to let even one citizen in their kingdoms ever go hungry, not even an animal or bird. Indeed, Sibi went so far as to cut off his own flesh (literally!) to uphold this principle. We glorify him for that, and do the opposite- cutting off the flesh of others by refusing them food, which is the net effect of endangering an extremely successful and necessary food distribution program.
What is the use of so many books when we don’t read them or follow their principles, and is it not the grossest hypocrisy when we use the profits of our distribution of these books to counteract their principles?
Srila Prabhupada wanted us to have varnashrama, which means he wanted us to have devotee ksatriyas, who would sacrifice everything for the welfare of others, and were of the character (guna) of the devotee ksatriyas described above...they would become fireballs of rage whenever they saw the mistreatment of even one citizen (such as” Pariksit’s meeting with the Personality of Kali”, First Canto, Srimad Bhagavatam).
Instead, whenever we see the welfare of others being protected, by a whistle-blower in the gurukula, or by this unprecedented spread of the Lord’s mercy, our leaders condemn the protectors and make arrangements to have their work of protection stopped. No wonder the concept of varnashrama in ISKCON has become reduced to self-sufficiency and rural projects and nothing more. Taken in full, it is the greatest assurance of protection of the vulnerable, and the greatest threat to those in positions of power, who work against it.
Is it not shocking that non-devotees with no access to the sastra that describes that women, children and the elderly are to be protected in all circumstances, have to bring us to account?
Is it not the ultimate shameful experience that we, who not only read such sastra, but distribute it just to deliver these non-devotees from the effects of Kali yuga, are brought to account by them for activity that contradicts our own teaching? Maybe they are actually reading our books and imbibing them- and we are not?
Even if we put the past behind us, and try to look ahead in the hope of a brighter future, there is evidence emerging from the Vrindavan gurukula, that more mistreatment of children is going on, along with the silencing and removal of those that report it: (Click Here)
Bangalore temple may have to stop its massive spiritual aid to millions of Indians- because of ISKCON. Meanwhile we read in “Srila Prabhupada Lilamrita” that Srila Prabhupada cried when he saw children fighting with dogs in the street for food. He mandated that no one in a ten mile radius of any temple in the world be allowed to go hungry. In India’s biggest cities, this demographic area would account for millions of people, three meals a day. Are we, that is, ISKCON, doing that?
When all the world was making laws to protect children, we were working just as hard to cover up for child abusers and keep them in positions of authority- and we are doing it still. Last year, we removed from service in Vrindavan gurukula, Vrajabhumi mataji, the only person who cared enough about the kid’s welfare to speak up. And we currently have several gurus who have enacted deploring abuse against children in their care, being worshipped as pure devotees.
I am not a ritvik, nor do I ever intend to become one, as I know that our philosophy of guru tattva centres on a disciple approaching a qualified guru- and asking him questions. That is not possible to do with Srila Prabhupada, though it may be possible for the very qualified to have an “inner ear”. But this is a matter of opinion and debate, not lawsuit, repression and repossession of assets, what to speak of the xth-millionth Indian child getting breakfast tomorrow morning at school, or being forced instead to work, on a hungry stomach, in dangerous occupations -such as retrieving computer gold thread on a dump site and being exposed to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals.
As I said I am not a ritvik, but neither am I with ISKCON on this issue, in particular. I am against it strongly, I am outraged by it. It goes against everything I have read in the books, against conscience and against Srila Prabhupada’s vani and personal example. When the Gaudiya Matha was suing over the acquisition of assets, he was giving mercy to New York’s disenfranchised hippies feeding them as part of his work. He settled differences of opinion with debate, not lawsuits. He tolerated the schism that originated with Siddhaswarupa, and gave him kind words of encouragement. He wrote books describing how even ksatriyas, what to speak of brahmana’s, would appreciate the excellent fighting skills of their opponents, for it does not matter what side we are on, but how we conduct ourselves. That is the way we please the Lord, who is impartial to all, and the dear well-wisher of everyone, from the smallest Indian child rummaging through filthy rubbish, to the politicians who finally, at the ritvik’s insistence, give a damn for their welfare.
It’s important that we need to ignore our theoretical differences for the sake of what we all consider the most basic of vaisnava principles- compassion. This is an appeal, which anyone can sign, regardless of their affiliations. By signing it, you will bring weight to bear on the ISKCON authorities that are so going against Srila Prabhupada’s instructions and precepts, and the foundations on which they were built- vaisnava compassion.
I would like to request a senior devotee to please write an article on the topic of devotees keeping pets. These are my areas of concern:
(i) Temples do not have pets because they are perceived as muchi. But devotees living outside may need to keep a pet dog or cat for different reasons:
(a) for protection;
(b) for companionship if they are old and alone;
(c) devotees may find themselves living with karmi family members who have this lifestyle;
(d) they may be raising children and feel it necessary to have a pet for their sake;
(e) be moved out of compassion to adopt a stray animal.
So these are my questions in this regard. If devotees have pets
1. Do we never feed them meat pet food?
2. Do we allow them to stay in our house? If not, what if it is very cold outside or dangerous, etc? Would taht not be cruel?
3. If we pet them and play with them, are we contaminated and cannot honor prasad, etc after that until we have had a full bath?
I think many, many devotees find themselves in a very difficult situation with regard to pets so I think it would be a great idea to address this issue. Quotes from Srila Prabhupada or Srila Narayan Maharaja with regard to things they have said about pets would be most appreciated.
I believed that investing my heart in the eternal message of the sampradaya could not be a mistake. I believed that absolutely. I believed it without question. I ironed that belief unto my heart like a tattoo artist paints a picture. I believed it and branded myself to that belief like a sheep herder brands the furry skin of the sheep with his red irons. It was a part of me and I was a part of it.
It was in the context of that belief, that I transferred my attachments to Srila Prabhupada to another. As hindsight is 20:20, when I look back I can see that there were many hints that this relationship was not right even at that time. But my heart pulsated with the belief in the sampradaya and I told my doubts to shut up. I wont lie, there were very ecstatic times and I have great memories. Nevertheless, those who know the history of ISKCON, know the disappointment that followed.
What this other guru took from me when our relationship ended was not my spiritual bliss, my service attitude or my enthusiasm. He took away my confidence to trust myself to make decisions on what was good for me. What he took away was my self-assurance in my ability to judge what was safe for me to pour my heart into. I hated him because what he stole from me was my self-respect. I felt ashamed. I had made him an authority on my heart and my life. I was ashamed that I had allowed someone unqualified to decide what was sacred for me, mistaking him for what he was not. And he had abused his position of power in the name of love of Krishna and respect of Prabhupada. It is unforgivable.
An open heart reaching out for spiritual guidance is a terrible thing to betray. Yet many of us find ourselves on the receiving end of a sharp slamming of the door as someone decided to play it slick rather than to play it straight with us. It is an unnerving experience that leaves many of us jaded, hurt and unconfident in our own ability to trust ourselves to make another healthy spiritual alliance. Many of us move forward to make other relationships in Vaishnava community with one foot on the brakes, trying to avoid our previous relationship accident.
Those hurt in this way have told themselves that we just couldnt repeat that incident again. Stung by the pain of opening up to an unsuitable authority we vow not to open our hearts to the same level of vulnerability. In trying to protect our shattered heart from being hurt again, many choose to see their tenderness, hope and willingness to open themselves to another healthy relationship as a weakness in themselves. We feel it is a weakness that we cannot afford to have. Our solution to making ourselves immune to vulnerability is to close the heart off from spiritually entwining itself with another for ever.
Then I came in contact with another Maharaj. I found myself furtively studying this Maharaj the way I had not thought to study the previous. I found myself constantly asking myself whether he could be trusted. I questioned his every motive. I looked for signs of betrayal. I was not willing to open up to Maharaj the way I had with the other. I just could not allow myself to lose more confidence in myself as a person who couldnt spot a good guru. I didnt know how to earn my own confidence to find a spiritual authority that was inherently safe. I only knew I just couldnt go through with what I went through with the previous. I just didnt know where I could go to find strength to repair the damage to myself again. I didnt feel like I could survive another shattered spiritual heart.
I genuinely liked Maharaj. As proper etiquette, I was open with Maharaj about my disappointment with my previous guru. Maharaj was sympathetic and nursed my pain with soothing sincere advice. He said he was open to any question or enquiry that I had. He would hide nothing. Empathizing with my need for trust, as I delivered my volley of questions, he opened up his heart and lay it on the carpet in front of me like a clock maker takes apart a mechanical clock and lays the parts on his table. He allowed himself open to inspection. He seemed committed to living up to my trust in a way that I had ever known a person, apart from Srila Prabhupada, could.
But I was still jaded from my previous experience. No matter how minutely I studied Maharajs heart, it was not enough for me. Not only did I question his motives in general, but I specifically questioned his willingness to make himself this vulnerable to me. What did he really want? What hidden motives did this one have? Am I not seeing something that I should be seeing? Thousands of conflicting questions spirited through my mind.
As strange as it sounds, I feel that in some ways, my identity as a devoteemy self-esteem-- had taken such a hit from my relationship with the first guru that, in some ways, I felt unworthy of being able to continue in spiritual life anymore. I did not feel myself worthy of respect. I saw myself as a fool who had naively succumbed to the wiles of a manipulative authority system. Burdened by the calloused scars from my previous relationship, I distrusted myself in entering into another authoritative Vaishnava relationship. But in doing so, I wondered how much I had also robbed myself of experiencing true spiritual bliss again. I realized that I was viewing my relationship with Maharaj through my previous guru spectacles.
But I justified my own predicament. I repeated the slogan Cheat me once, shame on you. Cheat me twice, shame on me. I had become extremely cynical. I saw Vaishnava relationships as things that you use to fulfill your own self-interest. It was then that I realized that I had given my previous guru the power to define what was sacred for me. It was this shame that I could not handle. I had allowed someone else to define my sacred space. I realized that it was this question that echoed in my heart that I could not answer. My heart asked: what are you going to do to make sure that this never happens again? And I didnt know how to answer the question. I didnt know how to win my hearts trust and live up to its confidence again. And that was scary.
I realized that the solution was to question the basis of my own thinking. The answer was to question the construct of my own thoughts and find out why I make decisions. Why do I trust who I trust? What is right? What is wrong? Who do I accept as my authority? Who do I not? Why? Why him? Why not her? Do I need to accept authority at all?
I questioned to the pits. If Krishna consciousness is a science, it is like physics or chemistry. We have scientists like Einstein. We dont worship Einstein. We just follow the science. Why must we worship scientists who know the Krishna conscious science? Why must we accept that they have a monopoly of a vision of reality that others dont? Why put myself in a vulnerable position of doing that? Why take that risk, that chance? Does the risk of putting my heart in that vulnerable position out-weigh avoiding the raw pain that may come about if I didnt? Is there truly no alternative other than the two extremes of surrendering to those with perfect (Krishna) vision or on the other hand living a spiritually compromised life? Is there truly no middle path in Krishna consciousness? Is there truly no way to practice the science of Krishna consciousness without needing to surrender myself to the cult of a particular scientist?
Some questions I answered to my hearts satisfaction. Others I have not.
In going through that questioning process, I exercised a muscle, my integrity, in a way that I hadnt before. It was healthy for me. And done sufficiently, it gave me the confidence to allow me to ask other people to trust me in a way that I couldnt before. I became clearer about what I knew and believed and why. I didnt know everything, but now, I knew why I knew what I knew. I knew why I believed what I believed. I knew what I didnt and why.
I have since learned that the heart, like other muscles, strengthens and matures the way other muscles do. If you want to make your biceps larger, you have to lift weights till the point that the muscle fibers tear a bit. Then 48 hours later, your muscle repairs itself and becomes stronger. Your heart is the same way. It takes the gentle tearing of trust through living life to become a more mature Vaishnava and human being. Disillusionment allows us to set our expectations to the nature of actual relationships different from our wishful ideals.
I cannot change the world. I can hardly change myself according to how I should live. Today I focus on the source of what troubled me years agomy nave and too eager to trust heart. I recognize the nature of the crime that hurt me. It was my need for others to provide me a sense of existential security that I could not provide myself.
I still feel the pain of yesteryears and am on some days unsure of how to mollify it. But I know that my heart today is my sacred space to which I take those who have earned my trust. I have developed the skill by testing and spotting people that I feel are safe enough to take there. Today this confidence allows me to have intimate and respectful Vaishnava relationships with people that I couldnt yesterday. And that is why my life is blissful today. The self-fulfilling prophecy of the unforgivable betrayal, is just that, a self-fulfilling prophecy. You have no power over me.
Each year the BBT in North America publishes a Vaisnava calendar containing the dates of Ekadasis, appearance anniversaries of Lord Krsna and His expansions and incarnations, appearances and disappearances of our acaryas, and more. Because of the way the calendar is calculated, based on Vedic astronomy, the dates occasionally differ by one day according to your geographical location. The dates are calculated for Los Angeles, with alternate dates (if applicable) for Chicago, Toronto, and New York City. Generally, if you live in or near one of those cities, or roughly north or south of one of them, you can be confident of the date given on the BBT calendar.
But the imminent Ekadasi coming up on the 10th or 11th in North America is an exception. In this case, devotees in Los Angeles and all devotees living in places due north or south of LA, or west of the city (including in Hawaii), should observe it as stated on the calendar, namely on the 10th. But those devotees living even a bit east of LA, including in San Diego, Boise, and, believe it or not, Laguna Beach, should observe Ekadasi on the 11th.
To be absolutely certain of the Vaisnava dates in your area, please visit www.krishnadays.com/ and downloaded the free Gcal program.
Response to "Ethical Dilemmas of Suffering at Life’s End"|
by Gaurav Mittal
Posted July 31, 2012
Rohini Dasi has raised quite important question about the ethical dilemma which many of us will face. How does we want us to die? What is view of Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-Gita regarding euthanasia or putting pets to sleep?
Bhagavad Gita is clear that you are not this body. Atma or self is eternal and it never dies even though body dies. Whatever one decides should be firmly based on this knowledge! See the self as observer (seer) and body as being observed (seen). Experiences at life's end should be used to go deeper within and experience one's true nature which transcends matter. From that knowledge, one should decide whatever seems right. Decisions might be different based on one's level of realization and faith. Goal should to maximize one's inner peace and equanimity and minimize the effect of external circumstance on one's self. Gita 2.15 states those who are not disturbed by happiness and distress and don't get affected by both are eligible for liberation. It might be difficult to not get affected by disease and pain. But one should try to maximize the state of inner equanimity by focusing on imperishable and eternal self.
My suggestion to Rohini Dasi is to implement these principles in life and then, act based on guidance by Krishna from within. As far as I am concerned, I pray to Krishna to let me die peacefully. Please don't cause suffering to me or to people around me. I understand that my life is in hands of Krishna and I will not prefer to use any artificial means to prolong my life. It does not matter how long I live. What matters is that the years I live are happy and spiritual? At the same time, I will be practical and won't refuse medical treatment if it will help me. These are all personal decisions.
I am sorry that there is no absolute answer. If someone gives you absolute answer, then they are cheating you. You need to decide for yourself. What is right for you! What does Krishna tell you from within? Accept that answer. That answer may change after some time. You may decide something else after some years. That is fine. Don't be scared to get answer from Krishna who is the universal guru and who is closest to you.
Based on your questions, I think you already know the answers. You are looking for some sort of confirmation from others. Be confident about what Krishna is inspiring you from within.
Recently I met a devotee who was visiting from Southern California. We started talking about the beautiful weather there. The devotee commented that all those people who are enjoying the beautiful beaches and weather are going to get old and die.
My immediate response was that those people are ātma (spirit soul) and that the ātma does not die and does not get old, but because of our faulty vision (illusion) we see people dying and getting old.
The devotee responded that Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita: (13.9) janma-mṛtyu-jarā-vyādhi-duḥkha-doṣānu-darśanam ("perceiving the fault of the distresses of birth, death, old age and disease").
I have met many devotees who have quite a pessimistic and hopeless attitude towards the world. They feel anxiety and sadness in this world, and they blame the world as the cause of their suffering. They want to get out of the world and go to some Utopian place which is without any misery. In most cases, I believe, this hopeless and pessimistic attitude is due to depression, and the devotees justify this depressive attitude with the teachings of the Gita.
On the contrary, the person who realizes the teachings of the Gita is always happy, no matter what the situation is. The Gita is very clear that the self (ātma) is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. Due to illusion, the self identifies with the body and considers oneself as perishable, unhappy and ignorant. The body dies, but the self does not die. The body gets old, but the self does not get old. The body gets diseased, but the self does not get diseased. The body takes birth, but the self is unborn.
What does the verse janma-mṛtyu-jarā-vyādhi-duḥkha-doṣānu-darśanam mean? It means to see faults (doṣa) in the sufferings of birth, death, old age and disease. What is the problem or fault in them? These states of birth, death, old age and disease are different states of matter, i.e., the body. The body is undergoing those changes.
The problem is that the self identifies with those states and thinks: "I am suffering due to birth, death, old age and disease." But the self does not suffer, as it remains aloof from the body. Therefore, Krishna advises us to understand the problem with identifying oneself with the states of the body.
People who are in knowledge know that the self does not undergo any change or modification. They remain established in their original svarupa as a separated part of Krishna amongst different states of the body and world. They don't blame the world, as the world does not cause them to suffer. The identification of the self with the world and considering the world as "me and mine" are problematic, not the world itself. For such people who are established in their true nature, the world cannot cause any suffering; i.e., it becomes Vaikuntha (the abode of Krishna) while living on the earth.
Next time when you start feeling overwhelmed with pain and suffering, don't blame the circumstances. Understand that those circumstances cannot make you, the self, unhappy, as you are beyond them. They will come and go; you will stay the same, so understand your true nature and live life with equanimity.
Even after understanding these teachings, you may still feel anxious
and sad. Don't try to justify such emotions by using the Gita,
and don't let negative feelings overcome you. Just be patient, and
— like winter and summer — those feelings will go away.
You will remain as it is amongst these changing circumstances.
Recently a learned devotee wrote to me with an unusual perspective, one that goes very much against tradition, though imbued with the concepts of the sastra. He argued that the worship of the bodies (photographs and statues) of saintly people is an emotional reaction due to our identifying the body with the self and that it is not helpful to spiritual realization, but reinforces the bodily concept, and makes us prone to fear of death.
I welcomed this viewpoint, firstly because Srila Prabhupada advised us to view the philosophy from all angles, and secondly because I believe that tradition is not always supported by good reason; it may just as easily spring up from group emotions or even from misconception. However, I could not agree with him, due to other implications of the philosophy.
This article has two parts; his viewpoint and mine. To keep the article to a readable length, I have included only his first realizations on the matter and my last ones. Readers are welcome to add their own viewpoints afterwards, after digesting both in due course, and to give a fresh perspective.
Objection: — Distinguishing Matter from Spirit — a Humble Request
It is only due to the extreme grace of Almighty God that the soul acquires a human body. Its only purpose is attaining God. But after obtaining this body, the human being tends to forget his original purpose, gets firmly attached to the body and starts believing in bodily pleasures as being ultimate. By giving power and importance to the body, he starts relating to it and, hence, is so attracted to it that its name, too, becomes dear to him.
Of all the bodily pleasures, the most menial is respect-seeking. To attain this, he also indulges in vices like falsehood, cunningness and dishonesty. Due to the love for his body, he desires its praise and compliments from others. He desires to seek self praise throughout his life and wishes that his name and fame remain eternal after his death. He tends to forget that the name given to this body for worldly convenience does not have any existence whatsoever after the body perishes.
In light of this, body worshipping, respect-seeking and eternity of name is of least importance, but due to widespread inner desire for bodily respect and eternity of name and fame, a human may behave in such a manner, not only with himself and his near and dear ones, but also towards those who are knowledgeable and, thus, following the righteous path shown by esteemed scholars and by the scriptures and trying to attain their ultimate goal of being one with the Almighty.
When the body of such an enlightened one dies, in order to continue their remembrance of him, the body is captured in pictures and, with all pomp and decorations (garlands etc.), the body is taken to the cremation ground. In order to immortalize the mortal name, they erect edifices, structures in the form of memorials. In addition to this, they write exaggerated and one-sided incidents of the deceased being and publish them as hagiographies and remembrances. On one side, they call themselves followers of that enlightened one, and on the other they do exactly what he discouraged in life.
The essence of belief is immortal. Hence, the belief must be in the principle and words of such an enlightened one and not in his mortal body or name. There is only desire and not belief in the mortal body and name. But when desires take the garb of beliefs, the undue importance we place on mortal bodies may deter the worship and praise of the eternal, immortal, divine and immaculate Almighty Being, not only making our life useless but also ditching the self.
If seen in its true perspective, this body is, throughout life, a machine that produces urine and excretion. Given the best of foods — even prasad of God, it shall leave the body through excretion; given the best of drinks or even water of the holy Ganga, the same will be passed out as urine. Once death prevails, even touching that bodily machine requires bathing. In reality, this body is dying at every moment. The real and authentic consciousness which is present in the body cannot be captured in pictures. Only the body that is decaying every second can be pictured. That is why the body also does not remain the same as it was while the picture was taken.
Hence, worship of a photograph is worship of the asat (that which is not there). In a photograph, the body remains lifeless, and the picture of the lifeless collection of bones and tissues is more lifeless than the dead body itself.
Those whom we term as Mahatma, enlightened ones, are Mahatma because of their total renouncement of bodily pleasure and not because of their attachment to it. They consider their body as of no more value than excretory matter. Hence, showering respect over a Mahatma's body can be seen as like respecting excretory matter. Is this right? Someone may say: "We worship God's photograph, so what is wrong in worshipping a Mahatma's photograph?" However, saying this is not apt, because God's body is divine and immortal, while that of that of a Mahatama is made of destructible and perishable matter.
Reply: — "Goloka Appears in my Home — Bridging the Mundane and Transcendence
While I agree with your points about the body not being the self, still even this material energy is the energy of Krsna, who resides in every atom. Therefore, there is nothing which is not Krsna. He is non-different from his energy. What we call "material energy" acts to cover the consciousness, so that the living entity can forget His eternal relationship with God. When the material energy is utilized in the opposite way — to help the living entity remember his eternal position and relationship with God, it is no longer acting as material energy. After all, this material world is simply a covered portion of the spiritual sky. It is not separate from it.
Electrical energy can be used in one way to heat a room and in another way to cool it. It is the same energy but can be used, according to our desires, in different ways. I can use my own energy from digestion to kill a person or save his life, so desire is the driving force behind the way in which energy is used. When we use the body and mind, to remind ourselves of our relationship with the Lord, the body no longer acts as material energy does, yet because of the effects of maya, it appears to act as material objects do.
In the same house, electrical energy can be keeping food cold in the fridge while heating the lounge room. Just so, in the same body, energy can be making transformations as material energy does, and stopping those transformations as well, by enlightening the living entity residing within. By using the body to read sastra, chant, visit the temple, bow down, etc., we are burning up the reactions from actions that these bodies performed. We are reversing the process, much as an engineer reverses the heating effect of electrical energy when he designs a fridge. Therefore Krsna advises Arjuna that he can be free from karmic reaction by using his body for divine realization, not merely by giving up bodily activity and taking to meditation — though that is one path.
We have been discussing whether the material bodies of saints should be worshipped or their tombs revered and whether this is confusing the body with the self. Certainly the molecules in the saint's departed body are transforming as the matter disintegrates. But while the saint inhabited that body, it was used solely for spiritual realizations and devotional service, which reverses the process of transformation by nullifying karmic reaction. In that sense the bodily constituents acted as Krsna's energy is meant to act, for transcendence, and they nullify the effects of the material energy.
Can they still nullify the effects of the material energy once the saint has departed them? Can Vrindavan still purify visitors even after the Lord has left? In every respect, Vrindavan appears like any other village in an underdeveloped country — open sewers, deforestation, heaps of garbage, polluted rivers. It is in a state of decay, yet devotees go on pilgrimage to Vrindavan and bow down in her dust. Are they mistaking material elements for transcendence? They feel some effect, even now, of a transcendental event that took place when the effects of the material energy were reversed and the earth resembled Vaikuntha. The Lord and his associates were present, teaching unconditional love and surrender, which reverses the effects of time and turns the material energy into spiritual energy.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura wrote: "Goloka Vrindavan appears in my home whenever I see the worship of Lord Hari going on there." Does that mean that if worship were always to go on there, the bodies of his family members or of the plants and animals in his home would not grow old, get sick or die? It simply means that the energy is being transformed back into spiritual energy, and much like a home where there is both a fridge and a heater, there are two opposing processes taking place at the same time. That's my understanding, anyway.
Gaurav Mittal’s article, “Avoid Misunderstanding of Bhakti”, has sparked a lot of discussion in the devotee community. Some feel that he may be committing the “mad elephant offense” by suggesting that some statements of Srila Prabhupada were simply wrong. The implication of Srila Prabhupada being wrong, is that he is not a liberated soul, free from the four defects- the propensity to cheat, to become illusioned, to have imperfect senses and to make mistakes. It is the last two items of the four, that are items for contention. I wrote about this many years ago, for I felt that if a person has to wear glasses for reading, as Srila Prabhupada did, it was not proof he was not a liberated soul. So what does it mean that the liberated soul has perfect senses? Back then, as now, I asserted that his senses are perfect because they are engaged perfectly. His perfection of sense activity is in relation to the Absolute Truth. Thus, a person does not have to literally see through walls, to be considered liberated.
Similarly, if we see a guru makes a common mistake, it does not mean, necessarily, he is not liberated. His perfection of not making mistakes is in relation to the Absolute Truth, which he presents unchanged, as it is, and thus he is perfect and free from any defect or mistake. Srila Prabhupada stated about himself: “I am not perfect. None of us are perfect. But we are presenting the perfect message of Godhead unchanged. That much we are perfect” Because he was not speculating in regard to the Absolute Truth, his statements in regard to it, were free from the imperfections of the limited mind and other senses. They were without mistake.
But not all of Srila Prabhupada’s statements were in relation to the Absolute Truth. Some of them related to bodily gender and race, features of this world only. For example, in one instant, while considering the high crime rate in black neighborhoods, Srila Prabhupada concluded that black people were misusing their freedoms and rights, and thus, for their own good, they should be treated as slaves or unpaid workers, provided only with food and shelter in return for service rendered... Recent statistical analysis has proven the opposite- that crime has nothing to do with skin color and everything to do with poverty and desperation, for white neighborhoods, with the same level of income deprivation, are just as predisposed to criminal activity. So, Srila Prabhupada was wrong- black people should not have their freedom revoked because they otherwise misuse it. They should simply be given opportunities to pull themselves out of poverty and desperation.
This has been a recent revelation, however. In order not to make the mistake of concluding that black people are more likely to engage in crime, simply because they are black, Srila Prabhupada would have had to have access to a more recent evaluation of statistics than was available in the 70’s. His mistake was related to limited data, and to not being omniscient, like God. Had he had all the data available now, I doubt he would have made the same mistake, nor have come to the same conclusion.
If Srila Prabhupada was free from mistakes pertaining to this world of duality, then he certainly would not have made the mistake of bringing into positions of ISKCON leadership, people who proved themselves, later on, to be of low and abominable character. He would have instigated scrupulous background checks of all prospective gurukula teachers and had them thoroughly trained in how to discipline and educate children, without resorting to violence. Besides that, in relation to his writing, there were many grammatical errors made, which his editors had to omit. There are some mistakes that result from us simply not being able to see into the future, or know everything.
Sastra does mention a certain mystic perfection, tri-kala-jna, which is knowledge of past, present and future, but when asked about it, Srila Prabhupada related it not to premonitions as such, but sastric vision…(paraphrasing) “I know you will suffer in the future, because now you are performing sin. What you think of at the time of death- that decides your next body. You are performing doggish activities, such as barking at strangers. Since you have the mentality of a dog, then in your next life, you will take birth as a dog”…. Thus, his knowledge of the future was the knowledge of cause and effect, that we can all have access to. He did not relate it to any personal omniscience, but knowledge coming from the perfect, omniscient Lord, via the sastra.
Thus, all the perfections of the liberated soul are in relation to his knowing and presenting the perfect message of Godhead, unchanged. He does not make a mistake in relation to that message, because he does not speculate on it, and subject it to the limitations of the mind and senses. He has perfect senses because they are engaged in the service of the perfect senses of the Lord Hrsikesa. And of course, he has no propensity to cheat or become illusioned, because his heart is pure, and his vision, that of the sastra, sastra-caksusa.
But those who want to turn disciple-ship into a personality cult of their guru, and want to portray themselves as completely devoted to their gurus, cry out that by reasoning thus, we are “committing the mad elephant offense”. Their faith in their gurus is so shaky and superficial, they have to see proof that the guru is perfect in all respects, like unto God, before they can submit to his instructions with complete faith.
It is reason, not fantasy or condemnation, that proves one’s faith is not blind and thus not subject to deterioration. The disciple questions the guru until he achieves a faith that is not blind. If he sees personal imperfections in his guru, he knows them to be simply the proof of what his guru has told him already- he is not God, not perfect in all respects, but simply delivering the perfect message unchanged, with reason and logic, and great conviction and realization. The powerful force of his words, invigorated by the energy coming in parampara, the digested words of numerous acaryas, strikes a thunderbolt in the heart of the disciple, shattering his illusions, breaking open his misconceptions, revealing his doubts, assumptions and gray areas, and letting in the light of truth.
The disciple is in this way strengthened from within and does not have to prove to the world, or anyone, his faith in his guru, by any condemnation of doubters, or not even doubters, but those who do not buy into claims that the guru’s perfection is unlimited in every way. The disciple who has been given sastra caksusa, sees his guru as a man, but not an ordinary man… but a man, and not God. He has limited senses, like us. He makes common mistakes, like us. But he is extra-ordinary, because he is representing a very powerful thing, the universal government of Garbodaksayi Vishnu, and the origin of origins, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Srila Prabhupada explained the nature of the guru as one of an ambassador. As an ambassador delivers the message of a whole nation, the guru delivers the message of the Supremely Powerful Personality of Godhead. To disrespect the ambassador of USA is to disrespect the whole of the USA… kidnapping him, holds a whole nation to ransom… insulting him, insults a whole nation. Yet we know he is not a nation, but a man. We are not to equate the two. Thus, the ambassador analogy is perfect in regard to the guru and God. It is what he represents that makes him extraordinary.. If an ambassador has some fault, a lisp for example, it does not mean that the nation he represents are all lispers. Yet, to insult him “Jeeze you can’t even talk properly!” insults the whole nation he represents. Out of respect for the nation he represents, we overlook all personal deficiencies relating to him being a man, not a nation, while we focus on the message he is delivering on behalf of his country. He is a perfect ambassador if he delivers that unchanged.
Part one of this series examined faith and paranormal evil. This part of the series examines a greater and more common challenge to faith- the existence of evil itself- outside of paranormal activity. This is a complex subject which cannot be broached in a short essay, hence this essay is a little longer than the last one…
For both devotees and non-devotees the greatest challenge to faith has always been the existence of evil. If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why does He allow evil in the world? Armed with the philosophy of the gita, we have an answer for that- past life karma, yet we also know that Krsna steps in at different times to protect His devotees from evil, whether or not their past life karma justifies it. The real deal-breaker for many people is the circumstance where a devotee is praying for deliverance and nothing happens, and he is tortured in a helpless condition by demons. Such happened in the case of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis, and such also happened with many of the gurukulis, at the hands of their teachers. One only has to empathize even slightly with them, to have one’s faith challenged to the core. How could you believe or love a God to whom you prayed, and He did nothing?
Returning to the gita, and its background, the Mahabharata, this story is not so different… Though Krsna did step in at different times, such as to protect Draupadi’s modesty, where was He when Asvatthama killed her sleeping sons? If anything, Draupadi needed His intervention more desperately in the latter situation- certainly her sons did! Why does Krsna not intervene in every situation of evil, or why does evil so rarely provoke a miracle from Him?
The clue to this can be found in Prabhupada’s purports to the gita- Krsna could well have killed all the Kauravas Himself, but He did not- He wanted His devotee to get all the credit. This situation is present in every facet of our daily lives, from our teenagers having problems, to the tension between nations. We are all meant to be heroes- for each other. Krsna does not step in, only because He wants us to be benefited within by heroic and selfless activity – and yet He is not aloof either- He acts as the voice of conscience within each individual, urging us to step in when needed and burdening us with feelings of guilt when we do not.
Therefore, as a general rule, evil is conspicuous by its absence, and the world is good. Parents love their kids, teachers try to educate them, strangers rush to the aid of an elderly person who has tripped. In the “normal” course of events, those who are frail and needy are offered help, facility and protection. If it were not so, we would not be shocked and outraged when parents or teachers or even strangers prove themselves not the well-wishers of others, but sources of evil. Because it is relatively unusual, the newspapers can sell such stories. Never in the headlines do we read “boy picked up groceries for pregnant lady who fell over” but commonly we read of elderly people getting assaulted. We are outraged, because it is not the way things are supposed to be in the world. This proves that there is an order, a common voice of conscience speaking the same message from within: “BE your brother’s (and sister’s) keeper!”
When the voice is listened to, we do not put credit to God, but the heroes on earth who follow it, just as Arjuna got all the credit for fighting. But when the voice is not listened to, and people walk past a young girl getting kicked in the head, or teachers beat or sexually abuse their pupils, or Jewish children are gassed, we ask “where is God? How could He permit such a thing? Why He did not step in and stop it?” Thus God has set up a situation where He rarely gets credit, but always the blame, and the reason is, He wants credit to go to His devotees, and He wants them to feel guilt and remorse when they do not act as heroes but cowering sycophants, or simply demons.
It would seem that this plan for making us into heroes, has its sacrificial lambs when we do not become participants in the hero-making process. God may be very good in trying to make us into heroes, but where are His good intentions for the victims? That goodness can be found again- in conscience, again- in hero-making. Either within the person who has committed the evil, or within people who have observed or heard of it, there is a stirring within to act for the benefit of the victim, the stirring of emotions of guilt in the perpetrator, of sorrow in others, of the desire to be rid of the evil by an overwhelming sense of compassion. We may try to write the victim an encouraging email, or donate to a fund for his recovery, or we may enact laws that protect children from abuse, or from nations enacting human rights transgressions. Within each of the observers of evil, a seed of heroism is born- but it must be watered. If we ignore it, it will die. If we offer justification like being too preoccupied with other things, again the hero in us will die. If the preoccupation is so-called devotional service, we will not derive benefit from it, for we will not please the Lord by such shrinking. Arjuna also wanted to shrink from duty, on plea of attraction to meditation, but Krsna made clear His intentions- religious activities such as meditation or chanting are never an excuse to retreat from heroism. Rather, heroism itself is a religious duty, from which no good intention justifies its avoidance.
It may be argued “Arjuna was a ksatriya. It was his duty to act as a hero. I am not a ksatriya, I do not have to be a hero to please the Lord” If that is the case, then why do we all feel guilt for what happened to the gurukulis? Appeal to varna does not absolve us from the responsibility that comes from being a human being, and one does not have to be brave to act according to conscience…
I found out this one morning at prasadam time, several years ago. Outside the prasadam room we could hear an argument going on. As it was becoming heated, I asked my husband to see what was wrong, and he returned, a little amused. “It’s about astrology. D prabhu thinks it’s valuable for the movement, and M prabhu disagrees. M says ‘it’s against Prabhupada’ ” Quickly however, there was a change in the tone of the philosophical disagreement- from challenging to threatening. I ran outside, ignoring several people’s request not to get involved. To my shock, D Prabhu, who was of slight build, was huddled over on the ground while M, who was very muscular, was raining fist blows on his back with all his strength. I screamed for him to stop. When he did not, my screaming became hysterical. I appealed to the male onlookers to help, but they just yelled back at me not to get involved. Looking back, if I were a ksatriya, I would floored both the offender and the callous onlookers. If I were a brahmana I would have reasoned with them, maybe a vaisya would have bargained, but all I could do was lament, extremely loudly. But hopefully it was my screaming that distracted M from doing further harm, as he soon desisted.
The lesson from this is that conscience speaks to us all, whether or not we have the full capability to respond to it. In our own ways, we must be a hero, even if it is in a very non-impressive way, for the goal, at least as devotees, is not the glory of a fight, or even the glory of heroism, but heroism itself, even if unimpressive, even if ordinary, even just as being another anonymous donor to a former gurkuli, needing help, or an anonymous signatory to “an appeal for zero tolerance of child abuse”. .
Thus, Arjuna was told by Krsna that even if he lost the fight, he would gain the heavenly kingdom, the association of the Lord’s associates and servants. It was not victory or glory, but the act of heroism, of doing what is right, that brings one into resonance with the Lord’s plan. He does not want victims, but heroes, and as the victim recovers through the help, love and support of His heroes, all again becomes right in the world.
In light of the law of karma, of course, there is no evil, as suffering even enacted upon an innocent is simply the result of their past life karma. From our point of view, who cannot see the past misdoings of the innocent, such cruelty is a gross injustice, and thus the saintly kings of yore were always the protectors of the innocent and the vulnerable. They never misused the law of karma, which they certainly knew about, to avoid their duty, which was to protect their subjects from fear and suffering.
Arjuna tried to retreat from his responsibility to protect the citizens from the evil rule of the murderous Duryodhana, but Krsna informed him “there is action in inaction”. In other words, shirking from one’s responsibility to protect, when either given by the Lord directly- as Krsna… or indirectly -as His voice of conscience, brings about reaction, as much as if one perpetrated the offense oneself. Simply looking on or walking away while someone is being punched, or a gurukuli is abused, or a woman is being disrobed, makes one culpable for severe reaction, as the Kaurava’s discovered on the Battlefield.
Through such instructions in the sastra, through conscience, or by Divine intercession, the Lord is ever willing to reverse the law of karma towards a higher principle- the law of mercy. Just as He reduces the karma of all who look towards Him, disregarding whatever they did in the past- in a sense “forgetting” it, so should we, who have no direct knowledge of past karma anyway, seek to reduce the karma of all who look towards us. We are godly when we do the work of God, when we come again and again to destroy the evil-doers and protect the innocent.
There is another sense in which there is no evil in the world- for that which we call evil brings out the best in people, whereas the normal course of events (whereby we are all placid well-wishers of each other) tends to make us complacent and self-absorbed. What is called evil is not only the cruelty of human beings, but also apparently the cruelty of God. In this case, it looks like God has turned His back on the world, or turned against it… Piles and piles of merciless rubble cover victims- why did He cause the earth to shake in areas where people can be crushed? If it were only the law of karma, then why are we not allowed to see cause and effect? It simply seems cruel and unjust, and thinking so, we rise to the occasion, and digging deep into our pockets, we give aid to Haiti’s victims.
This sense of compassion is not so much evident in India, where being born in a Delhi slum, with no hope for a life better than struggling with a rickshaw or picking over garbage, is seen as working off bad karma. What compassion, to let people work off their karma by starving and going without decent housing, work conditions and medical assistance? This is the dangerous aspect of knowledge of the law of karma (and could arguably be the poisonous fruit of the tree of knowledge described in the Bible). While it helps us to understand evil from a philosophical perspective, it can make us complacent, and gradually, maybe even callous. It can take away the responsibility to be God-like, when one sees ultimate justice in all things, for one may see no longer the necessity for human justice, and may even see compassionate action as simply interfering with the law of karma.
The lives of saintly people, close to God, and God’s own words, attest firmly to the contrary: though the living entities receive their due karma by suffering, it is also true that an onlooker (such as the Kauravas) standing back and letting it happen, even though able to intervene, perpetrates an evil deed, and karmic action is thus accrued- “there is action in inaction”. By acting according to God’s law of mercy, one accrues no reaction, indeed, one is freed from it, both past and present.
It may be argued that devotees have no interest in the body- they know they are not the body and want to save the drowning man, not his clothes! In this analogy, however, one saves both the man and his clothes, not that one removes the clothes and saves his body only. On the other hand, we have no interest to only save clothes, or bodies, and enact humanitarian works devoid of spiritual compassion. But when humanitarian works and spiritual guidance go hand in hand, as in Prabhupada’s instruction “let no person in a ten mile radius of any temple, ever go hungry” then it is perfect religiosity.
Similarly, he wrote: “saintly persons are always anxious to see how the people can be happy, both materially and spiritually (SB 4.14.7 pp) . There is a net effect of spiritual compassion in that it fosters faith in God, but material compassion has the same effect as well. When others see devotees being kind and merciful, gentle and always compassionate, within them is born the seed of faith. They are attracted to such behavior, and want to know the philosophy behind it, and follow it themselves. On the other hand, when we hear of priests or devotees enacting child abuse, and the church or ISKCON covering it up, we can be sure that many people will swear never to join any such church or temple. They will see religion as evil, the justification of so much cruelty. They will put forth arguments like ”if God is all good and all-powerful, then why does He allow such evil?” Such is only perceived when God’s followers do nothing- or perpetrate evil. When the religious seek to put things right in the world, God’s order is seen in the chaos, and there is no loss of faith, rather faith is born.
Ironically our philosophical explanation of evil, the law of past life karma, must be balanced by ignoring it in relation to others, or else we may enact evil by the consequences of inaction. A devotee sees only his own suffering as past life karma, for others he does whatever he can to relieve it. This can be seen in the Srimad Bhagavatam, first canto, where mother Bhumi is attributing her suffering at the hands of Kali, to her own karma or fault, whereas Pariksit, ignoring such philosophy, sought only to relieve her, in great earnest. In fact, such philosophical explanations by Mother Bhumi did not succeed, in any way, to quell his outraged fury at Kali’s cruelty! Similarly, Arjuna was prepared to enter fire if he could not relieve the brahmana’s distress at losing his sons. Saintly characters know when to use the law of karma to inspire faith, and when to ignore it, to evoke the same. That is the irony of their character, through which they enact the pastimes of the unfathomable Lord.