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- Contemporary Preaching -

Page history last edited by Arka das 14 years, 9 months ago

The following is a Saturday night darshan lecture given by Srila Acharyadeva in Gainesville on September 27, 2008.  The darshan was simultaneously broadcasted to Sydney, Australia via ustream.  Thus, the Australian devotees were able to write in questions as Srila Acharyadeva spoke.














Ok, contemporary preaching. Ok, we'll take off. First of all we should consider what the word contemporary means. “Tempo” is “time”: Latin “time”, “tempo” in Spanish. “Contemporary” means “at the same time” so to do contemporary preaching means that you are actually in the same time as everybody else. It's not like everybody else is in 2008 and you're in 1972 or something like that. So, “contemporary” simply means that you're not in a time warp, that you actually exist on the same planet, at the same time, as everybody else. That's what the word 'contemporary' means. So, if you're not doing contemporary preaching, you're sort of not on the same planet as everybody else and they're not really going to hear what you are saying.


I've made this point many times. I think it's a very simple point, some people find it shocking, but I think it's actually quite simple. A spiritual movement, ISKCON especially, has two very important responsibilities. We have to preserve our tradition, we have to preserve what Prabhupada has given us through parampara, and at the same time we have to adapt. As we know, species and creatures that don't adapt go extinct. So we have to do both those things. If it was that simple, we could just be orthodox - after all, if we took, in the most literal sense, that we should just repeat what the Guru says, first of all we would all be speaking Sanskrit or, if we were a little more modern, we'd be speaking Bengali. The very fact that Prabhupada spoke English was already an adjustment; due to the fact that Prabhupada spoke to contemporary issues he used contemporary language.


An example of Prabhupada using contemporary language is in a term that we use all the time. We almost say it with every breath we take. It appears about 2000 time in the VedaBase and it's actually not in the scriptures. That is, the term 'Vedic culture'. I don't mean to say there is no such thing as 'Vedic culture'; I'm simply saying that the literal expression 'Vedic culture' is not found within the authoritative books of Vedic culture. So to talk about a culture like 'Australian culture' or 'American culture' (those are both kind of jokes) or 'Tasmanian culture', 'Nigerian Culture', 'Mexican Culture', or whatever, 'Bohemian culture', it means a set of behaviors, dress, architecture, language, marriage rituals, dance, music, cooking, hairstyles (such as the Hare Krishna reverse Mohawk…), etc. So Prabhupada used this term 'Vedic culture' which is not actually found, literally, in sastra.


Here's another term that Prabhupada used which is not literally found in sastra, 'causeless mercy'. I mean, we say that all the time. Every time we get an extra sweet ball we say 'causeless mercy!’ or every time anything good happens. But actually the term 'causeless mercy' is not literally in scriptures. It is a concept that we understand, and it's a valid concept, just like 'Vedic culture' is, but it's an example of a new type of language.


Here's another adaptation; Prabhupada placed much more emphasis than any previous Acarya, including Lord Caitanya, on the freedom that people have to move within the varna system; that your birth doesn't matter and you can go anywhere. Arjuna for example, who's certainly one of the most famous members of the Hare Krishna Movement. In the Bhagavad-gita in Chapter One, his main concern is what Prabhupada translates as 'unwanted progeny' but that's not a literal translation of what Arjuna said. What Arjuna literally said was that he was afraid of varna mixing. (Wait one sec, we have some visitors. Actually, even as we're speaking with Australia we actually have people coming in here. They're like living props so I can have some living props in front of me. "Hare Krishna, come on in.") (Anyway, I'm glad to see in Australia you're laughing at my jokes. That's a sign of sincere Krishna consciousness.) So, in the first chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna's real concern is the mixing of varnas; 'varna sankara', the word 'sankara' means 'mixing'. Now obviously Prabhupada was not deeply concerned about mixing varnas. In fact, it was just the opposite. He stressed the importance of absolute varna freedom. Anyone can take any position based on their qualifications or, even if your not sure you're qualified, take a shot at it and the worst that can happen... anyway… we don't need to joke too much about the early history of ISKCON. Arjuna's concern was about varna-mixing. Of course, Krishna doesn't necessarily, exactly, share Arjuna's concern - not exactly in the same way. The extent to which Prabhupada emphasized a freedom of varna-movement was, you could say, almost unprecedented. Is it 'Vedic'? Yes. Is there a precedent for it? Yes, but not to the extent that Prabhupada did it. Prabhupada clearly made an adjustment because he was preaching at a time when, for practical purposes, the most practical purpose, the varna system was dysfunctional. Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, 'vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyo' 'by all the Vedas I am to be known', and that means Vedic culture is the culture that teaches you about Krishna. Yet the varna system for a long time in India was not effectively functioning to train people in Krishna consciousness. There were some major glitches in the system historically. And therefore Prabhupada saw a need, in a sense, to recreate the system and to do that he had to say that at this point there is complete freedom to move into higher varnas if you can do it, and offer to people this extraordinary, you could say almost unprecedented, opportunity. I mean, we don't know if it's unprecedented because in different times in history... well, to give an example, if you study the European varna system. Europe had a varna system by the way. Until just a few centuries ago they had a hereditary caste system. Some times Western people get all 'uppity' about the Indian caste system but actually Europe, for many many centuries had a hereditary caste system. They called the varnas, in English, 'estates'. There were three estates: the first estate was the 'clergy', that means brahmanas; the second estate was the 'nobility', ksatriyas; and the third estate was the ‘common people’, which was the vaisyas and sudras. They didn't make that distinction so clearly which was a blunder and resulted in the French Revolution. Anyway, so Europe had these hereditary castes which ended not simply because they had some kind of philosophical enlightenment, although there were people against it, the hereditary caste system ended in Europe for the same reason it's ending in India and that is because of industrialization, the Industrial Revolution.


The caste system is based on an agrarian economy. The reason, by the way, if you're interested to understand why it's so hard to resurrect the varna system in the world, is because it is based on an agrarian economy and, as Bhakta Carl explains (Carl Marx), the means of production determines social and political structures. So actually all over the world when there was an agrarian, pre-industrial economy, people had hereditary caste systems, and these systems collapsed when there was an industrial revolution. Anyway, the point I wanted to make here is that if you study Europe just during and just after the Great Plague, I don't know exactly how many centuries that was ago, something like 800 years ago approximately. They had these great bubonic plagues and because the population was so decimated, so devastated, there was a lot more upward mobility because there was just no one to do anything. It's like, in other words, if you're were a noble and you wanted someone to come and farm your land, if you weren't nice to him, there were about fifty other nobles begging him to farm their land. Because the population was so devastated and there were so few people, there was a lot more upward mobility. Of course, once the population grew again they closed off that outlet. But anyway, what I wanted to say is that even if you study the Buddhist movement, if you study the early history of Buddhism, they also emphasized social freedom. The Jesus movement emphasized that the old hierarchies were no longer really valid and a new social structure needed to be created based on a higher set of values. So Prabhupada did basically what every great teacher does that starts a powerful spiritual movement and that is to insist that people have the freedom to recreate or restructure a valid social hierarchy. That's just an example of Prabhupada adapting for a contemporary society.


Throughout the history of religion, adjustments and adaptations need to be made because, if ISKCON does not adapt, ISKCON will be an endangered species. And some temples are sort of endangered. You know, in the sense that... Here's something hilarious, in a sort of a tragical, comical way; one of the main things that Prabhupada used to say when he would visit America back in the good old days, when he would have a press conference when he arrived in America, or at the temple when there was a big reception and there were all kinds of visitors and reporters and so on, he would always say "these devotees are American boys and girls, I have not imported them from India." In other words, “your own country's people are taking to Krishna consciousness.” Now in America you would have to say "these devotees are not American, we've imported them from India and East Europe and Latin America." But that's progress I guess (sarcastically said). It's not that people can't come from other countries and serve Krishna, it's just that if we have to keep our temples going by importing people from other countries, maybe we should consider the remote, but still existing, possibility that we could be doing something better. I realize that's a remote possibility, but still there's a possibility that we could be doing something better. Now here in Gainesville we have an excellent program. Kala Kantha, a Godbrother of mine, is doing an excellent program and we actually have many local devotees who are in the movement, and students from the university. We have some of them right here actually. Anyway, as far as contemporary preaching, Prabhupada once said.... Oh, we have a question here: "how do you think we will again attract Americans and Australians to our movement?" First of all, I think there is one important distinction that we have to keep in mind, and that that the bhedabheda philosophy. Bheda means different and abheda means non-different. This applies not only to our relationship with Krishna, but also applies to our relationship with other souls. The relationship between devotees and non-devotees, people we lovingly call the 'karmis', at least in those places where we're still allowed to use the 'k word'. The relationship between devotees and non-devotees is that we're one and different. And if we overemphasize the oneness or if we overemphasize the difference then we are not in focus and the movement won't really be strong. In other words, if we present ourselves in a way that we are so different from the non-devotees that they cannot easily identify with us then they will not be attracted to our movement. I think that we have to ask ourselves whether our presentation allows people to easily identify with us. Now of course ISKCON is very deeply attached to the notion of exotic uniforms. In other words, we should not only wear a uniform, we should wear such an exotic uniform that no one in the world could possibly misunderstand who we are; we're Buddhists. (Laughter) Anyway, that's what a lot of people think nowadays in certain places. Now, here are a few points that I would like to make. I mean, I realize that Prabhupada said, as a detail, a principle, not as a general principle but just a detail, that we could wear a uniform. Now there are several points to make about uniforms. So we're going to have a little uniform-katha. First of all, there's no strong evidence in our books such as Caitanya Caritamrita or Caitanya Bhagavat that Lord Caitanya Himself had a uniform, a Hare Krishna uniform, or that His followers had Hare Krishna uniforms. There's no real evidence there even was such a thing as a devotee-uniform back then. For example, Lord Caitanya took His devotees out on Harinama Sankirtana, Nagar Sankirtana in Navadvipa, there is simply no evidence in our books that they were dressed differently than everyone else in the city. So devotees have the very strong idea that if we don't go out on Harinama dressed in a very exotic uniform that somehow we are betraying Lord Caitanya, but there's actually no evidence that Lord Caitanya even used a uniform other than just sannyasa dress. We know for example that Lord Caitanya cut off His hair; he didn't have a sikha because he took sannyasa from an impersonal sampradaya. Why? Because that was the accredited “sannyasa degree.” He wanted an accredited sannyasa degree for preaching. Another thing is, even if we accept the need for a uniform, the question is what is the appropriate uniform? For example, in Australia you have police, right? I mean, I realize it's an enlightened society and probably there's no real need for things like police or anything, but probably you have police. I know in America we have police and sometime they have all kinds of pastimes like getting their pictures taken brutalizing minorities, which seems to be one of the great pastimes of police in this country. But anyway, police wear a certain uniform and if you look at the uniform that police wear that uniform is designed to inspire a particular consciousness. The uniform has a particular color, it's tailored in a certain way, it's cut in a certain way, and so when you see a policeman you don't merely know "that's a policeman", it goes beyond that. You also know there is a sense of authority because of the way the person is dressed. The same is true for football uniforms. They're not merely uniforms but they are designed to create a certain consciousness. And it's the same for, say, doctor’s uniforms. At least in America, they're white. That must be international, right? Doctors wear white. Why? Because white is sort of like a symbol of purity or cleanliness and so on. So doctors and nurses don't merely wear a uniform, they wear specific uniforms that are designed to create a certain consciousness. So now my question is, does our uniform... first of all, there's the issue of uniforms, for which there's no authority in our scriptures. But let's say, for example, as a modern tactic, as a modern strategy, we decide that we do want to wear uniforms. Prabhupada sometimes said we should wear uniforms, although he sometimes said we don't have to wear uniforms. But, assuming that we should only hear what Prabhupada says on one side, because that's a very popular thing to do, let's say even if we wear uniforms then what uniform should we wear? In Australia, for example, or America, if you wear, basically, Indian dress, what does that tell people? Now, one point; A dhoti is not a Vaisnava dress. In India if you wear a dhoti it does not mean you're a Vaisnava and it much less means that you're a Gaudiya Vaisnava. It may mean that you are an illiterate villager or it may mean you're a sadhu. It can have different meanings. In fact, one of the terms I've heard in India to say someone's old fashioned is a 'dhoti walla'. That's a term now in India. But anyway, a sari, I mean, in India if you wear a sari it does not mean you're a Vaisnavi. It just means you're an Indian lady, a Hindu lady. We have actually created something that didn't exist before, and that is the idea that a dhoti, an Indian dhoti, which is also used in Afghanistan by Taliban members and things… So that shows our ability to reach out to international communities... But we have actually created the idea that the dhoti and the sari are actually devotional Vaisnava dress. This is something that did not exist previously anywhere in the world, including India. Now, since we have created this new idea that these are devotional uniforms, there's a very simple question to ask. Do these uniforms, when we go out in public, effectively communicate what we want to communicate? It certainly communicates, perhaps, that we're members of the Hare Krishna movement, but does it inspire people to accept us as their spiritual leaders? Well, the numbers don't seem to prove that. Not only that, I mean, in terms of uniforms in general, I would say this: in Western culture now, generally, if you consider what is accepted as culturally neutral in the sense that it sort of places you in the centre of a culture and doesn't commit you to this side or that side, it just sort of puts you in the centre of the culture so that you can communicate with all kinds of people. So, in terms of what is central in Western culture, and increasingly in international culture, people who are Christian priests or Jewish Rabbais or even Buddhists, generally wear some kind of dress that indicates that they're clergy or belong to a particular religion but it's somewhat understated. For example, a Christian priest wears pants, which is kind of shocking for a male priest, and a shirt but will have often a little collar. If you look at the religious dress, say the Christian priest, Protestants and Catholics, if you look at the dress they use when they’re doing their sacred service in their church, it's much more exotic. Men wear robes and sometimes they wear high hats, which are unusual, and they may have all kinds of ornaments on them. But when they go out on the streets they dress in a way which is much more "normal". So the idea is that they have an exotic uniform that they use in their church, same thing for Rabbis; they have a much more normal uniform that they wear when they go out in public so that people can relate to them more easily. Sometimes you see people wearing Buddhist robes, but almost all the time in America when you see Buddhists wearing robes they're actually not Americans, they come from Tibet or somewhere else, so it's like "Oh my God, a Tibetan is dressed like a Tibetan." Anyway, people can deal with that. The idea is that... for example, Jewish Rabbis also have these exotic robes, sometimes they wear orthodox dress but not in public. For example, devotees wear neck beads or they have a brahman thread. That's a kind of modest and respectable way of indicating that you belong to a certain religion or that you are a clergy.


Prabhupada approved that devotees go out on sankirtana wearing normal dress. He even approved of the brahmacaris slightly letting their hair grow. That didn't catch on, and for some brahmacaris it may make them a little romantic, they'll start to think that they're handsome. But still, Prabhupada said that his fear was that we would again become hippies. Prabhupada's fear was that we'd become hippies again but otherwise Prabhupada himself was a householder dressed normally. So I find it interesting that we have made it much more difficult to approach devotees than Lord Caitanya did. Lord Caitanya actually took out His Harinama party and He was dressed like everybody else so the only thing different about the devotees was that they were chanting Hare Krishna. So the only question was, "why are you chanting Hare Krishna?"  My humble opinion, speaking as a senior cult leader, just kidding; my humble opinion, speaking based on my own experience, is that we very powerfully give the impression that if you want to seriously practice Bhakti Yoga, or if you just want to practice Bhakti Yoga, you first have to become ethically Indian. Now there's nothing wrong with India, it's just that we're not in India at the present time. If we were in India, we would do things in a way which made sense to Indians, obviously.



…If we were in India, we would do things in a way which made sense to Indians, obviously.

Or if we were in any other country. So the funny thing is that Indians themselves, I mean, if you go to a prestigious or just any serious university in India and count how many male students you see wearing dhotis… So the funny thing is, India, which is increasingly becoming an important country in the new global environment, global economy and everything - actually, I just read a very interesting article that India has adopted sort of a new military strategy. Up until very recently, India's basic military strategy was to be able to contain Pakistan, and defend themselves against China. That was like the center of India's military strategy. But now, because India is becoming increasingly an important country in the world economically (now economically means everything else), they are actually taking serious steps to project their military capabilities onto an international stage. For example, they're purchasing things like long-range military aircraft and certain types of long-range naval equipment, which is actually meant to be able to protect Indian interests internationally. To protect their economic interests, the supply of oil that is necessary to keep the country going and so on. So it's very interesting how India itself is increasingly... it's almost like ships passing in the night; we're trying to become Indians, you know, sort of circa 1960's or something, and India meanwhile is going the other way. Of course, it's lonely at the top. So my point is that we are creating... You know, Prabhupada always said that the beauty of Lord Caitanya's movement was that Lord Caitanya removed all kinds of artificial impediments and obstacles and burdens which kept people from taking up spiritual life. He gave the example of the Sankara sampradaya, where, as Prabhupada said, they put the first condition that you first take up the renounced order of life and only then talk about spiritual improvement. So, ISKCON, for various very easily analyzable socio-historical-psychological reasons, has developed, I think, an ahistorical conviction. In other words, a conviction that has no real basis in history; that Indian ethnic preferences around the time that Prabhupada came to the West reflects eternal Vedic culture. In other words, certain kinds of cuisine, dress... Of course, certain things come from Lord Caitanya like mrdanga and karatals obviously, which we use. Other things just happened to be sort of like Indian cultural preferences at the time that Prabhupada grew up and at the time Prabhupada came to America. Somehow these things are sort of a master ethnicity, a reflection of the spiritual world. And with this goes a type of unstated assumption, which is philosophically wrong in my humble opinion, but which is actually a pillar of our self-understanding yet there is no philosophical or scriptural basis for it. And that is that in effect we are practicing a sort of 'Vaikuntha sadhana' in the sense that we are dressing as people dress in the spiritual world, we are using the same musical instruments that people use in the spiritual world, cooking the same preparations people cook in the spiritual world, using the same architecture which you will find the spiritual world, and therefore we are in effect practicing Vaikuntha-sadhana. We are in every way sort of adopting absolute-ethnicity. And like I said, I don't think there is any philosophical or scriptural basis for this, it's just... Now, I don't mean to throw everything out and I'm not trying to turning everything upside down or the right side up in ISKCON but I do believe that if we want to attract intelligent people (or of course the attractive alternative, we could always become a blue-collar movement)... If we actually want to attract intelligent people and recreate a Vaisnava brahmana class, which was Prabhupada's real vision, we have to make a rational presentation of Krishna consciousness. We have to present Krishna consciousness in a way that is actually scientific. As we know, if you, let's say, have a health problem and there is a health science which can deal with it but there are no doctors available to you, the mere existence of a health science is not going to help you. It's not good enough to have a spiritual science in the world, there has to be spiritual scientists. Rupa Goswami makes a very powerful distinction in Chapter Six of the Bhakti Rasamrita Sindhu between basic principles and details. He says that there are certain basic principles of Bhakti Yoga and there are certain details, and the basic principles are things like: accept a bonafide Guru, learn from the Guru how to practice Bhakti Yoga, read the Bhagavatam, worship Tulasi, associate with devotees; it's on that level. He doesn't get down to things like recipes for cooking, architectural preferences, dress style, or anything like that. In fact he doesn't even get near that. Even when he gives examples of detailed principles they are not even that detailed. So if we confuse certain external aspects with basic principles, if we merge those two, in effect we are ruining the spiritual science. We are ruining the science. It's almost like, let's say you are a doctor but you are so attached to all of the external things that you are walking down the street and you see someone who has just had a heart attack or has fainted or something and, as a doctor, you think "I can't really treat you until I get you into a white hospital gown, and I have to have you signed in and everything. So, because you’re not in that white hospital gown, I can't really treat you right now." It's madness. And there are so many stories nowadays of people actually dying… Of course, in America, which is one of the great world centers of social-Darwinism, if you look at the medical system… there are stories which you probably read about of people dying in emergency rooms in American hospitals. Some guy just died the other day; it was 19 hours. So the same way, people are going to hell while we are kind of doing the paper work on them. And there's another point. While we are giving all kinds of Bhakti Shastri schools where you learn basically how to give Bhagavatam classes to people who have already joined the Hare Krishna movement, which is a very good skill. My point is that Prabhupada's basic definition of a temple is a center, a base, for preaching. He used a military metaphor; it's like a military base. We go out to drop the bombs of spiritual knowledge (and to drop the bombs of all kinds of cheap paraphernalia that we can sell to people). Prabhupada said that the temples are actually meant to go out and preach but in order to keep the devotees strong we worship the deity. So the temple is for preaching. But, because when you go out on the street you have to take the position of authority, because you have tell people what the truth is, and you can't always, you know, every time you go to the bathroom you can't take a bath and put on fresh tilak when you are out on the street preaching, or working, or just doing something out in the world. So therefore we need a temple room where we can come back and really keep clean, put on tilak, go in front of the deity and, not as a teacher, but as a worshiper, as a humble worshiper, bow down. That's what temple rooms are for. They allow us to get back in touch with our brahminical principles so that we can remain sane and go out and preach. Now in America many temples have absolutely inverted Prabhupada's definition of the temple because a temple is basically a place where you worship the deity and you have to preach a little bit in order to get enough donations to keep the deity worship going. So temples are actually for deity worship and you have to sometimes go out and preach to people to get donations to keep the deity worship going. So it's exactly the opposite of what Prabhupada actually taught, what Prabhupada actually taught me personally. So therefore when we sacrifice the preaching because we live in a temple where a certain deity-worship standard was established when there was maybe like twenty or thirty brahmanas in the temple, and now there are two or three brahmanas, or ten times less brahmanas, and we feel that we have to keep the same deity worship standard even if it means destroying the preaching. What happens then is effectively our communities become third-class communities. They become kanistha-adhikari communities because that's the official definition of a third class or materialistic devotee in the Bhagavatam; that someone who is really focused on the deity worship and neglects to honor, to worship, Krishna in the hearts of the devotees and in the hearts of all living beings. That person, the Bhagavatam says (don't kill the messenger, I'm just repeating what the Bhagavatam, what Prabhupada says) is a prakrita bhakta, a devotee on the material platform. Someone actually worships Krishna in the temple and does not honor Krishna, that same deity, in the hearts of the devotees and even the non-devotees, of all creatures, by serving them, by enlightening them, that devotee is actually on the material platform. It doesn't mean we don't worship the deity, it doesn't mean the deity is not important, it just means we worship the deities to get strength to go out and try to save the world. That's why we worship the deity. Prabhupada personally told me in Los Angeles; he received a letter from Tejas, a disciple of his, who then was president of New Dehli. ISKCON didn’t own a temple in New Dehli at that time, we just had a rented house. It was a nice house in a good neighborhood, and Tejas wrote a letter to Prabhupada saying he gave up that house and rented a smaller house in a neighborhood that wasn't as good. The reason he gave was that he was alone in the temple (that's another story), he was by himself in the temple, everyone had left, and he had to maintain the deity worship and, because he had to maintain the deity worship, he didn't have time go out very much to make life members and therefore couldn't collect enough to maintain the house. When Prabhupada got the letter he was very unhappy and he said to me personally “he has done the wrong thing. He should have simplified the deity worship and kept the preaching going." Now we can observe in various temples that the wrong thing has become a sacred duty. In other words, I've seen this myself as a GBC taking over temples and having to revitalize them; a temple that literally had twenty or thirty brahmanas was now a temple with two or three brahmanas maintaining the same standard of deity worship because it's an unacceptable offense to simplify the deity worship but it is acceptable to destroy the preaching. Even though Prabhupada said exactly the opposite. The amazing thing is, and this is a really fascinating point for those interested in the sociology of religion, in one particular temple where I took over GBC, even when I explained over and over and over again "this is a direct instruction I got from Prabhupada and we need to start to get the preaching going", many devotees still became angry, in the congregation and other places, and thought that I was being offensive by carrying out Prabhupada's direct instruction to me. And, not only carrying out Prabhupada's direct instruction to me, but an obvious, commonsense instruction for everyone. It is the Sankirtana movement and the attitude of taking one's own internal rituals as being more important than saving the world is one of the most obvious signs of a religion which is losing it's spiritual quality. Fortunately, ISKCON is not losing its spiritual quality; ISKCON is a great movement. What we're talking about are problems here and there. After all, Lord Caitanya gave the example of a garden and we are the gardeners and we have to watch out for weeds. Weeds appear not only in our individual 'devotional gardens', they appear in our collective community gardens. There are community-weeds and societal-weeds and that's just the nature of this world; we have to constantly be vigilant. ISKCON is not only a great society, it's, in my humble opinion, actually, not my opinion, I think it's a fact, the greatest spiritual movement in the world. It's a movement that's offering the greatest spiritual knowledge and ISKCON is very much alive and healthy. It’s not like a movement on its deathbed by any means. The way we keep ISKCON healthy is by not being so arrogant that we cannot engage in self-criticism. The inability to engage in self-criticism is a very dangerous sign. It's a very dangerous sign. So our ability to engage in vigorous and positive and constructive and loving self-criticism is a sign that we actually are a healthy movement. Otherwise it would be absurd for us to say, you know, 'trnad-api-sunicena', 'lower than the straw in the street', and then be allergic to criticism. I mean, that would be kind of, well, very subtly, hypocritical. So we have to be willing to discuss these things. I mean, obviously we don't offend the deities. The deity is Krishna; it is Krishna. We have to take the deity very, very seriously because it is Krishna and, whatever standard we have, the deity worship has to be extremely serious and well done. However, if you ask the question, what does Krishna prefer; Krishna, who several times in the Bhagavad-gita says "I'm your Father", and your Mother, actually. So what does Krishna prefer? That we go out and save his lost children? Or cook maybe a few more fried preparations to help people double their cholesterol? I mean, imagine. So many devotees now are parents. You're either parents or you have parents. Imagine good, loving parents. If good, loving parents see that some of their children are lost or have gone away from home and some of the other children want to go and bring them back to the parents, what are the loving parents going to say? "No, don't go and save my lost children, I want to have another feast. I only had three feasts today; I think I'd like to have four feasts. Or maybe five feasts today. So therefore let my children go to hell, I want more rich food." Can we even begin to imagine that any decent mother or father could ever think like that?


Obviously Krishna wants us to worship Him in His deity form enough so that we become healthy in Krishna consciousness. It's not that Krishna needs all kinds of rich foods. It's interesting because in the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says… it's very clear that the highest stage of material behavior, which you then offer to Krishna, is in the mode of goodness. Krishna analyses about a couple of dozen different aspects of human behavior such as food, determination, work, consciousness, etc. Krishna analyses many, all of like the basic aspects of human life and behavior and awareness in these three modes and in every case, without exception, the mode of goodness is the highest. Basically, we should take behavior in the mode of goodness and offer it to Krishna, which spiritualizes it because the spiritual platform is called “vasudeva sattva”. It is goodness, sattva guna, which has been made spiritual by offering it to Krishna. That, by the way, is our philosophy. Vasudeva sattva; living in the mode of goodness and offering your life to Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna clearly says that food in the mode of goodness is that food which is arogya (healthy), and which is ayuh (it prolongs life). Now it is a well know fact that we have what I call the 'ISKCON killer-diet' in many places. Many of the foods that we think Krishna really wants are actually not healthy and, rather than prolong life, they actually curtail life. They actually shorten human life. Krishna specifically mentions in the Bhagavad-gita that hot, spicy food is in the mode of passion. Krishna emphasizes in the Bhagavad-gita that hot, spicy food is in the mode of passion. So therefore according to the Bhagavad-gita what Krishna really wants is healthy food that prolongs life; although some people thing that's maya and that Krishna doesn’t like anything that doesn't triple our cholesterol.


Obviously if in our relationship with the deity, if in our worship of the deity, if we become so simple that we ourselves are losing our consciousness that “this is God”, that's what Krishna doesn't want. But no matter how simple you're deity worship is, if you are understanding "this is God", that Krishna has personally come and is standing in front of me… If you understand that, then you have gotten the benefit of deity worship. It's not that there is some absolute standard.

Prabhupada himself says it in his purport to the Bhagavatam, 4.8.54; there is no stereotyped standard. Even ISKCON books on deity worship say that you can worship the deity according a standard that is practical for you. What is practical? Deity worship has to accomplish two purposes, and then it's practical for you: 1) you do enough so that you remember that the deity is God, and; 2) you do the right amount so that you have most of your time to go out and save Krishna's children. Those two things are not in conflict.


Our first responsibility, Prabhupada said, is to preach. We have to go out and preach and then we do enough deity worship to keep ourselves in the right consciousness. Krishna doesn't want three preparations or a thousand preparations or no preparations or a million preparations. He wants you to be Krishna conscious. That's why he comes in the deity form; he wants to save you. That's why he comes in the deity form, but He wants you to go out and save everybody else. So some, frankly, wrong-headed idea that we can wipe out preaching in the name of deity worship is to completely misunderstand Prabhupada's teachings. In many ISKCON temples in America, because they have this idea that temples basically exist for deity worship, therefore they have to bring pujaris and they have to get donations and the whole temple becomes completely unintelligible to local people. If American people come to the temple, or Australian people come to the temple, they feel they're in some other country because the temple has to be adjusted so that it's comfortable for the people giving the money and the people giving the money often are people who are not really interested in preaching but are very interested in deity worship. Pardon me for being so blunt but I think what I am saying is true. Anyway, are there any questions on your part? Any questions here or in Australia? Oh, here's a question right here. There's a question in Portuguese first but I'll translate it into English; "Today in ISKCON deity worship in a certain form brings with it all the external coverings such as clothes, paraphernalia, food, traditional food of India. How could we present the deities in a universal form without these external covers and focus the deity worship on preaching?" I already answered that. “What sort of activity do you consider going out and saving Krishna's children?” What does it mean to go out and save Krishna's children? I would say, going out to people and speaking their language. In other words, if I go to Australia and go out on the street and start speaking Spanish, umm... well, if I focus on Spanish speaking people in Australia, but... Or, if I go out in America and speak Italian, that's not going to work. People not only have a language like English or German or Spanish, they also have a cultural language. We have to go out and communicate with people effectively and not be typical arrogant puffed up caste-conscious brahmanas and think, "if people don't understand, that's their problem because what we're doing is absolute". If I go out on the street and people aren't attracted because of the way I'm dressed or the way I'm presenting things, that's their problem, they're demons or their karmis. It's their problem. I shouldn't try to adjust my presentation so that they can understand it; it's their problem. Now, obviously we have certain boundaries. If someone doesn't like the world “Krishna” it is their tough luck and they can go.... to the prasadam hall (go to hall, go to the prasadam hall). If someone doesn't like the word “Krishna” we're still going to chant Hare Krishna. We're not going to change our basic reality. But, if people can't relate to the type of dress, people should go to hell? What if you were a mother or father and you're child was at risk and, in order to save your child, you have to dress in a certain way and you say "well I'm not going to change my dress to save my children." What mother or father is so crazy, so arrogant, so stupid that they would not make superficial changes in their presentation to save their own children? So, if we don't change our basic principles but, when we go out to meet the public, or we bring them to our programs… In other words, it's one thing if they come in to our deity room, but if an Australian comes to the temple, is the temple the best place to introduce them to Krishna consciousness? In some cases, it is; some people love the colors, some people love rituals. But, for many people, it's not. There should be a room where we don't use shock treatment. Shock treatment means to immediately feed them spinach prasadam, you know, sak. Anyway, in other words, we should use our brains. We should use our God given brains to figure out an effective way to communicate with people and persuade them to accept the basic principles of Krishna consciousness. I'll end here because I see everyone in Australia starting to yawn. I guess you are sleep deprived because of sadhana bhakti. Anyway, the point is that the modern society is a headless body. Modern society is a headless body but ISKCON is a disembodied head. So we need to focus on that. The problem is not only a headless body; another problem is a disembodied head. ISKCON is a disembodied head that's just floating through the cultural atmosphere. If you want to connect the head to the body, it's the head that has to figure out how to do that. After all, how can a headless body figure out how to do brain surgery? It's the brain that figures out how to do brain surgery. So we have to figure out the way to connect. Anyway, I guess we'll end there for Australia. Any other questions from Australia? Question from Sydney: "Could you tell us what is the secret of success of the preaching program with the students in Gainesville." Well, they give out prasadam. I give a lot of credit to the temple president Kala Kanta Prabhu because for many, many years, year after year after year, we had a prasadam program and we were feeding people but students were not coming to the temple. Hardly any students were coming to the temple. In fact, we even stopped the evening program because students wouldn't come. Now students are not only coming, they are actually becoming devotees. We actually have many students who are becoming devotees. And what is Kala Kanta doing? He actually strengthened, I mean he had a strong spiritual program in the temple and... What is Kala Kanta doing? Kala Kanta Prabhu is a mature, intelligent preacher and he's presenting Krishna consciousness in a mature, intelligent way and he's very concerned about people who come. When people... He actually has in many, almost drastic, ways, reorganized the temple so that all of the attention is focused on intelligent people that are coming. The focus is actually... and Radhanatha Swami, another wonderful Vaisnava, that's really his secret, not only when he is preaching in America but also in Chowpatty and Bombay. That is, his main focus has always been on just being nice to people and making them feel welcome. We can't do it like the terminator you know, someone comes and (sound effects/terminator voice) "No: big donation unlikely…" It depends on what you value. If you're whole community is focused on somehow making sincere, intelligent people feel comfortable in your community and you adjust everything to give them attention… that's what Radhanatha Swami did with extraordinary success; that's what Kala Kantha Prabhu did here. In other words, if your whole community exists to raise money to keep deity worship going and that's basically the engine of the temple… You know, whatever we say in Bhagavatam class about saving fallen souls, in the day-to-day real world of the temple it's about deity worship and raising funds to continue deity worship. And that's what it's about. That, according to the Bhagavatam, is a third class program. It's called kanistha. The second and first class program is that your whole community is based on trying to save souls and everything in the temple is adjusted so that sincere and intelligent people will feel comfortable with you. So I think Kala Kantha Prabhu deserves great credit. I mean, to be perfectly honest, it's like one of those commercials 'before and after'. “I was a 90 pound weakling and when I went to the beach people would kick sand in my face. Now, after... I've got all these muscles.” If you look at the “before and after” in the Hare Krishna center in Gainesville there’s an extraordinary difference. Kala Kanta deserves a tremendous amount of credit for what he's done. It's really like it's an extreme makeover. I think what he's done more than anything else is that, in a mature, intelligent way, he has made the sincere intelligent people of the community the center of his life and the centre of the community. People feel that; they feel the community is there for them, it's about them, and they're joining. Another question? "Sydney has to go. Health prolonging food is waiting for us. We would like to thank you very much for the class, we're looking forward to the next session." Hare Krishna, we'll see you again soon.

(Acaryadeva finishes speaking to Sydney at this point but continues talking to the audience in Gainesville)

So any questions on these points? Yes, Mukunda. "I heard that Prabhupada talked about influencing the world for a cultural revolution. So, how to do this and still, given the point that you've been making about us creating a culture that's ultimately artificial, how can you see that we can actually effectively influence the world to make a cultural revolution?" Well, I mean, Kala Kanta Prabhu is giving a good example here in Gainesville. I think first of all we have to actually... I mean, to be perfectly honest, I will be very blunt; there's a very powerful tendency - the central tendency of this world - to be self-centered. Basically, that's why we have these gorgeous material bodies. The reason we're in this material world at all is because we are strongly inclined to be self-centered, which is what I call 'psychological atheism'. Even if you're a philosophical theist, there's philosophical theism, where that's your philosophy, and there's philosophical atheism, but there's also psychological atheism which means that I philosophically accept God but, psychologically, within my mind, I am actually the centre of my own reality. Even if Krishna is within that reality and I accept that Krishna is God, I am the centre of my own mental life in terms of my desires, my feelings, and so on. That's what it means to be a conditioned soul. Because we're self centered and because we lost that loving feeling therefore in our contact with the non-devotees, to the extent that we have that contact, they're not really the purpose of our life. There's this nice description of Pariksit Maharaja, 'jivanti natmartham', that his life was for the sake of other people. [1]Our lives are not for the sake of other people, in most cases. We have drifted into a consciousness where we basically live for our own sake, and Prabhupada has taught us to straighten up and clean up and fly right and, you know, don't run into brick walls and things. Prabhupada taught us the laws of nature, Prabhupada taught us how to live a decent life in harmony with the laws of God and therefore we can basically have lives that are not overly problematic as long as we control ourselves. So therefore, what's the problem? I mean, the world is going to hell in the hand basket but... where did you get that sari? Really, you know, where did you get that marketing thing? Are you making money on that investment? I mean, obviously women should dress before going out in public and men do have to take care of their families. At the same time, these things have to somehow or other… we have to have the real sense that whatever I am doing, I am doing it to serve Prabhupada's mission. If a sociologist looked at Alachua, for example, a sociologist would not call it a movement, it be call it a religious community. There are places in the world where to call a temple a movement is just a speech habit that we have. It's just a linguistic tradition. If a sociologist came to this or that center, would that sociologist objectively say "this is a movement"? I don't think so. I was once told, actually, that it's maya to think that we need another mission because we put our kids in the soccer league and so when the soccer coaches call out the kids names they are chanting Krishna's names, like "come on Govinda, get the ball!” and that it's offensive to think that you need more of a mission than that. I was told that. I mean, I'm not saying everyone has reached that level of loony-ness. And, it certainly is a wonderful thing to have soccer coaches call out Krishna's names, I'm not saying that's insignificant, it's a great thing. But what's the mission? What is the mission? If you look at the history of religions, that's what always happens. It starts a mission and then just settles down into a religion. If the weeds grow, not only individually, there are collective weeds, societal weeds. Basically, if we have a group of people who aren't really on a mission there's only really one reason: they're selfish.


Basically, if we have a group of people who aren't really on a mission there's only really one reason; they're selfish…

Because, everyone, in their own way, in their own life, based on their own abilities and limitations, everyone in their own way can be on a mission. And, when you get a bunch of people, when you get a community of people that work together, even if everyone has a little bit of time a week, a few hours a week or whatever. When you take a few hours a week and you multiply it times 500 you're talking about thousands of hours a week. Some people resist the necessary team building of a mission; they think that ISKCON works best when it's headless. And there’s a type of either passive or active resistance to having the type of discipline needed to actually form a team. So, I think that some people are sort of suffering from PTAD - Post Traumatic Ashrama Disorder. Obviously we all have our own lives, even sannyasis, householders, everyone. We all have our lives yet we all work together; we all cooperate together. There are places in the world where there is almost an epidemic of selfishness and people really aren't thinking; their lives are not focused on helping other people. They're saying, "Okay, I've got certain responsibilities that I can't ignore in the world. I've got family or I have this or I have that.” I have to perform these duties but how can I perform these duties in a way, and how can we all work together and perform all of our duties in such a way, that we actually really are a movement in the sociological sense of the word? There are devotees, individually, who are actually very much dedicated to doing good things in the world. There are actually quite a number of devotees in this area who, on an individual level, really do have plans and programs and are doing something or working internationally or nationally in different ways, and on the Internet. There are definitely people who are doing very good things, I am certainly aware of that. At the same time, as a community, I wouldn't say we are super-mobilized. That actually is the higher taste. In Gainesville we have actually one of the best programs in the country. That is the higher taste. The higher taste is preaching and without that higher taste all of us, every one of us, whoever we are, will succumb to a lower taste, even a sannyasi. We've seen that time and time again, familiarity breeds contempt. A sannyasi moves to a particular community and stays there for an extended period of time and familiarity breeds contempt. Everyone becomes buddies and friends… you know, the veneration thing, it gets old after a while if you're always seeing the same person. Sometimes sannyasis stop preaching or, because the relationships become more like friends, the sannyasi ends up fully integrating themselves into the community by taking on family life. Anyone, it doesn't matter what the asrama. The asramas are superficial, as Lord Caitanya said. The asramas are just different ways that we are approaching spiritual life but, underneath our dress, underneath our titles, we're all just souls and we're all doing the same thing. We're all just trying to somehow or other advance in Krishna consciousness. So, if any one of us does not preach we will not have a higher taste. We will not have a higher taste and we will actually succumb to all kinds of material desires. It's just inevitable. The higher taste really is trying to help other people. That is the higher taste. And if we get paid for it, it's all the better because that way you can focus more of your time on helping people. I don't mean that it's a business, but if you can figure out a way to sell prasadam, or give counseling, or whatever… That is the higher taste. There is a platform described very clearly in the Bhagavatam where you have faith in Krishna, you worship the deity with faith in Krishna, and you are on the material platform. That's very clearly described in the Bhagavatam. It's called prakrita bhakta. Prakriti means matter, the material energy, and prakrita means material. The Bhagavatam says “sa bhaktah”, that devotee is prakrita, on the material platform because they don't notice that the same Krishna who's standing on the altar is also standing on the altar of the heart of every living being. Therefore, to truly worship the deity is to see the deity everywhere. It's almost like, imagine going to the store and someone is trying to sell you something so the person is really nice to you and then five minutes later the store closes and you see the same person on the street and they push you out of the way; you're not a customer now. It's like, if I go into the temple, there's my Lord and then five minutes later and the same deity, the exact same deity is right there in the heart of another person and I ignore that person. Or, I don't help them in the way I should. And it's the same deity, the same deity is right in front of my face and I don't see it. That's the material platform. Obviously, I may not see the deity in exactly the same way that I can visually see the deity in the temple but it is the same Krishna and He's watching me. "Okay, that was a nice flower you offered Me. Okay, you 'chucked in a buck for luck', that was nice, but now I'm standing right in front of you. I'm watching you, I'm looking right at you face to face in the heart of this other person." For example, on Sunday in our centers, wherever they happen to be, is the most important thing for the devotees that go to the Sunday program to look for new people or people who need help and just shower them with so much sincere attention that they never want to leave or they want to come back? Is that what people want on Sunday? Or is it just to see their friends and fill their belly? "Yeah! I don't have to cook tonight, it's Sunday!" I've heard of horror stories of guests, people coming to the farm, having to wait in line at the back of the line because they’re not speech smart. They're not out there so they're at the back of the line because the devotees know the system. Horror stories. The only purpose of the Sunday program is to try to reach out to innocent souls. So, if I go on Sunday, why am I going? What's my motive? To me, if there is such a situation... I mean, I've had the experience myself of going to 'certain places', I won't mention the name, and giving a lecture on Sunday as sincerely as I could and people say thank you and then I walk out of the building and sit down right outside the temple and not one person even comes to say hello to me. Me, you know, with all my little stars on my shoulder. And I've heard other horror stories like that. The idea that you could have hundreds of Vaisnavas, followers of Prabhupada, in a place and some innocent soul wanders in and no-one really shows that person love and friendship is a horror story. It's a nightmare. It's a nightmare version of the Hare Krishna movement. It's like in the old days, when everyone lived in the temple and everyone went on sankirtana. So, in the old days, when devotees would get married, have children and move out of the temple and support themselves, all they knew how to do was go out on the street and collect. This was a problem. Not so much anymore because we don't have new generations of people and all they know how to do in the world is go out and sell things on the street. There was this idea that if you ever in your life, for at least a year or so, lived in a Hare Krishna temple, then no matter what you do for the rest of your life you are a priest and you have a moral right to take money from people on the street. No matter what your lifestyle is and no matter what you're using the money for, you are a lifetime priest if you ever lived in an asrama. We now know that is absurd... I hope. Similarly, the idea that “because I am initiated” or “because I once practiced, therefore I'm sort of a spiritual person...” The essence of being spiritual is actually caring spiritually for other people. There's a cynical distinction that is very common in general culture nowadays between “spiritual” and “religious”. People say "I'm spiritual but not religious", or "that person is religious but not spiritual." Frankly, even though it's not the healthiest distinction, you can see where that comes from. You can see a tendency among devotees to be much more religious than spiritual. The essence of being religious and not spiritual is caring about, let's say, "I want to see the deities but I am not really particularly interested in the people who are Krishna's children, in terms of helping them, serving them." It's like, "I just want to come and see the deities. I want to have darsana, and see if I can double my cholesterol." That really is the epitome of this distinction between being hypocritically religious but not spiritual. Fortunately, as I keep saying, Gainesville has this extraordinary example of a wonderful spiritual community where Kala Kanta really has made the focus of his life helping other people to practice Krishna consciousness.


(Question from the audience:) "Can you talk a little bit about book distribution as contemporary preaching or... like, I was organizing a kirtana and a particular musician thought that maybe it's not ideal to have Prabhupada's books there for people or give them free books because they might be, as you described, too 'shocking' for people."


First of all, I think we should give people a choice. I think we should treat adults like adults and you can tell them "we've brought some books; it's a gift for you if you're interested. If you think it's something that you might like to read, please take one." Why should I decide what other people want? It seems to me, that is a little arrogant itself. Therefore, I would make the books available and just not shove them down people's eyeballs. I mean, it's not arrogant to offer to share something but it is arrogant to take away people's choice and think that they can't think for themselves. It's also true that Prabhupada wrote me a letter and said "read my books and explain them in your own words." We very much need books that people can actually understand. With all due respect to the holy BBT, when you give someone a small book in this country, especially in America, Americans are famous for their language skills, right? I mean, if you give someone a book, even a small book like Perfection of Yoga, and they open it up and the first thing they see is that half the page is a Sanskrit sloka; they don't even know which way to hold the book. Half the page is a Sanskrit sloka and then the other half of the page is a paragraph by Prabhupada where half the words are Sanskrit, talking about the sloka. And that's page one. Go to your local Barnes and Noble or Borders and ask them how many books they sell on a daily basis which are translations of difficult ancient languages. Find out how many books they sell every day like that. Prabhupada asked us to explain his teachings in a way that people can understand them. Personally, I don't think we can go on being the International Society for ajnata sukriti in the sense that if we give people books you can say that they just touched it so their purified... that's really wonderful but I think it would be even more wonderful if they could read it. Prabhupada's books are pure, they're very powerful, and if a sincere disciple with faith and love for Prabhupada explains it in a way that people can understand… that's what Prabhupada asked me to do. So we have a moral responsibility to present Prabhupada's teachings in a way that people can understand and, if we don't, I think it is a type of 'brahminical arrogance'. Not just brahmanas, it's the typical arrogant priests of world religions. We have a spiritual and moral responsibility to effectively communicate with people. If you're a doctor and your patient needs to change their diet or do something, otherwise the patient could die, you have a moral responsibility to effectively communicate with that person. If that person doesn't understand what you're saying you have a moral responsibility to find some way to communicate that information. Prabhupada himself stopped the harinama sankirtana in India, especially West Bengal. Why? Because people misunderstood it; they thought we were professional kirtana performers. So Prabhupada, in India, where he actually understood very intimately the cultural nuances, Prabhupada adjusted, even suspended, harinama sankirtana so that we would communicate effectively with the public. Our cavalier attitude that "damn the torpedoes, we're going to go out there and jump around and if people don't like it man, they're the losers - this is absolute." That sort of cavalier, "who care whether they like it or not" attitude is not actually what Prabhupada was doing. I think it's arrogant and I think it's self-defeating. This attitude "they don't like us; tough luck. This is the absolute truth." As I said, we're not going to change our basic principles, we're not going to stop chanting Hare Krishna, we're not going to stop following our principles, and we’re not going to change our philosophy. We're not talking about changing; we're talking about translating. When I went to Latin America, Prabhupada asked me to translate his books. It's not like, "Prahupada spoke in English, and if you can't understand it you're just not qualified." It's a question of translating, not changing. If we are reluctant to translate I think its arrogance and ignorance on our part. We have a moral, spiritual responsibility to get through, to get the message through. We have to find a way. Every one of us has a particular background, materially, culturally and every one of us can very effectively communicate with a particular audience, and we can learn to communicate with other audiences. So, it's a question of to what extent we keep ourselves on the spiritual platform and be concerned for other people. Because the basic psychology is that you have a powerful conversion experience, after a few years you're really flying and idealistic and want to preach, and then you cool off, find your cruising altitude, and then just get back to your real business, which is "your life". Frankly, we can see that. It's almost, you could say, a psychological or emotional need; people keep themselves balanced. Krishna talks a lot about 'balance' in the Bhagavad-gita. In the early days of the movement, we were very young and it was kind of like a very sincere, well-meaning, Vedic Lord of the Flies situation. We were very sincere but very immature. There were no elderly people; Prabhupada was the only mature adult in the entire world society of ISKCON. We were zealous and heavy and "you have to surrender everything" and "if you don't live in the temple, you're faith is in doubt." But, what happened is, when that very immature... understandable, but very immature paradigm blew up it went to the other extreme. It was almost like "if you live in a temple you're in maya". "I don't have time to think about preaching now, I've got to think about my family, and I’ve got to think about my self." I mean, obviously you have to think about your family, but how is your family going to get a higher taste if the family's not preaching? How are you going to save your children if your children don't have a higher taste? That's another arrogance to think "no, no, no, just by my love for my kids they'll do fine." Yeah, love is very important, loving your children is absolutely essential. Children absolutely need to be loved, a lot. But, at the same time, they need a higher taste. I was very lucky; I had very good parents. They weren't devotees but they were extremely affectionate and loving and I think it did wonders for me. I mean, you should see what I'd be like if it wasn't for that. But the point is, where's the higher taste? To think that your affection by itself is a sufficient higher taste to keep them on the spiritual platform is really dreaming. The higher taste is preaching Krishna consciousness. It seems to me contradictory to be so busy taking care of your kids that you don't have time to give them a higher taste. Because, don't they need that? I mean, isn't that absolutely essential for their health? They need the other things too; they obviously need to be fed well, they need to be loved, they need a roof over their head. Of course they do. But they also need a higher spiritual taste and that comes from preaching.


Of course they do. But they also need a higher spiritual taste and that comes from preaching…


I guess we all have our karma or certain destiny that we sort of co-created in our last life, but I think I was very fortunate because my own parents, even though they were I guess technically "fruitives", they were very nice. I think I was very fortunate. I grew up in a community where there was basically no divorce and my parents were married until my father passed away. My aunts and uncles were all married and basically everyone in my family, all of my aunts and uncles… my father had one cousin who got divorced and he was like the black sheep. He also did other very unusual things. But, apart from that, with practically all of my immediate aunts and uncles, my own parents, and even the neighborhood I grew up in, there was no divorce. I didn't know anyone whose parents were divorced when I was growing up. I think I was very fortunate that I had this real model and I grew up like that, where people were actually willing and able to make lifelong commitments. Obviously, you can have one spouse that is willing and the other spouse isn't and so you certainly can't blame the faithful one. Also, my parents, for all their fruitivity, ever since I was a little child all of their social activities were based on charity work. They belonged to clubs and different things and different organizations. They weren't super austere but basically their whole social life, all of their clubs and all of their organizations were built around charity organizations and that's basically what they did. They both were leaders, my father and my mother both were leaders of different groups at different times, and that was their social life. It was all based on charity groups. So I grew up with the example that you keep the commitments you make to people and what do you do with your free time? Charity. You have fun with your friends in a way that benefits other people that need help. As I get older I can appreciate more that good example which I always took for granted and never really thought about. I think that it was really a very good example. In that sense I can say that my fruitive parents probably engaged a lot more in charitable work than any devotees I know. One of the reasons was that there were opportunities. There were things to join. To what extent have we even created things? Everyone can't create their own charity. To what extent are we even creating things like that to provide spiritual help to other people? If someone comes to a particular community, is it easy, like, there's all these different groups competing for your membership and attention and all you've got to do is join and show up somewhere once a week or so? There's an organization, there's a structure so that, without destabilizing or disturbing the basic structure of your own life and interfering with your own essential duties, you can actually do all kinds of things to help the world? We could make a list here for example, all the things you can join to spiritually benefit the world. Not just writing a check and sending it somewhere but actually doing things and helping people. We really need to think about and discuss these things. This is just like Sociology 1A.


I think in general that stopping people in the street, no matter what you are trying to sell them, is culturally marginal. In other words, there are certain activities that are normal respectable activities and other activities that are only marginally respectable. I think stopping people on the street and trying to sell them something, whatever it is, is only marginally respectable. We certainly have a responsibility, a duty to Prabhupada to distribute his teachings. We have that responsibility and how to carry it out in a way that doesn't marginalize us culturally is an issue and it's something we need to think about. I also think it is important to give people books that they can actually read and understand, that give Prabhupada's teachings, not someone else’s teachings, in a way that people can understand. We should somehow distribute books to people in ways that do no compromise our respectability in society because I think that we can't afford to be not respectable. What happens is, if we don't somehow or other become respectable at a certain point then, when someone becomes interested in our movement, there's this massive social pressure on them not to join us. You may preach to someone on the street or wherever you meet them but if their relatives and their friends and their co-workers are all pushing them very hard not to join the Hare Krishna movement, most people will not get over that bar. That's a very high bar to get over. If you have to socially self-destruct, most people aren't going to do that. Therefore, if we behave in a way that keeps us socially marginal I think we are placing a very heavy burden on people who are interested in joining us. It's actually not fair to them. Out of fairness to people who are not, you know, pure devotees in their past lives or whatever, but are interested in Krishna consciousness, I think we owe it to them not to create an unbearable burden on them by keeping ourselves only marginally respectable in society.


First of all, as I said before, there's no evidence in the Caitanya-caritamrita when Lord Caitanya personally took out his harinama party that He was wearing a uniform. It seems that they were just dressed like everybody else. The idea that it is almost offensive to do harinama without a uniform is an interesting imagination because Lord Caitanya didn't wear a uniform and neither did his followers, they just went out and chanted Hare Krishna on the streets as respectable citizens of the city. It was shocking to chant Hare Krishna, especially under a Muslim government. In fact, there was an attempted violent suppression but, of course, Lord Caitanya overcame that resistance. But, precisely because it is so unusual to chant Hare Krishna in public places, why do we want to magnify the weirdness of it? Why max out the weirdness of it? It's almost like when you get a shot, a shot is kind of evasive and it hurts so they do everything they can to lessen the pain. They rub some thing on your arm and they try to... If you have to give someone a shot, do it as gently as you can. We have to expose people to the Hare Krishna Maha-mantra so we should it in the most painless, gentle, easy to swallow way that we can. That kind of sensitivity, that kind of gentleness, that kind of concern for people, for their feelings, trying to do everything humanly possible to facilitate, to make it easy for them to take to Krishna consciousness... I mean, is that our attitude?


We should choose times and places which are considered culturally appropriate. We have to fit in. It's funny because I had this instinct from the very beginning. In 1969, when some of you were just... pre-born, or in your previous lives, a cousin of mine came to visit from Mississippi. She was a teenager and the family kind of huddled up and informed me that I was the designated chaperone. I had to drive her around and show her the city in LA when I was home for the summer of '69. So I was showing her around and I was 20 years old so I was taking her places that would be interesting for people our age. When we were at, I guess, Hollywood Boulevard or Sunset Boulevard, we ran into a harinama party. I knew the devotees in Berkley so I told her "this is cool". She was from Mississippi so if I said, "this is cool", it was cool. I told her it was cool. I was from California, she was from Mississippi; she had no right to challenge my sense of coolness. She liked it, she actually like it. We were chanting and then I thought maybe I would go and stand in the row of the devotees. They had the line of devotees chanting so at first I thought I was going to go and stand in line with them but then I thought, "No, I'm going to stand here with the non-devotees". I wasn't a member of the Hare Krishna movement, I had just seen them in Berkley. I thought, “if I stay here and chant, they'll think that someone like them is also chanting and that will encourage them to chant”. So I consciously stayed with the non-devotees because I thought it would encourage them to chant. It seems to me that going out there and dressing like a Martian is not the point. The point is, in my humble opinion, to convince them that, "Look, we're like you. We are like you, and we chant Hare Krishna. We're neighbors, we're like you. You can identify with us, and we chant Hare Krishna." It's like if a friend of yours says, "Hey I saw a great movie; you've got to see it!" That's the most powerful advertising. You can spend millions of dollars but it won't be as powerful as people saying to their neighbors, "that was really a great movie, you've got to see it." That message, that "Hey, we're like you. We're just like your neighbors, and we're doing this really great thing"; it seems to me that's a very powerful way to spread the movement. Our obsession with being different and our mortal fear of being like "them"… I just think it's interesting that trauma or fears, phobias, actually are hereditary in a sense. Let's say for example your mother is afraid of police for whatever reason. Since you were a little baby you see your mother or your father really being nervous when they're around police. You become very nervous around police because when you are a little baby, your mother's fears or your father's fears - you really take them on; their prejudices, their fears, their assumptions. I think in the early days of the movement we were like... first of all it was the hippy days so young people basically couldn't care less if people over thirty five thought anything. We were young and immature and zealous so we came on with this really somewhat overheated presentation and the result of that was that society kind of reacted against us. It was like an allergic reaction because we were so heavy. And, when they reacted like, that they immediately identified themselves as demons. It was a time when there was this tremendous generation gap. That was a very common term in the sixties, "generation gap". The term was constantly used. Because we totally fit in with the young people, the Hare Krishna movement started out... And of course the fact that the young people didn't care what their parents thought also opened a window of opportunity for a lot of people to become devotees because if you care to much about what your parents think, you're not going to join, you know, the movement from Mars. It was like a double-edged sword. What I mean to say is, in terms of social psychology, the movement started out with a very powerful sense of alienation from, and almost a phobia about, mainstream society. Also, because the movement was so young, there was no Mayapura to go to, there was no Vrindavana to go to, there were no sannyasis, there were no older devotees, there was nothing. And therefore we were very vulnerable. You go out on the street to chant and you were highly vulnerable. I remember when I first joined the Hare Krishna movement, like day two or three, I went down Telegraph Avenue in Berkely, because I joined in Berkely, and I had been a student there and I had been a predator... well, you know, I had engaged in certain non-spiritual activities there, so when I was going down Telegraph Avenue chanting, the only safe place for my eyes was the saffron sweatshirt in front of me. We were like little ducklings, little brahmacari ducklings when we were going and I remember if I looked anywhere else except for the back of the brahmacari in front of me my mind would go (spinning sound effect) because literally just 72 hours before that I had been on the loose. So that was the only safe place, looking at the back of the brahmacari in front of me. We had a young movement. Everyone was young, there were hardly any older devotees, there were no sannyasis, there were no gurus travelling around; there was Prabhupada who had the whole planet to look after. So the movement developed certain psychological features, certain attitudes towards the world, and they were perfectly understandable. The devotees were not bad people, they weren't insincere; they were very sincere, they were very good people, but it was just the circumstances, the historical circumstances. I think the movement developed, in certain circles, especially the older circles, almost an obsession with differentiation. We had to always be different, “we can't get assimilated”. It was like this mortal fear of being assimilated into mainstream society, so much so that it has caused some people to become a little unhinged. I mean, psychologically. Like, for example, back then your parents were maya ... Because we were so young and we were so immature it was almost deterministic. I remember in 1973, as a young sannyasi, I went to Santa Domingo de la Republica Dominicana and I was the first Hare Krishna to land there. I remember that. I remember actually getting of the plane; it didn't have one of those, you know, things you go through, we just came down the stairs of the train. I just remember I was in my sannyasa regalia and I remember I felt like a conquistador, planting my danda on the tarmac like "I claim this island for Srila Prabhupada." Then we preached and we were wildly successful. Because Santa Domingo was obviously several years behind all of the trends, when someone came bringing this "yoga" thing it was a huge success. I remember that within a couple of days we were getting a hundred people a night or a hundred and twenty people a night. The whole New Age crowd of the island was coming to our program. I remember we started to make devotees; one of the devotees, we took him away, "whatever you were doing before this is absolutely illusory and will kill your soul so just, you know, join us." Then he said, "Well I have to call my mother." I still remember that, I still have this vision where he is calling his mother. He's only been in the movement for like two days and he's calling his mother and we're standing there by the phone waiting for any sign that his brain is melting or he's having a relapse of illusion, falling back into the bodily concept... We were just waiting for the first sign, ready to grab the phone and slam it down and tell him the facts of life about stool and urine... Now it seems kind of comical but, anyway, it was almost deterministic from the point of view of sociology and psychology given the circumstances. Therefore what I'm saying is that there is a very powerful thing that we're wired for as human beings and that is that as behavior is repeated it becomes a habit, a tradition, it becomes sacred. Completely irrational things, like wearing ties, you know what I mean? Or like saluting, people salute the military because in the old days they used to wear armor so if you met a superior you had to pull up your visor to identify yourself. Therefore in the old days warriors would have to open their visor to identify themselves to superiors so that just became the salute. Actually in Vedic culture they would salute by putting their fist to their heart, just like in the really cool Roman Empire movies... My point is that in the movement the initial behavior of the devotees was immature, and in some cases even a little unhinged, and that became sacred by repetition. So, later generations to some extent inherited this somewhat immature behavior. Part of that immature behavior is, I think, a phobia, which is an irrational fear, about being assimilated, of being sucked back in to the material pool. Therefore whenever we go out and officially present ourselves to the public we have to be absolutely different; when you go out on harinama you have to be totally different...


We do need to identify with something, but if our identification is entirely foreign then it indicates an immature state of consciousness in the sense that... Like myself for example, I was born in not only the West, but the far West; I was born in California. Anyway, I have reached a point in my own Krishna consciousness where it makes me happy to identify with not just ISKCON but just people. I mean, I am a member of ISKCON, and I'm a loyal member of ISKCON, and I'm sure I will die as a member of ISKCON. Basically everything I do in the world in terms of work and whatever is for the benefit of ISKCON. I don't do other things. ISKCON is my exclusive focus. Having said that, there are statements in the Bhagavad-gita that say very clearly that all of us, all souls, are one family and I find it's actually natural for me to also identify with all other souls because we are all related, we're all a family. I think that there has to be a certain harmony and balance and if we entirely identify ourselves with, let's say, India, then I think it actually debilitates us in some ways. I think in some ways it weakens us. I'll give an example; if we were not stuck on this point that harinama is absolute, “just put on your Indian clothes, go out on the street and jump up and down and you're saving the world”. Even if people aren't interested… some people honk their horns or wave or whatever, but no matter what the reaction appears to be, just assume that you're saving the world because it's absolute, even if they don't know it. The nice thing about that is that it relieves any pressure you might feel to actually improve the music. Therefore it prevents us from becoming deluded by high culture. If you actually took on yourself responsibility to attract people, "I like to do music, I like to do kirtana", and somehow... Let's say that I have an inclination to do kirtana, if I feel the responsibility that I have to somehow attract people to the chanting; they're not attracted now, how can we do the music so that it's still sincere and devotional, it's not just a show, I'm really chanting for Krishna, I'm really chanting for Krishna's pleasure, I'm chanting with Bhakti, but still it's really important to me to attract people. Then it might push me to improve my musical skills. If we remove this somewhat arrogant absolutist mentality that, "we don't have to attract people with music, we just have to put the sound out because it's absolute". It is absolute but Krishna also says in the Gita that any religious act that is done without faith is asat, it doesn't have much effect. If people are listening to our music and have no faith, of course there is some benefit, it is Krishna's name, Krishna's presence, however if they could listen to it and enjoy it the effect would be that much greater. It's like if you open a Hare Krishna restaurant or have a food program you don't say, "this is prasadam and it’s absolute. If they don't like the taste, tough luck." They're not going to eat it. You could just throw a lemonade on them or something so that they benefit anyway. Just as when you cook for public distribution you want to make sure that people like it… why is it different with kirtana? Why is music different than food? Don't we want to do kirtana in a way that people just like it and want it? I mean, wouldn't that benefit them? Don't we want to preach in a way that people find attractive and interesting? So I think we really have to be careful about using this "it's absolute" sound bite to mask the real fact of our arrogance and our lack of concern for people.


So I think we really have to be careful about using this "it's absolute" sound bite to mask the real fact of our arrogance and our lack of concern for people.


I think it allows us to be very lazy because, "we don't have to go out and really put out great music for people because it's absolute."


Actually, Adi Karta  is a very good devotee preacher. He and I disagree on certain things; he goes out in dhoti, and thinks that you have to go out in a dhoti and everything, but he really cares about people and therefore people respond to him just because of that. And Kala Kantha. What you see is that devotees who really care have success. If you could really care and be culturally normal I think that would be a very powerful combination. Just like with the prasadam program on campus; it is great food and it's also prasadam.


Finding a way to do kirtana in such a way that people like it and join it, so people can say, "Yeah, I like this and want to participate." It seems to me that the more you care about people the more it really is important to you that people get it and the more likely it is that they will get it. How much do we care? Or is it like, "Yeah, I like to go out and chant." That's nice. Of course, it's a wonderful thing to like to do. It's a wonderful thing to like, but how much do we care? Or is it just, "I like to do this for Krishna." How much is it really important to me that people get this and understand it and I'll do everything humanly possibly to get people to feel comfortable with Krishna?


(Question) To me, it almost seems that the mission of striving to be devotee means that you don't fit in.


No, because one of the things that we're striving for is to please Prabhupada by spreading the sankirtana movement. I mean, when I say "fit in" I don't mean we should go out and eat hamburgers. When I say "fit in" I don't mean in my personal spiritual practice that I have to be like everybody else. I think that's the point that we're not getting because I think some devotees, frankly, because of their own counter-cultural taste, just don't like mainstream culture. It's not really about what's practical, it's just about their own preferences. In America today what I would call the center of the culture, being respectable and neutral, absolutely does not prevent us from practicing and preaching, in a very straightforward way, Krishna consciousness. Mainstream American culture is flexible enough and tolerant enough so that there is more than enough room. It's not like, for example, dressing in a very indecent way is mainstream and because we're decent we can't dress that way. No, actually, what is considered neutral, not trying to be sexy or trying to be really fashionable but just being culturally neutral, the way men and women dress today basically has not changed in the last sixty years. I grew up in the '50s and people basically dress the same way now as they did then. They listen to a lot of the same music. Sometimes we exaggerate things in order to make ourselves feel that all of the prophecies are being fulfilled or something but the fact is that mainstream culture doesn't wildly vary and change. It's pretty much the same. What you're wearing right now is probably the way people dressed fifty years ago. In my own life, I get up early. The kind of things that I do that are different I find that mainstream people respect. When I tell people that I get up very early in the morning so that, before I do whatever I do during the day, I can have a serious spiritual practice, they think, "Wow, that's amazing." Or, if I tell them about the four regulative principles; the four regulative principles are prestigious. When I tell people that I've been a strict vegetarian for two thirds of my life they are impressed. They think, "That's really great, I wish I could eat less meat." Or when I talk about gambling; who respects gambling and intoxication? I find people respect our principles. My mother used to tell me when I was a kid, "It is not what you say, it is how you say it." In other words, we could take our same principles and our same philosophy and present it in a way that makes sense to most people, or we could present it in a way that just seems wild and exotic. We choose, often, to be wild and exotic, which I think has more to do with our psychology than it does with Prabhupada's needs.


(Question:) If you never really “fit in” and are "psychologically exotic", should you adjust and become mainstream and thus become someone that you're not?


I think that's a misconception because an important part of any decent person is fitting in. I don't think self-indulgence is authentic. I think it's unnatural for a good person to be completely self-indulgent. To say, "Well, I can just dress any way that I like, this is how I dress. I can do whatever I like, this is what I do"; that is self-indulgent and that is unnatural. It is unnatural to be self-indulgent. It's just like if people don't get exercise. I personally find it unthinkable; I just couldn't stand not to get exercise every day. I take japa walks and if I don't walk four or five miles a day I can't stand it, or if I'm not challenging myself intellectually. I have a certain body of knowledge basically, and I'm a lifelong learner. I have to be constantly challenging myself intellectually. And, of course, it's easy to challenge yourself spiritually because we're in the age of Kali so to be a serious spiritual practitioner is always something that requires attention. I think not exercising yourself, not thinking of other people and not putting out for other people is unnatural and artificial. If you're a good person that is who you really are, you're a person who does care about other people and does sometimes sacrifice self-indulgence for the good of others. I think that had better be who we really are.


(Question:) But if it's not necessarily on a level of self indulgence but rather, for example, people who don't want to work in mainstream workplaces.


Fine, but a Hare Krishna temple is a mainstream workplace if you present it like that. In Gainesville our center is a mainstream place. I'm not talking about one or two individuals, I'm talking about how the movement is presenting itself. Do we position ourselves, brand ourselves as a movement, in a way that makes us available to everyone. It seems to me, for the movement to brand itself or position itself so that it's very easy for certain to people to take to it and almost impossible for other people... I mean, why not find the center so that we're an equal distance from everybody so that everyone has a fair chance to become interested in what we're doing. It seems to me that it's a question of fairness. And, I think that there are certain devotees that have a very twisted idea of what the word mainstream means. I think that "mainstream" is much bigger than they imagine, much more flexible and it has a lot more space in it. I think that is over compensating for an overly narrow view of what's respectable. That's my view. In Atlanta, when I was lecturing there several years ago about how we need to be mainstream, one American lady said, "I hate that. I joined the movement because I hate the mainstream." That's great. That's a great message for most Americans, "We hate you. We hate what you're doing." That's a great message. "We really think you're hideous." It seems to me that out of fairness and out of compassion we should present ourselves in a way that does not compromise any of our basic principles but at the same is equidistant and gives everyone a fair chance to take up Krishna consciousness.


(Question) Sometimes it seems like someone's personal, individual, nature is not to fit in.


Absolutely not. For example, now there's an election going on and Obama is actually slightly winning. He's not like some Republican businessman. Some devotees think that mainstream means to be a Republican businessman. What are we talking about when we say mainstream? Not being sufficiently aware of environmental issues is an example of not being mainstream. Not being sufficiently aware of things like hygiene and keeping our bathrooms spotlessly clean whereas in certain mainstream institutions they do keep their bathrooms clean. So what are we talking about?


Your first responsibility is to save your soul because you are no use to yourself or your family if you yourself are not strong. Frankly speaking, if you look at families in general, there are many families in this country where people may have different values and they just take their time with it. I think that relations have to be based on mutual respect. Your first duty to yourself and to them is to keep yourself spiritually strong. At the same time, you should always be nice or course.


(Question) Personally, I found myself criticizing the harinama party and I think that this criticism has hurt me and devastated my spiritual life.


Well it could be, but that's because at a certain stage of devotional service we still have some passion inside of us so when we criticize it brings out certain lower emotions that we have. In other words, it's not the criticism itself, it's the fact that when I am still becoming purified and I make a criticism I put some oomph into to it and that oomph is my own envy or my own pride or anger or whatever. It's the fact that criticizing may bring out certain qualities that are still in me that makes you feel rotten. I find that I don't feel rotten. If we criticize, we have to be very, very sure that we're not mixing in any of our own impurities in the act of criticizing. That's the cause of feeling rotten, the impurities. It's the quality of the criticism or the relative purity or impurity of my criticism rather than just observing that, "This is not the best way to proceed."


(Question) So can't we just create our own kirtana party?


Yeah, that's a great idea. The devotees may go out on harinama in a way that, let's say, I don't think is the best way, but they're sincere. They're good people, they're trying their best. I may think that their understanding is not as refined as mine but they're basically good, sincere devotees. We shouldn't be angry with them or in any way look down on them but it's just constructive criticism.


(Question) I've heard that if you criticize a person then you develop the same qualities that you criticize in others.


It's true to this extent; if I criticize someone with pride or envy then Krishna will often make me the bud of the joke. Also, sometimes you criticize something because its something that we have got inside of ourselves, we really are inclined to it ourselves, so if we criticize it and then it finally comes out… As a reaction, sometimes we're made to wear the donkey ears. But Prabhupada criticized all kinds of things. Again, it's not the fact that you are criticizing or not criticizing. Some people don't criticize because they don't care and some people do criticize because they do care. It's just the relative purity. What consciousness is it coming from? If it's coming from a sincere and even humble desire to see the movement flourish then you’re not going to feel rotten and you’re not going to develop all of those things that you're criticizing. But, if the criticism is immature then you may feel bad or something like that. It depends on the motive. Even if your motives are good, there may still be some impurities inside of you. That's why there's a certain etiquette that you, let's say, don't criticize older devotees; to protect us from prematurely criticizing before we have the maturity to do so purely. That's why sometimes these things are put in place, to protect us. When you get older then it may be possible at some times to criticize without impure motives and therefore you don't feel bad and you don’t get reactions.


When you get older then it may be possible at some times to criticize without impure motives and therefore you don't feel bad and you don’t get reactions…


The nice thing is that Krishna is protecting all of us so if we're just sincere and we just sincerely chant Krishna's names then we'll all achieve the same perfection. Everyone will be happy and we'll achieve the same perfection.


(Question) Did people know Krishna before He appeared?


Krishna says "yogo nastah parantapa" "The spiritual science has been lost." The fact that at a particular place, at a particular time, people forget something doesn't mean that it's not true. Krishna clearly said, "I spoke this to Vivasvan." Krishna says, "I spoke this before but it was lost." Even after Vyasa divided the Veda and did all of his work, still he was depressed because he hadn't given the real point. Narada Muni came to him and explained the point about Krishna. That means that, according to the Bhagavatam, the literature that existed at that time in India, the four Vedas and all the other literature, did not have the highest truth. That's why Veda Vyasa was unhappy. That's why Narada came to him. According to what Krishna says and according to what the Bhagavatam says we would expect to find a situation in India when they didn't know Krishna. That's what we would expect to find based on what Krishna says.


(Question) If lord Brahma sees Krishna appearing every day of his life, and there are so many incarnations, then every day he is seeing Krishna but still he forgets. Does he actually experience one day like millions of years or does he experience his days just like 24 hours?


It's a good point. If even though he has such a long life, the whole life of the universe, he experiences his years as we do ours, his life would be no longer than ours. How could it be that someone is Brahma but they experience their life as being as short as we experience ours? That doesn't sound plausible to me because even though time goes at different speeds at different places, it must be the case that if you were Brahma you do experience life as being much longer. I think if your day is long enough it is not implausible that even in a day you would forget something. Brahma's day is four billion, three hundred million years. That's a long time, that's enough time to forget... It could also be yogamaya.


(Question regarding evolution theory)


Our position is that we're not for or against evolution. Sure, let there be evolution, let there not be evolution. Our point is that whatever is going on is going by Krishna's will. Our concern is with Krishna's supervision. If Krishna wants to first create this, then that, and then that, why do we care? What difference does it make to us? The point is, for example, I have an Apple computer. I'm not at all interested in the "geek" stuff and therefore I actually couldn't care less about how it works. All I care about is that it works. If it turn it on and it works, that's all I care about. I actually have no interest in how it works. In the same way, I know that Krishna creates the world. Exactly how he does it, what sequence, if this species is first or that one; I don't actually care that much. One thing we know is the fossil record. First of all, the whole interpretation of fossil records is based on an improvable assumption called “uniformitarianism” which basically is that the laws of nature operate uniformly throughout different times and spaces. We actually don't know that though, because we weren't there in the past. If you look at a fossil that you say is a million years old, the problem is that you weren't there a million years ago, or at least you don't remember. How do the laws of nature operate a million years ago? We don't know. We may assume that they are the same as today but we don't know that. We're assuming it. Then again, this is just the Earth. When the Bhagavatam talks about creation it is talking about the universe. For example, first Brahma was born, then the demigods and different species. That wasn't on Earth; it was going on in many different planets. The technical details like exactly what sequence, it seems to me, is almost like a trivial thing and that the real point is what Krishna says in the Gita, “sarva-yonisu kaunteya.” In all species “murtayah”, the murtis, “murtayah sambhavanti yah tasam brahma mahad yonir” for all of them the brahma, the mahat tattva, is the yoni (womb). And, “aham bija-pradah pita”  “I am the seed giving father”. Krishna says, “mayadhyaksena prakritih suyate sa-caracaram”. All these different species that we talk about, they are cara acaram, moving and non-moving species. Krishna says, “it is by My adyaksa (superintendence)”. Krishna's concern in the Bhagavad-gita is not of the technical details of which species, this one and that one; it's with the general principle that it's coming from His power.


The problem with evolution theory is, first of all, as far natural selection, everybody already knew that. Every farmer in the world knows everything about natural selection. Darwin took a principle that everyone already understood and added the idea of mutation and then that mutations are naturally selective. Also, everyone knew about mutation because some people are mutants. I mean, some people are born different and some animals are born different, some dogs are born with three tails or six legs or whatever. Everyone in the world already knew about mutation and everyone in the world knew about natural selection. Darwin didn't introduce these things at all. What he did was put them together and applied that combination in a new way. First of all, there's no evidence that things mutate like that. There are some naturally occurring mutations that we know about but we're saying that the system doesn't work unless you have intelligent design, and there are mathematical arguments for that. Of course, others may give their own arguments, but there are powerful mathematical arguments to the effect that you need more information at the beginning to account for the outcome. That's our concern; that Krishna be invited to the party.


(Question) Krishna appeared in a particular sequence, from a seemingly lower form to a higher human form...


First of all, I'm not sure that is actually the sequence because I don’t think the Bhagavatam really gives that chronology. The fish incarnation, for example, is described in the...


(Devotee) There's a song by...


Jayadeva. That's only a song by Jayadeva, not sastra. I mean, it's a song that has philosophical points that are consistent with sastra, and therefore we accept it as a bona fide expression, but Jayadeva is not doing a chronology of avataras, he's just singing. Jayadeva is not sastra and we would have to look at the sastra and see if that same order is given, and I'm not sure that it is. Maybe it is, maybe it's not; we'd have to actually study it.


Ok, here's the order of incarnations in the first canto. This is the first list of incarnations in the first canto. First of all, the first creation... this kind of blows the theory up... the first incarnations are the four Kumaras, who are not at all reptilian or aquatic, they're actually quite human like. The first incarnation is the four Kumaras, and then we've got Lord Boar. We jump from a human to a developed mammal, so this is totally not working. Then, the third incarnation is Narada Muni, who's actually obviously much more evolved than a human being. In fact, the Kumaras are also. Then we get Nara-Narayana. Number five is Kapila. Still no reptiles, still no aquatics, still no insects. Then we have Atri Muni. Number seven was Yajna, another brahmana. Then we have Rsabhadeva, then Prthu, and then Caksusa Manu. No animals. Then we get a tortoise at number eleven. That's a reptile isn't it? Then we have Dhanvantari, then Mohini Murti, then Nrsimha, then Lord Vamana, and then Parasurama, Mr Hatchet Pleasure. Then we've got the great Ramacandra, then Lord Balarama and Krishna Himself, then Buddha, and then Kalki. And, the Bhagavtam says, the Lord's avataras are innumerable. Lord Fish is mentioned later in the Bhagavatam. So that theory just went down in flames.



First of all, in the spiritual world, you can just ask a desire tree for a tuxedo if you want. It really begs the question where dhotis come from. People in India have a certain way of gesturing and I assumed that it was 'Vedic' until I saw Saddam Hussein doing it. Then, on TV I saw Taliban people running around with ISKCON-type dhotis. You could say that Indian culture just spread that way, but we don't know that because many, many things spread from Muslims to India. Look at Hindi; Hindi is just like English, which is basically a combination of original Germanic language and then all Romans like the Latin side came in. For example, typical, almost pure Latin would be something like 'omnipotent'. That's almost pure Latin, and Germanic would be something like 'all-strong'; 'Potent' is Latin, "strong" is German. Similarly, in Hindi you have for almost everything, I think, a Sanskrit word and then a Muslim/Arabic word. What's interesting is that in India today even Hindus often use the Muslim word. For example, in Hindi you can say 'kumara' or you can say 'larka' and people often say 'larka'. You can see even linguistically, architecturally, in terms of music, in terms of dress. I'll give you an example of Muslim influence on Hindu dress. First of all, the kurta came from Muslims. So, the kurta is a Muslim thing which is now Vedic and eternal. Another thing is that in the Bhagavatam, Mahabharata or Ramayana I've never come across a single verse that describes women covering their heads; the Muslims of course almost mummify their women. In India it became a Hindu custom that Hindu ladies wear a sari and cover their head. We have paintings with Radharani with Her head covered, but it appears to be a Muslim custom. There's no mention anywhere in the Bhagavatam. In fact, if anything, if you look at Vedic culture, they were not at all squeamish about the human body. If you look in India at external temple sculptures, sometimes it's pornographic. They were definitely not squeamish about the human body. It's a tropical country and women often were topless in India. Actually, even the habit of the women in India always covering themselves is a recent thing in some parts of India. I've seen it myself; even to this day I've gone to India and seen that. There's definitely been Muslim and Christian-European influence on Indian dress. India is a country that was always, in a sense, cosmopolitan. There are very interesting descriptions going back thousands of years. For example, a thousand years before the Muslims, there was a significant entrance into India by the Kushans and so on. That was two thousand years ago, long before Muslims, and they had some cultural influence. If you read in the Mahabharata about Yudhisthira’s rajasuya sacrifice, people were coming from all around the world to bring gifts to Yudhisthira. People were coming from different countries and bringing him things from other countries and it was appreciated. It's wasn’t like, "Get this out of here, this isn’t Indian, this is coming from some other country." India is a place where, in many times, its history was cosmopolitan, international; they had contact with other cultures, exported, imported, etc. I think his idea of India being a hermetically sealed eternal culture is very different from the history. Some things in India were conservative, extremely conservative, like the preservation of the Vedas. As far back as you go in history, India was always, intellectually, a very sophisticated culture. It was actually the most sophisticated country in the world by far in the knowledge of and the use of language. Indian linguistic studies were literally, without exaggeration, thousands of years ahead of Europe. There was a certain conservatism of language although it was not absolute either because if you look at the Sanskrit in the scriptures, sastra was taken very seriously, but, if you look at the Rg Veda linguistically, the Sanskrit is not the same Sanskrit as you find in the Mahabharata. It's all Sanskrit but it's like looking at Shakespeare and then look at modern English; there are differences. The spiritual part of India is the glory of India. It also had a very impressive material culture in many ways, in all senses, like in terms of music, dance, architecture, etc., India was a very sophisticated culture. However, to say that it was impervious to, or hermetically sealed against, external influences, at least in the superficial sense, I think would be absurd. I think we could recognize that the highest knowledge came from India, certainly the highest spiritual knowledge, without becoming chauvinistic. After all, Krishna is in everyone's heart and all around the world there have been very sincere people and Krishna reveals them all kinds of interesting things. To say that Krishna doesn't care about anyone else out of India, He never reveals anything interesting to anyone outside of India, never gave wisdom to anyone else, never gave them any good ideas about how to design clothes or how to cook food or how to design buildings, that all the good ideas in the history of the planet were given in one country, I think, is quite chauvinistic. Frankly, if you see modern Indians nowadays, especially people who are educated because certain uneducated village people in any country in the world are way behind the curb, they can't get too much modern culture; they are the most enthusiastic consumers in the world. India took to democracy; they are intelligent people and they actually understood it. Are we to believe that this is the first time in history that Indians were ever enthusiastic about foreign cultures? That it never happened before, in millions of years? It happened when the Muslims came. Certain things caught on in India and certain things didn't catch on. There's some evidence that they even influenced India religiously because in Vedic culture they definitely had monotheism, it's there in the Rg Veda and it's very clearly monotheism, but many people in India became a bit cavalier about monotheism. You still meet Indians that say, "Whatever you worship..." like they're not bothered much about it, because the Muslims came with a violent, oppressive monotheism. There were also some Sufi saints; there were some Muslim's that came to India that weren't complete jerks and actually had something to offer. It was like competition; in some ways the Muslims were a disaster in India and in some ways I think it was a healthy competition. You see much more emphasis being given to monotheism among Hindus. If you study India's relationship to other cultures, historically, it has been give and take. Also, God does appear in India. India is definitely a unique and extraordinary country because Krishna goes there and that's where the most important knowledge was given. But, in terms of external culture like architecture, cuisine, dress style, music and dance, I think India has as much to learn as it does to give, just like every other country. I think America has as much to learn as it does to give. When it comes to those classical arts, I think India definitely is one of the more impressive countries in the world. It developed a classical civilization but I don't think it's absolute; I think it's just the way that people in South Asia express their bhakti. Indians today are wild about chili. A lot of people in India really are addicted to it; they won't eat food unless it has chili. Chili, according to historians, didn't even exist in India when Lord Caitanya was there, and certainly not when Krishna was there. It comes from South America and so do potatoes and tomatoes. Some of the favorite foods in India, like potatoes, tomatoes and chili, actually come from South America, from Mexico. I think we can acknowledge the extraordinary gift, the supreme gift, that comes from Bharatavarsa – the gift of Krishna, the Bhagavad-gita, and perfect knowledge – without lapsing into material chauvinism.


(Question) We know that the spiritual world is absolute, that Krishna is bluish and that He wears a yellow dress…


We know Krishna is pita-vasa, He wears a yellow dress, but we don't know that that is all He wears. In fact, if you look at the way we dress the deity, we don't only dress the deities in yellow clothes generally. If you look at Indian paintings of Krishna sometimes He wears other things. Prabhupada said that Krishna is infinitely creative; Krishna is the Supreme Infinite Artist so He may actually have a wardrobe. Often times, certain things are given about Krishna but it doesn't mean that they are exclusive. They're true, but not necessarily exclusive. In other words, the sastra says Krishna wears yellow clothes, pita-ambara or pita-vasa and so on, but it doesn't mean that is all He wears, it just means that He does wear that. It's also just an easy way of identifying; Balarama wears blue dress and Krishna is pita-ambara and so on. It's a way of identifying Them so you have something to meditate upon but it doesn't mean that it is all that they wear. After all, even in my humble sannyasi clothes I've got more colors than Them. Why do we dress the deities in different colors? Why is it that every temple in India, and every Krishna temple outside of India, dresses Krishna in other colors besides yellow? Why is that? Maybe He's flexible. Maybe the good news is that God is not a religious fanatic. Again, I think that when we become more concerned with these details than philosophy we just become like every other religion; dogmatic rather than philosophical. From the philosophical point of view, if you say that God is impersonal, yeah, then we will definitely fight over that. Or, if you say that Krishna is not God, or that Krishna doesn't live in Vrindavana. First of all, Krishna is present in the Deity form so why doesn't it say in the sastra that when you dress the Deity only use yellow clothes for Krishna? Why doesn't it say that if it's important? Is it important? We're seeing Krishna every day in non-yellow clothes and no one is freaking out.


(Question) Are there any pastimes written or is it possible that throughout Krishna's life in Vrindavana He ever got sick, hurt or anything like the things we go through?


No, I can't remember Krishna getting hurt or sick. There were fears about Him getting hurt or sick but he never actually did. There are all kinds of cute little stories that you hear in India about this or that. There's one story where Krishna has a headache, or He said He had a headache… but I think in general Krishna is remarkably resistant to disease.


(Question) What about how He left, the hunter shooting...


Yeah, but that's not actually how He left, that was just superficial. What the Bhagavatam actually says is that He just decided to go and He went in His spiritual form. He left an illusory form. Why? Because, it says in the Gita, “ye yatha mam prapadyante” "I reciprocate with everyone". Frankly, Krishna wants people to worship Him because they like Him, not just because, "Ok, You're God." In other words, "I'm not interested in You personally but You're God, You have power and I want certain things so okay, I'll worship You." Krishna wants people to come to Him because they actually want Him. Therefore, to preserve the freewill of the non-devotees, He creates a pastime in which people can exercise their freewill based on what they want. If you think about it, it's amazing that Krishna would come to this world, perform the most amazing pastimes that no one but God could perform, and then leave the world and people aren't quite sure who He is. Krishna actually protects His own privacy, He protects the intimacy of devotional community, and He protects the freewill of the non-devotees. He's an amazing person. He actually comes to the world, changes the whole universe, and then leaves and yet somehow He wasn't intrusive. It's amazing. Krishna is an amazing person.



[1] çiväya lokasya bhaväya bhütaye

ya uttama-çloka-paräyaëä janäù

jévanti nätmärtham asau paräçrayaà

mumoca nirvidya kutaù kalevaram



Those who are devoted to the cause of the Personality of Godhead live only for the welfare, development and happiness of others. They do not live for any selfish interest. So even though the Emperor [Parékñit] was free from all attachment to worldly possessions, how could he give up his mortal body, which was shelter for others?


>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.4.12