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“A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION”
Krishna Consciousness and the Judeo-Christian Tradition
A Guide to Interfaith Discussion
"At the present moment human society teaches one to love his country or family or his personal self, but there is no information about where to repose this loving propensity so that everyone becomes happy. That missing point is God. If we learn to love God, then it is very easy to immediately and simultaneously love every living being."
---The Nectar of Devotion
In the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of the main scriptures in the Vaishnava canon, Lord Krishna tells His disciple Uddhava that the spiritual master is "one with Me" (compare John 10:30, 17:21), is to be revered as though he were an incarnation of God, and must never be mistaken for an ordinary man, because "he fully embodies all the qualities of God." (Compare Colossians 2:9)
Scripture teaches that one is saved and freed from all sins when he or she becomes the disciple of a divine master. The guru, or spiritual master, willingly suffers for the sins of his disciples. In his commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam (9:9:5), Srila Prabhupada explains: "...the spiritual master, after accepting a disciple, must take charge of that disciple’s past sinful activities and...suffer—if not fully, then partially—for the sinful acts of the disciple."
In a letter to his disciples Satsvarupa and Uddhava dated July 27, 1970, Srila Prabhupada wrote, "the spiritual master...has got the responsibility of absorbing the sinful reaction of his disciple’s life. This is a great responsibility of the spiritual master...To accept disciples means to take up the responsibility of absorbing the sinful reaction of life of the disciple." Srila Prabhupada similarly wrote to another disciple, "Regarding your question about sufferings of master, you can simply ponder over Lord Christ’s crucification." (Letter to Rebatinandan dasa, 12/31/72)
The guru is considered sinless, because he is obedient to the will of God through scripture; following the instructions of his own spiritual master. Thus, there is a living chain of saints and spiritual teachers who take on disciples and guide them towards maturity in their relationship with God. Brother Aelred (Chaitanya dasa), a Catholic monk and Krishna disciple in Australia, compares the disciplic succession in Krishna Consciousness to the Apostolic succession in Catholic Christianity.
Through a guru, one receives God’s directions on a deeper, more personal level than one receives through scripture itself. Moreover, it is taught in scripture that the only way to know God personally and intimately is through those souls whose relationship with Him is already established. No one comes to God except through a spiritual master. (Compare John 14:6)
From 1966 to 1977, Srila Prabhupada established more than 100 spiritual centers, temples, rural communities, schools, publishing firms and institutes. He circled the globe 14 times on lecture tours on six continents, and still found time to write prolifically. Srila Prabhupada wrote more than 70 books, constituting a comprehensive library of Vedic philosophy, religion, literature, and culture.
"Srila Prabhupada’s works reveal profound scholarship...His translations of the verses are exceptionally lucid and reveal the real spirit of the original..." wrote Dr. Ranjan Borra of the United States Library of Congress. "His books are a veritable encyclopedia of Indian philosophy, religion, and culture." The Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year, 1976, reported: "In the period from October 1968 to November 1975, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami astonished academic and literary communities worldwide by writing and publishing 52 books on the ancient Vedic culture."
Complete sets of Srila Prabhupada’s books have been purchased by the libraries and professors of most major universities around the world, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne. Srila Prabhupada has some ten thousand disciples worldwide and a congregational following in the millions.
"Srila Prabhupada was not just another oriental scholar, guru, mystic yoga teacher, or meditation instructor," insists Mukunda Goswami, one of his first American disciples. "He was the embodiment of a whole culture, and he implanted that culture in the West. To me and many others, he was first and foremost someone who truly cared, who completely sacrificed his own comfort to work for the good of others. He taught spiritual science, philosophy, common sense, the arts, languages, the Vedic way of life—hygiene, nutrition, medicine, etiquette, family living, farming, social organization, schooling, economics—and many more things to many people. To me he was a master, a father, and my dearmost friend."
Dr. Larry Shinn explains:
"The notion of a guru is a very Asian concept... However, the notion that one can achieve knowledge or experience of the divine through another human being is an age-old notion...(Christians) assert that they can come to know God’s will by listening to the words of Jesus and by observing Jesus in action and by observing his life. So he serves as a mediator between a divine...and human beings."
According to Dr. Thomas J. Hopkins, author of The Hindu Religious Tradition:
"He was a genuine holy person with enormous integrity and compassion, and he had a powerful impact on those who met him...He never claimed authority and respect for himself; what he said and did was always in the name of Krishna...A remarkable man, and a remarkable achievement."
"I shall be forever grateful for the opportunity to have met with this great spiritual leader, and the personal inspiration that he provided for me..." said Michigan state representative Jackie Vaughn III. "The movement which he brought to this country will continue for generations, and there can be no more fitting tribute to this great leader and teacher. We can all find comfort in knowing that he lived a life amongst us filled with hope and that his spirit will live always."
Srila Prabhupada taught nonviolence towards animals as well as human beings. In the course of his lectures, essays and commentary on scripture, he expressed moral opposition to sport hunting and experimentation on animals. In his writings, lectures and conversations, he analyzed why monarchies fell, and why secular democracies will eventually fail. He attacked Marxism, Darwin, Freud, and the space program.
Srila Prabhupada emphasized living simply and close to nature, like the Amish, teaching that young girls should be taught "traditional values" like cooking, sewing, and subservience to their husbands and would be married no later than age 16. He similarly taught that young men should be taught to work the land and remain celibate until age 24, when permitted to marry.
Srila Prabhupada established two orders of monks—bramachari and sannyassi, and (like Jesus) taught the renunciation of material possessions and family ties. He denounced drug and alcohol use, caffeine, tobacco, pornography, miniskirts, fornication, cinemas, contraception ("We regard the rhythm method as a form of cheating," says Ravindra Svarupa dasa), unmarried couples living together, divorce, and, of course, abortion.
Srila Prabhupada called homosexuality "most unnatural," and agreed with a Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publication, The Watchtower, which criticized a liberal clergyman for performing a same-sex marriage. Yet Srila Prabhupada also accepted homosexuals as his disciples, as long as they observed the same vows as everyone else. Beginning in 1963, Allen Ginsberg, a homosexual, beatnik poet, began spreading the chanting of "Hare Krishna" across North America. During the late 1960s, Srila Prabhupada welcomed Ginsberg as an honored guest, and even encouraged him to join the Krishna Consciousness movement.
However, Srila Prabhupada scoffed at the religious leaders and politicians who talk about "universal brotherhood," yet exclude animals from moral concern. He taught that nonviolence is the first principle of spiritual life (Letter to Bhakta dasa, August 3, 1973) and that the saints and mystics see all living entities with equal vision. We are all equal in God’s eyes—whether one is incarcerated inside the body of a bird, fish, reptile, mammal, demigod, poet, merchant, insect, etc...He taught that social ills such as racism, sexism, caste-ism, nationalism, speciesism, etc...arise because eternal souls falsely identify with their temporary bodies—on the spiritual platform, we are all equal. (Compare Colossians 3:11 and Galatians 3:28)
Srila Prabhupada responded to the Declaration of Independence by saying animals also have the right to life; animals as well as humans are protected in an enlightened civilization. Srila Prabhupada taught that our present civilization cannot even be considered human, because of the practice of slaughtering animals for food and sport. He equated eating meat with cannibalizing small children, and candidly told a Catholic priest in London in 1973 that, "Animal-killers cannot understand God. I have seen this. It is a fact."
Srila Prabhupada taught that spiritual life and devotion to a personal God liberate one’s spirit from the bondage of the flesh. On the other hand, "...one who has not heard the message of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead—even for a moment—he’s an animal. The general mass of people, unless they are trained systematically for a higher standard of life in spiritual values are no better than animals. They are on the level of dogs, hogs, camels, and asses."
In an interview with India’s Bhavan’s Journal in August 1976, Srila Prabhupada commented on the "widespread deterioration of moral values" as follows: "...religion is on the wane...when there is no religion, it is simply animal life...So when the human beings become uninterested in religious things, then they are animals...In human society either you become Christian Muhammadan, Hindu, or Buddhist, it doesn’t matter. There must be some system of religion. Human society without religion is animal society...because religion is declining, the human beings are becoming more and more like animals."
The Srimad Bhagavatam says that one who considers the body to be the self is no better than a cow or an ass. Srila Prabhupada called Hindus who become Westernized "new crows." He said, "Crows eat stool, but new crows eat more stool." (Compare this to the teaching found in the New Testament, where St. Peter likens sinners to irrational brute beasts; II Peter 2:12.) When Srila Prabhupada made candid statements like these, he spoke truthfully. During the 1960s and 1970s, he repeatedly warned young people that if they weren’t careful, they could be reborn as dogs.
A similar warning can be found in the Upanishads:
"Those who are of pleasant conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter a pleasant womb, either the womb of a Brahmin, or the womb of a Kshatriya, or the womb of a Vaisya.
"But those who are of stinking conduct here—the prospect is, indeed, that they will enter either the womb of a dog, or the womb of a swine, or the womb of an outcast."
Active participation in devotional life, however, is meant for all of humanity, and is not restricted only to those who follow vows and religiously observe the nonsectarian principles of austerity, mercifulness, truthfulness and cleanliness. According to Srila Prabhupada, this opportunity for love and service is open to everyone:
"...if you want to be a family man—if you cannot dedicate twenty-four hours daily—then earn money and use it to spread Krishna Consciousness...if you cannot earn money, then use your intelligence. There is so much intellectual work to do—publication, research, and so on. If you cannot do that, then utilize your words to tell people about Krishna. So where is the scarcity of opportunities? You can serve Krishna in any capacity, provided you want to serve."
Elsewhere, Srila Prabhupada explains: "One who isn’t initiated may chant Hare Krishna (and should certainly be encouraged to do so) and serve in his own way, and gradually by doing so he may want to be initiated." (Letter to Satsvarupa dasa 11/14/68)
According to the ISKCON public relations guide, Who Are They?, congregational outreach is now reality. Mukunda Goswami introduces the reader to the Hare Krishna movement in strictly congregational terms:
"You’ll probably be surprised to learn that you don’t have to wear traditional robes or change your hairstyle or religion to be a part of the Hare Krishna movement.
"You’ll discover that Krishna Consciousness is much more than a religion. It’s a spiritual movement; a universal, time-tested process for achieving inner happiness, satisfaction, and higher awareness. And you’ll meet people from all walks of life who are applying their knowledge, skills, and resources to bring about a better world, beginning with the all-important realm of consciousness.
"The Krishna Consciousness movement is a transcendental outreach program unparalleled anywhere in the world."
In the section of Who Are They? entitled "A Worldwide Congregation," Krishna’s congregation—legal secretaries, surgeons, biochemists, ordinary folks—are depicted. ISKCON’s Southwestern U.S. Regional Membership Director, Rose Forkash, writes:
"With a worldwide congregational membership well over six million, the Hare Krishna movement has a growing responsibility. We are committed both to our rapidly expanding membership and to nonmembers in all walks of life...Whatever you do, whatever your age, race, sex, or religious affiliation, the Hare Krishna movement can offer you many benefits. If you do nothing more than chant the Hare Krishna mantra, you’re already closer to spiritual success."
Since the 1980s, loose-knit temple congregations have begun to emerge. In an introductory pamphlet, intended for congregational use, entitled Krishna Consciousness at Home: A Practical Guide, Mahatma dasa quotes Bhagavad-gita 2:40, concluding:
"The beauty of Krishna Consciousness is that you can take as much as you are ready for. Krishna Himself promises in the Bhagavad-gita, ‘There is no loss or diminution in this endeavor, and even a little advancement on this path protects one from the greatest type of fear.’"
Ravindra Svarupa dasa (Dr. William Deadwyler), recognized as one of the leaders of reform in ISKCON, reflects upon Srila Prabhupada’s words on page 31 of the November/December 1991 issue of Back to Godhead:
"In commenting on the twelfth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada makes it really clear that the Hare Krishna movement is in principle made up of three groups of people. Krishna says, ‘Surrender to Me.’ So first are those who are spontaneously attracted to surrender to Krishna.
"Then Krishna says, ‘If you can’t do that, follow the regulative principles of devotional service.’ And in the purport Srila Prabhupada makes it clear what this means: rising early, taking a shower, going to the morning program, and so on, under the supervision of the spiritual master. So those who do this are in the second group.
"Then Krishna says, ‘If you can’t do that, then work for Me.’ And Srila Prabhupada says that this means that at least one should be sympathetic to the propagation of Krishna Consciousness. Every organization requires land, capital, labor, and organization, so you can contribute one of these things. Those who do this are in the third group.
"These three groups make up the Hare Krishna movement. So there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the movement’s having all kinds of people who aren’t following the strict regulative principles.
"Where we have a problem is with people who have at one time or another taken formal vows to follow the principles of the second group and then found themselves unable to keep them."
Srila Prabhupada stressed evangelization. He propagated the chanting of the Lord’s holy names with an evangelical zeal, and astounded the literary and academic communities by translating, writing commentary on, and publishing over 70 volumes of scripture, as well as books on the classical Vedic civilization. His books are now used as standard texts in universities around the world. He introduced the traditional dress codes, cuisine, hygiene, etiquette, weddings, festivals, music, dance and drama of the traditional Vedic culture. He taught liturgies both in Sanskrit and Bengali.
Srila Prabhupada may be compared to other Vaishnava acharyas (holy teachers and founders of institutions) such as Madhva or Ramanuja. A guru, or living spiritual master, suffers for the sins of his disciples, once they have taken formal vows to follow him. A guru is also given the honor and worship Christians ascribe to Jesus Christ—he is revered as though he were an incarnation of God.
A few days before Srila Prabhupada left the planet in 1977, his godbrother Puri Maharaja said, "You have saved millions of people around the world...you should be called maha-patita-pavana (the great savior of the fallen)."
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