sanatana dharma


English: Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

English: Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is one of my favourite classes by the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

manusyanam sahasresu/kascid yatati siddhaye/yatatam api siddhanam/ kascin mam vetti tatvattah

‘Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows me in truth’ [Bg. 7.3]

‘To understand Krsna is not very easy.  Krsna says manusyanam sahasresu: ‘Out of many millions and millions of persons,’ one tries to become perfect.  Who is going to become perfect, especially in this age?  Everyone is working like cats and dogs.  The whole day is spent working for eating, sleeping, sex and defense, that’s all.  People are not living as manusyas, as human beings.

ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca/samanyam etat pasubhir naranam/dharmo hi tesam adhiko viseso/dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah

‘Both animals and humans share the activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending.  But the special property of the humans is that they are able to engage in spiritual life.  Therefore without spiritual life, humans are on the level of animals [Hitopadesa]

What is the difference between my eating and the dog’s?  He is eating according to his taste, and I am eating according to my taste.  The eating business is there in the dog also.  Don’t think that your eating is different because you are eating nice preparations on a table, with a chair and plates.  It is still eating.

People say, ‘Because I am eating nice preparations on a table, I am civilized’.  The sastra, scripture, says that although your food may be different, your eating and the dog’s eating are the same.   You are not civilized just by eating at a table.  Similarly, the dog can sleep on the street without caring for anything, and we cannot sleep without a nice apartment, but both we and the dog are sleeping.   And for sexual intercourse, the dog has no shame.  It can enjoy sex on the street.  We have some restrictions, but the sex is there nonetheless.  And bhaya means defense, to take care of our fears.  That is there in the dog and in you also.  It does not make any difference.  Because you have discovered the atomic bomb for defense, that does not mean that you are better than a dog.  He defends himself according to his intelligence, and you defend yourself according to your intelligence.

Human beings and animals have these four businesses in common: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending.  Then what is the special advantage of human life?  That advantage is athato brahma jijnasa: You should be inquisitive to know the value of life, the Absolute Truth.  The dog cannot do that.  That is the distinction between a dog and a human being.  In the human form of life there should be inquiry about Brahman and Parabrahman, spirit and the Supreme Spirit.  When you attain brahma-jnana, knowledge of the Absolute Truth, that is your perfection, not competing with the dog in eating, sleeping, mating and defending.  That is not civilization.  That is not perfection of life.  Foolish persons who are animalistic, like dogs and cats, do not know the aim of life.

na te viduh svartha-gathim hi visnum/durasaya ye bahir-artha-maninah/andha yathandhair upaniyamanas/te pisa tantryam uru-damni baddhah

‘Persons who are strongly entrapped by the consciousness of enjoying material life, and who have therefore accepted as their leader or guru a similar blind man attached to the external sense objects, cannot understand that the goal of life is to return home, back to Godhead, and engage in the service of Lord Visnu.  As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into a ditch, materially attached men led by another materially attached man are bound by the ropes of fruitive labor, which are made of very strong cords, and they continue again and again in materialistic life, suffering the threefold miseries’ [SB 7.5.31]

The aim of life is to understand Visnu, the Supreme Lord.  People are trying to become happy in the bahir-artha, in the external energy of God, the material energy.  And the so-called leaders, politicians, philosophers, and scientists are all blind.  They do not know the aim of life.  Still, they are leading the whole society.

Uru-damni baddhah.  Uru means very strong, and damni means rope.  If I tie you with a very strong rope, it is very difficult to untie it, and you are put into difficulty.  Similarly, we in this material world are tied very tightly by the laws of material nature.  And still we declare, ‘I am free.  I am independent.  I can do whatever I like’.  That is called imperfection.  As long as we are in the bodily concept of life and think ourselves free to do whatever we like, we are in ignorance, darkness, tama.  Tama means darkness.

A Vedic injuction is tamasi ma jyotir gama: ‘Don’t remain in darkness; go to the light.’  Darkness means thinking, ‘I am this body, and fulfilling the necessities of the body is the highest perfection of my life.’  Everyone is trying to have a skyscraper and three Rolls Royces, and so on.  They think this is the perfection of life.   They do not think to ask, ‘How many years shall I have this skyscraper?  And what is my main business? My main business is how to become perfect.’

There are many animals within the skyscraper.  There are human beings, dogs, cats, worms, rats – so many things.  So the right to live in a skyscraper is there even for worms, cats, and rats.  Then what is the difference between these animals and me?  The difference is that I can become perfect.  I can ask, ‘What am I?  Am I this body?’  This should be the question.

Krsna says here, ‘The ultimate goal is to understand me.’  Vetti mam tattvatah – to understand Krsna in fact, in truth, not superficially.  That is required.  Vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah [Bg. 15.15].  If you are a great scholar studying all kinds of Vedic literature, then you must know Krsna.  If you do not understand Krsna and simply study the Vedas, it is a useless waste of time.

dharmah svanusthitah pumsam/visvakena-kathasu yah/notpadayed yadi ratim/srama eva hi kevalam

‘The occupational activities a man performs according to his own position are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Personality of Godhead’ [SB 1.2.8]

You are executing your occupational duties very nicely, honestly.  That is all right.  But if after executing your duties very honestly and nicely you do not awaken your dormant Krsna consciousness, then srama eva hi kevalam: You are simply wasting your time.  Useless.  When you understand Krsna, that is the highest perfection.  But nobody is interested.  Therefore Krsna says in today’s verse, manusyanam sahasresu…: ‘Out of many millions of persons’, one may be interested.  Otherwise, all are in darkness.

What is siddhi, as mentioned here?  Siddhi means to understand my constitutional position, what I am.  I am trying to lord it over material nature in so many ways.  Is that my position?  But I am a failure.  I am trying to lord it over material nature as a big man – as a minister or a zamindar or a big business magnate.  And when I am a failure, then I want to become God.  That is another ambition.

This is not self-realization.  Self-realization means to understand, ‘I am trying to lord it over material nature in so many ways, but my attempt is becoming baffled.  Why?  With great endeavor I become a head of state, and I do not wish to die, but death comes and takes away everything – my political position, my wealth, my family, everything.’  Mrtyuh sarva-haras caham [Bg 10.34].  Who is taking?  That is Krsna.

When you realize, ‘I am trying to accumulate so many things but Krsna is taking everything away,’ then why don’t you surrender to Krsna so that He may not take away your position?  That is siddhi.  ‘I am not independent.  I am trying to be independent, but it is not possible.  I am dependent.  I am an eternal servant of Krsna.’

That is self-realization.  That has been taught by Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  Jivera ‘svarupa  haya – krsnera ‘nitya-dasa: ‘It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krsna.’ [Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila 20.108-109].  Brahman realization – aham brahmasmi – is liberation from the material conception of life.  ‘I am not matter.  I am not the body, but I am spirit soul.’  Aham brahmasmi.  That is the first step of self-realization.  But that is not final.  The final realization is ‘I am an eternal servant of Krsna.’  As long as you do not come to that position – the final, consitutional position that ‘I am an eternal servant of Krsna’ – then knowledge is lacking; there is no perfection of knowledge.

Therefore, Krsna says in Bhagavad-git [7.19], bahunam janmanam ante…vasudevah sarvam iti: ‘After many, many births, when one is actually self-realize – in awareness, fully in knowledge – then he understands that Vasudeva [Krsna] is everything.’  ‘Vasudeva is the supreme everything.  I am simply part and parcel of Vasudeva, an eternal servant of Vasudeva.’  Sa mahatma sudurlabhah.  One who thinks in that way, that kind of perfect person – a mahatma – is very, very rare.  A mahatma understands, ‘I am an eternal servant of Krsna.  My only business is to serve Krsna.  That is my constitutional position.  I am part and parcel of Krsna.’

This finger is part and parcel of my body.  Its business is to serve the whole body.  I ask the finger, ‘Come here,’ and immediately it comes.  That is the normal, healthy condition of the part and parcel.  My leg is part and parcel of my body.  As soon as I ask the leg, ‘Please take me there,’ it does so.  That is normal.  And if the leg cannot take me there – if I have to take help from a stick – that is not normal.  It is a diseased condition has to be treated.  Similarly, as soon as we find that we do not abide by the orders of Krsna, we must know that we are in ignorance and in an abnormal condition, madness.

To serve Krsna is my duty.  Krsna does not require my help, and still he asks me to surrender to his order.  That is for my good.  If I surrender to Krsna, then that is my benefit.  Krsna does not require my service.  He is omnipotent.  But we are such rascals that we think, ‘Why shall I surrender to Krsna?’  That is perfection.

When you come to the point that you abide by the order of Krsna and surrender to Him, that is perfection.  But people do not do that. 

na mam duskrtino mudhah/prapadyante naradhamah/mayayapahrta-jnana/asuram bhavam asritah

‘Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, who are lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons do not surrender unto me’ [Bg. 7.15]  

Why do they not surrender?  Because they are duskritinah, always performing sinful activities, and they are mudhah, rascals.  They do not known their own interest.  And naradhama means the lowest of mankind.  Krsna says, ‘This human body was given to him by material nature to understand me, to surrender to me, but he will not do this.  Therefore: lowest of mankind.’

Someone may object, ‘No, he is so educated.’  No, this is nonsense.  If he does not understand Krsna, what is the meaning of education?  There is no education.  Mayayapahrta-jnanah: his knowledge is stolen by illusion.  Why?  Asuram bhavam asritah: he’s defying Krsna, defying God.  

‘What is God?  I am God.’  This is the position of everyone in the material world, and especially in this age, Kali-yuga.  In Kali-yuga, people are all first-class fools.  That is described in the Bhagavatam [1.1.1o]:

prayenalpayusah sabhya/kalav asmin yuge janah/mandah sumanda-matayo/manda-bhagya upadrutah

‘O learned one, in this iron age of Kali men have but short lives.  They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky, and above all, always disturbed’

Kali-yuga is a very difficult age.  In ignorance people fight, quarrel.  Kali means ‘fight’.  Therefore it is called Kali-yuga.  In this age especially, the inhabitants are manda.  Manda means all bad.  Nobody is good.  And sumanda-matayah: Everyone has his own conception of perfection – all bogus.  Why this is?  Manda-bhagyah: because they are unfortunate.  No one knows what he shall eat the next morning or in the evening.  Everyone is in need.  There is scarcity all over the world.

And people are disturbed.  With the progression of Kali-yuga, people will be disturbed by two things especially: taxation and scarcity of food.  That is stated in Bhagavatam [12.2.9]: durbhiksa-kara-piditah.  Kara means taxation.  People will be embarrassed for want of food, and at the same time, every year there will be an increase of taxation.  They will be so disturbed that they will give up their money, wife, children – everything.  They will be disgusted: ‘Now it is impossible to maintain.  Let me go away.’

This is our position in Kali-yuga.  So five thousand years ago, when Krsna spoke Bhagavad-gita, at that time the position was manusyanam sahasresu – ‘one among thousands will try for perfection.  Now, on account of Kali-yuga, it is ‘one among millions.’  The percentage has increased to one in millions and millions.  

Therefore nobody is interested in this Krsna consciousness movement.  We are trying to give the highest perfection of life, but people are not interested.  They want to remain like cats and dogs and suffer the consequences.  That is going on.

This Krsna consciousness movement is very difficult to understand, but by the grace of Krsna it has been made very easy.  That is stated in the Srimad Bhagavatam [12.2.51]: kaler dosa-nidher rajann asi hy eko mahan gunah.  Sukadeva Goswami described the faults of Kali-yuga to Parikisit Maharaja, but he encouraged him with one verse.  ‘My dear king, Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, but there is one very nice gain.’  What is that?  Kirtanad eva krsnasya mukta-sangah param vrajet: ‘Simply by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one can become free from all the troubles of Kali-yuga, become liberated, and go back home, back to Godhead.’  So take Krsna consciousness very seriously and make your life perfect’

Thank you very much.’ [Back To Godhead Magazine, March/April 2006]

Based on a lecture given at the University of Johannesburg, 6 May 2011.

The Material Body

I recently saw a friend of mine wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘I am not who you think I am.’  This was interesting because we were always told in the Hare Krishna movement that, ‘You are not this body!’  Who are we, then, if we are not this bodies?

We were all born somewhere – in a hospital or maybe at home.  When we were born our parents thought: ‘Oh, what a beautiful baby boy!  What a beautiful baby girl!’  Our birth was registered at Home Affairs.  Our information was stored in a filing-cabinet or on a computer system.  We were classified according to sex, nationality and race.  This information appears as numbers on our Identification Document.  Birth, for most of us, meant that we were identified in terms of the material body.  Certain rites, based on race or gender, perpetuate this bodily identification until the moment of death.  The Sanskrit word for this phenomenon is upadhi or ‘bodily designation’:  ‘I am white’,  ‘I am black’, ‘I am male’, ‘I am female’, ‘I am young’,  ‘I am old’,  ‘I am South African’, ‘I am Zimbabwean’,  ‘I am Christian’, ‘I am Hindu’ and ‘I am Jew’.  These identifications, however, are temporary.  We are identifying with a body that will only last for 70 to 80 years – if we are lucky.  The environment that we identify ourselves with is also false, because it is temporary.

It is, therefore, stated in the beginning of Rupa Goswami’s devotional textbook Sri Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.2 (quoted in Sri Caitanya-Caritamrita 19.170): sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam/tat-paratvena nirmalam/hrsikena hrsikesa-/sevanam bhaktir ucyate – Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses.  When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects.  One is freed from all material designations (sarva-upadhi-vinirmuktam), and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, one’s senses are purified’.

What Is Materialism?

Possessing wealth and material possessions is the stereotyped view of “materialism”.  Transcendentalists, however, consider materialism to be more something far subtler than owning a nice house or a sports car.  Material facility does not necessarily determine the level of one’s spiritual advancement.  A rich person may be surrounded by beautiful material objects and be detached; and a poor man lying in the street may kill another over a blanket.  To consider the material body to be our self, to identify with the temporary material world and to nurture material desires are more deeply rooted aspects of materialism.  The perpetuation of material existence depends on our desire.  If we are attached to this material world and to this material body, we will remain here. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami explains that if we desire even one ray of sunshine, we’ll have to come back to this world to experience it.

False Ego/ Real Ego

Buddhism teaches us that this world is a place of suffering.  Most of our suffering is experienced through our own egos or those of others.  The solution to suffering, according to Buddhism, is the negation of ego or personality.  The Vedas identify the problem of ego as false ego – false ego being the pure soul or atma’s false identification with matter.  The Vedic perspective is positive.  Rather than negate identity, our true spiritual identity is re-awakened through the process of yoga or self-realization.  The Bhagavad-gita explains that there is no loss or diminution on the spiritual path.  The slightest amount of spiritual progress made in this life carries over into our next life.  Whatever material progress we make in this life, however, is lost at the time of death.

Self Realization

The Vedas teach three levels of self-realization, namely: sambhanda, abhideya and prayojana.

Sambhanda is the development of our relationship with Krishna or the Divine.  Sambhanda begins with the first aphorism of the Vedanta (spiritual conclusions of the Vedas) – athato brahma jijnasa.  Athato brahma jijnasa means ‘now that you have achieved the rare human form of life enquire into the nature of the Absolute Truth.’  This human form of life is, therefore, meant for self-realization.  Our ultimate purpose is not meant to simply acquire wealth or to maintain this material body.  We are meant to understand our eternal spiritual identity.  Self-realization begins with self-interest – understanding our position in relation to the world around us, understanding our spiritual identity and understanding the nature of God.

The next stage of self-realization is called abhideya – the practice of spiritual life in this material world.  The most important abhideya, or spiritual practice, is the chanting of the Holy Names of God, the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.  The chanting of Hare Krishna is both the means and the end of spiritual practice.  You might think, ‘Why do I need to chant this mantra?  Surely self-realization is more complicated than reciting words?’  The cause of the problem is simple.  Material desire.  The solution, however, is also simple.  Spiritual application.

The final stage of self-realization is called prayojana.  At the stage of prayojana or spiritual perfection we are fully aware of our eternal, spiritual identity and are free from the temporary identification with matter.  This is called siddha-deha or svarupa-siddhi -realization of our spiritual form.  At the stage of spiritual perfection, we still chant – but in full awareness of our spiritual body and our spiritual purpose.

What Is Prashadam?

Krishna is the Supreme Lord (isvara) and the Supreme Enjoyer (purusa).  The living entity, or the jiva, is the enjoyed (prakriti).  It is the jiva’s eternal function to serve God.  That is called sanatana-dharma, or ‘eternal religion’.  We are all servants of God.

Since Krishna owns everything, it is only proper to honour His proprietorship by offering everything back to Him.  The Supreme Lord does not need our meagre offerings.  What He wants is our devotion.  The Bhagavad-gita, therefore, describes the process of sanctification of food – patram puspam phalam toyam/yo me bhaktya prayacchati/tad aham bhakty-upahrtam/asnami prayatatmanah – ‘If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit or water, I will accept it’.  Sanctified foodstuffs are called prasadam, the ‘mercy’ of the Lord.  Krishna is also known as bhava-grahi janardana – in other words, He sees the intent behind our offering.  Our offerings, therefore, should be imbued with love for Him.

Offering Food To Krishna 

The process of offering foodstuffs to the Deity of the Lord in the Temple is restricted to brahmana-initiated Vaishnavas. Devotees, however, understand that everything should be offered to the Lord.  Therefore, a simple process for offering foodstuffs to the Lord is prescribed for the uninitiated or the lay-person.  Such offerings are made before pictures of one’s personal guru, Srila Prabhupada, the disciplic succession and Deities of the Lord.

Vaishnava Kitchen Etiquette

I read an interview one of Prabhupada’s female chefs in a Back To Godhead magazine where Prabhupada emphasized three important factors in the preparation of devotional offerings – cleanliness, quality of ingredients and consciousness.

1.  Our kitchen should be suci or clean.  The cooking paraphernalia of a suci kitchen is the exclusive property of the Lord.  The Lord also has a separate plate, cup and various thalis (bowls) to eat from.  Strict devotees make sure their own condiments (spoons, cups and plates) are not mixed with those reserved for the Lord.  This generally means that our own condiments, and those reserved for guests, are stored outside of the kitchen.

Devotees do not taste food until it has been offered.  Nor do they eat from the Lord’s pots, or with the Lord’s cooking equipment.  If the Lord’s equipment is used by mistake, it is considered contaminated and should not be used cooking or offering to the Lord again. Eating, which is considered unclean, is also prohibitted in a suci kitchen.  We do not use the sink to wash our plates or hands after eating.  The kitchen sink is for washing vegetables, cleaning the Lord’s pots and running water for cooking.  Devotees generally wear shoes reserved kitchen use only (‘kitchen shoes’) as a further standard of cleanliness.  Women (and men with long hair) generally cover their hair while cooking.

The cook should, ideally, be suci or clean.  On the strictest level this means that cook should have showered and should be wearing clean cloth.  If you eat, evacuate, go outside or enter a toilet then you are considered ‘dirty’ again.  If you touch your eyes, nose or ears you should wash your hands (in a suci basin outside of the kitchen).  Women should not enter the kitchen while they are “off the altar” (ie. during their monthly period).  We are also considered contaminated if we take rest for longer than 45 minutes.  If we do so, and we want to follow the highest standards of cleanliness, then we should take bath and put on fresh clothes.  We should not eat with an apron from the kitchen on either.

2.  We should use the best quality foodstuffs if we can.  If possible, we should use organic vegetables, pure cow’s ghee, non-irradiated spices, sea salt or pure salt.  Ideally, we should grow our own fruit, vegetables and shrubs for Krishna and milk cows bred exclusively for the pleasure of the Lord.  This is not always possible in modern cities.  Soya, mushrooms, cakes made with flour, bread and canned foods are not offered to installed Deities in the Temple.  They can, however, be offered to pictures of the Lord at home (in the case of mushrooms they should be growing naturally in a field, not on stool).  According to the Manu Samhita and Hari Bhakti Vilasa (a Vaishnava manual for etiquette), we cannot offer Krishna onions or garlic.  A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, however, permitted the offering of brinjal, tomatoes and carrots which are often excluded from a strict Vaishnava diet.

3.  The quality of our consciousness is the most important factor in the preparation of foodstuffs for the Lord.  Cleanliness and quality of ingredients are servants to the principle of good consciousness.  We should be Krishna consciousness ie. situated in spiritual consciousness.  How do we achieve this?  We should, if possible, be chanting a minimum of 16 rounds of the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra.  Our kitchen should be clean, like the altar of our Temple.  We should not cook if we are in bad consciousness (for example if we are angry or feeling lusty thoughts).  We should listen to spiritual discourses or devotional music and only discuss spiritual subject-matters or subjects related to our cooking service with the other cooks.  We can also chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.

A Simple Food Offering

The following is a very basic method of offering, usually within a devotee’s kitchen or on a simple altar with pictures of the Lord.  In a more sophisticated Temple set-up, the devotee would close the curtain of the alter while offering food, and perform a more elaborate ritual before offering food to the Lord.

Devotees perform acamana (pronounced ‘ah-cha-mun’) before the process of offering.  Acamana is a purificatory process involving mantras and the sipping of water from an acamana cup and acamana spoon.  (This process need not be followed by beginners).  The devotee takes the acamana spoon in his right hand and pours three drops of water on the same right hand.  The devotee then pours three drops of water on the left hand and chants ‘Om keshavaya namah’, then sips the water from the base of the palm of the hand.  Having done this, the devotee pours three drops of acamana water on the bell and then takes the bell in his/her left hand.  The bell has to be rung while the mantras for offering are recited.  The bell is only stopped when the final mantras have been chanted.  Devotees usually take off their socks, aprons and head-coverings when offering bhoga to the Lord.

Devotees do not feel themselves qualified to offer foodstuffs directly to the Lord.  The devotee, therefore, offers the food to the Spiritual Master, all the time reciting the Spiritual Master’s mantras.  The devotee then offers the food to Lord Chaitanya, reciting Rupa Goswami’s prayers (namo maha vadanyaya).  The devotee finally offers the bhoga to Radha and Krishna, reciting the relevant mantras.  While offering the bhoga to Lord Chaitanya and Radha-Krishna, the devotee thinks himself the servant of his guru and understands that his guru is actually performing the offering.  The offering will be offered from disciple to guru, through the entire guru succession, until it finally reaches Krishna.

The following mantras are recited three times before the pictures of (1) Srila Prabhupada; (2) The Pancha Tattva/Gaura-Nitai; and (3) Radha-Krishna:

1.  Prayers To The Spiritual Master (Srila Prabhupada Pranati)

nama om vishnu-padaya/krishna-presthaya-bhutale/srimate bhaktivedanta/svamine iti namine‘I offer my respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is very dear to Lord Krishna, having taken shelter at His lotus feet’

namas te sarasvate-deve/gauravani-pracarine/nirvesesa sunyavadi/pascyata-desa tarine‘Our respectful obeisances are unto you, O spiritual master, servant of Sarasvati Goswami.  You are kindly preaching the message of Lord Caitanyadeva and delivering the Western countries, which are filled with impersonalism and voidism’

2.  Prayer To Lord Chaitanya (Sri Gauranga Pranama)

namo maha-vadanyaya/krishna-prema-pradayate/krishnaya krishna-caitanya/namne gaura-tvise namah‘O most munificent incarnation!  You are Krsna Himself appearing as Sri Krishna Caitanya Mahaprabhu.  You have assumed the golden colour of Srimati Radharani, and You are widely distributing pure love of Krishna.  We offer our respectful obeisances unto You’

3. Prayer To Lord Krishna

namo brahmanya-devaya/go-brahmana hitaya ca/jagad hitaya krishnaya/govindaya namo namah‘Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who his always benefitting the whole world.  I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.’

hare krishna hare krishna/krishna krishna hare hare/hare rama hare rama/rama rama hare hare

On reciting these mantras the devotee humbly beseeches the Lord to accept these offerings, ‘Please, my Lord, accept these offerings from Your servant.’  The devotee then stops ringing the bell, and leaves the altar room.   The devotee then bows at the side of the altar.  The Lord may now accept the devotee’s offering.

I remember reading a copy of the Bardo Thodol (The Tibetan Book Of  The Living And The Dead) when I was at University of Cape Town.  I thought it would be an exciting read but actually found this Buddhist scripture quite boring – especially the detailed philosophical passages and Sanskrit terminology.  The thing that struck me, however – and still does – about The Tibetan Book Of The Living And The Dead, is the idea that the state of your mind at the moment of death determines the soul’s next birth.  This doctrine was supported by the concept of a subtle body which remains with the soul after the demise of the gross physical body.

Why would a nice Catholic boy be so convinced by eastern philosophy? Firstly, I vaguely accepted the concept of reincarnation ie. the soul accepts new bodies so long as it has not attained spiritual perfection and harbours material desires. Secondly, I also held the view, which all religions do, that our consciousness and the way we conduct ourselves in this life has an impact on our state of existence in the afterlife.  I could not, however, integrate the concept of an either/or Judeo-Christian theological understanding into my own existentially underdeveloped world-view.

Reincarnation made sense to me because it gave me power over my own destiny, by dint of proper use of free will.  Why would a loving God consign his beloved children to hell eternally for sinning on earth during a fractionally limited period of time? According to the Vedic understanding of reincarnation, we have been “sinning” eternally. In the same breath, devotional service to Krishna is an eternal opportunity – available at any moment. As the saying goes, “God helps those who help themselves.” Why should salvation, therefore, be limited to one lifetime?  And why should salvation be limited to one saviour or one religion?  If you accept Jesus in your life, you go to heaven; if  you don’t, you go to hell.  I just couldn’t accept such dogma.

The Vedas teach us to take responsibility for our livesf (ie. God helps those who help themselves).  This is an integral part of sanatana-dharma (eternal religion) or Hindu dharma. In order to overcome the Wheel of Samsara (repeated birth and death), we should develop spiritual consciousness – the same pure consciousness of the Spiritual World.  It makes sense that we can only live in the Spiritual World when we have the same quality of the Spiritual World.  Therefore the Vedas teach – ante narayana smriti, or ‘remember Narayana at the time of death.’  This philosophy is corroborated in the Bhagavad-gita: yam yam vapi smaran bhavam/ tyajaty ante kalevaram/ tam tam evaiti kaunteya/ sada tad-bhava-bhavitah – ‘Whatever  state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail‘.

If you are thinking of Krishna (Narayana or God) at the time of death, you will attain His abode: janma karma ca me divyam/ evam yo vetti tattvatah/ tyaktva deham punar janma/ naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna – ‘One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.’  The impersonal and voidist Buddhist teachings of the Bardo Thodol consider it perfection, or nirvana, to become nothing – to be freed of gross and subtle and spiritual forms.  The Gita, however, teaches us that it is possible to attain to an eternally blissful spiritual form in the Kingdom of God simply by remembering Krishna at the time of death. The Bhagavata Purana documents the success of the great devotee-king Maharaja Parikisit at the time of death.  Maharaja Parikisit was the world-ruler.  Cursed to die in seven days, he gave up his kingdom in order to fix his mind on the Lord at the time of death – which he managed to do.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes in Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 1.18.4 purport: ‘Thus a submissive disciple is able to live transcendentally and continue to the end of life.  By scientific adaptation, one is able to remember the Lord even at the end of life, when the power of remembrance is slackened due to derangement of bodily membranes.  For a common man, it is very difficult to remember things as they are at the time of death, but by the grace of the Lord and His bona fide devotees, the spiritual masters, one can get this opportunity without difficulty.  And it was done in the case of Maharaja Parikisit.’